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May 1988


This article by a distinguished American Catholic Journalist, considers the adverse Review of RENEW by the US Bishops in relation to the widespread introduction of RENEW into their dioceses by 65-70 American Catholic Bishops.

Adverse judgment: Widespread Use

JOHN J. MULLOY

The analysis of RENEW produced by the American Bishops' Committee on Doctrine entitled "Review of the RENEW Process (Newark) by the NCCB Committee on Doctrine"- leads one to ask: What made it possible to begin with? How is it that this committee emerged with a report which so effectively points out the major errors in the RENEW program? After all, haven't 65 to 70 bishops introduced the RENEW program into their dioceses - upon occasion even using strong arm tactics to force all their pastors to promote the program? How, then, could the Doctrine Committee show such a shocking lack of collegiality as to bring out into the open the real character of what these bishops have been giving to their people?

In order to understand the position of the Doctrine Committee, and why it acted as it did in defence of Catholic doctrine, I think we have to keep in mind the remark of Cardinal Ratzinger last May in Canada, when he was asked about RENEW in a question-and-answer session. He said that RENEW was under investigation by his Congregation and that an analysis of it would be forthcoming. The nature of his reply did not suggest that the investigation would result in a high degree of approval for the program.

Now, Catholics aware of the numerous and widespread errors in RENEW assumed that this remark meant that the Vatican was intending to put out its own analysis of the program. But in fact it is probable that the American Bishopsí Doctrine Committee had already begun its exainination of the materials, and therefore that this was the intended agency to pass judgement on RFNEW.

Cardinal Ratzingerís remark may be, seen, however, as a warning shot across the bow of the committee, warning them that if they tried to do a whitewash job on RENEW, the Vatican itself would be forced to undertake a re-examination of RENEW and point out precisely what was wrong with it. This would make the bishops on the Doctrine Committee look pretty inept, to say the least, if they allowed such obvious faults in the program to go unnoticed. So the committee had to deliver the goods or else be discredited.

On the other hand, in order to provide as much protection as possible under these circumstances for those bishops who had endorsed RENEW and forced it on the parishes in their dioceses, the Doctrine Committee introduced its identification of the program's grave faults with a "General Commendation of the RENEW process". This was a generalized approval of certain stated goals of RENEW and of the good intentions of bishops who hoped to achieve these goals. The section of four paragraphs reminds one of the saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions; and considering the kind of doctrine being given to their people by the bishops promoting the RENEW program, it would seem that such bishops have been most active in providing paving stones for the road leading to the infernal regions.

"A generic christianity"

After these paragraphs of general commendation of certain purposes of the program, the report then follows with over three pages of specific criticism of what is wrong with RENEW. These criticisms, although diplomatically phrased, vindicate just about everything which critics of have been declaring is wrong with the whole process. As I read on in this part of the report, with the criticisms gouped under four general headings, and with quotations given from RENEW materials to make the indictment all the more damning, I could scarcely believe that I was reading a report emanating from a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. For this report clearly identified the grave faults in a program to which many of the bishops of the same Conference had given their wholehearted and uncritical approval. (I had even received material from my own diocese claiming that the Pope was much in favor of it.)

Let us now glance at some of the particular issues on which RENEW gives a distorted picture of Catholic teaching, as pointed out in the Doctrine Committee's analysis. The first of these is identified by the committee under the heading: "The tendency toward a generic Christianity". We all know the different kinds of food offered for sale in the supermarket under the term, "generic", meaning that there is nothing in the way of a brand label connected with them. This is precisely the kind of thing which the RENEW program is engaged in, according to the Doctrine Committee. RENEW does not want to identify its "process" with the faith of the Catholic Church. Instead, it wishes to pursue purposes based on a lowest common denominator, that will be equally acceptable to all - whether Protestant or Catholic. This kind of thing is, of course, impossible. What it results in is the liquidation of Catholic teaching in order to meet the objections of non-Catholics against particular Catholic doctrines. The result is a kind of tasteless mush, which has to be spiced up by elements borrowed from some left-wing ideology; for without these, the lack of character and motivation for the RENEW "process" would be all too evident.

Part of the Doctrine Committee's criticism under this heading is as follows:

 ". . . Basic Christian themes are presented without sufficiently relating them to their specific form as experienced in Roman Catholic tradition and practice. (RENEW) does not indicate the teaching of the Church that gives meaning to the living tradition which forms the basis for authentic Catholic renewal. We find the dimension lacking in much of the material of RENEW".

The second category of criticism is given rather neutrally: "The need for greater balance and completeness". But in the content of what it quotes from the RENEW materials, it shows how completely distorted a picture RENEW presents of Christ and His Church.

The Committee quotes from the RENEW materials this passage:

"There is a bias in RENEW for immanence ... the emphasis is on the God who is among us ... ours is a God who has embraced our humanity in the fullest possible way . . . Jesus is understood immanently in his concrete humanity and historicity ... ministry arises out of the people and belongs to the people".

The Doctrine Committee comments on this and other passages it has quoted:

"It is our opinion that the overemphasis of these theological positions causes the RENEW process to favor certain aspects of Catholic life to the exclusion of other equally important aspects. This results in an imbalance which can be doctrinally misleading".

This is a guarded and tactful way of saying that RENEW is engaged in a heretical misrepresentation of Catholic teaching. For this choosing of one part of Catholic belief at the expense or exclusion of other parts, corresponds to the classic definition of heresy, taken from the Greek word hairesis, a choice. RENEW chooses to deal only with the immanent elements in Catholic belief, while excluding the transcendent ones. In this way, it even falsifies the meaning of the immanent elements with which it claims to be concerned. By excluding the transcendent, it is not able to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God made man, but only Jesus as a man, in fact, as merely a human person. Once one removes the transcendent elements in Catholic belief, there is no longer any God beyond man to the worship of whom one's actions are directed; and Jesus Himself no longer has any divine character. For the divine as such no longer exists. And this is the kind of thing which our Bishops, or many of them, are presenting to their people as the renewal of their Catholic life and faith.

A heretical distinction

The true Catholic belief is centred upon the Gospels, not upon some crude mutilation of them to serve a secularized religiosity. As St. Johnís Gospel expresses this relation between transcendent and immanent elements in the Incarnation:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory - glory as

of the only-begotten of the Father - full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

We should note also the coziness of that statement, "ours is a God", as though RENEW were able to create a God in its own image, rather than being receptive to the Revelation concerning God which is given to us in Scripture and in the Church.

And the sentence "Jesus is understood immanently in His concrete humanity and historicity" reflects the oft-repeated heretical distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. In this kind of belief, the Christ of faith has no historical reality, but has been created by the subjective faith experience of the community. Only the human Jesus has any reality, "concretness", in His "humanity and historicity". Under these circumstances, we ignore or bypass anything in the Gospels which points to His divine nature and bleach out all those elements which our secularized mentality cannot accept.

Most significant also is the concluding sentence of this paragraph quoted from RENEW: "ministry arises out of the people and belongs to the people".

This is simply flat-out heresy and a contradiction of everything which the Church has taught for 19 centuries, and reaffirmed most strongly in Vatican Council II. By stating this, RENEW denies that Jesus Christ established a specific ordained ministry for the purpose of teaching, sanctifying and ruling the Christian people. RENEW prefers to substitute "the people" for Jesus Christ as the source of all authority and all ministries in the Church.. With this conception, both the priesthood and the sacramental system of the Catholic Church collapse, and there is nothing left but debris to be swept away.

What is incomprehensible is how 65 to 70 bishops could introduce a program into their dioceses which undercuts the existence of their own office and that of the priests they are associated with in carrying out the functions of the ordained ministry. What suicidal mania possesses bishops of this sort so that they deliberately destroy the foundations of their own authority? Or is it that they donít bother to read the materials which they promote among their own priests and people?

Doctrinal content

The third category of the Doctrine Committee's criticism is headed: "The cognitive dimensions of faith need more emphasis". In other words, it is not simply feelings and experiences which constitute the oasis for one's personal realization of the Catholic Faith. Instead, it is the doctrinal content of Catholic Revelation to which these feelings and experiences have to be related if they are to have any authentic character to them. The committee notes that RENEW sees personal and shared "experience as the focus of Revelation". So if one's personal experience leads one to a conception of God as a force purely immanent in mankind, which can then be identified with the progress of the Marxist dialectic, or if one's experience leads to a Hindu or Buddhist conception of the soul as being reincarnated in many different lives, then that is "the locus of revelation" for you and other RENEW members who share that experience. Thus your "revelation" can depend on what is the latest thing you have read in some book or magazine, or your latest contact with some guru who embodies real "religion" for you.

Thus RENEW is an attempt to divorce Catholics from any objective content of truth received from God through Scripture and the Church, and to fill in the resulting vacuum with ersatz spiritualities - or with Marxism presented in pseudo-religious terms.

The fourth category of criticism speaks of paraliturgical services at meetings which form part of the RENEW process, in which there is a preoccupation with the Eucharist as a meal, and an attempt to imitate or parody the Mass by the sharing of bread and wine. This is done under circumstances which make it appear that this is all that the sacramental Eucharist itself consists of. Following are some remarks of the Doctrine Committee on this practice:

"(This) can lead to confusion about the essential nature of the Eucharistic Sacrifice ... Jesus seems to be present in the sharing rather than His Real Presence in the Eucharist ... There is no effort to distinguish between the two (i.e., the paraliturgical meal and the Eucharist) in the minds of some".

Although expressed diplomatically, what these observations mean is that Catholics at these paraliturgical services are being taught to ignore the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and to accept the Mass merely as a kind of symbolic rite for having people feel closer to one another. Here again RENEW implicitly denies the transcendent element in Catholicism - this time in the central act of Catholic worship - and puts in its place, some featureless and tasteless religiosity.

The chief objection which. can be made to the report of the Doctrine Committee is that there exists a very considerable gap - an abyss, one might say - between the radical nature of the errors in Catholic teaching and spirituality found in RIENEW, which the comrnittee has clearly identified, and the committee's final recommandation. This is put under the heading, "Suggestions for Further Development". Actually, further development along the lines which RENEW has pursued can only lead to more widespread corruption, so the term "development" is an unfortunate one to use. What the Doctrine Committee is saying, of course, is that the RENEW program can be patched up to make it accord with Catholic teaching. In fact, if the criticisms of the Doctrine Committee are to be taken seriously, there is simply no way in which this fundamentally erroneous and heretical program can be mended. It should be scrapped completely before it does any further harm.

A pretense at correction

Furthermore, the authors of this program, to whom this task of patching and mending no doubt would be given, are thoroughly untrustworthy in making anything correspond to, Catholic teaching. The Gospel tells us that: "where a man's treasure, is, there also is his heart", and the heart of the authors of the RENEW program is certainly not with the Catholic Faith. In this "process" for Catholic renewal which they have constructed, they have done all in their power to subvert and destroy what the Catholic Faith means and what it stands for.

 



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