piece by critical piece

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 11, 2006

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba, Rembert Weakland's gift to Southeastern Wisconsin, is one of those persons who, in the words of T.B. Reed, "seldom open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." In his Herald of Hope columns, Sklba typically uses the plastic Playskool wrench from his depleted theological tool-kit to loosen some of the hex nuts at the junctural points of Catholic doctrine, then never quite gets around to snugging them up again in the space of his essay. This week he's telling us about his participation in a Lutheran/Catholic dialogue session, from which he returned scratching his scalp over the usual junior high paradoxes about the efficacy of impetrative prayer:

So what do we really pray for when we pray for the dead? Those in heaven don't need our prayers and anyone condemned (may they be few if any!) by his/her own free will can't benefit from them. We Catholics and Lutherans agreed in the fact that most Christians still require some cleansing of selfishness before being fully and finally embraced by God.

Supported by the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1030-32), we agreed that this is a process, not a place. We also agreed that the image of fire is a metaphor for the way God removes the useless stubble of our lives (I Cor 3:10-15). We agreed that we don't really know very much about that movement from life on this side of the great divide, and shouldn't pretend to know more than we do!

Do we pray to change God's mind about those folks "in between?" It's inconceivable that we should love anyone more than God does. So for what do we pray? That was the subject of an extended and fascinating discussion when the dialogue met last month in Baltimore. I found it intriguing that Luther warned against praying for the dead too much, lest we slip over into doubting God's mercy!

The questions Sklba raises point to perfectly kosher theological problems. But they have perfectly kosher doctrinal answers, and these are not forthcoming. Reading his remarks from the viewpoint of the Catholic faithful, do you feel you've been given something, or do you feel you've had something taken away?

Sklba's use of the Catechism is of a piece with his catalytic enthusiasms. The paragraphs he cites -- contrary to what he would have us believe -- say nothing for or against the notion that Purgatory is a place, but they anchor themselves by reference to a decree of the Council of Trent on Purgatory that speaks of "the souls there detained" (animas ibi detentas, DS 1820). He also quotes an earlier speculation of Ratzinger that, in the context he provides, suggests (though it doesn't demand) a departure from the received teaching. See the move? You use authority, subtly, to weaken trust in authority.

Again, it's a good thing that real theologians wrestle with the real paradoxes contained in Christian doctrine, but it's hard to find a positive pastoral advantage in a bishop's surfacing doubts in such an amateurish manner, only to pelt them with nerf balls and leave the doubts rather than the doctrine intact. At the conclusion of a Sklba column, the teaching Church usually comes across as an edifice slightly shakier than she was before. Weakland's worthy disciple.

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 1:10 PM ET USA

    Dear Aux Bishop Sklba; Since souls of the dead do not have bodies they do not exist in a physical place. Since we know they do exists then they must exist somewhere. We call the place where the dammed exist "Hell", the place of the Saints "heaven" and the place of purification "Purgatory." Purification requires a process called prayer. I will need all the prayer I can get. Should I pass on before you, please embrace God's Mercy and pray for me.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 12:50 PM ET USA

    Mall movie theaters here in Florida typically exit into the parking lot. After spending several hours in near darkness you find yourself in Florida mid-day sun. Your eyes burn and tear as you squint and shield them from the pure light. Your only recourse is to head back into the filtered light of the mall and allow them to adjust. I think of Purgatory every time.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 8:29 AM ET USA

    You should be thankful that you do not have to suffer under the confusion and ambiguity that Sklba and Weakland put forth. They still gloriously reign unfortunately in the Milwaukee archdiocese.

  • Posted by: R. Spanier (Catholic Canadian) - Nov. 12, 2006 2:26 PM ET USA

    The Church’s Catechism (1031-2) answers Bishop Skalb's questions. Section 1031 refers to the Council of Trent (1563): "…there is a purgatory… the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful… especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy Synod commands the bishops… that the sound doctrine of purgatory, which has been transmitted by the holy Fathers and holy Councils, be believed by the faithful of Christ, be maintained, taught, and everywhere preached."

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 11, 2006 3:28 PM ET USA

    Skylba is not alone. The mostly old, all Irish Holy Ghost fathers at St. Dunstan's are experts at this kind of homilizing. They only occasionally preach outright heresies but when they do something beyond re-reading the Gospel and calling the second time through a homily, they raise precisely the kinds of questions Skylba does and leave them unanswered in just the same way. Needless to say, they are convinced universalists. Do others suffer similar homiletics?

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Nov. 11, 2006 1:34 PM ET USA

    "It's inconceivable that we should love anyone more than God does. So for what do we pray?" very good Bishop. Why do we pray for anything then, the dead, the living, world peace, social justice, etc.? I think the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church have answers to this. But hey, why trouble yourself to gain a truly Catholic understanding when it would keep you from making it up as you go along?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 11, 2006 12:44 PM ET USA

    Herald of Dope

  • Posted by: - Nov. 11, 2006 11:26 AM ET USA

    It all goes to prove that "dialogue" is a process wherein one compromises one's beliefs.