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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pacheco

All Gaillardetz’s Glitter is Not Gold (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

As Socon or Bust readers know, sometime ago the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to my criticisms of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz by inviting the Professor to justify his positions to the CCCB. You can read his letter to Archbishop James Weisgerber here. My initial posting on this controversy was merely a collection of internet news stories and critiques of Dr. Gaillardetz’s troubling positions on issues where Catholics are not permitted to disagree or dissent. My follow-up blog post interacted directly with Dr. Gaillardetz’s critical view of the authorative status of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter prohibiting women in the priesthood. I have provided my response below to Dr. Gaillardetz’s letter to the CCCB. His remarks are in blue. September 25th, 2009

Dear Archbishop Weisgerber,

Thank you for calling to my attention the concerns that have been raised by at least one Canadian critic regarding my participation in your upcoming plenary meeting. This situation reminds me of one of the most unfortunate features of our U.S. process for approving Supreme Court nominees, namely that any candidate who has a “paper trail,” leaves him or herself open to a very selective marshalling of isolated texts for the purpose of creating an ideological caricature.

An isolated text is one thing. Dozens of documented departures are quite another. The original critique was made by Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Professor of Systematic Theology of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He is a scholar of impeccable credentials and his fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church is unquestionable. He read three of Gaillardetz’s books and found many problematic positions. There have also been a variety of complaints from other theologians, Catholic organizations, the USCCB, and even his own bishop. Over the course of my career I have authored seven books and over 100 articles on a wide variety of topics oriented toward very different audiences. Consequently, it is very easy for a person to selectively cite isolated passages from my work in order to create a distorted portrait of widespread dissent.

Whether Gaillardetz has written seven books or seventy books matters very little to determining whether he holds firm to the Catholic faith. His unorthodox positions have been correctly assessed, as he himself unwittingly concedes in this letter to Archbishop Weisgerber, and which will be come evident by the end of this analysis. Let me make a few introductory clarifications regarding my ecclesiastical standing in the U.S. Church. First and foremost, as a condition of my ten year appointment at the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas (1991‐2001), I received a mandatum from Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza. According to the U.S. norms for the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the mandatum is “portable” unless explicitly revoked and there has been no attempt by my current bishop to revoke it. I was appointed by the USCCB as a Catholic delegate on our national Catholic‐United Methodist ecumenical dialogue and I served on that dialogue for the entire five‐year round in 2000‐2005. Br. Jeffrey Gros, who staffed that dialogue for the five year term would be happy, I believe, to comment on the character of my participation as would Bishop William Skylstad who served as the first of several chairs of our dialogue team. I have served as a consultor to the conference’s sub‐committee on marriage and family and in the fall of 2008 I was invited by Bishop Skylstad to give a one day workshop to the bishops and religious superiors of the Northwest United States on the topic of church and culture. I have given clergy conferences and/or spoken at diocesan pastoral conferences, with the approval of the appropriate local (arch)bishops, in the (arch)dioceses of St. Augustine, San Antonio, Sacramento, Salinas, Galveston‐Houston, Omaha, Dallas, Lafayette, Richmond, Worcester, Wilmington, Cheyenne, Kansas City‐St. Joseph, Albuquerque, St. Cloud, Detroit, Lansing and Los Angeles. I have addressed seminarians at Oblate School of Theology (San Antonio), St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo (California), the Catholic Theological Union (Chicago), the Washington Theological Union and St. Meinrad’s Seminary in Indiana. I have given a three day workshop to the Canadian Redemptorists and a two day workshop for the U.S. Southern Province of the Dominicans.

None of this is particularly relevant to the questions surrounding Dr. Gaillardetz’s doctrinal positions. No one is disputing that Dr. Gaillardetz is well known and well travelled. No one is disputing that he serves in official capacities in the Church. While his qualifications might be tangentially relevant to the issues at hand, they do not address the specific issues themselves. Be that as it may, I will be commenting on some of the curious omissions in Dr. Gaillardetz’s accomplishments above. We’ll return to this later. Turning now to the concerns raised on the internet blog to which you drew my attention, let me say that a point by point rebuttal of the many accusations would be long and tiresome. Instead, I would like to make some selective responses, and a few unambiguous affirmations that I hope will reassure any within your conference who may have questions regarding my standing as a Catholic theologian. Fair enough. Let’s get to it.

2) The blogger reports that I have offered some public criticisms of the Holy Father’s actions with regard to the four Lefebvrite bishops whose excommunications were revoked. This is true, but I would hasten to add that I am hardly alone in such criticisms, indeed many of the Holy Father’s most ardent supporters, including Cardinal Schönborn, have offered similar criticisms. Members of the Vatican have themselves since admitted that they did not foresee all of the consequences of their actions. It is our duty as Catholics to always show respect to the Holy Father, the universal pastor of the Church. Surely, however, one can show due respect while also questioning certain prudential actions taken by the pope and/or Vatican staff. The Church’s teaching on papal infallibility does not extend to the realm of papal prudential judgment.

While it may be very well true that Catholics may question certain prudential actions taken by the Pope, there is a very high bar to reach before that can be done with appropriate deference and justice. Firstly, the Church is not ultimately concerned with matters of an historical opinion but rather matters of faith. The holocaust is an historical question. One may have an opinion on how many Jews were terminated. It is an academic question and does not concern the Catholic faith or morality, per se, unless of course it is accompanied by truly anti-semitic beliefs. Secondly, and most importantly, it is not that Dr. Gaillardetz questioned the Pope’s prudential actions that is at issue, but that he did so in a scandalous and brute fashion regarding a matter which was legitimately debatable (i.e. lifting the excommunication on the SSPX bishops):

“As a Catholic, there is nothing that prevents me from saying this was an abysmal decision,” said Richard Gaillardetz, a professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo in Ohio. “John Paul II was the master of the symbolic gesture in many ways. He had a keen sense of the symbolic gesture that would send a larger message. Benedict doesn’t have that or think that way. In Benedict’s own mind, he is addressing certain issues that have a theological and doctrinal logic to them. And he doesn’t think about or consider … the larger consequences of his actions.” (Source)

Is this the kind of speaker that the Canadian Bishops invite to their assemblies? A theologian who says the Pope doesn’t consider the “larger consequences of his actions”? I can hardly imagine a more shameless insult and unwarranted attack on the competency and ability of the Pope from one of the Church’s theologians. In response to the scandalous attacks on the Pope by some bishops, the Pope showed his sadness “that even Catholics attacked him with open hostility” (Source). Indeed. And just what kind of message are the Canadian Bishops sending out in accepting such a speaker? That it is OK to tell the Pope that he is myopic? Dr. Gaillardetz may indeed have a mandatum, but surely it cannot give him license to patronize the Holy Father in such a condescending manner. Or perhaps, given Dr. Gaillardetz’s very lofty and hyperbolic views of the importance of theologians in the Church, he thinks that it can. One way or another, we shall see in October if such an absolute mandatum gives Dr. Gaillardetz a free pass at the CCCB’s Plenary Session. I was indeed a member of President Obama’s Catholic advisory board. I served on that board as the result of a carefully considered prudential judgment, in which, having considered the broad range of Catholic social teaching, I concluded, that (then) Senator Obama was the candidate whose views were most likely to further central Catholic convictions across a broad range of issues. I did not support President Obama’s position on abortion and when I was asked to be on his advisory board, I made it clear to his senior staff that, were I appointed to the board, I would continue to voice my opposition to the senator on that issue. I was told that such criticism would be welcomed and indeed it was. Several of us on the advisory board called time and again for a change in Senator Obama’s positions, and we were, I believe, successful in at least moderating his views. This was evident in his recent address to Congress when he asserted that no federal dollars would go to fund abortions and promised to preserve conscience clauses for health care workers. These positions were much debated within his campaign prior to his election and I truly believe that the careful arguments made by our Catholic advisory board to his senior staff played at least a small role in the moderation of his position. Of course other Catholics may believe that my prudential judgment to support Obama was in error, but this judgment did not constitute a break with the Church’s doctrinal teaching in any way.

The fact that Dr. Gaillardetz is a member of Obama’s Catholic Advisory Board alone should disqualify him from addressing the Canadian bishops. While Dr. Gaillardetz is busy nuancing himself to support the most radical pro-abortion, anti-family politician in the United States and giving Obama the illusion of Catholic legitimacy (a scandal in itself, by the way) , his own bishops were reminding him that Catholics could not give honour to pro-abortion politicians:

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Catholics in Political Life“, 2004)

How does Dr. Gaillardetz reconcile these two diametically opposing positions? Does he really believe he is not honouring and giving Catholic credence to the President by sitting on his largely pro-abortion advisory board? Just what kind of gymnastics is this? I am accused of suggesting that an article of faith can become “tentative” if it becomes “controversial.” The blogger has grossly distorted my position and frankly, I am not sure that he really understands the technical nuances of the topic I was treating. What I have held is that if there is an article of faith taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium that becomes controversial, it may be necessary for its dogmatic status to be asserted in a more self‐evident manner, namely by way of solemn definition by either pope or council. Do I believe that the resurrection of the body is a dogma? Of course I do, and I make a profession to that effect at every Sunday Eucharist! However, the belief in the bodily resurrection has never been solemnly defined, but rather has been infallibly taught by the ordinary universal magisterium (the subject of my dissertation and first book!). Were it to be widely challenged, I would expect the pope or a council to clarify its dogmatic status by way of a solemn definition. Consider Vatican I. I would contend that the infallibility of the pope had already been held as an article of faith by the universal church, but the council felt it opportune to clarify any misunderstandings by way of a solemn definition. This is all very well and good, but I assure Dr. Gaillardetz that I have carefully read his position and, like one of his opponents on this question, Dr. Lawrence Welch, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick School of Theology in St. Louis, I reject it. The reader will quickly realize that I did not distort Dr. Gaillardetz’s view at all. Here is Welch’s revelation regarding Dr. Gaillardetz’s views:

This touches, too, on a question I posed with regard to Gaillardetz’s work and his response to me. I disagreed with Gaillardetz’s argument “that in the face of controversy, the determination of the authoritative status of any teaching not solemnly defined can only be pursued tentatively.” (16) I objected that what if in some time in the future the resurrection of the body became controversial would we really be justified in saying that its definitive and infallible status would be only tentative because it had become controversial? Gaillardetz answers provocatively “Yes” arguing that there would need to be a demonstration of the diachronic and synchronic unity of the episcopate; or there would need to be a public consultation of bishops; or even an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium, conciliar or papal, in a solemn definition. (Source)

Dr. Gaillardetz’s views are a radical departure from the faith and even from common sense. Simply because an article of faith becomes “controversial” does not make it “tentative”. During the Arian crisis in the early Church, for instance, did the articles in the Nicene creed become “tentative” because there was a subsequent controversy? Of course not! What became tentative was the bishops’ faith not the article of faith itself. The tentativeness has to do with an individual’s faith (even a bishop’s) and not the teaching of the Church. What’s the wider problem with Dr. Gaillardetz’s views? Consider the issue of contraception and women’s ordination. These issues are even well below “solemn definition” status according to Gaillardetz. They are also controversial in our day. So now unless the Pope comes out and makes a solemn definition, these teachings are now “tentative” because they are “controversial”. (Presumably, teachings below a solemn definition status would also become tentative if they became controversial). And if they are tentative, they are not certain, and if they are not certain, then perhaps they can be overruled by individual conscience. See, folks? This is the fruit and logic of Dr. Gaillardetz’s positions. And they must be roundly condemned and rebuked with vigour.

John Pacheco,

October 4, 2009

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