When bishops and priests are hesitant in exercising their authority, the “father of lies” takes hold of the hearts and minds of the faithful, Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of Fargo warned recently.
“One must honestly ask, how many times and years may a Catholic politician vote for the so called ‘right to abortion’ … and still be able to receive Holy Communion?” the bishop said.
The continual reception of Communion by those who “so visibly contradict and promote a grave evil” creates “grave scandal” and undermines the teaching and governing authority of the Church, he warned. The faithful can interpret these actions as indifference to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the part of those who have “the responsibility to govern.”
“If we honestly pray with the Gospel we can see that hesitancy and non-accountability is not the way of Jesus Christ, but rather it is a failure in the exercise of governance,” Bishop Aquila told a March 18 symposium in Philadelphia about the spirituality and identity of diocesan priests.
While Jesus provides criteria in Matthew 18 for correcting a brother or sister who sins, the bishop questioned whether Catholics follow this example.
If these criteria had been followed with those who dissented from Church teaching against contraception in 1968, he asked, “would we still be dealing with the problem today of those who dissent on contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, euthanasia and so many other teachings of the Church?”
He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s conversation with Peter Seewald in the book “Light of the Word,” where the Pope connected an anti-punishment mentality to the response that some Church officials have had to sexual abuse among clergy.
The awareness that punishment can be an act of love “ceased to exist,” the Pope said. “This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”
Pope Benedict said that love for the sinner and love for the person harmed are “correctly balanced” when the sinner is punished appropriately.
Bishops and priests should not apologize or make excuses for the teachings of Christ and the Church, Bishop Aquila exhorted. Rather, they should teach with “charity and unhesitating truth.”
The exercise of Church authority faces challenges because secular culture “makes man into god” and undermines any authority attributed to God. Bishops and priests should turn to Jesus Christ to learn how to exercise their authority in governing the Church, the Fargo bishop said.
Jesus was “direct” in calling people to conversion and to change their way of acting and thinking, he pointed out.
“This directness makes many of us uncomfortable today.
“We should follow his example and language, even if we do not use his precise words. His language is good to contemplate and definitely should challenge us to look at how we correct the faithful, including priests and bishops, and speak the truth especially with those who say they are with Christ and the Church but do not accept the teaching of Jesus and the Church.”
Jesus’ “forceful” language towards the Pharisees and Scribes “would never be tolerated today” but the Gospel writers did not hesitate to pass down his words, Bishop Aquila said.
“In love Jesus makes these direct statements to open the eyes of those whose hearts and minds are hardened. His straight talk, given in love for the person, desires the conversion and holiness of the person to the ways of God,” the bishop explained.
“(T)oo many people understand correction or punishment as not loving the other or as dominion over the other, and this is the work of ‘the father of lies.’ A reluctance or hesitancy to correct and properly punish does not invite the other into the truth that frees and ultimately fails in true charity.
“As servants of truth, of Christ, we will correct those who sin for their own good and for the love of the other, even if it leads to our own persecution and rejection,” Bishop Aquila said.