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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pacheco

ll Gaillardetz’s Glitter is Not Gold (Part 3)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

This is the 3rd part off a 3 part critique of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz’s theological views. I have provided my response below to Dr. Gaillardetz’s letter to the CCCB. His remarks are in blue.

I am accused of telling Catholics to follow their consciences on matters of artificial contraception. Ultimately, of course, all genuine moral action demands that we engage our consciences, but matters are not that simple. In fact, in my book on marriage I spent 3 ½ pages defending the church’s position on contraception, after which I also suggested that no one should question the sincerity of those who struggle with the Church’s teaching and I briefly summarized their views as well. However, I then concluded with the following statement:

For Roman Catholics, the teaching of Humanae vitae is authoritative and ought not be dismissed or ignored. Catholics must make a good faith effort to embrace the official teaching of the church, and they should insure that if they have difficulties with this teaching, these difficulties do not stem from either an inadequate understanding of the church’s teaching or an unwillingness to live according to the often demanding norms of Christian life. (90).

A website called, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned readers of his book, A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Marriage. Some time ago, the book was reviewed by the Bishops’ site and stated: Several points may disturb some readers. 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. (Source)

Why did the USSCB make this assessment, if Dr. Gaillardetz’s views are clear and consistent with the Church’s teaching? Why have other credible and competent sources made the same complaint about him, like Dr. Lawrence Welch, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick School of Theology? Do we all misunderstand him? Perhaps the problem is not with our understanding, but with Dr. Gaillardetz’s ability to communicate clearly and completely. Dr. Fastiggi, for instance, makes these critiques of Dr. Gaillardetz’s book, By What Authority: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful (The Liturgical Press, 2003):

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.

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. (Source) Indeed, if you read Dr. Gaillardetz’s response above carefully, you will notice that although he encourages couples to “make a good faith effort to embrace the official teaching of the Church” on the issue of contraception, he does not state that the contraceptive act is intrinsically wrong or evil. He does not teach that contraception is absolutely prohibited everywhere to everyone in all circumstances, as Humane Vitae does. On the contrary, he implies that if a couple cannot follow the teaching, then it does not separate the couple from the Church:

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.” (A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful, p.125). Once again, although he might be technically right about “the couple not separating from the Communion”, he does not qualify that statement by also stating that the couple is engaging in a mortal sin and their salvation is at risk. In fact, many of Dr. Gaillardetz’s positions follow this kind of road: it’s not what he says (which may be technically true); it’s what he doesn’t say when he should that causes the problem. This is particularly objectionable considering the controversial subjects he engages which require a full, transparent, and complete elucidation of the Church’s position. His omissions are, quite frankly, scandalous and dangerous to unknowledgeable Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Then again, to be fair to Dr. Gaillardetz, he does have episcopal company in his views: It is a fact that a certain number of Catholics, although admittedly subject to the teaching of the encyclical, find it either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine..Since they are not denying any point of divine and Catholic faith nor rejecting the teaching authority of the Church, these Catholics should not be considered or consider themselves, shut off from the body of the faithful. (Winnipeg Statement, 17) At key points your blogger relies on an even more misleading document that has been floating around the internet for several years. In some cases the blatant misrepresentation of my views by the author of that document can only be seen as intentional and malicious. There was no maliciousness in Dr. Fastiggi’s critique. It was completely professional. For example, it is suggested that I agree with Hans Küng in his rejection of Vatican I’s teaching on papal infallibility. Anyone who fairly reads my work would have to come to the opposite conclusion, namely that I thought Küng was fundamentally mistaken in his understanding of the teaching of Vatican I. However, so that there may be no doubt, let me say without reservation that I firmly embrace as a dogma of the church everything that Vatican I taught in Pastor Aeternus and that Vatican II reasserted regarding the infallibility of the pope in Lumen Gentium # 25. Elsewhere the author warns that I deny that there are any solemnly defined dogmas that pertain to morals. That is true, but the key to my position is found in the words “solemnly defined.” I have clearly affirmed that there are dogmas that pertain to morality that were taught by the ordinary universal magisterium and I cite Pope John Paul II in Evangelium vitae, where he concludes that the condemnation of abortion and euthanasia qualify as non‐defined dogmas.

This is what Dr. Fastiggi wrote: 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.” (Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (The Liturgical Press, 1997). Since Dr. Fastiggi highlighted this point in his critique, it stands to reason that Dr. Gaillardetz did not subsequently clarify in his book (at least in a sufficient fashion) that there are indeed binding moral dogmas even though they have not been “solemnly defined”. Once again, as I have pointed out above, Dr. Gaillardetz fails to say what he should, but instead leaves the reader believing that his view on moral teaching, as Dr. Fastiggi says, “could suggest that there are no infallible moral judgements of the Magisterium.” Dr. Gaillardetz should be more diligent in his writings so as to not to leave an impression that he likes to “fill in the blank” only when and if necessary. The author also attacks me for citing the work of suspect theologians like Charles Curran and Joseph Fuchs. I do draw on specific contributions they have made; doing so must never be construed, however, as a sweeping statement of support for all of their positions. Even dissenting theologians can offer insight and it is only the ignorant who refuse to entertain any of the views of theologians whose positions may be problematic regarding a particular topic.

It is not a matter of simply drawing on specific contributions of dissident theologians; it is a matter of not distancing himself in endorsing their work: 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. (Ibid.) And speaking of dissenting theologians, in the acknowledgements to his book, Witnesses to the Faith: Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops(Paulist Press, 1992), he thanks his mentor, Fr. Thomas O’Meara, O.P. and Professor Richard McBrien, among others. Why does Dr. Gaillardetz not mention his renowned mentor Dominican Father Thomas O’Meara in his letter to Msgr. Weisgerber? I’ll tell you why. Because Father O’Meara is a liberal and an advocate for women priests:

The priest said it is hard to argue that women should not have public roles because the Holy Spirit doesn’t discriminate on the basis of biology. “The other thing is if you look at Jesus’ teaching, it’s about how everyone has access to the kingdom of God. You don’t have to be born into the right tribe or the right race to enter the kingdom of God. “Everybody has access to the kingdom of heaven and indeed the disenfranchised and the marginalized often get to enter first. Now, if everybody can enter the kingdom of heaven, then how is it that the public roles in the Church are not available to women?” he asked, adding that excluding women is a pre-Christian practice. “If everybody can enter the kingdom of heaven, it is very hard to imagine that half the human race wouldn’t have any public roles. “That’s what we have to discuss when it comes to the ordination of women, not whether there were any women among the 12 Apostles.” (Source) And as for Richard McBrien? Well. There’s not much that needs to be said that hasn’t been said already.

If Dr. Gaillardetz wants to be taken seriously as a Catholic theologian, he should be careful about associating with notorious dissenters and open heretics, and including their names in the acknowledgement section of his books.

To continue my rebuttal would require a much longer document. I hope that what I have said here will suffice to reassure you that I am a faithful Catholic theologian who fully embraces the teaching office of the pope and bishops. No. You are not a faithful theologian. You are a theologian who is in open dissent from the Magisterium of the Church on the nature of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, by your own admission. And many of your other views are seriously deficient and in need of correction. If further testimony regarding my theological standing is needed, I would invite you to contact two respected Canadian theologians with whom I have worked extensively, Prof. Catherine Clifford of St. Paul’s in Ottawa and Prof. Margaret O’Gara of the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Other bishops with whom I have worked in the US who I trust would testify to my good standing would include my own bishop, Leonard Blair, Cardinal Roger Mahoney (Los Angeles), Bishop William Skylstad (Spokane, past president of the USCCB) Bishop Donald Trautman (Erie), Bishop Victor Galeone (St. Augustine), Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (Cincinnati), Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza (now retired, Galveston‐Houston, past president of the USCCB), Archbishop Elden Curtis (now retired, Omaha) and Bishop Robert McManus (Worcester). Finally, the pastor of my own parish, Fr. James Bacik, himself an accomplished theologian, would be happy to discuss my standing with you. To practice theology is something different than to practice catechetics; the task of the theologian will at times stand in a fruitful and constructive tension with the task of the magisterium, but both play important, albeit quite different, roles in the life of the Church. A theologian’s work must at times be critical—critical of certain theological trajectories, critical of certain ecclesiastical structures and practices, even critical of certain doctrinal formulations (distinguished from the substance of the deposit of faith)—but this critical role must be undertaken within the context of a real humility before the mystery of the revelation of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ and a genuine respect for the teaching office of the Church. I strive in all that I do to maintain the requisite humility and respect. If there is anything else I might be able to offer you to help resolve any lingering issues, please let me know. Sincerely, Richard R. Gaillardetz, Ph.D. Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies University of Toledo

Dr. Gaillardetz certainly has listed some good (and not so good) bishops in his list. I question if many of them have really examined Dr. Gaillardetz’s opinions on these subjects. I very much doubt that Bishop Victor Galeone (a solid bishop), for instance, would not be rather disturbed by Dr. Gaillardetz’s open dissent against the binding and infallible nature of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Perhaps we should ask the good bishop what he thinks about it? And as for Dr. Gaillardetz’s own bishop’s endorsement, while we can’t say what his opinion of Dr. Gaillardetz’s views are in respect of women priests or contraception, we do know that Dr. Gaillardetz incurred a stern rebuke from his own bishop on the issue of abortion no less:

Lest Mr. Gaillardetz’s teaching position and self-identification as a Catholic create any misunderstandings,” he writes, “it should be pointed out that his opinions regarding the issue of abortion, and Roe vs. Wade in particular, do not reflect the clear and consistent moral position of the United States Catholic bishops.” (Source)

If Dr. Gaillardetz truly believes in what the Catholic Church teaches, let him come forth and affirm the following statements:

1) Contraception is intrinsically evil in all places, at all times and in all circumstances. It is absolutely prohibited, admitting of no exceptions.

2) The inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood as taught in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis has been definitively taught as infallible doctrine by the ordinary, universal magisterium of the Church.

3) An article of faith can never become tentative and is not dependent on “controversy” or the apostacy of the faithful or bishops who are not united with the Pope.

Unless Dr. Gaillardetz can submit to these beliefs (and many others to be mentioned at variance with his current theology), he cannot claim to be a faithful theologian, whatever his mandatum might say.

Let him accept with Christian docility and humility the solemn and infallible teaching of Holy Mother Church and her subsequent confirmation of that teaching “to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen” by his dissent. Let him also be reminded that he is first a son of the Church and Her solemn Magisterium and not Her teacher. And finally, let him reflect carefully on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading where Our Lord warns his disciples that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

If he cannot accept it, then let the Church rise to correct him. As for the rest of us, we’ve been rightly educated to the old maxim: all that glitters is not gold.

John Pacheco

October 4, 2009

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