Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

'Faithful' Dissenters Try to Refashion the Church

by Peter D. Howard


This article is a summary of reviews from 'Lay Witness' of two books authored by U.S. dissenters - one a priest and the other an ex-priest. 'Questions Catholics Ask In A Time Of Change' is by Marist Father John Thornhill, and 'Brave New Church: From Turmoil To Trust' is by US Fr William J Bausch.

Publisher & Date

Original, September 04, 2002

Dissenting, self-styled "faithful theologians" continue to divide Catholics whom they victimise, for there can be no common ground between truth and error. Summarised here are reviews from Lay Witness (LW) the publication of Catholics United for the Faith, of two books authored by U.S. dissenters — one a priest and the other an ex-priest. Similar opinions will be better known to Australian Catholics as coming from ex-priest Paul Collins. Local dissenters take the lead from such as these, and these divisions can be seen in some of the writings in some of the so-called Catholic media. Faithful dissent? What an absurd myth! The same portrayal of faithful Catholics as "hardliners", "pre Vatican II", "conservatives", "far right", "spies", "arch conservatives" is seen in The Courier Mail Cross purposes article by Wayne Smith (Cardinal Ratzinger is an "ultra conservative",17/11/01) and some of which were used in the editorial (19/11/01), evidently happy with dissent.

The onslaught continues. A gullible reviewer, Br Brian Grenier, in The Catholic Leader, Oct 7, 2001, p 15, whitewashes the faces of dissent, right in Brisbane in these two books: Questions Catholics Ask In A Time Of Change is by Marist Father John Thornhill, and Brave New Church: From Turmoil To Trust is by US Fr William J Bausch.

Ex-priest Robert McClory, who married and became a writer for the US National Catholic Reporter — the leading dissenting paper in the USA, has written Faithful Dissenters reviewed in LW June 2001 by Jim Likoudis who explains that McClory's aim is to "promote a much needed 'theology of dissent' that he believes is well grounded as 'a constant and integral part of Church history.' " Likoudis stresses that, as is usual for dissenters, "he has, however, so muddled the meaning of 'dissent and disobedience' that persons who never rejected the definitive doctrines of the Magisterium are confused with actual formal dissenters."

A "fundamental flaw" is McClory's failure to distinguish definitive doctrine from "widely held and evenly commonly taught theological opinion." The usual erroneous "stale arguments" are produced to show how doctrine has changed on "usury, slavery and religious freedom", thus "misleading readers into believing that the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church has contradicted doctrines it formerly taught. It represents but another journalistic entrench ongoing dissent from magisterial doctrine and to justify the sinful disobedience to lawful Church authority. The publication of such a volume by Orbis Books of Maryknoll is a disservice to the Church."

Likoudis quotes John Paul II: " 'The Church's interior Teacher (the Holy Spirit) does not inspire dissent, disobedience, or even merely an unjustified resistance to the pastors and teachers established by Him in the Church' (address April 24, 1991; cf. Acts 20-29)."

The reviewer states that McClory includes St Catherine of Sienna, Yves Congar, St Thomas Aquinas, Blessed Mary MacKillop and John Henry Cardinal Newman as among those who "corrected" doctrine once regarded as "irreformable and in no way open to revision" or resisted "certain Church mandates as if they did not exist."

McClory tries to show that often "official Church doctrine or discipline had been 'corrected' by 'Catholics outside the hierarchy.' " Likoudis comments that McClory considers dissenters an enrichment to the Church and a positive good as he writes "The Church (in some cases the world) is better for their contribution", and lists "dissent" as existing on contraception, male only priests, celibacy for the priesthood, homosexual activity and remarriage after divorce.

Fr Thomas P Rausch, SJ, looks for "common ground" on which all can agree in his Reconciling Faith and Reason (in a Divided Church), published by The Liturgical Press, and reviewed by Fr Ray Ryland in LW April 2001. Readers may note that a name such as "The Liturgical Press" is not synonymous with fidelity to the Church.

Immediately, Fr Ryland points out that "The Church can never be divided, a fact most recently affirmed by Vatican II in its Decree on Ecumenism." This fact was even more recently reaffirmed in Dominus Iesus, 2000, (CDF), and Pope John Paul II teaches it in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001.

Fr Rausch promotes what Fr Ryland labels the spectrum theory which is "basic to all Catholic dissent" - the "left" can reject any number of doctrines; the middle or "mainstream" holds much of Catholic doctrine; the "right" assents to all doctrine - one is a "good" Catholic regardless of where one stands for it is merely a matter of choice.

The "right" is labelled as: "conservatives"; "the Catholic right wing"; "conservative Catholic subculture" and so on. Here he includes: Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Pat Madrid and Peter Kreeft as "pre-critical (because they reject some opinions of contemporary biblical scholars), and "magisterial fundamentalists" (faithful to the Magisterium) or just "fundamentalists". "Conservative" organisations included are Catholics United for the Faith, Christendom College, EWTN, Thomas Aquinas College, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Franciscan University of Steubenville and so on.

The "left" he mainly identifies as "advocacy groups" to change the Church's teaching like Dignity (homosexual lobbying), CORPUS(for married priests and ex-priests), the Women's Ordination Conference, Catholics for a Free Choice, and Call to Action. Only a few individuals are named (by quoting them approvingly) as "liberals" or "progressives".

Fr Ryland exposes Fr Rausch as describing the Catechism as "a wonderful compendium of Christian doctrine" and then denigrating it as not reflecting "modern scholarship" and not addressing "many contemporary concerns' (not identified).

Despite admitting that the Church "needs to be heard" on sexual morality, he wants the laity to use "common sense" in changing her teaching to suit their own views on contraception and homosexual behaviour! Fr Rausch uses the familiar "marginalised" to describe those who contracept, remarry after divorce and live homosexually. Fr Ryland stresses that such people have "marginalised" themselves. The absurdity of Fr Rausch's thought is evident from his belief that though moral norms are rooted in human nature they need not be "universally applicable" - an oxymoron, as Father Ryland says.

It is interesting to see the strategy of attempted justification of dissent used here. The free gift of faith from God is placed in opposition to the authority of the Church which is the only way we can know Christ's truths, and the only way to assent to the truths which Christ proclaims through her, is as doctrine Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium. The self delusion consists in denigrating the "obedience of faith", which by Christ's mandate and St Paul's teaching cannot be separated from the Church.

Code of Canon Law, canon 752 mandates: While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising their authentic Magisterium, declare upon a matter of faith and morals, even though they do not intend to proclaim that doctrine by definitive act. Christ's faithful are therefore to ensure that they avoid whatever does not accord with that doctrine. (End of canon 752).

From the 1990 Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, CDF, Art 23: "When the Magisterium, not intending to act 'definitively', teaches a doctrine.....the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect." [The footnote refers to "Lumen Gentium", n 25; Canon Law 752]. Art 36 affirms: "The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent." So dissent is NEVER allowed.

Good counsel: "Priests should have no part in efforts to downgrade or dismiss serious efforts made by the Church to uphold her doctrine and discipline by a querulous readiness to see nothing but 'Vatican legalism', 'Roman authoritarianism' or a 'pre Conciliar conservatism'... our priestly words and witness must always authentically reflect the Church's teaching...we must ensure, above all, that we are not ensnared by the world's dominant secularism. The spirit of dissent and routine contestation is a sad legacy of the sixties and seventies." (THE PRIEST, Autumn/Summer '96; The Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy).

Brother Brian Grenier's Reviews

These reviews carry little analytical examination of the content, apparently being offered to promote the books.

Fr William J Bausch has written profusely, and Br Grenier advertises his latest book Brave New Church: From Turmoil To Trust in which Fr Bausch promotes a married clergy, and apparently sees a disconnection between "liturgy and life". Br Grenier considers it a "valuable resource" and especially suitable for parish study and discussion groups.

Isn't it totally predictable that certain reviewers don't promote the encyclicals and the Catechism for study and discussion? Why is Br Grenier so enthused with this "highly respected pastor and prolific author"?

Is this the reason? In another book, While You Were Gone A Handbook for Returning Catholics (and those thinking about it), Fr Bausch claims that the Church is still determining her stand on things such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, women priests, etc! This is to be expected for he has claimed also that a woman has the power to celebrate Mass from her baptism and really needs empowerment in the Church; that Sacraments are mere signs, not causes of grace.

Even Fr David Coffey wrote on Fr Bausch's book on Ministry, that he tended to "blur the distinction between the ordained priesthood and that of the laity" and that the "instances of Fr Bausch's dubious or faulty historical or theological judgment" were "so numerous and serious that the book cannot be recommended." Fr Bausch insists that Jesus did not institute the Sacred Ministry — a theme that has been around from some of The Catholic Leader columnists for many years.

Fr Bausch claims that the "community" is the arbiter of all matters concerning faith and discipline in the Church: and so does the parish program Renew, sponsored by Archbishop Peter Gerety of Newark, New Jersey, from which State Fr Bausch's ministry comes. [For these facts on Fr Bausch, see Rome Or The Bush, Michael Gilchrist, 1986, p 102-104].

Fr John Thornhill, better known to our readers, has produced Questions Catholics Ask In A Time Of Change, and Br Grenier extolls his "considerable knowledge of theology, Scripture and Church history" again for use "in parish discussion circles", and "highly recommended."

Fr Thornhill is now also known for his Banyo statement "the Church made a mistake by bringing dogma and doctrine to Australia instead of the Gospel story." Fr Thornhill wants to see changes in Rituals : devotional practices, Eucharistic processions and parish missions; in symbols: in statues, especially the Sacred Heart devotion; in roles: for laity, clergy and religious. He decries as "anti intellectual" and "a form of Catholic fundamentalism" fidelity to the Magisterium in holding to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as providing the answers needed in the Church's present difficulties.

This Marist priest holds that it is an anti intellectual reaction... to take up the religious devotions of "yesterday's Catholicism": prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed and particular Marian devotions of the past. Br Grenier thus supports Fr Thornhill in doubt, confusion, and denigration of the holiness which the Church and saints advocate.[See ACPLetter June, 2000, on Small Communities].

Readers should be alert to the dissent, confusion and fallacies promoted by McClory, and Fathers Rausch, Bausch, and Thornhill.

Further Misrepresentation

In The Catholic Leader of September 2, 2001, Terry Oberg reviews Alister McGrath's In The Beginning: The Story Of The King James Bible. Oberg is fascinated that the theme of the book is "power" and McGrath alleges, according to Oberg, that the "English speaking clergy did not want the Scriptures available to the average...citizenry....The laity would gain some [power] at the expense of the frightened, threatened clerics." Oberg then shows his true colours - "We of the modern Church are not surprised by McGrath's answer. Power!...A contemporary parallel might be the destruction of Reconciliation's Third Rite." (!)

So here we have, once again, a repetitive, divisive, attack by a Leader reviewer against the Church's sacramental order so clearly taught by the Magisterium, in which the condemnation by the Holy See of the illicit and abusive use of the Third Rite is referred to as a "destruction". This continual undermining of the Church's authority and Sacred order by the official weekly is apparently condoned, as is an obsession with "power' being the explanation for everything. Typically feminist.

Both Karl Keating's What Catholics Believe, Ignatius, 1992, and the Lumen Verum Apologetics Course, 2000, give the facts on the use of the Sacred Scriptures in the England of that time. Every well-schooled person could read Latin, and by the so-called reformation virtually all who could read, read Latin. Before the printing press, monks laboriously copied the Scriptures for the use of all which was very time-consuming, but the production and use of translations, corrupted to support false teachings, was condemned. So the scarce and expensive Bibles were chained to prevent theft and to ensure that all would have access to them. Protestants later did the same.

Johann Gutenberg, a Catholic, produced the first printed Bible, with the Church's approval, in 1455. Luther was not born until 1483. There were 18 German editions of the whole Bible before the Catholic monk Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517, and the first English edition appeared in 1525. James I in England authorised the "King James" version only in 1604.

Peter D Howard is the president of the Association of Catholic Parents in Brisbane, Australia, and editor of the Association's quarterly ACPLetter.

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