An Open Letter to the Manly Seminary staff

An Open Letter to the Manly Seminary staff

Fr Brian Harrison OS

The September edition of AD2000 included a report "The New Catechism: Analysis and Commentary," published by the Catholic Institute of Sydney, which also incorporates the Manly Seminary. This publication consisted of a collection of papers by the Institute's staff, most of them critical of aspects of the new Catechism.

Fr Brian Harrison O.S., a former student of the Manly Seminary, who was taught by many of the contributors to the above publication, now holds the chairs of theology and philosophy at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, lectures in moral theology at the National Seminary of Puerto Rico, is the jail chaplain in Ponce and chaplain to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Puerto Rico.

I was saddened to learn from the content of your recent book, The New Catechism: Analysis and Commentary, compiled and published in your role as faculty members of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, that most of you are very far from accepting the Catechism as that "sure norm for teaching the faith" which Pope John Paul II declares it to be in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum.

Despite your open dissent, moreover, you were entrusted with running Catechism in-service sessions for teachers in Sydney's Catholic schools. In contrast, my own Bishop, Chancellor of the university in which I teach, closed down its entire theological faculty for a while in the I970s and stood his ground as "a pillar of iron and a wall of brass" (Jer 1:18) against the indignation with which the dismissed professors and their numerous supporters denounced his "pre-conciliar intransigence" in enforcing the letter - and therefore the authentic "spirit" - of Vatican II.

Your objections to the Catechism, I suspect, are based on the whole hermeneutical matrix within which it has been composed. Like the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, it is rooted in what 'progressive' Catholic thinkers like Bernard Lonergan and John Courtney Murray have described pejoratively as the "classicist" world-view, but which is in reality nothing other than what the Church has traditionally called the perennial philosophy".

This is basically nothing other than a development and application of the fundamental principles of reason itself. It includes such elements as the law of non-contradiction, and the awareness that, after all allowance has been made for changing circumstances and historical conditioning, it is possible to formulate true propositions about religion, history, metaphysics and ethics whose meaning is not only immutable, but accessible and intelligible to people of all times and cultures.

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be an authority which is perennially reliable - century after century - regarding those propositions of faith and morals which she teaches with firmness and constancy to be true. If in fact she is not perennially reliable in such matters, she is nothing, or rather, worse than nothing: a colossal imposter speaking falsely in the name of God. But one of the essential conditions for sustaining this claim is that elementary truth which clearly undergirded the composition of the Catechism: the Church's credibility as a bearer of divine revelation depends on her never contradicting in one age what she has firmly and constantly taught in another.

Liberal academy

The Church's liberal academy since Vatican II has been trying to push and prod the Roman magisterium toward a door marked "Plausibility In the Modern World", while failing to realise that the doors open onto nothingness. For the papacy to step inside that door (something which we know the Holy Spirit will never actually allow to happen) would be a leap of suicidal self-contradiction.

It is obvious, for instance, that the Church has traditionally taught with great firmness and constancy the personal existence of the Devil, the historical fall from grace of our first parents, the historical contraction of original sin by generation, the absolute immorality of contraception (and of other specific classes of sexual conduct which many of you want the Church to permit), the impossibility of women's ordination, and the disciples' true seeing, touching, and eating with the risen Christ. Since theologians like yourselves are openly questioning or denying these and other doctrines (none of which has been disproved by any of the human sciences), a protest is in order, because in the measure that your opinions gain currency and de facto respectability in the Church, they undermine her rational credibility.

You may reply that it is precisely the Vatican's "rigidity", and not your own "flexibility", that is undermining the Church's credibility today. But is your own "more relevant" version of Catholicism really attracting anyone outside the Church? Is your "modern" faith effectively helping to evangelise our society? Or are you for the most part a new ghetto whose message is credible only to an audience consisting of other disgruntled Catholic liberals?

In recent years the Church has welcomed a new wave of converts endowed with impressive scholarly and literary credentials, coming from Protestantism, Judaism and unbelief: Richard John Neuhaus, Scott Hahn, Paul Vitz, Malcolm Muggeridge, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, Jeffrey Rubin, George William Rutler, Dale Vree, Sheldon Vanauken, Alisdair MacIntyre, Gerry Matatics, Graham Leonard and many others. But these are persons whose brand of Catholicism you would consider highly conservative. They have been attracted precisely by the "classicist" orthodoxy taught by John Paul II and now enshrined for centuries to come in the Catechism.

Now, where are all your brilliant converts? Where are those scholars who are entering the Church in order to denigrate her leadership and dissent from her doctrines? Where are those first-rate non-Catholic minds now being drawn into the fold by the persuasive power and "relevance" of Richard McBrien, Edward Schillebeeckx, Charles Curran, Rosemary Ruether, David Coffey or Neil Brown?

You might be tempted to reply that there are surely plenty of them out there - potentially - but that it is precisely the Vatican's scandalous "intransigence" which keeps them at arm's length. But the hard sociological evidence suggests the exact opposite. The decline in morale and membership of the mainline churches has been practically in direct proportion to their efforts to "modernise" and liberalise doctrine in accordance with the perceived norms of contemporary culture.

So, please think and pray, long and hard, at this time when weak episcopal leadership is allowing scholars such as yourselves to give an unusually large measure of leadership to the Church in Australia. Since the Catechism is here to stay, you are very myopic to suppose that it has "been left behind by modern theology." The truth is that your modernist theology has been left behind by the Catechism.

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