November 21, 2023 Column Father De Celles

Very Confusing Times. Since my last column, two relatively small events have caused great consternation in the Church. Let’s look at both of these.

DDF Statement. The DDF responded to 5 questions submitted by a Brazilian Bishop, the most publicized being, “Can a transsexual be baptized?”

The DDF responded at length, but the first paragraph provides the basic answer:

“A transsexual—who had also undergone hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery-can receive baptism, under the same conditions as other believers, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal or disorientation among the faithful. In the case of children or adolescents with transgender issues, if well prepared and willing, they can receive Baptism.”

Now, the secular press and much of the Catholic press flashed headlines interpreting this to mean, as the New York Times reported:

“Pope Francis, who has made reaching out to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics a hallmark of his papacy, has made clear that transgender people can be baptized, serve as godparents and be witnesses at church weddings, furthering his vision of a more inclusive church….”

But the document makes no change at all in doctrine or practice if you read what is actually said. Focus on this: “can receive baptism, under the same conditions as other believers…” What are those “conditions”? Basically, they must accept the Catholic Faith and all it teaches, must repent all sins, and desire to live according to Catholic teachings. So if a person who is “transsexual” repents his (or her) sins of mutilating his body and denying his God-given sexual identity (God made them male and female) and resolves to live life according to that God-given sexual identity, then…yeah, like all repentant sinners who convert to Catholicism, they can be baptized.

So NOTHING NEW HERE! However, what is problematic is the DDF’s willingness to confuse the faithful and the world by not being clearer in the text and using the language of the Left, so that the text lends itself to being wrongly interpreted. As Cardinal Gerhard Muller points out in his comments about the DDF statement:

“It is confusing and harmful when the Magisterium relies on the terminology of a nihilistic and atheistic anthropology and thus seems to lend its untruthful content the status of a legitimate theological opinion in the Church. …Transhumanism in all its variations is a diabolical fiction and a sin against the personal dignity of human beings, even if in the form of transsexualism and terminologically spruced up as “self-determined gender reassignment…”

Bishop Strickland. Many are upset and even angry about this issue, which is being interpreted (in part) by many as a warning to priests and bishops who may be unhappy or confused with the current direction of the Vatican. So, excuse me for relying on what other people have said.

First, as The Pillar reported last week:

“In a canonically rare step, Pope Francis has removed Bishop Joseph Strickland as the Bishop of Tyler, Texas, the Vatican announced Saturday. The Holy See press office gave no reason for the decision…

Strickland, who at the age of 65 is 10 years below the customary retirement age for diocesan bishops, has been a vocal critic of the Church’s direction under Pope Francis, often expressing criticisms of the pope on social media.” 

Interview. Catholic News Agency reported on an exclusive Nov. 11 interview with LifeSiteNews:

“…. During the interview, Strickland also underscored that Pope Francis has the authority to remove him from diocesan governance and frequently encouraged those upset or confused by the development to pray for the pope and not to leave the Church.

“…. Strickland shared that he had been asked to resign on Nov. 9 but that he ‘couldn’t, of my will, abandon the flock that I’d been given.’ 

“…. When asked what was behind Pope Francis’ decision, Strickland said: ‘The only answer I have to that is because forces in the Church right now don’t want the truth of the Gospel.’ He added: ‘They want it changed. They want it ignored.’ 

“Strickland did not accuse Pope Francis of being part of this push to undermine Church teaching, but he did say that ‘many forces are working at him and influencing him to make these kinds of decisions.’ For those ‘forces,’ the bishop said, ‘I’m a problem,’ and so they pushed for the ‘removal of a bishop for standing with the Gospel.’

“Strickland …was likely alluding to his outspokenness and provocative statements on social media platforms and public speaking events. 

“For instance, Strickland tweeted on May 12 that he rejected what he called Pope Francis’ ‘program of undermining the deposit of faith’ …He has also repeatedly criticized the pope for a ‘dangerous’ lack of clarity in his statements, especially related to sexuality, and has been a vocal critic of Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality.’” 

Abuse of Authority? Recall that in August Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the following, when Strickland’s removal was still being discussed in Rome:

“Yes, what is being done to Bishop Strickland is terrible, an abuse of authority against the divine right of the episcopate…

“According to the commandment of justice, a bishop can only be deposed by the Pope if he is guilty of something bad (heresy, schism, apostasy, a crime or totally unpriestly behavior), for example …Blessing of people of both or the same sex in extramarital relationships.

“Arbitrary removal as bishop of a diocese in which a bishop is appointed by Christ Himself as its own shepherd undermines the authority of the Pope…

“The Pope has no authority from Christ to bully and intimidate good bishops, modeled on Christ the Good Shepherd, who sanctify, teach and lead the flock of God in the name of Christ in accordance with the episcopal ideal of Vatican II, just because they are false friends denounce these good bishops to Francis as enemies of the Pope …”

Other Bishops. The Pillar also had this to report from the meeting of all the US Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore this week:

“…a lot of bishops are talking about Strickland. And few sound pleased with how his removal was effected… They’ve noted that back in 2016, Pope Francis explicitly established a judicial process for dealing with bishops accused of causing harm… to their people. They argue that if Strickland was negligent in office… he should have been afforded a transparent, clear way of proceeding which would ensure his right of defense….

“Of course, the pope can remove Strickland by any process he wants …But he established a process for removing bishops precisely to afford them justice — and there’s a contingent of U.S. bishops very concerned about the fact that the pope didn’t use that process for Strickland

“…Indeed, numerous bishops… say that… the Vatican should have been considerably more transparent about the reasons for their decision.

“…These bishops say that in the absence of information, Strickland’s removal seems like an arbitrary and political decision, especially when bishops in other countries seem to go undisciplined even when they openly flout Catholic doctrine and discipline, or when the pope praises bishops accused of covering up abuse…”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles