When Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising celebrated Mass last month with the rainbow flag draped in front of the altar to celebrate 20 years of ‘queer worship’ at St. Paul’s Parish Church, he apologized for the Church’s supposed decades of discrimination against gay people – and confirmed for many what they wondered about him: that he is a heretic for his radical push to overturn the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. In an interview after the event, Cardinal Marx added fuel to the fire when he said that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was “not carved in stone” and that Catholics had the right “to doubt what he was saying”.
Although Cardinal Marx is obviously wrong with regard to homosexual activity, his comments on the Catechism can help clarify the relationship between heresy, pedagogy and the purpose of catechisms.
Germans rarely beat around the bush when it comes to controversy and conquestand Cardinal Marx’s explicit comments plunged the synodal explorations of the German bishops even further down the progressive rabbit hole in their push for the acceptance and affirmation of what the Catholic Church has taught and applied for centuries regarding sexual morality.
“Cardinal Marx has left the Catholic faith,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas said on Twitter. “He needs to be honest and officially resign.” Many Catholics are whispering and shouting the same thing: that Cardinal Marx’s heterodox support for homosexual lifestyles has made him a heretic, since his positions which reject Church teaching regarding sexual acts outside the marriage and in a homosexual context are a rejection of the position of Church authority.
When we have, it’s sad to say, a Catholic cardinal who calls Catholics Catechism a working document that would have to be adapted to include the smiling negations of nature which the Church has always repudiated in charity, there is certainly something like heresy in the air. Catholics are bound to believe in the principles transmitted and revealed by God and guarded by the magisterium of the Church. The doctrines of faith and morals that the Church receives and retains are non-negotiable. Even those on which the Church has no definite position should be viewed with godly submission.
Pope Saint John Paul II wrote that the Catechism is an expression of Church teaching, calling it “a statement of the faith of the Church and of Catholic doctrine, attested or informed by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church ” and “a valid and legitimate instrument of ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. John Paul made it clear that the Catechism is a text that can be absolutely relied upon to teach and understand the Catholic faith, making it an authentic reference and exposition for the magisterial doctrine of the Catholic Church. It also makes it a text of truth that Catholics are obligated to hold and believe.
Even so, the Catechism is not above questions or criticismbut such inquiries should not dispute What the Catechism teaches but rather How? ‘Or’ What that teaches it. the Catechism is, after all, for catechesis, and as such it may not convey what the Church has established, but that does not affect the holy tradition of truth which underlies it. While the Catechism is not a working document, nor of divine inspiration.
the pedagogy from Catechismis therefore not beyond the reach of the bishops, theologians or scholars concerned, but principles from Catechism are actually set in stone. Doctrine can and does grow with understanding. But the truth cannot change, and any catechetical concern that results in respectful and even reverential questions about the meaning of Catechism text does not constitute a break with the magisterium of the Church. If, however, such questioning is direct and dismissive, a threshold of sin is tempted if not crossed.
To return to Cardinal Marx, he is not entirely wrong when he says that the Catechism is not immutable, but its words are deceptive. It misses the point Catechism purpose, just as he missed the whole point when he said in that same interview, “There are people who live in an intimate love relationship that is sexually expressed. Are we really going to say that it is worthless? Of course, there are people who want to see sexuality limited to procreation, but what do they say to people who cannot have children? the Catechism communicates what the Church commands, and although the forms of communication may hopefully change to better reflect the order, the principle – in this case, openness to life in the sexual act – is etched in stone.
the Catechism may not be set in stone, but it is certainly a teaching of things that are also set in stone as were the first ten laws of God. What is said of a stone may change, but that does not change the motionless reality in question, and the Catechism is an articulation of doctrine, matters of faith and morals that are eternal. But society has been so attached to redefining and rejecting the principles of nature for so long that it was only a matter of time before this trend found its way into the Church. Nothing is more sacred, except nothing is more sacred, and it seems that the German bishops have taken their chosen banner and are leading a charge.
Cardinal Marx abandons his duty to support and preserve the teachings of the Church by inciting a form of rebellion in this matter of sexuality, morality and natural complementarity. It undermines the authority of the Church when it demands that the Church change its teaching to something that is immutable and consistent with created order and biblical witness. He opposes with considerable obstinacy the truths that the Church has consecrated.
And this is where Marx appears as a heretic. A heretic – and there have been many well-meaning heretics and complicated heresies over the centuries – is a baptized Catholic who adamantly rejects a divine truth held by the Faith of the Church even when his error is pointed out by legitimate authority. It is difficult, however, to bring the term “heretic” to this situation without official correction from the Holy See. But we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for Pope Francis to sanction one of Europe’s most influential bishops, who is also a member of his own Council of Cardinal Counselors and president of the Vatican Council for the Economy. It is also a delicate matter to decide when and where belief in divine teaching and truth begins and ends; and there is a formal process for this carried out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Until the scandal of Cardinal Marx and the German bishops is taken up in these official channels, Catholics should cling to the Catechism and don’t be afraid to speak with measure against even a misguided cardinal. We remember the incident at Antioch in Galatians when St. Paul opposed St. Peter “in the face” for not being “straight to the truth of the gospel”. Cardinal Marx says that Catechism is not beyond correction, and while we might agree with this statement given the proper qualifications, we might also add that a cardinal is not beyond correction either, especially when he is not forthright about the truth of the Church.
Communion with the Church is based on faith, sacramental life and hierarchy, and it is up to the pope alone to judge whether there has been a break in these dedications. Until he does – and we all know how much Pope Francis likes to judge when it comes to homosexuality – it is not for any Catholic to proclaim. Even Bishop Strickland’s comment, as reasonable and fair as it seems, could say more than it should and could even be interpreted as breaking communion itself as potentially destabilizing for subsidiarity within the hierarchy. from the church.
Cardinals, bishops and priests are free to express their opinions within the bounds of reason and religion, and especially to exhort and rebuke their fellow shepherds when appropriate, and we can follow the spirit of this as lay people. But to call a man, be he a cardinal or your next door neighbor, a heretic is a matter of serious weight and ecclesiastical consequence and not for the general populace to assume or fret.
No Catholic cardinal should apologize for the teaching of the Church, although he may apologize if there has been a failure to make the teaching of the Church explicit or to exercise the love that the Catechism teaches us to give by desiring perfection for another. As long as we strive to do so, we will do what we can to prevent breaches in the Church. Despite what Cardinal Marx thinks and says about discrimination and exclusivity, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the most universally inclusive institution in the world, and that is a truth set in stone.