Bishop Raymond Lucker: A Tragic Figure of the 'New Catechetics'
In a May 1998 article on the catechetical debacle of the past 40 years for Catholic World Report, author Donna Steichen wrote:
"The classic goal of catechesis was to inform the understanding of the Catholic faithful by teaching them the principles that would enable them to love God, make moral judgments independently, and ultimately to go to Heaven when they died. Like any human endeavor, it was never perfectly done, nor effective in every case; but during World War II, Msgr. Ronald Knox observed that the young American Catholic servicemen stationed in England were the best instructed laymen he had ever met."
That "classic goal" of catechesis was, perhaps, fatally subverted by a relatively small circle of self-proclaimed experts, the most prominent of whom have been named throughout this series: ex-Brother Gabriel Moran, Fr. Gerard Sloyan, Fr. Richard McBrien, et al., but in the center of that influential circle was Bishop Raymond Lucker, who died September 19 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 74 at the time of his death.
Bishop Lucker of New Ulm, Minn., with the late Bishop William E. McManus of Fort Wayne-South Bend (and former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago), was a key change agent at the "switching points" of the Church's catechetical enterprise in this country for over 40 years.
To the end, Lucker was one of the most defiant and outspoken of the "gang of 40" — those American bishops who openly and actively support an agenda contrary to the Second Vatican Council, and encourage dissenting theologians, university professors, and catechists engaged in the ongoing process of ecclesial deconstruction engineered in the years prior to the convening of Vatican II.
For decades, Lucker was at the center of "the new experiential catechesis" and acted as the point man for an entire religious education establishment's battle with the Holy See over content and methods in religious education programs.
In many ways, he was a figure as tragic as the products of the catechesis he promoted: As a young priest, he was known for his orthodoxy and his "conservatism," but as time would show, he never recovered from the "theological I scholarship" or brainwashing he caught from European periti during Vatican II while he was student in Rome.
As bishop of New Ulm, Lucker gained national attention by his positions favoring the ordaining of women and the ordaining of married men, opposing Humanae Vitae, and criticizing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (and the late John Cardinal O'Connor, by the way). As an obituary in St. Paul's Pioneer Press observed felicitously, Lucker "moved like a zephyr through the corridors of power in the American Catholic Church."
Raymond Alphonse Lucker was born in 1927 in St. Paul, the son of a railroad worker. He was educated at Sacred Heart Grade School and Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary. In 1948, he received his BA in philosophy from St. Paul Seminary, and in 1952, a master of arts degree in Church history, also from St. Paul's. In 1966, he received his doctorate in sacred theology (STD), from the University of St. Thomas in Rome and in 1969, a Ph.D. in education from the University of Minnesota.
Upon his Ordination to the priesthood on June 7,1952, he was appointed assistant director of the archdiocese's Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, a post he held until 1958, at which time he moved over to St. Paul's Seminary to instruct seminarians in catechetics, where he remained, except for his years in Rome, until 1969. During that same period, he also held the post of director of the archdiocese's CCD office.
In 1969, he became director of the Department of Education in the newly created United States Catholic Conference, a post he held until 1971. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese in 1971, and, after serving in two parishes, was appointed bishop of New Ulm on December 23, 1975, and installed February 19, 1976.
As author of several books, including Aims of Religious Education, 1966, and a contributor to Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese's Universal Catechism Reader (1990), a bitter critique of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Lucker was truly a "pioneer" in what he always insisted was a "catechetical renewal." He helped, with the late Bishop McManus, set up the National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education, was a delegate to the International Catechetical Congress in Rome in 1971, represented the bishops of the United States as a delegate to the synod in 1977 and as an alternate delegate to the synod in 1987.
He participated actively in the annual diocesan director meetings from 1952 until the establishment of the National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education in 1966. He was also one of the founders of the Catechetical Forum, an association of catechetical writers, professors of catechetics, CCD directors, and other catechetical leaders, and he was actively involved in many dissident organizations, such as Call to Action.
In March 1981, Lucker was the first bishop in the United States to appoint pastoral administrators (who are often radical nuns) as leaders of parishes. He created an international sensation when he placed one of his rural parishes under interdict until every member received psychological counseling. The parishioners' crime: They objected to a nun-catechist trained in New Age spirituality by Matthew Fox catechizing their children, and her decision to replace the crucifix in the church's sanctuary with a "cosmic pillow."
Lucker, considered one of the most activist and modernist among the American bishops, was a sought-after speaker, and addressed hundreds of national and diocesan conventions, conferences, and symposia on catechetics, evangelization, laity in Church and society, pastoral planning, and spiritual renewal.
He was a regular speaker for conferences sponsored by the National Center for Pastoral Leadership, which sponsors major, national catechetical conferences, established by Maryland layman Tim Ragan to promote dissent in the Church, and even served on its advisory board.
Ragan selected speakers/wrote Dan Guido for an Annapolis business magazine, "who have been rebuked by the Church or forced out of their Church-related positions for their criticism of the policies of Pope John Paul II, as well as more mainstream Catholics who share the same outlook."
The list of speakers with whom Lucker would share a podium included many of the most prominent dissenters of the past 25 years: Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Rosemary Ruether, and Ruth Fitzpatrick; dissident nuns like Sisters Sandra Schneider, Joan Chittister, Mary Luke Tobin, Barbara Fiand, Miriam Therese Winters, and Jose Hobday; resigned priests Bernard Cooke, Anthony Padovano, and Thomas Groome; Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Mich.; and Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton; Notre Dame's top theologian Richard McBrien, New Age guru Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., and many others, most of whom also appear at Roger Cardinal Mahony's annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, the country's largest.
In her 1998 CWR article, Steichen eloquently and succinctly summarized the data shown in this series:
"Catechesis is generally conceded to be a dismal failure today. Survey after survey demonstrates the shocking doctrinal, ecclesial, and moral illiteracy of American Catholics of every age and ethnicity. Two-thirds do not believe Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist; most do not even know they are supposed to believe this fundamental tenet of Catholic faith . . .
"The catechetical collapse of the past 35 years has not been an isolated phenomenon. One of the most prominent partisans in the campaign that produced the 'new catechetics,' Fr. Berard Marthaler, cheerfully concedes that it 'has had a symbiotic relationship with biblical scholarship, the liturgical movement, and the 'new theology" ' . . .
"Thus, in what was supposed to be an age of lay empowerment, the DRE and her colleagues form a new clericalism more rigid than the old, with a rule and a compulsory 'process' for every eventuality. Earlier religious reforms had typically called for more intense prayer, stricter asceticism, higher standards of personal morality, and greater purity of doctrine. The 'new catechetics,' mandated as the legitimate expression of 'the Spirit of Vatican II,' seemed to call believers to greater laxity, instead. Doctrines the faithful had previously accepted as true and changeless were swiftly replaced by a 'new theology' whose major premise seemed to be that the 'old church' — now dead — had been wrong about virtually everything, while the 'new church' purportedly born of the council, knew with certainty that truth cannot be known with certainty.
"Much talk was heard about 'the signs of the times,' but the new experts seemed to regard them as welcome revelations rather than as challenges. Bewildered Catholic parents were told that the rote memories of the young must no longer to be filled with 'dry formulas' of 'cognitive information.' Building self-esteem replaced the transmission of Catholic doctrine as the goal of pedagogy. In elementary school, textbooks became vapid but colorful. The Blessed Sacrament was described as 'special bread' for a special celebratory 'community meal.' Students were told to see Christ in each other, rather than 'in that bread box on the altar.' No more would their consciences be 'deformed into scrupulosity' by a 'rigid personal morality focused on sin.'
"Catholicism would henceforth entail accepting one another unconditionally, as God does, being kind to each other, and rejecting any temptation to judge another's actions against an objective standard. Instead, young Catholic students were given to understand that God was speaking to them in their experience. The new role of the catechist was to help them to reflect on it. Often 'religion class' became an attempt to provide the desired religious experience through such 'creative' activities as finger painting, banner making, liturgy-planning (or 'para-liturgy' planning), or talking about current secular heroes.
"At the high school level, the new religious education seldom involved textbooks reflecting traditional Catholic doctrine. When doctrinal matters were addressed, they might be explained in terms formally rejected long ago as 'anathema.' Class time might mean directed small-group discussions of 'Lifeboat' ethical dilemmas, or the evils of war or of capital punishment, or perhaps — as thousands of religious jumped ship — self-justifying denunciations of Church teachings on contraception, celibacy, or other embattled points. Over the decades, classes at all levels centered more frequently on 'creation spirituality' — an exaggerated environmentalist anxiety over the 'endangered planet' that sometimes edges into idolatry.
"Nor is this crisis past. Even now, widely used catechetical texts embody a religious agenda that not only omits but in important particulars contradicts Catholic teaching."
As one of the U.S. bishops' top catechetical experts, and as ordinary himself after 1976, Lucker was intimately involved in every major catechetical endeavor in the postconciliar era. For example:
• The 1971 International Catechetical Congress in Rome: There, as related in the anonymous work, DOA: The Ambush of the Universal Catechism (Crisis Books, 1993), "John Cardinal Wright and his Congregation for the Clergy were seriously embarrassed by a series of resolutions passed by the English-speaking language group at the congress" who declared that the recently issued General Catechetical Directory could be ignored by those bishops who disagreed with its requirements.
Among the highlights of that congress was Cardinal Wright's swipe at Lucker's predecessor at the USCC Education Office, then-auxiliary bishop of Chicago, William E. McManus — the same cleric who was responsible for Kalt & Wilkins' heretical and psycho-babbling To Live Is Christ.
Cardinal Wright, taking note of the tremendous popular tumult over the "new catechesis," exhorted the professional catechists to "clear your minds of theological smog, your hearts of induced sociological confusion, so that you may recapture joy in the Lord." McManus responded to this criticism by suggesting that the cardinal might hire a professional public relations professional "to make sure he doesn't fall on his face in much more important matters."
Wright retorted: "Well, maybe. But there are those of us who believe that professionalism, despite all its virtue, can ruin religion more quickly than sin — at least if the sinners have contrite and humble hearts."
• In September 1972, Lucker and his creation, the National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education, published their Commentary on the General Catechetical Directory, which contradicted and undermined the Holy See's document.
• The National Catechetical Directory, Sharing the Light of Faith, was eventually approved by the U.S. bishops in 1977 and was granted a recognitio by Rome after the Holy See made significant amendments. But during the four-year process of its creation, the NCCB-USCC staff in Washington labored mightily to enshrine in the document the right of Catholics to dissent from authoritative Church teaching on a variety of issues, including such hot-button issues as contraception and First Communion before First Confession.
• Lucker was one of four U.S. bishop-delegates at the Synod of Bishops, in Rome 1977, which focused the bishops' attention on the "state of catechetics."
Summarizing the synod, Aloisio Cardinal Lorscheider said the bishops "expressed the wish that Revelation should not be diluted or drowned out in a catechesis which is centered on speculative or psychological side issues. Catechesis should not propose immature theological opinion, or even more serious, theological opinions that are contrary to the faith."
Lucker's view at the time, criticized in an editorial (October 27, 1977) by A.J. Matt Jr. in this newspaper, was that "theological speculations do not disturb my faith."
• In 1989, after the "mini-summit" involving top officials of the Holy See and the American bishops, at which Catechetical concerns were again mentioned, Lucker said he was "flabbergasted" that John Cardinal O'Connor seemed to agree with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger that there had not been a "Catechetical renewal" in this country over the past 35 years.
With "a heavy heart, with tears, Lucker told a group of educators in Sacramento, he heard of O'Connor's lament that "years of confusion and diversity in catechetical instruction material . . . [have] left an entire generation in a state of ambiguity," and of Ratzinger's caution that religious education "has been turned over to the so-called professional," resulting in a "confusion of voices, making it all the more difficult to recognize that of the Gospel."
Lucker worried that Ratzinger's and O'Connor's views reflected those of "reactionary" groups such as Catholics United for the Faith and the readers of The Wanderer and Fidelity.
At that same meeting, Lucker gave a preview of how The Catechism of the Catholic Church would be received in this country by the professional "religious education" establishment by hinting that it would be merely a "resource for bishops."
At War With The Catechism
After the Holy See produced its Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first official Catechism since the Council of Trent, Lucker responded with The Peoples' Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults, by the People of God, for the People of God, co-edited by Patrick Brennan and Michael Leach (Crossroads), one of a group of hostile responses intended to undercut the Catechism and render it obsolete.
Reviewing the book, Fr. Alfred McBride, O. Praem., observed at the time:
"The book states its material is ‘drawn from human experience . . . written in modern idiom for real people . . . a truly contemporary catechism, an adult followup to the new Catechism . . . directed to mature Catholics . . . presents Catholicism as the living faith of a people.’
"This is a tired repetition of a narrowly understood view of human experience, a restrictive attention to the present with little connection to Church history or the history of salvation, a preoccupation with psychological maturity — admirable in itself, but insufficient for those who believe they have been called to holiness, grace, faith, and the supernatural life.
"This is a flattened landscape where the experience of God from the great sources of Revelation — Sacred Scripture and Tradition, and sacraments and prayer — should be the proper object of catechesis. Biblical, liturgical, and ecclesial signs of God’s presence . . . In this Peoples' Catechism, we are pressed down here in a pedestrian commerce with one another when we need to stand in awe before the majesty of God, the splendor of the cross, the overflowing love of the Trinity, and the companionship of Mary and the saints (the ones who are irretrievably members of God's People)."
Confused To The End
The tragedy of Bishop Lucker and so many of his peers in the field is that once they accepted the subversive elements of the "new theology" and the "new catechetics," they embraced it to the end, oblivious to the fact that the embrace set them apart from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Earlier this year, aware he was dying of cancer, Lucker gave an interview to The America Catholic's Catharine A. Henningsen, published in its January/February 2001 issue.
In the interview, Henningsen reiterated the points Bishop Lucker had made in an address to members of Call to Action in November 2000, in which he claimed that the Church had changed its teaching on 65 subjects, and stated his view that the Church could "reform" its teachings on such matters as ordaining women and artificial birth control.
Lucker defined an "authoritative teaching" as one that a large number of people accept, but when there is a "critical mass" of people who no longer accept that teaching, then it is subject to change.
At one point in the interview, Henningsen asked: "But when you look at Ordinatio Sacerdotalis [the definitive papal document on the impossibility of ordaining women], which the Church has proclaimed as a definitive teaching, there is nothing in Scripture against the ordination of women."
"That's right. The teaching on the ordination of women is one of the most difficult issues that we face. The biblical scholars will say that there's nothing in Scripture that will prove it one way or the other. Where do you prove it from then? Well, it's basically a question of practice. We haven't done it.
"Does this mean that's the source of the doctrine? Well, the pope came up with two new reasons against ordaining women when he proclaimed Ordinatio Sacerdotalis definitive. First, he said, 'Well, there were no women at the Last Supper.' But do we really know that? No. We don't have any proof of that. Then he said that Jesus ordained the disciples at the Last Supper and there were no women there, so it was not Jesus' intention to ordain women. Well, we can't prove Jesus ordained anybody. Basically, the Church's argument against the ordination of women — which has been taught for at least 800 years — is that women are inferior. But we don't believe that women are inferior anymore. There is a lack of argumentation for the teaching. And the argumentation is weak."
"Where does the teaching about birth control fit into this discussion?" Henningsen asked.
In his response, Lucker summed up a lifetime of opposition to the Holy See.
"Some say birth control is a definitive teaching, others that it is an authoritative teaching. Now you have some very conservative theologians — a whole bunch of them over in Rome — who claim that the teaching about birth control is definitive. Some even wanted to ratchet it up to infallible! To say the ordinary teaching magisterium of the Church for centuries has taught it this way. Almost every theologian except the very conservative ones would say that birth control is an authoritative teaching — a teaching, which has been expressed by theologians and supported by the magisterium . . .
"So obviously it becomes a power issue, a patriarchal issue and a political issue. When the people in Rome want to have a theological discussion on a particular topic, they will bring in theologians from around the world, but they're all hand-picked, so they all say the same thing. They'll say, 'We consulted broadly on this issue and this is what we hear,' but really, they're only listening to one side of the question. We give great weight to officially held positions, and we arrive at them, as I described before, through listening to the theologians, having free and open discussion of these questions and listening to the people."
Not only did Lucker reveal himself to be a dissenter from Catholic teaching on birth control and ordaining women and reveal his sympathy for dissenting theologians who "suffer" from Vatican oppression, he sided with those progressive theologians who have deconstructed Catholic teaching and confused millions of the faithful through their influence in the "new catechetics" and religious-owned publications such as U.S. Catholic and St. Anthony Messenger.
He ridiculed efforts to enforce Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and expressed his support of Fr. Robert Nugent's fight against Vatican efforts to ensure fidelity to Catholic teaching. His remarks on sexism, patriarchalism, and "women's inequality" evidenced his acceptance of radical feminist language and perspectives. He then accused "ultra-conservative Catholics" who prefer the Tridentine Mass of being dissenters from definitive teaching — even though their criticisms are hardly in the same category as his dissent from definitive teaching on birth control and ordaining women.
In this self-revelation, Lucker remains a "poster child" for the theologically confused. It helps explain why he was unable to provide Catholic teaching to the people of New Ulm or the neomodernist catechetical establishment he supported. Unable to distinguish definitive doctrine from disciplinary, administrative, canonical, and hortatory enactments by Church authority, Lucker epitomized the doctrinally inept bishop blind to the dismal truth that the neomodernist "experiential catechetics" ends in disbelief.
This item 3961 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org