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Sunday, February 15, 2009



Turns out one of them is "deeply disappointed in the current re-emphasis on Indulgences ..." because it is "the latest in a series of restorationist efforts to roll back the joyful renewal accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65."

Yes, it's horrible. Why, the current Enchiridion of Indulgences
was released in 1968, in fulfillment of the 1967 Apostolic Constitution on the Doctrine of Indulgences issued by Pope Paul VI. And we all know that Pope Paul VI was an unyielding opponent of Vatican II.


I am just saying, they better be careful because one day they may have wanted that little extra "help" from someone willing to perform it on their behalf. I am just saying.


What caught my attention was the extent to which the NYT weighted the debate towards those who were supportive of the development with indulgences. Given that a secular news source isn't reporting with confessional commitments, it seems reasonable enough that they would share with the public views of both support and critique for something like this. What's impressive is how much space they gave to supportive views. It's not as if they've misrepresented the matter- they're just reporting on peoples' responses to it. And they're not even doing so in a way that conveys an untruth such as, "No one in their right mind is or could ever by supportive of Benedict's reform".

On the professor who was critical of the development on indulgences, I don't know if I'd call it quite a "joke". The Church isn't a monolothic institution where everyone agrees about the reforms and structures best suited for the ministry of the Gospel. For goodness sake, the man is at least citing a prominent interpretation of conciliar precedent. It's not as if he's trying to sabotage anything. This is a disagreement in ecclesial vision. It's not a joke, nor is it treason or heresy (to stem the expected response, yes I realize that you didn't call it treason or heresy).

If we can't even process disagreement amongst Church leaders, teachers, and laity without laughing it off as a joke, I don't see how we can get any constructive work done. People seem so nervous and trigger happy these days that they readily snipe at anyone who voices any sort of concern or challenge.

There are uses for these genres of discourse after all, aren't there? Presumably the bishops argue and toss around contradictory ideas before arriving at a resolution that seems good to the Spirit and to them? Presumably the Curia did, before hammering out this reform? Is it the public voicing of this opinion that makes it a joke? Is it the presumed lack of respect for Church authority that you seem to read into Swidler's thoughts? Or simply the disagreement with the sitting pope on what Vatican II meant for the Church? Any way I try to wrap my mind around your description of this piece, I can't justify dismissing it as a "joke", even given the fact that Swidler is wrong. Can't he just be a constructive voice with which you disagree?


For goodness sake, the man is at least citing a prominent interpretation of conciliar precedent.

The current norms for indulgences come from Pope Paul VI, the Pope who presided over the completion of the council. They where put into place after the council. The current Enchiridion of Indulgences was put together and published after the council.

In his Apostolic Constitution on the Doctrine of Indulgences, Pope Paul VI says, "Holy Mother Church has then deemed it fitting, in order to give greater dignity and esteem to the use of indulgences, to introduce some innovations into her discipline of indulgences and has accordingly ordered the issuance of new norms." One of these innovations was doing away with tying indulgences to some set period of time, valuing them at x number of days. In other words, doing away with the "quantification" the professor so decries. This is a concrete demonstration that the professor does not know what he is talking about.

The "prominent interpretation of conciliar precedent" the professor cites is so at odds with reality that it causes one to laugh at the absurdity of it all. That is why the professor's piece, and the interpretation that he cites in it, is a joke. It is not a dismissal, but rather and accurate classification.

Gail F

I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on the NYT site. Always a charming experience. What is with people?

I liked Allen's response (an actual response, not in the combox) -- this is a harmless revival and not a cause for alarm.


Most church parishes have very nice booklets that you can use when you attend a Lenten Way of the Cross. I think nearly every one I've ever seen has a nice description of the plenary indulgence that can be gained contained within the booklet.

When I see an article and some Catholics show surprise about a "return" of indulgences, I really wonder how that can be. And does no one know about the indulgence for the reciting of the rosary as a family?

It's heart breaking.

Carl E. Olson

Evan: I also was struck that The New York Times ran mostly positive remarks about indulgences. I would have expected that the newspaper might have had some negative comments from non-Catholics. In which case, I would have understood, even while disagreeing.

Brendon has already expressed very well part of the reason that Swidler's comments are a joke. Swidler demonstrates no understanding of the true history of indulgences following Vatican II when he writes, "It appears as the latest in a series of restorationist efforts to roll back the joyful renewal accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65." He wrongly sees indulgences as some sort of negative, oppressive teaching; he wrongly implies that the Council somehow did away with indulgences. He suggests that they have reintroduced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, apparently unaware of Paul VI's apostolic constitution. He dismissively refers to indulgences as indicative of "medieval thinking," displaying the sort of chronological snobbery and "progressive" arrogance all too common among such "experts."

Finally, his Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church appears to be a typical dissenting, "progressive" group, as evidenced by statements such as these (from the group's website):

"But injustice in the Church has not yet ceased. We blatantly discriminate against over half of humanity by continuing to insist that God can be properly addressed as Father but not as Mother and that biology makes the daughters of Eve unsuitable for representing God in relation to humanity and for serving as public representatives of humanity before God. Women are second class citizens in the official Church."

"Hence, the goals of ARCC are: To institutionalize a collegial and egalitarian understanding of Church in which decision-making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind. We are Church!"

The site, not surprisingly, agitates for women's ordination. In addition, the site contains essays portraying Pope Benedict XVI as an extremist. One essay states: "... Wojtyla and Ratzinger were similar in many ways – arrogant, narrow Catholics, authoritarian, intolerant, convinced of their absolute rightness, xenophobic..." And so forth and so on.

You ask: "Can't he just be a constructive voice with which you disagree?" I don't see how a Professor of Catholic Thought who misrepresents, denounces and attacks Catholic doctrine while personally attacking, in infantile fashion, the last two Popes, is up to much that can be called "constructive." To answer your question, I don't think he is a "constructive voice" (quite the contrary), but I happily disagree with him.


To be clear, I think we all agree in disagreeing with Swidler. Perhaps academia has corrupted me insofar as I'm willing to learn from those with whom I disagree and point out where they're wrong when necessary, all without simply calling it a "joke". Not because I don't take the matter seriously, but precisely because I do and so I'd rather engage a bit more substantially (as Carl and Brendon have in the comments section). My point was simply that Swidler speaks at least from a coherent tradition of liberalism that has gained traction amongst some Catholics since Vatican II, and I think he passes the threshold for "worthy of a full response", if for no other reason than the fact that some other people think the way he does. I figured you would get that, as someone who has some interest in apologetics.

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