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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Archbishop Sheehan "Threatens" Cohabitating Catholics

At least that's how the National Catholic Distorter spins it, when in actuality, Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan's pastoral letter concerning cohabitation is compassionate, direct and forthright on the teaching of the Church.

Apparently, treating adults as adults; by appealing to truths rather than emotions; by relying on the teaching of the Church independent of people's "experiences"; by focusing on people's eternal salvation rather than temporary happiness - such approaches are considered threats. That's how Heidi Schlumpf sees it:
A letter from Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe on the topic of marriage, divorce and cohabitation was read all Masses this past weekend. It reaffirmed parts of church teaching about marriage and laid down the law for those not following it, namely those who live together without getting married, or those in civil unions, whether married previously or not. He counseled the divorced to seek annulments, but said others should be banned from the sacraments and other parish participation, including serving as godparents.


I wonder if Sheehan will widen his rule against "sinning godparents" to include other sins?

And, having just finished teaching a college course on "Persuasion," I'm struck how un-persuasive this letter is. But then I wonder if that is its purpose. It seems Sheehan has no real interest in persuading or teaching, but rather only punishing those who disagree with him. Oh, and making those who already agree with him happy for "laying down the law." I think we'll see a lot of that in response to this letter.

Heidi quotes only 3 bullet points (which I excluded in my cut-and-paste) from the 2 page letter. Based on her remarks, you'd think Archbishop Sheehan has already ordered his hooded minions to commence oiling the hinges on the Iron Maidens and greasing the gears on the racks. Any reasonable person who reads the entire letter will see that the archbishop is indeed teaching his flock here - that there are consequences to sinful actions; that they may be ignorant of the spiritual danger in which they live; that Catholics who are cohabiting, or married through a mere "civil union", or married after a divorce without an annulment are in an objective state of mortal sin (I'm wondering if "grave sin" would have been more appropriate, given that 3 conditions must be met for a grave sin to be mortal, but I digress).

I'm not sure "persuasion" is the proper approach for a bishop to take in this case. It's not as if he's trying to convince someone to buy a fuel-efficient coupe over a gas-guzzling SUV. Did Christ actively try to "persuade" people? I don't remember Him trying to "persuade" those who left after his Bread of Life discourse in John 6. They made up their minds, and they left Him. Archbishop Sheehan is modeling Christ here: here's the Truth, as presented by the Church - if you accept it, that's great. If you don't, here are the consequences.

Archbishop Sheehan's letter is a call for repentance, to amend these situations so that such persons will begin to live in accordance with God's will, and thus be pleasing to Him, and open to receiving great graces. He reminds the priests in his archdiocese to preach on "the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage". To me, it seems that he's trying to strengthen the house by rebuilding the foundation - that the best remedy against the onslaught of same-sex marriage is a strong understanding and commitment to Christian marriage. To me, Archbishop Sheehan is helping his flock find and stay on the narrow road. What could be more pastoral than that?

But that's not how Schlumpf and the NCR view it - they see such letters as attacks, as dictates of discipline. It's probably projection on their part more than anything else.

I hope more bishops follow Sheehan's lead. Clear, compassionate teaching is the key that unlocks the cell door of sin. Sheehan isn't locking the prison door on these people - he's offering them the key to unlock it and free themselves.

Here's the link to Archbishop Sheehan's letter.

I'm interested to hear from any readers from the Santa Fe archdiocese.