from a Catholic Theologian to All 270
United States Catholic Bishops
By Daniel C.
Maguire, Marquette University.
In what may
be considered an act of undefeatable hope, I decided to write
to all 270 U.S. bishops. Beyond a doubt they could be among the
most influential religious leaders in the nation if only they
could get off what I call the pelvic issues and address, in prophetic
style, the basic biblical concerns of poverty, justice, and peace
on an imperilled earth.
the bishops are not theologians, they pontificate on theology
and bring their form of theology into the political arena, forbidding
Communion to pro-choice politicians but posing for pictures with
war-making presidents and legislators. The pastoral letter on
Peace in 1983 "The Challenge of Peace," spelled out
the criteria for a "just war." George Bush's invasion
of Iraq violated all of its criteria, the pope called the invasion
"a defeat for humanity," and yet the bishops and most
Catholic theologians and laity stand meek and mute throughout
this disaster. The press then consider the bishops' statements
to be "Catholic teaching." The press tend not to understand
the difference between Vatican theology and Catholic theology---the
latter being more broadly based and more infused with the "wisdom
of the faithful" (sensus fidelilum).
Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, over 600 American theologians
issued a public dissent to that assault on Catholic consciences,
in the spirit of Jesus in Luke 19:40: "I tell you if my disciples
keep silence, the stones will shout aloud." Groups like Call
To Action and Voice of the Faithful do speak out but mostly "my
disciples keep silence." Not wonder in the next verse, Jesus
In the original
letter to the bishops, I enclosed two pamphlets, one of same sex
marriage and one on abortion, showing the variety of theological
opinion on these issues. I urged the bishops to rise to assume
a prophetic ministry on justice, peace, poverty and ecological
issues. Three bishops answered. All focused on the two issues
on which they are all too impaled and none spoke to their missing
voices on issues where the Gospels speak loudly and clearly, especially
on the pro-life issue of war.
For the benefit
of non-theologian readers, I will offer in brackets explanations
of some of the Latin and technical terms of theology. (I did not
offer explanations in my original letters to the bishops.)
Daniel C. Maguire
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-1881
June 19, 2006
To the Catholic
"great divide" that exists in the contemporary Church
between bishops and theologians, I think that communication, even
if it leads to little agreement, is a human good.
In this spirit,
I am enclosing short pamphlets on two topics on which hierarchical
teaching has become impaled, abortion and same-sex marriage, to
the neglect of the needs of the increasing militarism of our nation,
our neglect of the poor of the world, racism, sexism, and the
wrecking of the earth's ecology through greed.
recent prophetic intervention on the human rights of immigrants
shows that the authority of Catholic bishops is welcomed and respected
when they speak out courageously on basic Gospel values. There
are other moral issues on which auctores scinduntur. [Catholic
theologians are divided on these issues] On those issues, if you
do not wish to use the hallowed Catholic expression consulas auctoribus
probatis, [check with established theologians] you could well
use the model of teaching that the American Catholic bishops used
on the life/death issue of the Vietnam War in November 1966:
that citizens of all faiths and of differing political loyalties
honestly differ among themselves over the moral issue involved
in this tragic conflict. While we do not claim to be able to resolve
these issues authoritatively, in the light of the facts as they
are known to us, it is reasonable to argue
is no infallibly defined position on either abortion or same-sex
unions, a similar modesty would enhance episcopal teaching. The
Second Vatican Council wisely said: "Let the layman not imagine
that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem
which arises, however, complicated, they can readily give him
a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission (The Church
in the Modern World, n. 43). It should cause no wonder that the
laity do not take it as obvious that celibate bishops are necessarily
more reliable "experts" on sexual and reproductive issues
than the laity, "anointed as [the laity] are by the holy
One"(Constitution on the Church, n. 12) and experienced as
they are in their grace-filled lives.
would acknowledge, with the previous code of Canon Law, that "the
bishops, whether teaching individually or gathered in particular
councils, are not endowed with infallibility" (Canon 1326).
The canon asserts that bishops are veri doctores seu magistri.
[the bishops are teachers] That teaching ministry would best be
conducted by recognizing that modesty is called for when one teaches
in areas where infallibility is not an issue, where the teachers
have no privileged expertise, and where good people from all faiths
Dulles made a crucial theological point, deserving close attention
at this time. Avery Dulles, S.J., in his Presidential address
to The Catholic Theological Society of America said that the Second
Vatican Council "implicitly taught the legitimacy and even
the value of dissent" ("Presidential Address: The Theologian
and the Magisterium," Proceedings of the Catholic Theological
Society of America 31 (1976).
says Dulles, conceded "that the ordinary magisterium of the
Roman Pontiff had fallen into error, and had unjustly harmed the
careers of loyal and able theologians." He mentions John
Courtney Murray, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri de Lubac, and Yves
Congar. Dulles says that certain teachings of the hierarchy "seem
to evade in a calculated way the findings of modern scholarship.
They are drawn up without broad consultation with the theological
community. Instead, a few carefully selected theologians are asked
to defend a pre-established position.
" Dulles aligns
himself with those theologians who do not limit the term "magisterium"
to the hierarchy. He speaks of "two magisteria-that of the
pastors and that of the theologians." These two magisteria
are "complementary and mutually corrective." (He neglected
the third magisterium, the sensus fidelium, the experience-fed
and graced wisdom of the faithful.) The theological magisterium
may critique the hierarchical magisterium. Dulles concludes: "we
shall insist on the right, where we think it important for the
good of the Church, to urge positions at variance with those that
are presently official...[i.e. taught by the hierarchy]."
These are not the words of some fringe theologian; these are the
words of a theologian who is now a cardinal of the Catholic Church
and nothing in his subsequent writings refutes these basic and
broadly accepted assertions.
On the two
subjects of these little pamphlets, we have produced an Oxford
University press book (Sacred Rights, 2003) on the debated issue
of abortion in world religions and I would be pleased to send
you a copy if you were interested in further discussion. We will
also produce two books, now with publishers, on the sin of heterosexism.
These books contain chapters from distinguished scholars in Judaism,
Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism,
Taoism, and Confucianism.
Office of the Archbishop
July 13, 2006
Daniel C. Maguire
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee WI 53201-1881
As the bishop
of the archdiocese where you reside, I am obliged to reply to
your circular form-letter, sent to the bishops of the country
on June 19, 2006.
expressed in the two pamphlets enclosed in that correspondence
are totally at odds with clear Church teaching. Sacred Scripture,
the Magisterium, and Natural Law are consistent in opposition
to abortion and so-called same-sex marriage.
of your duty to dissent. Well, at least call it such. To claim
that support for abortion and same-sex "marriage" is
consonant with Catholic moral teaching is preposterous and disingenuous.
I, too, have
a duty: to teach what the Church clearly believes. Your opinion
on these two matters is contrary to the faith and morals of the
Faithfully in Christ,
Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Daniel C. Maguire
Department of Theology
P.O Box 1881
Milwaukee WI 53201-1881
July 18, 2006
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I have received
your letter of July 13. I was pleased that you replied even though
your message was not as gracious or as pastoral as that of the
one other bishop who replied. Terms like "preposterous"
and "disingenuous" (the usual code for mendacious) are
not the words of a pastor so much as those of a scold. Some of
my colleagues-too cynically I believe-said I should take no offense
because the letter was obviously written not so much for me as
for those with whom you shared it here and abroad. I don't believe
that...not for a minute. I think that, in your fashion, your intentions
were to help me in matters where you feel I am mistaken and that
you wanted to do this for the good of the Church. Therefore, I
will continue in the hope that even from such a caustic opener,
some fruitful dialogue might commence.
this belief in your good faith, and in your sense of pastoral
mission, I would be much helped if you would explain some things
(1) You speak
twice of "clear" Church teaching. To know what is clear
and how clear, Catholic theology developed a careful criteriology
presented, for example, at the Gregorian University in the 1951
De Valore Notarum Theologicarum et de Criteriis ad eas Dignoscendas.
"To teach what the Church clearly believes" (your words)
one must know what nota theologica attaches to it. [The Church
recognized that not everything is de Fide; most issues are debateable]
The possibilities are: De fide divina, proxima Fidei, Theologice
certum, Doctrina Catholica, certum, commune et certum moraliter,
communius, communissimum, probabilius, probabile. Other negative
notes are temeraria, offsensiva piarum aurium, etc. In other words,
not everything is taught with equal clarity leaving many things
to be debated freely.
be helpful to me and to all the Catholic theologians who agree
with me on the two issues you address to know which "note"
you attach. Do you believe that the issues you address should
not be debated by theologians at all? Should theologians who hold
the liberal views on these issues be banned as speakers at Catholic
parishes? (I suppose I know your answer to that.)
I would be helped to know how your position on these two theologically
debated topics relates to the condemnation of "absolute tutiorism"
by Pope Alexander VIII on Dec. 7, 1690. [This condemnation said
that when there are good reasons supported by reputable scholars,
the most restrictive opinion should not be enforced.] It would
seem you run afoul of that condemnation thus putting you into
"dissent." Of course, as Cardinal Dulles said, dissent
is not always bad but is often a service to the Church, in accord
with the maxim "dissent in and for the Church."
(3) I was
disappointed that your reply to me ignored my concerns about episcopal
leadership and prophetic mission in areas such as peace, poverty,
and ecological devastation. Let me focus on one question, peace:
In the Pastoral Letter of the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops, May 3, 1983, "The Challenge of Peace," the
bishops developed with care the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello
criteria. It would be quite a stretch to say that the recent invasion
of Iraq complied or complies with those criteria. Have you or
other bishops called attention to that? If you approve of that
war, do you feel that the decision for that invasion satisfies
the criteria developed by the U.S. bishops? If this undeclared
war is in violation of those criteria (which would mean the killing
in this war is murder), should legislators who support the war
be denied Holy Communion? Should citizens be advised not to serve?
on debated moral issues, such as the two you chose to focus on,
how do you value the views of Protestant Christians? Recognizing
that Protestant Christians differ with many Catholics on dogmatic
issues, the Second Vatican Council said that "ecumenical
dialogue could start with discussions concerning the application
of the gospel to moral questions." What weight do you give
to Protestant views on these two issues? If you are, as you seem,
dogmatically certain on these two issues, could you enter into
"ecumenical dialogue" on those issues? Would you encourage
Catholic theologians to do so or simply to announce to these Protestants
they are "totally at odds with clear Church teaching, Sacred
Scripture, the Magisterium, and Natural Law," to quote you?
That would not be a basis for dialogue.
I await your
reply, your courteous reply, to these queries. [That reply is
still awaited, though I suspect Jesus will return before it arrives.]
Daniel C. Maguire