Category Archives: change in the Church

When denial of Communion is blasphemy

By David M. Knight | United States
Published in La Croix International, 14 Aug 2020

Cardinal Burke and his allies have made many attempts to box Pope Francis into a corner by asking him whether the “doctrine” on denying Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is still part of the unchanging Catholic teaching.  Pope Francis refuses to boxed in by Burke.  This article by Fr. Knight will demonstrate why Pope Francis will never back down on this position.

Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” But every time I hear confessions I realize many of the sheep are not being fed with what is most necessary for them—the Body and Blood of Christ—because they were taught false doctrines growing up, and are afraid to receive Communion. And one of those errors is what they were taught about mortal sin. It is blasphemy.

When Is Sin Mortal?

The bishops at Vatican II admitted we were taught error (Church in the Modern World 19):


Believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.


This statement has personally poignancy for me, because my 93-year-old brother has been, not an atheist, but an avowed agnostic all his life because of the false teachings we received as children.


We were told God would send a small child to hell for all eternity for things like missing Mass on a single Sunday. My brother drew the obvious conclusion: God is unbelievably cruel — and therefore unbelievable. He has been an agnostic ever since.


A few years ago he wrote me:


Religious belief – which I do not have – provides us with an explanation for our existence. And I do often wonder – Why am I here? Is there any purpose to human existence? The inability to come up with answers makes me uncomfortable.


The Catholic Church provided me with a raison d’être– but, as you know, it was not palatable. Each of us was put on earth to go through an ordeal, to be tested, to run a gauntlet. And if we scrupulously obeyed each and every edict of the Church, we would probably get through life without alienating God and having him consign us to damnation. That never appealed to me.


For my brother, God was like a pitcher standing on the mound, just waiting for him to take one step off first base so he could throw him out and cast him into hell forever. We taught him – yes, the Catholic Church taught him – that God was a monster.


That teaching was blasphemy. It “concealed rather than revealed the authentic face of God.” And every teaching that makes sins “mortal” when they are not is unintentional blasphemy against the true nature of God.


A pastor in my diocese asked an altar server at Sunday Mass where his ten-year-old brother was.


“He didn’t want to come to Mass this morning, Father,” the boy replied.


“Well, when you go home, you tell your little brother he has committed a mortal sin, and if he doesn’t come to Confession, he is going to hell.”


Who committed the greater sin: the boy who missed Mass, or the pastor who blasphemed by perverting the truth about God’s love for that little child?


The most common and destructive single error in the Church may be our centuries-long teaching about mortal sin.


We were given the impression we could easily distinguish mortal sin from venial sin. Mortal sin required three things: serious matter, sufficient knowledge, and full consent of the will.


That sounds clear enough. But in reality, it is almost impossible to identify anything as a mortal sin by using these three criteria.


When is knowledge “sufficient,” and when is consent “full”? More basically, what “matter” is serious enough to make God withdraw “grace,” the gift of divine life? In practice we were taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on one Sunday, or to eat a hamburger on Friday. Every sexual sin was “serious matter”—impure thoughts and touches, passionate kissing, masturbation, and contraception.


Married people were denied Communion for years because of “birth control.” According to the common teaching—and admittedly in the metaphorical language of the time—anyone who did any of these things and died without repenting, would be cast by God into the fires of hell to burn for all eternity.


To “conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God” like this makes our loving Father a monster. Is that not blasphemy?


The truth is, to be “mortal,” a sin has to be, not just bad, not just real bad, but evil; so evil that a normal father or mother whose son or daughter did that act would have to say it would be right and just to burn their child at the stake.


That would be much less than the punishment we say God inflicts in hell.


The truth is, the Church has never defined, with all her dogmatic authority, any particular act as the “serious matter” required for mortal sin. But from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in sacramental preparation, all sorts of offenses are blithely defined as mortal sin. This has to stop.


A good, practical rule of thumb for recognizing mortal sin would be to ask, “If my daughter did this, would I drive her from the house, refuse to let her eat at the family table—and yes, to be consistent with the doctrine we were taught—agree that she deserves to be burned in hell for all eternity?” If you answer “No” to any of these questions you do not really believe the girl is guilty of “mortal sin” as the Catholic Church defines it.

A Current Pastoral Failure

Up until 2016, when Pope Francis wrote his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), approving the findings of the Synod on Family Life, it was almost universally taken for granted that those married “out of the Church”—that is, invalidly, because in a way contrary to the rules—were living in mortal sin, and were not allowed to receive Communion.


But in The Joy of Love the pope declared officially in paragraph 301:

“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”


And in paragraph 243:

“It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union [without an annulment] should be made to feel part of the Church. They are not excommunicated, and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community. These situations require careful discernment and respectful accompaniment.”


There used to be a decree that declared them excommunicated, but it was abolished in 1977. And a 1984 article in US Catholic magazine quoted Father James Provost of the Canon Law Society of America:


Divorced Catholics enjoy the same good status of any other Catholic in regard to the Mass, Eucharist, and any liturgical function. Catholics who remarry without annulment have an irregular status, but “they are not excommunicated, are under no special penalties, and are not excluded from receiving the Eucharist if they believe they should receive it.” Father Edgar Holden, director of the tribunal of the Seattle archdiocese, agrees.”Nothing in Church law forbids a person with irregular status from receiving the Eucharist. This is a personal decision of conscience. We suggest that if people feel unable to reach a decision on their own, they ask their pastor or spiritual director for assistance” (emphasis added).


In other words, the only thing new about the teaching of The Joy of Love is its authoritative promulgation by the Pope and Synod.


No general rule exists or should be made either forbidding or allowing those in irregular marriages to receive Communion. This must be decided on a case-by-case basis. And the most important factor in every case is the conscience of the individual.


But in spite of the fact that the words of Pope Francis are available on the Vatican’s internet site (, this may be one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church. I have yet to meet a Catholic who has heard this teaching of the Synod on Family Life, or the words of Pope Francis about it, proclaimed and explained from the pulpit.


Undoubtedly, there are pastors who have done so, but they must be few and far between. The great majority of Catholics are left in ignorance—and many are deprived of Communion who have a right to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.


This is a serious, serious pastoral failure. The “Great Commandment” of pastoral ministry is what Jesus said to the first pope—and through him to all subsequent popes, bishops, and pastors, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”


The teaching in The Joy of Love should be shouted from the housetops. Why is that not happening?


David M. Knight is a senior priest of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis (USA) and the leader of Immersed in Christ, a movement for spiritual growth based on the five mysteries of Baptism. A former Jesuit, he has a doctorate in theology, 50 years of ministerial experience in 19 countries, and 40 books in print. He speaks four languages.



Here is how things stood in 2014 when the bishops were discussing pastoral options prior to the Synod on the Family:

In February, Pope Francis tapped one of his favorite theologians, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to address a meeting of all the cardinals.

Kasper argued that the church must show more mercy to people whose first marriages have failed and who want to remain within the church.

“With respect to the divorced and the remarried people, the church does not give them absolution, [does] not give them Holy Communion. And many people say this is not the God of Jesus, because Jesus was very merciful — he forgives us — and the church does not,” he said.

Kasper spoke to NPR after his address. He said it provoked sharp exchanges among some of the cardinals.

“Of course there was a heated debate, but there were not only cardinals who were against it, there were also cardinals who were in favor,” he said. “And so the voices are divided. The pope himself was very grateful for the discourse.”

Many Catholic conservatives rejected Kasper’s proposals. On the eve of the current gathering of bishops, known as a synod, five cardinals published a book of essays, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ.” In them, they described Kasper’s permissive attitude toward Communion as “fundamentally flawed.”

One of the authors is American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s top court. In an interview with Catholic News Service, he dismissed the viability of Kasper’s proposal.

Catholic doctrine stipulates that a second marriage without the complex and often lengthy annulment of the first amounts to adultery, and that anyone married in a civil ceremony is living in sin and therefore ineligible to receive the sacraments.

But Kasper says there is no such single category as “the divorced and remarried.” For example, he says, a woman who is abandoned by her husband is different from the man who abandoned his wife.

“So we have to distinguish the cases,” he says.


Unwed Mothers Allowed to take Communion

Unwed mothers allowed to take Communion, Vatican insists
The Vatican’s doctrinal office reminds “rigorist” priests and other Catholics that unwed mothers are permitted to receive the sacraments and their children can be baptized
By Loup Besmond de Senneville | Vatican City
Published in La Croix International, 15 December  2023

The Vatican’s doctrinal office has issued a new statement to remind “rigorist” Catholics of Pope Francis’ insistence that women who have had children out of wedlock can and should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

“Pastoral work should be done in the local Church to make people understand that being a single mother does not prevent that person from accessing the Eucharist,” says Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), in a letter to a bishop in the Dominican Republic that was made public on Thursday.

The bishop expressed concern over single mothers who “abstain from communion out of fear of the rigorism of the clergy and community leaders”, the cardinal re-states at the beginning of his letter.

“It is noted that in some countries, both priests and some lay people prevent mothers who have had a child outside of marriage from accessing…

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Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church–book review

John Wijngaards, Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church: Reflections on Reform. Wipf and Stock Publishers.  187 pp.  $23 for pb.  $10 for Amazon Kindle.


John Wijngaards provides us with his pastoral reflections on the use and abuse of authority within the Catholic Church.  He tells us, right from the start, that this is not a systematic study.  Rather, it is “food for thought” designed to empower Catholics who are intent upon joining with Pope Francis in providing a much-needed revision of how our Church exercises authority in the modern era.

Wijngaards tells us that he will be presenting “reality learning” rather than “systematic learning.”  Being an educator myself, I would say that Wijngaards is intent upon using a “case study” methodology.  In so doing, he offers us 28 short chapters.  Each chapter has (a) a title page with a biblical citation, (b) a cartoon, (c) a case study based on his rich pastoral experience, (d) relevant reflections from the Gospels and Acts, and (e) a few questions for personal reflection.  Wijngaards idea is that users would set aside a short period each day (perhaps 15-20 minutes) to contemplate the themes (chapters) day-by-day during an entire month.


There are two unique ways in which Wijngaards expands upon the “case study” methodology:

  1. He introduces each chapter with a cartoon. I know of no other person who does this.  Wijngaards describes his use of this feature as therapeutic:

At the start of each chapter you will find a comic drawing, a cartoon, a caricature. It depicts a particular situation in a funny way. It exaggerates. It distorts. It makes you laugh, or at least smile. Yes, this is comedy. But do not underestimate it. The best kind of comedy makes fun of a serious issue. (p. 12)

  1. Relative to the questions for personal reflection, I note that Wijngaards is using a variation on the Observe, Judge, and Act progression that was used within Catholic Action circles during my youth. Here are the words of Wijngaards into which I have inserted the Catholic Action terminology:

Take time to reflect. Ponder on the message in the story, the Gospel texts, the caricature. Ask yourself: “Do I agree? Do I [Observe] recognise the web of cultural beliefs and practices that foul and smudge the authority Jesus gave? If so, [Judge] how does it affect me? How can the anomaly be remedied? What can I do [Act] to bring about the required reform, if reform is called for?”(p. 17)

This is where Wijngaards sets himself apart from those who provide “pietistic meditations” or “bible studies.”  The goal of each chapter is to enable the reader to discern what effective actions are required in order to promote a more transparent and more accountable use of authority as exemplified by Jesus and the early church.

In order to enable readers of this review to decide whether this book is designed for them, I will now provide a brief synopsis of what I found to be “the most engaging chapter” and “the most disappointing chapter.”


The most engaging chapter for me was Chapter 14: Latent spiritual authority shared by all.  Here is the cartoon and key excerpt from the case study:


In 1991 I visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. . . . There I met a religious sister whom I shall call ‘Amelia’.  She ministered as a hospital chaplain and she talked to me about her work:

“One day I was on the emergency ward of a large hospital when a young man was carried in. His motorbike had collided with a car. He had broken both legs and, apparently, he also suffered from internal bleeding in the stomach area. A nurse told me they did not expect him to last long . . .  I approached his bed. When he saw me, he clenched my hand and whispered: ‘I need to go to confession’.  I was in shock. I realised that I would never be able to call a priest in time. What should I do? Then I remembered that in the past even ordinary Christians had heard the confession of other people . . . So I took a bold decision. ‘I can hear your confession’, I told him. He trusted me. I heard his confession and gave him absolution. Then I handed him holy communion which I always carry with me.”

“Marvellous!,” I said. “And what about your bishop?”

“Yes, that was my worry too. Had I done the right thing?” (p. 90-91)

Wijngaards narrates this event simply and directly.  The words and the gestures (“he clenched my hand”) bring forward the urgency of the young man’s plight.  Then follows the “shock” of Amelia and her quick thinking (“in the past . . .”) that leads to her resolve: “So I took a bold decision.”  For this to work, however, there was one essential: “He trusted me.”

In the biblical reflections, Wijngaards draws attention to an early church practice: “Confess your sins one to another,” the Apostle James prescribed (Jas 5:16).”  Without going into details, he also says, “The practice of the sacrament of penance has gone through a long and convoluted history.”

  • He could have mentioned that “confessing ones sins to an ordained priest” did not emerge prior to the fifth century and that this practice was introduced (or re-introduced into the wider church) not by the Vatican but by Irish monks living at the ends of the earth.
  • He could have added Roger Ellsworth’s expansion on Jas 5:16: “If we have sinned secretly, we should confess it to God (1John 1:9). If we have sinned against someone else, we should confess it to God and to the person whom we have wronged (John 20:23, Eph 4:32, Matt 5:23-24). And if we have sinned publicly, we should confess it to God and in public (Acts 19:18)” (Day One Publications, 2009, p. 162).

Then, by way of expanding this to include presiding at the Eucharist, Wijngaards draws our attention to the fact that (a) no one in the early churches is ever “ordained” as the “exclusive presider” and (b) at the Last Supper (a modified Passover), when Jesus (acting like a rabbi) says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he never clarifies that “this mandate” applies only to “apostles.”  Wijngaards thus arrives at a very carefully phrased conclusion:

Jesus addressed “Do this in memory of me” to all disciples. In principle all are empowered to preside at the eucharist. Yes, normally ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ will preside, but if they are not present, any competent member of the community can, and should, fulfil that function. (p. 93)

The famous Dutch Dominican, Edward Schillebeeckx, first alerted me to this historical truth in the 60s.  For extended details, go to <>

For the vast majority of American Catholics over fifty; however, Wijngaards suggestion will be blasted as “pure nonsense.” Let me explain why.

When I was attending Holy Cross Grade School in Euclid, Ohio, my sixth‑grade teacher, Sr. Matilda, an Ursuline Sister, explained this to me in a riveting story which I remember to this very day.  It ran something like this:

When the priest says, “This is my body,” over the host (i.e., the small wafer of unleavened bread) at Mass, it is changed.  It continues to have the appearance of bread, but, in reality, it has become the sacred body of Christ.  Only a priest has this supernatural power to consecrate.  Anyone else could recite the words of institution a hundred times over a host and nothing would happen.  The priest has only to say it once.  In fact, if a priest would go into a bakery and quietly say the words of institution over all the loaves on the shelf and really mean it, all at once, every one of those loaves would become the body of Christ.  No priest, of course, would do such a thing.  But the truth remains that he could, by virtue of his powers as a validly ordained priest, effect such a change if he really wanted to.


The hypothetical case of the priest in the bakery is clearly a pious exaggeration; however, within it original setting, this kind of narrative served to emphasize for a young boy like myself the supreme importance that Catholics in the 50s placed upon the ordained priest. This sort of retoric also served to enforce an unhealthy anti-Protestant bias.  Even as a lad of ten, I could easily understand why the Protestant celebration of the Lord’s Supper had nothing to do with the “true Mass” that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper.  In simplified terms, the argument would have been that the “defective intention” and “defective rites” used by Protestants in their ordinations could never have produced any “validly ordained priests.”  As a consequence, Protestant ministers were perceived as merely “going through the motions” when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  True sacraments (save for the exceptional case of emergency baptism and matrimony), Catholics wanted to insist, always and everywhere required validly ordained priests.

In Cleveland, Ohio, situated on the shores of Lake Erie, a typical winter will bring 20-30 snowfalls of six inches or more.  I’m telling you this because a certain convent of nuns in Cleveland had to makes use of an elderly retired priest in order to have their Sunday Eucharist.  When it snowed, however, he dared not go out.  So what was this convent of nuns to do?  After consultation and deliberation, they decided that when their priest could not come, one of their charismatic Sisters would become their “alternate presiders.”  No one in the community was adverse to this arrangement.  If asked, the Sisters might well have agreed with Wijngaards: if the Church allows non-ordained persons to administer “emergency baptisms” and “lay confessions,” then, it follows, as night follows day, that, in emergency situations, a gifted Sister could validly celebrate their Sunday Eucharist. To say anything less would be a sin against the Holy Spirit.


The most disappointing chapter for me was Chapter 12 The authority of the community.  The case study in this instance narrates how, in the 50s, Catholics in the village of Huissen, the Netherlands, had become attached to Dominican priests and attended the Sunday Eucharist at their amply priory.  The bishop had built and staffed a diocesan church, but it was sparsely attended.  So the bishop decided to padlock the doors of the Dominican church on Sundays so as to force them to go to the church he built.  Catholics were outraged at this strong-arm tactic.  Nearly a thousand gathered at the Dominican church and hacked off the padlocks.

Wijngaards makes the point that the Catholics have the right to choose where they go to Mass on Sundays, and that the bishop had overstepped his “authority” by running rough-shod over their preference for the Dominicans.

Wijngaards missed an opportunity here.  His case study has limited scope.  The much more universal issue that he overlooks is that of “priestless Sundays”:

[Fr.] James Dallen, in his book The Dilemma of Priestless Sundays (2007), demonstrates conclusively that the issue is not one of priestless parishes but, much more fundamentally, one of parishes prevented from being eucharistic.  According to Vatican figures alone, some 50 per cent of parishes or quasi-parishes world-wide have no resident priest and no ready opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist. . . .  Dallen shows that resolving the problem by the practice of what is known as SWAP (Sunday Worship in the Absence of a Priest) . . . is not only second best, it is clean contrary to the ancient traditions and teachings of the Church. . . .

The bishops, of course, complain that their hands are tied by the small number of seminarians that present themselves for ordination.  But is this the whole story?  Not nearly.

  • Roughly 200,000 priests world-wide left the ministry to marry following Vatican II. Did any bishop welcome some of them back into active ministry along with their families?  None.
  • Remember that these same bishops warmly welcomed those Anglican priests who deserted their church because they were unwilling to collaborate with ordained women. Many priests were angry that the bishops bent the rules in favor of the “Anglican deserters” at the same time when they were totally unwilling to bend the celibacy rule for long-suffering and faithful Catholic priests
  • In my 25 years in priestly formation, I met young seminarians who demanded to know “why God graciously gave them a vocation to priesthood at the same time that he gifted them with a yearning for marital intimacy.” Did any bishop decide to relieve their pain by making celibacy optional?   None.
  • Did any bishop invite priestless parishes to identify a trusted, mature, and charismatic elder in their midst, to present him for candidacy and, following a year of formation, to ordain him as their “interim” parish priest?   None.

Dallen carefully notes: “We often fail to experience and understand that it is the Body of Christ that celebrates the Eucharist.”  The subtext here is that the bishops and priests do not “own” the Eucharist; rather, this is the precious possession of the spiritual community itself!  Wijngaards, of course, could jump in here and remind us that “the bishops created an inadmissible situation” and “given this emergency, any parish without a priest had the right and the duty to select their candidate and to see that he is properly trained.”  And, if any bishop would run rough-shod over such a proposal, resourceful community members would be entitled to ‘hack off the padlocks.’

The biblical precedents for this are many.  The one that stands out most is when the Hellenists (“Greek-speaking Jews) complained to the Hebrews that their widows were being neglected.  The twelve responded by placing a proposal before the entire community: “Friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task” (Acts 6:2).  And, after considering this proposal, “What they said pleased the whole community” (Acts 6:5). So they went forward united in their shared pastoral solution.

This precedent fits well here because it begins with a serious grievance.  The Twelve do not try to dismiss the merits of this grievance.  They formulate an alternative solution.  All sides of the issue find merit in this solution.  As a result, the Hellenists select seven solid candidates, and the Twelve lay their hands on them and pray over them—a standard Jewish rite for inducting someone into a public ministry.  The merit of this solution is that it enables the “complainers” to take charge and to solve the issue according to their own standards. No one is left out, frustrated, and forced to hack off padlocks.


Stepping back, I want to personally thank John Wijngaards for creating an inviting and innovative book.  His “case study” methodology enables everyone to enter easily into the nitty-gritty of the issues at hand.  Real people are doing things that matter.  Finally, the Observe-Judge-Act reflective questions allow the reader to make sense of the issue at it plays itself out in their own parish and among their own ministers.

The Gospels show Jesus as very capable of being stern whenever his disciples tried to coax him into giving them special privileges, whenever they tried to impose their own agendas upon women, whenever they failed to show compassion.  Prophets in our church today mercifully draw our attention to those who act with the same carelessness and authoritarianism displayed by the first-generation disciples.  These same Gospels give the faithful the right–nay, even the obligation–to call to task misbehaving bishops and priests.


John Wijngaards is precious to us because he is not afraid to give voice to his prophetic message.  His little book provides training for how to spot and how to deal with common abuses of church authority.  I come away encouraged and supported in tackling those abuses that have come my way.  I’m quite certain that this little book will do the same for you.

Read it.  Discuss it with trusted friends.  Pray for yourself and for those who are healing.  Give copies during the time of this Advent to those harmed by abuses of ecclesial power.  Maranatha!

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For a synopsis of the author’s life, go to <>

For an overview and publicity on the book, go to



I say to Cardinal Marx, “The Holy Spirit calls me to change Ratzinger’s defective ‘dogma’ on homosexuality”

Aaron Milavec 9/14/22

Recently, at the close of the German Synod, Cardinal Marx gave an interview in which he declared: “We don’t want to rewrite dogma, but move the discussion forward” (La Croix 9/13/22).  He was, of course, speaking to the fact that the initiative of the Synod included an appeal to Pope to officially open dialogue and research in favor of offering blessings (rather than curses) to same-sex unions within the Catholic Church.  A vocal minority of bishops unexpectedly spoke out forcefully of the unthinkability of such a proposal since Ratzinger’s ‘dogma’ of homosexuality had already excluded such a proposal in 2003.

In this tense climate, Cardinal Marx made his statement “We don’t want to rewrite dogma.”  I, for one, wish that Cardinal Marx had said, “The Holy Spirit compels us to revisit some areas of Catholic moral teaching that cause severe and unnecessary suffering. . . .  It would be a mistake to categorize these areas as ‘off limits.’  As long as needless suffering continues, our Father in Heaven is concerned; hence, we have no option but to be concerned as well.”

Would Jesus be keen to meet homosexuals?

To such a question, I would have delivered a resounding “NO” if homosexuality was to be associated with the handful of unsavory encounters that I had with gays as a teen.  These early experiences disturbed and repulsed me.  Thus, I would very much doubt that Jesus would have wanted to meet those gays I encountered as a youth growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Had my experience of homosexuals been arrested at this point, I would have turned into a gay-basher for the rest of my life.  I might even have joined “concerned citizens” who prowled the back streets of my hometown in hopes of coming upon some unfortunate “queer” who needed to be taught a lesson that s/he would not soon forget. . . .

I thank God, however, that my experiences did not stop at this point and that I was granted three very significant positive experiences of homosexuals that set me on a path to become their advocate rather than their sworn enemy.  Some people never have any significant positive experiences and, as a consequence, they spend the whole of their life locked into some distorted version of homophobia.

A troubled teen asking for help

A teenager (I’ll call him Jim) came to me for help in 1966.  He confessed to me that he was tormented by the idea that he might be “a queer.”  This was a courageous act on his part.  For years, he had been frozen in fear.  I was the first person that he trusted to hear his secret fear.  I told him that teenagers sometimes feel a fleeting sexual attraction to someone of the same sex–but “this usually passes.”  I knew that some psychologists theorized that a domineering mother who fails to emotionally bond with her son can inadvertently inhibit her son from normal bonding with women later in life.  Jim had such a domineering mother.  I’m glad that I didn’t say anything about this to Jim because I have since discovered that such psychological theories are faulty and that the disposition toward same-sex unions appears to be genetically determined and that most boys with domineering mothers do eventually move into a passionate and lasting bonding with a woman later on in life.

An Extended Interview with a Lesbian Couple

My second encounter took place two years later, in 1968, when I was doing graduate  studies in the hotbed of social experimentation in Berkeley, California.  In the context of a course, Human Sexuality, the professor invited a lesbian couple just five years older than me to come in and talk about their experience of growing up, of dating boys, of discovering that they were “abnormal,” and. then, in the course of time, struggling within the unfamiliar lesbian turf that hopefully leads to a deep friendship that turns into a committed union.  I thank God that I had this very positive experience at a time when I was still only mildly hostile towards lesbians.  Here are some of my journal entries that I made at that time:

  1. This ninety-minute encounter persuaded me that most homosexuals are not scratching messages on bathroom walls or answering ads for sexual encounters; it persuaded me that most homosexuals are confused, afraid, and feel very much “out of step” with the rest of their companions which they would describe as “normal” in so far as they embodied the “norm” as far as sexual attraction was concerned.
  2. Prior to this encounter, I was persuaded that a “normal” person could spot a “queer” a mile away. All one had to look for was effeminate attitudes or gestures in boys or the absence of femininity in girls.  But here, with these two women, there was nothing about the way they dressed, moved, or behaved that allowed me to even get a hint that they knew themselves to be lesbians.  They had to tell me, or else I would never have known.  Hence, this encounter happily challenged a popular stereotype that was potentially dangerous and demeaning.
  3. Thirdly, this experience opened up a whole new world that had been hitherto “closed to me.” I was now talking and listening across the boundaries.  I was now hearing how these two women had moved from “trying desperately to fit in”[1] by imitating patterns of flirting and dating exhibited by their friends.  Then, after years of frustration at not being able to develop a deep, emotional bond with a man that would confirm that they were “normal,” they slowly came to the frightening realization that they were irrevocably “queer.”  This destroyed any positive self-image that was left to them.  Now they entered the pit of hell—they hated who they were and hated God for playing such a dirty trick on them.
  4. Fourthly, after many trials and errors, they both “unexpectedly” found each other and, for the first time, they were mutually “surprised” and even “in awe” at encountering another human being who could “understand and cherish them to the very core of their being.” Their mutual love thrived.  Progressively they gained a powerful self-acceptance that kept pace with their mutual self-surrender that exceeded all human understanding.  “My partner’s love for me gave me back my lost love for myself.  It was magical.”
  5. Fifthly, I came to realize that, even given the healing power of true love, this lesbian couple still had occasional disagreements, they sometimes disappointed each other, and they felt pangs of jealousy–the whole host of human experiences that heterosexual partners also encounter.
  6. Sixthly, in the months following, I realized how tragically mistaken it was for me and for the hierarchy of my Church to presume that they were entitled to judge what was lawful before God when it came to the life-style choices of lesbian couples. Having deeply listened to these two women made me feel humble and utterly unequipped to offer them any sound guidance “from God’s side.”

Invitation to a Lesbian Vow Ceremony

I now jump ahead twelve years.  Two women in my parish that were very well known to me (let me call them Martha and Mary) approached me and invited me to join with a dozen others at their home to witness “our vows of permanent friendship.”   They asked me not to publicize this event since it was for them “very private” and they felt that it would only “have the effect of unsettling other members of their faith community.”

My mind raced ahead to the time that Jesus was invited to heal the son/servant of a Roman officer in the occupying army.  Undoubtedly Jesus did not agree with the brutality associated with Roman occupation; yet, since Jewish elders commended him saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5), he went.  He went not to approve the Roman occupation but to respond to an authentic human need.  He may have received flack for it later; yet, Jesus was accustomed to disapproval and didn’t act to gain the applause of his disciples or of the crowds.

My mind also raced ahead to the time that a menstruating woman came up behind Jesus and touched the tassels of his cloak.  According to the Jewish tradition, menstruation was no light matter.  Leviticus makes it clear that a woman in this condition is absolutely forbidden to circulate in society and prohibited from offering a sacrifice in the temple.  Even for men, any man deliberately having sexual relations with a menstruating woman was delivered over to death (Lev 18:19; 20:18).

Yet, Jesus appears to have regarded menstruation much differently.  Maybe his own parents, Mary and Joseph, already had a private opinion whereby they judged that the needs of others allowed them to override the rule of menstrual impurity.  Mary, for instance, might have visited a sick friend at a time when she was in her period.  She didn’t hesitate for a moment: “Her sick friend needed her” and she was quite confident the “God would have understood.”  In any case, Jesus does not upbraid the woman and use this occasion as a teachable moment to enforce the importance of God’s commandments regarding menstrual impurity.  Unexpectedly, healing power flows from Jesus to the woman.  Jesus does not take credit for this.  Rather, he congratulates the woman saying, “Daughter [of Abraham], your faith [in God] has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48 and par.).  This was not just an ordinary menstrual flow, to be sure.  She had been afflicted with unregulated spotting for the last twelve years.  So, prompted by these thoughts, I accepted the invitation of Martha and Mary.

When I arrived at their home, the couple greeted me warmly.  I met others who were invited.  Most were already known to me.

Their rite was very simple.  They emphasized that they were not thinking of “marriage” but of a “permanent partnership.”  They also mentioned that they were living in dangerous times wherein they could be easily punished for what they were now doing; yet, it seemed to them that it was “vitally necessary to share who they truly were” with a few trusted friends. Accordingly, they joined hands and faced each other and promised an exclusive friendship and fidelity in sickness and in health for the rest of their lives.  They then exchanged rings as “a visible sign” of their permanent partnership.

The unwelcomed condemnations of Cardinal Ratzinger

At the time when these things were taking place in Ohio, Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927) was being elevated as the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 25 November 1981.  Ratzinger held this office until 2005 when he was elected as Pope Benedict XVI.  Within his twenty-four years as head of the CDF, Ratzinger, more than any other man in the Church, had full authority to formulate and promulgate a string of four binding statements respecting the theological analysis and pastoral response that was required by the new wave of public homosexuality that was emerging worldwide.

Ratzinger decided not to consult the worldwide bishops in this matter. Nor did he call upon the Pontifical Biblical Commission or the International Theological Commission—the latter being the international group specifically designed to advise the CDF regarding important doctrinal matters. Seemingly Cardinal Ratzinger was not interested in open consultation.  He appeared to be self-sufficient and entirely competent to deal with the biblical and anthropological dimensions of homosexuality.  Overall Ratzinger was trained in systematic theology—developments in biblical and moral theology were largely outside his specialization.

His first publication was the Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons (01 Oct. 1986).  His last was the Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons (03 June 2003).  Let me briefly remind my readers of the key proposition made in his 2003 letter:

Proposition: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.  Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law (§4).”

Analysis:  Cardinal Ratzinger here takes an essentialist viewpoint.  For him, every sexual act is permitted only to married couples, and every conjugal act of intercourse must be open to procreation (hence, contraceptives are prohibited).  By contrast homosexual acts have neither the sanction of an exclusive life-long commitment nor the prospect of conceiving a new life.  According to natural law, same-sex partners cannot conceive.  Their sex acts, consequently, are automatically to be classified as “intrinsically disordered and able in no case to be approved.”[2]  Thus, it naturally follows from this that homosexual unions cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous” to marriage.

Critique:  Cardinal Ratzinger fails to properly evaluate marital sexuality.  In some marriages, sex functions as a tool for dominating and humiliating of the subordinate partner.  It brings forth bruises and tears of pain from one partner and cries of triumph from the other.  In such instances, the vows of marriage are mocked and trampled upon.  To call this “holy” and “what God intended” would be a farce.  From an essentialist perspective, one never gets to notice that, even in the case of marital sex, things are not always what they ought to be.

On the other hand, what can one say of the union of Martha and Mary (described above)?  Have not these two women mutually accepted each other “as God has designed them”?  Has not their mutual love brought self-acceptance and healing to the injuries and disappointments that have been visited upon them by hateful strangers and enemies?  Does their promise of mutual and faithful love “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part” nor draw down the blessing of God and of those who share their affection?  Cardinal Ratzinger mentions none of these things.  This is a serious defect.  He appears to be blissfully unaware of the experiences of Martha and Mary and, even though he considers himself “the expert” in this field, he is a blind to them and deaf to those who cherish them.

For Cardinal Ratzinger, everything hinges on the assumption that same-sex couples are having sex.  Sex, as Ratzinger relates it, is firmly tied to reproduction.  Ratzinger never explores how, even for heterosexual unions, the vast majority of their sex acts function to consolidate their mutual love and to produce a pleasure bonding that celebrates and enhances their developing intimacy.  If I have found this to be true in my heterosexual love-making, who am I to judge that Martha and Mary are incapable of functioning “in many ways similar and analogous” (and, at times, even superior) to what I have discovered within my heterosexual marriage?  These questions occur to me because of the three earlier experiences that I related above.  Ratzinger, on the other hand, cannot even entertain my questions as pertinent to the discussion at hand.  And why not?  Because he never had the requisite sympathetic encounters with same-sex couples to begin with.

If the only experience I had of homosexuality was ads for sex scratched into the bathroom walls and the public wildness and nudity of gay parades, then I would expect my peers to challenge my competence to write and publish a credible Catholic position paper on the morality of homosexuality.  In the case of Ratzinger, however, he seemingly surrounded himself by yes-men, and there was no one there to save him from the shame of having passed judgment on a group of Catholics that he never knew (and never wanted to know).

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson to the rescue

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney, Australia, spoke at the Ways of Love conference on pastoral care with LGBT people (14 Oct 2014, Rome), as follows:

It was God who created a world in which there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals.  This was not a mistake on God’s part that human beings are meant to repair; it is simply an undeniable part of God’s creation. . . . The only sexual acts that are natural to homosexuals are homosexual acts.  This is not a free choice they have made between two things that are equally attractive to them, but something that is deeply embedded in their nature, something they cannot simply cast aside.  Homosexual acts come naturally to them, heterosexual acts do not.[3]

What Bishop Robinson was affirming, therefore, is that Cardinal Ratzinger’s judgment that “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law” only applies to heterosexuals.  God has uniquely designed homosexuals such that “homosexual acts” are natural to them while “heterosexual acts” are repulsive.  Bishop Robinson would therefore say that Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis is not trustworthy because he makes the categorical error in taking the natural law formulated for heterosexuals and applying it indiscriminatingly to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Oh, how do I wish that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson had been chosen by Cardinal Ratzinger as his personal advisor and critic.  Things could have been so different. . . .


I began with my personal experience because, when everything is said and done, my concrete encounters with homosexuals massively impacts how I regard gays and lesbians within my society and within my Church.  In this, there is no neutral starting point for me or for anyone else.  No matter how many degrees one has earned or how many ordinations that one has experienced, no one can escape their personal experiential base.  Anyone denying this is not sufficiently self-aware and cannot be trusted.

By virtue of my encounters with homosexuals, I can be absolutely certain that Cardinal Ratzinger does not speak for me.  The same goes for most of those bishops and delegates at the German Synod.  Cardinal Ratzinger speaks forcefully to those who have had uneasy or traumatic encounters with homosexuals.  This is why I needed to clarify why Ratzinger mistakenly believes that he had a public duty to preserve the Church and civil society from the inherent evils of going soft on homosexuality.

Ratzinger’s ‘doctrine’ is pernicious because it continues to outlaw the positive experiences that Catholics like myself are having with neighbors and friends who are happy and productive people who thank God for having gifted them with their “special” sexual orientation. I know a mother of four who prays to God every night that at least one of her four children will turn out to be gay, because she feels that she has “a special gift for raising that sort of child.”  I am not ashamed to say that I join my prayer with hers every night.  I look forward to the day when my entire parish would have parents ready to nurture a gay child.  My parish will be ready to sponsor a “Parent Support Group for Special Children” quite soon.  Six months ago, two handsome men presented their adopted male twins for a public baptism on a Sunday.  They were enthusiastically accepted!

So, in the end, I want to say to Cardinal Marx, “If ‘dogma’ serves to protect the tacit homophobia of some of those within the Church, then my calling from God is to expose that ‘dogma’ as a dangerous heresy that dishonors God and his special children.”

[1] To appreciate the full scope of “fitting in” to the dominant heterosexual culture, consider reflecting on “30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US”  URL = <>

[2] Ratzinger uses the phrase “intrinsically disordered” to indicate those actions which can never be considered as permissible due to special circumstances.  Ratzinger further judges that “although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin [because it is not freely chosen], it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil [illicit sex]; and thus the inclination [toward unnatural sex] itself must be seen as an objective disorder” (Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §3).

[3] To fully understand all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, I urge interested persons to read his entire text.  URL= <>

Tension between liturgical restoration and liturgical reform

Summary: This article details how Vatican II decided to address all the complex issues surrounding the renewal of the liturgy as its first order of business.  Then, however, is shows how a small minority of  bishops and priests rejected the liturgical changes and insisted that the Latin Liturgy of Pius VI was to be accepted at all times and in all places as the exclusively valid form of worship of God.  Finally, the artilcle shows how Pope Benedict XVI agreed with the nay-sayers and gave them permission to ignore the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

This  background will help make clear why Pope Francis has made it clear that those who cling to the Latin Mass are not permitted to celebrate the Sacraments in Latin as a way to deny the validity of the rites that emerged out of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.   This tension in the Church helps explain why the CDF would put forward a ruling that emphasizes the invalidity of every baptism that fails to woodenly repeat the required words sanctioned by the tradition of the Church.  If the faith of the Church cannot change, then it follows that the rites of the Church must not change.  Ultimately, therefore, this endorses the principal of those who affirm the necessity to return to the Latin rites mandated by the Council of Trent.



The field of tension between liturgical restoration and reform

Gerard Lukken



The beginning of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a movement that would have far-reaching consequences for the Christian ritual. In Christian churches, and especially in the Catholic Church, there was a growing awareness of the unique place of the liturgy and of the fact that it had degenerated into a mysterium depopulatum, a ritual in which the congregation hardly participated.2 Liturgy had become the exclusive affair of the priest, leaving no room for believers to contribute: they were only passive spectators, mere consumers of the ritual. This Liturgical Movement gradually grew into a widespread Church faction which, in the middle of the 1940s and 1950s, also had an important influence on the center of the Church. Under Pius XII, the first tentative revisions in the liturgical books were made.


  1. Second Vatican Council: comprehensive reform of the liturgy


In 1959, shortly after his election, Pope John XXIII  announced the Second Vatican Council. Without any doubt this Council was a breakthrough: the focus was now on a comprehensive reform and an aggiornamento of the Christian ritual. At the same time, it was also a culmination of what had been set in motion by the Liturgical Movement with the support of extensive research from the field of liturgical studies. It was for a good reason that the Constitution on the sacred liturgy was the first document, issued by the Second Vatican Council: the time was more than ripe for it. The document was approved in 1963 by an overwhelming majority, with just four votes against.3

In a nutshell, the principal characteristics of the reform were the following: Liturgy is not solely the work of the office holders, but fundamentally belongs

to all those who believe; they are all active participants in the ritual. It is not the priest’s private celebration of Mass that should be its basic form, but the communal celebration of the Eucharist. This applies to all Christian rituals, from birth to death. There are various liturgical services and, in principle, there is a division of roles. Accessibility and participation can be enhanced by the use of the vernacular, simplification of rites, and by granting a measure of autonomy to bishops’ conferences.

An extremely important point is the rediscovery of the value of the Scripture and the Word in all parts of the liturgy. The Liturgy of the Word as such is expressly considered a liturgy in its own right. In carefully chosen words the Constitution also opens the door to a decentralization of the liturgy and its adaptation to different countries and cultures, provided that the authentic Roman tradition is preserved. All official liturgical books will need to be revised in the spirit of the Constitution.

The implementation of the Constitution on the sacred liturgy was entrusted to the postconciliar Commission for the Liturgical Reform, led by Cardinal Lercaro and with Annibale Bugnini as its secretary, and at a later stage to the Congregation for Divine Worship. They approached the reforms energetically, with the support of liturgical and pastoral experts from all over the world. In just over ten years practically all books of the Roman liturgy were revised. These were published as standard editions in Latin by Rome, and translated and adapted in the different countries within the limits set by Rome. Much progress was made in a short time, and the renewal was widely welcomed by those at the base of the Church.


  1. From 1975: stagnation of the reform and increasing restoration


However, from the beginning the reform was accompanied by serious tensions. On the one hand, there were some Curia bodies that did not want to relinquish control. Also, a small minority wanted to maintain the status quo and found support within the Curia for their opposition. Detailed information on this can be found in Piero Marini’s book A Challenging Reform.4  On the other hand, the need for further-reaching inculturation pushed the advocates of renewal at the grassroots level to sometimes run ahead of things. This tension was there from the start, particularly in our country [Holland]; I witnessed it from close by.

The  post-conciliar  commission  showed  itself  open  to  these  developments. Bugnini visited our country [Holland] several times, and intensive deliberations took place in Rome as well. But this openness also meant that Bugnini’s opponents, and, increasingly, the traditional Curia bodies, started to regard him with suspicion.5 In fact, a battle of ideologies soon broke out between those who wanted to consistently implement the Council’s reforms, and those who rather wanted to put the brake on the process. Pope Paul VI eventually opted for a conservative line, also regarding the liturgy. The Congregation for Divine Worship was accused of causing a rift in the Church. According to the Curia, the Congregation was too tolerant with regard to the question of translations and new Eucharistic prayers, and in allowing communion in the hand. It was probably the issue of adding new Eucharistic prayers – in which the Netherlands played an important role – that made tensions reach boiling point. Ultimately, Bugnini’s courage was not rewarded and Paul VI gave in.

In 1975, Bugnini and his direct collaborators were dismissed, the staff was downsized and much expertise was lost. Financial resources were also reduced to a minimum.6  ‘What direction will liturgy take now?’, was the desperate question asked in liturgical circles.7  In 1973, Bugnini had already put inculturation on the agenda as an urgent item for the ‘next ten years’.8 In 1974 he referred to this as the phase of the ‘incarnation’ of the Roman form of the liturgy into the customs and mentality of each individual church.9  Unfortunately, nothing ever came of such a further aggiornamento. On the contrary, with Bugnini’s discharge a period of stagnation set in, followed by an increase in the support for restoration rather than reform.10


  1. The Society of Pius X: opposition of an extreme traditionalist movement


Earlier I mentioned the opposition emerging after Vatican II from a minority which received support from the Curia. This opposition had actually already started during the Council. It originated with Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Vatican’s Latin expert, Cardinal Bacci. They signaled a break with the Council of Trent. Soon after, in 1964, the association Una voce was founded, which opposed any type of reform; in its wake all sorts of other radical groups under many different names sprang up.11  The ‘Society of Pius X’, which under the leadership of the French (mission) Bishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991) [pic shown] was to break with Rome, was a continuation of this development.12   Lefebvre belonged to the group of French Catholics that saw religion, State and society as one inseparable whole. In the spirit of Pope Pius X (19031914), they challenged the so-called ‘modernism’ of the beginning of the twentieth century, which explicitly included the dimensions of human experience and history in theological thinking. More and more, Lefebvre emerged as the leader of a traditionalist movement against Vatican II and its reforms. He was convinced that a modernist conspiracy had taken place there, led by Jews and Freemasons. Especially from 1974 onwards, the old liturgy became a distinguishing mark of the Society of Pius X. In his 1974 Declaration  Lefebvre  characterizes  the  Tridentine  Mass  as  the  ‘eternal’  Mass.13   In France, the Tridentine Mass was openly celebrated at meetings of the National Front party of Le Pen. Tensions led to an overt schism with Rome in 1986.

In order to make sure that his work would be continued, Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the Vatican’s permission in 1988, when he was 83 years old. One of them was Richard Williamson (born 1940), an Englishman who was later to create quite a stir with his denial of the Holocaust. Lefebvre and his four new bishops were immediately excommunicated. With regard to the Tridentine Rite, Rome had so far only allowed its celebration in exceptional cases through the issuing of so-called indults. But in 1988, the year of the excommunication, permission to celebrate it was substantially extended: the Holy See no longer required priests who rejected Lefebvre’s schism to formally agree with the principles of Vatican II, and allowed them to continue to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. This was a far-reaching concession.14  The Vatican continued its negotiations with the Society of Pius X also after 1988,15  and it is interesting to note that the then Cardinal Ratzinger was always closely involved in these negotiations. He showed his affinity with the Tridentine Rite in several of his publications, and celebrated the Tridentine Mass with sympathizers a number of times.16

Lefebvre’s movement can be characterized as that of the extreme traditionalists. They reject any openness to modernity on the part of the Church, and want to return to the lost divine order that knows no dualism between Church and State, between religious and secular power, and in which faith and Church are completely interwoven with society. This order they see, on the one hand, as supratemporal; on the other hand, they identify it with historical-political configurations in the nineteenth and twentieth century.17  In this context they see the Tridentine liturgy as the ultimate expression of the unchanging symbolic order created by God, in which Church and society are inextricably linked. As regards the number of uncompromising supporters of the Tridentine Mass, it is an extremely small percentage of Catholics: no more than 0,0008333 percent (less than a thousandth of a percent).18  But this small group is supported by trends in the policies of the Roman Curia and a number of Episcopal Curias, which makes it much more powerful than it deserves; its force is also supported by the great combativeness of minority groups and conservative media.19


  1. The neotradionalist movement of the ‘Reform of the Reform’ and the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum


In addition to the extreme traditionalist movement, another movement gradually emerged after Vatican II, namely that of the ‘Reform of the Reform’. Rouwhorst characterizes this movement as belonging to the neotraditionalists.20 They do recognize in part the importance of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, but consider those reforms too radical, and believe that more connection with the past should be sought. From the start the opinion leader of this movement was undoubtedly Cardinal Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. This group has also gained more and more influence within the decision-making bodies of the Curia and the bishops, also in our country.

On 22 December 2005, shortly after his election, Benedict XVI [pic shown] addressed the Curia, underlining the unbroken line between Vatican II and the tradition. His message was that it is wrong to emphasize discontinuity, as if Vatican II was a new beginning rather than part of the tradition.21  In his speech he also pointed to the importance of continuity in the liturgy. According to Benedict XVI the new liturgy often seemed to be the cause of discontinuity, especially in practice.22  Prior to his Declaration he had already criticized the reforms after Vatican II repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, raising a finger in warning at the liturgy professors and the mainstream of liturgical studies. He did not spare Bugnini either in this respect.

Underlying Benedict’s criticism is his belief that Greek metaphysics is the optimal setting for the Christian message; in fact, he views all subsequent developments that abandon the Hellenistic paradigm as a degeneration into unbelief. Thus, Ratzinger is very pessimistic with regard to contemporary culture, which no  longer  perceives  the  reflection  of  the  divine.  What  is  needed  is  a  resacralization of the liturgy. Liturgy, in his view, is the sensory mirror of the divine world, transcending our human condition, sacral, God-given, not created. Just as a plant, a living organism, it continually develops and renews itself organically from within, without any discontinuity. In this essentially Platonic and timeless perspective of liturgy, any further developments are seen, as it were, as being outside historical contingency, with its instability and moments of discontinuation with the past, and as withdrawn from the active contribution of people and cultures.23

This is undoubtedly a contestable point of view. Those in favor of the new developments in Vatican II with its aggiornamento point out that the past itself also shows moments of discontinuation. This is already evident from the history of theology as such: think for instance of the condemnation of Galileo, now repealed; of the revision of the theory that all people are descended from Adam and Eve; and of the antimodernist oath, still firmly held on to by the Society of St. Pius X, but no longer compatible with the teachings of Vatican II. In addition, liturgical studies show that over the centuries one can indeed find substantial contributions from theologians, poets, musicians, masters of ceremony, experts and other specialists in ritual. Councils, monastic orders and committees have also been responsible for contributions and interventions, of a sometimes revolutionary nature. Also,  discontinuations often come to light with the publication of new books, which usually start with the comment that they signal a revision.24 And in ritual studies, too, it is assumed on the one hand that rituals sometimes develop and grow without any intervention, but on the other hand the contribution of ritual experts is also recognized.25  There is certainly more to liturgy than the anonymous organic growth suggested by Benedict XVI.

In 2007, Benedict XVI issued the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, by no means an innocuous document.26  This decree affects the essence of the whole postconciliar liturgical reform: all books from before Vatican II are again allowed, as ‘extraordinary form’. As was to be expected, the document elicited many protests, particularly from within the mainstream of liturgical studies and from countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland, which had been confronted headon with the ideas of the Society of St. Pius X. According to the Motu Proprio, the reintroduction of the Tridentine liturgy as ‘extraordinary form’ means that from now on there are two forms within one and the same rite. The same rite? This may be the case when viewed from a purely speculative and abstract theological perspective, but certainly not from an empirical point of view and in liturgical or ritual terms. There are definitely two different forms of lex orandi, which cannot be easily reconciled. Benedict’s radical intervention strikes at the base of the Second Vatican Council and threatens to discredit the Council’s first document, the Constitution on the sacred liturgy, and its implementation.  The  Motu  Proprio  undoubtedly  adds  to  the  tensions  and  polarizations within the field of liturgy, these days also referred to as a ‘battlefield’.27  This battlefield is now the arena for the restorative movements of the extreme traditionalists and the neotraditionalists with their own theological premises.

Besides these, there is the large influx of those who – in varying degrees – support the aggiornamento of Vatican II and wish to continue in Bugnini’s footsteps, with an open mind to contemporary culture and the pluriform contributions of the local churches and communities. This influx, too, covers a number of specific theological choices. 28


  1. Instead of battle preference for a dialogue about the tension between a bottomup and topdown approach


For the discussion of those theological choices I prefer an open dialogue to a battle, but with the restriction that no concessions are made with respect to the principles of Vatican II – which are precisely those called in question by the Society of St. Pius X. In my opinion, it is essential that this dialogue starts from the theological premise that liturgy is always about sensory rituals that occur in the tension field of mediated transcendence. These rituals are not eternal, but are always interwoven with history and culture. The traditionalists erroneously speak of the time-determined Tridentine form of the liturgy as the ‘eternal’ liturgy. The question is whether the neo-traditionalists do not over-sacralize the form of the liturgy as well. Do advocates of the ‘Reform of the Reform’ not have a too divine view of its form?

On this subject, the Jesuit priest, John Baldovin [pic shown], correctly observes that we always have to ask ourselves what it is that we venerate and worship: the liturgy, or the God that it focuses on.29  The form of liturgy, however divine and God-given, is incarnated in history. It is not like a static whole that exists completely outside history. The dialogue should be about the tension between the bottom-up or top-down approaches, between transascendence and transdescendence, which each can have different accents. In our culture, however, we look for and discover the transcendent divine world rather from the bottom up, in a transascendent way starting from God’s immanence, and discovered as that which transcends us, and as a fullness that comes to us and is received by us.

That is why, in agreement with Vatican II, the advocates of aggiornamento emphasize a bottom-up approach to liturgy, associated with a similar bottom-up Christology, ecclesiology and view of holy office, and embedded in contemporary culture and the dynamics of history.30  The day before the conclusion of the council on December 7, 1965, the most intensive and longest document of the council was accepted: the pastoral constitution on the Church in today’s world, Gaudium et spes. That Constitution is explicit on the need to complete the perspective from inside, the approach from above and from the tradition with that of the outside perspective, from below and from the present. In our country, that change of perspective was taken seriously early on; it was actualized already in the sixties, also with regard to the Christian ritual.31

The advocates of aggiornamento are looking for a liturgical form which is accessible and credible, and which can be experienced by a contemporary audience. This bottomup approach undoubtedly makes us also more responsive to the pluriform possibilities of the Christian ritual in our culture. Such a contemporary empirical ritual form by no means needs to be at the expense of its Christian identity. On the contrary, it is precisely in this inculturated liturgy that the ritual can be celebrated as a saturated phenomenon, that – according to the phenomenology of JeanLuc Marion – is ‘saturated’ with ‘givenness’, comes from elsewhere, is irreducible, and precedes us. In this phenomenon an abundant and empathetic ‘other side’, oriented towards us, is revealed, and ultimately a personal God, even the God of the Christian tradition, whose love precedes us.32

Some will prefer to take the transdescendent road and this is a legitimate choice. But they should be mindful of the tension with the anthropological basis of the liturgy. That basis, with all its resulting contingencies, cannot be excluded. God and man do not have to compete, not in any culture, and that includes our own. Time and again, it is a question of ‘keeping on top’ of the tension between the Jenseits and the Diesseits that occurs within the sensory immanence, both as regards ritual in general and the specific Christian ritual.33  And in the dialogue it remains important to emphasize that the transascendent way seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II.       ~~~~end~~~~

Gerard Lukken (1933) studied at the Diocesan Seminary in Haaren (Noord Brabant) (19511957), the Pontificia Università Gregoriana in Rome and the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie in Paris (19591964). He was pastor and teacher of religion (19571959), professor of liturgy and theology of the sacraments at the Diocesan Seminary in Haaren (19641967) and at the Theological Faculty of Tilburg, (at present part of the department Cultural Studies, School of Humanities, Tilburg University) (from 1967), and director of the Liturgical Institute at the same Faculty (from 1992) until his retirement in 1994.




1  Introduction on the symposium Worship wars. Contested ritual praxis (November 26, 2010). I would thank Ineke Smit for translating my Dutch text. For a more extensive discussion, see G. LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk. Liturgie na Vaticanum II in het spanningsveld van restauratie en vernieuwing (= Meander 13) (Heeswijk/Averbode 2010); IDEM: ‘Liturgie in het spanningsveld van restauratie en vernieuwing’, in Tijdschrift voor liturgie 95 (2011) 209226.

2 A.L. MAYER: ‘Liturgie und Geist der Gothik’, in Jahrbuch für Liturgiewissenschaft 6 (1926) 93.

3  E. CATTANEO: Il culto cristiano in occidente. Note storiche (= Bibliotheca ephemerides liturgicae 13) (Roma 1978) 634.  Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 27 (2011) 261271

4  P. MARINI: A challenging reform: realizing the vision of the liturgical renewal (Collegeville 2007);  Dutch  translation:  IDEM:  Een  uitdagende  hervorming.  De  droom  van  de  liturgische vernieuwing (Averbode/Heeswijk 2010). This book is a significant supplement of A. BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform. 19481975. Zeugnis und Testament (Freiburg 1988) 114 ; original Italian edition: IDEM: La riforma liturgica (19481975) (= Bibliotheca ephemerides liturgicae, subsidia 26) (Roma 1983). New edition: IDEM: La riforma liturgica (19481975).

Nuova edizione riveduta e arricchita di note e di supplementi per una lettura analitica (Roma 1997); English edition: BUGNINI: The reform of the liturgy 19841975 (Collegeville 1990). For a critical review of these memoirs of Bugnini with innumerable detailed corrections and supplements, see E. LENGELING: ‘Liturgiereform 19481975. Zu einem aufschlussreichen Rechenschaftsbericht’, in Theologische revue 80 (1984) 265284.

5 For the details, see G. LUKKEN: ‘De oorspronkelijke toonzetting van de liturgievernieuwing. Leven en werk van Annibale Bugnini (19121982)’, in M. HOONDERT, I. DE LOOS, P. POST & L. VAN TONGEREN (red.): Door mensen gezongen. Liturgische muziek in portretten (= Meander 7) (Kampen 2005) 234256.

6 For literature, see BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform 114.

7 S. MARSILI: ‘Dove va la liturgia’, in Rivista liturgica 62 (1975) 622625.

8 A. BUGNINI: ‘Progresso nell’ ordine’, in Osservatore Romano, 12 December 1973.

9 A. BUGNINI: ‘La riforma liturgica, conquista della chiesa’, in Notitiae 110 (1974) 126. 10 For details, see LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk.

11 BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform 300.

12 SeeLUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk chapter 1, sub 1.2.

13 In 1969 the cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci protested in a letter to Paul VI against the new Ordo Missae. They referred to a little book of 25 pages, Breve esame critico del Novus Ordo Missae, written by a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors, obviously under the leadership of Lefebvre. About this see: E. CATANEO: Il culto cristiano in occidente. Note storiche (Roma 1978) 648 ff.; C. VAGAGGINI: ‘Il nuovo ‘Ordo missae’ e l’ortodossia’, in Rivista del clero italiano 50 (1969) 688699 (= Rivista liturgica 96 (2009) 449459); W. HAUNERLAND: ‘Die Messe aller Zeiten. Liturgiewissenschaftliche Anmerkungen zum Fall Lefebvre’, in R. AHLERS & P. KRÄMER: Das Bleibende im Wandel. Theologische Beiträge zum Schisma Lefebvres (Paderborn 1990) 5185, especially 55, note 12.

14   See  P.  HÜNERMANN:  ‘ExkommunikationKommunikation.  Schichtenanalyse  der Fakten – Theologische Beurteilung – Wege aus der Krise’, in P. HÜNERMANN (Hg.): Exkommunikation oder Kommunikation? Der Weg der Kirche nach dem II. Vatikanum und die PiusBrüder (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2009) 31 ff.

15 L. RINGEIFEL: ‘Der Papst und die Traditionalisten’, in W. BEINERT (Hg.): Vatikan und die PiusBrüder. Anatomie einer Krise (Freiburg im Breisgau 2009) 19 and 23.

16  For instance in Le Barroux in 1988 and 1995. In 1990 he celebrated the Mass of Easter in Wigratzbad, the head office and settlement of an international seminary of the Society of Pius X (see [November 26, 2009]) and in 1999 in Weimar he celebrated a pontifical Mass at the annual session of the Society Pro Missa Tridentina (see [November 26, 2009]). Via references on the key site one can find percentages of the Tridentine liturgy in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and also further links with other analogous societies etc. elsewhere.

17   W.  DAMBERG:  ‘Die  Piusbruderschaft  St.  Pius  X.  (FSSPX)  und  ihr  politischgeistgeschichtlicher  Hintergrund’,  in  HÜNERMANN:  Exkommunikation  oder  Kommunikation? Der Weg der Kirche nach dem II. Vatikanum und die PiusBrüder 121.

18 See LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk Chapter 1, sub 1.4.

19 So in 2009 the Italian Institute for statistic research Doxa, on behalf of the on internet very active defenders of the Tridentine Mass Messainlatino (Italy) and Paix liturgique (France), examined the opinion of the Italians about the ‘old mass’. According to this

examination two thirds of the practicing Catholics in Italy would at least once a month participate in a Tridentine Mass, when this would be possible. And nine millions would at least once a week celebrate an ‘old mass’. One can expect that these groups will use this kind of examination as pressure. Compare: risultatidelsondaggioassolutamente.html (November 18, 2009).

20 See (more extensive and very informative): G. ROUWHORST: ‘Bronnen van liturgiehervorming tussen oorsprong en traditie’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 20 (2004) 724; IDEM: ‘Historical periods as normative sources. The appeal to the past in the research on liturgical history’, in J. FRISHMAN, W. OTTEN & G. ROUWHORST: Religious identity and the problem of historical foundation. The foundational character of authorative sources in the history of Christianity and Judaism (Leiden 2004) 495512; IDEM: ‘Liturgie en constructie van het verleden’, in Tijdschrift voor liturgie 92 (2008) 308310.

21  For Ratzingers view on the problem of continuity and discontinuity of the second Vatican Council, see J.A. KOMONCHAK: ‘Erneuerung in Kontinuität. Papst Benedikt’s Interpretation des Zweiten Vatikanische Konzils’, in BEINERT: Vatikan und die PiusBrüder  163174;  H.J.  POTTMEYER:  ‘Streitpunkt  Konzil  und  Traditionsbruch.  Papst Benedikt und dieTraditionalisten’, in BEINERT: Vatikan und die PiusBrüder 207212; M. GERWING: ‘Konzil im Blick vom Klaus Wittstadt’, in C. BÖTTINGHEIMER & E. NAAB (Hgs.): Weltoffen aus Treue. Studientag zum Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil (Sankt Odilien 2009) 4250 (with literature).

22 For Ratzingers view on liturgy, see more extensively: LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk, Chapter 2.

23   For  the  movement  of  the  ‘Reform  of  the  Reform’,  see  also  A.  HÄUSSLING: ‘Nachkonziliare Paradigmenwechsel und das Schicksal der Liturgiereform’, in Theologie der Gegenwart 32 (1989) 243254; P. POST: ‘Over de historische referentie in de roomskatholieke ‘HervormingvandeHervormingsbeweging’’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 20 (2004) 7388; M. KLÖCKENER: ‘La dynamique du mouvement liturgique et de la réforme liturgique. Points communs et différences théologiques et spirituelles’, in La MaisonDieu 260 (2009) 92106 ; J.F. BALDOVIN: ‘Idols and icons: reflections on the current state of liturgical reform’, in Worship 84/5 (2010) 386402.

24  M. KLÖCKENER: ‘Wie Liturgie verstehen. Anfragen an das Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum Papst Benedikts XVI’, in M. KLÖCKENER, B. KRANEMANN & A. HÄUSSLING: Liturgie  verstehen.  Ansatz,  Ziele  und  Aufgaben  der  Liturgiewissenschaft  (=  Archiv  für Liturgiewissenschaft 50; Jubileumsband) (Fribourg 2008) 294295; M. KLÖCKENER & B. KRANEMANN (Hgs.): Liturgiereformen: Historische Studien zu einem bleibenden Grundzug des christlichen Gottesdienstes. 1. Biblische Modelle und Liturgiereformen von der Frühzeit bis zur  Aufklärung;  2.  Liturgiereformen  seit  der  Mitte  des  19.  Jahrhunderts  bis  zur Gegenwart (= Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 88) (Münster 2002); A. ANGENENDT:  Liturgik  und  Historik.  Gab  es  eine  organische  LiturgieEntwicklung?  (=

Quaestiones disputatae 189) (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2001); A. ANGENENDT: ‘Wie im Anfang, so in Ewigkeit? Die tridentinische Liturgie. Die Liturgiereform: Beharren oder verändern?’, in A. GERHARDS (Hg.): Ein Ritus Zwei Formen. Die Richtlinie Papst Benedikts XVI zur Liturgie (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2008) 122143.

25 G. LUKKEN: Rituelen in overvloed. Een kritische bezinning op de plaats en de gestalte van het christelijk ritueel in onze cultuur (Baarn 1999) 5455 and 186188; IDEM: Rituals in abundance. Critical reflections on the place, form and identity of Christian ritual in our culture (= Liturgia condenda 17) (Leuven 2005) 4849, 213 and 291294; C. BELL: Ritual theory, ritual practice (New York/Oxford 1992) 130140; IDEM: ‘The authority of ritual experts’, in Studia liturgica 23 (1993) 98120 and 101103; IDEM: Ritual. Perspectives and dimensions (Oxford 1997) 223.

26  BENEDICTUS XVI: Litterae Apostolicae motu proprio datae Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007); IDEM: Epistola ad Episcopos ad producendas Litteras Apostolicas motu proprio datas, de usu Liturgiae Romanae instaurationi anni 1970 praecedentis (July 7, 2007).

27 K. VAN SETTEN: ‘Spreekt onder elkaar in lofzangen. Een belichting van de onlangs verschenen  ‘Evangelische  Liedbundel’’,  in  Eredienstvaardig  16/4  (2000)  152155;  R. WEAKLAND: ‘The liturgy as battlefield’, in Commonweal (New York, January 11, 2002) = IDEM: ‘Liturgie zwischen Erneuerung und Restauration’, in Heiliger Dienst 56 (2002) 8393 and Stimmen der Zeit 220 (2002) 475487; T.W. YORK: America’s worship wars (Massachusetts 2003) X; N. VAN ANDEL & M. BARNARD: ‘Discourses in liturgy. De totstandkoming van het nieuwe protestantse liedboek (2012) vergeleken met de totstandkoming van het Liedboek voor de Kerken (1973) – een onderzoekspresentatie’, in Jaarboek voor

liturgieonderzoek 25 (2009) 6061. For a more extensive survey, see B. AULAGNIER: La bataille de la messe, 19652005 (Versailles 2005).

28  The tensions also refer to psychological dimensions that can be clarified from the ritual studies. There is the fact that rituals seem more reliable, as they are older. Hence the concern to conserve the form of the rituals in exquisite detail and regulated by refined rules (ANGENENDT: Liturgik und Historik 186190; IDEM: ‘Wie im Anfang, so in Ewigkeit?’ 122123). But on the other hand there is the fact that rituals, as soon as they are celebrated with heart and soul, and thus subjectivity enters, should also express the sincere heart of man. Then rituals will change. This is a known tension. Moreover, the perception of the invariability of rituals can be connected with the search for security and stability, especially in difficult circumstances and uncertain times. The more threatening the life or culture is, the more one looks for a stable ritual (ANGENENDT: Liturgik und Historik 186188). Then to some it is of little importance weather these rituals are inculturated or comprehensible. They are in search of a sacred supernatural atmosphere. But this transcendent atmosphere, pleaded by the movement of the ‘Reform of the Reform’, may also be reflected in the new liturgy as such. In that liturgy pluralism certainly is possible.

29 J.F. BALDOVIN: ‘Klaus Gamber and the postVatican II reform of the Roman liturgy’, in Studia liturgica 33/2 (2003) 229230.

30  Compare in this context C. BÖTTIGHEIMER: ‘Koreferat zu Manfred Gerwing. Zur Würde der menschlichen Person im Zeugnis der Pastoralkonstitution Gaudium et spes’, in BÖTTIGHEIMER & NAAB: Weltoffen aus Treue 7580 and IDEM: ‘Nicht von dieser Welt? Von                       der             Kommunikationsfähigkeit                 der     Kirche      in     der     Bedeutung      der Pastoralkonstitution Gaudium et spes’, in Ibidem 81113, p. 94 and 96100 (Innen und Aussenperspektive).

31 G. LUKKEN: ‘Een kritische blik op het hedendaagse rituele landschap met het oog op het  christelijk  ritueel’,  in  Jaarboek  voor  liturgieonderzoek  22  (2006)  113133;  IDEM: ‘Kritische  Sichtung  der  heutigen  rituellen  Landschaft,  im  Blick  auf  das  christliche Ritual’,  in  B.  KRANEMANN   &  P.  POST   (eds.):  Die  modernen  ritual  studies  als Herausforderung für die Liturgiewissenschaft / Modern ritual studies as a challenge for liturgical studies (= Liturgia condenda 20) (Leuven 2009) 87110.

32 G. LUKKEN: ‘De overkant van het menselijk ritueel. Herbezinning vanuit fenomenologie en semiotiek op antropologische en theologische lagen in het christelijk ritueel’, in Tijdschrift voor theologie 40 (2001) 145166 = IDEM: ‘L’ autre côté du rituel humain : reconsidération à partir de la phénoménologie et la sémiotique sur des couches anthropologiques et théologiques dans le rituel chrétien’, in Questions liturgiques 83/1 (2001) 6891; IDEM : ‘De liefde gaat ons vooraf. De onherleidbare overkant van het ritueel als prolegomenon van het christelijk ritueel’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 23 (2007) 147175. See further: JL. MARION: Étant donné. Essai d’une phénoménologie de la donation (Paris 1997); IDEM : De surcroît. Études sur les phénomènes saturés (Paris 2001); IDEM : Le Phénomène érotique.  Six  méditations  (Paris  2003);  IDEM:  Le  visible  et  le  révélé  (Paris  2005).  And  also BALDOVIN: ‘Idols and icons’ 386402.

33  G. LUKKEN: ‘Rituelen: een dynamisch grensgebied’, in Tijdschrift voor geestelijk leven 63/2 (2007) 5968.



Does a valid baptism require wooden conformity?

Note: My response to the validity of baptism when the words used are “We baptize you. . . .” has two parts:

(1) The short and simple answer and

(2) the longer and more complex answer (here below):

In June 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  [abbr:CDF] published a Responsum to a question posed regarding the validity of baptism when the priest says, “We baptize. . . ,” instead of “I  baptize. . . .”  In the judgment of the CDF, the use of “We baptize” gives rise to a false notion of baptism.  Here are the words of the CDF:

In the specific case of the Sacrament of Baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a christological and ecclesiological nature already articulated, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church. When the minister says “I baptize you…” he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in his Body to give his grace. . . . (Source)

So the complaint of the CDF has two parts: (1) the minister does not have the right to change the words used and (2) the affirmation, “I baptize you. . . ,” affirms that, in every case, Christ is the one baptizing.

Relative to the second complaint, the CDF appeals to Augustine when he says:

Although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of whom it was said: ‘It is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 1:33)”. Therefore, Augustine comments: “Peter may baptize, but this is He that baptizes; Paul may baptize, yet this is He that baptizes; Judas may baptize, still this is He that baptizes»[13].  (Source)

Why the “I” cannot be Jesus

What the CDF affirms here is that, while there are many ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism, in every instance, it is Jesus Christ who imparts efficacy to the Vatican approved rites.  Hence, when a priest says, “I baptize you. . . ,” in reality the “I” is Jesus Christ who is baptizing.

This explanation is defective for various reasons:

  1. This explanation does not correctly interpret the meaning of the baptismal formula. The priest affirms, “I baptize you . . . in the name of the Son” who is Jesus Christ.  If the “I” was Jesus, then one has a confusing circularity for Jesus would effectively be saying, “I [Jesus Christ] baptize you . . . in the name of Jesus Christ.”  If Jesus is the “I,” then it is redundant for him say that “I am acting in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Thus, it must be the case that the “I” is someone else.  Here, in this rite of baptism, the baptismal formula is placed on the lips of the minister who acts “in the name of Jesus Christ.”  The fears of the CDF that the presence of Jesus would go unnoticed or that the efficacy of the rite would be due to other forces is this counteracted by the open acknowledgment that the priest acts “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Thus, the words of the priest make present the Creator and the Sanctifier, in addition to Jesus, our Redeemer.
  2. The inherent theology of the baptismal formula can be more easily understood by reflecting on the meaning of undertaking some activity “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This Hebraic expression of acting “in the name of x” has to do with the way that a disciple or a servant is authorized to act due to the training or mandate received from his trainer/master.  According to the Christian Scriptures, for example, the Twelve heralded the kingdom of God and apprenticed disciples “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18, 5:28, 9:27, 9:29).  At other times, they are presented as baptizing (Mt 28:19; Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16), healing (Acts 3:6, 3:16, 4:7), and exorcising demons (Acts 19:13‑16) in this same name.  Contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, “there is in the New Testament no belief in the magically [or even supernaturally] potent names; in fact, there are no mysteriously dreadful words or names at all” (TDNT, p. 278).
  3. After every baptism, no one imagines that the minister of the rite would personally bring the one who was baptized to love Jesus. Nor will he be the only one who will, over a period of time, make use of the Gospels to train his new “disciple” in right thinking and right living.  Parents and grandparents will do these things.  God-parents will do these things. Teachers and role models (saints) within the church community will do these things.  Hence, one way to acknowledge this providential situation would be to say “we baptize you . . . .”  Indeed, “it takes an entire village [/congregation] to train a child.”
  4. The CDF leaves the impression that “retaining the official words” is absolutely necessary. The CDF enforces the notion, citing Vatican II, to the effect that no one, “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”[8].  Going even further, the CDF emphasizes that any change in the official words is not simple a “liturgical abuse,” it is, moreover, “a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action.”  Vulnus is the Latin word that refers to “an ugly wound inflicted on someone’s body” or “an offense capable of destabilizing a principle or norm.”  Thus, the CDF takes the position that any liturgical change is a vulnus.  I take this as an emotionally charged attack on any and all liturgical innovators.

    In my 25 years of teaching in three different seminaries, I have known instances wherein candidates to the priesthood were taught that any inadvertent errors or deliberate changes in the rites results in committing a “sacrilege.”  As a result, many newly ordained priests were literally traumatized.  I myself witnessed a priest literally shaking when celebrating his first Mass. What should have been a joyous affair with his family and friends in attendance became a personal trial dominated by fear.  The CDF has unfortunately tried to revive an atmosphere wherein both priests and the faithful are prompted to question the validity of their infant baptism based upon a liturgical terrorism—Did the minister use the exact words?

  5. What the CDF fails to tell us is that there are two kinds of innovations: one that destroys and one that builds up. The CDF classifies all changes to the words as destructive.  The use of “we” instead of “I,” as understood by the CDF, has the effect of denying the centrality of Christ who is the unseen administrator of every baptism (as explained above).  But let’s see why the CDF does not want us to see, namely, liturgical innovations that “build up.”  Here is one such formula found in the official rites regarding the Sacraments of Initiation:

Celebrants should make full and intelligent use of the freedom given to them either in Christian Initiation, General Introduction (no.34) or in the rubrics of the rite itself. In many places the manner of acting or praying is intentionally left undetermined or two alternatives are oered, so that ministers, according to their prudent pastoral judgment, may accommodate the rite to the circumstances of the candidates and others who are present.  In all the rites the greatest freedom is left in the invitations and instructions, and the intercessions may always be shortened, changed, or even expanded with new intentions, in order to fit the circumstances or special situation of the candidates (for example, a sad or joyful event occurring in a family) or of the others present (for example, sorrow or joy common to the parish or civic community). The minister will also adapt the texts by changing the gender and number as required.


No tradition for the wooden recitation of memorized prayers

One finds no tradition for a wooden recitation of memorizing prayers within ancient Judaism (other than the Shema of Dt 6:4f), it would have been a remarkable “departure from tradition” had Jesus imposed upon his disciples a prayer of fixed words (“recite after me”).  The Lord’s Prayer, as a result, was seen to be a schematic summary or abstract that invited spontaneous expansion and adaptation to present circumstances on the part of the one chosen to pray on behalf of the assembled group. The thematic summary that has been understood as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel is not what one finds in the Gospel of Luke or in the Didache.  If the early churches had a wooden repetition norm in praying, one can be sure that there would be only one formula (instead of three).  Needless to say, there was no movement within the early churches to suppress this “legitimate diversity” in the Lord’s Prayer. This is probably due to the fact that Jesus himself never prayed “the Lord’s Prayer” in exactly the same way on any two occasions.

This same line of reasoning applies to the eucharistic prayers.  Here, as in the Lord’s Prayer, the plural form (“we” and “our”) indicates that one is dealing with a prayer normally used in a group setting.  The one chosen to lead the prayer would be expected to know the thematic summary and to expand and adapt it to fit the special moods and concerns of the group assembled.  In the case of delayed rains, for instance, the Mishnah goes so far as to suggest that the prayer leader chosen to lead the morning prayers on the day when the fast begins ought to be “an experienced elder who has children and whose cupboard is empty so that his heart should be wholly in the prayer” (m. Taanit 2:2).  The choice of an “experienced elder” with hungry children surrounding him at home was clearly done with the expectation that his personal engagement combined with his mastery of the prayer form would allow him to weave together the standard themes with a heart-felt expansion that moved those present.

Prayer leaders in ancient Judaism or in the early church were not expected to memorize and recite fixed prayer formulas.  Justin Martyr (C.E. 150), for example, spoke of “the presider” at the eucharist as giving thanks “at considerable length” and “according to his ability” (First Apology 65, 67).  He surely was not thinking of a rote recitation of Did. 9-10 which would take less than two minutes.  The Apostolic Tradition (C.E. 220), in its turn, presented an elaborate set of eucharistic prayers for use by the presiding bishop on various occasions.  Following this set of prayers, however, this telling rubric was offered:

It is not at all necessary for him [the bishop] to utter the same words as we said [note oral emphasis] above, as though reciting them from memory, when giving thanks to God; but let each [bishop] pray according to his ability.  If indeed anyone has the ability to pray at length and with a solemn prayer, it is good.  But if anyone, when he prays, utters a brief prayer, do not prevent him (9).

Here again, the prayer of the celebrant was characterized as being “at length” and “solemn”–terms that could not apply to a “canned” prayer where the length and mood were fixed in advance.  The rubric, “Let each pray according to his ability,” undoubtedly prevailed in the Didache community as well.  The prophets, more especially, were prized for their ability to improvise dynamic prayers that nourished and healed the hearts of those who heard them.  Concerning this, the Didache says: “Let the prophets eucharistize as much as they wish” (Did. 10:7).  This free-flowing style of spontaneous prayer that characterized the prophets was cherished and seen as a necessary compliment to the more stylized expansion of the eucharistic prayers offered by the celebrant (Did. 9-10).

All in all, one does not find a movement to standardize public prayers prior to the mid-third century (Hanson:173-176).  Beyond this, the push to regiment prayer leaders and to require that they “read” standard prayers from a printed text only came about after the invention of the printing press.  Presumably this penchant for “reading the approved text” came about as a backlash of the Protestant Reformation where Latin prayers were simplified and translated into the common language of the people.  The Council of Trent vigorously suppressed all of the variations that had entered into the Mass especially among the religious orders of men.

For 25 years I taught in three Catholic seminaries.  During this time, I lamented the fact that future priests were “solemnly warned” never to deviate from the approved “printed” prayers under any circumstances.  This was at a time when the Catholic Charismatic Movement was in full swing. I witnessed seminarians (imbued with the Spirit) offering inspiring and forceful (free-style) prayers.  But then, in their liturgical preparation, the Spirit was shackled and they were taught NEVER to deviate from the approved text.  To this day, I consider this as the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that has served to kill the prophetic aspect of liturgical celebrations.

Where do we go from here?

The CDF is not playing with a full deck of cards.  They have presented us with bogus reasons to support the notion that Jesus formulated the words required for a valid baptism in Matt 28:19.  They have failed to notice that early baptisms were done “in the name of Jesus” and only after two generations did the trinitarian formula take its place.  They have presumed that the standard formula was used generation after generation down to the present day.  They have failed to notice that even the Didache does not have the standard formula.  In truth, the so called “standard formula” did not emerge until the late middle ages.  But they don’t want us to know this.  They want us to believe that the only way to keep the sacredness of the rite is to use the standard formula.  They give no credit that Jesus did not use standard formulas for his prayers.  Every time he prayed to the Father, he improvised using the template [= what we now call the “Our Father”].

But the CDF does not want us to notice this.  They want to imagine that God wants to commit himself to those who follow wooden memorized prayers.  Having the right words is the sole way to guarantee validity.  So they want to discredit every deviation and to breed fear in the faithful whenever their ministers deviate from the standard formula.  They are wrong in this.  They have divinized the words and acted as though the divine magic does not work unless the right words are pronounced in just the right way. They want to freeze the official words and to insure that there are no more deviations because all change is, for them, a vulnus.  They cannot allow that the rite of baptism was changing from the very beginning even during the New Testament period. In the centuries that followed the rite and the theology of the rite continued to change in order to continue to be used to address the needs of the faithful.  As Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “To live is to change; to grow perfect is to have changed often.”  He applied this to the Sacrament of Baptism and he applied this to the Church.

But the CDF wants us to distrust all innovators at all times and all places.  This is a false ideal that subverts true religion.  Jesus was a pioneer and a prophet.  He was never content with wooden conformity.  His disciples also followed this principle.  Only the CDF wants to take charge and freeze-dry the entire process.  They want to sow fear in the hearts of Catholics such that they run away from innovating priests.  Parce domine!  [Latin: “Spare us O Lord.”]

Invalid Baptisms?—How Bishop Olmsted Made a Mountain out of a Molehill

On 14 January 2022, Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, alerted all the faithful regarding a matter of grave importance.  In his own words:

“It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid. This determination was made after careful study by diocesan officials and through consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [abbr: CDF] in Rome.”

Father Arango acknowledged to his bishop that, for the past fifteen years, he had been performing baptisms in four different parishes using the words, “We baptize you in the name of the Father. . . .”  Since the official rites of the Roman Catholic Church indicate that baptism is administered using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Olmsted judged that the use of “we” instead of “I” had the effect of invalidating thousands of baptisms.

Are we really obliged to believe that all of Father Arango’s baptisms were invalid?  Bishop Olmsted says,

“Unfortunately, we have no choice but to repair the mess made by Father Arango.”

The CDF, in an official ruling, agreed with the Bishop, “Without the right words, the Sacrament is invalid.”

Let’s step back for a moment and examine this case more closely:


In the Acts of the Apostles, thousands of baptisms are described.  At no time does the sacred text indicate what words (if any) were used to administer the rite.  Must we then doubt the validity of these baptisms (as the CDF proposes)?  Hardly.  At this historic time, baptism was being administered by immersion in water.  The repeated use of the Greek term, βαπτίζειν (baptizein), means “to immerse in water.” The only requirement for baptism was the conversion of heart.  In a typical case Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5; 1 Cor 1:13; Gal 3:27).

Matthew alone reads, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19).  Vööbus points out, however, that Eusebius (d. 340) cites the great commission of Matthew more than two dozen times as “teach all nations in my name” (1968:36).  It is quite probable, consequently, that Eusebius’ text of Matthew’s Gospel did not have a trinitarian formula and that this was later edited into copies of Matthew’s Gospel.  All in all, most scholars are in agreement that baptism “in the name of Jesus” was the earliest norm and that this norm gradually shifted toward baptism “in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Did 7:3) in the early second century.

Moreover, theologians generally agree that Matt 28:19 gives us a rubric without in any way implying that these are “the words that must be recited to make the immersion a valid baptism.”  No one in this period imagined that, at every baptism, divine grace does not flow unless “the required words” were said.  The judgment of the CDF, “Without the right words, the Sacrament is invalid,” is thus a ruling that finds no foundation whatsoever within early church practice.   [For more details, click here.]


In the Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite, immersion or submersion is used, and the formula is:

“The servant of God, [insert name], is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Eastern Churches acknowledge the validity of Roman Catholic baptisms even though they do not require full immersion or their normative words.  Roman Catholics likewise acknowledges the baptismal traditions of the Eastern Churches.  These accords  recognized that there is essentially only “one baptism” even while there is a “legitimate diversity” in how these baptisms are administered.  Is the CDF aware that insistance upon one form of baptism might effectively undercuts the “mutual recognitions” made with the Eastern Churches?   [Click here for more details.]


Dr. Vincent Ryan Ruggiero makes this linguistic observation:

The plural form “we” includes the singular “I”; in fact, it is impossible to use “we” in a way that excludes “I.”

If Bishop Olmsted had known this, would he have pounced upon Fr. Arango the way he did?  Did Bishop Olmsted destroy the reputation of Fr. Arango unjustly?  Did he grievously error in making a mountain out of a molehill?  Yes and yes.

Judith Hann assists us here in making a careful study of how Thomas Aquinas regards situations in which the minister uses alternate words.  This study was published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Ecclesiastical Law Society in 2021.  Without going into the details, here are the conclusions that Hann brings to us:

Aquinas . . . does not adhere to a radical literalism with regard to sacramental formulas. Instead he refers to the intention [of the minister] to do what the Church does and to the meaningfulness of the sacramental act for those who participate in it. In doing so, he proves that his understanding of sacramental speech is less that of spells with a magical automatism and more that of communication. Understanding sacramental speech as communication, as acts of conveying sacramental meaning to the community, demands a greater tolerance with regard to wording.  (Source)

What does this say regarding the “radical literalism” being proposed by the CDF?  Two points: (1) The CDF judged the minister using “We beptize you . . .” too harshly.  These words, in and of themselves, do not clearly reveal an intention to deviate from what the Church intends by the rite; and (2) The CDF appeals to Aquinas, but, in so doing, the CDF mistakenly assumes that Aquinas affirms the “radical literalism” that the CDF wants to impose on all ministers of baptism.


When I was taking my first course on the Sacraments some sixty years ago, it was pointed out that the “intention” of the minister decides the outcome.  Thus, if in case of an emergency, a young mother baptizes her infant son who has turned blue and has stopped breathing, and she uses the words, “I baptize you in the name of God and of Jesus,” this suffices as a valid baptism.  How so?  Because she intends to do what the Church has done, namely, to baptize her son.  The Church tacitly supplies what is missing.  This principle is called Ecclesia supplet, which in Latin means “the Church supplies.”  If Bishop Olmsted had remembered his first course in Sacraments, might he not have used this principle to dispel any fear that the case of Fr. Arango involved any invalid baptisms.  Bishop Olmsted declares,

“I do not believe Fr. Andres [Arango] had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments.”

That’s all that is needed.  Ecclesia supplet. All of the baptisms of Fr. Arango are valid.  There is no mess to clean up.  That’s the good news for everyone involved!  But the Bishop is unable to see this.


As things now stand, a grave danger is about to erupt.  An overly zealous and marginally incompetent bishop has set the wheels going in the direction of finding those who are the victims of “invalid baptisms” and making arrangements to have them repeat their baptism.  Then they will, in most instances, have to repeat their confirmations and marriages as well.  At this point, only one priest has his reputation ruined.  I would estimate that once Catholics come to understand that they too might be invalidly baptized, then more priests will be called on the carpet.  More reputations will be shattered.  Meanwhile, overworked priests will be required to give time and attention to thousands of Catholics who fear that their baptisms were invalid.  Many more thousands will come forward and ask to be conditionally rebaptized “in order to give themselves peace of mind that their spiritual welfare is secure.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Matthew Hood in the Archdiocese of Detroit has admitted that he discovered, upon seeing a family video of his baptism, that his own baptism was invalid.  So he was rebaptized, reconfirmed, reordained.  Now he is anxious because he is aware of the fact that he administered hundreds of Sacraments without recognizing that most of them were “invalid” because he himself was “invalidly” ordained to begin with.  Yipes!  So here is another overly zealous and marginally incompetent priest who is spreading uncertainty and fear.  How many more will come after him?  [Click here for further details and discussion regarding Fr. Hood.]

Parce Domine!  [Spare us, O Lord!]  Someone in authority needs to come forward soon and expose the false judgment of the CDF and the incompetent pastoral solution championed by Bishop Olmsted.  The faithful need to be reeducated as to why ALL THEIR BAPTISMS WERE VALID ALL ALONG.  Fr. Arango can then be reinstated.  He can undertake the new task of wiping away the tears of all those Catholics who were horrified by the false alarm and the sleepless nights.  The mountain can finally be seen again as just a molehill.

Peace and joy in the Love of our Lord,

Aaron Milavec

PS: Further analysis of wooden repetition and the theology of baptism.

The case of Fr. John Wijngaards–memoirs of a priest who protested the ban on women priests

Review of TEN COMMANDMENTS OF CHURCH REFORM: Memoirs of a Catholic Priest, by John Wijngaards (Acadian House Publishing: Lafayette, Louisiana USA, 2022) 261 pp. with an index, hardcover $22.95


John Wijngaards has written his memoirs detailing how he was brought to the position where “in conscience” he could no longer function as a priest within the Roman Catholic Church.  His book is entitled, Ten Commandments for Church Reform (Acadian House, 2021).  This title is misleading.  His subtitle, Memoirs of a Catholic Priest, gets closer to describing his content.  Had I been his publisher, I would have suggested, Memoirs of a Catholic Priest Bent Upon Reforming his Church.


I find a strong affinity with Wijngaards.  We are roughly the same age.  We both grew up in a pious Catholic family.  We were both immersed in Catholic devotions.  Reflecting on this early period in his life, Wijngaards writes, “Looking back at that time, I now recognize an element of unreality in my obsessive devotion [to Jesus]” (p. 47).  I would say the same thing, but, for me, it was “my obsessive devotion to Mary.”  The “unreality” in my own devotions consisted in my adamant conviction that my daily rosaries formed the “essential spiritual warfare” enabled the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring about the conversion of Russia.  Wijngaards says, “I had fallen in love with a phantom Jesus”—a Jesus who wanted me “to be wary of woman” as a danger to my spiritual life.  Here, too, this has a resonance in my own early spirituality.


As a result, Wijngaards joined the Mill Hill Missionaries. He completed his high school and college years in Mill Hill institutions.  Then, his superiors sent him to the Gregorian University in Rome to get a doctoral degree in Sacred Scripture.  My guess is that, as his studies of the Gospels began, the “phantom Jesus” of his devotional period was replaced by the Jesus of the Gospels.  Then he was ordained and sent to Hyderabad, India, where he taught Scriptural Studies to future Indian priests, 1964-1976.  These were exciting times to be a priest.  In 1962-1965, Vatican II had provided Catholics with an upbeat plan for reorienting religious and priestly life.  Religious vocations abounded everywhere.


It is significant, for me, that Wijngaards founded a formation center for Religious Sisters precisely because these women were routinely sent out to do pastoral work without having any substantial theological training.  Here I notice quite clearly that Wijngaards took measures to uplift the women in the Church of India who were prized for their unpaid labor, their humility, and their submissiveness.  This was not an assignment given to him.  John Wijngaards was clearly not a “yes” man waiting for someone to tell him what to do–when he saw something that was not quite right, he stepped up to the plate and began to do something by way of correcting it.  He exhibited a “can-do attitude.”  What I find significant is that, right from the very start, he exercised his talents in favor of women.


In the ten years following Vatican II, women were entering into all the professions that had been formerly been reserved exclusively for men.  The Women’s Rights Movement, meanwhile, was dedicated to securing for women equal access to education and employment, equality within marriage–married woman were given the right to own property, to have bank accounts, to receive wages, to have custody over her children and control over her own body.  The Society of Biblical Literature was 98% male in the early 1960s.  Year by year, this Society saw a growing influx of female theologians.  Meanwhile, Catholic Colleges and University began hiring qualified female theologians.  For a number of years, the chances of being hired by a Catholic institution was decidedly higher if you were a woman.  By the 90s, nearly 40% of the members of the Society of Biblical Literature were female.


During these same years, Wijngaards offers his readers (p. 121-126) a full-blown analysis of how, in Holland, Paul VI appointed bishops with the deliberate purpose of destroying the harmony and collaboration between the Dutch bishops. In 1972, Fr. Joannes Gijsen was named bishop of Roermond. In so doing, the pope entirely bypassed the honored Dutch tradition whereby episcopal candidates were drawn from a list generated by a diocesan synod. Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrect, went to Rome to contest this “disregard” for a long-standing nomination procedure, but without success.  Fr. Gijsen had the reputation of having “a negative and destructive personality,” and, in quick order, he undid all the Vatican II reforms that had been joyfully and painstakingly embraced by the vast majority of Dutch Catholics in his diocese.  In addition, he created his own seminary since he did not trust the formation in the common seminary to be sufficiently orthodox.  Wijngaards tells his readers: “The reaction to his appointment was one of outrage” (p. 122).


Wijngaards gives a hint of his future decision to resign from the ministry half-way through the book.  He reports on a radio interview given by Bishop Simonis (another bad appointment by Paul VI).  The bishop was asked how he understands the CDF’s rejection of women to holy orders.  His response: “Men are active, [they] are leaders by nature. Women are passive.”


“How do you know this,” the interviewer prodded him.


“Well,” he said. “Look at what happens right at conception.  The female ovum is lying passively in the womb, the male sperm fights its way in and captures the ovum with a sting” (p. 123).


Besides his dubious portrait of the biology of conception, Simonis uses this mental picture to justify his bold generalization that “men are active by nature; women are passive.”  Clearly anyone who would say something like this has had little or no experience of a fierce women like Wijngaards’s mother.  Nor, for that matter, can we really believe that Simonis never met any “passive men.”  Not even the CDF would try to get away with this sort of shoddy thinking.  The bishop’s prejudice against women was showing through.  No doubt about it.


For Wijngaards, the 1995 attempt by John Paul II and Ratzinger to make the ban against women appear to be “infallible” was the final straw that broke his resolve to continue his official ministry.  Wijngaards specifically details how John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger–by permanently denying the priesthood to women–delivered a crushing blow.  As Housetop in London and even in the missionary field in India, Wijngaards was accustomed to working with women who were outstanding and competent.  Anyone who reads the opening chapters of his book will notice also that his own mother was a fierce tigress when it came time to keep her family together and alive during the period when they were sequestered in detention camps by the Japanese. In an era where humility and subservience were routinely prized as the virtues of women, Wijngaards was rescued from the jaws of death by a woman ready to face down ruthless soldiers who were accustomed to using acts of cruelty to intimidate the vast numbers of prisoners that were under their supervision.


Wijngaards was especially creative and visionary in the missionary field of India where he spent the better part of fourteen years.  Even after Ivan Illich (p. 115) wrote his stunning report on the failure of European priests to step aside and to give native-born priests the full responsibility for the missionary outreach in their own countries, Wijngaards immediately recognized the appropriateness of this appeal, and he began to take steps to implement the very measures that would render his own religious order as “no longer needed.”  From my reading of Wijngaards’ narrative, however, I would judge that this had little or nothing to do with his leaving the priesthood.


Wijngaards himself omits this when he announced his resignation in 1998.  At that point, he fingers exclusively his “conflict of conscience” as necessitating his leaving.  Here are his words:


Since I perceive Rome’s ban on women’s ordination (a) as not legitimately founded on Scripture or Tradition, (b) [as] not arrived at after proper consultation of the Church, (c) [as] harmful to ecumenism, and (d) [as] highly injurious to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, I feel bound in conscience to continue voicing my sincere opposition. . . .  Moreover, (e) I want to stand on the side of those men and women who are so casually and unjustly dismissed by the Vatican.  It is only by distancing myself now from the institutional Church that I can extract myself from the guilt of taking part in the conspiracy of silence.


Notice here how Wijngaards lists the four defects of Rome’s ban on ordination.  (a) and (b) deal with the failure of the CDF in doing its homework.  (c) and (d) name the chief harmful consequences.  (e) appears as an afterthought but, in reality, it is the “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise” statement of Martin Luther when he was asked to recant his positions.  Wijngaards puts emphasis upon the “conspiracy of silence” of bishops, theologians, priests at all levels who, instead of speaking out forcefully, have retired in silence thereby deceiving the faithful and leaving the prophets to take on the brutal and inhumane treatment of the CDF alone.  This last item is extraordinary.  Wijngaards is challenging the “guilty bystanders.”  Do recall that  John Wijngaards was never interrogated by the CDF regarding his writings.  Nor was he ever silenced and prevented from teaching or publishing on the “hot button” topics that were being defined by Rome.  It would have been very easy for him to join the “guilty bystanders” who tacitly enabled the tyranny of the CDF, but he did not.



Wijngaards makes clear that his leaving ministry within his Church was a manifest protest against the “conspiracy of silence.”  This leaving, however, did not diminish his priestly mission as he saw it: “Christ wanted me to continue as a priest for those who sought my help and as a prophetic teacher in a Church so badly in need of reform” (p. 229).  Wijngaards discovered that the professional team working with Housetop Ministries (his innovative catechetical works) wanted to follow his prophetic move by creating world-wide resources whereby the issue of women’s ordination would be thoroughly researched and discussed [URL =].  Thus, the past twenty-four years have been filled with his continued ministry on behalf of women.


If you go to, you will discover that has an average of 435 unique daily visitors and 1131 daily page views.  Quite clearly, is a resource center to be reckoned with.  In the past eight  years, Housetop evolved into the world-renowned Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research which coordinates leading academics to publish research projects on issues facing the international Catholic community.


For anyone who believes that the Roman Catholic Church has a future in God’s divine plan, I would strongly recommend John Wijngaards’ Memoirs.  For anyone who thinks that John Wijngaards choices are driven by pride or by the promptings of Satan, his Memoirs have much to offer you as well.  It is a positive sign that the Mission Hill Fathers published a strongly supportive review on their official website.  His hardback book can be purchased for $23 directly from Acadian House Publishing.  For a $10 Amazon Kindle version, click here.   For a review by Fr. Flannery, click here.

To sign a petition  to Pope Francis, click here.

Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail

Five reasons the synod on the family is doomed to fail

  • Pope Francis speaks with a cardinal as he arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. At right is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Faith and Justice
The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him.
First, the topic of the synod, “the family,” is too broad.
The family touches everything and is touched by everything. Anything bad in the world affects families, and any problems in families affect the societies in which they live.
Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.

Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.

And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.

It is simply too much to deal with in a three-week meeting.

Second, the membership of the synod makes dealing with the topic of the family difficult.

The 270 synodal fathers come from many different cultures and as a result have very different priorities and concerns, not to mention different cultural conceptions about family life.

Bishops in the Middle East and Africa see their families facing the constant threat of violence and death that forces them to become refugees fleeing their homes. How can you have a family under these circumstances?

Many bishops in the developed world are concerned about how to respond to high divorce rates. But outside the wealthy, industrialized nations, the issues may be human trafficking, arranged marriages, interreligious marriages, child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and cultural customs where marriage is seen as taking place over time, not in the instant when the couple says their vows.

Can so many people from such varied backgrounds have any common understanding of the problems facing families and how to deal with them?

The third problem facing the synod is the synodal process itself.

Synods are paper factories. They produce lots of speeches, recommendations and sometimes even a final document, but do they make a difference? In 1980, I covered an earlier synod on the family that faced almost every issue that this synod faces. Did it make any difference? If it did, I don’t see it.

The 1980 synod made many of the same recommendations that this synod will make: better marriage preparation, better formation of clergy so they can help families, better education programs, greater support from governments for families, less violence, more love.

New programs and ideas are not generated at synods. Bishops can only share what they bring. New programs are created by entrepreneurs who have an idea, experiment with it, and improve it through trial and error.

The fourth reason the synod is doomed to failure is that it is seriously divided on the question of what can and cannot change.

This clash is most obvious over the question of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.

One side sees only the law — the marriage contract is permanent and can be terminated only by death. The other side sees millions of people suffering from broken marriages that cannot be put back together.

One solution to this crisis is the annulment process, whereby the church declares that, even though there is a signed contract, the contract is not valid because of some failure at the time the wedding took place. There was much support at the 2014 synod for making the annulment process easier and faster, and Francis acted on this between synods.

The attitude of the bishops toward annulments is the greatest change since the 1980 synod on the family, when the American bishops were fiercely attacked by curial cardinals for making annulments too easy.

Francis has gone way beyond the American procedures by allowing bishops to declare a marriage annulled through an administrative process rather than a judicial process. Even canon lawyers are scratching their heads wondering how this will work.

But the fundamental problem faced by the synod is the same one faced by the Second Vatican Council: What can and cannot change in the church?

The pope and the bishops are constantly saying that the synod will not change church doctrine, but only pastoral practice. Bishops appear to even be afraid to talk about the development of doctrine, lest they be seen as wishy-washy on doctrine.

The conservatives see the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion as violating a doctrine of the church — the indissolubility of marriage. To them, it would be an admission that the church was somehow wrong in its teaching in the past.

Any student of the Second Vatican Council recognizes that this was the same complaint of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his conservative colleagues who fought changes in church teaching on ecumenism, religious liberty and other matters.

So for the bishops to allow divorced and remarried Catholics — who don’t have an annulment but are civilly married — to receive Communion, they must somehow explain it as only a change in pastoral practice and not a change in doctrine.

The fifth reason the synod is doomed is the absence of theologians at the synod.

One conservative curial cardinal complained of the “schoolboy theology” being presented in episcopal speeches. There is some truth in that complaint. There is little evidence in their talks that bishops consulted theologians in order to understand contemporary thinking in Scripture, ethics or doctrine.

The bishops would have been better off spending the first week listening to theologians do an exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, explain the concept of the development of doctrine, recount the history of the church’s treatment of marriage, and propose resolutions to controversial questions.

The reason that Vatican II was successful was because an alliance was forged between the theological periti and the council fathers that was capable of defeating the Roman Curia’s intransigence. Tragically, this alliance was broken after Humanae Vitae, when theologians were cast into the outer darkness as dissidents whom the bishops were to avoid at all costs.

The result has been disastrous for the church. It is as if the management of a major corporation is not on speaking terms with its research and development division. Would you invest in such a company?

Is there hope for the synod? Yes. Francis has begun a process; he has opened the windows closed after Vatican II. It will take more than three weeks to move the church forward, but he is moving it in the right direction.

Perhaps the synod is not doomed to fail but simply to be unfinished.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]