Bishop tells students: challenge false teachings

Usually when I received an e-mail that contains only a link, without other comments, I just delete the e-mail and move on.   But I am glad that I opened this one.

A reader alerted me to the following from a Catholic newspaper in Ireland called Alive.  My comments and emphases:

Bishop tells students: challenge false teachings 

Cork-born Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue urged Catholic students at Oxford University to have “an enquiring fidelity[Faith seeks understanding.] to the teaching of the Church and to abandon “the fictions foisted on us by some clergy, religious and laity who are disobedient and arrogant in their will-to-power.”  [I am glad he included clergy and religious.]

It was, for him, he said, a “great joy” being part of a Church “that has left behind the ghetto and the siege mentality,” [When was the Church in a ‘ghetto’ mentality?] in order to “proclaim to the world the liberating power of Christ’s Gospel.”

But he was distressed by “the pathetic situation of catechetics in this country, and the extent of ignorance and apostasy among generations of Catholics since the Vatican Council.”  [My!  Not holding back.  But he is dead right.  Do you remember not long after Pope Benedict took over, he had an ad limina with the, I think, Swiss bishops in which he left his prepared text and hammered the issue of bad catechetics?]

The UK’s most outspoken bishop, he regretted “the diminishment of the Catholic understanding of sin, man’s need for redemption, the sacrificial nature of the Mass.”

This had led to “the virtual abandonment of Confession, the marginalisation of devotion to Mary, the intercession of the saints, and adoration of the Blessed sacrament.”  [And he is a bishop in the UK?]

The bishop is the author of the 2-part plan for renewal called Fit for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church [sic] which has created a stir not just in Britain but around the English-speaking world.

He believed that full renewal will only happen when Catholics, particularly leaders in “schools, seminaries, parishes, and dioceses,” stop obstructing the authentic implementation of the Council and “positively engage with it.”  [But… in continuity with the Church’s centuries of tradition, not in rupture as if Vatican 2 were the only possible departure point.]

Another problem for the Church is the way “the secular mindset has gained a foothold in the lives of many Catholics, clergy and laity.”  [This sounds a little like Pope Benedict’s comments at Corpus Christi.  Benedict has been dealing with this question for a long time.]

It is seen in “a certain scepticism or embarrassed reserve about the supernatural dimension of the Faith.”  [Because many of them have truly become modernists, who seek to reduce the supernatural to the natural.]

This has led to essential Church doctrines being downplayed: the divinity of Christ, the Real Presence, the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception.

“These bedrocks of the faith are either ignored or passed over quickly as unintelligible, irrelevant to our young people,” he told the Newman Society[At Oxford.  I spoke to them once.  A GREAT group!]

Many Catholics cannot get beyond the human. “We have clergy and laity criticising the Church as if she were only a human institution, not one that originates in the divine will,” he said, while “Christianity is reduced to an agency for the social betterment of mankind.”  [Right!   The late Malachi Martin, for all of his oddities, drilled into this in his book Windswept House as did Michael O’Brien in Father Elijah and other books.]

The bishop gave a list of recommendations to the students, urging them to “embrace sacrifice as the hallmark of our lives and our spirituality.”

He invited them to “re-discover the devotions of the Church, such as praying the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, Benediction and regular confession. The Holy Father goes every week, so why not us also.”

He asked them to [This is good:]start from the assumption” that the Church has good reasons for what she teaches, and to “search out those reasons” in the Scriptures and the Catechism. [Fides quaerens intellectum!]

[Bless this man.] A Catholic who says or teaches anything contrary to Church teaching should be politely but firmly challenged, “be they a lay catechist, teacher, deacon, priest or even a bishop.”  [More on this below.]

The students should take seriously the teaching “that you have a totally unique, immortal soul directly created by God, that when you die you will experience purgatory, and heaven, or hell.”  [He said the H-WORD!]

And they should “reject that wrong-headed view that dominates theology and New Testament studies that Jesus did not know himself to be the divine, the incarnate Son of God.”   [There are some people who really do propose this modern take on adoptionism.]


High WDTPRS kudos to Bp. O’Donoghue!

I believe this is the bishop people have nickname "POD".

About his comment on challenging those who err….

Sometimes the errors people make are obvious.  Nevertheless, one must be civil when addressing them.

In 1 Peter 3:16 we read that we should always be ready to give reasons for the hope that is in us, doing so with gentleness and charity.

Therefore, we have to know our Faith.  Then we have to have charity, sacrificial love that desires the true good of others.

About the correction.  St. Augustine wrote about a rare type of person in the Church who, not being a bishop or even a priest, may nevertheless teach and even correct a bishop.   This is the homo spiritalis, a person of great holiness and helped with many graces.  This is a rare figure to be sure. 

I think it is necessary not to fall into the trap of assuming that you are one of them.

Learn your Faith well.  I am talking about the Faith in which we believe.   There is also the Faith by which we believe which is the theological virtue.  They are connected, but distinct.    We can learn many things on an intellectual level, but there is the other sort of understanding as well.   In both cases we must seek understanding with humility.  True faith seeks understanding.   So, "being right" or "winning" is not ultimately the goal of a challenge.  Truth and the true good of others must be the goal.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Biff says:

    Alive! is one of several proLife tabloids in Eire.

    They were instrumental in defeating the Lisbon treaty.

  2. kate says:

    Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue has been a wonderful, inspiring Bishop and leaves a great legacy in the Diocese of Lancaster, and to the Church in the UK. I hope his well earned retirement is joyful and fruitful.

  3. PMcGrath says:

    “that has left behind the ghetto and the siege mentality,” [When was the Church in a ‘ghetto’ mentality?]

    Well, when Ireland had several centuries of the British Penal Laws imposed on it, that would give you a siege mentality. Even hundreds of years after the ending of the Penal laws (circa 1830).

    To get back on track: “His Heremeneuticalness” has mentioned Bishop O’Donoghue frequently on his blog. And the “Fit for Mission” books have been praised by several of the Roman dicasteries.

    I’m glad you caught this article — it’s excellent. You might also want to have a look at the other article on Alive’s home page: “Bishop criticises Irish 3rd level education

  4. Natasha says:

    Thank you for discussing this text. How refreshing, his words give me hope. The situation in the UK is not exactly bright and there are so many factors that make it increasingly difficult for the faith to flourish. This society’s secularism has managed to undermine religion to a great extent.

  5. Lee says:

    Regarding catechetics, I often think of how involved we are with our adult concerns: abortion, the economy, stem-cell research, Notre Dame, the liturgy, etc. Meanwhile growing up all around us are uninstructed children.

    How pliable they are, how receptive and docile. They don’t need to be convinced of anything, only taught. Yet we do not teach them.

    Virtually every concern of Bp. O’Donoghue used to be addressed by the Church in this country (the USA) in a massive and systematic way, so that a typical Catholic child of age 8 was infinitely better instructed in the faith then than a person with 12 yrs of Catholic education is now. The main instrument of that education was, of course, the Baltimore Catechism.

    Of all the tragic ruptures that have happened in the Church after Vatican II, that catechetical rupture seems to me to be the absolute worst. Nuns abandoned the classroom. The Baltimore Catechism was taken away. The religious, moral, political,and social consequences of that lapse have been horrendous.

    How to repair this rupture?

    As enthusiasts of the Baltimore catechism now entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment to repair that rupture, let us simply cede that it had many deficiencies. For the life of me, I don’t know what they are, but that is beside the point. Politics is politics. Perhaps it was the rote memorization, perhaps that it was generally disliked by the students, perhaps that it does not take Vatican II theology into account.

    Granting all that, we only ask the catechetical establishment to acknowledge that for all its deficiencies, by and large it worked. It produced a devout, well-instructed Catholic people.

    So, in the spirit of compromise, acknowledging that there have been many excellent Catholic religious ed texts produced over the past forty years, we only have a few modest requests:

    1) That instruction in the Baltimore catechism become the norm in the Catholic home and school only from about age 4 (see The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers) to age 10. Children, especially very young children, love to memorize. The let us give them something substantial to memorize beyond Mother Goose.
    2) That this effort be absolutely massive, with parents being encouraged to catechize their children with it at home, that it become the text in Catholic schools through 4th grade. After that, let the children be brought up to speed with post Vatican II religious ed texts. This would round out and fill out any lapses of the Baltimore Catechism, would it not?

    It seems to me that this approach would go a long way toward repairing the catechetical rupture, especially if the parents are involved, since they also badly need to be instructed.

  6. irishgirl says:

    Wow-what an address by the Bishop!

    A true shepherd!

  7. Alex says:

    Fr Z: Would it be possible to “correct” by saying ” I understand that X means… and I am confused by your explanation, can you calrify?” or along some other means which don’t challenge or rebuke

  8. Cel says:

    “re-discover the devotions of the Church, such as praying the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, Benediction and regular confession. ”

    Hold the presses! Benediction?
    Ok, I am new to the Church but not that new. I was accepted into the Church a year ago Easter and this last Trinity Sunday marks two years of attending mass, not to mention months of self study and struggle. I had to teach myself how to say the rosary. Literally there was nobody to show me how. I am still teaching myself the Liturgy of the Hours and not sure if I am doing it right. Our temporary worship space (The gym after the fire) has no Stations so I have only seen stations at Lent when someone holds up posters at cue. The good news is that we do have confession. Sat 4-5pm in keeping with the universal custom of the American Church. Yes, I live in a desert at more than one level.

    What, pray tell, is Benediction? Is he referring to the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament? Which I have never seen nor even heard of, despite attending the largest parish in our diocese. Is it liturgical? Does a priest have to do it? Can it be done alone by a nobody?

  9. Ohio Annie says:

    Cel, Benediction is liturgical. You can’t do it yourself. You can, however, do Eucharistic Adoration by yourself. Even if the Blessed Sacrament is not exposed you can still kneel near by tabernacle and adore Him.

  10. Cel says:

    Ok, that’s what I thought. Still have never heard of it happening here nor a Eucharistic procession. Why do we hide so many wonderful thing? Why do we act like we are embarrassed about our heritage. Still live in a desert.

  11. Cel: Brick by brick.

    I doesn’t take long to tear things down.

    It takes a long time to build them properly.

  12. Maureen says:

    Usually you’ll see Benediction at some parishes, but you kinda have to look at their schedlues carefully. It’s often done before Saturday evening Mass or after it, or for some big occasion or feast of the saints. (It’s part of Corpus Christi eucharistic processions, for example.)

    If you have EWTN, I believe they air coverage of their Benediction at 6 PM on Sunday night, but check their schedule. That at least will give you a fair idea of how it works, although obviously it’s not the same as being present in real life.

  13. TJM says:

    For those of us alive in the 1960s we know how quickly things can be torn down. Bishop O’Donoghue is a breath of fresh air! Tom

  14. Gordon says:

    Being born after the Council, and educated in “Catholic” Schools, I’m afraid to say we got very little in way of Church teachings on anything. Didn’t really know what the mass was ’till the trad priest in our parish insisted one Lent that Calvary was the first mass. So I went off to check that one up. There is a coloring book for infants me sister had, in this thing it states quite clearly that Last Supper was first mass and mass is Last Supper! Very few parishes now have Stations of the Cross services in Lent, and very few now have Benediction. Churches with just one mass Sunday mornings…but no evening devotions…What keeps the priest from doing any of this? Are they too busy playing golf or going to soccer games?? It’s all very well bishops saying how regretful it is the lack of knowledge about the Faith, but what do they intend to do about it in practice?
    Here in central Scotland, with so many Catholic schools 3 cathedrals within miles of each other….so many folks are taught nothing. What’s the point of some bishops raving about need for Catholic schools when in one case it is 80% muslim pupils and most of the others teach anything and everything but true Catholicism? Any wonder churches are empty? I had to learn everything myself…and I was considered odd by my teachers. One priest at the main church in town actually complained that I was always wanting little stautes blessed…..silly me, perhaps I should’ve been doing things other than visiting churches. Actually…sometimes I think I shouldve been doing other stuff with my youth! I think the canon might have complianed even more if I did!! Still.. we learn from our mistakes! I would like to think the Bishop of Lancaster, England will try and do something practical about these things in his own diocese for the young ppl today at least so we don’t have any more generations lost to the Church.

  15. Cel, Benediction is where the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance and makes the sign of the cross over the congregation with It. When I was a kid in Catholic grade school, every Friday in Lent we did Stations of the Cross, and the priest always closed it out with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He even put on a beautiful cloth-of-gold cope and matching humeral veil, making it even more extra special.

    By a person of great spirituality who is entitled to correct bishops and clergy, I take it St. Augustine means somebody on the order of St. Catherine of Siena, who advised and exhorted the Pope himself. I think I can safely assume I am nothing like her, and probably that goes for most of the rest of us.

  16. Ottaviani says:

    “…that has left behind the ghetto and the siege mentality… [to] proclaim to the world the liberating power of Christ’s Gospel.”

    Bishop POD is a holy bishop and I am glad he is finally seeing the auto-demolition of the church now than never. He was unfortunately not this vociferous when he was an axillary in Westminster, but then such is the grace of God I suppose. But I seriously hope the bishop is not insinuating that the church failed to proclaim the gospel until 1965?! If anything we are witnessing this very sorry act now.

  17. Christian says:

    To be fair on the good bishop when he says “the ghetto and the siege mentality” he is not entirely wrong. Like in America, Catholics had there own education system, schools, social clubs and largely socialised with each other. Unlike in America this situation continued well into the 1980’s and was largely the result of the deep anti-Catholicism of English society. In the mid 1980’s mainstream political journals were discussing the problem of Catholics “sneaking into” high offices of state. America had a Catholic Prime Minister in 1960; Britain has never had one and such an idea has only been conceivable for the last 15 years or so. Mainstream newspapers still openly argue that the EU is a Catholic plot. The ending of this ghetto culture has come about since the loosening of the Establishment’s anti-Catholicism. Sadly the new liberal Establishment is rapidly replacing the old Establishment and this new Establishment has a virulent strain of anti-Catholicism. Hence why (despite the damage to some Catholic schools it has done) most English Catholics a relieved to be out of the “ghetto culture”. It is a sign that we are no longer a hated pariah. I just hope it lasts!

  18. Melody says:

    This is a breath of fresh air after yesterday, when forced by circumstance to visit my old liberal parish, I heard a sermon that was 3/4ths “why you should give money to this cause I’m talking about\” with the additional exhortation to “be bread for others.” The priest giving the sermon is our diocese’s director of priestly formation. *sigh*

    Oh and I found this frightful mangling of “O Sacred Head Surrounded” in their missal:

    It’s like spray-painting a happy face on the pieta.

  19. I live in Ireland and Alive is the only Catholic paper that is faithful to the Church teachings. I look forward to it coming out every month, I just wish it were a weekly. There is a huge need for catechesis in this country. My four children went to Catholic schools and they hardly know the Hail Mary, and just in case you might be tempted to think they are stupid; they all made it to third level education. I so appreciate a Bishop being couragous and standing up for the Church. – Blessings – Rene

  20. Martin says:

    Alive! is great. It is really the only source of sound doctrine and teaching for many catholics in Ireland. Certainly where I live the priests have, by-and-large, stopped preaching. We are usually issued with empty, largely meaningless, ‘feel-good’ candyfloss sermons.

  21. Donna says:

    It is so encouraging to see bishops acknowledge and proclaim what many of the laity have known for decades now. For how long have many of us pewdwellers been telling bishops that congregations need to be catechized and evangelized? The lay people who have written their bishops on issues regarding the necessity of catechetics, evangelization, and stellar liturgy have too often been ignored and marginalized. A month ago my husband and I visited a parish where there were a half dozen liturgical errors (not that we sat there with a scorecard; but, if you know liturgy you can’t help but notice when it is abused). I leaned over to my husband and said, “why is it that we know about this, and they do not?” Indeed. The internet, despite its many warts, has educated scores of Catholic lay people who have grown in knowledge of their faith through marvellous Catholic sites and blogs. Bishops, there is an army of RC’s out here who know our faith and are hoping you will take courage in realizing we are eager for you to bish.

  22. andrew a says:

    Our parish is not exactly traditional, and our music is horrendous. The reason I like it is the reverence of our priest at the Alter. However, he talks way too much. There is always a sermon at the beginning of Mass, a twenty minute sermon at the Homily, a sermon between readings, a sermon about Intercessions, a sermon before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and a sermon after every one receives Communion.
    Nevertheless, we have adoration every weekday, confession every Saturday, and all that good stuff. It is as if my parish were exactly in between the liberal, annoying, and self centered Mass, and the traditionally done Novus Ordo. There may be too much talking, not enough silence, and terrible Music, however the Liturgy of the Eucharist is very reverently done. Our church is not the worst in town, but it is not the best, however, I feel comfortable there. People are good people, and the earlier Masses are actually better (meaning more quiet) than the later Masses.
    (I know that this is a very unorganized comment, but I just felt like talking).

  23. David Kastel says:

    Why does he stop at challenging “even a bishop.” Correcting someone who is wrong includes even the pope himself.

    “I withstood Peter to his face, because he was wrong” – St Paul

  24. Joe says:

    I’m more suprised he said the P-word rather than the H-word. Also the church still has a bit of seige mentality.

  25. Lee-

    As a catechist here in a small town in Southern Oregon I too share many of the same concerns you’ve mentioned. A question on this statement:

    “As enthusiasts of the Baltimore catechism now entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment to repair that rupture[…].

    Does this mean that your actively involved in such work? If so, I would like to hear more. My wife and I are pulling our children out of public school and will begin orthodox education through Seton this fall. Your catechetical suggestion caught my attention and will (in some form) be used in our home; but I’m thinking about our mission and its needs, especially here:

    “It seems to me that this approach would go a long way toward repairing the catechetical rupture, especially if the parents are involved, since they also badly need to be instructed.”

    Bottom line: 2.5 hrs. of CCD per week doesn’t cut it against the spirit of this world, and parents do badly need to be instructed and involved.

    I’m going to post your comment on my blog at Fratres (Google it if not found here) and invite you to follow-up if you would. I support you in this work…

  26. Jane Teresa says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    I’m interested in whether you have previously posted on the topic of writing to Bishops. It would be very interesting to hear your insights on it. My own discernment on the topic is that it might sometimes be necessary to charitably “challenge” a Bishop, although always very prayerfully, and only where abuses are such that they have a serious pastoral effect (usually when they amount to sacrilege). I always get a little scrupulous afterwards, because I know that I am not holy or humble enough to “tell Bishops what to do”. It is with a heavy heart that I write to them, but sometimes, I venture, it is right to speak out, especially where the Holy Eucharist is in danger of being profaned.

  27. Lee says:

    James Mary Evans,

    No, actually that statement about entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment was only a way of advancing my argument within the post itself.

    However, it seems worth pursuing. If only I had the slightest idea how to go about it.

    When our children were very young we threw out the TV. Eventually we developed a kind of “night school” that included half an hour of reading good secular literature such as the Chronicles of Narnia, the Swiss Family Robinson and the like; half an hour of reading the life of a saint, usually a chapter from a full length bio. To give you an idea we read The Cure of Ars by Trochu when my son was 12 and my daughter 10. This was followed by 15 to 20 minutes of the Baltimore Catechism. Originally we placed it first because of its importance, but the children were very restive and wanted to get into the stories. One night when we were very short of time, we only did the stories. At 9 o’clock it was time for bed. Then happened that jaw dropping incident I shall never forget with the children jumping up and down saying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy can’t we please, please, please stay up and study catechism?!?!” So, incredibly, catechism became the end of the day treat!

    In preparation for his First Holy Communion my 6 yr old son learned (as I recall now) at our insistence something like 26 questions and answers about the Mass as a sacrifice. But the astounding discovery was that his 4 yr old little sister had learned them as well by listening in. Incredible! For an explanation and ratification of this method at this age see Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning.

    My daughter entered into first grade knowing far more about her faith than most graduating Catholic high school students.

    How did this pan out? Well, my son at age 31 still practices the faith fervently. On Saturday we travel out to Nebraska for my daughter’s simple profession as a cloistered Carmelite nun.

  28. JosephII says:

    Canon Law gives the right and duty to laity to correct, criticize and instruct bishops, priests, deacons and laity, on the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church….all in charity. Can 212§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they [LAITY] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. And Good on the Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue!

    Father Z, As for the ghetto mentality of the Catholic Church in America, if you are not older than 60, you wouldn’t know anything about the ghetto/fortress of “us Catholics” against them white American Protestant anti-Catholic bigots. The great Catholic school system was founded as a defense against them and the bigotry of anti-Catholic teachers in public schools.

  29. jaykay says:

    And for those of us in Ireland, please don’t forget that Alive! is only alive because of voluntary donations. So … :)

    It is the only Catholic paper in my local church. They used to do the “Irish Catholic” but that hasn’t appeared for some time now. And thankfully, the Tablet never did.

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