The specific role and mission of the Bishop of Rome is to confirm the bishops of the world in the faith handed down from the beginning, expressed in the Creed. An appeal to Pope Francis to confirm his brother bishops
By Robert Moynihan
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil.” —St. Paul, Ephesians, 6:12
As the summer of 2021 proceeds toward the autumn, a number of disputes and divisions in the Church seem to be threatening both the truths of the Gospel — our doctrine, our faith — and the unity of our Roman Catholic Church — our mystical communion in space and time with all Christ’s followers down through the ages, which is so critical to preserve. For we are and must always remain… one Church.
Yet in Germany, many priests and even bishops are openly defying the Vatican’s own clarification on the question of blessing homosexual couples. The Vatican said in March that it was not in the power of the Church to bless such relationships, though the Church always blesses everyone who comes to her seeking to draw into closer union with Christ. The Church also blesses friendships and close collaborations. But the Church cannot bless sexual relations except between men and women who are married. Evidently many no longer believe this is the Gospel truth. So a division is looming between Rome and Germany.
In the United States, more division: many priests conservative in doctrine have liberal bishops who place restrictions on their pastoral work, or move them to isolated parishes where they will be in obscurity. These priests are now beginning to band together, to the point of defying the authority of their own bishops.
Meanwhile, the US bishops as a whole have become divided over the question of the moral requirements for receiving the Eucharist. In a vote in mid-June, the bishops voted 168-55, with six abstentions, to draft a document on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” Many in the majority group believe Catholic politicians who openly, publicly, support laws legalizing abortion — the taking of innocent human life — must not approach the altar to receive the Eucharist, because supporting abortion is an objective evil which makes reception of the Eucharist an objective sacrilege. But the Vatican itself wrote to the US bishops asking them not to implement any policy on this question, saying the Eucharist ought not to become politicized in any way, but must remain an available remedy bringing spiritual healing to all who approach the altar; hence the decision to draft a document, not announce a policy. Still, one sees here a startling possibility: a deepening division between Rome and the more conservative US bishops.
Thus, various forces seem to be driving the universal Church into national or regional churches, or into a “high Church” and a “low Church,” a “modern Catholic Church” and a “traditional Catholic Church.” This is a sad, worrisome state of affairs.
We need to preserve our unity.
And it is the role of Rome, the specific mission of the Roman pontiff, to facilitate and confirm the unity of all bishops, and so of the Church, around the world.
The unity of the Church is one of her four marks; she is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” as we say in the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
Logically, we must not say, “I believe in a multiple (not one), profane (not holy), un-catholic (not catholic, not universal) and un-apostolic (not apostolic) Church.” We know such a credal declaration would be wrong, would be not in keeping with our faith of all time, from the beginning.
And yet… many seem willing to begin to profess such a faith — a faith in a Church that is particular, local, diversified, not universal, not united, not “one”; a faith in a Church that reaches out to the sinner even to the point of blessing one or another sin, so blessing what is not “holy”; not a faith in a Church that retains the traditional moral teaching about what is holy and pleasing to God;faith in a Church that is different in various countries, various regions, various segments of society, no longer “catholic,” but regional, diversified, disunited; a faith in a Church that is “modern,” “up-to-date,” no longer embracing the teaching of Sts. Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, no longer “apostolic.”
So we stand at a crossroads today. Do we still believe, as Catholics, what our Creed professes, when we say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”? Or have we come to believe in another Church?
Among the faithful, there are many who are looking to the bishops to confirm our communities in the credal faith of all time. Yet the bishops themselves seem deeply divided.
In such a situation, the task of confirming the bishops in the faith once handed down by the Apostles falls to the Bishop of Rome: the Pope.
There are today many enemies of the Church who believe Catholicism is a negative factor in human society, that the Church does not bring salvation but neurosis, placing unbearable moral burdens on the backs of many. These enemies would like the Church to change (no longer teach what she has traditionally taught), or disappear. Tremendous pressures are being brought to bear on the Church to change her teaching, to eliminate beliefs taught from the beginning that are now regarded as outmoded, inconvenient, unloving, hateful.
Jesus chose Peter to become “the Rock” upon which He would build His Church. But Peter denied the Lord three times on the night He was arrested. When the cock crowed at dawn, Peter realized what he had done and wept “bitter tears.” Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:31-32) As Christ prayed for Peter, let us pray for Pope Francis, and let us appeal to Pope Francis to confirm his brothers and preserve our unity.