(c) Kancelaria Prezydenta RP (source: Wikimedia)
The Pope recently published a Motu Proprio on the work of charitable organisations within the Church, especially those that carry the name ‘Catholic’ or operate under the aegis of the hierarchy. In his Apostolic Letter Intima Ecclesiae natura -- 'On the Service of Charity', Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Church performs three important functions: she preaches the Word and witnesses to the Gospel, she worships God through the sacred liturgy, and she also provides a 'service of charity' to the world.
Concentrating on this last function, the Holy Father writes:
...all the faithful have the right and duty to devote themselves personally to living the new commandment that Christ left us (cf. Jn 15:12), and to offering our contemporaries not only material assistance, but also refreshment and care for their souls (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 28).As well as acknowledging that Catholic charitable groups need proper organisational structures, the Pope emphasises the bonds that exist between the three missions of the Church, and how each informs the other. Works of mercy, when carried out in the name of the Gospel, can also be a means of preaching the Word – of witnessing to the reality of God’s love. In light of this, the Pope, according to the Motu Proprio, wishes that those who work in the 'service of charity' in the Church do so according to her mind and the full treasury of her teaching.
In recent times, it has become apparent to many within the Church that some of those organisations charged with helping the Bishops and faithful to exercise their rights and duties in performing a service of charity tend towards dissent from the Gospel -- as it is understood by the Catholic Church. Such counter-witnessing to the truth, whilst claiming to be ‘Catholic’ causes scandal both inside and outside the Church. Often, those who come across ‘social justice’ or ‘charitable’ movements within the Catholic Church are surprised to see that these groups sometimes preach an alternate Gospel to the one which challenges men and women in every aspect of our lives -- social and personal.
Whilst it is true that many Christians with a ‘social justice’ bias wish to be prophetic voices, witnessing to God’s love for the poor and dispossessed, the very same people can also fall into the delusion of false prophecy -- seeing the whole Gospel message purely through the truncated (and often perverse) prism of worldly social progressivism or socialism. Yes, lives can be helped in a material way by such men and women, but eternal souls are sometimes left to fend for themselves.
The modernist ‘social Gospel’ is often preached at the expense of the real one – the one that also asks followers of Christ to renounce the world and stand up as witnesses to the truth. It is only by witnessing to the truth that we can begin to be properly prophetic -- truly standing up for life and the family, as well as for the poor; for the rights of God in a secular and relativist world, as well as for a fair wage.
My liberal days... or, Confessions of a former Modernist
For many years, I was quite a liberal 'Catholic' -- so I know a lot about the 'social Gospel' or the Church's 'social justice' movements. Having been malformed as an under- and postgraduate in a secular and mildly Protestant theology department, I was a ‘progressive’ throughout most of my 20s – despite knowing deep down that the Church I had constructed in my head was often far removed from the objective Catholicism I had sought as a 15-year-old convert.
As a new Catholic, the first parishes I found myself in also tended to espouse ‘liberation theology’ at the expense of traditional Catholic faith and morals. A few priests openly advocated ‘women clergy’, whilst ‘lay ministers’ seemed to cringe at the very idea of Processions of the Blessed Sacrament or Latin in the liturgy. Homilies concentrated on saving the poor from oppression, but only in material terms -- Hell and the reality of sin were hardy, if ever, mentioned.
I was young. And, as so many within these parishes told me, I hadn’t seen 'how awful Catholicism' was before the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ opened the windows and doors and created a new sort of Church. Being young, and wanting to trust my elders and betters, I accepted their version of history.
In the end, after completing my studies, I became heavily involved in the Justice & Peace and ‘social justice’ movements that seem to have redefined Catholicism in England and Wales during the few decades that followed the Second Vatican Council. Belonging to these movements helped me with my anger problems, in that – like belonging to a cult – there was always another person or object to blame for everything. All the Church’s problems were the fault of the Pope or the ‘conservatives’ or ‘hardliners’, whilst all the world’s problems were the fault of the rich, or the US, or oil companies, or readers of the Daily Telegraph (which now happens to be my favourite newspaper!) … One could be as self-righteous as one liked, whilst always denouncing others as ‘Pharisees’ or 'hypocrites'.
During those years, it was taken as read by myself and my 'comrades' that anyone who liked Latin in the liturgy was a ‘Pharisee’ – ignoring the weightier matters of the law to concentrate on 'lace cottas', as some would put it. Yet, looking back at that time, I can now honestly say that I was the Pharisee (and still am in many ways, but at least I recognise that now!) – I was so busy trying to build a socialist utopia on earth, for my fellow man, that I had completely missed the point: God, and His Kingdom; which is not of this world.
I put down Hans Küng and took up the Gospels
Slowly, during the early stages of recovery from a serious illness as well as an attempt on my life, I began to question my position within the Church. Had I got it all wrong, after all? I put down whatever pretentious Hans Küng book I happened to be reading, and turned my attention to the Gospels once more, together with the Fathers and the Catechism. I then began looking around me, at my colleagues and fellow ‘social Gospelites’. What was all this anger about? Why were they so hateful towards the Pope? Were they / we really properly Catholic at all?
After about a year or so, I realised that I had – willingly or not, I do not know – been a Modernist for most of my 20s. I was a sort of angry-socialist-protestant-cuckoo in the Catholic nest – but I was far from being alone! A lot of bishops were on my side, as were so many others within the hierarchical structures of the Church. It also became apparent to me at the time -- I was offering myself as a student for the priesthood -- that those who wished to serve the Church as priests had to conform to the ‘social Gospel’, and reject much of the real one! It dawned on me that something had seriously gone wrong in the Church, as well as in my own formation as a Catholic.
Social fads ranked higher in J&P groups than did the unchanging and often very challenging Gospel -- the one that speaks to the individual soul as opposed to a political collective. It always seemed ok to challenge governments or the ‘baddy other’, but never oneself. Women’s rights, even to be ordained, trumped the allegiance and love owed to the Successor of St Peter. Not offending homosexuals and cohabitees, and supporting their ‘rights’, meant abrogating Sacred Scripture. Ecumenism meant doing away with Catholicism, for the sake of not hurting those in error. The Pope, it seemed, was always wrong; the world was always right. My conscience eventually forced me to admit it: this 'social Gospelism' wasn't a complete or proper expression of Catholicism -- rather, it was a terrible and very misguided distortion of it.
Thankfully, I began moving away from the model of ‘Catholicism’ (if I can now call it that) that I had been told was the norm – the ‘social justice’ or ‘we are Church’ models. I began taking sin seriously once more, and eventually managed to discover authentic Catholic liturgy and teaching – the traditional Mass, Benediction, the early Councils, and so on. I was still infected by error, though… and even whilst in seminary, I was rather conflicted. Maybe I still am sometimes. We human beings can be a mixed bag of ideas and convictions, sins and strengths, throughout our lives – which is why Purgatory is such a wonderful doctrine!
After many years as an active member of the J&P and social justice movements in the Church in England & Wales, I know for a fact that open dissent from Catholic teaching within these groups is / was – for many, at least – par for the course.
Dissent is dangerous
Since discovering that Catholicism which I was searching for as a teenager, and since moving away from dissent and rebellion in the name of ‘my’ (wrong) version of the Gospel to accepting the magisterial authority of the Church, I have often been left bemused when confronted with those who still cling to their angry anti-Catholic brand of Catholicism. Why do they stay, what motivates them? The answer is obvious – they want to see revolution and chaos in the Church. If they are anything like I was during my ‘social justice’ days, then they are dangerous.
I am glad to see that the Holy Father agrees with me. Whilst acknowledging the fact that many within movements such as Caritas Internationalis and so on perform a great service of charity in many respects, the Pope in his recently published Motu Proprio also realises that certain charitable or social justice organisations within the Church can be vehicles for dissent and confusion.
Promoting a ‘social Gospel’ (or a ‘political’ or anti-Catholic one) at the expense of the entirely of the Church’s moral and theological teaching, whilst pretending to act in the name of the hierarchy, is a danger that Pope St Pius X warned us about. Now Pope Benedict XVI is also responding to the crisis produced by those counter-Catholics who 'vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church' and who have designed the ruin of the Church 'not from without but from within' (cf Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 1907).
On the Service of Charity
Here are a few quotations from On the Service of Charity, with my headings (above) and comments (in italics) below:
Catholic charities must conform to Catholic teaching
It is the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop to ensure that in the activities and management of these agencies [such as Caritas, CAFOD, etc] the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law are respected, as well as the intentions of the faithful who made donations or bequests for these specific purposes (cf. canons 1300 CIC and 1044 CCEO).
When members of the Church give money to an organisation that claims to be Catholic (and has the privilege of calling itself ‘Catholic’), then it is only right and just that the donations given should not be used to fund projects that go against Christian faith and morals. Sometimes, it seems that certain ‘Catholic’ organisations have used money provided by the faithful to campaign against Church teaching or to fund questionable projects (handing out condoms, or whatever). This is not to happen anymore – and bishops will have to ensure that this does not happen.
The responsibilities and duties of the Bishop
It is the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop … to coordinate within his territory the different works of charitable service, both those promoted by the Hierarchy itself and those arising from initiatives of the faithful, without prejudice to their proper autonomy in accordance with their respective Statutes. In particular, he is to take care that their activities keep alive the spirit of the Gospel.
That is, the whole Gospel, not some part of it that has been deliberately distorted or twisted to an extent that it no longer represents the mind of the Catholic Church.
Employees working for Catholic charities must respect Catholic teaching
During my ‘liberal’ days it was well known that many employed members of various social justice movements called themselves ‘Catholic’, yet hardly respected the teachings of the Church in certain matters. In fact, they often spoke out against things such as the Church's teachings on human sexuality, etc.
Reform the malformed
A very important paragraph, in that it seeks to help those within certain movements to attain a proper formation. As a youngster, I was malformed. In a certain sense, I knew no better. Thankfully, a set of events led me to question my position and then change my beliefs for the better. Sadly, lots of dissident ‘social Gospellers’ think they are being Catholic because that’s the way they were brought up to be, according to the ‘spirit of Vatican II’. With proper catechises, these men and women, if they are open to the rich treasury of the Church’s teaching, and are willing to submit to it in humility, can become effective witnesses to the Gospel – not stumbling blocks to it.
Bishops: stand up to error!
Need I add to this? The Pope is rightly placing the onus on Bishops. If a ‘Catholic’ charity (or organisation) in their diocese leads the faithful into error or confusion, then they must act – decisively, if needed.
Agencies to put faith before funding
Will certain Church-sponsored charitable organisations be able to survive now that they seem to be forbidden from accepting funds from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to the Church’s teaching? In some instances, it would seem to me that funding from the state, when it comes with immoral conditions, must be rejected. Often, ‘progressive Catholic’ charities receive the bulk of their funding from the state. As I have argued before, it might be best for Catholic charities and schools to ‘go it alone’ – better be wholly Catholic than to be compromised by fiscal concerns.
No more fat cats in the curia or our charities!
Let’s just say that I once knew a man who worked for a ‘Catholic’ (social justice) charity. He received a very fat salary, yet the feeling amongst many, even amongst the charity’s supporters, was that this person did nothing to justify such a large wage. Just wage – not likely! Time to end a certain ecclesial and bureaucratic gravy-train? Charitable money should go to the vulnerable, first and foremost.
If they're no longer Catholic, let the people know
I order that everything I have laid down in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio be fully observed, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of particular mention, and I decree that it be promulgated by publication in the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and enter into force on 10 December 2012
And there we have it… Now, I wonder whether this Motu Proprio will have the desired effect?
A welcome response from the Bishops of England & Wales
It seems that the Bishops of England & Wales have already recognised the importance of this document. They are to be commended, I think, for their swift and welcoming reaction to it. Speaking on their behalf, Fr Marcus Stock said yesterday:
The Holy Father's Motu Proprio, which will come into effect next week, is welcome indeed, as is the response to it from the Bishops of England & Wales. Knowing how powerful a lobby the 'social justice' movement still is, and how those within it can sometimes be led astray by erroneous interpretations of the Gospel, I feel that this Apostolic Letter -- with the possible exception of Summorum Pontificum -- will be regarded by future generations as Pope Benedict XVI's most important publication. It signals a decisive, yet measured, end to dissent in the Church -- especially that dissent which claims to act in the name of love.