Not for My Marriage

As most of our readers probably know, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting this week in Baltimore. CUF president Mike Sullivan is representing us at the meeting, and will be providing updates and insights as he is able.

There are several interesting items up for discussion at this year’s fall meeting, including the ever controversial faith and politics document, as well as new curriculum guidelines for high school catechesis and chastity education.

An item that immediately caught my attention was ”For Your Marriage,” the U.S. bishops’ new public awareness and marriage education campaign.  

Now I realize some might equate the bishops’ conference saying that they’re starting a program to support marriages with a federal agent saying “I’m with the government and I’m here to help.” Yet, I am well aware of the good work being done by the marriage and family committee of the USCCB, so I took the time to browse through the campaign website at

And the site has some very good features, including sound Church teaching and some interesting, useful articles on a range of marriage-related topics. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t find an explanation of the intrinsic sinfulness of contraception. Maybe I just missed it. I hope that’s the case. Humanae Vitae is listed among other Church documents related to marriage, but even its brief description doesn’t mention the “C” word:  ”The authoritative encyclical of Pope Paul VI reconfirming the church’s teaching on the purposes of married love, the gift of fertility, and responsible parenthood.”

More of a concern to me were some of the recommended resources. Nothing outrageously bad, but the selections and omissions of some titles concerned me. For example, in the list of the four main books recommended for couples preparing for marriage, the first title was by Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, who is known for pushing the “liberal envelope” in his lectures and writings. The other three titles I hadn’t heard of–one title was actually about how to avoid marrying a jerk. I’m not kidding! Where was that book when my wife needed it?

Seriously, though, as I browsed through the site, I had some real criticisms and concerns. At the same time, there’s plenty there to be affirmed and built upon. And so I pray that this marriage initiative succeeds in carrying out its mission as described by Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville:

“More than ever, in the spirit of Christ’s call and through the example of the Holy Family, we must renew our commitment to spouses and families and inspire those around us to do likewise. Our initiative provides couples with the spiritual and practical tools they need to overcome real-life obstacles, live a committed life and, as a family, be an example for others.”    

7 responses

  1. As an addendum, two readers have written me to express their serious concern that the U.S. bishops are recommending the work of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz on the new “For Your Marriage” website.

    One reader noted that in a generally positive review of Dr. Gaillardetz’ book “A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Marriage” appearing in the “book of the month” section on the “For Your Marriage” site, the reviewer noted some problematic features:

    “Several points may disturb some readers. Gaillardetz draws upon Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body yet offers gentle criticism. After admonishing couples to embrace church teaching on family planning through sound understanding and surrender to the rigorous demands of Christianity, he notes that a couple who still ‘cannot discover in (magisterial teaching) God’s will’ can follow their consciences. While he says most ‘domestic churches’ are constituted by marriage and include children, he includes under that term other households.”

    The other reader provided a review of select titles of Dr. Gaillardetz authored by Dr. Robert Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit three years ago. He has given us permission to provide the substance of his critique. It is detailed, but those who thought I might have been a little nit-picky about mentioning Dr. Gaillardetz in my initial post might find the following especially illuminating:

    FROM: Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. Professor of Systematic Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI
    RE: Writings of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Toldeo
    Sent to an interested party (whose identity cannot be revealed) in 2004

    I wish to apologize for the delay in getting back to about the writings of Richard Gaillardetz. I wanted to read through two of his earlier works before reviewing the book you sent. I have also ordered a copy of his most recent book, A Daring Promise, on the sacrament of matrimony (and I will send my observations on that text soon). I am grateful to Dr. Lawrence Welch, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick School of Theology in St. Louis, for alerting me to a problem in this new book, viz., the advice to couples to “follow their conscience” if they cannot embrace the Church’s teaching on contraception.”

    Before I begin my review of various writings, I wish to thank you again for asking me to conduct this research. I have benefited from this inquiry as it has helped me understand how certain Magisterial texts, taken out of context, can be used to justify some questionable theses. Dr. Gaillardetz is an intelligent man, and he is familiar with many primary sources of the Church. There are, however, some problems that emerge. These I will try to substantiate in the following review of three books of his.

    A) Witnesses to the Faith: Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops (Paulist Press, 1992). This book is a revision of Gaillardetz’s doctoral thesis completed at the University of Notre Dame. In the acknowledgements, he thanks his mentor, Fr. Thomas O’Meara, O.P., along with Professors Richard McBrien, Richard McCormick and Lawrence Cunningham. There are several points to note:

    p. 28. Pope Pius IX’s 1863 letter, Tuas Libenter to the archbishop of Munich-Freising is cited to support the thesis that “the universal and constant consent of Catholic theologians” is needed to establish a teaching of “the ordinary teaching power of the whole Church spread throughout the whole world as divinely revealed” (Denz-Hün. *2879). Gaillardetz writes: “In fact, based on the wording of the papal brief, it would seem legitimate to conclude that where there is no universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians the infallibility of a teaching of the ordinary Magisterium might itself be called into question.” Thus, Gaillardetz attempts to have the consensus of the theologians as the determining factor for the discernment of the infallibility of the universal ordinary Magisterium. In the actual text, however, Pius IX’s teaches that an act of divine faith is not limited to what has been defined by express decrees of ecumenical councils or Popes but also “to those matters which are handed on as divinely revealed by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world and, therefore, are held, by the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians, as belonging to the faith” (ideoque universali et constanti consensu a catholicis theologis ad fidem pertinire retinentur). The Latin, ideoque, in this context means “and therefore” or “and for that reason” or “and on that account.” It indicates that the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians follows as a result of the universal and ordinary teaching of the Magisterium.

    p. 33. Gaillardetz attempts to explain Pius IX’s “increasing concentration of ecclesiastical power in Rome” to an “apocalyptic vision” that attached “too much weight to prophecies and other manifestations of the miraculous.” This strikes me as a way of downplaying the role of the Holy Spirit in the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I.

    p.143. Mention is made of the “reception” of a teaching by the faithful and by theologians as a “sign” of its infallibility. While it is true that the faithful and theologians should receive infallible teachings as infallible, Gaillardetz seems to suggest that this “reception” is the way by which we can determine that the teaching is infallible.

    p. 169. In presenting Lumen gentium, 12 as the model for the infallibility of the sensus fidelium, Gaillardetz leaves out the phrase “guided by the sacred Magisterium, and obeying it” from the text. This seems to be a significant omission.

    B) Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (The Liturgical Press, 1997).

    p. 110. Gaillardetz asserts: “there are no solemnly defined dogmas that pertain to morals.” This statement, though, could suggest that there are no infallible moral judgments of the Magisterium. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, *2035, the infallibility of the Church “extends as far as does the deposit of divine revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.”

    pp. 111-114. On these pages, Gaillardetz explicitly endorses the moral theology of Josef Fuchs that claims there are no definitive or infallible concrete moral norms because of “changing moral contexts and empirical data” (p. 113). As is well-known, John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis splendor (1993) was intended as a refutation of the proportionalism of Fuchs and others. In no. 79-83, the Pope articulates the constant Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of certain concrete acts or categories of acts.

    p. 117. Gaillardetz states that definitive doctrines of the Church “cannot attain the central position granted to the Church’s core dogmatic teachings.” This ignores what is noted by the 1998 Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio Fidei’ issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, viz., that certain definitive doctrines might develop to the point where the teaching could be defined to be believed as divinely revealed (no.11).

    p. 120. Gaillardetz casts doubt on the number of ecumenical councils as being 21.

    p. 122. Gaillardetz again suggests that concrete moral norms cannot be infallible or definitive but rather remain on the level of “nondefinitve, authoritative doctrine.”

    p. 123. Fr. Charles Curran is cited as an authoritative source on moral theology.

    p. 149. Gaillardetz endorses, in part, Hans Küng’s analysis of infallibility. He writes: “Küng rightly criticizes the linguistic impossibility of infallible propositions –human formulations that are immune from error.” If this position were taken to its logical conclusion, we could not recite the Creed on Sundays with confidence that it is immune from error.

    p. 154. Gaillardetz states that: “the infallibility of the Church’s teaching office is ordered toward bringing to normative and prepositional expression what is infallibly believed by the whole people of God.” While this can, at times, be true, it could suggest that the Magisterium can only teach infallibly when there is a clear consensus fidelium. If this were the case, there would not have been a firm basis for the condemnation of Arianism at Nicea I and Constantinople I.

    pp. 198-199. Doubts are again raised over the number of ecumenical councils as 21. An appeal is made to the distinction between “general” and “ecumenical” councils. As evidence for this distinction, reference is made to Paul VI’s 1974 letter that refers to Lyons II as the sixth of the general synods celebrated in the West. A careful reading of Catholic sources does not support the distinction between “general” and “ecumenical” noted by Gaillardetz. St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542-1621) refers to ecumenical councils as “concilia generalia” in De Conciliis et Ecclesia. “General” is from a Latin root and “ecumenical” is from a Greek root. Thus, in the Latin Systematic Index of Denzinger-Schönmetzer, general councils are equated with ecumenical councils. In H 1cc of the Index we read: “Concilium generale s. oecumenicum repraesentat universam Ecclesiam.” In Denzinger-Hünermann (37th ed., 1991) the same identity is found in H 3cc of the Index, both in German (Ein allgemeines bzw. ökumenisches Konzil) and Italian (Un concilio generale o ecumenico). It also seems incredible that Paul VI would wish to question the number of ecumenical councils as 21. After all, he was present at the ceremonies marking the close of Vatican II. At that time, three Cardinals read this statement: “At this solemn moment, we, the Fathers of the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church…[emphasis mine]” (cf. Documents of Vatican II, Abbott, ed, p. 729).

    p. 204. In describing the historical origins of the doctrine of papal infallibility, Gaillardetz bypasses Scripture and begins with Ignatius of Antioch. According to him, it seems as if the Petrine texts of the Gospel have little bearing on the subject.

    p. 221. Gaillardetz states that the process of verifying whether a teaching has been taught infallibly “will generally be undertaken by theologians.” This gives the impression that when the bishops or the Pope proclaim a teaching as infallible, they must wait for the theologians to verify whether the teaching is indeed infallible.

    p. 235. Gaillaredtz suggests that the “non-reception” of Humanae vitae by many Catholics could be a manifestation of the sensus fidelium at work. Once again, he seems to look to the “reception” of a teaching as the indication of its truth. This position undercuts the authority of the ecclesia docens.

    p. 263. Gaillardetz states that: “the obstinate denial of a definitive doctrine would not necessarily place one outside the Roman Catholic communion.” However, the 1998 CDF Commentary on the Professio Fidei notes that whoever denies such definitive teachings “would be in a position of rejecting Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church” (no. 6).

    p. 268. Gaillardetz appeals to Fr. Richard McCormick for his understanding of what is meant by a religious obsequium of intellect and will to authoritative doctrines. According to McCormick, obsequium means a “docile personal attempt to assimilate the teaching, an attempt that can end in ‘inability to assimilate’ (dissent).” What is missing is Lumen Gentium, 25’s own understanding of obsequium as sincerely adhering to such teachings of the Pope “according to his manifest mind and will.” How can one sincerely adhere to a teaching while dissenting from it?

    pp. 269-270. Gaillardetz tries to defend the possibility of “legitimate dissent” and he suggests that such “legitimate dissent itself may be a manifestation of the Spirit in bringing the whole Church to truth” (p. 270). There does not seem to be any serious attempt to discuss the dangers of dissent according to the 1990 instruction On The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian of the CDF.

    C) By What Authority: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful (The Liturgical Press, 2003).

    p. xi of the Preface. Gaillardetz states that: “Where one might speak of the Bible, the creed or a pope as possessing authority, this authority in fact resides in the relationship between the community of faith, the Bible, the creed or the pope.” While there is some truth to the idea that authority is relational, there is also the danger here of obscuring the divine source of the authority possessed by the Pope and the bishops.

    p. 2. (and elsewhere in the book) Gaillardetz uses C.E. (common era) instead of A.D. He also states on this page that by the year 100 there were “no universally recognized episcopal structures.” This could imply that Christ did not establish the episcopacy. Yet, according to Vatican II, Christ willed that the successors of the apostles “should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world” (Lumen Gentium, 18).

    p. 7. (and elsewhere) Gaillardetz shows an unwillingness to speak of God as “He.” Thus, he speaks of how “God must communicate God’s self to us.”

    p. 8. Gaillardetz writes: “In the Eucharist, Christ is encountered in a manner that we speak of as ‘real’ and sacramental but not physical.” This contradicts the teaching of Paul VI expressed in Mysterium Fidei (1965) that, in the Eucharist, “Christ, whole and entire, in his physical ‘reality’ is bodily present, although not in the same way as bodies are present in a given place.”
    p. 38. Gaillardetz still gives the impression that number of books in the canon of scripture is an open question in spite of the clear pronouncement of Trent on the subject (cf. Denz.-H * 1502).

    p. 72. Gaillardetz raises questions about the propriety of having titular bishops. He does this within the context of a disputed question, but it shows a lack of appreciation of the sacred power of the episcopal office.

    p. 88. In the disputed questions, Gaillardetz raises doubts about the definitive and infallible status of the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994).

    p. 96. He limits infallibility to “matters pertaining to our salvation.” The tradition phrase, though, is “matters of faith and morals.”

    p. 102. Gaillardetz again raises doubts about the Magisterium’s ability to make definitive judgments on “specific moral teachings.” With respect to contraception, he suggests that the Church’s teaching might depend too much “on empirical data subject to change (e.g. embryological studies of what transpires in the earliest stages of contraception).” This is a strange observation since embryology would concern itself with human beings already conceived not with contraception.

    p. 103. In spite of the 1995 Responsum ad Dubium of the CDF on the definitive, infallible status of the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Gaillardetz still presents the matter as open to dispute since “some scholars have found the arguments put forward by the CDF unconvincing.”

    pp. 113-115. Gaillardetz again presents his ambiguous theology of reception as a reliable criterion determining the authoritative status of Magisterial teachings.

    p. 125. Gaillardetz seems to claim that a Catholic can, in good conscience, come to a decision to cohabitate before marriage or use contraception as long as her or she has given serious study and attention to the issue. In such a case, as he says, “I have done all the Church can ask of me and my inability to give an internal assent to this teaching does not in any way separate me from the Roman Catholic communion.” This strikes me as a very dangerous position to take.

    p. 129. He asserts that the determination of the authoritative status of a church teaching is a responsibility that has been traditionally given to the community of theologians (in “good standing”). Of course, bishops often consult theologians, but the teaching office belongs to the bishops not the theologians.

    pp. 130-131. The impression is given that a decision by a woman to have a “tubal ligation” is not a serious violation of a moral norm, especially when compared to more central dogmas like the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

    132. In the disputed questions section, Gaillardetz describes the language of the 1998 CDF Commentary on the Professio Fidei as “ambiguous at best.” This reveals a lack of respect towards the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    I hope these comments are of some use. I have also copied some recent articles by Gaillardetz. I will read these carefully and send you my comments soon. May Jesus and His all-holy Mother bless and guide you. Thank you again for entrusting me with this research.

    In Corde Iesu,

    Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D.

  2. Thanks for this comment, Todd. As I noted, I was hoping that I was wrong about this.

    At the same time, I found nothing on contraception under marriage preparation, so I went to the “For Every Couple” section, and under that heading I went to the subsection on “Issues Facing Couples.” There I found a lot of good discussion, but nothing on contraception. I diligently looked for several minutes, but missed the page you located.

    Also, the mere existence of this page doesn’t remedy all of the significant problems with the site, including even the concern about the paucity of clear teaching on contraception. Assuming that the page you located is “the” page on contraception, it’s disappointing that there is no mention therein that contraception is a serious sin. As the CCC (no. 2370)says, it is intrinsically evil.

    This point, it seems to me, is very significant, especially when the site at the time gives top billing to Dr. Gaillardetz’ book, which basically says that if you don’t agree with the Church, no problem, just “follow your conscience.”

    I don’t think this is what the bishops’ committee intended, and I expect all this will be remedied.

  3. A recent newspaper report also noted that at the present Bishops’ Conference there was praise for the works of Dr. Richard Gailliardetz. This is certainly surprising as noted by various Catholics as in the critique by Dr. Robert Fastiggi. But there is more that casts into doubt the value of Dr. Gailliardetz’ theological work. I recall an article by a student-admirer of Dr. Gaillardetz which praised him for his non-judgmental stance on homosexual practice. He was exceedingly “nuanced”, as they say nowadays. He gave both sides of the question, the biblical view which declared homosexual vice an abomination and that which drew from the biological, psychological and social sciences to regard sodomy as natural to those with that orientation and not to be judged adversely. Dr. Gailliardetz’ personal view? Why, he simply gave scholarly pros and cons on the matter, and did not declare what was the teaching of the Church! He would not give his own opinion. The girl attending his class lecture found the presentation scholarly and admirable and left the class with not a clue as to what the Catholic Church as the “Teacher of Truth” and the voice of Christ in the modern world actually teaches!

    Yet more. It cannot be emphasized enough the harm that has been caused by such books as Gailliardetz’ “Witnesses to the Faith: Comunity, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church”. He reveals himself as the follower of other dissenter theologians such as Fr. Richard McBrien, Fr. Richard McCormick, S.J., Lawrence Cunningham and Joseph Fuchs in undermining the moral/sexual teaching of the Church by rejecting the Church’s doctrine that there are indeed definitive and infallible concrete norms which are binding on the consciences of the faithful. This pernicious teaching is based on the prior conviction that there is no Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church in the moral teaching held by Pope and Bishops and thus there can be no certainty regarding the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, euthanasia and other moral matters. What Gailliardetz teaches as a “theologian” admired even by some bishops is, in fact, rampant among those teaching moral theology in our so-called Catholic Universities and colleges.. It would be myopic to deny what every informed Catholic knows concerning the deplorable state of religious education in our higher educational institutions where “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” has yet to be enforced. There is a certain irony that those seeking to understand the causes of the clergy sexual abuse which has occupied the present and past U.S. Bishops’ Conferences and so scandalized the ordinary faithful–have turned a blind eye to the writings of many of the dissenting theologians active in the Church who only echo the writings of Fr. Charles E. Curran (still a “priest in good standing”?) that have subverted Catholic doctrine and helped entrench dissent and disobedience in parishes and dioceses.

    But Dr. Galliardietz is only one of the legion of dissenting theologians and religious educators who have effectively served to weaken fidelity to the Magisterium and to fuel dissent and disobedience in the Church with the consequent moral “filth and corruption” of clerical homosexuality and paeophilia which Cardinal Ratzinger bemoaned shortly before assuming the Supreme Pontificate. I am not the only layman who wonders why the matter of dissent in the Church has not been a major matter of discussion in our Bishops’ November Conference. Why is this when the Church in the U.S. has never been under such attack from within its own educational institutions? Even the document prepared to deal with Politics, Conscience and Citizenship and intended to give moral guidance to the laity will not even address the question of dissenting pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion, the “sacrament of unity.”

  4. A P.S. on “Holy Things to the Holy” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). It may be interesting to CUF readers to recall what the great Greek Father of the Church had to say concerning worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. It is of particular interest as Bishops deal with the problem of dissenters receiving Holy Communion as “good Catholics.”

    “I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickeness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth-you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not?

    “God has honored you with the dignity of priesthoood, that you might discern these things. This is not to say that you should go about clothed in a white and shining vestment; but this is your office; this, your safety; this your whole crown.

    “You ask how you should know which individual is unworthy to receive? I am speaking here not of some unknown sinner, but of a notorious one. If someone who is not a disciple, through ignorance, comes to Communion, do not be afraid to forbid him. Fear God, not man. If you fear man, you will be scorned and laughed at even by him; but if you fear God, you will be an object of respect even to men. But if you cannot do it, bring that sinner to me, for I will not allow anyone to dare do these things. I would give up my life rather than give the Lord’s Blood to the unworthy.

    “If, however, a sinful person receives Communion, and you did not know his character, you are not to blame, however. I say the things above concerning only those who sin openly. For if we amend these, God will speedily reveal to us the unknown also; but if we let these flagrant abuses continue, how can we expect Him to make manifest those that are hidden? I say these things, not to repel sinners or cut them off, but I say it in order that we may being them to repentance, and bring them back, so that we may take care of them. For thus we shall both please God and lead many to receive worthily. And for our own diligence, and for our care for others, we will receive a great reward. May we attain that reward by the grace and love that God gives to man through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, world without end. Amen.”

    –St. John Chrysostom, the “Golden Mouth”, Archbishop of Constantinople, Homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist.”

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