Bishop Power: Church teachings need to be 're-examined'

Bishop Power: Church teachings need to be 're-examined'


Bishop Pat Power, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, has called for a re-examination of some Church teachings - including that on a male priesthood. He has also criticised several important Vatican documents as a "regression from the teaching and spirit of Vatican II". Several Australian bishops have dissociated themselves from his views.

In the 3 September 2002 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, religion commentator Chris McGillion, in referring to a perceived "institutional meltdown" of the Catholic Church resulting from the sexual abuse scandals, commended Bishop Pat Power's advocacy for optional priestly celibacy.

McGillion is a founding member of Catalyst for Renewal, while Bishop Power is a supporter of that organisation.

Writing in the April 2002 edition of The Mix, the official publication of Catalyst for Renewal, Bishop Power said: "The 1997 Vatican Instruction on the Relationship of the Non-ordained with the Ordained, the 1998 Statement of Conclusions, Dominus Iesus (2000) and most recently Liturgiam Authenticam - all, to my mind, represent a deliberate regression from the teaching and spirit of Vatican II."

Bishop Power added: "It is significant that none of these documents are papal writings and their spirit and letter are in sharp contrast to Pope John Paul's 1995 Encyclical 'On Christian Unity' (Ut unum sint) and his apostolic letters for the opening and closing of the year of great jubilee (Tertio millennio adveniente and Novo millennio ineunte) which consistently call upon the teaching of Vatican II. One can only hope that Pope John Paul II's vision will prevail."

In truth, all the documents referred to above by Bishop Power have the clear approval of Pope John Paul II. For example, the concluding section of Dominus Iesus states: "The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience of 16 June 2000, granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority, ratified and confirmed this Declaration, adopted in Plenary Session and ordered its publication."

Later, in responding to "erroneous interpretations" regarding Dominus Iesus, the Holy Father in his Angelus Message for 1 October 2000 expressed his unqualified approval for the Declaration which he said was "close to my heart" and "approved by me in a special way."

The same could be said of the other documents Bishop Power queried.

In his article in The Mix, Bishop Power also offered a curious interpretation of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: "New moral dilemmas began to emerge in the wake of Humanae Vitae in 1968 and the outbreak of the Vietnam War (or at least Australia's involvement in it). The right to question and even dissent, the sanctity of conscience and the whole notion of religious freedom all found expression in the documents of Vatican II."

Right to dissent?

Assuming that Bishop Power is here referring to theological dissent, then his assertion that Vatican II sanctioned a "right to dissent" is absolute fiction. Moreover, when interpreted in continuity with the received teaching of the Church on the question of conscience, the documents of Vatican II are not self-contradictory.

In fact, Vatican II teaches quite the opposite: "[T]he laity should promptly accept in Christian obedience what is decided by the pastors who, as teachers and rulers of the Church, represent Christ. In this they will follow Christ's example who, by his obedience unto death, opened the blessed way of the liberty of the sons of God to all men" (Lumen gentium, n. 37).

More recently, during an interview with Monica Attard on the ABC's Radio program Sunday Profile on 25 August 2002, Bishop Power in discussing the question of clerical sexual abuse opined that "the whole issue of sexuality" and "celibacy" needed "to be looked at as part of the overall reform that the Catholic Church is in need of at the moment."

When asked if it would be better to make celibacy optional, Bishop Power responded: "I have certainly been suggesting that for a number of years." In the same context, he recommended that consideration be given to "those priests who have left the active ministry and have married" so as to allow them to once again "exercise the priestly ministry."

The Bishop's comments on the ABC were taken up by several of Australia's metropolitan newspapers, including a front page report - headlined "Bishop attacks celibacy" - in Brisbane's The Courier Mail (26 August).

When asked by Monica Attard whether or not the Church ought to change its teaching on homosexuality, Bishop Power responded: "The whole of the Church's teaching on sexuality generally, I think, needs to be re-examined and re-articulated in a new way. Now, I would hope again that that would be something that would involve the whole Church, given that a certain percentage of the population are homosexual in orientation, that's something that needs to be recognised and it's very important that they be treated as human beings with needs and desires as everyone else."

These views were repeated shortly afterwards in an article in the Melbourne Age (29 August) titled "The Catholic Church must now confront the issue of celibacy". Bishop Power urged that the Church should "revisit its teaching not just on homosexuality but on sexuality in general" and that this should involve calling "upon the wisdom and experience of all the faithful, not just be handed down from 'on high'."

When asked in the ABC interview "if the time had come for women to be accepted as priests," Bishop Power responded that the question needing "to be resolved" was whether or not this was "the will of Christ". He described Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as "a very serious statement" in which Pope John Paul II said "that he believed that the Church was not authorised to ordain women." But he added: "My hope though is that we would be still prepared to look more deeply at that whole question both sociologically and theologically and in every other way."

Definitive assent?

After saying this, Monica Attard prompted Bishop Power to go further when she asked: "You wouldn't have a problem with it?" To this he replied: "Well, certainly I wouldn't have a problem doing it. I mean if it was shown to be possible in those ways. I would welcome it as I think most people would."

These answers by Bishop Power to the question of the ordination of women are difficult to reconcile with the teaching of the Church as spelled out by the Holy Father in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

In that document, Pope John Paul II did not speak as a private theologian, i.e., he was not concerned at telling us what he "believed", but rather he used his divinely constituted office to reaffirm the Church teaching on the impossibility of ordaining women. In doing so, he called for definitive assent to this teaching by all members of the Church: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Bishop Power's words hardly represent the kind of "definitive assent" the Pope called for - not least from his bishops in their public statements.

Finally, when asked if people "with liberal views" like himself "felt let down by the direction of the Church at this moment?", he responded: "I would imagine that the present Pope is not able to carry on for too much longer, and a new Pope will present new opportunities for the Church and I only hope he will be courageous enough to grasp those opportunities."

Bishop Power's earlier hope in The Mix "that Pope John Paul II's vision will prevail" apparently applies only to those teachings which enjoy the imprimatur of the Church's "liberals."

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