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Catholic Culture Overview

Apologizing for hard truths

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 02, 2022

OK, Bishop Ray Browne, I give up. What is the Christian position on abortion? On homosexual acts?

The Bishop of Kerry issued a public apology after a priest, celebrating Mass in his diocese, condemned abortion, said that homosexual acts are mortally sinful, and added that that the distribution of free contraceptives is “promoting promiscuity” and that it is “lunatic” to encourage children to question their sexual identity. “The views expressed do not represent the Christian position,” the bishop said.

They don’t? You may question whether Father Sean Sheehy delivered the message effectively. You may question whether he should have devoted a homily at Sunday Mass to such controversial topics. But the thoughts he expressed do reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Speaking about “the promotion of sex between two men and two women,” the controversial homilist said: “That is sinful; that is mortal sin.” Fact-check that statement against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357. There is no conflict.

So what does Bishop Browne offer as an alternative? “The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a Gospel of love and ever proclaims the dignity of every human person.” Well, yes. And yet—forgive me—I fail to see how that statement contradicts the statements by Father Sheehy. Pope St. John Paul II explained, in Evangelium Vitae, how a respect for human dignity requires firm opposition to abortion, and requires defending the integrity of the marital act.

Bishop Browne, in his apology (for what?), cites the Book of Wisdom and the Beatitudes. Good. He does not cite the Epistle to the Romans, nor the Ten Commandments. (“Thou shalt not kill.”) These, too, are ancient and authoritative expressions of “the Christian position.”

Father Sheehy (who is officially retired) now reports that the bishop has removed him from the list of priests who fill in when regular pastors are unavailable, apparently because of the “deep upset and hurt” he caused with his homily. But he is not backing down; he told a radio audience that “what I said cannot be disproven by any honest-to-God Christian or Catholic teaching.” And he’s right.

“You have a responsibility to call people to an awareness of the fact that sin is destructive, sin is detrimental, and sin will lead us to hell,” Father Sheehy said in the homily that caused all this trouble. Anyone who wishes to proclaim the dignity of every human person—which Bishop Browne describes as the “fundamental Christian teaching”—should feel the moral obligation to dissuade people from taking such destructive actions.

In fact, let’s take that logic a step further. If a parish priest goes month after month, year after year, without ever warning his people against the dangers of deadly sin, isn’t he guilty of betraying the fundamental truths of faith, and endangering the souls of his congregation? Please, Lord, show me the bishop who will apologize for what his priests don’t say.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Cinciradiopriest - Nov. 08, 2022 2:49 PM ET USA

    There have been and always will be priests and bishops who omit or soft-pedal the hard Truths of Jesus Christ. St. Jerome spoke of them in a letter to priests he wrote. To this day, priestly status is strongly reinforced in Seminaries over priestly service and the pursuit of holiness for themselves and the people they are sent to serve.

  • Posted by: Cory - Nov. 07, 2022 8:10 AM ET USA

    Today's Gospel : And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. The bishop would rather we cause others to sin.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Nov. 06, 2022 10:15 AM ET USA

    Let's hope that bishop Ray Browney does not get rewarded for his action with a promotion to cardinal.

  • Posted by: Sciamej4805 - Nov. 05, 2022 4:27 PM ET USA

    Phil, many of us at the grassroots' level of life and faith CANNOT understands what is going on in our beloved Church. Fortunately, someone such as myself is not going to stop going not church and supporting it in many ways, but of late we are being rocked on the Barque of Peter! to whom do we appeal, to whom do we add prayers to get to the right people! We pray!

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Nov. 05, 2022 9:44 AM ET USA

    Prayer for conversion of faithless bishops is admirable but not sufficient. If you are in battle with an enemy shooting live ammunition and trying to demoralize and destroy you, it is immoral NOT to shoot back and neutralize the attacking force. Figuratively speaking, of course.

  • Posted by: theabea7789996 - Nov. 04, 2022 8:07 PM ET USA

    It's horrible to feel so helpless, and to think how many are led to hell by errant teaching. Best option: an extra rosary each day for those led astray by errant teachers, and for conversion of heart for those teachers.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Nov. 04, 2022 7:43 PM ET USA

    Sad commentary on the health of the faith in Ireland. Heading in the same direction as rest of the EU.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 04, 2022 6:02 AM ET USA

    On his ordination each priest makes solemn promises: to preach the Gospel and teach Catholic faith, to be united to Christ High Priest and with Christ to consecrate himself to God for the salvation of all, and finally a promise to respect and obey his bishop and his successors. These sacred promises are never to contradict each other. This situation shows how an unfaithful bishop can violate the integrity of priesthood and harm the Church. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Mat.12:25

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Nov. 03, 2022 10:17 AM ET USA

    Lets award Fr. Sheehy an Oscar, call it the Mankowski, and see how many of these things we can distribute. BTW I treasured "Jesuit At Large" by Weigel, but the collection you have released in "Diogenes Unveiled" is beyond compare. The steady drip, drip, drip of plainly crap theology of guys like Browne is what is so demoralizing. And yes, he deserves no greater appellation than just one of the guys who continue to explicate and improve upon Jesus Christ.

  • Posted by: chapman18668 - Nov. 03, 2022 9:20 AM ET USA

    These bishops, Bishop Browne is just the latest example, do not have supernatural faith, and should be removed from office, but the reverse happens, the faithless bishops remove the priests who have the faith.