I’m sponsoring a friend in the RCIA these days and we went to session two this past Sunday. This Sunday’s topic was the authority of the Church. I expected to hear some of the same old objections and thought I might even hear something surprising. And I did.
From the one teaching the class!
The subject of contraception and abortion came up. I think he actually told the class that the Church has not yet come out and stated definitively that Catholics cannot be pro-choice.
This is why, in my humble opinion, catechists should not try to fly by the seat of their pants but should teach from the many materials available to them. Do we not have a catechism? Did he not pass out catechisms to all the catechumens and candidates? Has he not read any encyclicals?
I mentioned the late Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life and how he invokes a few times his authority as the successor of Peter in union with all the bishops of the world. And says in no uncertain terms that abortion is murder and cannot be procured. It’s grounds for automatic excommunication. How much clearer can that be?
“That’s just an encyclical.”
What!? Just an encyclical?! What does he want? He told the class that the teaching in that encyclical (or any other) is not doctrine; that for it to be doctrine or dogma, the pope must use the words, “I am defining a doctrine [or dogma].”
He said this, even though the pope actually said he was reaffirming what the Church has always taught from the beginning, and with its ordinary and universal Magisterium.
I spoke with Fr. Mitch Pacwa about this today and he said that the teaching in the Gospel of Life is binding upon all Catholics and that the pope was, indeed, teaching with the authority of the Magisterium.
As to The Gospel of Life being “just” an encyclical? When I asked a theologian friend about that, he snorted so hard I thought he’d hurt himself. And then he confirmed what I thought and what Fr. Mitch said.
The verdict: If you’re going to be a catechist, go by the book (go buy the book and read it!) and do not, I repeat, do not ad lib or try to wing it! We don’t want your opinions or impressions. We want the truth and the true teachings of the Catholic Church!
Update: I’ve been reading about the Gospel of Life and about Pope Benedict’s encyclical, God is Love. Specifically, I’ve been reading Father Pavone’s commentary on it and what it means to the pro-life movement. And what he says is what others have said: the Gospel of Life is the same Gospel as The Gospel. There is no other. So the idea that a Catholic can hold a belief or act in a way that runs counter to the one Gospel is simply an error. And a very grave error at that.
And you might note that Pope Benedict’s encyclical is filed under Magisterium at the Priests for Life site. And so is Pope John Paul’s The Gospel of Life. Magisterium! So the teachings are binding upon Catholics (all Catholics!) because they are taught with the ordinary Magisterium.
Just an encyclical, indeed. Oy ve. We definitely need a re-evangelization today. A serious catechesis of the supposedly catechized. And we need it now!