Priests Appeal to World’s Bishops to Address ‘Pastoral Crisis’ in the Church
Their plea to reaffirm the Gospel comes in response to errors in teaching which they say have their roots in ‘secular mentalities and the false moral theology of past decades.’
A group of priests has issued a plea to all the world’s bishops to “reaffirm Christ’s teaching” in the face of today’s “pastoral crisis” in the Catholic Church.
Fifteen American and European clergy, including Father Gerald Murray, a frequent guest on EWTN’s The World Over program, highlight a resurgence of “gravely harmful moral errors” regarding the feasibility of living Jesus’ teachings, the nature of conscience, and the role of the Church.
With measured and respectful words, A Pastoral Appeal to the Bishops for an Apostolic Reaffirmation of the Gospel expresses the hope that “much of the damage” caused by this trend “could be healed or mitigated” if bishops were to “reaffirm Jesus’ teachings and to correct those errors with the full authority of your apostolic office.”
Doing so would “benefit those entrusted to your care,” they continue, and would “contribute greatly to the unity and well-being of the universal Church.” The priests warn that “without such assistance, this detrimental situation will worsen significantly.”
The priests’ appeal, signed on April 22, Good Shepherd Sunday, comes after frequent statements and actions from some of the hierarchy, theologians and even Pope Francis himself which many of the faithful believe question or even openly contradict the Church’s established teaching and pastoral practice.
Without referencing the Holy Father or any particular document, priest, bishop or theologian, the priests highlight a general “mistaken approach” which asserts that those who “commit objectively evil acts, and judge themselves subjectively free of culpability, must be allowed to receive Holy Communion.”
They argue that this can lead to the mistaken belief that, although certain behaviors are always evil, “in some circumstances those behaviors are the most realistic good that can be achieved or, indeed, are simply good.” Taken even further, they argue that this could lead to believing that such sinful “behaviors can be approved or proposed by God.”
“Christ’s life and moral teachings are thus presented as abstract ideals that must be adjusted to fit our circumstances, rather than as realities already attuned to free us from sin and evil in every situation,” the priests explain.
Filial and Fraternal Spirit
Such thinking is not a “new and legitimate development,” they add, and the Church has always vigorously opposed these theories as “contrary to the Gospel,” especially in the 50 years that have passed since Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The resurgence of these theories shows the need for a “more effective pastoral response” than priests can offer, and so the priests say they wish to call on bishops to exercise their “full apostolic authority” and issue a “formal reaffirmation of the Gospel and correction of these errors.”
In a “filial and fraternal spirit,” they then list 10 “crucial issues” they would like bishops to formally address.
These include the affirmation that “God is love,” meaning that “fidelity to Christ and his teachings is realistic and achievable, not an abstract ideal needing to be adjusted to circumstances of life.”
They ask the bishops to reaffirm that conscience is the “immediate norm of behavior but not the infallible voice of God. It can misjudge… [and therefore is] in need of being conformed to the Gospel.”
The priests also would like bishops to restate that “reception of Holy Communion cannot be reduced to a private act based on a subjective judgment of innocence because it is a public witness to one’s embrace of the communal faith and life of the Church.”
And they underline reception of Holy Communion by those who have divorced and remarried “depends on the objective reality of the bond of their first marriage and on the avoidance of sin and public scandal.”
The priests observe that the Church’s apostolic witness can often be mistaken by both clergy and laity, affected by “secular mentalities and the false moral theology of past decades,” as “outmoded or even cruel” and so mistakenly perceive that witness as legalistic or abstract.
“This is extremely painful for everyone involved,” they go on to say, adding it can be an obstruction to “a clear and authentic presentation of the Gospel.”
But they also recall those clergy and laity who, despite “a deep sense of grief and betrayal” caused by these errors, find hope and offer encouragement in their “unambiguous and loving witness.”
Father Gerald Murray
“All the more, then,” the priests conclude, “would the personal witness of a bishop, expressed with the pastoral care and full authority of a Successor of the Apostles, provide an effective means for Christ to gather, support, and guide his people.”
In May 1 comments to the Register, Father Murray said the appeal is an effort to remind the faithful that “the doctrine of the Faith is a gift from God that allows us to understand his revelation and conform our lives to God's will.”
He added that the appeal’s public nature is an “exercise of the right of Catholics, set forth in Canon 212, 3, to make known to the Church's pastors, and to the rest of the faithful, ‘their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.’”
He also stressed that the affirmations presented in the appeal “are drawn from the Magisterium of the Church and are not mere opinions of the signatories.”
Father Murray, a canonist and priest of the Holy Family church, New York, believes one cannot deny or minimize the fact that the current crisis has been “occasioned” by Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
“If persons who engage in publicly known adulterous behavior are authorized to receive Holy Communion, then the doctrinal integrity of the Church is under direct threat,” he said.
“If Catholics no longer have to conform their lives to Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in order to be considered worthy to receive Holy Communion, then many other sins will be subject to a similar re-consideration. That would be disastrous.”
Cardinal Burke's Response
Cardinal Raymond Burke responded to the appeal by telling the Register that it “expresses what I hear repeatedly from good and faithful priests laboring in various parts of the world.”
He said the current “reintroduction of an erroneous moral teaching, which the Church has, at various times in the past, corrected and disciplined, is causing a most grave confusion and division in the Church to the great harm of souls and the hindrance of the Church’s mission to be a ‘light to the nations.’”
The patron of the Order of Malta said “the only remedy” is the “reaffirmation of the Apostolic faith by the Successors to the Apostles.”
The cardinal said he commended the “good priests who have written and signed” the pastoral appeal “out of love for the Church and, in particular, for the portion of the flock of Christ in their priestly care.”
“May their wise and courageous action inspire their bishops to dispel the confusion of the present time in the Church and thus to begin to heal the division regarding the Catholic faith and its practice,” Cardinal Burke said.
The organizers say priests are invited to add their name to the appeal by entering their details on the appeal’s website: www.curapastoralis.org
Update May 3: The organizers say 77 priests have signed the appeal from over 17 countries on all 6 inhabited continents, up from 15 US and European signers at the beginning. However, they add it is "not a matter of numbers, but of evangelical witness."
May 10: A week since its launch, the appeal has now attracted 218 priests from 36 countries.