Different answers from the same Church. Exception or the rule? In January of 2007, Catholic News Service reported the story as such:
“The [Italian] reporter made his false confessions to 24 different priests in five Italian cities, including Rome. The magazine said the idea was to see how priests handle difficult pastoral situations and whether they followed the strict norms laid out by church teaching. The reporter, for example, told two priests he was HIV-positive and wondered whether he should use a condom when having sexual relations with his girlfriend. One told him no, and the other said it was a question of conscience, the magazine reported. More than once, the magazine said, priests gave quite different advice on his supposed ‘sins,’ which included matters relating to homosexuality, divorce, stem-cell research, euthanasia and prostitution.”
What accounts for the lack of unity in the Church? Continue to read.
When you think of processed food, you might picture a conveyor belt in a factory where food products are made through mass production. Each food item is infallibly given the same ingredients, shape, size and packaging. By and large, no food item stands out apart from the rest. Governmental bureaucracies operate much the same way: one size fits all. But the problem is that human beings- their needs, their strengths, and their faults -do not neatly fit into the same category. This is especially the case as it pertains to their spiritual and moral life.
During the last five or six decades, religious education and spiritual formation programs within the Church have followed a pattern similar to food factories and governmental bureaucracies. Those who are earnestly seeking Christ and observing his laws are treated the same as those who believe and act in ways that are diametrically opposed to his will. This is made possible through a kind of “conveyor-belt education or formation process” whereby candidates entering the Church or Catholics who are being prepared to receive another sacrament are taught the truths of the Faith through lectures but are not required to live according to those truths. In other words, religious education and spiritual-moral formation are split; the mind is given information without the collaboration of the will through action. Because of these pastoral practices both Catholic clergy and laity have not been united in their message nor uniform in action as it pertains to their mission.
In the early Church there was an initiation process known as the Catechumenate; now it is known as the R.C.I.A. (Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults). There was a two-pronged approach to conversion that the Catechumenate took. The two prongs were religious education and spiritual formation. These two approaches were inseparable. This pastoral philosophy contributed to the early Church's success in her mission. But it also contributed to the strength of the Church itself. By transforming Christ-seekers into Christ-followers the unity of the Church was guaranteed. Bishops, priests, the religious, laity as well as dioceses and churches were on the same page in terms of belief and message. As St. Irenaeus (180 A.D.) said:
“But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these…” (Against Heresies, book III: chapter 3)
In the making of converts during the first several centuries of Christianity no variance or gap was allowed to exist between the education of the mind and the sanctification of the soul. Knowledge and virtue- ritual and morality- turning towards Christ and turning away from sin -had to proceed in tandem with one another. Candidates wishing to enter the Church or wishing to receive another sacrament were not only given instruction but they were called upon to associate with other Christians and expected to live the life of Christ both morally and spiritually. Furthermore, bishops, at that time, knew that, in some ways, the initiation process and preparation for the sacraments set the pace for the life of the Church.
Becoming a Christian was not like being educated in the conventional sense or even like being trained for a career trade. Sitting through lectures was deemed to be wholly inadequate because mere knowledge of the Gospel was inadequate. They needed more in order for them to live out their new life in Christ. What people had to be prepared for was an initiation into the mysteries of Christ; a sacred initiation that involved an infusion of a higher kind of life. To sustain such a divine life, human cooperation in thought, word and deed was essential.
To know about God is one thing; to know God is quite another. We are called not only to know Christ and to imitate him; we are also called to live his life. And living the life of Christ presupposes that the Holy Spirit is active and present in the soul. But that which obstructs his dwelling and work in the soul is deadly or mortal sin. Permitting a lifestyle that involves deadly sin (such as cohabitation, homosexual activity, contraception, or even missing Mass on a regular basis) to co-exist with any kind of religious process and expect good fruit come of this is a great illusion that afflicts many within the Church.
It was the fatal mistake of the pagan religions, a deep flaw even within pagan civilization itself, that piety and morality were often contrary to one another. Religious hypocrisy was a concept that was quite foreign to ancient pagans. To worship a pagan god and then turn around and commit a crime was not a social taboo. To put it simply, it wasn't a big deal. Indeed, the link between pagan religion and high standards of morality was weak, if not altogether non-existent. It was Christianity that effectively bridged the great divide between religious expression and morality in ancient civilization.
It must be emphasized that the early Christians understood better than we do that the most effective instrument of knowing God is holiness. As good as lectures are in Catholic venues, it can never replace holiness as a means of learning. At the very least, the attempt to be holy by observing all that Christ commanded was the bare minimum standard for becoming a follower of Christ.
In the early Church there was no such thing as “processed religion.” Candidates and members of the Church were not put on a conveyor belt whereby they passively received instruction regardless of the lifestyle they were living. Today, religious education, marriage-prep programs, and RCIA classes too often repeat the old pagan error. Catholics or "want-to-be Catholics" receive instruction in order to prepare themselves to receive grace but they are allowed to live in such a way which blocks that grace; in many cases, they live in what St. John the Apostle calls “deadly sin” (cf. I John 5:16).
As for St. Paul, he cautions the Corinthians- who, by the way, are active members of the Church -about losing their salvation. He said, “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 6:9-10) Yet, churches and dioceses prepare souls for the kingdom of God while allowing them to forfeit their inheritance through the same sins St. Paul mentions. This is one of the most blatant and yet harmful contradictions in world history. And to be sure, we suffer as individual believers and as a Church because of it.
For instance, today most marriage-prep programs in dioceses throughout America are attended by engaged couples who cohabitate. Very rarely are they required to repent from what St. Paul refers to as “fornication” as a condition of furthering their marriage-prep formation. In other words, they are being prepared to receive the graces of Holy Matrimony while behaving in a way that robs them of sanctifying grace. This pastoral practice neither prepares them for the demands of marriage or for the holiness required to enter into heaven. It is a great disservice.
This kind of processed religious practice- providing people religious instruction while being indifferent to behavior and lifestyle –has led to division and contradictions within the Mystical Body of Christ. Take for instance an Italian journalist who, unfortunately, committed a sacrilege by faking certain confessions to 24 different priests in order to demonstrate just how divided the Catholic clergy is on serious issues. No doubt, the way in which the reporter went about getting the information is by no means acceptable. Nevertheless, this worldly member of the media was able to expose the kind of division that has plagued the Catholic clergy for decades. In January of 2007, Catholic News Service reported the story as such:
“The reporter made his false confessions to 24 different priests in five Italian cities, including Rome. The magazine said the idea was to see how priests handle difficult pastoral situations and whether they followed the strict norms laid out by church teaching. The reporter, for example, told two priests he was HIV-positive and wondered whether he should use a condom when having sexual relations with his girlfriend. One told him no, and the other said it was a question of conscience, the magazine reported. More than once, the magazine said, priests gave quite different advice on his supposed ‘sins,’ which included matters relating to homosexuality, divorce, stem-cell research, euthanasia and prostitution.”
Naturally, the Vatican newspaper denounced the investigative work of the Italian journalist. But what is even more reprehensible is that the journalist was able to obtain the results he did. These different and contradictory directives given by priests to a so-called penitent in several confessional booths represents a universal problem in the Church; a problem which, no doubt, undermines her mission to win souls for Christ. A union of minds, a uniformity of action and speaking with one voice are absolutely essential in communicating the truth of the Gospel to a divided world. But this unity can only be guaranteed when we do away with processed religion; that is, by closing the gap between religious instruction and spiritual-moral formation!