Father Fessio: real US crisis is 'spiritual abuse'

Father Fessio: real US crisis is 'spiritual abuse'

Karl Maurer

Commenting on the current crisis facing the Catholic Church in the United States, and how to navigate a way out of it, Father Joseph Fessio SJ appeared in Chicago at the invitation of Catholic Citizens of Illinois on 13 September 2002.

He observed that the most damaging aspect of the current Catholic crisis was "spiritual abuse" - the widespread failure by American Catholic Church leaders to teach and defend Catholic truth: "What we are seeing today is a crisis in fidelity to Catholic truth: in accepting that truth on the part of the faithful and the priests, and on enforcing and defending that truth on the part of bishops."

Faithful Catholics saw the cause of the sex abuse crisis as the rejection of the Church's traditional teaching on sexual morality by American society, including, sadly, most Catholics. The crisis of dissenting Catholic laity, priests and bishops, said Fr Fessio, was born in the rejection the Church's teaching in Humanae Vitae.

In spite of the challenges facing Catholics, help appears to be on the way. Father Fessio pointed to the joint statement by the American and Curial Cardinals and the Holy Father made from Rome in April of this year.

The eight American Cardinals and several Curial Cardinals stated "their unanimous gratitude to the Holy Father for his clear indications of direction and commitment for the future." And what were these directions? The document addressed the crisis and the need for firm and decisive action on the part of the Church's leadership: "Given the doctrinal issues underlying the deplorable behavior in question, certain lines of response have been proposed. The pastors of the church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care."

Father Fessio noted that there is no ambiguity in the demand for public reprimand of individuals who spread dissent, but there are few, if any, signs that this is being implemented. "Bishop Bruskewitz has done it but there are a lot more dissenters than there are reprimands being given".

In the April document, the Cardinals and Holy Father announced that "a new and serious apostolic visitation of seminaries and other institutions of formation must be made without delay, with particular emphasis on the need for fidelity to the Church's teaching, especially in the area of morality and in the need for deeper study of criteria for suitability of candidates for the priesthood."

The last apostolic visitation (which is an 'on-site' inspection by Vatican representatives) was the so- called Marshall visitation in 1984, during which Vatican-appointed officials were given Potemkin village tours of seminaries that put on a fa├žade of orthodoxy until the officials were gone, then it was back to the dissenting-as-usual. The fact that Rome is calling now for a "serious" visitation, in light of the ineffectiveness of the 1984 inspection, is cause for encouragement in Father Fessio's view.

Spiritual crisis

Through the publication Catholic World Report, Father Fessio has responded to the spiritual crisis in the Church with Operation Plainspeak, a proposal to identify which pastors and bishops are sincerely committed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When the apostolic visitation gets underway, Father Fessio offered his litmus test as a quick and helpful way to identify dissenters. "You can ask any priest or bishop about three items in the Catechism and if they wholeheartedly support and defend those paragraphs, it's very unlikely they dissent from Church teaching on anything else."

Father Fessio outlined his criteria as follows:

"No one shall be given a position of authority in the Church, including admission to sacred orders, religious vows, appointment as a superior, or director of formations, who does not willingly accept and publicly defend the following three items from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

* Number 1577: "Only a baptised man (vir) can validly receive sacred orders. For this reason the ordination of women is impossible."

* Number 2357: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, the Church has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and under no circumstances can they be approved."

* Number 2366: "The Church teaches that each and every marriage act be ordered per se to procreation of human life."

"No one shall remain in authority in the Church who does not promptly employ all the means at his disposal to ensure that those under his authority accept and defend these propositions."

Fr Fessio continued: "The only way an apostolic visitation will succeed is if there is accountability and a means to determine who is for the Catechism, and who is against it. How are we going overcome this crisis of truth if we continue to allow people who do not accept the Church's teachings on these central issues to continue to represent the Church?"

Meanwhile: "More and more, Roman Catholics are becoming indistinguishable from other Americans, with growing support for abortion, divorce, euthanasia and other societal ills. Even worse, a veil of ignorance has fallen over Catholic America, obscuring Catholic lay people's understanding of their faith and calling into question their responsibility to serve as witnesses to Christ in the midst of human society."

With acknowledgement to Victor R. Claveau: claveau@ix.netcom.com

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