The Breakdown of Church Authority

Catholic Authority


Professor James Hitchcock has an interesting article over at The Catholic World Report on the breakdown of the authority of the Church:


The rejection of Humanae Vitae, and everything that followed, in a perverse way proved the success of the new religious education. In numerous ways—classroom instruction, sermons, retreats, publications—Catholics after Vatican II were told to follow their own inclinations on moral issues, that docility towards Church teaching was actually a betrayal of faith. In short, “reformers” discovered how easy it was to make water run down hill, to give the faithful permission to take the line of least resistance.

The reformist Catholic program now came simply to be equated with the secular liberal program. To Catholic liberals there remained two unresolved moral issues—war and poverty – but many Catholics remained “super-patriots” and bishops were condemned for not condemning the Vietnam War. Collectively the bishops supported the War on Poverty, but many lay Catholics started voting Republican.

Fidelity to Catholic social teaching required a synthesis of what came to be conflicting liberal and conservative positions—the welfare state on the on the hand and the pro-life and pro-family movements on the other. The Democratic Party, in which Catholics had for so long been a major force, was the natural agency for working out such a synthesis. Instead prominent Catholic Democrats, almost without exception, readily accepted the secular liberal agenda and pro-life, and pro-family Catholics gravitated towards the Republican Party, which had previously not attracted them.

Liberal Catholics emphasize the “lived experience” of the laity as a check on formal Catholic doctrine, a check that has, supposedly, demonstrated the rightness of contraception, homosexuality, and other things. Catholics today, it is claimed, are highly educated and can follow their own well-formed consciences.

But this is applied to sexual morality only. Businessmen who believe in the free market, for example, or soldiers who believe in the righteousness of the wars they fight, are accused of placing their own “lived experience” above the teachings of the Church. They are in effect guilty of heresy.

Go here to read the rest.  A good article but only partially correct I think.  Another problem is the squandering of Church authority.  For example:  The Church says that we cannot forget the poor and that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  A message preached since the time of Christ and embraced, I think, by all but the most hard hearted of Catholics.  However, then the authority of the Church is squandered by the Church wandering into economic areas where the clerics involved clearly have no expertise.  A classic example of this occurred in 2011 with the publication by  the Pontifical Council For Justice and Peace of:   Towards Reforming the International Financial & Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.  Go here to read my take on that document for which good tree pulp was wasted in vain.   When the Church stands on traditional Catholic morality she can have immense moral authority.  When her clerics present as Church teaching their opinions on subjects requiring technical expertise, an expertise clearly not possessed by the clerics involved, and when these opinions tend to be precisely those of the chattering classes in the societies they come from, the moral authority of the Church vanishes like water in the desert.  Ironically, it is precisely the liberals within the Church who soft-peddle, at best, traditional Catholic teaching in regard to sex and the sanctity of life, who are most eager to have the Church impose upon Catholics teachings that have virtually nothing to do with traditional Catholicism.  Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did a lot to rebuild the moral authority of the Church, not without a lot of misteps, particularly in regard to predator priests and the bishops who protected them, and we now see their work being demolished.

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  1. If the Church wants to know which economic system does Catholics the most good, here’s a very simple question very Catholic can ask himself. What type of economic system has killed millions of Catholics during the last hundred years? Socialism or capitalism? The answer should be a no-brainer to any aware Catholic.

  2. Stephen Dalton above is correct.
    Donald is especially correct here:
    “When the Church stands on traditional Catholic morality she can have immense moral authority. When her clerics present as Church teaching their opinions on subjects requiring technical expertise, an expertise clearly not possessed by the clerics involved, and when these opinions tend to be precisely those of the chattering classes in the societies they come from, the moral authority of the Church vanishes like water in the desert.”
    Thus I await with great fear and trepidation what will be said in the upcoming encyclical on the environment. If it is the anti-nuclear nonsense so typical of most of today’s environmentalists aided and abetted by a majority of Roman Catholic clerics (almost always in the name of St. Francis – how ironic!), then my response will not be positive. Clerics are generally NOT economists, historians, engineers or scientists. There are of course many bright exceptions (e.g., Father Charles LeMaitre who came up with the Big Bang theory). But most of those in the USCCB demonstrate an ignorance of science and engineering, economics and history exceeded only by that of the stones themselves.

  3. Paul: George L’Maitre, a Jesuit priest, posited the Big Bang theory, (now, in Great Britain credited to Hubble), a God centered evolution, as even evolution needs a beginning.

  4. “Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.” Matt. 16:23
    “The Church says that we cannot forget the poor and that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

    Two problems with catholic Liberals’ main bludgeon. You need to understand that with those people everything is based on deniable intimidation.

    One, what “counts” is that which you, personally, do for the poor. Campaigning, contributing money and time, and voting to confiscate/tax other people’s money to fund state “charity” is as beneficial for your soul as forcing someone else to do push-ups is for your heart, lungs, and physique. And, this sham charity (and faux mercy = anti-death penalty, anti-war) cannot counter-balance all the evils: abortion, artificial contraception, class hate/war, destruction of the American economy, destruction of the family, divorce, gay privileges, parental discretion to morally educate their children, race hate, etc.

    Two, when many hierarchy and clergy eliminated the moral and spiritual, and accentuated the socialist, they devolved to bunches of redundant social workers and feel good/pop-psychologists wearing odd clothing.

    An old adage applies. They’ve put the inmates in charge of the asylum.

    We always will have the Rosary.

  5. Catholic moral philosophy in general has been greatly injured by the casuist tradition that formed the staple of manuals for confessors, where it had a legitimate rôle. Its obvious flaw, as Miss Anscombe pointed out is that the casuist is reduced to asking, “Would it be permissible to do so and so?” or “Would it be permissible not to do so and so?” Only if it would not be permissible not to do so and so could he say “This would be the thing to do.” Otherwise, though he may speak against some action, he cannot prescribe any – for in an actual case, the circumstances (beyond the ones imagined) might suggest all sorts of possibilities, and you can’t know in advance what the possibilities are going to be. It is best confined to judging past actions, not to prescribing future conduct, which it is incapable of doing.
    Contrast this with the Christ-centred approach of theologians like Olier, the Sulpician founder – “It is necessary for the soul to be in fear and distrust of self; … It should make its pleasure and joy depend on sacrificing to Jesus all joy and pleasure which it may have apart from Himself. And when taking part in those things in which by Providence it is obliged to be occupied, such as eating, drinking, and conversation with creatures, it must be sparing in all, must discard what is superfluous, and must renounce, in the use of them, the joy and pleasure to be found therein, uniting and giving itself to Jesus as often as it feels itself tempted to enjoy something apart from Him and not Himself.” (The Christian Day)

    Olier and his school at least try to point out what it is right to do, rather than merely what is permitted.

  6. “The Next Generation Left (NGL) are at one with older liberals on the social issues, notably abortion and homosexual marriage, and it is primarily those issues which hold the Democratic constituencies together”

    The Next Generation Right (NGR) are at one with older conservatives on the economic issues, but traditionally conservative positions, notably abortion and homosexual marriage, are primarily those issues which threaten the cohesion of Republican constituencies.

  7. I believe that most of the American Church hierarchy is firmly in the Democrat Party camp. They refuse to see what is staring them in the face and has been for decades.

    FDR started Social Security, which gave old poor people in the 1930s an income. LBJ started the Great Society – HUD – housing for the poor, Medicaid – health coverage for the poor, Medicare – health insurance for the elderly.

    Democrats are always willing to let more poor people into the country, especially if they are coming from Latin America. Democrats were quite willing to give the Catholic charities of each diocese federal taxpayer money (as long as they kept their mouths shut about abortion).

    The Church in America has become a giant welfare distribution system.

    For decades the American Church has been silent about Humanae Vitae, silent about abortionist politicians who call themselves Catholic, giving said politicians Communion, writing pastoral letters about nuclear war, global warming and the enviornment, whining about the rarely used death penalty, often preaching pacifism, and absolutely refusing to honor St. John Paul II’s encyclical Ex Corde Eclisiae. (sic)

    Not to mention the embarrassing and costly episodes of ephebobiliac priests (no, they were not for the most part pedophiles). Many bishops ceded control of seminaries to feminist nuns like the LCWR.

    I am a sinner. I am in need of Confession. I struggle to set a good example to my wife and children. I struggle to avoid sin. I am by no means perfect and if God is merciful to me I will get a long time in Purgatory. What I am not ignorant of is the lousy Catholic education that has been going on for far too long in the USA and of the Church hierarchy that stays silent about sin.

  8. So now carrying your Cross and being quiet has been replaced by carrying a placard and being strident. Suffering replaced by self satisfaction, holiness by popularity. Let us pray!

  9. Vatican II did incalculable damage to the church.Making changes to what we were taught was a timeless church emptied all but the oldest out of the church.Incredible stupidity ,astounding ignorance of human nature.if the changes had come slowly,one at a time,no one would have been troubled,but no! Only a tidal wave of change would satisfy them.pride really is the deadliest sin.they thought they were doing something good and historic.I wonder how God has dealt with them.

  10. Tim Quinlan, What is astounding is that the post Vatican II clerics think that Vatican II was a success.
    Vatican II really didn’t change any doctrine, but, what the clerics have done is not teach some of the infallible doctrines, the major one, “no salvation outside the church”. Some of my friends, and we are all pre vatican Catholics, think that particular doctrine is no longer in force. But it sure is in force. An infallible doctrine cannot be abrogated, so the clerics just don’t mention it. This was brought on by ecumenism and inter religious dialogue.

  11. As Christ is the Church and iys judge then there truly is no salvation outside the Church. Best most of them can hope for is purgatory or for the believing, truly practicing Hebrews Limbo

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