Monday, August 15, 2011

TFTD: The ME Magisterium

Preliminary Note: Obviously, I'm not saying ANYTHING a priest or bishop does must be right.  However, when the Pope or bishop teaches authoritatively, even if not ex cathedra, we are bound to obey.  I think there is a great deal of confusion about this.


In a past blog, I mentioned offhand that I thought the work Father Elijah by Michael O'Brien was mediocre.  As I struggled to reread it last night, I've decided it is about as wretched and dubious as the Left Behind books, although in a different way.  The reason I have come to this conclusion is because the author presents the Church (whether intentionally or not) as being good or bad depending on whether the Church follows his views.  In the book, the Pope and certain bishops and priests are shown to be good people.  The rest are portrayed to be bad people, being cowardly, or acting out of malice.  In this work of fiction (which needs to be stressed.  It's not a doctrinal work) These good priests and bishops fit a mindset which O'Brien approves of.  The rest are either part of a cabal or are under pressure from a cabal which seeks to subvert Church teaching.

It's a mindset which also appears on certain Catholic blogs.  There is a heroic minority, loyal to the Pope (usually) in the face of a widespread attempt to subvert the Church.

I find a tendency to "Either-Or" thinking here.  Either a priest or bishop is flawless OR he is someone to be rejected.  Such a view has no place for the concept of the man afflicted by original sin, who can make errors of judgment without being a heretic maliciously plotting the downfall of the Church.

The Danger of Overconfidence in Our Own Righteousness

I guess what I fear about this kind of thinking is that it is easy to fall into the error.  It can lead towards the idea that our idea of the Church is the right one, and the Pope and the Bishops and the Priests stand judged on whether they live up to our ideals.  There is also a tendency to make everything wrong within the Church out to be a case of organized malice.  Modernist priests and nuns are seen as proof of a conspiracy to remake the Church into some sort of liberal social group.

Then when the Magisterium of the Church does something we dislike it is taken as proof of the Church being under the influence of these individuals and their philosophy.  Reception of the Eucharist in the Hand?  Mass in the Vernacular?  Altar Girls?  Bishops condemning injustice in American Immigration policies?  Obviously the Church must be under the influence of the liberals and modernists!

This mindset is ironically very similar to that of the liberals within the Church, who believe that we are proof that the Church is under the influence of radical conservatives who are seeking to subvert the true Spirit of the Church.  Thus the Magisterium gets accused by both sides of being tools of the other side.

I'm inclined to think the problem within the Church is actually something along these lines.  We confuse our preferences with Church teaching, and if the Church teaching goes against what we think is best, well it must mean the Church is wrong:




Ultimately we need to remember something.  Christ is the head of the Church.  He has entrusted to the Successor of Peter (Matthew 16:19) and to the College of Bishops in communion with him (Matthew 18:18) and He has promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18) and that he would be with the Church always (Matthew 28:20).  The Church will not err when it comes to a matter involving our salvation.

Individual Flaws in a Flawless Church

This doesn't mean that the individuals within the Magisterium will always behave in a manner which is flawless.  Remember, the Apostles ran away when Jesus was arrested.  Peter's personal behavior in Galatia needed to be rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11-14).  That doesn't mean the Apostles were never again to be trusted.  It means the Lord chose men who were sinners – like we all are – with the task of carrying out His mission in bringing the message of salvation to the whole world.

Yes, we can have embarrassing incidents where the Pope kisses the Koran not realizing his actions will be misinterpreted.  Yes we can have scandalous incidents, such as bishops kicking things under the table (like the sexual abuse scandals) or ignoring liturgical abuses – hoping these things will go away if ignored.  It's not wrong to be troubled by these things.

Since the bishop is supposed to be the witness to the faith, since he is supposed to be the successor to the Apostles, we should be able to look to him as a source of strong teaching.  However, we need to distinguish between the Bishop who teaches authoritatively and the individual who wears the mitre making a bad judgment or actually sinning.

A bad judgment does not automatically mean a heretical priest or bishop.  Nor does a sinful action on the part of the priest or bishop. 

I think I should also point out that just because the Pope, Bishop or Priest acts in a way which we dislike does NOT automatically mean he is a heretic or exercising bad judgment.  We have to recognize the possibility of our own misunderstanding of Church teaching.  We have to recognize that some members of the Magisterium may intend to do right, and make an error on the best way to act in following Church teaching.


But let us not fall into the mindset that because some have caused scandal that the whole is corrupt.  Especially let us not fall into the mindset that we cannot fall into error.  We can and do.  Jesus Christ gave us a Church which does have the authority to teach and which the Holy Spirit prevents from teaching error.

If we forget this, we can be deceived into deifying our own likes into dogmas and judging the legitimate authority by our authority.

We must always pray to be protected from error… both ourselves and those who have been entrusted with the position of leading the Church.

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