A Call for Less Civility

When a politician commits a grave error, his fellow politicians are slow to correct him, and their correction is only mild, if they correct him at all. When a physician working at a hospital behaves unethically, his fellow physicians are reluctant to take action against him. If a police officer commits a crime, his fellow officers will often cover up the crime, rather than report it and have their fellow officer arrested. Why does this occur? It is because human persons are reluctant to speak against persons within their own group. And this is why many organizations and groups have some type of oversight, whether it is an independent financial audit, or a government agency that can intervene, or some other body that can take whatever corrective action is needed.

But there is no such recourse in the Church today. Theologians, for many years now, have operated in an scholarly environment that tolerates abject heresy and every kind of doctrinal error. If a priest or moral theologian publicly justifies some grave sin, by one theological artifice or another, there is often no correction from his peers. In those uncommon cases when a fellow Catholic theologian does speak out, the correction is usually mild and fleeting. There is no strong rebuke.

Should we not wait for the Magisterium to correct such these grave doctrinal errors? In most cases, the Holy See and the Bishops remain publicly silent. A priest or theologian can teach heresy, in the classroom and in publications, for many years without any public correction from any Bishop or Cardinal. But neither is it the sole domain of the Magisterium to correct every doctrinal error among theologians. Theologians themselves should correct one another.

{18:15} But if your brother has sinned against you, go and correct him, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you will have regained your brother.
{18:16} But if he will not listen you, invite with you one or two more, so that every word may stand by the mouth of two or three witnesses.
{18:17} And if he will not listen to them, tell the Church. But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.

But if a theologian is teaching heresy, and he will not accept correction from priests, theologians, or the laity, then there should be recourse to the Magisterium. Unfortunately, many Bishops are too busy with administrative tasks, running a diocese as if it were a corporation. They do not spend much time writing theology, or becoming involved in theological disputes. They seem unwilling or unable to correct the many grave errors being spread among the faithful by priests, theologians, and various other members of the laity.

Worse still, at many supposedly Catholic universities and colleges, heretical views prevail to such an extent that a faithful Catholic theologian, especially one with more conservative theological views, could not even be hired. The liberal heretical theologian — especially in the field of moral theology — finds much support for heretical views from colleagues and students in the university setting. There is toleration and even praise for heresy and various doctrinal errors among theologians today. The result is that whole theology faculties at many Catholic institutions of higher learning are dominated by heretical ideas.

What is needed is less civility among theologians in correcting their peers, especially when grave questions of morality are at issue. Jesus rebuked Peter sharply: “And turning away, Jesus said to Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan; you are an obstacle to me. For you are not behaving according to what is of God, but according to what is of men.’ ” (Mt 16:23). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees strongly: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! … You are foolish and blind!” (Mt 23). Jesus condemned the city of Capernaum: “And as for you, Capernaum, who would be exalted even up to Heaven: you shall be submerged into Hell.” (Lk 10:15). Saint John the Baptist called the Pharisees vipers: “You progeny of vipers! Who told you to flee from the approaching wrath?” (Luke 3:7).

Jesus rebuked individual persons (e.g. Peter), groups of persons (e.g. Pharisees), and even whole towns without regard for civility, political correctness, or possible repercussions. When a priest or theologian teaches an heretical error on a matter of grave morality, we should do the same.

The scope of this problem is very extensive. I would go so far as to say that most moral theologians today have fallen into clear material heresy. They raise numerous doubts and objections to the Church’s moral teachings. They propose entirely new systems of morality, which utterly ignore the moral doctrines of the Church. They publicly justify partial birth abortion, direct abortion, contraception, masturbation, and other grave sins.

“It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine…. The traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church’s moral teachings are found simply unacceptable…. In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself….” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 4)

The very foundations of moral theology are being undermined by the many grave errors on ethics being proposed and taught by certain priests and theologians, which are then accepted and put into practice by many within the laity. It is not a matter of a simple disagreement on abstract theory. Heretical ideas on ethics are not merely being proposed, but taught, learned, and acted upon in real situations. A recent direct abortion at a hospital in Phoenix Arizona was justified by moral theologian M. Therese Lysaught by reference to the works of Germain Grisez and Fr. Martin Rhonheimer. All three of these theologians claim that it is moral for a physician to kill a child, in the process of being born, by crushing his or her skull, in order to save the life of the mother. They publicly justify direct abortion and partial birth abortion, and there is no outcry from the faithful or from other theologians.

On the subject of contraception, many persons are now saying that contraception might not be immoral outside of marriage, or that it might be moral within marriage, if there is a good intention, or a difficult circumstance. They base these words (and perhaps also their own actions) on certain moral theologians (joined by more than a few bloggers and posters) who publicly propose and even teach versions of moral theology that are incompatible with the magisterial doctrine on the basic principles of ethics found in Veritatis Splendor and other sources. The harm done to souls by all of these unethical teachers of ethics is incalculable.

What are the consequences for members of the laity who openly teach heresy while claiming that it is sound doctrine, in blogs, in anonymous postings, in videos, and in other ways? They expect no consequences at all. Sinful secular society has taught them to exercise a version of freedom of speech which shows no regard for the truths taught by Tradition or Scripture or the Magisterium. Whatever they want to believe, the same they claim to be true.

What are the consequences for these priests and theologians when they speak out against the teaching of the Magisterium on morality? Do they lose their teaching positions at Catholic institutions? The very suggestion elicits laughter. Will the Holy See issue a notification or correction, condemning their ideas? Such corrections are rare, while heretical errors are common. The most likely consequence is that they will have the praise of their peers and of many in the laity. And this lack of any fitting consequences when a priest or theologian teaches heresy has led to the rapid spread of heresy among the faithful, causing grave harm to many souls.

May God correct them. For no one else seems willing or able to do so.

— by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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