An Open Appeal to the Catholic Bishops of the World

Only fraternal episcopal interventions can now hope to avert what is sure otherwise to be a spiritual catastrophe for the Catholic Church.

Detail from "St Joseph with the Infant Jesus" (c. 1602) by Guido Reni [WikiArt.org]

After serving five years as a Catholic campus minister in the 1980s, I decided to begin graduate studies in moral theology. This was in the heyday of proportionalism when its founding fathers still held some of the world’s most influential chairs of Catholic moral theology: Richard McCormick at the University of Notre Dame, Josef Fuchs at the Gregorian University in Rome, Louis Janssens at the University of Louvain, and Bernard Häring (emeritus) at the Alphonsianum in Rome.

In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II had sternly warned the Catholic Church against their moral theories. The saintly pope’s overarching concern was that by appealing to complex circumstances, the activity of conscience and the notion that the moral law is merely an ideal, they end by justifying forms of behavior that have long been held to be contrary to the divine and natural laws (VS 56, 76, 103).

Then 25 years later comes what is now being called a “new paradigm” drawn from Amoris Laetitia. It proposes that on the basis of complex circumstances, the activity of conscience and the notion that the moral law is merely an ideal, some Catholics are not required to submit obediently to the objective and concrete demands of the divine and natural laws.

After extensively studying this new form of moral reasoning, and discussing it with philosophers, theologians, canonists, bishops and cardinals, I am concerned that this “new paradigm” is contrary to Catholic faith and morals; that its teaching is harmful to souls; and that its further dissemination will greatly undermine Catholic morality.

Therefore, knowing that each member of the faithful must do what he can to preserve and promote the Christian deposit of faith (CIC 212), and believing in conscience that Jesus wants me to take this step, I address this appeal to the Catholic bishops of the world — humbly, directly, truly and resolutely — believing that only the bishops can now prevent more and greater harms to the body of Christ and to her apostolic mission, which the “new paradigm” will surely cause if we continue on the present course.

I entrust this appeal and the response of the world’s bishops to the intercession of our humble father, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.

Dear Archbishops, Bishops and Brothers in Christ,

Some influential voices in the Church are using a “new paradigm” to justify forms of behavior long recognized as contrary to the precepts of the Divine and Natural Laws. As I recently wrote:

“The ‘new paradigm’ — although never explicitly saying it — allows priests and bishops simultaneously to affirm that they accept the Church’s moral teaching and yet to liberate ‘individual consciences’ that are not living by that teaching to continue not living by it, while approaching the Table of the Lord.”

We see this in places where Catholics living in objectively sinful unions are being freed to return to Holy Communion without a sincere resolution to amend their behavior. The “new paradigm” effectively makes permissible actions rejected by Christ and St. Paul in the New Testament and by the Church for 20 centuries. In Germany, Argentina, Malta, and elsewhere we now have “Catholic divorce and remarriage” and “Catholic adultery.”

Unless you intervene to prevent the “new paradigm” from being brought to bear upon the wider body of Catholic moral teaching, its logic will surely be applied to contraceptive acts (despite the Church’s ancient teaching reaffirmed in Gaudium et Spes and Humanae Vitae), to homosexual behavior (despite the teaching reaffirmed in Persona Humana and the Catechism of the Catholic Church), and to other traditionally rejected behaviors.

And defenders of the “new paradigm” will say: “All we’re doing is applying Church teaching with greater pastoral sensitivity by paying heightened attention to the complexity of concrete ‘circumstances’ and by according greater respect to the dignity of ‘conscience’; the settled moral doctrines themselves are not in question.”

The interventions of laypeople and faithful priests are important, but are unlikely to influence the decisions of the Pope. Only fraternal episcopal interventions can now hope to avert what is sure otherwise to be a spiritual catastrophe for the Catholic Church. For if the “new paradigm” is officially applied to contraceptive acts, all the norms of Catholic sexual morality will fall like dominos. Great evil will occur. And many souls will be lost. God, of course, will bring good out of it. But not without immeasurable loss.

Therefore, to all Catholic bishops — East and West — who believe that the “new paradigm” is and will continue to be used to justify forms of behavior traditionally judged contrary to the divine and natural laws, I respectfully ask that you consider taking action in the following four ways:

  1. To privately write to the apostolic nuncio of your country and ask him respectfully to make known to the Holy Father your concerns about the “new paradigm” and especially to urge him to refrain from applying it to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.
  2. To privately write to Pope Francis himself fraternally expressing these same concerns and respectfully asking him to teach unambiguously the moral truths of the Catholic faith, especially on matters pertaining to the Fifth and Sixth Precepts of the Decalogue, and to correct the pastoral errors to which some of his teachings have given rise.
  3. To officially promulgate for your diocese a set of norms pastorally addressing the sensitive issues raised in Amoris Laetitia (especially Chapter 8), norms consistent with the teachings of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Catholic moral and pastoral tradition.
  4. To privately liaise with like-minded bishops and consider constructive ways to use your magisterium to carry out the episcopal duties affirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates” (890).

When you address the “new paradigm” in your correspondences, you might consider a form similar to what John Paul II used when addressing Proportionalism in Veritatis Splendor:

“Such theories [in this case ‘paradigms’] are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These [paradigms] cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition” (76).

It would be easy to say: “I’ve done all I can. It is all in God’s hands. We must be content to leave it there.” Please see that you are Jesus’ hands for addressing this very grave situation.

I am willing to assist you in any way I can — with summaries of concerns, talking points, diocesan guidelines, etc. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

Very respectfully yours in Jesus,

E. Christian Brugger D.Phil.
Moral Theologian
Jacksonville Beach, Florida
USA
ecb.assistance@gmail.com

About E. Christian Brugger 4 Articles
Dr. E. Christian Brugger is a senior research fellow of ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation in Washington, D.C. In 2016 he was a theological consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine. He has served as dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Australia, and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Professor of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He is the author of The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Council of Trent (Catholic University of America Press, 2017). He lives in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, with his wife and five children.

33 Comments

  1. I think like Christian Brugger. Except here, “I am concerned that this ‘new paradigm’ is contrary to Catholic fides et moralibus”. I am convinced. The strength of the New Paradigm is it’s weakness. Designed by a brilliant thinker Pope Francis. The weakness is omission of a definitively stated intent [sententia definitive tenenda] that would comply with official magisterial doctrine. Brilliant because its strength the inconclusive paradigm will remain open for discussion for aeons and remain appealing and inculcated within Catholicism. Bishop Semeraro Albano and Secretary to the Papal Nine has listed mitigating circumstances from habit, uncontrolled affectation, conscientious conviction, hardship to perhaps ad infinitum reasons for permitting communion for D&R and general “irregular” union. The only resolute repudiation must center on the act itself not peripheral circumstances. That is why Aquinas says the act must always be ordered to God and why John Paul II repeats that in Splendor Veritatis. The Bishops must understand that an reread Splendor Veritatis.

    • I seriously doubt that Jorge Bergoglio is a brilliant thinker. I grant you that he is a brilliant strategist for forcing his own agenda on the Church and is certainly a skilled polemicist. The Church is now hoisted on its own petard of papolatry, foisted on it in Vatican Council 1 and now receiving the full fruits of its pernicious doctrine.

      • Steven Vat I Ch 4 Faith and reason article 13. “For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated”. And in the Second proposition of the Doctrinal Commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem any commentary of the Deposit of Faith in order to be considered infallible and binding must be solemnly pronounced or stated as definitively held sententia definitive tenenda. There is nothing in these two doctrines on infallibility that suggests “papolatry”. What is pernicious is attacking this necessary doctrine with falsehood. For example infallibility is “not some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence”. It is this error that many critical of infallibility attribute to the doctrine and which error precisely describes the New Paradigm, a “philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence”.

  2. What is the difference, please, between proportionalism and spiritual guidance? I’m not good with long words or abstract thinking. I need something practical. God bless you.

    • Ann Marie I’m not sure who you address your question to but simply put Proportionalism is a moral theory [not pastoral guidance] that places the moral good of an act on the greater good of the effect rather than the act itself. Pastoral guidance if it incorporates proportional moral theory is an error because the object of the act, what the act itself does determines its morality. Thus the act must always be ordered to God.

      • Dear Fr. Peter Morello, Thank you for your explanation which sounds marvelous but which is still way over my head. I think I’ll need to look for a Catholic website which is geared to Catholics down in the trenches. As I said, I need something practical. God bless you.

        • Anne allow me one last try. Let’s say a patient has an infected foot becoming gangrenous. A doctor decides removing the foot [an act that is a physical evil] is justified because the good effect saving the patient’s life is proportionate, that is in proportion to the losing his foot. Now moral evil differs. An example is abortion recommended by a physician to save the mother’s life. Some argue that aborting the infant in the womb is proportionate to saving the mother’s life. That’s proportionalism. Whereas the Church hold’s that taking the infant’s life can never be justified and the physician must attempt to save both. For an example on this two female obstetricians recommended to the World Health Organization that the best option is a cesarean section.

          • Dear Fr. Morello, Thank you for your patience. Your explanation is very clear and you give a practical example.However, after reading quite a number of articles in CWR over the years, along with their comments, I think that there is something which many writers here seem to take for granted in discussing moral problems, and that is trust. Obviously, we all want people to do what is right, and that is why articles on moral matters are written. (Your comments to such articles are excellent!) But there is more to performing a morally good action than just knowing what is right and what is wrong. Have you ever tried to teach someone to swim? If their fear of the water is greater than their trust in you, they will not let go of the side of the pool. i have seen people paralyzed with fear, and no amount of talking induced them to move. It is the same in the spiritual life. If someone doesn’t trust God, you may be able to shame them into doing what is morally right, but is that all we are aiming at? I recently attended a retreat given by an experienced confessor. During a talk about St. Therese’s Little Way of love and confidence, he said that the greatest challenge to priests nowadays is that people don’t believe God loves them. Another priest said years ago, “The greatest enemy of love is fear.” I hope that you can prove that such evaluations are incorrect and that lack of trust in God is not a problem. God bless you.

    • To oversimplify, Proportionalism is “i know its a sin, but I have a good reason for doing it anyway”.
      Spiritual guidance is any sort of guidance that a priest gives on any subject. If he explains why we Catholics believe what we believe, or if you come to him with a problem and he gives you a suggestion on what to do, given our Catholic rules, all that would be spiritual guidance.

    • From Wikipedia, “Proportionalism asserts that one can determine the right course of action by weighing up the good and the necessary evil caused by the action. As a result, proportionalism aims to choose the lesser of evils.”

  3. Don’t hold your breath.

    Bishops, like highschool girls, these days are very unlikely to do anything unless they all do it (synodality)

    Bishops these days would look pretty silly (well really, hypocritical) if they complained about D & R communion while they see nothing wrong with pro-choice poiticians taking communion.

    • The bishops have dreamed up multiple rationalizations for selling the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians, in exchange for government money. Cardinal Wuerl can be found easily on YouTube spewing these specious excuses.

      All of these rationalizations have b

    • been incorporated into Amoris, applied to adulterers. Cardinals Cupich and Wuerl have applied these rationalizations to gay couples, lesbian Buddhists, and others.

  4. “Therefore, to all Catholic bishops — East and West — who believe that the “new paradigm” is and will continue to be used to justify forms of behavior traditionally judged contrary to the divine and natural laws, I respectfully ask that you consider taking action in the following four ways:

    To privately write to the apostolic nuncio of your country and ask him respectfully to make known to the Holy Father your concerns about the “new paradigm” and especially to urge him to refrain from applying it to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

    This is not, or should not be, the normal channel of communication for Eastern Bishops. It is doubtful whether the Eastern Catholic patriarchs will intervene in a problem concerning primarily the patriarchate of Rome.

  5. Thank you for your witness. I wonder if our selection of bishops is too reliant on credentialism and networking. I always liked the story of how Athanasius became bishop, with the faithful surrounding the cathedral and demanding him by name. Would that approach be any worse? He would have been too young under the current rules.

  6. Dr. Brugger, thank you so very much for your clear reasoning and eloquent articulation. If only our bishops would take your suggestions to heart. But I fear a reality more aligned with some of the earlier comments. Where I live (Canada) we rarely, if ever, hear moral teaching or clarification from the pulpit on these and other important life issues. Bishops are silent as a matter of course and as long as they remain so the Church will shrink and the number of lost souls will continue to increase.

  7. The argument based on the complexity of life in the modern world is false. Human life is by its very nature complex, always has been and always will be. We can assume that God knew this when he created the universe and human beings as its most perfect creatures. Then came Original Sin and all the avalanche of sins that followed, so that only God Himself by his Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery, as well as the founding of the Church and the guarantee of it survival until the end of time, could save mankind from the horrendous mess he got himself into thanks to sin. God knew it when he made human being rational and thus capable of knowing His moral law and when he gave us the new law, which according to St. Thomas, is the Holy Spirit. Jesus also stated in the Great Commission that “all power has been given to him in heaven and on earth”. These new paradigm folks seem to be second guessing God himself and implying that He, in fact, was mistaken in establishing his divine law for the good of humanity because each one with his subjective conscience can decide what is good and what is evil in so-called complex situations. Suddenly, in the 20th and the 21st century, the Church has discovered this new paradigm, and of course for 20 centuries she did not understand Scripture or the Apostolic, despite St. Paul’s warning to the Galatians that even if an angel came down from heaven and preached a different Gospel, let him be accursed.

  8. Let’s call this so-called “new paradigm” what it really is: The ANGLICAN PARADIGM–rehashed and repackaged for Roman Catholics. Brand the heresy properly and many Catholics otherwise vulnerable to being misled will think twice. Confucius was once asked how to save a civilization declining into chaos. The sage’s Orwellian response? “Restore words to their true meaning.” Some will object “But what about pastoral sensitivity?” Pope Benedict XVI has already answered the false dichotomy: “Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.”

      • Yes, neo-Catholic.

        The American Catholic media has become neo-Catholic in that its present ideology is more beholden to President Trump and today’s GOP than to communion with the Catholic Church in the rest of the world.

          • Yes, I am asserting bad faith among the American political neo-conservative Catholic media toward Pope Francis and the Church’s worldwide communion.

            This has been amply demonstrated by the media sources in question (EWTN, Crisis, Catholic World Report, Lifesite, etc.) since the Holy Father’s election.

          • “…American political neo-conservative Catholic media…” Oh, goodness. Seriously. Come up with some new cliches.

        • Surely this is the prohibitive favorite for Random Idea of the Week honors, and it’s only Wednesday! Congratulations, Pete!!

      • Catholics in the pew need the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. This confusion in the Church must end, and quickly. Thank you, Dr. Brugger. I do hope the bishops will respond as God would have them respond. Hard not to see that the likes of Cdls. Cupich and Wuerl, and many other clerics in the Church, would have us go the Protestant way. Never, please God. Come Lord Jesus, Come and intervene.

  9. Recently at an all-day seminar on “Compassion,” a Catholic theologian encouraged someone to attend the wedding of two men (“accompaniment”) and that it could be a grace-filled moment. Many of the religious educators present nodded in approval.

  10. When Humanae Vitae was made public, our two priests jointly expressed dissent during their homily. I regret deeply that I was not prepared to deal with that immediately but I am now prepared to stand and contradict any priest during the homily who preaches such heresy, and then walk out!

  11. With God you cannot compromise. Evil can never be good. Why stoop down to evil acts and allow them Communion? A small hole in the boat may seem nothing, but will eventually sink the boat.

  12. Virulent, published comments made by Pope Francis at Traditional minded Catholics underscores this Pope’s acceptance of personalized interpretations of Catholic Truth as demonstrated by his rejection of the traditional catholic interpretation of Christ’s definitive teaching on Marriage. It must never be forgotten his own Jesuit Superior General opposed his nomination to the Episcopal See of Buones Aires because of his authoritarianism so amply shown in Paragraph 8 of Amoris Laetitia smothered in lovey sentimental euphonisms mascurating as Catholic Truth, the reason Pope Leo mandated Thomism to be taught in every Catholiicm seminary to counteract German Romanticism towards the end of the 19thC. and the reason why the German Eoiscopy, not all, are shediding Catholic Truth and regrowing the fuzzy, woolen hide of German Romanticism again. History does indeed repeat itself!!

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