FutureCatholic? USCCB Chairman on Doctrine Offers Case In Point

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In our article Answering FutureCatholic, we sought to depict what it might sound like if a devout Catholic living today were faced with the prospect of a future wherein the Church’s constant prohibition of the intrinsic evil of abortion had been so relativized even among the hierarchy, that it had begotten an era in which this evil had become regarded as a good, or simply disregarded altogether.

After running that article, a reader in Indiana shared with us an interview given by the new Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

The interview sounds for all the world like FutureCatholic, Part II.

While we commend Bishop Rhoades in being one of the few American bishops to take public action against clerical sex abuse in his diocese, his remarks in this interview warrant careful consideration; after all, offenses against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments are less grievous than violations of the First.


After being asked “Is it a sin for Catholics to join in non-Catholic worship services?” at 24:05, Bishop Rhoades offers a number of directives that have become fairly standard since the Second Vatican Council. While reminding Catholics of the prohibition against receiving non-Catholic sacraments (although it remains unclear what would qualify as such, or what their reception would entail), he goes on to assure Catholics that they may:

  • Participate in Protestant worship, “in the singing and the praying”
  • Participate in “ecumenical” worship
  • Participate in Jewish temple or synagogue worship
  • Participate in non-Christian worship; but not “to a deity we don’t believe in”

To restate Rhoades’ directives in the classical categories: Catholics are welcome to participate in the rites of heretics, schismatics, Jews and other infidels; provided that there is a “believable” deity involved (the criteria or determining body for discerning such a deity being uncertain) and no false sacraments are received (the nature of these or their reception remaining likewise unclear).

domazxrw4aa2faeComing from a bishop in a significant doctrinal role for the United States, one would expect these statements to have some grounding in the constant and uniform teaching of the Church; for they involve not only moral questions (what to do) but also a number of critical underlying doctrines (what to believe), e.g. that worship is man’s principle duty in the natural order and by grace, that worship can be either true or false, and that true worship is retained in the Catholic Church alone.

Yet even a cursory review of Scripture and Tradition lends no support to the Bishop’s directives. Instead, they stand clearly and consistently condemned by the same, at least until a certain fuzziness appears around 1962. Limiting oneself to only a few magisterial *pronouncements on the point, the discontinuity is still rather jarring:

  • “No one shall pray in common with heretics and schismatics” –Synod of Laodicea, 363
  • “No one must either pray or sing psalms with heretics” –Council of Carthage, 397
  • “Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, who has prayed with heretics be excommunicated” –Apostolic Canons, c. 450
  • “If any cleric or layman shall enter into a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray, let the former be deposed and the latter be excommunicated” –Ibid.
  • “If anyone refuses to avoid heretics after they have been pointed out by the Church, let them also be excommunicated” –Council of Lateran IV, 1215
  • “Heretics and those stained with some taint of heresy, or Judaizers, are to be totally excluded from the company of Christ’s faithful” –Council of Lateran V, 1512
  • “It is illicit to invite heretics into choir during sacred services, to sing alternately with them, to give them peace, sacred ashes, candles and blessed palms, and other such tokens of external worship” –Cong. of the Holy Office, 1859
  • “It is not licit for Catholics to attend or take part in an active way in non-catholic ceremonies” –Canon Law, 1917
  • “In all these meetings and conferences, any communication whatsoever in worship must be avoided” –Cong. of the Holy Office, 1949


To distill a bit further, one could hazard an illustration:

If one gathered the bishops of the first nineteen centuries in a room together with Bishop Rhoades, and asked the group whether it is sinful to actively participate in non-Catholic worship (with or without fake sacraments), every bishop would respond “Yes,” with the exception of the USCCB’s current Doctrine Committee Chairman.

Of course, that lone voice of dissent could stand for any number of bishops since the Second Vatican Council; and this is precisely the problem.

Either Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, eminent schoolmen, bishops, popes, and a cornucopia of councils, canons, and catechisms spanning one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-sixty-odd years taught something false in this regard, or else something “just went away” in recent decades that must be regained.

To the predictable claim of a deeper understanding of this constant moral prohibition, one might respond: Would anyone seriously maintain this as a case of some historical narrowmindedness, blessedly overcome in the hippie generation? A kind of psychological complex shared by Our Lord (cf. Mt 18; Jn 4), his chosen Apostles (cf. Rom 16; 2 Jn 1), and their successors after Pentecost (cf. a brief survey here) – until the “new pentecost” of Vatican II freed us from such provincialism in worship?

Framed a bit more theologically: was this constant prohibition of acts lately endorsed by many bishops simply a matter of contingent Church discipline, subject to prudential adjustment by lawful authority in accord with “new” times and circumstances?

The Church says no, this is a matter of moral precept:

“Joining in heretic and schismatic worship is universally prohibited by natural and divine law, from which no one has the power to dispense, and which nothing excuses.” (Cong. for the Propagation of the Faith, 1729)

But wait a minute:

Matters of natural and divine law are forever binding; they cannot evolve into their contraries. Such are divine commands founded upon underlying divine truths, dogmatic facts revealed by God. They cannot change, because He cannot change.


This can only mean that we already live in a period where an exceptionless moral norm is left unobserved, even amid the highest ranks of the clergy. In fact, many among the Catholic hierarchy have for decades been in the practice of openly violating it on a regular basis, and instructing others in the same. Could this be a major cause of the ecclesiastical sickness in which we are presently immersed? The experience of the early Church certainly comes to mind, e.g. 1 Cor 11:30…

Of course one might argue that clerics seldom do and teach as much with malice… it’s likely that few of them even consider it. But is this a comfort?

Wake up, FutureCatholic…

As Hilary White recently stated so well, the New Paradigm has never sought to “replace this or that old idea with a new one, but to make it impossible for the old ideas to be there in the first place, to erase the mental space for old ideas.”

Thus, it is perhaps worth stating the question again:

If participating in non-Catholic (i.e., false) worship – perennially held as an intrinsically evil act – can now be regarded as permissible under certain circumstances, then why not adultery? Sodomy? Abortion? Such sins would be infinitely less offensive to God.

Legitimizing such sins in practice is precisely what the New Paradigm is about these days, as the novel shine of false worship (or “deficient” worship, to borrow the Reformer of the Reform’s favorite descriptor) wears off with the postconciliar haze.

But alas, barring the miraculous, we suspect that far worse is yet to come for Catholic sanctuaries; and as long as the Novus Ordo remains acceptable in principle as an additional “form” or “use” of the one Roman Rite, there can be no cohesive argument against such wickedness.

After all, New Paradigms have a habit of becoming outdated rather quickly.


Our next Clarion Catechisms installment will address this same topic of communicatio in sacris. The old catechisms have a good deal to say on this score, and with striking relevance to our own time. Stay tuned!

*Formatting adjustments were made for easier reading. Context and citations here.

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