Editor’s Note: Generally the Church across the western world is being shaken. Sadly some of these tremors are causing people to turn away from the truth as found in the Holy Scriptures. We congratulate Cardinal Raymond Burke and the other Bishops who are calling for a more Biblical foundation for Catholic Church engagement in culture. The team at the Canberra Declaration are thankful to the Australian Newspaper for publishing this important article by Tess Livingstone.
In a sign of the deep divisions in the Catholic Church, two cardinals and several bishops have issued a declaration to correct “almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation” they claim is endangering Christians’ spiritual health.
The “Declaration of the truths relating to some of the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time“, released last week, took aim at some of the liberal positions on controversial issues taken by Pope Francis and others.
It was signed by US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was the Vatican’s principal legal officer for six years, appointed by Pope Benedict, but who was sacked by Francis in 2014.
Other signatories were retired Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats, and Kazakstan archbishops Tomash Peta and Jan Pawel Lenga and bishop Athanasius Schneider.
The declaration said the church was in a state of “almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation’’ which necessitated their exercising responsibility to speak up: “One has to recognise a widespread lethargy in the exercise of the Magisterium on different levels of the Church’s hierarchy in our days.’’
Many Christians, they said felt “an acute spiritual hunger’’ and a need for “a reaffirmation of truths that are obfuscated, undermined and denied by some of the most dangerous errors of our time.’’ Many people felt abandoned in a kind of existential periphery, a situation that “urgently demands a concrete remedy’.’
The Declaration covers dozens of issues, crystallising decades-old debates that have recently come to a head. It is a comprehensive restatement of centuries of church teaching, upholding, for example that “hell exists” and that people condemned there “for any unrepented mortal sin” are there eternally.
That insistence will be as welcome among some bishops, priests and Catholics as Israel Folau’s tweet on a similar subject was at Rugby Australia. The Declaration says “homosexual acts” and gender reassignment surgery are “grave sins” and same-sex civil marriages are contrary to natural and Divine law.
Father Paddy Sykes, chairman of Australia’s National Council of Priests, said the document “highlighted the huge divisions in the church, around the world and in Australia’’. The NCP has 1200 to 1500 paid up members. Its quarterly magazine, The Swag has a circulation of 4000 to 5000.
The divisions in the church, Fr Sykes said, were clear when the Australian bishops’ conference split 50/50 last year between Brisbane’s archbishop Mark Coleridge and Sydney’s archbishop Anthony Fisher, with Archbishop Coleridge, regarded as the more progressive and liberal, appointed president on the grounds of seniority.
“I’m glad he was,’’ Fr Sykes said.
Fr Sykes, a parish priest in the NSW country diocese of Wagga, said the new declaration was 100 per cent correct theologically. It would appeal, he said, to “people whose natural inclination was to have certainty in order to feel safe’’.
“Pope Francis recognises that life is not like that and that we need to deal with the fluidity of the life of the world,’’ he said. The pope had “shaken a few cages’’.
But Fr Sykes agreed that Francis was dogmatic on some political subjects, such as climate change. Last week, the pope told energy executives at the Vatican that the world faced a “climate emergency’’ and called for radical action.
Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy chair Fr Scot Armstrong took a different line to Fr Sykes. He said the cardinals and bishops had produced a “quality, comprehensive’’ document to offer “concrete spiritual help to address the difficulties being experienced as unity (in the church) is further stretched, and in some cases, even breaking down’’.
It was “a useful reminder that the faith is not our own concoction but received from Christ’’ Fr Armstrong said. It could not be altered “as a political party might change policies, or a corporation might change its business approach’’.
“Pope Francis recently remarked — jokingly — that if some don’t like the faith they can go and found their own church,’’ Fr Armstrong said. “He was joking, but the point was made. This document serves to strengthen that point.’’
In the declaration, the cardinals and bishops said abortion was “forbidden by natural and divine law” and euthanasia, which becomes lawful in Victoria under tightly controlled conditions this week, was a “grave violation of the law of God” because it is the “deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person”.
Marriage, they said, was “an indissoluble union of one man and of one woman … ordained for the procreation and education of children”. The priesthood must be reserved for males.
In a swipe at the joint Muslim/Catholic document signed in Abu Dhabi in February by Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Muslim University, stating that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God”, the signatories insisted that “the religion born of faith in Jesus Christ … is the only religion positively willed by God.”
Referring to the confusion over divorce, remarriage and the reception of Communion generated after Francis’s encyclical Amoris Laetitia and the Vatican’s 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the signatories insisted it was unacceptable for Catholics who divorced their spouses and entered into subsequent civil unions to receive Communion.
In contrast, many of the 17,457 submissions collected during the consultation phase of the Catholic Church’s Plenary Council, suggest many Australian Catholics favour modernisation of church structures and teachings, with calls for married priests, women priests, an end to LGBTIQ discrimination, greater transparency and reform of church governance. But others advocated a reassertion of tradition and better faith education.
Australia’s Catholic bishops are in Rome to meet Pope Francis on their five yearly ad limina visits.
Tess Livingstone, a journalist for The Australian and The Weekend Australian, is the author and editor of over 10 books on business, education, theology and a children’s book. Her work has been published in Australia, the UK and the USA.