The Battle of the Nuns

“In a selfish world, they epitomize selflessness and compassion.” (New York Times, 9/17) Who’s that? It’s rough out there. Maybe he’s taking about well-trained, kindly policemen.

One of the remarkable cultural developments within the American Catholic Church during the last few years is the emergence of women religious in the public consciousness in a way never before experienced.

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It is certainly due in part to the march of feminism itself, so that just as more women are working, running corporations, serving in Congress and assuming university presidencies, so too do members of women’s religious orders assume leadership in the church, both intellectually as scholars and collectively fighting for social causes. And the response within part of the church hierarchy has been, to put it mildly, negative. Meanwhile the most fascinating response to this has been from lay intellectuals, both Protestant and Catholic.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, not a Catholic but committed to the same social justice causes as the Catholic church, writes that nuns today are not cloistered in convents: “I see them so often risking their lives around the world, confronting warlords, pimps and thugs, while speaking the local languages fluently.” He introduces us to a Sister Megan Rice who established a school in Nigeria in an area without electricity or running water, then returned to the U.S. where, age 82, she broke into a Nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to call attention to the nuclear threat. Others, such as Sister Jeannice Gramick, a founder of New Ways Ministry, led the way in the acceptance of homosexuals. The sister told her critics “it isn’t about sex. It is about love.” As a result the Vatican in 2012 reprimanded a group of nuns for promoting “radical feminist themes.”

Kristof asks why Pope Francis has not come to the defense of the nuns. Meanwhile the great Catholic novelist Mary Gordon, taking off from the interview with Pope Francis in America, asks in Harpers Magazine, “Is the new Vatican all talk?” (August 2014). American nuns, she writes, may have taken special note of the pope’s new emphasis on the poor rather than on sexual morality. Since the sex abuse crisis, she says, America’s nuns have been the de facto leaders of America’s liberal Catholics. “Like Francis himself, these women have been reprimanded for failing to give sufficient attention to abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Rather two separate Vatican bureaucracies have launched investigations of American nuns.”

In fairness to Francis, she says, the church’s male leadership and its women religious have clashed throughout history. In a fascinating two pages she summarizes the relationship. Three examples: Benedictine nun Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was excommunicated for burying an excommunicated nobleman in the convent’s graveyard. She refused to dig him up because he returned to the church before he died. In retaliation the bishop refused the sacraments and the right to sing prayers to the nuns. In 1871, Mary MacKillop, Australian founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, was excommunicated when she disclosed that a priest was sexually abusing her school children. The bishop admitted his mistake on his deathbed. She was canonized in 2010. Margaret Anna Cusack (1829-99), a convert to Catholicism, raised money to help the poor and founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Archbishop Corrigan of New York thwarted her efforts and convinced other American bishops to do the same. She left the church and died and Anglican.

When the document dealing with the purported moral failures of the Leadership Council of Women Religious was distributed in 2010, just after the nuns’ letter to Congress supporting President Obama’s healthcare initiative, across the country demonstrations and prayer groups responded with 60,000 signatures protesting the disrespectful treatment of these women. Ms. Gordon asked one leading nun why she retains her commitment to her religious order and the Roman Catholic Church. The nun replied:

Why would I leave a way of life that has been so fruitful for me, that’s given me so much. That allows me to live in a way that is so right for me? We offer community, we offer a real spirituality, we know how to listen, we know how to be with the dying. It’s very precious. I wouldn’t let it go. And I’d much rather focus on that than on the famous ‘dwindling numbers’ It’s not about numbers. It’s about who we are, what we are and can do in the world.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Eugene Palumbo
4 years 2 months ago
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace did extraordinary work with refugees here (El Salvador) during the civil war. They were beloved. I wrote a piece about one of them for Commonweal Magazine. Here is the link: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/long-trip-home
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
I have a sinking feeling that there is a form of reverse-chauvinism in the articles male journalists like Kristoff write about the sisters. The praise seems so vapid and devoid of any assessment of their doctrinal beliefs. It is as if the content of their belief, the whole point of the CDF investigation, doesn’t really matter for the sisters (as it would be expected to for male religious), as long as they continue their good social work. It is important to remember that the CMSWR religious sisters broke away from the LCWR because they didn’t like the doctrinal direction the leadership was taking. So, it was really a Battle Between the Nuns long before the CDF got involved. Secondly, Mary Gordon hardly a “great” spokesperson for the sisters, given the inferiority complex she noted in her recent interview regarding being a Catholic writer. Three quotes: “nobody likes Catholics—with good reason” and “the church has been in such a bad odor since Humanae Vitae” and “I always say that if you tell people you’re Catholic, they take 90 IQ points off you.” She really would have benefitted by mixing with a more broad-minded group of people. Furthermore, Gordon seems to have a very gender-selective memory regarding the actual historical situation regarding the opposition male religious have encountered with their local hierarchy. It has been much more frequent for men, and has included famous saints, such as Thomas Aquinas (with the Bishop of Paris), St. John of the Cross (with the Inquisition) & Padro Pio (with his Franciscan superiors) – and heretic priests (e.g. Arius, Luther and Lefebvre). It has always been the task of the Magisterium to sort the wheat from the chaff, irrespective of gender.
John Stehn
4 years 2 months ago
Tim: Your reply's above are spot on. One slight criticism though. Lefebvre wasn't a heretic. He was excommunicated for an act of disobedience in consecrating his four bishops without Papal approval. That's all. Doctrinally, the Holy See had nothing on him. How could they? He taught what the Church has always taught. Unlike the LCWR sisters.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
John - I stand corrected. Lefebvre wasn't a heretic.
Beth Cioffoletti
4 years 2 months ago
It is telling how the sisters have responded to the fathers' demand for obedience. Not with anger or adamant refusal, but by inviting the good fathers to their own table for deep listening, dialogue and sharing what they've learned in their post Vatican 2 lives. The spirit is indeed among us and the medium is the message.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
The voices of women religious are a good example of how the Spirit is alive and well, blowing strongly within the RCC and the People of God as it wills. History has demonstrated that this same Spirit moves us to the truth in agreement and disagreement. Fortunately, it will be Christ, not the magisterium, who will separate the wheat from the chaff.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Michael - Christ will indeed be the judge of every individual on Judgement Day, This side of heaven, Jesus already set out the process for adjudicating questions of Church doctrine, when in Matt 16:18-19, He said to Peter "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” I am sure Luther and Lefebvre believed in their hearts that the Holy Spirit was informing them in their doctrinal decisions. And it does come down to the correct discernment of spirits. The First Rule of St. Ignatius is "The first: All judgment laid aside, we ought to have our mind ready and prompt to obey, in all, the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church Hierarchical." In any case, my main criticism below is of the male journalists giving a kind of unquestioning generic praise while avoiding the doctrinal "elephant in the room" that is the concern of the CDF. People have given their lives for this true doctrine, as did the heroic lay people who brought the faith to Korea, those beatified by Pope Francis this month.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, We continue to have a profound disagreement over the interpretation of the Scripture passage in Matt. that you claim protects the magisterium/hierarchy from error in all matters of faith and "morals". It is not productive to debate you "again" on this point, but the definition of "Church" that Christ speaks of in Matt. is the "People of God", "His Body", not narrowly defined as the magisterium/hierarchy. The Spirit of God blows in and through all the faithful People of God where it wills. Equally important, history has demonstrated that popes and bishops have erred many times in proclaiming certain "moral teachings" as truth, when centuries later such teachings were changed. Hence, not every moral teaching popes and hierarchy have taught was the absolute moral truth with certainty. You quote St. Ignatius, but Ignatius as well as Aquinas also taught that one should never go against their informed conscience (and I have shared with you in detail about the process of informing one's conscience). Even Pope Benedict XVI said you must obey your informed conscience even if it is in tension with a papal teaching. Not all disagreement is a distortion of the truth or the result of a erroneous conscience. Let me be clear once again with you. I do not use my informed conscience as a personal magisterium. I, as many other Faithful "informed" Catholics, study and reflect on the teachings of the CC. I do not encourage dissent or revolution. I call for a reflection and a thorough rethinking of certain moral teachings. There is profound disagreement within the Catholic Church over many moral sexual ethical teachings inclusive of bishops, priests, theologians and laity….including "women religious". I am not talking about the tenets of faith. If I do not respond to your reply, even if I seriously disagree with what you write, I hope you will understand the reason. Those familiar with our disagreement and arguments will understand what I am talking about. This does not mean that I will not debate you, but the time and subject will be of my choosing. I will let those who read Am. Mag. decide for themselves about these matters under consideration. God bless.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Comments below of defenders of the LCWR continue in the same vein of the article - praise for the LCWR that is generic and content-free: "the voices of...," and "the Spirit is alive..." and "deep listening, dialogue and sharing.." Followed by the obligatory conscience clause. This could be equally true about any group, of any religion or ideology, from a contemporary jihadist group to a pro-choice politician. What could possibly be wrong with being for choice, conscience, charity, spirit-listening, dialogue, listening (esp. deep listening) and sharing? Who could object? None of this gets to the actual doctrinal issues. Do they believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, THE Way, THE Truth, and THE life? Do they believe the Roman Catholic Church is His Mystical Body and the only True Church on Earth. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the ideas of the LCWR leaders deserve to be taken more seriously.
Beth Cioffoletti
4 years 2 months ago
I'm listening deeply, Tim (not just to your words, but to what you are trying to say). I do not hear the LCWR leaders disputing that Jesus Christ is THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life. I do see them living this message and not just talking about it: establishing schools in Africa, breaking into government buildings to draw attention to nuclear threats ... What - specifically (not generic) - makes you think that they do not believe in the uniquely Catholic message of the Gospel?
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Beth – Once again, I want to emphasize that I am focusing my critique on the invitations, speeches and resolutions of the LCWR leadership and not on the great charitable work of the many sisters in the orders they are said to represent. The CMSWR religious sisters (mostly post VCII orders, by the way) broke away from the LCWR for doctrinal and discipline reasons. Mary Gordon is probably right in the statement attributed to her in the above article, that the LCWR nuns “have been the de facto leaders of America’s liberal Catholics.” And it is true that the 45+ resolutions since 2003 focus on concerns of the progressive side of the Democratic Party (fracking, the Occupy movement, Wal-Mart, carbon footprints, etc). Not a single resolution deals with any specifically Christian mission, such as evangelization, conversion or repentance, and the evil of abortion is never mentioned. But, that of itself is not my central problem, which is the speakers and speeches of their annual conferences. Evolutionary consciousness and feminist ideas have been themes for several years, including the New-Age speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard and several speakers who have been in oposition to the CDF. This year, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson was selected (against the objections of the CDF), despite serious theological concerns regarding her book Quest For The Living God, which the USCCB has extensively criticized. Their critiques are linked to here and are worth a “deep” and careful read. http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/upload/statement-quest-for-the-living-god-2011-03-24.pdf http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/upload/statement-quest-for-the-living-god-response-2011-10-11.pdf The doctrinal concerns cited relate to humanity’s knowledge of God, the Trinity, His omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, etc. the names of God, the utterly uniqueness of Jesus Christ as sole Savior, vs. other religions. The unique role of the Catholic Church is not mentioned. Sr. Johnson has a major problem with biblical patriarchy in general and with the terms "Father, Lord and King" in particular, which of course come directly from Scripture and Jesus. The LCWR could address much of these concerns by affirming their Catholicity and desire to adhere to the fullness of the Catholic faith. But, as Ann Carey says, that is not the course they are presently taking. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/lcwr-assembly-2014-sticking-to-a-dangerous-course/. Maybe, in good conscience, some of them are no longer able to affirm their Catholicity. Maybe, they have moved beyond the Church, or as Sr. Schreck said, "we have been so changed that we are no longer at home in the culture and church in which we find ourselves." If so, a general poll of the sisters in the various orders should be made, to see who thinks the LCWR is really representing their vocation.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
If the CDF was courageous enough to have conducted a thorough investigation of the LCWR for promoting so-called radical feminist themes, with the implicit threat of disciplinary action, then the CDF should have the same courage to conduct a thorough investigation of U.S. clergy that counsel parishioners on issues that are in tension with magisterium teachings. Based on a 2002 LA Times Poll of Priests, a significant percent of older and younger priests in the U.S. disagreed with many moral teachings of the magisterium. More importantly, the interim document distributed to all bishops in preparation of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family acknowledged that there was a profound division among the clergy on many moral teachings, a real problem to be addressed. Why are U.S. women religious investigated by the CDF and ordered to comply with a series of requirements under the threat of serious disciplinary actions, and not the U.S. parish clergy?
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Good suggestion, Michael. The CDF could begin with organizations of priests who invite strange speakers who promote anti-Catholic morality at their national conferences. In a recent interview (La Stampa), Cardinal Müller said: "We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.” So, it really does look like a Battle Between the Nuns.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, I assume you did not get my mild sarcasm. The RCC will never investigate the U.S. clergy who disagree with many moral teachings of the magisterium because such disagreements are not made "public" by individual priests for fear of retribution. It is called the "silent pulpit". The only way such significant disagreements by clergy are known is by confidential surveys. A significant percent of U.S. parish priests disagree that many moral teachings of the magisterium are never or seldom a mortal sin (in profound tension with the official teaching). These parish priests council faithful Catholics on various moral matters in private counseling sessions in directions contrary to the magisterium. This is widely known by the hierarchy, and acknowledged in the preliminary document in preparation for the Synod on the Family. The hierarchy do very little about this issue other than send letters or bulletins about the official teachings of the Church. This issue is more serious than anything that conference speakers at LCWR annual conferences talk about. Make no mistake about what I am saying. I think legitimate disagreement is one of the ways the Holy Spirit leads us to the truth. However, my point is that the hierarchy is not being consistent, in fact one could say contradictory, in their management of the problem concerning clergy who significantly disagree with many moral teachings, for fear of the consequences. On the other hand, compare this inaction with their management of the LCWR!!
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Michael - You write that "the RCC" (I believe you mean the Bishops) will not investigate heterodox clergy because they cannot identify them (as you say the priests keep their opinions from the bishops while sharing them in confidential surveys). Then you cannot claim the Bishops are neglecting to do it when you say they cannot do it. No need to bring up a charge of inconsistency, when you have just solved the discrepancy. In my experience, the Bishops do not go around investigating the opinions of Catholics who keep their opinions to themselves. I think their obligation to defend the faith is only when someone publicly distorts it.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, There are many ways to correct the profound disagreement by a significant percent of U.S. priests concerning many moral teachings of the magisterium. For example, each Bishop could require each parish priest to remind all parishioners (at each Mass during a particular month) that anyone who practices artificial birth control should not to stand in line for Holy Communions unless they confess this so-called sin and receive absolution. Receiving Holy Communion without absolution for practicing artificial birth control would be a sacrilege or a grave moral sin. Such constant reminders to the faithful by parish priests about confession and absolution before receiving Holy Communion, such as in the case of contraception, would be consistent with USCCB guidelines. One priest in Brooklyn did so at each Mass for a few weeks. What he experienced was a significant percent of his parishioners started to attend a nearby parish whose priest made no issue of the practice of contraception and the requirements for Eucharist reception. After a few months, the priest in question stopped reminding parishioners about contraception. Let's get real Tim. If parish priests would do this, they would create such a firestorm that bishops would reverse their action. The hierarchy can do much to correct the profound disagreement by clergy with a number of moral teachings in a number of ways, but they do very little because of the consequences. This is called inconsistency and contradiction. Bishops and priests know what is going on. They would rather avoid controversy and problems. This undermines the authority of the magisterium more so than what the LCWR is doing. To argue that bishops do not know the names of their parish priests who disagree with certain moral teachings, as an excuse not to adequately address this problem, is being disingenuous.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
You are conflating two problems, Michael. There is a big difference between difficulties or disagreements individuals have privately with any specific doctrines, and official Catholic organizations or Catholic writers or theologians teaching or promoting doctrine that is contrary to the Catholic faith (such as the meaning of the Trinity or the Real Presence, etc.). In the first case, private individuals should be dealt with privately and pastorally, preferably in the confessional. I do agree with you that priests should also teach doctrine in the sermons or homilies, but that too should be in a pastoral way, especially with teachings that they might find hard to understand. Priests should not be quick to withhold the sacraments (as you often say, people can be excused by their private consciences and ignorance), but should try to lead the individual back to the right path. Only when the individual is leading others away from the true doctrine, should they take a firmer line. At least, that is what I think our pastoral Pope would want. On the other hand, when theologians or official Catholic organization teach or preach a distorted Catholic doctrine, the Bishops have a duty to also be public in their response. This is not being inconsistent. The difference between private and public is very significant.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, I am not conflating disagreements of lay individuals with magisterium teachings. I am talking about a significant percent of older and younger priests who disagree with certain magisterium teachings, and pastorally counsel parishioners accordingly in contradiction with such teachings. This is widely known by the hierarchy. Many priests advise parishioners in private counseling sessions that certain teachings are controversial and there is a theological divide where both sides believe they are right. Let's take one example: My parish priest, as well as priests in previous parishes I attended, leave the choice of birth control up to the to-be-married parishioners as long as they attend a NFP class. Most choose to practice artificial birth control for various good reasons. For those already married, the choice is a judgment of their informed conscience, and the pastoral advice I always received was never a firm or dogmatic interpretation of magisterium teachings (as you say the Pope would want). As you know, in 2002 the LA Times Survey of Priests indicated that 40% of younger and older priests said that artificial birth control was seldom or never a sin; 43% said it is seldom or never a sin to use condoms as protection against AIDS: 42% said that it is never or seldom a sin to masturbate; 19% said it is seldom or never a sin to engage in homosexual behavior…the list goes on. When clergy privately counsel in this way it is in contradiction with USCCB and CDF guidelines. More importantly, the hierarchy does very little about this issue. This is the inconsistency and contradiction that I am talking about. The difference between private and public counseling on moral matters by parish clergy is very significant because it demonstrates the inconsistency and contradiction that is not being addressed. It is like talking out of both sides of your mouth at the same time about a specific subject. This is more significant than what the LCWR is being accused of doing.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Michael - I do not think you understand my real distinction between private advice you get (which may still be very wrong, even if private) and public opposition to doctrine. Let's get away from contraception as I know you have a particular opposition to Church teaching there and it is hard to be objective when it touches so close to home. Let's take two positions that I think you are in agreement with the RCC on. The Real Presence and abortion. Many polled self-identifying Catholics (46% in one poll) say that Jesus is just symbolically present in the Eucharist, and 40% say that abortion is morally acceptable (http://www.gallup.com/poll/117154/catholics-similar-mainstream-abortion-stem-cells.aspx). Some of this heterodoxy is out of ignorance and some is deliberate disagreement with the RCC. Priests come in contact with these positions all the time, and even some priests are in this camp, if one believes the polls. These are obviously major problems with doctrine for these individuals, with real consequences to their understanding of God. But, it is still private and should be dealt with privately, if possible. However, it is much worse if one takes a public position against the Church on this doctrine (like Garry Wills or Nancy Pelosi), either misrepresenting what the RCC teaches or saying the RCC is teaching false doctrine. This causes much confusion and loss of faith. I know bishops speak out against these public persons but I think they should do more as many are being led astray. But, there is an even worse case - official spokespersons of the Catholic Church, such as some theologians or the LCWR (which is a Vatican-approved body). When they promote doctrinal confusion, even more people are likely led astray. The Gospel warns especially harshly about false teachers. This requires the response of the USCCB (if in the US) and the CDF.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, I understand what you are saying Tim, but you are missing the major point of my argument. Let me try again. If priests counsel their parishioners in contradiction with magisterium teachings in "private counseling sessions" (because many moral issues are not taught and discussed in sufficient detail from the pulpit), these priests are "promoting doctrinal confusion". The majority of the faithful follow the advice and counsel of their parish priests. A very small percent of the lay faithful follow the proceedings of the LCWR. If you believe that parish priests who counsel in contradiction with magisterium teachings are wrong, that is one thing. However, if they are wrong the hierarchy is doing nothing about it. That is the point that you are failing to address. This is what I mean by inconsistency and contradiction. It is different from the accusations leveled against the LCWR about things made "in public" that are in contradiction with magisterium teachings. However, what you seem to minimize is that the inconsistency and contradiction of magisterium teachings of "private counseling sessions" by clergy are "more significant" in terms of denigrating the credibility of the magisterium, causing doctrinal confusion and promoting non-reception. There is a seemingly double standard going on here. On the one hand, the hierarchy is addressing one form of doctrinal confusion (the investigation and disciplinary actions toward the LCWR about inconsistent and contradictory "public" remarks) and turing a blind eye to another form of doctrinal confusion, namely the profound inconsistency and contradiction of moral teachings by clergy in "private" counseling sessions. If you think that the private advice by priests that are in contradiction with magisterium teachings can be ignored, undisciplined or inadequately addressed by the hierarchy, while public comments the LCWR is accused of making in public must be addressed and disciplined by the hierarchy, then further debate on this issue will not be productive.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Michael - You make a strong case for better oversight of the parishes.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, Per our rather long exchanges below…My argument is not only a strong justification for a "better oversight of the parishes" (as you say), but a compelling case for bishops to adequately address the obvious double-standard concerning the inconsistency and contradiction in the application of ecclesiastic responsibility….with respect to doctrinal confusion. The apparent inaction by bishops to address the problem with priests is based on a "fear of the consequences". If bishops would require priests to firmly enforce all magisterium teachings would likely ignite a firestorm of protest by parishioners and the loss of the faithful in many cases (e.g., asking priests to firmly insist, from the pulpit, on confession before Eucharistic reception for those who practice artificial birth control…among other examples). Of course, it is my opinion that what is happening is that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to the truth in agreement and disagreement…namely both the priests and the LCWR are voices that must be taken seriously by the hierarchy in the disagreements over certain teachings. Whether you agree or not with my opinion, the important principle here is that "consistency and non-contradiction" should be the ethical rule guiding the action of the hierarchy concerning both the so-called problems of the LCWR and priests.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
Right. And one way to reduce inconsistency is better oversight of parishes, since it is primarily the bishops who are responsible for ensuring the faith handed down by the Apostles is not distorted, and does not succumb to the secular (non-Christian) spirit of the times. Sometimes it is hard for you to just accept where we agree. I can agree with you that it would be wrong to "think that the private advice by priests that are in contradiction with magisterium teachings can be ignored, undisciplined or inadequately addressed by the hierarchy, while public comments the LCWR is accused of making in public must be addressed and disciplined by the hierarchy", so, I can agree with you that true doctrine should be required at both the LCWR and the parish level, for the good of all. Our fundamental difference is that you think Matt 16 (re the office of Peter) was missing the words "People of God" or implied those words but I think it was a specific Petrine office and charism. The Words do not say "I will give the People of God the keys..." or that the People of God will have the power to bind to doctrine. This is specifically a Petrine office. You also seem to believe that the Holy Spirit protects each and every well-meaning and conscientious self-identifying Catholic from false doctrine, whereas I think the protection is from the top down, in the unique way outlined in Matt 16. I do not think the Holy Spirit is telling some Catholics abortion or contraception or divorce or homosexual relations are moral goods and other Catholics that these are moral evils, yet this is what many believe, according to the polls you cite. He does not tell some Catholics that there should be women priests, or that there are other ways to salvation than Christ or that the Eucharist is just symbolic, or that God is not omnipotent, while telling others the exact opposite. I believe there are other spirits (metaphorical and spiritual) who are "blowing" this confusion and contradiction and the Holy Spirit only infuses the truth. The Holy Spirit does not sow confusion and contradiction. Whatever is not true is not from God. This is why proper discernment of spirits is so important.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, Our continuing disagreements and your misreading and misinterpretation of my remarks is a constant battle. Let me reiterate. The issue we disagree on in Matt. is the interpretation of "Church". Most theologians and many priests and bishops do not narrowly define it as the magisterium. We can disagree on this point, but your claim that the Church in Matt. means the magisterium is not the ipso facto truth. Also, I have never said that the Holy Spirit protects "each and every well-meaning and conscientious self-identifying Catholic from false doctrine". NEVER. These are your words, not mine. The Holy Spirit protects the entire People of God, collectively, as the Body of Christ, His Church, from the gates of hell, from false doctrine. The magisterium has the authority to develop and change teachings but it also has a responsibility to listen to the voices of all the faithful: the laity, non-laity theologians and clergy. This is one of the problems that plague our Church today and one reason that we have profound non-reception, among most of the worldwide laity, theologians but also among a significant percentage of priests as well (as the 2002 Poll of U.S. Priests demonstrated). You don't agree that many teachings that were taught as truth for centuries were changed for good reason. I believe this and we have argued the facts about this at length before. When it comes to the issue of an informed conscience, your belief is that all Catholics should obey all the teachings of the magisterium because no one should trust human agency. In short, no one should go against their informed conscience but if their informed conscience is in tension with a teaching of the magisterium, their conscience is erroneous. This is not my point of view. Respectful and informed disagreement regarding certain moral teachings is a good thing for the Catholic Church and it has been part of our tradition for centuries. We live in a divided Church and in a crisis in truth and a diabolic evil spirit is not the cause of every legitimate disagreement. We can agree from time to time on certain issues. For example, I agree with you that what is not true is not from God; and a proper discernment of spirits is important. I agree that the bishops should be consistent and non-contradictory when they adequately address problems, in particular the problem with priests and, any problems with the LCWR. When they are inconsistent and contradictory in inaction, as in the case of priests and their beliefs and pastoral advice, this fuels non-reception and denigrates the authority of the magisterium. To sum up, we fundamentally disagree on the specifics of interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, the discernment of spirits, moral theology, as well as your classicist worldview. It is time to end our exchanges for now Tim because we are wandering too far from the subject of this article. God bless.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
One last point to avoid confusion. You misinterpret my point. I fully agree with you that the Church is not the Magisterium (in Mt 16 or anywhere else) alone. The Church includes the People of God. We have no disagreement there. But the power of the keys and to bind doctrine are in the Magisterium alone - the Petrine office. That is where we differ. God Bless
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, You are misinterpreting me again. I agree that the magisterium alone has the power to bind and loose on doctrine and sins. What we disagree about is: whether every magisterium moral teaching is the absolute moral truth with certainty; the specific moral teachings that have been declared definitive by the pope together with the college of bishops (e.g., gathered together in an ecumenical council where their collective judgment about a doctrine/teaching is manifestly evident to be infallible), the doctrine/teaching on conscience, among others. God bless.

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