I grew up a pre-Vatican II Catholic and drifted away from the Church in the mid-1960s. While my departure coincided with the close of the Council, that event had nothing to do with it. Instead, getting my college diploma, embarking on a career and indulging in the freedom of being out on my own for the first time in my life were pretty much the main factors that led me on my journey into the wilderness.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I had learned an awful lot about the Church and her teachings in 16 years of solidly orthodox Catholic schooling. I didn’t have any intellectual trouble with any of it but that, in itself was the problem: It was all in my head and not in my heart. While I could readily assent to every bit of it, none of it ever seemed all that important.
When God finally led me back to the Church some 30 years later it took me some time to realize that Catholicism was not what it had once been. Vatican II, it seemed, had changed many of those “immutable” truths all those priests and nuns had taught me so long ago. It took even longer to discover that, no, Catholicism itself hadn’t changed, but that Catholicism as practiced in much of the Diocese of Rochester certainly had. And the differences that really stood out did not involve such fundamental issues as the Trinity or the Eucharist; rather, they centered around morality in general and sexual morality in particular. Coupled with this was the disturbing tendency of some priests, deacons and parish staff to question the veracity of Scripture in areas, they claimed, were not essential for our salvation.
After getting to this point I began to wonder what must have happened to have caused so many people, not just to ignore (I could understand that – I had done it myself), but to question or even to deny the validity of the Church’s moral teaching. Catechesis, or the lack thereof, was obviously a large part of the problem, but why had so many local priests and other Church leaders stopped teaching Catholic morality?
We’re now in the early 2000s and over the next several years I was able to put together a bunch of factors – the influence of modernism, relativism and radical feminism in the Church, coupled with a homosexual infiltration of the priesthood and the somewhat understandable reluctance of otherwise good, but outnumbered and outgunned, priests to stand up for the truth, to name but a few – that seemed to give the outline of an explanation. Yet pieces were still obviously missing.
I wish I had had access back then to an article Colin Donovan published a week ago. In just a few short paragraphs he has managed to put his finger on many of the causes I had missed in my search to explain to my own satisfaction the decline in the Church over the last several decades.
[Two recent] incidents have highlighted for me the increasing divide between those seeking to remain faithful to the Gospel and to Christ and those Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, for whom citizenship in the world is evidently more important than citizenship in the Kingdom.
For Catholics, the initial visible rupture was certainly Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth). Its public rejection by many theologians, clergy and laity continues to the present day. However, their protests were, and are, merely the external expression of a pre-existing theological divide.
By 1968, many dogmatic theologians had imbibed the theological methods of Karl Rahner’s transcendental Thomism (more Kant and Heidegger than Aquinas) and Bernard Lonergan’s inductive method in theology (experience in dialogue with ever-new selves and circumstances).
These methods have accomplished what the search for the historical Jesus had already done for Scripture scholarship, separating the dogmas of the Church, seen as historically conditioned, from the faith of the Church, with the former to be discarded in favor of the personal experience of faith.
In moral theology, the consequences have been equally dire, taking the forms of proportionalism and the fundamental option.
For proportionalists, such as the theory’s father, Richard McCormick, moral decision-making is a balancing act. One can choose, in some set of circumstances, to do something acknowledged as evil if the goods to be gained are proportionally justified.
For instance, contraception, or even adultery (as dissenting theologian Father Charles Curran once argued), are morally wrong, but not intrinsically evil. One could envision a set of circumstances when they might be appropriate.
The Church, on the other hand, sees truth as knowable, both in the created order (the natural law) and as expressed in divine Revelation. The prohibitions of the Ten Commandments or of the Sermon on the Mount identify “intrinsic evils” which can never be justified, regardless of circumstances.
The theory of the fundamental option has been equally disastrous. It teaches that one’s “fundamental option” for God is more significant than this or that evil behavior in determining one’s relationship with him.
Without fear of offending God in the details of life, especially the sexual details, who needs to worry about personal sin or confession?
While Pope John Paul II felt it necessary to condemn both moral theories in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, few Catholics have probably heard of them, much less knowingly set out to apply them. They, nonetheless, are quite evident in the Church’s life.
I’m still not sure I have a completely satisfactory explanation but I do know that I am now a lot closer to one than I was seven days ago.
Read the entire article here.
Tags: Orthodoxy at Work