Inappropriate Choice as Honoree at Seminary

By JOSEPH McLAUGHLIN


On May 14, 1998, the degree of "Doctor of Human Letters" was conferred on Monika K. Hellwig, Ph. D. by Fr. Richard W. Siepka, President-Rector of Christ the King Seminary in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York. The occasion was the 'Commencement Exercises' for individuals receiving degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theology, and Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry.

The question is,  "Why did they choose her?"

Of course, if you just consider the 21 books and pamphlets she wrote and the 27 honorary degrees and academic awards she has apparently received, then you might think that she has earned this honor. However, if you actually read her works, you would return to your senses and wonder why they didn't honor a Catholic theologian with a sound understanding of our Catholic faith.

Let us just take one of her works to illustrate the faulty thinking of this writer. In 1992 she published "What are the Theologians Saying NOW. A Retrospective on Several Decades." She immediately divides Catholics into two camps. The "extreme version" of Catholicism is practiced by those who believe [that] one's faith is strongest if "one does not ask questions or try to understand, but accepts what is taught." Such Catholics reduce their faith to a "fairly superficial ritual observance not touching the reality of life." They go to Mass, Confession, oppose abortion and contraception, but they have no compassion for the plight of migrant farm workers, don't want minorities in their neighborhood, and engage in unscrupulous business deals. She is, of course, stereotyping orthodox Catholics as out-of-touch, indifferent, and lacking the true Christian spirit.

She then asks the question whether the ecclesiastical structures handed down are the "divine element of the Church." According to contemporary theologians, or at least the ones she relies on, they "define the nature of the Church in terms of its goals and mission." By "structures" one presumes she means the Apostle Peter, the "Rock", and all succeeding Popes and Bishops, and the organizations such as the Vatican, which have developed down through the ages. Since they are fallible and human, they "must constantly remain under scrutiny." The infallibility of the Holy Father and those bishops in union with him on matters of faith and morals apparently doesn't cross her mind.

Isn't it just possible, Monika, that the Holy Spirit inspired these very structures to develop so that they can assist the Church to carry out Her divine mission and reach Her Heavenly goals, in which case they are most certainly a "divine element of the Church.?"

Relying on such questionable luminaries as Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and liberation theologians, Monika Hellwig comes to the conclusion that it is not up to the hierarchic authority to decide whether a change in our faith "serves human reconciliation with God," but rather she reserves this task to the "experience of the whole community of the faithful." For her, Church teaching is "a continual process of development and adaptation to new circumstances and demands."

Hellwig maintains that this process of developing a teaching of the Church actually begins with the experience of the faithful and the local Churches. The Holy Father should not impose edicts on the faithful from above, but should listen to the wisdom of the people. Naturally, one cannot leave out the theologians and biblical scholars — the "experts" — for they will sort out and digest the "demands and possibilities" expressed by the faithful and put everything into proper theological format. Only then should the hierarchy involve itself and approve the doctrine that it has been handed. Her version of the Church, of course, pretty much puts the Holy Spirit out of business. Even regarding the Vatican II Council, it was the "periti" who played the critical role in formulating the documents, because they were in touch with the experiences of the average Catholic and were able to communicate their needs to the presiding bishops there.

Why was such a controversial individual invited to a Catholic seminary? Isn't this exactly the problem that our seminaries are facing today, i.e. exposing those minds which are being trained to go out into the world and spread the truths of our Catholic faith with a totally distorted view of how Christ founded His Church and prepared His Apostles for the divine mission of their vocation. The education and formation of lay people and priests at any Catholic institution requires a diligent and wise selection of teachers who will accurately transmit the Faith.



Reprinted from the SERVIAM Newsletter MAY-JUNE 1998


"If a man is ashamed of Me and My doctrine,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in glory.
"