The following is from an article in Sunday’s Calgary Sun newspaper. To say it boggles the mind is an understatement.
A Canadian Roman Catholic body representing 22,000 priests, nuns and religious brothers has labelled the Vatican and the Canadian church outmoded on issues such as homosexuality, contraception and divorce, reports said yesterday.
In a letter sent to every bishop in the country, the Canadian Religious Conference also says the church is locked more into defending church dogma rather than listening to people's search for meaning, and faults the Canadian church for its "unconditional alignment ... with directives issued from Rome."
The letter talks about the Vatican's and the Canadian church's intransigent stands on sexual morals, their unwelcome attitude toward homosexuals, their lack of compassion for those who divorce, their fear of dialogue with other churches and their censorship of dissenting views.
The letter goes on to say:
"This is an uncommon step for us to take," a Toronto newspaper reports the letter as saying. "We take it with the firm conviction that it is absolutely essential, particularly at this time in the great history of the church. Our church has seen great suffering and is being called upon, now more than ever, to carefully discern the signs of the times."
I'll have to say, when I first saw this story, I thought it was a joke, or a parody of a protest by your stereotypical, sixties' dissident. After all, the thing contains every cliche ever used by those of that ilk. I mean, "discern the signs of the times", "search for meaning", "outmoded". C'mon, how tired are those expressions?
The letter also contains every error, or misrepresentation of "dogma" ever propounded by such groups. To take one example, the letter refers to the Church's teaching on divorce as being among her outmoded ideas. But, those teachings were not just dreamed up by the Church, they come from Jesus himself. We read this in Matthew 19:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."
These words of Jesus are at the heart of the Church's teaching on divorce. If you want to say they are "outmoded", then everything that Jesus ever said or did is subject to being considered outmoded. Where do you stop? Which of Jesus' teachings do you decide to accept or reject? Are these people suggesting that Jesus was unable to "discern the signs of the times"?
One of the things that finally drove me from being a Presbyterian to becoming Catholic is the tendency among liberal Protestants to do this same thing. They will take a passage from the Bible, one that is very clear in its meaning, one that is clearly not politically correct, say Paul's discussion of homosexuality in Romans 1, and say "oh, it doesn't really mean that, you know. He's talking about something else entirely." You can expect, and almost accept this kind of thing coming from a Protestant, but from someone who represents themselves as Catholic? It's a lie, from the prince of lies and Catholics are supposed to know better.
I am waiting to find out if this letter was indeed some sort of joke perpetrated by someone with, at best, a weak sense of humor. If not, I have to admit to mixed feelings on my hoped for reaction from the Canadian bishops. Part of me wishes they would react strongly against this impertinence, for the sake of the Church and their flock, if not for themselves. It seems that failure to react to so bold a challenge is to give the impression that the teachings of the Church are not really important and need not be followed. Worse, some could interpret weakness here as a sign that the bishop's themselves are not all that convinced of the truth of the Church's position on these issues.
On the other hand, there might be some reason to look for a pastoral reaction. I think this kind of letter from a group supposedly representing priests and religious is much more dangerous to the faithful today than in the past because of the abysmal state of catechesis today. There are a good many people out there today who likely do not see anything wrong with this kind of thing, who think that maybe the Church should get in tune with the "signs of the times." The pastoral thing to do would be to make a real effort to promote solid, orthodox, catechesis for the (adult) faithful, and make it much more widely available than it is today.
Finally, I think if I were one of those Canadian bishops, I would certainly call an assembly of all the priests in my diocese. The purpose would be to have a real heart to heart talk. In the military, we used to call it a "come to Jesus meeting."