From “Informe sobre la esperanza”
by Gerhard L. Müller
“WHO AM I TO JUDGE?”
Precisely those who until now have shown no respect for the doctrine of the Church are using an isolated phrase from the Holy Father, “Who am I to judge?”, taken out of context, to present distorted ideas on sexual morality, reinforcing them with a presumed interpretation of the “authentic” thought of the pope in this regard.
The question of homosexuality that gave rise to the question posed to the Holy Father is already present in the Bible, both in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 19; Dt 23:18f; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Wis 13-15) and in the Pauline letters (cf. Rom 1:26f; 1 Cor 6:9f), treated as a theological subject albeit with the influences inherent to the historical nature of divine revelation.
It can be gathered from Sacred Scripture that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, since they do not proceed from a true affective and sexual complementarity. This is a very complex question, because of the numerous implications that have forcefully asserted themselves in recent years. In any case, the anthropological conception that can be gathered from the Bible involves several inescapable moral demands, and at the same time a scrupulous respect for the homosexual person. These persons, called to chastity and to Christian perfection through self-mastery and at times with the help of a disinterested friendship, live something that “constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357-2359).
Nonetheless, in addition to the problem raised by the decontextualization of the aforementioned phrase of Pope Francis, pronounced as a sign of respect for the dignity of the person, it seems evident to me that the Church, with its magisterium, has the capacity to judge the morality of certain situations. This is a truth beyond question: God is the only judge who will judge us at the end of time, and the pope and bishops have the obligation to present the revealed criteria for this final judgment that is already anticipated today in our moral conscience.
The Church has always said “this is true, this is false,” and no one can interpret in a subjectivist way the commandments of God, the Beatitudes, the counsels, according to his own criteria, his own interest, or even his own needs, as if God were only the backdrop of his own autonomy. The relationship between the personal conscience and God is concrete and real, illuminated by the magisterium of the Church; the Church has the right and the obligation to declare that a doctrine is false, precisely because such a doctrine misleads ordinary people from the path that leads to God.
Beginning with the French Revolution, the subsequent liberal regimes and the totalitarian systems of the 20th century, the objective of the principal attacks has always been the Christian vision of human existence and of its destiny.
When its resistance could not be overcome, some of its elements were allowed to remain, but not Christianity in its substance; the result was that Christianity ceased to be the criterion of all reality, and the aforementioned subjectivist positions were encouraged.
These have their origin in a new non-Christian and relativistic anthropology that dispenses with the concept of truth: contemporary man sees himself obliged to live permanently in doubt. More than that: the affirmation that the Church cannot judge personal situations is based on a false soteriology, namely that man is his own savior and redeemer.
In subjecting Christian anthropology to this brutal reductionism, the hermeneutic of reality that results from this adopts only the elements that are of interest or convenience to the individual: some elements of the parables, certain benevolent acts of Christ or those passages that present him as a simple prophet of social welfare or a master in humanity.
And what is censored, on the contrary, is the Lord of history, the Son of God who invites to conversion or the Son of Man who will come to judge the living and the dead. In reality, this merely tolerated Christianity is emptied of its message and forgets that the relationship with Christ, without personal conversion, is impossible.
WHO CAN RECEIVE COMMUNION
Pope Francis says in “Evangelii Gaudium” (no. 47) that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is worthwhile to analyze this phrase in depth, in order not to misunderstand its meaning.
In the first place, it must be noted that this statement expresses the primacy of grace: conversion is not an autonomous act of man, but is, in itself, an action of grace. Nevertheless, it cannot be deduced from this that conversion is an external response of gratitude for what God has done in me on his own account, without me. Nor can I conclude that anyone may approach to receive the Eucharist even though he is not in the state of grace and with the appropriate dispositions, simply because it is nourishment for the weak.
First of all we must ask ourselves: what is conversion? It is a free act of man, and at the same time it is an act motivated by the grace of God, which always precedes the acts of men. This is why it is an integral act, incomprehensible if the action of God is separated from the action of man. […]
- In the sacrament of penance, for example, one observes with absolute clarity the need for a free response on the part of the penitent, expressed in his contrition of heart, in his resolution to correct himself, in his confession of sins, in his act of penance. This is why Catholic theology denies that God does everything, and that man is a pure recipient of divine graces. Conversion is the new life that is given to us by grace, and at the same time it is also a task that is offered to us as a condition for perseverance in grace. […]
There are only two sacraments that constitute the state of grace: baptism and the sacrament of reconciliation. When someone has lost sanctifying grace, he needs the sacrament of reconciliation to recover this state, not as his own merit but as a gift, as a gift that God offers him in the sacramental form. Access to Eucharistic communion certainly presupposes the life of grace, it presupposes communion in the ecclesial body, it also presupposes an ordered life in keeping with the ecclesial body in order to be able to say “Amen.” Saint Paul insists on the fact that he who eats the bread and drinks the wine of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27).
St. Augustine affirms that “he who created you without you will not save you without you” (Sermo 169). God asks for my collaboration. A collaboration that is also his gift, but that implies my acceptance of this gift.
If things were different, we could fall into the temptation of conceiving of the Christian life in the manner of automatic realities. Forgiveness, for example, would become something mechanical, almost a demand, not a question that also depends on me, since I must realize it. I would then go to communion without the required state of grace and without approaching the sacrament of reconciliation. I would take it for granted, without any proof of this on the basis of the Word of God, that the forgiveness of my sins has been granted to me privately through this communion itself. But this is a false concept of God, it is tempting God. And it also brings with it a false concept of man, with an undervaluation of that which God can bring about within him.
PROTESTANTIZATION OF THE CHURCH
Strictly speaking, we Catholics have no reason to celebrate October 31, 1517, the date that is considered the beginning of the Reformation that would lead to the rupture of Western Christianity.
If we are convinced that divine revelation is preserved whole and unchanged through Scripture and Tradition, in the doctrine of the faith, in the sacraments, in the hierarchical constitution of the Church by divine right, founded on the sacrament of holy orders, we cannot accept that there exist sufficient reasons to separate from the Church.
The members of the Protestant ecclesial communities look at this event from a different perspective, because they think that it is the opportune moment to celebrate the rediscovery of the “pure Word of God," which they presume to have been disfigured throughout history by merely human traditions. The Protestant reformers arrived at the conclusion, five hundred years ago, that some Church hierarchs were not only morally corrupt, but had also distorted the Gospel and, as a result, had blocked the path of salvation for believers toward Jesus Christ. To justify the separation they accused the pope, the presumed head of this system, of being the Antichrist.
How can the ecumenical dialogue with the evangelical communities be carried forward today in a realistic way? The theologian Karl-Heinz Menke is speaking the truth when he asserts that the relativization of the truth and the acritical adoption of modern ideologies are the principal obstacle toward union in the truth.
In this sense, a Protestantization of the Catholic Church on the basis of a secular vision without reference to transcendence not only cannot reconcile us with the Protestants, but also cannot allow an encounter with the mystery of Christ, because in Him we are repositories of a supernatural revelation to which all of us owe total obedience of intellect and will (cf. “Dei Verbum,” 5).
I think that the Catholic principles of ecumenism, as they were proposed and developed by the decree of Vatican Council II, are still entirely valid (cf. “Unitatis Redintegratio,” 2-4). On the other hand, I am convinced that the document of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith “Dominus Iesus,” of the holy year of 2000, not understood by many and unjustly rejected by others, is without a doubt the magna carta against the Christological and ecclesiological relativism of this time of such confusion.
The question of whether women's priesthood is a disciplinary matter that the Church could simply change does not hold up, since this is a matter that has already been decided.
Pope Francis has been clear, just as his predecessors were. In this regard, I recall that Saint John Paul II, at no. 4 of the 1994 apostolic exhortation “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” reinforced with the royal plural (“declaramus”), in the only document in which that pope used this verb form, that it is a doctrine defined as infallibly taught by the ordinary universal magisterium (can. 750 § 2 CIC) that the Church has no authority to admit women to the priesthood.
It is up to the Magisterium to decide if a question is dogmatic or disciplinary; in this case, the Church has already decided that this proposal is dogmatic and that, being of divine law, it cannot be changed or even reviewed. This could be justified with many reasons, like fidelity to the example of the Lord or the normative character of the age-old practice of the Church, but I do not believe that this matter must be discussed again in depth, since the documents that deal with it sufficiently present the reasons to reject this possibility.
I do not want to fail to point out that there is an essential equality between man and woman on the level of nature, and also in relation with God through grace (cf. Gal 3:28). But the priesthood implies a sacramental symbolization of the relationship of Christ, head or bridegroom, with the Church, body or bride. Women can have, without any problem, many positions in the Church: in this regard, I gladly take the opportunity to thank publicly the large group of lay and religious women, some of them with specialized university degrees, who lend their indispensable collaboration in the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. (My comment: I have been excoriated by one or so on this blog and on other blogs, for highlighting the obvious. The way to deconstruct the Catholic Church is to ridicule her philosophical and natural law underpinnings!)
On the other hand, it would not be serious to advance proposals in this regard on the basis of mere human calculations, saying for example that “if we open the priesthood to women we will overcome the problem of vocations” or “if we accept women’s priesthood we would present a more modern image to the world.”
I believe that this way of presenting the debate is very superficial, ideological, and above all anti-ecclesial, because it neglects to say that this is a matter of a dogmatic question already defined by those who have the task of doing so, and not a merely disciplinary matter.
Priestly celibacy, so contested in certain present-day ecclesiastical circles, has its roots in the Gospels as an evangelical counsel, but also has an intrinsic relationship with the ministry of the priest.
The priest is more than a religious functionary who has been given a mission independent of his life. His life is in close relationship with his evangelical mission, and therefore, in Pauline reflection as also in the Gospels themselves, clearly the evangelical counsel appears connected to the figure of the ministers chosen by Jesus. The apostles, in order to follow Christ, have left all human security behind them, and in particular their respective spouses. In this regard, Saint Paul speaks to us of his personal experience in 1 Cor 7:7, where he seems to consider celibacy as a particular charism that he has received.
Currently, the link between celibacy and the priesthood as a special gift from God through which the sacred ministers can more easily unite themselves with Christ with an undivided heart (can. 277 § 1 CIC; "Pastores Dabo Vobis", 29), is found in the whole universal Church, although in different forms. In the Eastern Church, as we know, it concerns only the priesthood of the bishop; but the very fact that it is demanded for them indicates to us that this Church does not conceive of it as an external discipline.
In the aforementioned atmosphere of the contestation of celibacy, the following analogy is very widespread. A few years ago it would have been unimaginable for a woman to become a soldier, while today, instead, modern armies count a great number of women soldiers, entirely fit for a task traditionally considered as exclusively masculine. Could the same thing not happen with celibacy? Is it not a longstanding custom of the past that must be reviewed?
Nonetheless the substance of military activity, apart from a few questions of a practical nature, does not demand that the army belong to a certain sex; while the priesthood is instead in intimate connection with celibacy. Vatican Council II and other more recent magisterial documents teach such a conformity or internal adaptation between celibacy and priesthood that the Church of the Latin rite does not feel that it has the faculty to change this doctrine with an arbitrary decision that would break with the progressive development, lasting centuries, of canonical regulation, beginning from the moment in which this internal bond was recognized, prior to the aforementioned legislation. We cannot break unilaterally with a whole series of declarations of popes and councils, nor with the firm and constant adherence of the Catholic Church to the image of the celibate priest.
The crisis of celibacy in the Latin Catholic Church has been a recurrent issue in especially difficult moments in the Church. To cite a few examples, we could recall the times of the Protestant Reformation, those of the French Revolution, and more recently the years of the sexual revolution, in the ’60’s and ’70’s of the past century. But if there is something we can learn from studying the history of the Church and of its institutions, it is that these crises have always demonstrated and reinforced the goodness of the doctrine of celibacy.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.