In a pastoral instruction, "Theology and Secularisation in Spain," dated 30 March 2006, Spain's bishops have cited dissenting theologies as a root cause of the country's crisis of faith. The thrust of the document is equally relevant to Australia and other Western nations where Christianity is under pressure from secularism.
The following report is adapted from a larger article by Vatican journalist, Sandro Magister.
The Spanish bishops' pastoral instruction was originally planned in conjunction with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when this was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. It presents itself as a working model for the bishops of other nations.
In fact, an Australian equivalent would make an excellent follow-up to the Statement of Conclusions which remains to be implemented in many dioceses.
The Spanish document is titled "Theology and Ssecularization in Spain, Forty Years after the End of Vatican Council II" and is the outcome of three years of work. It was prepared by the Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Spanish Bishops' Conference.
The bishops identify four areas where the faith is most seriously undermined today:
* the interpretation of Scripture;
* Jesus Christ as the only saviour of all men;
* the Church as the Body of Christ;
* moral life.
The instruction is organised under these four main headings. In each section, the document first presents the features of correct Christological doctrine, and then denounces the theologies that deform it.
The instruction warns against erroneous tendencies. The names found in the notes that accompany the text are those of theologians already marked out in the past by doctrinal condemnations and disci- plinary sanctions by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or by the Spanish Bishops' Conference.
Four of these are Spanish: Juan José Tamayo, José Mar’a Castillo, Juan Antonio Estrada, and Marciano Vidal. The others are Jacques Dupuis of Belgium; Roger Haight, American; Anthony De Mello, Indian; Austria's Reinhard Messner; Leonardo Boff of Brazil; Ireland's Diarmuid O'Murchu; and Tissa Balasuriya, of Sri Lanka.
In Spain, the instruction could be the basis for the Church's return to doctrinal order. This, in any case, is the intention of the bishops who planned and wrote it. One of them, Bishop Romero Pose, said in an interview with Il Regno:
"The reading of the document is becoming a stimulus for improving the formation of all those whose task it is to communicate the faith. The instruction is gradually being presented in the dioceses, to the clergy, to the seminarians, to the theology students, to the catechists. There have been few negative reactions so far, and these have been of limited theological depth."
Extracts from Instruction
The following are a few extracts from the pastoral instruction which provide an indication of the document's approach:
2. "They are not few who, in the shadow of a nonexistent Council, in terms of both letter and spirit, have sown agitation and disquiet in the hearts of many of the faithful."
5. "The aspects of the crisis can be summarised in four points: a rationalist conception of the faith and of revelation; an immanentist humanism applied to Jesus Christ; a merely sociological interpretation of the Church; and secularised subjectivism-relativism in Catholic morality".
10. "To presume that the 'revelations' of other religions are equivalent or complementary to the revelation of Jesus Christ means denying the very truth of the Incarnation and redemption."
17. "Raising doubts and mistrust toward the Magisterium of the Church, placing the authority of certain writers before that of the Magisterium, or considering the guidelines and documents of the Magisterium simply as a 'barrier' that blocks the progress of theology and that must be 'respected' for reasons outside of theology itself, is opposed to the dynamic of the Christian faith."
19. "In some instances the biblical texts are studied and interpreted as if these were nothing more than ancient texts. There is also the application of methods that systematically exclude the possibility of revelation, miracles, and intervention of God. Instead of integrating the contributions of history, philology, and other scholarly disciplines with the faith and the Church's tradition, frequently the ecclesial interpretation itself is presented as the problem and considered as extraneous, if not opposed, to 'scientific exegesis'."
34. "Certain erroneous theories on the mystery of Christ, which have passed from academic circles to more popular ones, to catechesis and school instruction, are cause for sorrow. These theories do not make reference to the divinity of Jesus Christ, or they consider it a poetic expression devoid of real content, denying, in consequence, his pre-existence and divine filiation. The death of Jesus is thus stripped of its redemptive value, and is considered as the result of the conflict with the religion of his time".
35. The consequence of these hypotheses, which are contrary to the faith of the Church, is the unravelling of what it means to be Christian ... The teaching of the Church and sacramental life are considered as distinct from the will of Christ, if not opposed to it. Christianity and the Church seem to be separable. According to the writing of some authors, it was not the intention of Jesus Christ to found a Church, or even a religion, but rather to liberate man from religion and the powers that be."
42. "Some authors have defended, and spread, erroneous conceptions on the ordained ministry in the Church. Through the application of an incorrect exegetical method, they have separated Christ from the Church, as if Jesus Christ had not intended to found his Church.
"Once the bond between the will of Christ and the Church has been broken, one seeks the origin of the hierarchical constitution of the Church in purely human causes, as the fruit of merely historical forces. Biblical evidence is thus interpreted on the basis of ideological presuppositions, selecting some texts and elements and forgetting others.
"One speaks of 'models of Church' thought to be present in the New Testament: after the primitive Church, 'characterised by discipleship and charism,' free from restrictions, is thought to have arisen the 'institutional and hierarchical' Church. The model of the Church as 'hierarchical, legalist, and pyramidal' which subsequently arose is imagined as distant from the indications found in the New Testament, which place the emphasis on community and on the plurality of charisms and ministries, and on the Christian fraternity understood as priestly and consecrated in its totality.
"This way of presenting the Church has no real foundation in Sacred Scripture or the ecclesial tradition, and gravely deforms the plan of God for the Body of Christ that is the Church, leading the faithful to positions of dialectic conflict."
44. "In an analogous way, some deny the distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. Those who think in this way begin from the presupposition that in the New Testament the ministers are not considered as 'sacred persons,' to conclude that this 'sacralisation' of the ministry, or of a group within the Church, is a later historical superimposition."
45. "The lack of clarity with respect to the ordained ministry in the Church is not extraneous to the vocational crisis of recent years. In some cases there even seems to be the intention to provoke a 'vocational desert' in order to produce changes within the Church's internal structure."
48. "The ecclesiological errors that have been indicated are also expressed through the existence of groups that promulgate and systematically spread teachings contrary to the Magisterium of the Church on matters of faith and morals. They take advantage of the ease with which certain communications media bestow their attention, and multiply their public appearances, demonstrations, collective communications, and personal comments that openly dissent from the teaching of the Pope and the bishops".
49. "These groups, whose common characteristic is that of dissent, have expressed themselves in public statements in favour of communal absolution and women's ordination, and have misrepresented the true meaning of marriage by proposing and practising the 'blessing' of unions between homosexual persons. The existence of these groups sows divisions and gravely disorients the faithful, is a cause of suffering for many Christians (priests, religious, and laity), and is an occasion of scandal ...".
51. "Furthermore, there exists a silent form of dissent that promotes and defends disaffection with the Church, considering this a legitimate critical attitude with respect to the hierarchy and its Magisterium, justifying dissent within the Church itself as if a Christian could not be an adult without establishing a certain distance from the teachings of the Magisterium.
"Behind this attitude there frequently lurks the idea that the Church at present is not obeying the Gospel, and that a struggle 'from within' is necessary to arrive at a future, authentically evangelical Church. In reality, what is sought is not the conversion of the Church's members, its constant purification, penance and renewal, but the transformation of the very constitution of the Church, to adapt it to the opinions and perspectives of the world.
"This position finds support among members of the Church's academic centres, and in some cases among publishing houses and bookstores run by Catholic institutions. This way of proceeding causes great disorientation among the faithful."
59. "When the Church's teaching on original sin is presented in an ambiguous way, or the gravity of sin is passed over in silence or denied, the consequences for the formation of conscience are very negative, while the road to authentic happiness is obscured."
62. "The dignity of human life demands that its transmission take place within the context of conjugal love. For this reason, those methods that presume to substitute, and not simply assist, the action of the spouses in procreation, are not admissible. If the unitive end is separated from the procreative one, the image of the human person, soul and body, is falsified, and the acts of true love, capable of expressing the conjugal charity that unites the spouses, are degraded. The consequence is that a morally correct regulation of births cannot resort to contraceptive methods."
64. "We cannot call into doubt the fact that, from the moment of conception, there exists a real and authentic human life, distinct from that of the parents, for which reason interrupting its natural development constitutes an extremely serious attack against life itself. ... It is contrary to the Church's teaching to maintain that until the implantation of the fertilised egg one cannot speak of 'human life,' thus establishing a rupture in the order of human dignity between the embryo and what is defined, erroneously, as a 'pre-embryo.' In an analogous way, no one has the authority to eliminate an innocent life, not even when this is at the terminal stage."
65. "Those who defend their condition as Christians while operating in the political and social order with proposals that expressly contradict the teaching of the Gospel, maintained and transmitted by the Church, are a cause of grave scandal and place themselves outside of ecclesial communion."
68. "The erroneous opinions that we have examined have had serious and grave consequences in the life of the Church. We must take note that the transmission of the faith has been interrupted in many of our families. The faith convictions of parents, educators, and catechists have been shaken by misleading, ambiguous and harmful theological propositions that have weakened their faith and have thus precluded the joyful transmission of the Gospel."