Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter IV

A Condemnation and an Instruction


Vatican Condemns the Book Human Sexuality
The Remnant – 17 August 1979

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a letter to the U.S. bishops, has declared that the notorious book, Human Sexuality, contains fundamental errors that cannot be reconciled with traditional Catholic teaching.

The book was edited by the Rev. Anthony Kosnik and commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America. It was published in the U. S. in 1977.

In a letter to Archbishop Quinn, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Franjo Cardinal Seper, head of the Vatican office responsible for defending the Faith, also criticized the prestigious Catholic Theological Society that commissioned the book published by the Paulist Press. "The Congregation," Cardinal Seper said, "cannot fail to note its concern that a distinguished society of Catholic theologians would have arranged for the publication of this report in such a way as to give broad distribution to the erroneous principles and conclusions of this book and in this way provide a source of confusion among the people of God."

The book in question is said to have been sold in the tens of thousands of copies. Written by five Catholic theologians, it purports to offer "guidelines" for sexual morality differing from the Church's familiar "thou-shalt-not" approach. It recommends that faithful Catholics, in judging what constitutes appropriate sexual behavior, should try to determine whether their acts and attitudes are "self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful (emphasizing stable relationships), socially responsible, life- serving and joyous."

Cardinal Seper's letter criticizes these "purely subjective criteria…that yield no manageable or helpful rules for serious conscience-formation in matters of sexuality." Similarly, the Vatican document takes issue with the book's tendency to subject "theological and scientific arguments…to criteria derived from one's present experience of what is human or less than human. This gives rise to a relativism in human conduct which recognizes no absolute values. Given these criteria, it is small wonder that this book pays such scant attention to the doctrine of the Magisterium, whose clear teaching and helpful norms of morality it often openly contradicts."

* * * *

Cardinal Seper rightly stressed the fact that this degrading book was produced by a distinguished society of Catholic theologians.” There is little doubt that these theologians, distinguished principally by their un-catholicity, represent mainstream thinking on moral theology within the Catholic establishment in the United States today. This thinking has been described aptly by Msgr. John McCarthy as “pornology."1 While it is true that the book was criticized by the American Bishops' Committee on Doctrine in November 1977, it cannot be denied that the Theological Society could not have become dominated by Liberals or have published this book without at least the passive acquiescence of the hierarchy. It is certainly arguable that no criticism would have come from the bishops had it not been for widespread public protests by lay groups and journals such as The Wanderer.

What is astonishing is that, to the best of my  knowledge, no disciplinary action was taken against the priests responsible for a book which pays “such scant attention to the doctrine of the Magisterium." Not one of them was suspended a divinis, despite their cooperation in publishing a book which undermined the entire basis of Catholic morality. Surely, even the sternest critic of Archbishop Lefebvre would have to agree that the offense for which he was suspended, ordaining priests who would uphold Catholic moral teaching, is totally insignificant when set beside that of these theologians. Such critics would also have to agree that the action taken against these theologians, a reprimand accompanied by no sanctions, is ludicrously inadequate. Having said this, the fact that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did at least condemn the book is something for which we should be grateful.2


Catechesi tradendæ
Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II
16 October 1979

One of the greatest causes of concern among the faithful since the Second Vatican Council has been the deterioration in the standard of religious education (catechesis) given to Catholic children in schools and catechism classes. In the years immediately following the Council parents began to notice that the content of what their children were taught was being continually diluted. Little emphasis, if any emphasis at all, was placed upon memorizing fundamentals of the Faith, such as the Seven Sacraments or the Ten Commandments. Considerable stress was laid upon the children's own experience of life. A great deal of time was devoted to such activities as drawing a map of the route the child took to school, or making lists of things he liked or did not like. Parents who voiced their anxieties were told that this was meaningful, in accordance with modern educational methods, or in the "spirit of Vatican II" – possibly a combination of all three.

As the years passed what purported to be Catholic catechesis often degenerated to the lowest common denominator Christianity, or even humanism. This consisted principally of loving one's neighbor, being kind to animals, and helping the "third world." A stage was reached when children not only failed to receive systematic instruction in the truths of their Faith, but were actually being taught error.

Many orthodox priests and teachers joined parents in protesting at the travesty of the Faith which was being foisted upon Catholic children. The tactic employed against them most frequently was the argument from authority. Diocesan bishops had appointed catechetical directors to ensure that catechetical instruction within their dioceses was effectively "renewed." These men were "experts," and those who had the temerity to criticize them must, ipso facto, be doing so from either ignorance or malice. These catechetical II experts" had, in most cases, spent time in catechetical institutes where they had been indoctrinated in Modernism. They emerged as men with a mission, the mission of teaching a new religion under the guise of new teaching methods.

In the late sixties and the early and mid-seventies, most diocesan bishops, at least in English-speaking countries, tended to be men who were basically orthodox and who had been appointed before or soon after the Second Vatican Council. But, nonetheless, they almost invariably sided with their catechetical directors when these men were criticized, no matter how justified or how well documented these criticisms were. The reason for this attitude is simple. The catechetical directors had been appointed by the bishops. The programs they had introduced were imposed with the authority of the bishops. If these programs were defective or harmful, then the prestige of the bishops was involved. It is not exaggerating in any way to claim that most diocesan bishops would have preferred to have all the children in their dioceses leave Catholic schools totally ignorant of the Faith rather than admit that they had made an error of judgment.3 The fruits of this attitude were made clear in a survey carried out in one English diocese in 1985 which revealed that only 10% of the pupils from Catholic schools had an adequate level of belief, practice and knowledge. The rest were likely to lapse before or soon after leaving school. The survey also found that as the children moved upwards through the school system their knowledge of the Faith did not increase, and their level of practice decreased, In the language of post-conciliar Catholicism, this situation is referred to as a catechetical "renewal."

Canon George Telford

England was fortunate in having one very orthodox catechetical director who made a courageous public defense of the right of Catholic children to be taught the Catholic Faith in Catholic schools. The priest in question is Canon George Telford who was Catechetical Director of the Archdiocese of Southwark and Vice-chairman of the Department of Catechetics for the entire country. He eventually resigned from both positions when he found that, within the catechetical establishment, he was waging an almost single-handed fight for orthodoxy, and was receiving no support whatsoever from the bishops as a body, although some of them gave him their support privately. Canon Telford concluded that it was pointless continuing what was evidently a hopeless struggle. He wrote a very forceful letter which he sent to every member of the hierarchy. This letter was published in the April 1977, issue of Christian Order, and it summarized exactly the type of religious instruction which was being imparted at that time in most Western countries:

Modern catechetics is theologically corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. Its structures and innovations are irrelevant and unmeaningful for the Catholic Faith, and can achieve nothing but its gradual dilution. The authentic renewal of catechesis will come not from them but from the faithful.

Catechesi tradendæ

In October 1979, the second year of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II certainly gave considerable cause for hope to all those who had been involved in the fight for orthodox catechesis. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi tradendæ, he appeared to be echoing the anxiety and indignation which so many of the faithful had been expressing in so many countries. Their complaints had not simply been rejected, but often ridiculed. But now the Supreme Pontiff himself made it clear that this anxiety and indignation had been amply justified.

The Holy Father claimed that many good and successful new catechetical books had been produced. Then he continued:

But it must be humbly and honestly recognized that this rich flowering has brought with it articles and publications which are ambiguous and harmful to young people and to the life of the Church. In certain places, the desire to find the best forms of expression or to keep up with fashions in pedagogical methods has often enough resulted in certain catechetical works which bewilder the young and even adults, either by deliberately or unconsciously omitting elements essential to the Church's faith, or by attributing excessive importance to certain themes at the expense of others, or, chiefly, by a rather horizontalist overall view out of keeping with the Church's Magisterium.

The Pope also stated that it is quite useless "to campaign for the abandonment of a serious and orderly study of the message of Christ in the name of a method concentrating on life experience." He advocated memorization and insisted that children should be taught the Faith "not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form, but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor…Thus, no true catechist can lawfully, on his own initiative, make a selection of what he considers important in the Deposit of Faith as opposed to what he considers unimportant, so as to teach one and reject the other.” The Pope condemned teachers who trouble the minds of children with" outlandish theories, useless questions, and unproductive discussions"- terms which are very reminiscent of Canon Telford's strictures.

Pope Paul VI had also been very concerned at the extent to which unorthodox catechesis had become apparent early in his pontificate. He responded to this with two key documents. The first was his Credo of the People of God (30 June 1968), which reaffirmed the principal doctrines of our Faith using, in many instances, the terminology of the Council of Trent. The second was the General Catechetical Directory (11 April 1971), which listed the basic doctrines which every Catholic child was entitled to know.4

In Catechesi tradendæ, Pope John Paul II specified these documents as basic sources for the doctrinal content of religious instruction. This was precisely what orthodox parents, teachers, and priests had been demanding. Thus; this apostolic exhortation, together with other acts of the Pope in 1979, gave good reason for hope that there might at last be a return to sound religious instruction for Catholic children.

1. Living Tradition, January, 1987, p. 7.

2. The condemnation of the book Human Sexuality by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is dated 13 July 1979. The full text is available in Flannery, Vol. II.

3. In August 1974 a 96-page dossier I had written concerning the catechetical director of the Archdiocese of Liverpool was published by Approaches. It consisted principally of a series of statements of fact. It was sent to the Archbishop of Liverpool and to every head teacher and parish priest in his diocese. The Archbishop's reaction was to express his total confidence in the catechetical director despite the fact that he was unable to refute a single statement in the Dossier which was entitled appropriately, The Fort Betrayed. This was a reference to the remark made by St. John Fisher concerning the apostate hierarchy of England during the reign of Henry VIII: "The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it."

4. These two documents, together with Catechesi tradendæ, are available in Flannery, Vol. II.


Chapter 3

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact