The Wright Intervention




THE WANDERER (Section Two)
November 2, 1972

In September of 1971, a “joint assembly” of priests and Bishops met in Madrid to adopt guidelines on pastoral action. When they were finished, a week later, they had approved a gigantic document, divided into seven parts (ponencias — an untranslatable word which means both “theses” and “chapters”). Each part consisted of a long body of texts followed by 50 or so “propositions” or conclusions, each of which had been voted on separately. The finished document was held to be a milestone in Spanish Church history, and its approval by the full hierarchy of the national conference was thought to be a rubber stamp affair.

Then, however, Rome intervened. Somehow most of the document had found its way to Cardinal Wright’s Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, where its content produced dismay, and the dismay turned into the stinging text published here for the first time in English. This is the famous “Wright Intervention.”

The American reader will peruse this document with a growing sense of shock and recognition. Every error pointed out in the Spanish joint assembly proves to be commonplace, a cliche — something said so often and repeated so many places that no one is sure it is heresy any more — in the Church in America. It is almost as though the same mimeograph machine in the same basement were supplying copy both to the NFPC and to the Spanish assembly, so close is the ideological and even phraseological resemblance. In fact, the only difference is that in Spain this subtle perversion of the Faith is new.

But there is something else which the American reader will recognize. Cardinal Wright takes the Spanish document to task, inter alia, for 1.) confusing nature and grace, and 2.) reviving the errors of the Synod of Pistoia, a nest of Jansenists. Now what American Catholic weekly does this sound like? We are too modest to say. But what American Catholic journalist and essayist (who is always talking about Jansenism) does this remind you of? No doubt, Mr. Clinton is too modest to say.

It is little short of providential that this Roman document — so outspoken, and so carefully researched by theologians for whose credentials Cardinal Wright’s congregation will vouch — should come into our hands in the Fall of 1972. For this is the season when our attention has turned to the proposed Bishops’ pastoral letter on education (entitled “To Teach As Jesus Did”), to the “Church, World, Kingdom” series coming out of Detroit, and to the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, chaired by Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans. (Not that there are not other curious documents and dubious goings-on which the Wright intervention will shed a new light upon — far from it. But these three are especially timely and urgent.)

The proposed pastoral letter on education, despite some good sections on teaching doctrine, really amounts to a benediction of everything the educationist-catechetical establishment has been doing for the past ten years. The fight to scrap this pastoral and replace it with a genuinely critical (or at least neutral) one is now about eight months old, but the Wright Intervention puts valuable new ammunition into the lands of the orthodox.

Speaking of ferment in the Church, for example, the pastoral says, on page 15: “It would be a serious mistake to identify institutional forms with essential faith.” For a direct condemnation of this type of ambiguous, dangerous formula, cf. the Wright Intervention, part II, analysis of chapter three, number two. On page 37 the pastoral puts doctrinal orthodoxy and contemporary educational methodology on the same level of importance for successful Catholic education. Things of this sort are a gross symptom of Modernism and a forgetfulness of the supernatural according to the Wright Intervention (cf. part I, section A, and many other passages). On pages 35 , 49, and elsewhere, the pastoral calls precisely for the suffocating sort of “total planning” which Cardinal Wright rejects in strong terms (cf. part I, section D, and elsewhere). A dozen more examples could easily be adduced.

Totalitarian “planification” (a continental European word which has more precisely bureaucratic overtones than our plain English “planning”) is also the key feature of the Hannan Ad Hoc Committee Report, with its threat to subject every priest in America to an endless round of self-evaluation studies, tests, and meetings. The report even goes so far as to suggest “evaluation” procedures for Bishops, whose authority it compromises in many other ways as well (see report elsewhere in this issue).

And as far as the “Church, World, Kingdom” series is concerned, well: let us say only that there is not a single error denounced by the Wright Intervention which is not somewhere to be found in the CWK documents. Not one.

These observations, the translator trusts, will whet the reader’s appetite to study the Wright document from beginning to end. This is something we shall be talking about for years to come.

W.H. Marshner

Document Of The Sacred Congregation For The ClergyIn Reply To The ConclusionsAnd Chapters (Theses) Approved By The General Assembly
Of Bishops And Priests Held In Spain, September 13th-18th, 1971

Rome, February 9,1972
John Card. Wright, Prefect
P. Pallazini, Secretary
Complete text translated from the Spanish by W. H. Marshner



  1. The totality of the conclusions and chapters (theses) shows that a large-scale effort was made in trying to confront the principal questions that bear upon the nature and ministry of the hierarchical priesthood, with particular reference to present-day pastoral needs in Spain.
  2. In general, the propositions approved by the Assembly cannot be considered in isolation from their respective chapters, since in these latter the true sense of the diverse propositions is made clear — propositions which have been formulated at times in an imprecise and ambiguous way.
  3. Perhaps it was because of the breadth of the themes dealt with and the short time devoted to studying them — although the remote preparation was much more careful — that the whole of these documents turned out to be quite ill-digested, both in content and expression.
  4. In going through the various documents, one can find propositions and considerations that are very positive, motivated by a noble pastoral concern, and well founded. Among these praiseworthy parts are those which refer to the unity of the clergy and the faithful with Christ through the Eucharist, the necessity of prayer, the need for self-denial and full dedication in order to exercise the priestly ministry properly, etc.
  5. Nevertheless, there are orientations and basic positions scattered in all the chapters which elicit grave doctrinal and disciplinary reservations. Only if these controlling ideas are well interpreted in the light of the perennial Magisterium of the Church can the totality of the documents of the Assembly be considered a suitable matter for study and application.
  6. These incorrect, or in various cases clearly erroneous, fundamental ideas and basic positions, which affect in good measure all the documents, can be summarized in the following points:
  7. The content of the supernatural Revelation which is transmitted through the Sacred Scriptures and the tradition of the Church and is infallibly taught by the Magisterium, is continually put on the same level with the “signs of the times,” for purposes of discovering the truth of the faith and the manifestation of the salvific will of God.

It might seem that this is just a question of accommodating the mode of pastoral action to the changing social, cultural, etc., circumstances of men; but in reality we have here very frequently a matter of unconditionally accepting historicist postulates — materialistic or idealist, depending on the circumstances — and the relativism which follows from them (a danger clearly pointed out already in the encyclical Humani Generis; D-S, 3877-3878).

This leads, for example, to granting the “signs of the times” the character of a course of on-going Revelation, which did not terminate with the death of the last Apostle (cf. D-S, 3420-3422).

Thus an equality is postulated between the “faith of Mother Church and the ideology of the modern world,” when it is affirmed that one must achieve a synthesis of the two, omitting what is unserviceable and taking what is good, in one as much as in the other. Analogously, the demand for “faithfulness to Christ” and the demand for “faithfulness to the world” are put on the same level (the term “world” being used in a clearly secularist sense). “The demands of the modern world upon the Church” are understood as ‘the hour of God’s judgment,” that is, as the divine test of the authenticity of Christian faith.

All of this implies a mistaken conception of the Faith, which is considered exclusively as an adherence to God and to the world; an adherence whose content and forms are essentially variable in accordance with the very evolution (historicist and dialectial) of the world. This evolution, moreover, is being encountered now, supposedly, in a moment of “qualitative leap,” with all the heterogeneity and rupture which this involves, with the result that “a fundamental change of man’s religious stance before God” is made necessary.

In this way — given these theoretical presuppositions — Sacred Scripture, tradition, and the dogmatic Magisterium of the Church are frequently supplanted and always conditioned by the hypotheses, theories and data — all more or less dubious — of sociology and psychology, disciplines which, for that matter, are understood and applied here with an obvious dilettantism.

In fact, it seems that by the term “modern world” one continually wants to understand a determined Weltanschauung which was characteristic of certain philosophical currents of the last century and which by penetrating into the sphere of Catholic theology would give rise to the phenomena of modernism and neo-modernism. This vision of the world is surprisingly accorded a universal, irreversible, necessary, and wholly positive character.

  1. Another line, continually present in these documents, is an accentuated, democratic conception of the Church (practically identical to the one which appeared at the Synod of Pistoia and which was condemned at that time; cf. D-S, 2602,2677, etc), with a genuine levelling of all believers (bishops, priests, laymen) — at least a functional levelling — by means of ambiguous references to the “one mission of the Church,” to “collegiality,” to “co-responsibility,” and so forth. Thus it is urged that the priests’ council and the pastoral council have a deliberative character and not just a consultative one; there is an insistent call for the establishment of the pastoral council — which is considered “essential” and truly “representative of all the people of God” — in all places and at all levels (regional, parochial, diocesan, interdiocesan, national) with decision-making power; there is talk of inserting laymen in all the responsibilities of the Church; there is ambiguous allusion to a certain equality of men and women in ecclesiastical functions, etc. Equally, there is a certain tendency to transfer the responsibility and authority of each bishop in his own diocese to the episcopal Conference.
  2. The complete “sociological” levelling between priests and laymen proceeds from the erroneous affirmation of the “New Testament’s and the modern world’s definitive overcoming of the distinction between the sacred and the profane.” And so, while a civil job is demanded for priests, a participation in political life, etc., laymen are asked to be inserted in all ecclesiastical structures, to preach sermons, administer the Eucharist, etc.
  3. In relation to pastoral government, one notes, too, a monolithic and totalitarian tendency: everything should be planned, controlled, organized. Ecclesiastical structures would absorb almost without residue — and with a suffocating and unprecedented juridicism, despite democratic appearance — all personal and group apostolic action (of diocesan clergy, religious, lay people) into a concentric organization patterned after certain managerial models or after particular conceptions of the state.
  4. In all these chapters, and especially in the first, there is a continual tendency to dissolve the mission of the Church into a socio-political action which conditions the “other” pastoral activities. Between all the chapters together, there are some 50 propositions relating to this theme.

Taking off from the thought that “the Good News brought by Christ is the integral liberation of man” (which includes politico-economic liberation as an essential and constitutive element), the commitment of the sacred ministry — and of the Church as such — to this political-economic liberation is postulated as essential, admitting in some cases of partisan political activity by priests, activity which can take on from time to time a violent character.

The primacy which is constantly attributed to this “liberation” brings with it a collectivist conception of morality and of salvation: the “supreme good” is an ambiguous social “communion,” sin is often reduced to the injustices (real or presumed) of the politico-social order.

Consequently, one arrives at a markedly horizontalist vision of the priest’s mission, in which service to men (expressed in this-worldly and collectivist terms) takes precedence over worship (when it does not simply make worship superfluous or accidental) and over the strictly spiritual ministry (faith, sacraments, etc., which in turn tend to appear as instruments at the service of politico-social action, economic action, etc.).

  1. An important characteristic of these documents in the negative sense is a constant ambiguity. When the basic orientations that we have been mentioning crop up, the documents try to unite them or attenuate them with general affirmations of sound doctrine. For example, when one is about to present an all-absorbing and monopolistic planification of pastoral action, one will say immediately beforehand, “always respecting legitimate diversity;” but one is speaking of a diversity which in practice is already emptied of content. Such seeming doctrinal correction and some well-weighed affirmations scattered about from time to time (avoid radicalism, etc.) necessitate a painstaking study of the documents in order to be able to distinguish the truly controlling ideas. The wording is often so vague and sloppy that a reading which is not quite attentive might miss the unacceptable points while simultaneously the reader is lead insensibly toward perspectives which involve an utter ruin of the capital points of the Church’s faith, morals, and discipline.



Chapter I

(Church and World In the Spain of Today)

  1. In the 60 conclusions of this chapter the following points, among others, are encountered: exercise of the mission of the Church in the context of the changing modern world; disturbances which these changes produce in the life of faith in Spain; necessity for a renewal; necessity for a greater recognition and a practical realization of the politico-social orientations of the encyclical Pacem in Terris and of Vatican II in Spanish civil society; projection of the Gospel in the political sphere; pastoral action of the Church in that sphere and the priest’s option as a citizen; full independence and cooperation between the Church and the State; rejection of privileges; revision of the present Concordat; elimination of the presence of priests in governmental organs; poverty of the Church and its institutions.
  2. Although some among the approved propositions are correct from the doctrinal and pastoral point of view, it must be said that the whole chapter and the whole of its conclusions are vitiated at root by the presuppositions or basic ideas which have been mentioned in the “Overall Analysis,” especially those indicated in points A and E: the final result is an inversion and deformation of the nature and ends of the Church and of the ministerial priesthood.
  3. From a very formal point of view, there is an attempt to create a foundation (for these ideas) in the Magisterium of the Church (as a proof a posteriori, with arguments ex magisterio). This is done by putting together a sort of mosaic of texts from the Constitution Gaudium et Spes (on the Church in the Modern World), from the encyclicals Pacem in terris and Populorum Progressio, and from the letter Octogesima adveniens; these texts, put one after another, outside of their proper context — from which they receive their sense and bearing — constitute a particular political program, in whose favor are adduced the well-known Gospel texts which have been abused for this purpose for some years.
  4. A strong basic argument is taken from sociology, by means of statistics, investigations, etc. (almost always taken from the same source, whose inspiration is obvious), which are heaped up for purposes of “prophetic denunciation of injustices,” faults, defects, etc., of the strictly economic order. It is surprising — though it is a marginal question — that, on the one hand, there is nothing but talk of economic questions, of material means, of consumer goods (and not precisely basic necessities: automobiles, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.) and, on the other hand, that the Spanish people are accused of materialism, of having no other aims beside material well-being: one gets the impression that what is being lamented is a certain diffusion of the capitalist mentality (this materialism is mentioned explicitly) by taking sides with a socialist materialism (which the text wants to present as a noble aspiration for justice which must be accommodated). The indubitable defects of capitalism are considered the ultimate sin, the origin of almost all social and personal evils, while there is not a word of reprobation for Marxism, atheism, etc.
  5. Another presupposition by which a pretense is made of justifying such a deformation of the nature and ends of the Church, of the Christian faith, of the ministerial priesthood, etc., is the very characteristic of modernism and neo-modernism: the “radical change” of the modern world, a change which is considered as an absolute, univocal and irreversible value. From this idea an alternative is posed: either the Church adapts herself — in her doctrine and in her life — to this new situation, assumes this new “value,” abandoning, in turn, everything which is not compatible with it; or else she ceases to be “credible,” becomes “sidelined,” unfaithful to her mission of evangelical ferment and liberating presence, etc.
  6. Continually demanded — with all kinds of motives, including those which are apparently supernatural and evangelical — is the necessity of radical separation from the established order, from the temporal power, etc., while equally continually there is proposed — as a principle function of the Church, of the priest and of the hierarchy — the office of being the “critical conscience of society,” of giving “prophetic denunciation of socio-political injustices,” of having “political commitment,” etc. Thus it appears that what is being called for is a total independence from the present civil power in Spain in all aspects; but the text ends up implicitly maintaining that the civil power — social and political life — should be dependent on the clergy, through the control of religious motivations, of moral decisions, and through elucidation of the faith of the people (“Christian” judgment upon concrete situations, formation of conscience, etc.).
  1. Also patent in this Chapter I, in a special way, is the tendency indicated in point F of the “Overall Analysis.” Therefore, it is not a question of rejecting or correcting individual expressions or propositions; it is the very basis of the document which turns out to be unacceptable. Nevertheless, certain specific examples may be given below, which allow this basic drift to be seen more clearly:
  • p. 1, par. 4: “The voice of God reaches us not only from the pages of the Gospel but also through the signs of the times.” This ambiguous balancing, which can justify anything, is a constant element. See, for example, page 17, 2.2, parts 3 and 4, where the necessity is affirmed of taking from traditional Catholicism and from “modern thought the good which both have and of abandoning the bad.” In this way the text comes to affirm that traditional doctrine presented an “alienating God,” and all kinds of accusations are made against the so-called “regime of Christendom,” etc.
  • p. l, 1.3.1, par. 2: “The development of the human sciences has been breaking up the infrastructures of the sociological, economic, and psychological orders on which many based their beliefs. Thus religion has come to be exposed, without human props, and to see itself as obligated to specify with exactitude wherein its decisive word on the problem of man consists.” This supposed rupture, Lutheran in inspiration and characteristic of the so-called “death-of-God theology” or “theology of secularization,” etc.: rejection of a stop-gap God (Who fills in whatever is missing in scientific explanations), leap of faith into the void, etc. — this is contrary to the declarations of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius of Vatican I (cf. D-S 3000-3045). Moreover the supernatural character of faith is disregarded, both in its content or deposit, and in its personal exercise as an infused virtue. Thus it is not accidental that the text speaks also of a “rural faith” and an “urban faith” — as if they were two completely different things (p. 5,1.2.2, par. 2 and 3).
  • pp. 38 and 39, 3.1: This paragraph, entitled “Mission of Jesus Christ,” presents as an essential element of Christ’s salvific mission “the liberation of the poor and the oppressed” (terms used, as the context makes clear, in a political sense). It is said that “salvation in its full and definitive sense will not come to pass in this world” yet “it is already operative in this world; ” “this liberation begins here”; and this presence or anticipated actuality is understood as liberation from socio-economic oppressions, in clear violation of the very texts of Scripture which are cited.
  • p. 40,3.2.1, par. 2: “The process of liberation in which (the Church) is engaged includes, to be sure, liberation from sin and death (.. .). But this liberation also includes liberation from all servitude, whether it be economic, cultural or political; and sometimes the liberation from sin must be prepared for by the latter liberation.” By means of this premise, the mission of the Church is contemplated above all in the order of politico-economic liberation, which would represent the visible aspect of this world. From this follows the need to affirm the “political commitment of the priest” (cf. pp. 45-46). “Any one diocese may believe that, by way of exception and personal vocation, a particular case of political commitment should not be entirely discarded by a priest. This hypothetical option should not be exercised without serious study of the whole situation, not only by the man concerned, but also by the community which he serves and by his bishop” (p. 45, last par. and p. 46).
  • The necessary character which is attributed to the politico-economic aspect of liberation, as far as the life of the priest is concerned, leads the text to maintain that “To be converted for the Christian of today, is to work with all of his might and in an unequivocally evangelical style, against the unequal distribution of wealth.” Thus it is also said that the Church needs to be “separated from every terrestrial power, in order to animate and participate in the historic movements of human liberation;” this turns into a contradiction, unless by “terrestrial power” one intends to signify the civil authority and all other non-Marxist social forces, and by “historic movements of liberation,” the Communist states, Marxist-inspired subversive movements, etc. — Examples could be multiplied from the text of the chapter and its attendant documentation.

In the approved propositions:

  • Propositions l & 2: We find unacceptable the affirmation according to which “the spirit of God” is acting through the transformation (secularizing and socializing) of the world. One cannot overlook the fact that a good part of these phenomena are radically and essentially contrary to Christian faith and morals.
  • Proposition 7: The factors which are enumerated as proper to “Catholicism in Spain” lead to a genuine perplexity. How can one say that the Spanish people possess a pure religiosity, as a positive factor, and say immediately thereafter that it is an “official and socio-cultural” religiosity? Similarly, at one and the same time affirmation is made of the general orthodoxy of the country’s faith and of the theological poverty and deficient Christian formation from which it suffers: this is contradictory, unless by theology and Christian formation one understands precisely ideological developments extraneous to Catholic dogma. Thus, at one point in the document, with a surprising interpretation of statistical data, there is talk of the need to be liberated from a theological imperialism exercised in Spain by certain central European countries, and at the same time the text picks up the theories of Dutch, German, and French theologians of dubious orthodoxy.
  • Proposition 26: It is affirmed that the Church accomplishes her mission “by liberating man ‘integrally’ from all servitude and, in the last analysis, from sin.” Despite its ambiguity, the force which the text intends to give to this proposition is clear and unacceptable: as “integrism” and as an inversion of ends.
  • Proposition 29: There is no way of calculating the force which this proposition could have, since it would amount in practice to turning the priest into a political leader (cf. also Proposition 58).
  • Proposition 53: This interpretation could be taken as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel (c.f. Matt. 26:6-13) and the tradition of the Church, and as a demogogic condemnation of a centuries-old practice which rests on solid theological foundations. (See also Page 50 par. I of the chapter.)
  • Although the text proceeded with greater caution in the formulation of the propositions, here also examples of dangerous ambiguities could be multiplied.

Therefore chapter I, and its respective propositions, are unacceptable and cannot constitute valid material for further work. Moreover, the theme which it treats is superfluous for the study of questions relating to priestly ministry, which was the immediate object of the Assembly; it is precisely the presence of this theme, treated with the criteria specified above and placed at the beginning as introduction and foundation, which seems to have been the cause of the various deformed aspects which are encountered in the subsequent chapters.

Chapter II

(Priestly Ministry and the Forms by which it is Lived in the Church)

  1. The approved propositions as well as the text of the chapter itself offer an imprecise document much less elaborated than the text on priestly ministry approved by the recent Synod of Bishops. This is understandable and does not preclude recognition of the noteworthy diligence exercised by the commission which worked on this chapter.
  2. The presupposition which determine the entire orientation and content of Chapter I are encountered again in good measure in this second chapter and in its propositions. There are formulations, at best ambiguous, which seem to maintain that the mission of the Church belongs to the political, social and economic order. This becomes especially clear in Propositions 34-37. It is said that “All ministerial work devoted to the education of the human person has a political value,” (Proposition 35), and that it is “a property of the ministry to zealously advance civic and political education” (ibid.); every priest seems to be given the faculty of determining the sphere of liberty of the faithful in such matters (c.f. Proposition 34), etc. One could accept the literal tenor of some of these propositions as being susceptible of a correct interpretation, but the context of the document and the context of the real situation make easier and more probable an interpretation contrary to the doctrine of the Church.
  3. The priestly ministry is continually presented as a service to the community, but without an adequate reference to its supernatural dimensions — “The end therefore which priests pursue in their ministry and in their lives is to advance the glory of God the Father in Christ.” ( Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, n. 2) — in its diverse aspects: liturgical, salvific, etc.; there is manifested, on the contrary, a certain tendency to assume categories and conclusions native to present-day de- sacralizing currents of thought.
  4. Certain reservations are also called for by the demand which is made for a collegial exercise of the priestly ministry with the bishop in a particular community (cf. Proposition 22). The necessary distinctions are not made, and this demand could easily be understood as an arbitrary limitation of the authority of the bishop: “This power which the bishops personally exercise in the name of Christ is proper, ordinary, and immediate,” (Constitution on the Church, n. 27). The power of the bishop in his own diocese is proper and ordinary, inherent in the munus (office) and consequently in the person who exercises it; and it is also immediate: it can reach out to all the faithful committed to his pastoral care without the necessity of intermediaries. The bishops exercise such a power personally in the name of Christ and not as members of a governing collegial group presided over by them.
  5. In this, as in the other chapters one notices a very imprecise theological and juridical terminology which avoids terms already consecrated in the usage of the Magisterium, whose significance is unequivocal. At times, this ambiguity gives rise to obvious doctrinal difficulties; so, for example, when it is said that “That which is proper to the ministerial priesthood for purposes of celebrating the Eucharist consists in the fact that, as sign of unity in the community, he convokes and presides over the eucharistic assembly, and makes present ‘the memorial of the Lord’s Passover’ ‘in persona Christi’ ” (Proposition 9). One may recall, with respect to these points, the doctrinal precisions made by the Magisterium; c.f. Pius XII, Mediator Dei, D-S3850, 3852; Constitution on the Church, n. 10; Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, nn. 2, 5; etc.
  6. Concerning the reference made to the opportuneness of conferring priestly ordination on married men (Proposition 41), it suffices to bear in mind that this has been rejected at the recent Synod of Bishops.
  7. In conclusion, it would seem advisable that study concerning this matter should be made on the basis of the recently-published Synodal text which offers a more elaborated, secure, and authorized basis than the text and propositions of this thesis-chapter.

Chapter III

(Criteria and Channels of the Church’s Pastoral Action)

  1. One notes in this thesis-chapter a noble concern to promote pastoral action and to make all the faithful sense their responsibility to fulfill their own respective parts in the mission of the Church. Praiseworthy also is the concern that organization and structures do not suffocate Christian life but rather foster it and the care taken to manifest the desire that priests should grow in the spirit of service to the ecclesial community.
  2. However, there is a basic fault which is especially manifest in the text of the chapter, but which also concerns the tenor and content of the propositions. This fault arises from the principle that “An instrumental contingent, provisional character is consubstantial with the pastoral structures of the Church” (III, O.2.3.), without clarifying more exactly what is meant by the term “pastoral structures.” On the basis of such a premise, the said structures are considered in the light of managerial or political criteria of organization, with only scarce or ambiguous reference to those elements in the structure of the Church which belong to Divine law.

Thus it is said that “It is a problem of life or death for the Church whether her structures have an eminently functional character at the service of communication between persons,” (1.1); a model for the exercise of ecclesiastical authority is sought in democratic political forms (3.2.0.); the criteria for judging the suitability of candidates lack norms pertaining to the supernatural order. (4.3.1. d); economic type schemes are taken up in pastoral planning (6.0); etc. All this should be rectified with the aid of specific theological criteria.

  1. Criteria drawn from the merely sociological order exert a decisive influence on the two principles which, according to this thesis-chapter, should govern the reform of pastoral action: team work and pastoral planning. With respect to the first, one is amazed by the peremptoriness with which it is affirmed that “one must see to it that all priests work pastorally in teams” (prop. 13); that this “team work” is a prime need of the Church today, and that it is demanded by the need for an “ecclesial co-responsibility” (3.1); that, therefore, “vocation to the priesthood has a new requirement: aptitude for pastoral teamwork” (8.1), etc. All this is already sufficiently ambiguous and equivocal in itself; but if one keeps in view certain present-day experiences that are designated by these terms, one can easily see how far such a mentality can lead, the precariousness of its theological basis, and how under-appreciated it leaves supernatural factors (grace, sacraments, spiritual life of the faithful, etc.)
  1. As far as the statement about so-called “pastoral planning” is concerned, ambiguity and dangerous practical applications could be avoided only if the following criteria were kept in mind:
  2. Properly speaking, pastoral action does not refer to the mission of all the faithful in the Church, but to the specific action of the pastors, of the hierarchy.
  3. By means of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and not through delegation from the hierarchy — in the exercise of its specific munus — laymen receive from Christ Himself the right and duty of engaging in an apostolate, that is, of participating in the global, salvific mission of the Church according to their own condition and situation (cf. Constitution on the Church, n. 33; Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, n. 3). Respecting legitimate communion with other faithful, and especially with their pastors, laymen enjoy a legitimate sphere of autonomy in the exercise of the apostolate, both individually and in associations, within the limits imposed by the common law. In some cases, they can be called upon by the hierarchy to collaborate in the hierarchical or pastoral apostolate, but it would be a grave error to imagine that a jurisdictional coordination imposed by authority should exist for the whole lay apostolate and that this apostolate should be inserted (absorbed) in the organizational Church structures.
  4. The direction of public, pastoral action in the diocese belongs to the bishop, whose power is personal in character and cannot be renounced or replaced by a collegial system of alleged representation and majoritarian decisions, etc. Obviously, the bishop has the moral right to seek opportune advice, both from consultative organs established by common or particular law and from all those persons whom the bishop may think it wise to consult in a given case. But his decision cannot be bound by the advice he has received.
  5. The priests’ council and the pastoral council are exclusively consultative organs (cf. Paul VI, Motu proprio “Ecclesiae Sanctae,” I, n. 15, par. 3, n. 16, par. 2). Furthermore, it is not obligatory to set up a pastoral council (Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church, n. 27; Motu proprio “Ecclesiae Sanctae” I, n. 16).

Chapter IV

(Interpersonal Relations in the Ecclesial Community)

  1. Love is put as the basis of interpersonal relations in the ecclesial community — the theme of the chapter — and questions are handled concerning such relations between bishops and priests among priests, and between clergy and other believers. The chapter contains very opportune statements about charity, the fraternal spirit which ought to reign in all these relations, and about some ways of fostering this mutual charity.
  2. Besides the ambiguities common to all the chapters, one can point out here some very equivocal points which moreover, refer to questions which seem to be beside the point of this chapter. Prescinding from the very equivocal use of the term “sacramental,” and some incursions (of notorious inspiration) into the socio-political field, one can note the following: an ambiguous reference to the “reintegration” of those “priests who abandon the ministry” (1.7.1), to the “abolition of categories and honors” (3.0.3), to a “national federation of priests’ councils” (4.0.3), to undifferentiated counting of “laicized, retired, and emeritus priests” (5.0); a petition that the “Joint Assembly of Bishops and Priests be opened up” (ibid.); a “sifting of existing organizations” is called for “in order to promote the laity” and “avoid dispersal of efforts” (6.0.1); there is a call to consult the People of God in the ordination of priests and in selections, including those of bishops (6.0.3); there is a demand for “assemblies of all the People of God” (ibid.), etc.
  3. The entire chapter as well as the propositions belonging to it should be attentively revised to avoid possible doctrinal and practical errors which the above- mentioned ambiguities could favor.

Chapter V

The text of this chapter and the respective propositions have not reached the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. Thus, its content is unknown, as is the value of its conclusions.

Chapter VI

(Evangelical Demands on the Mission of the Priest in the Church of Today)

  1. In this chapter, the subject is the “evangelical exigencies of the priest’s mission in the Church and in the world of today.” There is insistence on the need to follow Christ, the life of faith, hope, and charity, and the need for sanctification. Of all the chapters, this one is probably the safest, the most correct from both a doctrinal and a practical point of view. Even so, some observations are necessary.
  2. First of all, in the study of the propositions, it would be necessary to keep in mind what the Synodal document on ministerial priesthood had to say about this theme (cf. De sacerdotio ministeriali, par. II., n. 3). Furthermore, in propositions 24-27, one would have to integrate more completely what was established by the Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, n. 18).
  3. There are also some equivocations of the kind pointed out in A and E of the “Overall Analysis.” Take, for example, these two statements:

-“Our faith demands of us a committed and incarnate response, as was Christ’s response to the Father, one that is ordered to the total liberation of man. Otherwise, we should not be faithful to the Paschal Mystery, and the faith would be converted into alienation from ourselves and from others” (1.2.2).

-“The capacity for taking risks signifies at times this leap into the void beyond the obscurity of faith, beyond options that are contrary to prophetic warning and that are maintained by the established society” (3.3.1).

  1. Throughout, a totally positive — purely comforting — evaluation is made of the quite negative aspects of the crisis which is affecting a portion of the clergy, involving their faith, the nature of the priesthood, the exercise of the ministry, etc.

Chapter VII

(Preparation for the Ministerial Priesthood and Permanent Formation of the Clergy)

  1. The chapter concerns the “preparation for the ministerial priesthood and the permanent formation of the clergy.” In reality, it is fundamentally limited to “permanet formation.” It proposes the full adoption of the so-called “active methodology” and of various educational methods which do not seem to be sufficiently tested and scientifically proven, so that a greater prudence would be desirable in this whole area. The chapter limits itself almost exclusively to the formal aspects of pedagogy, although there is also a tendency to take up unconditionally — without sufficient evaluation in the light of the faith — forms and categories belonging to philosophical and ideological currents which seem hard to reconcile with Catholic dogma; there are also some ambiguous allusions to the political-social order.
  2. The greatest defect of the whole chapter is to have ignored totally the norms given not long ago by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy concerning the permanent formation of priests (S.C. Pro Clericis, Literae Circulares de permanenti cleri institutione et formatione, November 4, 1969: A.S.S. 62 (1970), pp. 123-134). Its content should have been clearly included in the propositions devoted to this question.



  1. Both the overall analysis and the detailed analysis of each chapter, as set forth above, relate to the content of the documents which we have been able to examine, a content which is indifferent, in itself, to the question of where the texts came from and, in general, how they were prepared, presented and voted on. Nevertheless, it seems useful to take into account the repercussions which all this has had among the faithful in Spain, the burning polemics which it has aroused, which are still going on, and which the press has often played a prominent part in, and the obvious consequences. It has been denied that these documents effectively represent the clergy of the country, and a series of concrete and verified data has been adduced: ecclesiastical regions where previous diocesan Assemblies had been held; election of representatives from regions where no Assemblies were held; the protests of many groups of priests over the methods followed in naming representatives and relators to the diocesan assemblies; the generally scarce participation of the clergy — attributable, perhaps, in part to the lack of interest caused by the bias and shape of the inquiry, with its particular doctrinal and disciplinary orientations —; the shortage of time allowed to participants in the Assembly for studying the texts presented — the documentation needing to be gone through amounted to 452 pages, and the number of propositions voted on was 257; all in one week —; some noted irregularities in the procedure of the Assembly — such as the repeated attempts to get proposition 33 of Chapter I approved, which after being rejected on two votes, reappeared two more times in Chapter VI —; etc.
  2. Naturally, all this imposes a great sense of caution, in order to avoid the action of pressure groups, which could bring about harmful divisions among the faithful, and even among pastors.
  3. In accordance with this fact and with all that has been said above, the following steps would seem vitally advisable:
  4. that in the next plenary meeting of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, everyone prescind from Chapter I and its propositions, which seem to be unacceptable both doctrinally and pastorally and which clearly transgress the limits proper to the question confronted by the Clergy Commission which prepared the Joint Assembly and which is now supposed to present its report to the Episcopal Conference.
  5. that the text of chapter II should be replaced by the document on ministerial priesthood approved by the last Synod of bishops, a document whose theological bases and practical applications are much more secure and valid. One should not forget that today any ecclesiastical document issued in any country has immediate repercussions on other countries; this is a responsibility that one cannot ignore under pretext of considering local problems.
  6. that the remaining Chapters be studied, keeping in mind the observations which have been made in this study and the basic doctrinal and disciplinary criteria which have been mentioned, so that the present imperfections may be remedied.


Nailing “Jello” To A Wall

After a specially prolonged and painful gestation, “To Teach As Jesus Did: A Pastoral Message on Education” will be presented in November for the Bishops of America for a vote. It is a long document, 54 pages, big in conception, big in ambition. It is not a simple proposal to rescue our schools in their ever-present harassment but a magnanimous master-plan of Catholic education, a manifesto, a pastoral covering the whole of Catholic education from infancy to eternity.

The educators put it together by describing the

educational ministry of the Church in its three in- terlocking dimensions — the message revealed by God (didache), fellowship or community (koinonia), and service to the Christian and human community (diakonia). Harvey Cox in his The Secular City did the same. The didache treatment is good. The second part on community we won’t take time to detail here. Suffice it to say that the writers seem to use that mixed blessing of every school administrator, the P.T.A., as model rather than that communitarian People of God so subtly detailed in Gaudium et Spes (chp. two). To be specific, whatever will become of that forlorn figure, the pastor? For a century in America, often it was he almost alone who kept his little Catholic school open; cold, simple, maybe even primitive, but open. We suggest the Bishops might have not a small problem on their hands when the pastor takes his collegial place at the table, when he sits en banc with the other parish representatives.


However, we find that the third part, diakonia, service, is the most troublesome element in the document. The concept centers around the question of the relation of the Church with the world, the sacred with the profane, the divine with the human, the City of God with the City of Man. Since Vatican II there has been a marked tendency to identify the two, to assimilate and confuse them. This pastoral doesn’t help. While it begins with a notion of service in keeping with the Gospel spirit, it ends with service, plain service. We are told Christian education is for service. Isn’t every social organization? Isn’t the Army? Isn’t a bakery? We fault this shot-gun definition of the purpose of education mostly because it is another confused expression of the relation of the sacred with the secular. The Fathers of the Council had brilliantly described this balance:

“Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom. (Gaudium et Spes, 39) For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God’s design for man’s total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human. (GS11) Thus the mission of the Church will show its religious, and by that very fact, its supremely human character, (GS11) The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. . . . Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”(GS22)

(The Church) desires thereby to add the light of revealed truth to mankind’s store of experience, so that the path which humanity has taken in recent times will not be a dark one.”(GS33)

Common, secular service to mankind or the world is not the purpose of the Church, nor of its Christian education. Rather the very refined, proper, specific contribution which Christianity makes to the world can be seen through these short excerpts. When this specific service is lost sight of, all the operations of the Church, the Church itself, loses its meaning. This document is confused in what it thinks service is, especially Christian service. It has to muddle an already confused and confusing situation.


The pastoral decries the weakening of the total Catholic school system. It gives as reasons lack of interest, passe priorities favoring education, present concern for other services, lack of finances. It doesn’t even suggest that the reason could possibly be in the Catholic school itself, that it has lost its raison d’etre, that there has been a controversy over Catholic doctrine and its catechetical expression. The newly erected “orthodoxy” schools around America are a “sign of the times;” the thousands of Catholic parents who are so exercised over the type of religious education their children are receiving that they spend great amounts of energy and finances on establishing new schools, the thousands more who remove their youngsters from CCD classes or who are indifferent about their attendance — these are realities which no Bishop should ignore today. That is the sensus fidelium at work. This very difficulty which parents have is mentioned in the pastoral but as a reason for a new, stepped-up program of adult catechesis. The parents must be reinstructed, reprogrammed, retooled, we are told. There seems to be no possibility that the parents might have some legitimate complaints. This surely is a poor way of establishing and maintaining that koinonia community which the document opts for.

The Bishops are asked, in two places in the document, to applaud the new catechetics, to give a general vote of confidence to what has gone on in that area the past decade. We feel this to be an unfortunate effort to line the Bishops up behind the new catechesis. The document is not addressed at all to catechetics and its methods but to Catholic education in general. These two remarks on catechesis are simple “asides” introduced in passing.

A year ago in Rome at the Resolutions meeting of the English-speaking delegates to the International Catechetical Congress, as time was running out, one of the Americans suggested a resolution approving the new catechetics in general. It failed — resoundingly. The catechists themselves rejected it, considering it too broad. We suggest the Bishops notice the contradiction between the catechetics of this educational pastoral and that of the “Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education.” In November they will be asked to approve both. And so they will be asked to contradict themselves in matters catechetical. The “Basic Teachings” require a certain content, the pastoral doesn’t; the “Basic Teachings,” like the General Catechetical Directory, requires essential elements of doctrine, the pastoral doesn’t. We pray the Bishops will see through this contradiction and vote accordingly.


If this document opts for an educational picture more congenial to modernity, its treatment of technology is simpliste. It could come out of Paul R. Erhlich’s office, or the Sierra Club, or a college undergraduate newspaper. “Our readiness for sharing has not kept pace with our skill at acquiring.” Is this factual, really? Without American technology, mostly the result of American industrial capital, most of this hungry world would starve, its transportation would be oxen, its medicine primitive, its labor inhuman. Technology is said to cause alienation; twice America is described as alienated because of technology. This analysis, 19th century Marxist in spirit, doesn’t reflect the more responsible and realistic description of conflict in the modern world which the Fathers of Vatican II enumerated in Gaudium et Spes (par. 6, 7, 8). They blame modern unrest on changes in traditional local communities and urbanization, on the spread of communications media, on migration, on economic growth, on psychological, moral, and religious changes, besides industrial and technological inventions. Technology certainly is one of the true “signs of the times; ” it doesn’t come off well in this document.


We suggest that the Bishops give this pastoral back to the educationists who wrote it as they did last Spring when it first appeared. It’s too big. Nothing, but nothing has been left out. There’s material for at least ten different pastorals. Solid and proven plans and techniques are interlarded with myths and proposals already rejected even by the progressive descendants of John Dewey. The Bishops are ill served by this document. What do they know of “access centers” or new “civic and academic accountability”? What does anyone know? Do the educators themselves know professionally, scientifically about what they are suggesting? What studies have been made? When they say “.. . the traditional parish may no longer be the best framework for formal schooling,” is this a threat, a prediction, or a goal? This one observation would be sufficient for months of episcopal consideration and collaboration. We look to our Bishops for wisdom and maturity in decision; we shouldn’t ask them to nail Jello to a wall. Let the educationists take their proposals back to committee, break them into workable units, try them, test them, prove them, then write a modest proposal for the Education Department of the USCC or the NCEA.

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