Steubenville (kath.net) Two tragic notes immediately resound from the dissonant composition signed by 300 Austrian priests and entitled, “Call to Disobedience”: first, these priests clearly understand that what they are doing is an act of direct disobedience to the Pope and proper Church authority; secondly, deep down, the majority of them realize that what they are requesting is something the Catholic Church is powerless to grant them.
What precisely are these priests and their lay colleagues of “Call to Disobedience” asking for? In their June 19, 2011 published statement, they are requesting (and in some cases are already enacting) specific changes, most of which do not fall under the category of ecclesiastical law which, in theory, could be changed. No, an obvious majority of their requests reflect divinely revealed doctrine, which the Church herself could not change and would not change.
The ordination of men only is a biblical and ecclesial truth which will never be changed in the Church. Bl. John Paul II barely fell short of an ex cathedra infallible statement on the issue in 1994. Bl. Teresa of Calcutta summed it up well in the pithy statement: “If Jesus wanted women priests, he had the greatest woman of all time at his side to ordain, but it was not his will.” This doesn’t make men better, but different than women, as a sign of the male Christ.
Married priesthood is an ecclesiastical law which could be changed, but I would not hold my breath. Celibacy is a gift and a strength for the Church. Celibacy is a more selfless and single-hearted service to Christ’s faithful than married life can permit. As a married deacon with eight children, my vocation would require placing my family’s needs first over any act of parish service. Jesus wants better for his people. He wants his priests serving his flock as their first priority.
Praying for “Church reform” could be a fine thing, for example, during the Prayers of Intercession, depending of course on the intention behind the prayer. If it means, for example, praying for the type of conversion that must always be ongoing with every sincere member of the Church, started with me and including each of 300 priest signers and all other Catholics, then I would applaud such a prayer. If, on the other hand, it takes on the significance of the prayer of a few to change the many in matters of irrevocable Catholic faith and doctrine, then it enters as a foreign contaminant to the Liturgy’s quintessential character as an ecclesial act of unity and charity, based on sacrifice.
The call to give Holy Communion to all “people of good will”, including non-Catholics, divorced and remarried Catholics without annulment of their previous marriage, and those away from the Church reflects a misunderstanding both of the Eucharist and of the Church. Jesus, truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, would enter souls that are in the state of grave sin, which would effect yet another grave sin of sacrilege. Is this truly what these people would want—to hurt Jesus and to hurt themselves? Is it pastorally responsible for priests to facilitate and encourage, priests who know what perhaps the well-intentioned faithful do not know: that to receive Jesus prior to cleansing of their souls from serious sin only adds to their pain of disunity from the full body of Christ.
To receive the Eucharist is also a kind of a sacramental profession of faith. To receive the Eucharistic Sacrament of Unity is to say “yes” to all that it means to be Catholic—all its teachings and life, dogmatic, moral, spiritual, and daily living. It would be a personal contradiction and, in fact disingenuous and rather non-desirable I would think, for an individual outside the Church or her teachings to receive the Eucharist, which in itself organically embodies a creedal assent to full Catholic faith and life.
Several other reform requests center upon a greater role of the laity in the Liturgy: priests saying less masses to avail more lay communion services under the new title, “Eucharistic Celebration Without A Priest,” which they propose would in turn satisfy the Sunday obligation; allowing lay people to preach in the place of clergy; and establishing a lay person as chairperson of each parish as opposed to the merging of parishes under priests.
While each request must be examined individually, the overriding theme is sad and ironic—hundreds of priests seeking to reduce or undermine the unique sacred and solemn act for which they were ordained, and of which the laity could never do for themselves: to offer the unbloody sacrifice of Jesus for the people, the Church, and the world. The classic definition of a priest is “one set aside to offer the sacrifice,” and this constitutes the greatest service priests can ever perform for the People of God. Nothing deprives the people more than when their priests experience an identity crisis.
What might be motivating such a tragic act of priestly self-denial and disobedience by 300 intelligent Catholic clergy? It might be a re-surfacing of Cartesian or Kantian enlightenment concepts of reason over faith in religious matters, or even Schleiermacher’s primacy of subjective religious experience over Church institution. It also rings dangerously close to Luther’s theses and the individual mind’s interpretation of the Bible in place of faith in Scripture, Tradition, and the Papal Magisterium’s universal Catholic teaching.
Or it may be motivated by issues of the heart-- an authentic compassion for those who desire the Eucharist, but cannot receive, coupled with a profound appreciation for the true gifts of the laity.
Whatever the motivation, noble or otherwise, the Call of Disobedience seeks to replace the full truth and love of Jesus who alone sets us free, with various forms of human invention, which in the end will only cause greater individual suffering and a significant wound in the Body of Christ, a Body which today which is in need of authentic Catholic reformation on the inside, not alternative ecclesial innovations on the outside.
What is Catholic obedience? It is the simple act of saying “yes” to divine doctrine safeguarded through a divinely instituted papal office. In the final analysis, it doesn’t take much humility for me as a Catholic theologian to say that the two millennium-old Church of Jesus Christ, protected from error by the Holy Spirit through the pope in matters of faith and morals knows more about the truth, life, and love of Jesus than I do.
To our 300 beloved Austrian priestly brothers, I say:
Please reconsider. We love you and we are praying for you. We respect your priesthood and we need your priesthood. Do not proceed upon the path of dissent upon which it becomes so very difficult to change direction.
Go before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Bring him all your questions, confusions, conflicts and hurts. Give him time to answer you, and he will.
We are praying, dear father priests, that you may imitate the “fiat” of God’s most intelligent and compassionate creature, and not the “non serviam” of another highly intelligent though tragically mistaken creature. May Mary, Mother of all peoples and special Mother of all priests guide you back to the heart of the Church, your true Home.
Deacon Dr. Mark Miravalle, Professor of Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville