Dear Richard McBrien…

Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Plenary Session of the International Theological Commission (5 Dec 2008) said:

From the subjective point of view, that is from the viewpoint of the one who does theology, the fundamental virtue of the theologian is to seek obedience to faith, the humility of faith that opens our eyes. This humility renders the theologian a collaborator of the truth. In this way it will not happen that he speaks of himself. Interiorly purified by obedience to the truth, he will reach, instead, the point that the Truth itself, that the Lord, can speak through the theologian and theology.

 

 

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50 Responses to Dear Richard McBrien…

  1. Nick says:

    Well, I’ve learned something new today :) I’m reminded of a phrase: Truth in love, love in truth.

    Thank you Father for this wonderful piece. Please remember me at the Altar of God.

    14 09 07.

  2. Thomas says:

    Good post, Father. No quotation could be more aptly applied to Richard McBrien.

    The only sin is pride.

  3. Johnny Domer says:

    I’m still tempted to plaster the door of his office with posters for the Tridentine Mass at ND…but I won’t…

  4. TJB says:

    That’s FATHER Richard McBrien

  5. Thomas says:

    I only call him Father when he goes to his home parish in West Hartford to say Mass on a Sunday when he’s home.

  6. Rancher says:

    It’s Dear (father) Richard McBrien and, unfortunately, hundreds of other so-called Catholic theologians for whom “it is all about them” and all about their drivel being popular with the impressionable so as to make them “feel good”.

  7. Tony says:

    I’ll acknowledge his priesthood when he does.

  8. Tony,

    While I am with everyone with regards to the terrible, even heretical theology of Fr. McBrien, be careful with such a statement of refusing to recognize his priesthood. This is very near to the Donatist heresy. His ordination created an indelible mark on his soul, and no matter how dreadful his theology is, that mark does not change. It is right and necessary to refute his heresy, but that does not change the reality that he is and always will be a priest. In fact, this is all the more reason to be concerned about his heresy, because in his nature as priest there is a greater responsibility on him. To whom much is given, much is expected. His priesthood demands much more from him, and thus he is in great need of our prayers for mercy

  9. Malta says:

    I see a severe double standard btw how McBrien and his heretical Ilk are treated and SSPX.

  10. Malta,
    The difference is that McBrien has not been excommunicated nor has he been pronounced as part of a schismatic sect. Though an argument for the latter could easily be made with regards women’s ordination.

  11. Athelstane says:

    This is, of course, a consistent theme in the Holy Father’s thought:

    “St. Thomas Aquinas, following a long tradition, says that in theology, God is not the object that we speak of. This is our normal idea. In fact, God is not the object but the subject of theology. He who speaks in theology should be God himself. Our thoughts and words should serve only so that God’s word can be heard, can find room in the world.” – Homily to Fellow Theologians, Oct. 6, 2006

  12. Jordanes says:

    Michael Hallman said: The difference is that McBrien has not been excommunicated nor has he been pronounced as part of a schismatic sect.

    You missed Malta’s point, I think. The SSPX has not been pronounced to be a schismatic sect, but is rather being treated by the Church as if it were an internal matter, and within the SSPX only the four bishops are excommunicated — the priests are suspended, but they and any laity who assist at their illicit Masses are only excommunicated if they adhere to Msgr. Lefebvre’s schism.

    In comparison, Father McBrien is neither excommunicated nor suspended, though it is difficult for faithful Catholics to understand why he hasn’t been. That is the apparent double standard that Malta seems to be referring to. Why is the SSPX, which is probably far more faithful to the Church’s teachings than Father McBrien is, not in the Church’s good graces while Father McBrien is still a priest in good standing?

    The answer is that the SSPX is functionally schismatic even if not officially so: that is, it is not recognised by the Church as a truly Catholic priestly fraternity, it operates outside of the Church and without any reference to her divinely instituted hierarchy, and its priests celebrate the sacraments despite their suspensions. As the SSPX operates outside the Church, the Church’s bishops naturally treat it as if it were outside the Church. But Father McBrien has not (yet?) incurred excommunication or suspension: he has not affiliated with an unrecognised religious community in defiance of the Church, so if he ever celebrates Mass, his Masses would not be illicit (except for any liturgical abuses he may commit). And so he is free to continue to question and confuse, all as a priest in good standing. My read on this is that the SSPX consecrations were just such a flagrant act that it was a simpler case for the Church to judge, in comparison to Father McBrien, who does his best to stay as jiggly and jello-like as he can: it would take a lot more work to censure him, and I suppose there just aren’t any prelates willing to do the hard work necessary to bring him to heel or else impose approriate ecclesiastical sanctions against him (and just imagine how the media would play that story).

  13. Larry says:

    Dear McBrien is not the only one who needs this beautiful statement. It ought to be in every theologians work area to remind him/her of the duty of their calling. Kind of like that admonition to priests. “say this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass.”

  14. PNP, OP says:

    There’s an old Far Side cartoon titled “What Dogs Hear.” The owner is speaking to his dog, Ginger. In the balloon Gary Larson writes, “BLAH BLAH Ginger BLAH BLAH BLAH Ginger.” My guess is that McBrien will read the pope’s words and hear, “BLAH BLAH theologian BLAH BLAH BLAH theologian.” And then proudly announce to any camera pointing his way that the Pope has finally found the good sense to agree with him.

    Thanks be to God that younger priests and religious think he’s a dissident dinosaur who’s not had an original thought since 1968. To these up and coming pastors, bishops, theologians, McBrien talks and they hear, “Whine whine, whine gripe, dissent, whine, whine, me me me me…” Fr. Philip, OP

  15. Mark says:

    Both, the SSPX and Father Richard McBrian, don’t seem to have a healthy relationship with the authority of the Papacy. The criticisms they pile on many Vicars of Christ, though different in style and substance, are very often unyielding and strident. Both imagine that by doing this they are “purifying” our Church.

    Healthy, intelligent, and Traditional Catholicism has no need of either of them.

  16. tertullian says:

    Theologian? Who is going to remember anything they (you know who “they” are) wrote or said in twenty years? History will judge who amongst us is a theologian.

    They will remain safe in their sinecure, walking right up to the line without stepping over, while calling as much attention to themselves as possible.

    Humility? It ain’t in their vocabulary.

  17. Paul Haley says:

    I implore readers to avoid lumping the SSPX in with dissident theologians like McBrien. Whatever you think of the SSPX, one cannot say that they have in any way departed from what the church has always held, taught and professed to be true. Especially at this time of the year with a “document” supposedly sitting on the holy father’s desk removing the sanctions against them, we should, I think, commend their situation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that He will find a way to have Rome welcome them home. And, please do not think that I agree with disobedience to papal authority for ever since I left the NO for the TLM, I have attempted to find a place not under any sanction. However, one may state accurately that I sympathize with their plight and hope the remedy soon occurs whereby they will be seen in “full communion”.

  18. RBrown says:

    The answer is that the SSPX is functionally schismatic even if not officially so: that is, it is not recognised by the Church as a truly Catholic priestly fraternity, it operates outside of the Church and without any reference to her divinely instituted hierarchy, and its priests celebrate the sacraments despite their suspensions. As the SSPX operates outside the Church, the Church’s bishops naturally treat it as if it were outside the Church.

    It is true that in certain ways it is outside of the juridical structure of the Church, but, IMHO, saying it operates outside the Church goes too far.

    But Father McBrien has not (yet?) incurred excommunication or suspension: he has not affiliated with an unrecognised religious community in defiance of the Church, so if he ever celebrates Mass, his Masses would not be illicit (except for any liturgical abuses he may commit). And so he is free to continue to question and confuse, all as a priest in good standing. My read on this is that the SSPX consecrations were just such a flagrant act that it was a simpler case for the Church to judge, in comparison to Father McBrien, who does his best to stay as jiggly and jello-like as he can: it would take a lot more work to censure him, and I suppose there just aren’t any prelates willing to do the hard work necessary to bring him to heel or else impose approriate ecclesiastical sanctions against him (and just imagine how the media would play that story).
    Comment by Jordanes

    In fact, the SSPX suppression (and subsequent suspension a divinis of Msgr LeFebvre) happened more than 10 years before the consecration of bishops. The persecution of the SSPX by the Montini papacy began in the early 70′s simply because LeFebvre was speaking out. The French hierarchy at that time, whose theological outlook would have made Fr McBrien look like Garrigou-LaGrange, objected because French vocations and money were going to the SSPX. They were tight with their countryman Cardinal Villot, the Sec of State, and so Rome intervened.

    The sad history of the Montini papacy is that time after time Paul VI threw his lot in with those who contradicted what he actually believed.

  19. QC says:

    I think the main difference is that by consecrating bishops and priests, setting up independent chapels and seminaries, etc., the SSPX practically set up a parallel Church–it’s the same reason the Life-teen founder was excommunicated as well as the Maryknoll priest participating in an illicit “ordination” ceremony.

    I do think McBrien’s superiors are too patient with him and that he needs some medicinal punishment. I also think such patience would have been extended to the SSPX if they had not essentially set up their own independent institution.

  20. Frank says:

    We must respect the office of the priesthood, even though the individual may be in grave error. If that priest does not respect the office of the Vicar of Christ, and causes public scandal, he alone will kneel at the judgement seat of Christ. The Holy Spirit through humility illumines the just. Dissidents and their pride which has placed them above the Holy See, will be remembered no more.

  21. Regarding the SSPX, by definition, they own and control property which is “non-ecclesiastical,” not subject to the authority of legitimate church administrators. They have no intention to render financial accounting to ecclesiastical administrators outside their own society. In the matter of obedience and governance, they have taken themselves outside the Roman Catholic Church. Since administration of temporalities is involved, this makes their schism quite difficult to reconcile.

  22. Lcb says:

    The main difference between the two is tenure.

  23. Thomas says:

    “The main difference between the two is tenure.”

    ROFL!

  24. joe says:

    On a personal level, I refer to Fr. McBrien as Father, just as I did Fr. Drinan and all those other priests whose dissent, opinions, actions, heterodoxy, etc. severely test my family history of hypertension. Regardless of their words and actions…their hands give us Christ.

    That said, their words and actions drive me mental.

    AMDG,

    -J.

  25. PNP: “What Dogs Hear”

    Excellent.

  26. Paul Haley says:

    May I please remind readers that Cardinal Hoyos said the SSPX matter was an internal matter for the Church and he denied that they were in schism. He used the term not in full communion and he ought to know. So, those readers who continue to say the “s” word in relation to the SSPX simply do not know what they are talking about. Is this forum becoming a place to blast the SSPX or what??? What about all those former members of the SSPX who joined other fraternities/orders like the FSSP and the ICK? Were they in schism? Did they have to make a public recantation of their supposedly schismatic position? Come on, folks, let us pray for them and for us that we all may be one as Christ intended.

  27. RBrown says:

    Regarding the SSPX, by definition, they own and control property which is “non-ecclesiastical,” not subject to the authority of legitimate church administrators. They have no intention to render financial accounting to ecclesiastical administrators outside their own society.

    But of course the organization of US dioceses, which is a corporation sole, contravenes Canon Law, according to which the parish is a juridical person.

    In the matter of obedience and governance, they have taken themselves outside the juridical structure of the Roman Catholic Church.

    FYP

    Since administration of temporalities is involved, this makes their schism quite difficult to reconcile.
    Comment by Fr. Kevin Manion —

    You’re right, it gives the SSPX a certain power. If they are reconciled to Rome, however, then there would immediately be churches available with the Greg Rite despite the opposition of the ordinarius loci.

    I don’t mean to defend the SSPX. On the other hand, I think it’s a mistake to do a worst case analysis of their situation but a best case analysis of the situation of the Church elsewhere in the West.

  28. Jordanes,

    The other big difference between SSPX and Fr. McBrien, and why I don’t think there is a double standard or hypocrisy going on here, is that SSPX was a schismatic movement led by a bishop, not a priest (well, a bishop is a priest, but you know what I mean). That in and of itself becomes a major problem and scandal that needs to be addressed more severely, because the bishop has the apostolic authority to ordain, and thus if allowed to continue can build up his movement in that way. So it was necessary to excommunicate Archbishop Lefebvre and pronounce the group to be schismatic because otherwise he could have grown the rebellious group internally by continuing to appoint priests and bishops. And that is a far more dangerous problem than a diarrhea mouth theologian like McBrien.

  29. Ed says:

    So many valid and interesting comments, here, and a real gamut of positionality regarding Fr. McBrien’s authority as a priest:

    “the point [is?] that the Truth itself, that the Lord, can speak through the theologian and theology”

    Is Pope Benedict XVI is being gentle with us, because this statement as clearly applies to us all, as it does to “theologians.” We are all capable of speaking “for” God and of missing His Truth. It’s easy, happens all the time.

    Without intending any agreement or approval of Fr. McBrien’s theology or self-aggrandizement, I find a deeper question raised about ourselves and our willingness to defer our personal responsibility, scapegoating “bad” theologians, as if their mistaken views or heretical practices somehow make my own stumbling path a highroad to Christ.

    Larry- “It ought to be in every theologians work area to remind him/her of the duty of their calling.” And, it ought to, as well, be engraved on all of our hearts. Hopefully, in time it will be. The discussion reminds me to keep at it.

  30. RBrown says:

    The other big difference between SSPX and Fr. McBrien, and why I don’t think there is a double standard or hypocrisy going on here, is that SSPX was a schismatic movement led by a bishop, not a priest (well, a bishop is a priest, but you know what I mean). That in and of itself becomes a major problem and scandal that needs to be addressed more severely, because the bishop has the apostolic authority to ordain, and thus if allowed to continue can build up his movement in that way. So it was necessary to excommunicate Archbishop Lefebvre and pronounce the group to be schismatic because otherwise he could have grown the rebellious group internally by continuing to appoint priests and bishops. And that is a far more dangerous problem than a diarrhea mouth theologian like McBrien.
    Comment by Michael Hallman —

    I think you might not know the history of the situation.

    I’ll repeat what I wrote above:

    In fact, the SSPX suppression (and subsequent suspension a divinis of Msgr LeFebvre) happened more than 10 years before the consecration of bishops. The persecution of the SSPX by the Montini papacy began in the early 70’s simply because LeFebvre was speaking out. The French hierarchy at that time, whose theological outlook would have made Fr McBrien look like Garrigou-LaGrange, objected because French vocations and money were going to the SSPX. They were tight with their countryman Cardinal Villot, the Sec of State, and so Rome intervened.

  31. Rob says:

    This guy’s editorial continues to be published in our local Diocese of Rochester, NY newspaper, the Catholic Courier.

  32. Allen says:

    Since a lot of this blog is about language, could I please suggest that we respect the word “dear” and not use it in a disparaging manner? Undoubtedly many of us have people who we do hold so, and find the present use of the word unfortunate. (Various feelings about Dr. McBrien aside.)

  33. RBrown says:

    This guy’s editorial continues to be published in our local Diocese of Rochester, NY newspaper, the Catholic Courier.
    Comment by Rob

    That’s because Msgr. Matthew Clark continues to be the bishop.

  34. Jordanes says:

    RBrown said: It is true that in certain ways it is outside of the juridical structure of the Church, but, IMHO, saying it operates outside the Church goes too far.

    I don’t know of any way that the SSPX is within the juridical structure of the Church, and we all know that the SSPX does not have, nor does it seek, permission from any ordinary to operate within the Church’s dioceses, so I don’t think it goes too far to say that it operates outside of the Church, functioning as if it were not in communion with the Church even though it technically still is.

    In fact, the SSPX suppression (and subsequent suspension a divinis of Msgr LeFebvre) happened more than 10 years before the consecration of bishops.

    I am aware of that, but I don’t think it significantly alters my general appraisal of how someone like Father McBrien has managed to avoid censure whereas the Church imposed sanctions on Msgr. Lefebvre and the SSPX. But your observations bring to mind another reason for this apparent double standard: both Msgr. Lefebvre/the SSPX and Father McBrien have been outspoken critics of the modern Church, but Msgr. Lefebvre had fewer friends in the hierarchy than Father McBrien has had. More bishops are in closer agreement with Father McBrien than with Msgr. Lefebvre.

  35. Midwest St. Michael says:

    I know this is late — but hopefully someone can answer my question in regards to calling a priest “Father” — given his questionable “communion” with Rome:

    What if the priest has officially been excommunicated? (which, in my mind, makes them protestant, yes? but this may be a canon law issue – not my forte – I am just a catechist)

    Do such priests deserve to be called “Father” even if Mother Church has excommunicated them?

    Thanks in advance to anyone who may be able to answer my question. (I hope somebody sees it)

  36. Midwest St. Michael,

    That priest still has the indelible mark of priesthood on his soul, and unless he has been defrocked (something very different from excommunication) then you are still to call him Father. Also, his excommunication does not make him Protestant. It means that he is suspended from his priestly duties and also is not able to receive Holy Communion or any Sacrament until he has once again been reconciled to the Church (which would include the Sacrament of Reconciliation). However, even though excommunicated, he (and this is the case for all excommunicated Catholics) still has the obligation to attend Mass, only he is not able to receive communion, and obviously is not to administer the sacraments.

  37. Also, it’s never about whether someone “deserves” to be called Father. No one deserves their calling, but rather has a responsibility to it, and it is only through God’s grace that we can fulfill it. To say that someone “deserves” their priesthood insinuates a human institution, when the priesthood belongs entirely to Christ.

  38. David Kastel says:

    The difference between SSPX and McBrien (et al) is not an issue of double standard.

    The difference is that the hierarchy is willing to tolerate theologians and priests who teach Catholics and others heresy but is not willing to tolerate “disobedience” to the hierarchy, even when a particular application of a Church law violates the highest law of the Church, which is the salvation of souls.

  39. Jordanes says:

    Or rather, even when someone believes that a particular application of a Church law violates the highest law of the Church, which is the salvation of souls.

  40. Mr. Kastel,

    Augustine argued that schism is even worse than heresy. SSPX has been afforded more than sufficient grace from the Vatican, and has been given ample opportunity to repent and come back into full communion with the Church. Whether they are officially in schism or simply teetering on the verge while remaining consistently outside of full communion with the Church, they still represent a far greater threat to the Church than one heretical theologian.

  41. RBrown says:

    Augustine argued that schism is even worse than heresy. SSPX has been afforded more than sufficient grace from the Vatican, and has been given ample opportunity to repent and come back into full communion with the Church. Whether they are officially in schism or simply teetering on the verge while remaining consistently outside of full communion with the Church, they still represent a far greater threat to the Church than one heretical theologian.
    Comment by Michael Hallman

    Fr McBrien’s opposition to the infallibility of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is an implicit denial of the authority of the Church, which places him in schism.

  42. No, it doesn’t. If you are arguing for a strict definition of schism with regards SSPX, you can’t then apply a loose definition to Fr. McBrien. He has not severed his ties with the Church, and therefore is not in schism. There is no doubt that heresy and schism go hand in hand, but they are not the same. Fr. McBrien is a heretic and his heresy requires action heretofore not taken by the Church against him. But despite his heresy, he is not in schism, as his ties with the Church have not been severed. SSPX remains a greater threat to the Church than one heretical priest.

  43. Brian says:

    Michael,
    You stated the the SSPX “represent a far greater threat to the Church than one heretical theologian.” If there were only one progressive modernist in the Church, you would have a fair point. The problem is that these heretics are legion. Certainly you would agree that progressive modernism poses a much greater risk to the Church than does the SSPX.
    Brian

  44. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Thank you Mr. Hallman for answering my question. :^)

    I appreciate that – happy new year and feast of Mary the Mother of God to you.

    MSM

  45. RBrown says:

    No, it doesn’t. If you are arguing for a strict definition of schism with regards SSPX, you can’t then apply a loose definition to Fr. McBrien. He has not severed his ties with the Church, and therefore is not in schism. There is no doubt that heresy and schism go hand in hand, but they are not the same. Fr. McBrien is a heretic and his heresy requires action heretofore not taken by the Church against him. But despite his heresy, he is not in schism, as his ties with the Church have not been severed. SSPX remains a greater threat to the Church than one heretical priest.
    Comment by Michael Hallman

    Incorrect. The reason is that the heresy Fr. McBrien supports is in direct opposition to something made clear by the pope in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam).

    Consequently, Fr. McBrien is not merely denying the doctrine, he is also refusing to submit to papal authority (in fact, denying it in se), which places him in schism.

    CIC 751 . . . schisma, subiectionis Summo Pontifici aut communionis cum Ecclesiae membris eidem subditis detrectatio.)

    NB: The CIC considers schism in the section on the Teaching Authority of the Church.

  46. I am not Spartacus says:

    When I still lived in the Dead Zone – The Diocese of Portland, Maine (includes entire State) – Fr. McBrien wrote a column the “Church World” published.

    In the column, McBrien wrote that Jesus was ignorant, in error, and sexually tempted.

    I did all that I could to refute the heresies (including picketing The Chancery) until, finally, the Bishop’s mouthpiece came out to speak with me; “The Bishop agrees with Fr. McBrien.”

    Later, The Chancellor of The Diocese told me on the phone; “We all think you are crazy..”

    I miss the old days.

    As regards The SSPX, my views on them are well known but my N.Y. Resolution is not to write a single thing about them (and I can’t wait until I break that resolution).

  47. David Kastel says:

    Mr. Hallman, Ecclesia Dei has ruled that SSPX is not in schism with the Roman Catholic Church.

    In the spirit of ecumenism, let’s agree on the common ground that SSPX is in schism with those such as Fr. McBrien and legion other “Catholic” clerics and theologians who preach doctrine contrary to the true faith.

  48. Joe says:

    Reading this thread, something someone said about gnats and camels comes to mind…

  49. Athelstan says:

    SSPX and the Rev. Richard McBrien are two sides to the same problem the Church has: the ultimate breaking up of Catholicism into schismatic and heretical camps. The days of Caesarian papal rule and church policy decided by arbitrary and capricious pontiffs and members of the hierarchy neither scare, nor do they enlighten anyone.

    With their penchant for anathemas and condemnations hurled like thunderbolts, as in the 16th century against the Lutherans and Calvinists, these methods are largely ineffectual. Living in a perpetual past is now the Church’s only recourse, but the Vatican and its faithful, unquestioning toadies have failed to realize that fact.