In July, I shared with our readers my concern over a recent Church-related news story and its connection with the words of our Lord regarding the faith of the generation that will ultimately experience His return: “But, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8 – New English Bible) I have now come across a group of seemingly distinct and extremely troubling news stories that really present a singular, but multifaceted problem of faith: obedience to the Church’s moral and ecclesiastical teachings versus obedience to the institutional Church’s leaders.
First, consider two LifeSiteNews.com articles, one dated July 10, 2013, the other dated July 19, 2013, on the growing scandal associated with a U.S. Bishops’ foreign charitable relief service and the service’s funding of pro-abortion organizations. The two articles were authored by Patrick B. Craine, who reported how the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) was found to have given in 2012 approximately $13.8 million to the international humanitarian agency C.A.R.E. (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) and $2.7 million to the global health organization known as P.S.I., or Population Services International. The significance of these CRS payments, according to Craine, is that both C.A.R.E. and P.S.I. are organizations that are known to either promote or provide contraceptives and “safe abortions” throughout the developing world. CRS has defended itself by arguing that these multi-million-dollar annual donations are in compliance with policies approved by members of the U.S. episcopate and, because of CRS grant agreements, are not available for use in “reproductive health” projects. This defense, however, fails to account for the fact that the CRS donations free up other funds that C.A.R.E. and P.S.I. can use instead to promote Third-World population control and the international human “right” to abortion on-demand. According to Judie Brown, the President of the American Life League, this problem has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the U.S. bishops, who in her estimation remain “in denial.”
Second, consider Fr. Helmut Schüler, the charismatic founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, a movement organized in Austria around 2006 to purportedly address that nation’s increasing shortage of priests. He once served as the president of the Austrian branch of Caritas, one of the Church’s global charitable organizations, and as the Vicar General to Christoph Schönborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and the President of the Austrian Archbishop’s Conference. Fr. Schüler was elevated to that ecclesial position in 1995, but four years later was dismissed by Cardinal Schönborn for “profound differences in opinion.” Fr. Schüler is now famous for his United States “Call to Disobedience Tour,” in which he will promote his “vision for church reform and renewed priesthood.” According to a July 17, 2013 news story posted on a National Catholic Reporter web page, Fr. Schüler just began his three-week tour of numerous non-Catholic churches, which the Catholic Tipping Point web site locates in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Denver, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. He will argue in those non-Catholic venues that the Catholic Church has an overly “priest-centric” view of Christianity and that the laity should be given greater liturgical roles, including roles in giving sermons and offering communion.
Obviously, these two apparently unrelated news events are at bottom signs of a spiritual ailment afflicting many lay and clerical Catholics today, viz., their faithless disobedience to the plain teachings of the Church. As an aside, both events are noteworthy as well for their connection to groups and individuals involved in the Church’s “social justice” work; social justice, unfortunately, seems to have been the pied piper of many disaffected Catholics among both the laity and the clergy. What these news events also impress upon me, however, is what I perceive to be an urgent need for clarity on what our Lord Jesus Christ demands from us in the way of obedience to Church leaders like Fr. Schüler or those members of the American episcopate that implicitly support “reproductive health” projects. Without clarity on this issue we hazard falling either into complicity with sin or into heretical Donatism.
Providentially, our Lord has given us some light on this question: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.’” (Matthew 23:1 – 2) Our Lord in this passage is mandating that His followers show their spiritual leaders the respect appropriate to their office, but not imitate them. As applied to the news events I have highlighted, this passage arguably calls for us to respect leaders like Fr. Schüler, but not follow them – for what else can we do?
I ask this not as a rhetorical question. I pose this question to my readers in the hopes that one of them has greater insight and a more cogent response to the problem of faithful obedience to the Church’s Fr. Schülers – who have not been defrocked or even ostensibly disciplined by their superiors. I would like to know the orthodox response. Otherwise, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”