Remaking the Church
VOTF vs. the Catholic Catechism
Editor’s note: One year ago this month, Catholics in Connecticut mobilized against a proposed law that would severely restrict a pastor’s authority in his own parish — and the bishop’s as well.
In his four-part series, Deacon Thomas Davis, associate director of the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a practicing attorney, demonstrates how such a law fits in with parish restructuring proposals of Voice of the Faithful, the national organization that sprang up in the wake of the clerical sexual-abuse revelations of 2002.
Deacon Davis also explores Voice of the Faithful’s connections to dissident theologians and its plans to spread doctrinal error among Catholics.
In yesterday’s installment, we saw how certain interpretive presumptions discount the unity of Scripture as well as Tradition and the teaching office of the Church. VOTF embraces these errors when its study guide challenges the nature and origin of the ministerial priesthood and the Church: “Critical scholars hold that Jesus was a devout Jew of his times, and that his only intention was to reform his Jewish religion. He did not intend to establish a church,” the guide says. “Peter … and the rest of the apostles were certainly not ordained priests or bishops, not by Jesus and not by anyone else.”
The claim that Jesus did not intend to establish a church is not Catholic teaching. The Catechism states in numbers 763 and 765: “The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the good news, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the Scriptures. …The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head. Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem.”
In Called to Communion (Ignatius Press, 1996), then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger demonstrates Jesus’ intention to establish the Church: “The community of Jesus’ disciples is not an amorphous mob,” he writes. “At its center are the Twelve, who form a compact knit core. … In constituting the circle of the Twelve, Jesus presents himself as the patriarch of a new Israel and institutes these twelve men as its origin and foundation. There could be no clearer way of expressing the beginning of a new people.”
How is it that VOTF would dilute so basic a tenet of the Catholic faith? Might its infatuation with Rudolf Bultmann’s theories explain its errant claims and drive another agenda? If the “historical” Jesus did not institute orders, might other questions arise concerning authority and structure in the Church? The limitation of priestly ministry to men could not rest on any action of Jesus.
Yet, the Church firmly teaches that Jesus instituted orders. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, referring to the ministerial “stewards of the mysteries,” states: “In view of carrying out these lofty functions, the apostles were enriched by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8; John 20:22-23).”
Another section of VOTF’s study guide titled “Becoming a New Religion” is troubling: “The historical view held that Jesus established a church … and that at the Last Supper Jesus ordained the apostles as the first priests and bishops. … In Chapter 7 in The Beginnings of the Church [one of the texts used by VOTF in its study guide], we see that a critical analysis of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles calls into question the above-stated view (as does the entire book).”
VOTF sympathizes with the critical analysis in The Beginnings of the Church, but gives scant attention to its exaggerated presumptions. In addition to the indefensible dismissal of Peter’s confession, it ignores Matthew 16:19 (“the keys of the Kingdom,” a reference to the investiture of authority by the ancient kings of Israel — see Isaiah 22:22); the commission of Peter to “feed my lambs” in John 21:15-17; and the primacy implicit in Jesus’ statement to Peter that “Satan has demanded to have you [plural in the original Greek = apostles], that he may sift you [plural = apostles] as wheat; but I have prayed for you [singular = Peter] that your faith will not fail, and after you [singular = Peter] have turned, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
Unwarranted claims are multiplied in a manner undermining ministerial authority in the early Church. One egregious example disfigures the Gospel of John: “There was a basic egalitarianism in the Johannine community and a rejection of any type of authority figures. In fact, there is no mention of the apostles in the fourth Gospel, and the Beloved Disciple always upstages Peter.”
While it is true that the Twelve receive the title “apostles” only after the Resurrection, the fact remains that the Twelve hold a privileged place in the Gospel of John as well as the synoptics. The fourth Gospel makes direct reference to “the Twelve” at several points.
“Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:67-69).
That express reference to “the Twelve” is followed by two more in the next two verses: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was to betray him” (John 6:70-71).
The synoptics present “the Twelve” as the chosen inner circle of disciples (Matthew 10:1-5; 11:1; Mark 3:13-16; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1). In John’s account of the Last Supper, we encounter multiple references to some of the apostles, including Peter, John, Thomas, Philip, Judas Iscariot and the other Judas referred to as “not Iscariot” (i.e. Thaddaeus), and we know from the synoptic accounts that the apostles were gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room. That an elect group was appointed by the Messiah is clear enough in John’s account standing alone. When read in union with the entire scriptural corpus, it is unmistakable that the Johannine reference to “the Twelve” is a reference to the apostles. And the suggestion that John is always upstaging Peter in the fourth Gospel fails to account for John’s deference to Peter when he arrived at the empty tomb first but waited to enter until Peter preceded him (John 20:4-8).
The final installment in this series will demonstrate how the prophetic warning sounded by then Cardinal Ratzinger in A New Song for the Lord is realized in the practical application of VOTF’s theology.