Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Blog Address

Greetings in Christ!

The new address for the CUF blog is

Please visit the new blog.

Monday, July 16, 2007

On this rock I will build my churches?

Today I had a letter published in a large, secular newspaper in which I came to the defense of the recent Vatican statement regarding the necessity of the Church for salvation. Last week the paper published a mischievous, front-page article blasting the Church and especially the Holy Father for taking a position that allegedly flies in the face of the Catholic Church’s more ecumenical, pastorally sensitive approach since Vatican II. I say “mischievous” because the article inaccurately presented the Church’s statement in order to generate controversy.

Of course the Vatican statement contains no new doctrinal teaching. And, for that matter, it wasn’t even intended for our ecumenical partners. Rather, it was directed to bishops and theologians to clarify issues that have arisen in recent decades concerning salvation through the Church and how this truth relates to other Christian communities. Certainly the Church has not reversed her “irreversible” efforts to foster the unity of all Christians—a unity rooted in both truth and charity.

I thought another published letter in the newspaper shows how much work we have left to do “in house,” as we strive to do a better job of catechizing our own flock. Here’s the letter in full, with the name omitted:

The Pope declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church ‘Only one church,’ (7/11, A-1, “Pope-approved document has Protestants wondering about ecumenism’s fate”).

The words are not new. I just haven’t heard them since childhood when I worried about the fate of Protestant friends, prayed for souls languishing in Purgatory, and saved pennies for pagan babies on hold in Limbo.

My faith formation was rooted in fear and confusion.

As a rational adult, I believe there are many roads to salvation. Otherwise, the kind-hearted Methodists, Jews and atheists who cross my path will be standing at the gates of hell along with mass murderers.

Must we return to the alienating discussion of a true church? Shouldn’t we focus on living the message of Jesus and serving others in the best way we can?

The Church might claim direct lineage to Peter, but it does not have a direct line to the mind of God.

There’s much open to comment here, such as the Chuch’s being directly linked to Peter, but not to God. I'm especially taken by the comment about her being a “rational adult.” I wonder why a “rational adult” would remain in a Church that’s not necessary for salvation.

Anyway, this reminds me of a letter I once received that began like this:

“I think your organization is an embarrassment to all thinking Catholics. . . .”

What do I make of such letters? I’m not a "thinking Catholic" on the order of a James Likoudis or Scott Hahn, but after many years of education and formation I think I can competently explain the Church’s teachings. Surely in the article to which that person was responding I did not espouse crossing a busy street without first looking both ways or some other unreasonable proposition.

Rather, the term "thinking Catholic" (or “rational adult”) is a code word to identify Catholics who consider themselves sophisticated and educated enough to choose for themselves what Church teachings they accept. As the above letter suggests, anyone who accepts all the Church’s teachings, even on such foundational matters involving personal salvation, is, in their estimation, simply not thinking. And this from someone who still claims to be Catholic!

In this letter we also see the latent universalism that has fostered tepidity and spiritual decay throughout the Church today. By this I mean the attitude that pretty much everybody is saved, that it really doesn’t matter what one believes, because we all end up in a “better place.”

We see this especially illustrated in contemporary funerals, which typically are “mini-canonizations” rather than privileged opportunities to pray for our beloved deceased.

This of course is a species of presumption, which is a defect of the supernatural virtue of hope.

It’s also strikingly similar to the Bible Christians’ theory of “once saved, always saved.” Once someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the theory goes, there is no way he or she can “lose” his salvation. Personal conduct is, in the end, irrelevant, and the theological virtue of hope is superfluous.

The above letter, representative of what we might call a “washed out” Catholicism, presents a similar perspective. Once one is born (this is much less complicated than having to be “saved” or “born again”), that person will be saved. Faith, religious belief, moral conduct, relationship with God, etc.—none of that ultimately matters. Now this group is willing to carve out a very narrow exception for the occasional Hitler or mass murderer, but the rest of us have it made.

Of course, if that’s true, who needs Jesus Christ, the one savior of the world? And who needs His Church, the instrument of salvation for the entire world, built on the rock of St. Peter? Why not take a road other than the way of the cross, since after all we "rational adults" know that there are many other more comfortable roads to salvation.

The truth is, God’s grace is unlimited. It’s not absent outside the visible boundaries of the Church. God calls each one of us by name, seeking a personal relationship with us as He offers us eternal life. Yet, God will not save us without our cooperation, in keeping with our human dignity. How dare we, at the moment of our death, cry out “Lord, Lord,” yet be unwilling to do what He says in this life? (see Matthew 7:21). Are we ready to meet Him if He calls us tonight?

For more in-depth Church teaching on this subject, visit CUF members may email their follow-up questions to, where they will receive personalized responses from our team of experienced apologists.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pope's New Book a Beautiful Meditation

I just read Pope Benedict XVI's latest book, Jesus of Nazareth. This is a theological and pastoral work that has the real Jesus jumping off the pages of the Gospels. While this book is not an exercise of his papal Magisterium, Benedict the teacher and evangelist demonstrates the reliability and reasonableness of the Gospels, simultaneously showing that the Jesus of history is, indeed, the Christ of faith.

The central question around which the book is based is: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace and universal prosperity? The simple answer is, according to Benedict, God - and with God, the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love.

In the foreword, Pope Benedict calls it a "most urgent priority" to present the figure and message of Jesus to help draw the faithful into a living relationship with Him. This sense of urgency is likely a response to some of the toxic consequences of a reductive Christology that has infected Catholic theology, catechesis, and activism during the past century. Rather than the incarnation of God Himself, Jesus is often seen primarily as a wise philosopher, social reformer, or political revolutionary. One need only look to certain strands of liberation theology to see these flawed models of Jesus.

When I first learned that Pope Benedict was writing a book on Jesus in the Gospels, I couldn’t wait to read it. Having now read it, I can’t wait to read it again. This book is a great read, a beautiful expounding of the Gospels, and an excellent tool for prayer and meditation. Read it prayerfully, with your Bible in hand, and you will fall in love with Jesus of Nazareth!

Look for my review of this book in the September/October issue of Lay Witness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CDF Responds to Questions on the Nature of the Catholic Church

The Congregration for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican's doctrinal office, just issued a document clarfiying the doctrine of the Church on June 29, 2007, the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Important issues addressed in this document include the relation of Vatican II statements to prior Church teaching; the meaning of the word "subsists" in Vatican II's statement that "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church" and why "subsists in" is used instead of "is"; and why "church" is not an appropriate term for those Christian communities that arose out of the Protestant reformation. The full text and footnotes are provided below.



The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, and its Decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) and the Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiolgy. The Supreme Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (1995).

The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance in the declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Communionis notio (1992), and the declaration Dominus Iesus (2000), all published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.


First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council1. Paul VI affirmed it2 and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: "There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation"3. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention4.

Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community"5, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.6 "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him"7.
In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church8, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.9 Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the Catholic Church.10

Third Question: Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity"11.

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church"12.

Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term "Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds"13, they merit the title of "particular or local Churches"14, and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches15.

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature"16. However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches17.

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history18.

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery19 cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense20.

The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these Responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 2007, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

William Cardinal Levada Prefect
+ Angelo Amato, S.D.B.Titular Archbishop of Sila Secretary
1 JOHN XXIII, Address of 11 October 1962: "…The Council…wishes to transmit Catholic doctrine, whole and entire, without alteration or deviation…But in the circumstances of our times it is necessary that Christian doctrine in its entirety, and with nothing taken away from it, is accepted with renewed enthusiasm, and serene and tranquil adherence… it is necessary that the very same doctrine be understood more widely and more profoundly as all those who sincerely adhere to the Christian, Catholic and Apostolic faith strongly desire …it is necessary that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which is owed the obedience of faith, be explored and expounded in the manner required by our times. The deposit of faith itself and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine are one thing, but the manner in which they are annunciated is another, provided that the same fundamental sense and meaning is maintained" : AAS 54 [1962] 791-792.
2 Cf. PAUL VI, Address of 29 September 1963: AAS 55 [1963] 847-852.
3 PAUL VI, Address of 21 November 1964: AAS 56 [1964] 1009-1010.
4 The Council wished to express the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. This is clear from the discussions on the decree Unitatis redintegratio. The Schema of the Decree was proposed on the floor of the Council on 23.9.1964 with a Relatio (Act Syn III/II 296-344). The Secretariat for the Unity of Christians responded on 10.11.1964 to the suggestions sent by Bishops in the months that followed (Act Syn III/VII 11-49). Herewith are quoted four texts from this Expensio modorum concerning this first response.
A) [In Nr. 1 (Prooemium) Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 296, 3-6]
"Pag. 5, lin. 3-6: Videtur etiam Ecclesiam catholicam inter illas Communiones comprehendi, quod falsum esset.
R(espondetur): Hic tantum factum, prout ab omnibus conspicitur, describendum est. Postea clare affirmatur solam Ecclesiam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi" (Act Syn III/VII 12).
B) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 297-301]
"4 - Expressius dicatur unam solam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi; hanc esse Catholicam Apostolicam Romanam; omnes debere inquirere, ut eam cognoscant et ingrediantur ad salutem obtinendam...
R(espondetur): In toto textu sufficienter effertur, quod postulatur. Ex altera parte non est tacendum etiam in aliis communitatibus christianis inveniri veritates revelatas et elementa ecclesialia"(Act Syn III/VII 15). Cf. also ibid pt. 5.
C) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 296s]
"5 - Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam...
R(espondetur): Textus supponit doctrinam in constitutione ‘De Ecclesia’ expositam, ut pag. 5, lin. 24-25 affirmatur" (Act Syn III/VII 15). Thus the commission whose task it was to evaluate the responses to the Decree Unitatis redintegratio clearly expressed the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church and its unicity, and understood this doctrine to be founded in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium.
D) [In Nr. 2 Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 297s]
"Pag. 6, lin. 1- 24: Clarius exprimatur unicitas Ecclesiae. Non sufficit inculcare, ut in textu fit, unitatem Ecclesiae.
R(espondetur): a) Ex toto textu clare apparet identificatio Ecclesiae Christi cum Ecclesia catholica, quamvis, ut oportet, efferantur elementa ecclesialia aliarum communitatum".
"Pag. 7, lin. 5: Ecclesia a successoribus Apostolorum cum Petri successore capite gubernata (cf. novum textum ad pag. 6, lin.33-34) explicite dicitur ‘unicus Dei grex’ et lin. 13 ‘una et unica Dei Ecclesia’ " (Act Syn III/VII).
The two expressions quoted are those of Unitatis redintegratio 2.5 e 3.1.
5 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.1.
6 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 4.6.
7 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, 8.2.
8 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1.1: AAS 65 [1973] 397; Declaration Dominus Iesus, 16.3: AAS 92 [2000-II] 757-758; Notification on the Book of Leonardo Boff, OFM, "Church: Charism and Power": AAS 77 [1985] 758-759.
9 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 11.3: AAS 87 [1995-II] 928.
10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.2.
11 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.2.
12 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.4.
13 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 15.3; cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Communionis notio, 17.2: AAS, 85 [1993-II] 848.
14 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14.1.
15 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14.1; JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 56 f: AAS 87 [1995-II] 954 ff.
16 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 15.1.
17 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Communionis notio, 17.3: AAS 85 [1993-II] 849.
18 Ibid.
19 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22.3.
20 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Dominus Iesus, 17.2: AAS 92 [2000-II] 758.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and the "Tridentine" Mass

Well, it’s finally official. Pope Benedict XVI has provided for a wider use of the older form of the Latin rite approved by Pope John XXIII in 1962, commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.

The first thing we need to do as faithful Catholics is to hear what the Holy Father is saying to the Church. For this reason, I encourage CUF members and all readers of this blog to read the current issue of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy’s newsletter, which is posted at .

This newsletter has an English translation of Pope Benedict’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum on the use of the preconciliar liturgical forms. After the apostolic letter is a letter from the Holy Father to all bishops providing some further explanation and context regarding the apostolic letter. Then the committee provides a helpful series of questions and answers on the apostolic letter and on the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” forms of the Roman Missal.

I consider CUF president emeritus James Likoudis one of the leading experts in the country on the liturgical changes brought about by Vatican II. He is the coauthor, along with Ken Whitehead, of the critically acclaimed book The Pope, the Council, and the Mass. The revised edition of this book is available at Here’s what Mr. Likoudis has to say about Summorum Pontificum:

“Like liturgically concerned Catholics in many countries, I welcome Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI, which allows any priest of the Latin rite to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of 1962 (the so-called Tridentine Latin Mass) in a far more generous manner than was previously allowed. As the Pope explained, the Church has ‘two usages of the one Roman rite,’ the ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI in accordance with the desires of Vatican II, and the older extraordinary form cherished by those Catholics having ‘a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier form of liturgical celebration.’

“In the revised 2006 edition of The Pope, the Council and the Mass, in which Kenneth Whitehead and I defend the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, we took care to observe that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had written books and articles indicating that ‘the sacred liturgy has long been one of his abiding interests and concerns.’ We also noted his view that ‘the liturgical reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council have not been an unqualified success in all respects.’ We wrote that it was expected that as Pope he would take measures toward an authentic ‘reform of the reform in accordance with the true mind of Vatican II’ (concerning which no one was better informed than that eminent theologian, Joseph Ratzinger). Pope Benedict has now done so in a striking and sensitive manner not only to assure the Church's preservation of its rich Latin liturgical heritage, but also to reach out to those who have been alienated from the Church by liturgical abuses that have gone uncorrected. It is fair to say that those who have expressed criticisms of the Holy Father's motu proprio, especially those on certain liturgical commissions, are the same who bear direct responsibility for failure to assure fidelity to the prescribed norms of the Mass--norms guaranteeing its sacrality, that is to say, its celebration with beauty, reverence, dignity, and solemnity. Pope Benedict XVI's action is calculated to further ‘reconcilation and unity’ in the Church, and as such should receive the support of all Catholics who care to see the end to senseless factionalism and divisions.”

Clearly, Pope Benedict desires to heal divisions within the Church, particularly as they relate to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which, after all, is meant to be a sacrament of communion, not disunion.

In working toward this union, the Pope gives both” sides” of this issue some food for thought.

He reminds those bishops, priests, and liturgists who oppose the “Tridentine” Mass that this older form has never been abrogated. Moreover, he cites “deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear” as one of the reasons for the desire for the older form. Such “deformations” of course were not required or even allowed by the newer form, but were the result of unauthorized liturgical engineering done in a false “spirit” of Vatican II.

In addition, the Pope mentions the attempts in the 1980s to provide greater opportunities for the older form of the Mass, based on the “legitimate aspirations” of the faithful. However, these efforts were met in some places with resistance rather than the openness that Pope John Paul II envisioned. Rather than meet the pastoral needs of the faithful who desired the Tridentine Mass, some Church leaders took a more dismissive approach that marginalized those who expressed these “legitimate aspirations.” Pope Benedict makes a point of saying that those who are attracted to the older form are not a small handful of aging extremists. Rather, he cites the vitality and size of the Latin Mass movement in his noble attempt to provide for their pastoral care.

If more local Church leaders had demonstrated similar pastoral sensitivity, this motu proprio would not have been considered necessary.

As for the Traditionalists, Pope Benedict makes it abundantly clear that we’re not talking about two different rites. There is only one Latin rite, and its ordinary form or expression--both in theory and in practice--is the Missal of Pope Paul VI, or what is often called the “Novus Ordo” or “new Mass.” The greater access to the Tridentine Mass does not signal a retreat from Vatican II. Traditionalists are bound to accept the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council as an authentic expression of the living Tradition of the Church. Vatican II did not bring about a “rupture” with the past, such that the conciliar teaching may be rejected by faithful Catholics. Those Traditionalists, such as adherents of the Society of St. Pius X, who have broken communion with the Holy See still need to be reconciled.

Time will tell how all this will play out on the diocesan and parish level, and whether this will bring about a healthy diversity of expression and “cross-pollination” of forms as the Holy Father fervently desires. Surely there will be situations and indeed controversies that will need to be addressed on an ad hoc basis, and Pope Benedict wisely called for Church leaders to report to him in three years so that the Church may continue to monitor the situation.

In the meantime, I encourage CUF members (if you’re not a member, sign up at to let us know how things are going in their own parish and diocese, and we will attempt to counsel and assist you in making your legitimate liturgical aspirations known to your pastor in a way that builds up the unity and peace of the Church. Such information will also help us to provide a unified voice for lay Catholics on this issue in our dealings with Church officials.

Friday, July 6, 2007

St. Maria Goretti, Chastity, and Modern Living

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Maria Goretti, a young girl who was stabbed to death, preferring to die rather than be raped. I thought I would offer five comments on today’s saint.

(1) She is considered a “martyr” by the Church. That’s not a big deal at first blush, but think about it. She wasn’t asked to deny an article of the Creed. She wasn’t told by her assailant (who incidentally underwent a conversion in prison and was present at her canonization) to “reject Christ or die.”

Rather, she adamantly refused to cooperate in any form of sexual impurity. She accepted death rather than sacrifice her chaste virginity. She was a devout young lady who knew the seriousness of sins against the sixth and ninth commandment, how they are more than capable of severing our relationship with Christ. She died rather than compromise her relationship with Christ, and so is honored as a martyr.

From this it is easy to see why St. Maria Goretti is a fitting patron saint for today’s youth, whose faith is undermined not only by poor religious instruction and secularist ideologies, but often in more concrete fashion by the pervasive sexual immorality of our culture.

Yes, virtue still matters!

(2) It follows from this that it’s extremely important to instill the virtue of chastity in our youth. Of course this has given rise in recent decades to classroom programs that provide “sex education” or “chastity education.” Some of these programs have thinly veiled anti-natalist, secularist, and/or pro-homosexual agendas, among others. Elements of these poisons on occasion have found their way into” Catholic” programs, to the consternation of many parents.

CUF has been a leader in upholding the Church’s teaching and pedagogy in this crucial area for decades. For more general information, check out these two “Faith Facts” available online at

Pure Biology? Effective Chastity Education (

Chastity Begins At Home: Parental Rights and Chastity Education (

CUF members are encouraged to contact us with further specific questions or concerns in this delicate area.

(3) Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that classroom programs too often turn into a “how to” class rather than a “now not to until marriage” class. The former is the providing of information, in other words “sex education,” while the latter is “chastity education,” or training in virtue. But even “chastity education” programs at times overstep parental authority and provide graphic, private information at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways.

When learning to drive a car or ski, the first thing we must learn is “How do I stop?” We are sexual beings. We are already oriented toward sexual activity. What we need is instruction and formation as to how to harness these natural urges in appropriate ways. Mere sexual instruction is simply throwing a child on skis down the mountain, often providing the very basis for a child’s becoming sexual active.

(4) This is an area where the “culture of death” is shown to be hypocritical and illogical. We constantly hear about the woman’s “right to choose” abortion. Society tells us that we must defer to the decision of the mother, who must be accorded unbridled freedom.

Yet, proponents of classroom sex education, who frequently are also Planned Parenthood supporters, tell us that young people can’t control themselves. They can’t be chaste, so at least we can help them be "safe" through extensive sex education. In other words, they tell us we’re only animals, that we're biologically incapable of self control. They thereby encourage promiscuity, and then they introduce girls and young women into the horrors of abortion as a rational exercise of the “right to choose.”

Christ has much more to offer young women than that.

(5) The development of the virtue of chastity in our children is vitally important, and this does require a certain amount of teaching on the part of parents and those duly authorized to assist them. But even more, it’s all about our lived witness. We need Dads to avoid pornography. We need Moms to avoid soap operas and immodest dress. We need to be diligent in our own recreation and activities and habits as well as those of our children.

Growing in virtue is difficult work, but it’s also a work of grace. Let us today ask for St. Maria Goretti’s assistance:

source of innocence and lover of chastity,
you gave St. Maria Goretti the privilege
of offering her life in witness to Christ.
As you gave her the crown of martyrdom,
let her prayers keep us faithful to Your teaching.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Straight Talk

I am truly blessed with many fond childhood memories. I had a loving father and mother and many other family members who cared deeply about me.

Even so, my dominant reality, at least during my school years, was that I was a fat kid. I was relentlessly teased, pushed around, and called names, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. By the time I hit adolescence, I was filled with rage, rebellion, and negative feelings about myself. In my late teens I finally started to get a handle on my weight, but for the past quarter century I’ve considered myself in “recovery,” always in need of vigilance lest I return to the nightmarish girth of my youth.

I realize that homosexuality and obesity are two very different conditions, but there are some important points of similarity. For one thing, I know from experience how bullies on the playground (some of whom don’t change their stripes as adults) prey on kids who are different, so I can sympathize with those who have been mercilessly persecuted because of their not-so-hidden sexual identity struggles.

Leaving aside the bullies, there are several typical responses to the fat kid. Some disdainfully point out the obvious (“you’re fat”) and what should happen (“you need to lose 50 lbs.”), but through word and attitude communicate indifference (or worse) to the poor guy’s situation. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who want to offer an easy way, who want to make the child feel good about being fat.

While my built-up defenses might have suggested otherwise, and I didn’t always respond favorably to constructive weight-loss suggestions, deep down I wanted to change. I appreciated efforts—even seemingly unsuccessful ones—to reach out to me. The people who cared most about me offered diets, changes in lifestyle, and fitness regimens to help me escape an unwanted condition. They offered a plan which typically involved hard work and discipline. Even more, they offered hope.

Homosexual persons need a similar message.

Bible Basics

We all know about the dissent that has plagued the Church in recent decades, contributing mightily to the contemporary “crisis of faith.” Some point to problems in the revised liturgy—both in itself and, more credibly, in the way it’s been implemented. Others point to problems in moral theology ushered in by Fr. Charles Curran and his colleagues. But I think underneath this is a crisis in Scripture scholarship, which today has led to a certain agnosticism and skepticism about God’s inspired Word.

This is true when it comes to the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual activity. One frequently hears, for example, that contrary to Church teaching (cf. Catechism, no. 2357), the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity but inhospitality. Of course, we also hear that Our Lord’s multiplication of loaves was not a miracle, but an important lesson on sharing.

Let’s look at just one of the several passages on homosexuality in the Bible:

“Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

First, note that there are actually two words in the Greek that are combined to form the word “homosexuals” in the above translation: malakoi (literally, “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females”) and arsenokoitai (literally, “males who take other males to bed”). Despite persistent attempts to relativize or explain away this passage, what St. Paul is saying here is beyond reasonable dispute, and it’s entirely consistent with other biblical passages on the subject and two millennia of Church teaching.

Second, St. Paul is writing here to baptized Christians, some of whom used to engage in one or more of these serious sins. Even though they have now been washed, they are still prone to commit these sins and, if they want to inherit the kingdom, they must not return to such sinful ways. (By the way, this is one of a host of passages that dispels the “once saved, always saved” error we often encounter today.)

So, those who engage in homosexual acts are expected to walk away from that lifestyle, and in fact people even in St. Paul’s time were apparently able to do it, with God’s grace. Surely it can be a long, difficult road that can at times involve relapse, but contrary to the modern line that some people are born that way and unable to restrain themselves, it is indeed possible and necessary to decisively turn away from such a lifestyle.

Finally, there are many sins listed in this passage. While we might not experience predominant same-sex attractions ourselves, we are inclined to a host of other sins, and for ourselves eliminating those sinful areas of our lives has to be the first priority.

Still, there is good reason to single out homosexuality for special mention. While many forms of immoral conduct are rampant today, they are nonetheless considered wrong and utterly to be avoided. We don’t celebrate “drunk driving month.” We’re not required to give our employees sensitivity training so that they can be more understanding of the internal conflicts of adulterers. When we condemn corporate crime we’re not called “greedophobes.” We don’t congratulate sneak thieves who “come out of the closet.”

When it comes to homosexuality, though, we are getting bullied and tricked into moving from decriminalization to societal recognition and institutional legitimacy.

Uncommon Valor

Fundamentalism is a significant problem today, but for the most part, fundamentalists stand outside the Church waiting to pounce on the unwary. Contemporary apologists such as Karl Keating and Pat Madrid have done a terrific job of arming the faithful against such attacks and transforming them into fruitful opportunities for dialogue and evangelization.

Homosexuality poses a more internal threat. It has effectively scaled the ramparts of the Church castle. If we deny the deleterious effects of homosexuality on the institutional Church, we have stuck our heads in the sand. We need repentance, purification, and grace, and we need heroic leaders— clerical and lay—who are willing to take on this beast.

Sexual impurity, even among seemingly devout, practicing Catholics, has weakened our defenses and compromised our witness when it comes to any sexual morality issue. In particular, Internet pornography has made substantial inroads in our culture and is destroying families. I urge men who struggle in the area of sexual addiction to seek assistance today.

The National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People has reported, to no one’s surprise, that over 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse were male, and of these the vast majority were postpubescent. While all categories and types of abuse are deplorable and tragic, the significant increase of homosexual activity involving young boys (and the accompanying episcopal misgovernance) beginning in the 1960s is what really turned this situation into a full-blown, front-page crisis.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to examine the complex causes of the scandal and offer possible remedies, though one obvious part of the solution would be not to accept seminary applicants who openly identify themselves as homosexual. Rather, the point is that the entire Church, beginning at the top, more than ever needs to be spiritually ready to proclaim the truth about human sexuality in the face of the ungodly push for same-sex unions.

Getting Personal

The Catholic Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and thus possesses the fullness of the truth. So, while other Christian communities have part of the truth (and often do more good with their portion of the truth than we do with the fullness), the strength of the Catholic perspective is that it’s inclusive; it captures the big picture. In the area of homosexuality, the Church doggedly insists upon a both-and: absolutely love the sinner, and absolutely hate the sin. One without the other misses the mark.

The vast majority of Christians surely affirm the need to love the sinner and the need for a compassionate approach. Without all the pastoral resources of the Church (especially Confession), however, the message can be a little strong on hating the sin, which is right, but incomplete. I think that’s an especially important consideration today. Try criticizing somebody’s work, or cooking, or opinion, without that person taking it, well, personally.

Homosexuals often define themselves—selling themselves short in the process—in terms of their sexual preference, so telling them that their conduct is objectively disordered and sinful, without all the pastoral charity the Church can muster, predictably isn’t going to go over well.

On the other hand, a significant segment of the Catholic Church (though not in her official teaching) has softened on the “hating the sin” part, buying into modern scholarship and rampant secularism and relativism that call into question the longstanding biblical and traditional condemnation of homosexual activity. Without that key aspect of the truth, loving the sinner loses its authentic, salvific meaning and degenerates into a spineless gospel of tolerance.

I remember a time as a young adult when I casually referred to myself as being fat. At the time I was a starving law student and the thinnest I’d ever been in my life. The person I was addressing said, “Leon, what are you talking about? You’re not fat.” It struck me then how deeply I associated myself with my tendency toward obesity, as though it would always define who I am.

Our society has largely lost its sense of the intrinsic worth of the human person, so we tend to define ourselves through external, secondary characteristics. That is never good, but it’s especially tragic when those with same-sex attractions define themselves as “gay.” Once they are so defined, they give up hope of ever being anything else, and so through force and illusion they strive to change their environment—including the laws of society—to accommodate their lifestyle.

In the face of this, we must be ambassadors of hope and mercy, not wimpy enablers. Woe to us if out of silence or misplaced tolerance we allow homosexual relationships to take further steps toward becoming the legal equivalent of marriage. As St. Paul urges, "do not be deceived" (1 Cor. 6:9).

The above is taken from an article published in the May-June 2004 issue of Lay Witness magazine. Old issues are archived at

CUF members automatically receive a subscription to Lay Witness. To become a member of CUF, visit

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bishop Bruskewitz is not the problem

Yesterday at , I received this question from a deacon in Southern California:

“I notice that the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska is on your advisory board. As I understand it, he has declined to cooperate with the audit concerning the steps being taken to protect our children. Could you explain his refusal and why he remains on your advisory board?”

After some initial pleasantries concerning Southern California, which for many years was my home, I gave the deacon the following reply:

Yes, we do have a sizable episcopal advisory council (btw, it’s a council, not a board with juridical authority, in case that matters to anyone), and in fact we just welcomed three more bishops to this council: Bishops Finn (KC), Yanta (Amarillo), and Jugis (Charlotte). If we were so inclined, we could probably add dozens more, as most bishops are genuinely appreciative and supportive of our efforts.

In fact, I received over forty letters from bishops thanking me for publishing Fr. Thomas Acklin’s The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood, which sets forth a compelling, positive image of the priesthood despite contemporary challenges and scandals. Here’s a link to our book publishing arm:

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz is generally considered an exemplary prelate. Just one indication as to how highly he’s thought of by the universal Church is the fact that despite the relative insignificance of Lincoln, Nebraska, several of his priests have gone on to serve as fine bishops elsewhere (e.g., Bishops Vasa and Jackels spring immediately to mind) and others fill important posts in the Vatican Curia.

More specifically, in relation to the scandals, note that there hasn't been a priest scandal in Lincoln. Rather, there has been an explosion of wonderful vocations to the priesthood and religious life under his watch and under the watch of his predecessor, Bishop Flavin. The main reason, in my estimation, is that Bishop Bruskewitz through word and example has had the courage to teach the faith and encourage young men and women to be saints. I also know that he will not admit a young man with same-sex attractions to the priesthood. Of course, in doing that, he is simply following the commonsense wisdom and practice of the Church. Yet, in recent decades, though not so much now, there has been some fudging on this in some other dioceses and seminaries, with unhappy if not scandalous results.

Should Bishop Bruskewitz have been more “polite” in his lack of cooperation with the Review Board’s audit? Maybe. Could he have managed all this with more political correctness? Probably. But he wasn't legally or canonically bound to cooperate, and he legitimately thinks that the whole process is at best a waste of time.

By way of example, the “safe environment” programs called for by the Review Board by their very nature infringe upon parental rights and violate the Church's pedagogy in the area of chastity education, as set forth most recently in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (Pontifical Council for the Family, 1996). And not only that, the way they operate suggests that parents, not predatory homosexual priests, are the problem here.

I don't mean to come off unduly harsh here, but that's the point isn't it? Bishop Bruskewitz is a straight shooter who, because of his heroic fidelity, is often made a target in more “liberal” Catholic publications and associations. Yet, the faithful in Lincoln in overwhelming numbers love and support their bishop. For my part, I’ve interacted with him many times over the years, and I have always found him to be a very fine and holy bishop who, as Vatican II emphasizes, makes teaching the faith in its fullness a top priority (see e.g., Lumen Gentium, no. 25, Christus Dominus, nos. 11-14).

We are proud to number him among the friends and advisors of this apostolate.

It’s fitting that this question should come up on the feast of the Apostle Thomas who, despite his initial doubt, became one of the great apostolic witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The first Eucharistic Prayer refers to “all who hold and teach the Catholic faith that comes to us through the Apostles.” Bishop Bruskewitz is a worthy successor of the Apostles who has been nothing less than a champion of the Catholic faith in his fruitful, dedicated service to the teaching Church.

Solid, Catholic Responses to Tough Questions

Eric Stoutz was recently featured on Relevant Radio's Searching the Word with Chuck Neff.

The hour-long show gave Eric an opportunity to showcase his ten years of experience answering the toughest questions you can imagine.

What makes a good catechetical program? What is the Church's teaching on tattoos? What happens if I refuse to forgive someone? These are just a few of the delicate questions Eric addressed on the show.

Click here to listen.

Members of Catholics United for the Faith have access to our Catholic Responses department and may email or call Eric with questions on the Faith. For more information, visit CUF's membership page.

Let us know what you think!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Seatbelts and Abortion

This past weekend my family and I drove through four states to attend the wedding of a family friend. As we entered one state, we encountered a huge sign that read “Seatbelts Save Lives: Buckle up—It’s the Law!” Then underneath in smaller print we saw the fashionable cliché: “Click it or Ticket.”

I think in general a law that requires all passengers in motor vehicles to wear seatbelts is a no-brainer. Most people consider this a commonsense safety practice and don’t need a billboard and the threat of criminal prosecution to compel compliance with the law.

It’s not so much the law that caught my attention, so much as its inner logic, which often seems to be missing in discussions pertaining to abortion “rights.”

Let’s start with the premise that seatbelts save lives. This premise far outweighs the 101 reasons why one might not want to wear a seatbelt. Yet, wearing a seatbelt doesn’t make me a safer driver. People who are not in my car are not in any way threatened by my not wearing a seatbelt. As my Mom used to say, “it’s your own funeral,” meaning I’m only hurting myself by not wearing a seatbelt.

If that’s the case, isn’t wearing a seatbelt a personal decision. Shouldn’t I be able to personally weigh the pros and cons and come up with my own decision without threat of legal repercussion?

Or, does the state have a vested interest in my well-being and that of my passengers—especially those who are too young to make their own decisions? Should the state protect this interest even when I am too foolish or ignorant or reckless to do so myself?

Clearly society’s answer—at least when it comes to seatbelts—is yes.

But where is my choice in the matter? Shouldn’t I have a certain autonomy to decide how I will protect myself and my passengers without outside interference? I’m not saying that seatbelts aren’t right for most people. I’m not even saying that seatbelts most of the time aren’t right for me. But doesn’t the Constitution respect my freedom to make choices that concern my own body?

Apparently when it comes to seatbelts, no.

And lastly, doesn’t it seem legitimate for the state to make the judgment that its citizens should wear seatbelts? Yes, there is a value judgment or moral judgment implied in all this. While some people probably disagree with the law, the state is free to make the law if most of the people think it’s going to promote the common good. Those who back the law see this as an important public safety issue, and not as the unwarranted imposition of the “values” of the majority on the minority.

After all, don’t all laws reflect the values of those who enact them? I mean, it seems silly to think one way, but legislate another, doesn’t it?

And wouldn’t it seem to be an undue and in fact odd impostition of the federal government to strike down seatbelt laws because they violate the privacy and autonomy of individual motorists and their passengers? Further still, wouldn’t it be strange if the Supreme Court were to find somwhere in the Constitution a “fundamental right to choose” to not wear seatbelts?

Of course it would. Maybe we should use more common sense when it comes to abortion. Seatbelts do save lives. Abortion doesn’t.