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May 1988

The distinguished New Zealand theologian provides in very clear outline a summary of the many and dangerous errors contained in the booklet Renew - an Overview (Paulist Press, Ramsey, New Jersey, USA), which Father Duggan has submitted to searching analysis.

What's Wrong with RENEW


Those in charge of the RENEW programme have published an outline, Renew - an Overview, of the programme. To see what is wrong with RENEW it suffices to read this 52-page outline carefully.

1. The programme makes no attempt to expound the teaching of the Church on faith and morals.

Thus on p. 17: "RENEW has never attempted to be a catechetical experience".

On p. 23: "The groups have not assembled for formal discussion of Church teaching".

For the Holy Father, on the other hand, the first task of any programme of genuine renewal is "to deepen the knowledge of Catholic doctrine" (cf. Osservatore Romano, Feb. 11, 1985).

2. "In  Overview we find the heretical theory of revelation and faith that was condemned by Pope St. Pius X in 1907.

"For the Church, Christian revelation is that manifestation of the Divine mysteries that was made by Jesus Christ and committed by Him to His Church to be expounded by her till the end of time, and Catholic faith is the act by which a person accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church as the word of God that is addressed to him".

ln Overview, on the one hand, we read (p. 31) that "Experience is the place of revelation. In RENEW small groups are encouraged from the very beginning to tell their stories and theologize from that experience". Our task therefore according to Overview is (p. 14), "to find God in everyday experience". And again, we are told (p. 15): "Begin with your own experience. Look more deeply into this experience. Test your experience with our tradition …"

And again (p. 16): "That's what RENEW means. The entire process from experience to insights to a new-lifestyle... "

Notice that for RENEW the starting point of the process of conversion is not acceptance of the word of God brought to us by the Church, but our own experience.

It is therefore no surprise to find that for RENEW, as for the Modernists condemned by Pope St. Pius X, faith is not our response to the teaching of the Church but is something that wells up within us as the fruit of our religious experience. We read (p. 22): "More and more people are claiming faith in Jesus from the inside-out; what people are not experiencing as a given all round them they are discovering deep within them and the discovery is not limited to professional ministers".

3. RENEW's conception of the Church is Protestant.

We read (p. 18): "RENEW commits itself to a model of the church that is a community of disciples; a people of God who hear the good news, respond to it in specific action, celebrate the story and the promise in sacrament, life and mission in their day-to-day experiences ... Jesus is understood immanently in his concrete humanity and historicity, grassroots gatherings are seen as church by RENEW so long as they remain connected to the larger church; ministry arises out of the people and belongs to the people".

There is not a word in this description of the Church that would serve to differentiate it from the heretical notion of the Church that was developed by Luther and Calvin.

In particular, the notion that ministry in the Church comes from below is a specifically Calvinist idea.

For the Catholic, ministry comes from above, from God, being communicated by Him to the hierarchy.

There are several passages which suggest that RENEW wants to substitute, for the hierarchical Church which Christ founded another Church that would consist of the laity and of such individuals as they may choose as their delegates, to maintain good order and administer the sacraments.

We read (p. 42): "The fundamental order in the Church is the order of laity".

This contradicts the teaching of the Church, for she holds that the fundamental order in the Church is that which Christ established when he instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders, giving the Apostles and their successors the authority to govern and teach the faithful.

Again we, read (p. 46): "It is obvious to us that the Church is in the process of redefining ministry and leadership in our times. We have no idea where the Spirit of God is leading us, but we read the signs of the times… ."

This certainly seems to imply that the Church could be led by the Spirit of God to change her essential structures and adopt new ones, becoming a Protestant organisation along Presbyterian lines, with no hierarchy of Pope and bishops. It would be a Church in which the faithful would arrive at their understanding of Divine revelation by the private interpretation of Scriptures in the light of their experiences.

In such a Church, we are assured (p. 23), unity will be ensured not by submission to the authority of Pope and bishops, but "the communities of faith will be linked by the Spirit of God".

The history of Protestantism shows that such links do not suffice to bring about unity in faith.

RENEW looks forward to a new Church, with new structures and committed to the attainment of social justice as its primary task in the world. We read (p. 22): "The awareness of these groups of people banding together to develop Christian community causes many to believe that new structures are emerging to shape a church in change, a church moving with social trend… ."

This Church with new structures seems to resemble closely the "People's Church" that has come into being in Nicaragua in opposition to the Catholic Church that is governed by the hierarchy.

4. For RENEW the primary task of the Church in its relationship with the world is the attainment of social justice.

Overview quotes the statement of the 1971 Synod that action for social justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, and interprets "constitutive" as if it means "primary". It misquotes Matthew 6:13, as if Our Lord in urging us to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice was speaking of social justice, whereas it is certain that by "justice" He meant personal holiness.

5. RENEW would subordinate the individual completely to the community and subject him to excessive psychological pressures.

We read (p. 21): "In the 'Word made flesh' we experience the definitive revelation of who God is for us, the God who calls us to be for one another". And again (p. 22): "We discover ourselves, one another and the presence of God only in a community of others".

In the small groups where "people share their stories with others" (p. 17) matters will be revealed that should have been kept secret. Nor will it do to say that the other members of the group will "listen with gentleness and patience". This is a form of group dynamics or sensitivity training that is sometimes used by expert psychiatrists in psychiatric hospitals to cure the mentally ill. In the hands of amateurs the effects will often be disastrous.

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