Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The French Road Heresy Factory

Sr. Patricia Schoelles is the President of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, located along the French Road side of the Nazareth College campus. In addition to her administrative duties she also teaches a course entitled Contemporary Moral Theology.

Until a little over 4 years ago Sr. Pat also had a regular column in the Catholic Courier. Many of her columns were controversial and sparked a number of critical Letters to the Editor.

Homosexual Sex Isn't Sinful?

For example, in Debate on sexual behavior needs thoughtful approach (July 3, 2003), Sr. Pat wrote,

"My experience indicates that for some, the need is to condemn sex between couples of the same sex, even if the relationship is one of commitment and fidelity. For others, the need is for everyone, churches included, to overcome homophobia, the fear and hatred of gays and lesbians."

Later on she added,

"Some theologians recently have suggested that for [the Catholic Church] ... there may be a need to recognize not one norm governing sexual behavior, but two ... It may be that a set of standards for gay sex needs to be developed."

She concluded with,

"We can become a polarized, absolutist society, or, in my terms, we can 'get real.' The choice is ours."

Without actually coming out and saying it, Sr. Pat's point here seems to be that the Church needs to radically rethink her teaching on homosexual sex. Sr. Pat would seem to have us believe that the Church is merely putting her own homophobia on public display when she teaches that "'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."

And when the Church adds, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity," Sr. Pat would have us merely see another example of the Church refusing to "get real."

Finally, when Jesus tells us, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)," Sr. Pat would most likely tell us that he didn't intend for his term “anyone” to apply to those with homosexual orientations.

Just What Is Sin, Anyway?

A few weeks later Sr. Pat published Sin reflects a state of life, not an act (September 4, 2003). Here her target was not one particular sin, but the whole concept of sin itself. She wrote,

"One of the flaws of Catholic catechetical teaching has been that we tend to reduce sin to a matter of externals. We associate sin with breaking a rule, violating a law, transgressing some taboo against particular acts or actions. In truth, however, the Catholic tradition has always taught that 'sin' involves God ... sin involves a destruction of our relationship with God. God is at the core of sin, not rule violations."

For the life of me I just cannot see how one destroys one's relationship with God without "rule violations." Doesn't the Church tell us that sin is "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law," and that sin "is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become 'like gods?'" That sure sounds like rule-breaking to me.

But Sr. Pat really grabbed my attention when she wrote,

"Sin is less about individual pieces of behavior, individual acts, as it is a matter of 'being,' or a condition of the whole person."

She went on to speak in glowing terms of the claim by Protestant theologian Dorothee Solle that

"When the tradition says that sin is the destruction of our relationship with God, it doesn't mean individual 'sins' but rather a general condition, the destruction of our capacity for relatedness."

This is, of course, totally contrary to Church teaching: "To choose deliberately - that is, both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death."

As at least one critic has pointed out, this is nothing more that a rehash of a false theory of sin called "Fundamental Option." It was condemned in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. More recently (1984) Pope John Paul II wrote, "care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of 'fundamental option' ... For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered."

The pope concluded his teaching on the subject by stating that "[T]he church ... has a duty to remind all scholars ... of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world."


Sr. Pat retired her column shortly after these two pieces appeared. She continues to teach her Contemporary Moral Theology course, however, and a friend who took that course during the 2006-07 academic year tells me that Sr. Pat is still promoting the Fundamental Option theory of sin. On hearing this, a second friend "renamed" St. Bernard's and I have borrowed his new name for the title of this post.

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