Bishop Lynch Opts to Bail on the Church’s teaching

Bishop Lynch Opts to Bail on the Church’s teaching February 20, 2014

When Lefties want to bail on the Church’s teaching, they invoke “Primacy of Conscience”.  When Righties want to bail on Church teaching, they invoke “Prudential Judgment”.  And when bishops want to bail on Church teaching, they invoke the Sensus Fidelium:

“On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘That train left the station long ago,'” Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently wrote on his blog, summarizing his survey’s findings. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

Because whatever badly-catechized early third millennium suburban Americans say to a pollster is certainly the Voice of God.

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  • Speaking of badly catechized, one would expect a bishop to know that “sensus fidelium” and “rejection of Church teaching” are mutually exclusive. In what way can sentiments contrary to the faith be called “faithful”?

  • Jonna

    Bishop Lynch is correct in this matter and brave to raise the issue. Sensus fidelium is not equivalent to a popular vote, but an honest discernment about whether a teaching has been received by the entire Body over a period of time in a spirit of peace and unity, incorporated into the real lived experiences of the faithful. Much of the teaching around HV has become convoluted and tortured, almost cultish, forcing an ideal to be received as an absolute.

    • capaxdei

      No, the sensus fidelium is *not* “an honest discernment about whether a teaching has been received.” It is a supernatural gift given to the faithful — *all* the faithful together, not the laity as distinct from the clergy, not everyone else as distinct from the bishops — that enables the faithful to discern correctly in matters of faith.

      Whatever role an honest discernment about whether a teaching has been received might play in the Church, it should not be confused with the sensus fidelium.

      • Jonna

        And not only the bishops and clergy, distinct from the laity. Spiritual discernment given to the Church as a whole is a supernatural gift.

        • capaxdei

          Exactly, and the mistake of thinking that no such gift is to be found among the laity is not corrected by the mistake of thinking the laity’s gift of discernment is in some way in tension with, or the arbiter of, Magisterial teaching.

    • Fr. Denis Lemieux

      It is ludicrous to invoke sensus fidelium around the rejection of HV in the Western Catholic world. S.F. refers to the discernment of the faith over a prolonged period of time by the whole people of God together – and this is the Catholic Church we’re talking about, so prolonged means ‘centuries’ here.
      That over a fifty year period marked in North America and Europe by a society-wide descent into fornication, pornography, and adultery, a bunch of uncatechized Catholics decide they want to sterilize themselves temporarily or permanently hardly qualifies as any sort of honest discernment of anything except ‘We want to have as much sex as we can without consequences. Babies? Yuck!’
      And since the wholesale acceptance of contraception has been accompnaied by, and can be directly related to, the abortion holocaust in the Western world, I’m not sure where you’re seeing the peace and unity in all this, either.

      • Jonna

        Lots of name calling in your comment, Father. I agree there has been poor catechesis around HV. But the teaching has not been received by the majority of the Body of Christ, especially by those whose lives are directly impacted. It’s clear that Pope Francis wants to hear from the lay faithful, through their bishops, to understand why. To assign ignorance or evil intent to every person who questions HV as an absolute is a stretch.

        • Fr. Denis Lemieux

          I apologize for my tone. I am of the generation that grew up in the immediate aftermath of the sexual revolution, and so my feelings about what happened in the 60s are fairly strong and negative. Also, as a priest I am constant dealing with the victims of the sexual chaos of our times, and the pain and brokenness I deal with on a daily basis that comes from our sexual pathologies is quite sobering, to say the least.
          That being said, I did no name-calling. Fornication is sex outside of marriage. Adultery is sex by a married person with someone not their spouse. Pornography is… well, we know what that is. Surely you don’t mean to suggest these are not widespread realities in our society?
          My main point (obscured, I realize, by my somewhat churlish tone), is that it is inappropriate to invoke sensus fidelium in such a stew of moral chaos and very poor catechesis – we simply do not have a thriving church or world which displays any signs of wisdom or sober reflection on these matters.
          God bless you – again, sorry I was grumpy.

          • Jonna

            We all get grumpy at times, Father, so be of good cheer 🙂 I agree that human sexuality is complex, messy, and in constant need of redemption. I’m sure you’ve seen much suffering and alienation from God as the result of abuse, infidelity and amoral or disordered behavior; I do as well as a clinical social worker. My understanding of SF is not letting the masses decide (God forbid) but discerning over time God’s movement and desires revealed in both the giving and receiving of a moral teaching. The fact that HV has not been received by the majority of the Body of Christ needs to be explored, with prayer, reverence and humility. What might God be saying to us? I love our Church for her moral teachings, but don’t view them as absolutes to be imposed but ideals to strive toward. God bless you, Father.

        • Pappy

          For a twist on a familar phrase: The Church’s teachings articulated in HV (and Casti Connubi I might add) have not been tried and found to have failed, rather there were found to be difficult and left untried.

    • IRVCath

      But that’s not an argument to call for changing teaching, which is anyway impossible.

      • Jonna

        The Church once taught that slavery was acceptable. Church teachings have and do change. Not that I believe HV should be changed, but viewed as an ideal to strive toward rather than an absolute to be imposed.

        • Athelstane

          The Church once taught that slavery was acceptable. Church teachings have and do change.

          No, they don’t. And the Church has not contradicted itself on slavery, nor on usury, nor on any other teaching.

          • Jonna

            Yes it has. Growth is healthy, why be so afraid? Truth doesn’t change but our relationship to it does and should as we mature as individuals and as Church. We tell a 5 year old not to touch the stove because it’s hot – this is true. But if a 30 year old is still afraid to touch a stove because it’s hot, this is a stunted relationship with truth that prevents her from feeding herself and others. Christ calls us into a mature relationship that allows growth in it’s time for the building of the kingdom, not childish reliance on absolutes. Read the Gospels, especially Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees as an example of right relationship with truth.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I have read the article, and it seems to me that the bishop was only giving comments on the result of the poll in his diocese. Other bishops in Europe have seen similar results in their polls. Such comments do not necessarily mean a complete rejection of church teaching, but an opinion that the way such teaching is presented and applied (for example, maybe the marriage annulment process is really too complicated, and costly for some people who just would not afford it?), or explained to the ordinary Catholics in the pews, could be improved. Besides, I don’t see that bishop Lynch should be singled out for condemnation just now, since several other bishops, particularly in Europe, seem to have said similar things, although of course a US publication will quote a US bishop. I would suggest to leave to Pope Francis the task of sorting out the good grain among those opinions and to straighten out the bishops as needed.

  • capaxdei

    “Today, however, it is particularly important to explain the criteria that make it possible to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeit. It is certainly not a kind of public ecclesial opinion and invoking it in order to contest the teachings of the Magisterium would be unthinkable, since the sensus fidei cannot be authentically developed in believers, except to the extent in which they fully participate in the life of the Church, and this demands responsible adherence to the Magisterium, to the deposit of faith.” — Pope Benedict XVI, Address to International Theological Commission, December 7, 2012

  • Anna

    Seeing as this is the same bishop who was fine with the murder of Terri Schiavo and refused to allow any of his priests to celebrate a memorial Mass for her, this is hardly surprising.

    • kag1982

      Perhaps Bishop Lynch was trying to calm down tensions and not let Terri Schiavo’s death be hijacked by politicians. Frankly, both the parents and the ex-husband were using that poor woman as a pawn in a family dispute and weren’t acting in her best interest. It was all about who controlled the outcome than what was best for Terri. And the politicians were also using that poor woman as a pawn to increase their support with social conservatives.

      • Jared Clark

        Even if they had ulterior motives (maybe they did; people have ulterior motives for good acts all the time), I’m pretty sure those fighting to stop others from killing her had her best interest in mind.

        • kag1982

          It is my understanding that a Catholic has a right to withhold extraordinary measures, such as a feeding tube. Perhaps, it was Terri’s wishes that they not use extraordinary means to keep her alive. I certainly wouldn’t want to be kept alive in such a manner.

          • John Simmins

            The Church’s teaching is that food and water are NOT extraordinary measures.

            • kag1982

              It is my understanding that feeding tubes are a bit more complicated than that.

              • Anna

                They are only unnecessary (as is any food) if the person is dying from something else and the body can no longer assimilate nutrition. If it’s lack of food and water that will cause death (as it was with Terri, who was, in any case, perfectly capable of eating by mouth until Michael stopped that so as to be able to argue that the tube was a medical treatment), then food and water must be given as it is ordinary care.
                But that is irrelevant to whether a bishop should allow his priests to celebrate a memorial Mass for a deceased person. Also, it’s not necessarily a bishop’s job to “calm tensions”; it can be, but not to simply make everyone feel okay when some evil is happening, or to preserve appearances.

                • kag1982

                  Perhaps Bishop Lynch didn’t want a memorial service being turned into a political rally? Again, I think that the situation was more complicated than some pro-lifers want to imagine and there were lots of underlying family tensions.

                  • Anna

                    Worrying about what some random people might do is hardly an excuse for denying a Catholic family a Mass.

                    • kag1982

                      I’m sure that Terri had a Catholic funeral. What Lynch didn’t want was random priests holding memorials that turned into political pep rallies.

                    • Anna

                      No, Michael didn’t have one. And the Schindlers were barred from even being told where her cremated remains were interred.

                • Alma Peregrina

                  As a physician, let me say that Anna is absolutely correct on her assessment of what is “ordinary” and “extraordinary” concerning food and water.

              • Fr. Rob Johansen

                It is commendable that you are trying to be charitable to Bp. Lynch and interpret his actions in a positive light. However, I was very closely and personally involved with the efforts to save Terri Schiavo’s life, and I know the family personally. Not only that, but I studied the issues involved deeply and wrote about them extensively, such as here, , and here, . I would say that to describe the Schindlers as treating Terri “as a pawn in a family dispute” and not “acting in her best interest” borders on calumny. They wanted to preserve her life, which the Church teaches had “fundamental human dignity”. They were willing to do so at their own cost and by their own efforts. As Bobby, her brother, said at the time, “we just want to take care of her.” I will not address what her husband’s motivations were, since he never told me. Regarding Bishop Lynch in the Terri Schiavo situation, the most charitable thing that I think can be said of him is that he was AWOL.

                Regarding the Church’s teaching on artificial nutrition and hydration, I think you might look into the matter a little more closely and deeply. The Church’s teaching is emphatically that food and water are not “extraordinary measures”, even when administered “artificially”, and that they must be provided as long as the patient’s body can continue to assimilate and metabolize them. See the CDF’s document on the matter here: , and its accompanying commentary here: .

                Terri Schiavo in no way met the criteria for removing food and water, and her death can only be categorized as murder by starvation and dehydration.

                • PalaceGuard

                  Who, btw, authorized the grieving widower to marry his live-in girlfriend in the Church as soon as his wife was dead? Not only was Terri Shiavo thrown under the bus, she was promptly swept under the rug.

                  • IRVCath

                    Well, nothing would stop them according to Canon Law, except, of course, good taste. After all, with the death of Mrs. Schiavo, Mr. Schiavo would be free to marry, subject to the usual rules of marriage in the Church.

                    • Andy, Bad Person

                      Well, nothing would stop them according to Canon Law, except, of course, good taste.

                      Actually, I believe having an active part in ending your wife’s life with the intent of marrying someone else is a canonical impediment.

                • kag1982

                  I obviously don’t know either party. I’m just reacting to how both sides came off to me as a casual observer. It reminded me of a very nasty custody dispute where both sides wanted to score points against the other side. Everyone came off as very embittered when I watched them as a casual viewer.

                  • Anna

                    I’d be more than “embittered” if someone starved my daughter to death. Edited to add: However, the Schindlers are some of the most remarkably UNbitter people it has ever been my privilege to meet.

                    • kag1982

                      It struck me as a custody dispute where the two sides were using the innocent victim to score points on the other side. The husband was a jerk, but I think that the parents took it way too far. Politicians used it as an attempt to express solidarity with the pro-life movement without actually doing anything to support the pro-life movement.

          • I think that you are wrong that a feeding tube is an extraordinary measure but I certainly can see why you might think so. There’s a code book called the CPT which defines what is medicine. To my knowledge there have been no Catholic efforts to categorize these codes between measures that are ordinary, extraordinary, and prohibited, with nuance to explain how some of these codes fit into multiple categories and when.

            If anybody’s done work on that, please let me know. I think my wife would be very interested in using that in her medical practice.

            • kag1982

              I don’t think that what is allowed and disallowed could be classified by CPT code. It really has to be a case-by-case basis.

              • Disqus swallowed my reply so I’ll try again. 90211 is the code for a brief doctor diagnostic appointment in the office. I can’t conceive of a circumstance where that would be extraordinary care. That’s one end of the spectrum. 59830 or treatment of septic abortion would require a lot more thought and explanation.

                What the doctors call abortion and what the Church calls abortion are not identical. Certain codes with the abortion label in the CPT code book would, to most everybody’s surprise, be permitted by the Church.

                This mismatch on the overloaded term “abortion” is just one example of the problem. The project would improve understanding and reduce resistance to the Church, yet nobody has taken up the task.

      • Athelstane

        And I suppose that justifies Bishop Lynch in sending a priest to testify in court to say that Catholic teaching would support euthanizing Terri Schiavo.

        Perhaps, on his own actions and words – which go far beyond the Schiavo case – Bishop Lynch really does not agree with large swaths of Catholic moral teachings.

        • kag1982

          Difference between euthanasia and the Schiavo case. I wouldn’t demand a lethal dose of drugs to die, but if I was in Terri’s unresponsive vegetative state, I wouldn’t want extraordinary measures taken.

          • chezami

            Food and water are not extraordinary measures. She was murdered by thirst.

  • AquinasMan

    Wouldn’t this be sensus infidelium?

  • Catholic Fast Food Worker

    Mark, I think this bishop, with all due respect, is a lazy bishop. He has a strange case of Sensus Lazy-ium (“sense of the lazies”). Instead of supporting those individuals and groups/apostolates who are implementing efforts of catechizing & evangelizing people of Florida, he does the lazy thing by giving up on his faithful, throwing them under the bus & rejecting Catholic teaching. Back in the days when the Catholic majority were actually faithful & attended Mass at least once a week, made frequent confession, cared about parish life, had deep devotions to the Saints, did fastings/feastings/penance, & cared to evangelize the world (like the Jesuit martyrs/saints in Japan/China, for example), I would buy this “sensus fidelium”. But today, when most Catholic “Faithful” are more faithful to the trappings & culture of Secularism than Catholicism & if these so-called Catholic “faithful” haven’t yet lapsed only go to Church once a year (X-mas), I call BS.
    Bishop Lynch: Go back to your mostly lost flock of Florida, get things “messy” again, smell like them, & bring them back to the fold. Now that would take actual work & courage & would mean he would have to reject laziness, I pray, but I think it might not happen. I’m just thankful I live in the Diocese of Tulsa with a bishop who actually wants to be a SHEPHARD to his flock & bring them to Christ.

  • kag1982

    Lynch was just reporting on his observations based on the Vatican survey and pointing out the obvious – that the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to birth control even among faithful Catholics. It is important to remember that the people responding to the survey were very involved Catholics who were on the older side and willing to go through pretty involved and complicated questions. Even they reject the Church’s teaching on this.
    The European and Japanese bishops reported back with similar findings on this as well as very high support for finding a better way to deal with remarried divorcees. The Japanese actually had some interesting observations and stated that the questionaire wasn’t geared toward a country, like Japan, where Catholics were a small minority.

    • IRVCath

      The trouble is that in our hyperdemocratic age some people will use this in a false appeal to popularity to call for the impossible.

  • HornOrSilk

    The Sensus Fidelium is very, very difficult to work with, and it takes several generations to determine its value, not just immediate response (hello Nicea). We must avoid the simplistic expectations of a society which hears a teaching that goes against its desires that they will immediately accept it, or if they don’t, it isn’t proper teaching (hello.. every age with their sins they promote). On the other hand, we must also not go extreme and beg the question and say “only those I say are among the faithful are the faithful” because that kind of interpretation ends up creating schisms or at least weakening unity (hello Novatians, hello SSPX, hello Michael Voris)

  • How discouraging. I’m sure I’m foolish, but I would have hoped for something more along the lines of, “Clearly I and the priests who serve under me have collectively failed to teach and shepherd our flock on this issue. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

  • Dan C

    1) I do not think these folks are badly catechized. Just wrong. Many clearly reject the teaching.

    2) The bishop mistakes the error of the masses as sensus fidelium.

    3) Education is the weakest attempt to assert change. I think “Catechesis!” fails as an attempt to make change. We do not think that improved educational activities in any arrangement actually results in change, except in morals. One does not expect “education” to improve safety outcomes at a place of employ. One establishes systems, engineering safeguards, for such matters. Education as a mode of change is known to be ineffective.

    • I don’t know about that, Dan. I’m in my early 40s and attended Catholic school through parochial and high school. The most I ever, ever heard about contraception was a shrug and a watery, “Well, the Church does officially object to it, but…” I never met a soul who believed, much less could defend Church teaching on this, until I fortuitously fell in with a very different group of Catholics in college. Yes, it required the work of the Holy Spirit to open my heart, but it also took the practical matter of being around people who were not afraid to speak the truth.

      I think articulating Church teaching falls under catechizing…

      • Dan C

        1. It sounds as if the prohibition against contraception was known. Just not embraced. Among me and my CCD-era peers in the 1970’s as well as my colleagues at a Jesuit college in the 1980’s, there was knowledge of the prohibition. The depth of why such prohibition existed was probably greater than my parents or grandparents who strictly adhered to this prohibition but couldn’t articulate its reasons.

        2. Assuring more words expended on the subject hasn’t bridged many gaps between OSV and Commonweal on this subject. In the pews, the same is likely.

        3. I am unsure that the extremes of fertility are good spokespeople for the prohibition. The highly multiparous or the barely fertile (like our family) are poor spokespeople for NFP or the Church’s teachings.

        4. As far as fertility, at this point, it has been pissed on and made a culture war point. It will be hard to suggest increasing fertility is nothing but a conservative talking point after the dynamics of the past ten years. As such, any concession is a concession to the culture wars.

        5. The entire sexual ethics bit has been a big Catholic loss, more than just he routine historical troubles. I am unclear how to roll that back, except by not talking about it and bringing people back to Christ and then letting them engage that. The “family values, sexual ethics” piece has not been a win. Not with Evangelicals either.

        My answers do not satisfy me , but the experience of Evangelicals informs me that a “talk about it more” approach may not be successful.

        • Athelstane

          The depth of why such prohibition existed was probably greater than my parents or grandparents who strictly adhered to this prohibition but couldn’t articulate its reasons.

          In my experience, the prohibition is usually known, but the reasons for it generally are not.

          But even with the reasons, what is really needed is true formation, and a sincere conversion, making possible a full understanding of the larger Catholic teaching on the moral life. When parents fail to provide that (and most don’t), the person is left to figure it out the hard way.

          It’s clear that in many dioceses in 1968, a majority of priests really did not accept the teaching – and the laity were often all too ready to take their lead from the priests, especially given the cultural winds then blowing.

      • kag1982

        In the 1940s, the entire U.S. was anti-birth control. There were even laws against prescribing the Pill to married women.

        • Alma Peregrina

          RedMeg19990 said she was in her early 40’s at the time, not that it was in the 1940’s.

        • IRVCath

          Not really. Mostly New England had those laws, and only for a brief time in the postwar era. They were also never enforced (the plaintiffs in Griswold actually had to petition the State of Connecticut to enforce the law so they could sue). Of course, there did not need to be laws against that, because the vast majority of pharmacists would not prescribe birth control anyway. Why bother having a law against a crime that nobody commits anyway?

  • Mark R

    Face it, Catholics are not given the tools for self-discipline. The fasting rules and periods are a joke compared to the Oriental and Constantinopolitan Churches — of course a smaller percentage of their adherents actually practice their faith. But to cultivate a practice of training the passions in minor things like food and drink would make “big deals” like s e x easiervdo deal with.

    • Dan C

      Ramadan and Lent once had closer practices. Now, Muslims look like superhumans.

      This may have something to it.

  • Chesire11

    And at one point in our history it could be argued that the sensus fidelium favored Arianism, but we reject that because it was false, and heretical.

    • antigon

      Actually, it was the laity who rejected Arianism. T’was the bishops on conjunction with the Imperial Roman bureaucracy who all but (Athanasius most famously) universally endorsed it, with a weak Pope who, while holding the Faith, nonetheless allowed the frauds to batter him about.