On Brebeuf Jesuit and the Church’s witness to God’s definition of love

The Church’s fidelity to what Christ has revealed about marriage is not a blind, unprincipled fidelity. Rather, it is fidelity in the name of love.

(CNS photo illustration by Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

It is interesting to observe that in the Catholic New Agency (CNA) report of June 20, 2019 on Archbishop Charles Thompson rescinding recognition of Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic institution of secondary education, the words “witness” and “conscience” each appears twice, while the word “law” appears six times, referring to Canon Law five times and to God’s law regarding marriage once. The word “love” is entirely absent, except for the phrase “loved sinners” in a statement of the Jesuit provincial, Fr. Brian Paulson. The word “communion” does not appear at all.

It would be an unjustifiable leap of logic to generalize from these statistical observations on a short article that love and communion are underrepresented in discussions about same-sex unions and what many are willing to call “same-sex marriages”. Nevertheless, my students and those who have attended my talks over the past years can attest that I have lamented the failure on the part of too many who represent the Church’s teaching on marriage in the context of the push for the recognition of “same-sex marriage” to do so by speaking of love.

Too often, talk of love has been only on the side of those who promote the legitimacy of same-sex unions and “same-sex marriages.” To love people in a same-sex relationship means either to approve of and to support their union, or at least to support the persons while ignoring their behavior. Either way, the Church’s teaching is condemned as contrary to love, and those who defend this teaching labeled homophobes, hateful, and exclusive.

The fact is that the Church’s teaching on marriage, and for that matter all Catholic moral teaching, is truth about love. The Church’s fidelity to what Christ has revealed about marriage is not a blind, unprincipled fidelity. Rather, it is fidelity in the name of love. The Church believes that there is no promise of fulfillment and happiness in same-sex unions, and she teaches this because she is committed to the fulfillment and happiness of all—precisely because she loves everyone.

As indicated, Canon Law figures prominently in the CNA report. Yet, this is only apparently a dominance of juridical and legal realities. It is worth recalling that when St. John Paul II promulgated the Code of Canon Law in 1983, he said that the Church’s laws should be understood as an effort to translate into legal language the mystery of the Church as a communion. The rights and duties of the Church’s members are ordered to the highest of all laws, the law of charity, which is the interior, spiritual bond of communion. All institutional and juridical expressions of communion flow from and are ordered to promoting and safeguarding this communion in charity. This is why Pope Benedict XVI once reminded a group of bishops that all of the Church’s institutions “are intended to be expressions of the love of God for humanity through the charity and example of the clergy, religious and lay faithful who staff them.”

The Church’s teaching on God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage, and human fulfillment has implications for the Church’s life of communion and for her mission. Regarding communion, the Church’s unity—the unity for which Jesus prayed, “Father, may they be one as you and I are one”—is fundamentally a unity of faith, a unity in the truth revealed by God. In the case at hand, it is unity in believing and living in accord with God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage. Regarding mission, the Church is called to be a light to the world. The Church is the sacrament-sign of “the mystery of God’s love for men.” The Church bears witness to the power of God’s love to transform the human condition, in the case at hand, concerning God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage.

So, readers of news reports about Archbishop Thompson and Brebeuf Jesuit should not be fooled into thinking that the issue is merely a contest between love and truth, or between love and law. What is ultimately at stake in the action taken by Archbishop Thompson is the truth about love. His juridical action is at the service of the Church’s unambiguous witness to love. Since love is grounded in truth—in this case at hand, the truth about marriage—the witness to truth is essential to the witness of love. This is what Pope Paul VI meant when he said in an 1965 address to the United Nations that the Church is an expert in humanity. She knows the full truth about the human person and about human happiness because it has been revealed in Jesus Christ, Who confirms the acquired wisdom of reason that the human person is called to and finds fulfillment in relationships of mutual self-giving love, while at the same He reveals that God Himself is love and that everyone is called to participate in this divine love. The vision for the fulfillment of the capacity for mutual self-giving advanced by those promoting “same-sex marriage” rests neither on reason nor on revelation.

With the privilege of having been entrusted with the full truth about human happiness comes the responsibility unambiguously to proclaim it. It is this responsibility that Canon Law aims to promote by spelling out the bishop’s duty to assure the Catholic identity of ecclesiastical institutions, and this is ultimately at the service of the Church’s unity in faith and the missionary mandate to bear witness to Christ.

Fr. Paulson’s statement that complying with Archbishop Thompson’s direction would violate the “informed conscience” of the Brebeuf Jesuit community confirms that the real issue is the truth about love. For, conscience is a judgment about the moral quality of an action. It is a judgment about whether an act is good or evil, and this means that it is a judgment about what love requires one to do or to refrain from doing. Ultimately, the appeal to conscience as justification for not complying with the Archbishop’s directive indicates that the Brebeuf Jesuit community defines love differently than the Church does. And this indicates that even within the Church, among self-identifying Catholics, there is confusion regarding the nature of Christian love.

This should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with history. More than a millennium and a half ago, St. Augustine described mankind’s confusion about love in The City of God, his great meditation on history. Then, as now, the fundamental option placed before all men is to choose between being a citizen of the city of man or a citizen of the city of God. It is a choice is between two loves: the love of God to the point of rejecting every other pseudo love, or the embrace of a pseudo love to the point of rejecting God.

Augustine’s insight is seen in the Old Testament, when Israel comes to a decision point regarding these two loves when they seek to have a king. Despite the prophet Samuel’s reminder that God was their king and that to choose a man as king was to reject God as king, the people exclaimed, “We want to be like the other nations that have kings.” The support of “same-sex marriage” is a contemporary version of the same drama: to be faithful to God and to embrace the uniqueness of being His people, or to be like the other nations and to submit to the sovereignty of a worldly definition of love and marriage.

In our own time, Pope Francis’ denunciation of “false compassion” is apropos. It is false compassion to cave to “the predominant school of thought” when that thought is contrary to human dignity, and to support a person in his or her pursuit of an illusory happiness. False compassion shrinks from confronting a person with the fact that he or she is seeking a pseudo happiness. As examples of false compassion, Francis mentions supporting people in their choice of abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and experimentation on humans. He could have added “same-sex marriage,” with regard to which he has said that the Church’s teaching has no need for further clarification. The Church’s love forbids that she remain silent in denouncing these as contrary to human dignity, as realities that enslave rather than liberate.

It is not difficult to imagine that there would have been no need for episcopal intervention at Brebeuf Jesuit were it a matter of a faculty member who demonstrated pedophilia, racism, or antisemitism. These are not only contrary to the Church’s requirement that teachers in Catholic schools be outstanding in virtue. They are also contrary to predominant school of thought in our culture. But when there is clash of values between the Church and the culture at large, the Church rightly expects her faithful and her institutions to bear witness to their Catholic identity and to the Church’s unity regarding the definition of love.

The choice between two loves must be reconfirmed each time a person or institution has to choose between authentic compassion or false compassion, the city of God or the city of man, God’s definition of love or the definition of the predominant school of thought.

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About Douglas Bushman 18 Articles
Douglas Bushman is Director of Parish Formation and Mission at the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, MN. He is well-known as past director of the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University and the University of Dallas and for his courses on Ecclesiology, Catholic Spirituality, John Paul II, Vatican II, Pastoral Theology, and the New Evangelization. He is the author of The Theology of Renewal for His Church: The Logic of Vatican II’s Renewal In Paul VI’s Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, and Its Reception In John Paul II and Benedict XVI(Wipf and Stock, forthcoming).


  1. Thank you so much, Douglas Bushman, for this excellent Augustinian response based on modes of Love.

    Currently, the Jesuit sense of “conscience” is simply a deluded sense of a “true self” (one’s “psychology”) minus the recognition of the effects of our fallen nature and minus the former almost poignantly phrased “thinking with the Church”…sadly, their sense of the Gospel as “countercultural” has come to mean simply the false compassion of the city of man, a this-world utopianism…the current tide…with a “mission statement” more amenable to their increasingly secularized benefactors. In short, at some point in the examen, they know where the money is. Ergo the popularity of the books, “ministry,” television appearances, career of James Martin and now this Jesuit “stand” with regard to the Archbishop is ultimately more profitable for them and NOT “the more difficult thing” really.

    The horrific heroic sufferings of St. Jean de Brebeuf (and companions) for the Faith are mocked by these Jesuits who would have us believe their worldliness and being of the world is actually courage and yes, Love.

    Given the state of the world and our society it’s simply their selection of an updated profile, better marketing. They risk LESS this way. Indeed they might risk lawsuits and worse publicity from the very community and employee they defend, a community and employee that perhaps knows them very well.

  2. The profound truth of our faith , how through the Incarnation, our Lord makes it possible for us to offer up the merits , His fidelity itself, in place of our
    weaknesses , when we acknowledge same , our neediness , like the prodigal .
    That fidelity and its gentle sweet fruits are not just in The Passion , unless one sees that His whole life is of Passion, leaving the glory of heaven , to empty Himself , leading a simple life in Nazareth for 30 years , that we get to offer up the sweetness of the life of the Holy Family itself , with their extended families as well – Grandpas and Grandmas and all , the likely joyful journeys to Jerusalem , the day to day work and its peace and dignity – all of that , on behalf of the not so sweet and even mundane or difficult areas in our lives .Thus , sort of the dying to self , may be not excessively focusing on the weaknesses but on the grace and goodness of His mercy , on behalf of ourselves and others in our lives , for its peace and hope .
    The Holy Father , having instituted more devotion to St.Joseph too , helps in the relationship with the Holy Family as well , offering up the goodness there , on behalf of our own families – as a way to heal wounds .
    Willfully going for destructive choices , denying the mercy and its fruits being given us , one is choosing to deprive oneself and others , of all such holy and true relationships , for the idol of carnality which can only leave one more empty and miserable , with desires to bring same into others as well .
    The Church has the right and the responsibility to show The Way , of fidelity to The Spirit and its blessings .

  3. Don’t want to live Catholic values and uphold Catholic faith? Then don’t voluntarily work at a Catholic institution. It’s pretty simple.

    Odd the Jesuits would cite conscience while imposing on the conscience of the bishop and others who uphold Church teaching in both that school and diocese.

  4. It is almost too late for the English word “love” to mean anything more than eros, and it is probably already too late to have a clean public discussion of eros.

    • Howard,
      I think that your comment incisively points to the reason why Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, to clarifying how the Church understands love, both human love and the love of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

  5. Thank you for Douglas Bushman’s excellent article on why God created marriage to build his kingdom, As Pope St. John Paul said, “our sexuality is imprinted on our bodies.” Too bad too many bishops invited Fr. James Martin, S.J, to speak and promoted LGBT to be in Catholic Parishes. This political secular movement is primarily for same sex marriage and other forms of physical expressions of what they call “love.” As Fr. Gerald Murray, a reputed canon lawyer and pastor of a parish in the New York Archdiocese and who appears regularly on Raymond Arroyo’s Weekly “The World Over” on EWTN said: “Father James Martin is a scandal in our Church along with so many of our Bishops and priests. Congratulations for one Bishop to teach and profess the faith regardless of the secular or so called Christian opponents of what the Church, ot to mention Holy Scripture, what the Church has always taught as God’s Truth about true love.

  6. On the practical side, the leak in the dike begins with the acceptance of fornication. From here springs all the permissions for sexual gratification. Look around and see if you can find one Christian who condemns fornication but accepts same sex unions.
    My belief is that every one of God’s laws has a practical reason to be. In this case it is the promotion and protection of the family. Sexual “freedom” often has negative consequences. The first is abortion. The second is a family with no father. Isn’t it true that most young men in jail came from a home without a father?
    A nation has stability according to the value it places on family. Is it not true that the Jewish strength as a people is directly related to the supreme value placed on family coherence and respect? How else explain the Jewish record of Nobel prizes compared to those of the Muslims who outnumber them many, many times over? Please refer to the Koran for what a Muslim marriage is about.

  7. >>Nevertheless, my students and those who have attended my talks over the past years can attest that I have lamented the failure on the part of too many who represent the Church’s teaching on marriage in the context of the push for the recognition of “same-sex marriage” to do so by speaking of love.<<

    I read that verbiage threel times and then I stopped because I can't figure it out. Too complicated. I also couldn't understand from the essay's first para whether the Archbishop was saying something good or saying something bad. The opening para left me up in the air. Too complicated. The first words of this piece are, "It is interesting to note, etc." Wrong. It is interesting solely to the writer. Why should the reader be interested in how many times the Archbishop used certain words? What was the point to that? Too complicated. And since we're taking about word count, this essay is over 1500 words long. If you can’t get under 1K, either the writer or the editor is not doing his job right. The word length makes this essay, well, did I mention it's too complicated? Oh, yes, and then the writer tells me that the Catholic faith's truth about marriage is found in an address to the United Nations by Paul VI in, like, 1965? Do I understand that right? Get real.

    I am a drowning man. I want to be saved. I want to read about and learn about and know about “the Church’s witness to God definition of love.
" Could somebody tell me where I can go to find it? I’m drowning in confusion and you pour a cup of water on me.

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