Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

An analysis from Down Under

May 21st, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

The Record is a weekly Catholic newspaper that serves the Archdiocese of Perth and the Dioceses of Broome, Bunbury and Geraldton – all located in the State of Western Australia. This week’s edition features an editorial which is the best analysis I have yet read of the background behind the recent forced retirement of Bishop William Morris.

While the removal [of Bishop Morris] was almost unprecedented in Australia, it not-so-surprisingly illuminated fault lines within the Church which all reasonably well-informed observers have known about for decades. To use somewhat technical language, the fault-line is sometimes described as the one which runs between the hermeneutic of continuity on the one hand and a mentality which can be described, on the other, as a hermeneutic of discontinuity. At the end of the day, however, the issue under debate was the simple fact that in the Catholic Church every Bishop, a successor to the apostles, is obliged by sacred oath to teach what the Catholic Church teaches – period.

The hermeneutic of continuity is an outlook which sees the history of the Church from Christ up until now as an organic and constantly developing unity which takes into account the person and teachings of Christ, Scripture, two millennia of Catholic faith and practice and the defined body of teaching called the magisterium. It accepts as a matter of faith that some things can’t change, no matter what the popular view such as, for example, the belief in Christ’s divinity. Such things are, in effect, the constellations in the night sky by which the ordinary Catholic man or woman can safely navigate because they do not change position.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity, conversely, is more a mentality that tends to regard much of the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council as somehow deficient and which seeks to obscure, change or reverse some or much Church teaching, not excluding the dogmatically defined magisterium, usually in matters to do with the sanctity of human life and gender, but also extending to issues such as ecclesiology, liturgy, and in specific instances such as the ordination of women. It usually seeks to do so in accord with moral relativism and the values predominantly to be found in popular culture. It often confuses the individual sinfulness or failings of members of the Church throughout history with the actual faith of the Church.

One mentality is informed by two millennia of constant belief and practice, often heroically witnessed to by martyrdom, the other by the mass media and the fashionable theories that abound in our culture. On the side of the essential unity of Church belief and teaching from Christ up until the present is Pope Benedict; on the side of changing Church teaching and practice to suit some values of majority opinion, sadly, was Bishop Morris.

The arguments surrounding the dismissal of Bishop Morris are therefore also about ecclesiology, which is to say they are about the Church: among these being questions such as what is the Church, who constitutes it, who has authority to define what are the essential beliefs which distinguish Christianity, especially Catholicism, from other beliefs and philosophies and who, if anyone, has the power to change Church teaching? This is why the arguments surrounding the dismissal of Bishop Morris are fundamental in nature; they are neither irrelevant nor obscure. They also have direct consequences for Catholic youth, for Catholic marriages, and for Catholic family life. Although he is undoubtedly a good man and shares much in common with fellow members of the Church, Bishop Morris’ first problem was that he didn’t understand that.

There’s more here.



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