Church Life

1. Do we have to follow canon law?

2. Although raised a Catholic, I felt called to enter the Episcopal Church around the age of 30. Yet now, after 12 years out of the Roman Church, I am feeling scruples about my choice. I know that the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II says that other Christian communities are used by Christ to provide salvation, but the Catechism suggests that only those born into those Communities are not guilty of heresy--in my case, although I left only after several years of prayer and reflection, I probably fall into the definition of a heretic. I have asked Christ for forgiveness if I erroneously interpreted the Spirit, but wonder now if I am compounding the sin by not rejoining the Catholic Church. To do so would split my family. All this is a long-winded way of asking whether God will be willing to forgive a decision to stay where I am, or whether at all cost I should take steps to return to the Roman Catholic Church, even though my motivation would be more fear of hell than love of God.

3. How does one balance loyalty to the ministry of the Pope and to that of one's own bishop?

4. I noticed that among the links on your website, there is ODAN, an anti-Opus Dei organization. My understanding is that Opus Dei is Church approved and that it fosters lay involvement in the Church's mission. On the face of it, this would seem to be a very positive thing, one very much in line with Vatican II. I was wondering what your view is of Opus Dei. What do you make of it? Is the inclusion of ODAN among your links an oversight on your part or are you suggesting that Opus Dei is not a positive force in the Church?

5. If Universal Salvation is true, there would seem to be no need for churches. So why did Jesus call Peter the rock on which he would build his church?

6. I have been an Anglican for many years. Over the last 10 years or so my faith became vey lukewarm, almost non-existent at times, until about 6 months ago. I have always been pulled to Catholicism and have had considerable Catholic influence throughout my life. To cut to the chase, I have gone through RCIA and am due to be received into the Catholic Church on Pentecost. However, I wonder if I'm being true. I cannot say with hand on heart that I believe in the Marian dogmas or papal infallibility. Sometimes I feel comfortable about them, other days I feel uncomfortable. I can't say that I disbelieve, either, but I have more doubts than certainty. Having said that, I think it is important to honor the Virgin Mary and I think venerating her and asking her intercession is good and useful. I also like the idea of the papacy, but infallibility cause me problems, too.

There are other, smaller points, that I don't fully agree with but they are not dogmas of the church. I love the Roman Catholic Church; I love the Eucharist, the tradition...many things. I know that some Catholics would tell me that I would not be a Catholic if I don't adhere to every point of Catholic teaching. I want to be a Catholic but at the same time I don't want to be disloyal. I would be grateful to hear your thoughts.

7. Do the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils represent the core beliefs of the Catholic Church? And should I be familiar with them to be a good Catholic?

8. You say the church as a whole is protected from error in matters of faith, but different segments may disagree on how to express that faith. When you say the church as a whole, do you include the Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, and other denominations, or do you mean Roman Catholics as a whole? And what position do the seven (or more) Ecumenical Councils hold?

9. I hadn't been to church in months, but had been meaning to make it to the Catholic Center. The priest who took your place delivered a homily that was so BORING! It was like all the homilies I hear each time I go to church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At an Advent homily, he spoke about how before we ask for an iPod for Christmas, we should think about those less fortunate than ourselves. Fine, but I've heard this homily so many times that now it sounds like gobble gobble. On top of that he addresses the college and graduate students as if they were little kids or young teenagers. This depressed me.

I'd been disillusioned with the Church in general already, but this was the icing on the cake. I honestly don't think I would have kept going to Church during college and even after, if it were not for your homilies. They gave me the feeling that things could change and that the church might one day reflect the values that I believe in. But his mass seemed like all the masses I attended in Tulsa before going to college--the priest afraid of speaking against even the most ridiculous traditions like denying priesthood to women. Now I'm not sure which church I should go to with the hope of getting anything anything out of it. But I'm trying not to be too pessimistic.

10. Is the Society of Saint Pius X is still excommunicated?

11. Our pastor retired a couple of moths ago. He had been in our parish for 20 years. He was a cool priest, approachable, non-judgmental--just a real person. So a new priest arrives. He has made it very clear that he is the new guy in town, that this is now his parish and things will change. I'm not sure I like that attitude. I have not gone to Mass for three weeks now.

He has said that if you are late for mass, he doesn't think you should take communion because you didn't participate in the entire Mass. If you leave after Communion instead of returning to your seat, he doesn't want to talk to you after Mass. Brides can no longer wear strapless or sleeveless wedding gowns. He'll have a selection of shawls for them to put over their shoulders.

Before he even had his books put away, he told the church wedding coordinator and myself that he was definitely making changes to the way weddings are done at our church, even though he's never seen one.

Maybe this is how it should always have been and I just did not know it. Maybe our former pastor was too nice. I just think there should be a different way to communicate and initiate change. And why not wait and find out what the unique character of our parish is? Am I just being resentful over nothing? I feel like he is on some kind of power trip. I usually can adapt and I know full well that attending Mass is not about the priest. But, I'm not felling the love on this one!

12. Does the Roman Catholic Church recognize abstinence from sexual intercourse within marriage as an acceptable form of birth control? the "rhythm" method of birth control is not 100% effective. If a married couple is economically only able to have one child and still give that child a good home, proper nutrition, education, physical and mental health care, quality time, and spiritual/moral guidance and support to be able to give back to the community it seems that abstinence is the responsible method of choice. Of course, people who get married in order to justify having sex may not agree.

13. Today was the worst homily I've ever heard. I almost got up and walked out but decided to stick around and see how much worse it could get. We had a guest speaker, Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB, PhD, from St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas. He discussed the importance of marriage, sticking with your marriage and of course the ever popular contraception. After he got through the part of "sticking by your man" he talked about the true meaning of love and how that love would never include contraception. Contraception is never accepted and is a SIN. He then explained that anyone using contraception is in sin, should go to confession and not partake in communion. I swear to God, I was shaking my head and wanted to stand up and scream. Of course anyone can use NFP (natural family planning) which is accepted. We are never, ever to tell God what his plan is and using contraception is doing just that. We are then messing with God's plan for life. Of course the word chastity was tossed around a few times also. According to him, all that is needed to strengthen your marriage and sex life is NFP.

At the end of mass another guest addressed the crowd to say he had been married for 40yrs, has kids and grandkids. Then he said that abortion and contraception are the same and should be considered the same sin. Any couple that chooses to use contraception would not hesitate to end a life with abortion. It's the same thought process.

Q 1: Do we have to follow canon law?

A 1: This question seems to suggest that law, specifically canon law, is a burden. Canon law is the collection of rules and regulations that make it possible for the church to function with some kind of order--much like any other society. At least in theory, law brings order and dispels chaos. Canon law not only provides guidelines for action, it also clarifies some of the beliefs and practices of the church, and provides a recourse for settling disputes.

Q 2: Although raised a Catholic, I felt called to enter the Episcopal Church around the age of 30. Yet now, after 12 years out of the Roman Church, I am feeling scruples about my choice. I know that the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II says that other Christian communities are used by Christ to provide salvation, but the Catechism suggests that only those born into those Communities are not guilty of heresy--in my case, although I left only after several years of prayer and reflection, I probably fall into the definition of a heretic. I have asked Christ for forgiveness if I erroneously interpreted the Spirit, but wonder now if I am compounding the sin by not rejoining the Catholic Church. To do so would split my family. All this is a long-winded way of asking whether God will be willing to forgive a decision to stay where I am, or whether at all cost I should take steps to return to the Roman Catholic Church, even though my motivation would be more fear of hell than love of God.

A 2: I would begin by suggesting that you are still the victim of outmoded thinking (perhaps one of the reasons you left the Catholic Church in the first place). I can remember growing up in the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II eras, and they are light years apart. When I was a child, we were allowed to attend other Christian churches only for weddings and funerals. Then, when we did attend, we weren't supposed to join in prayer. Even at an early age I thought this a very bizarre approach--as if joining other people in prayer on these occasions would somehow place my faith in danger.

Much of what you reflect in your question comes out of a world of mistrust and suspicion among the churches, esp. between the Catholic Church and almost any other Christian church. The official position of the Catholic Church is that all people of good will who sincerely try to do God's will as they know it, even if they are in error, will go to heaven. The idea of heresy is a remnant of Reformation times when some people actually rejected the teaching of the church.  I sincerely doubt that you are a heretic of any kind!

Another thing to remember is that the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of people following their consciences. Admittedly, we have the obligation to see that our consciences are correctly formed, but that is sometimes a judgment call at best. If through your own prayer and reflection you believe that you were called to join the Episcopal Church, then that is what you should have done regardless of what the Catholic Church or any person in the church might say.

The Catholic Church has come to recognize, not solely as a result of the Second Vatican Council, that the Spirit of God is clearly active in other Christian churches, "church" being a designation we did not officially use for other communities prior to the Council. This designation is based on the belief that these churches also celebrate the Eucharist, even though their understanding of the presence of Christ might differ from ours.

Finally, as if those ideas are not sufficient, there is a widely held and growing belief among theologians that everyone goes to heaven. It is a foundational dimension of my own preaching and writing, and I frequently use the following phrase: "Everyone goes to heaven without exception or prejudice." I realize that not everyone holds that position, but, as I say, there is a growing number of theologians who do. The approach may vary, and some may suggest that this is only a result of God's last ditch effort when people are dying. I would refer you to the "Faith Discussion" page on this website. The first article you will find is titled: "Is Hell For Real?" You might find it an interesting discussion.

I hope these ideas are of some benefit. Let me assure you that you have nothing to fear in terms of any eternal punishment--certainly not for following your conscience and acting on what you believe to have been the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Q 3: How does one balance loyalty to the ministry of the Pope and to that of one's own bishop?

A 3: I would like to suggest that the answer is probably more academic than practical. We might begin by acknowledging that the bishop is the head of a diocese. He has what might be called ultimate authority. This is most clearly seen in the history of the church, particularly in the early centuries. The evolution of the modern papacy (Office of the Bishop of Rome), especially since Vatican Council I (1869-1870), has clouded the landscape, as it were. The bishop is still the head of his diocese, and does not need permission or approval of any other authority to exercise ministry in his diocese.

In modern Catholic theology and law the Pope has immediate and universal jurisdiction in all dioceses, but it would be foolish to suggest that any one person, even the pope, can possibly know what is the best or proper ministry in every diocese. Most dioceses have common forms of ministries and offices, such as Justice and Peace, Liturgy, Vocations, etc. Still, any one diocese, due to its own unique character and mission, might be engaged in a ministry that is not found elsewhere. Even the same ministry may be approached from different perspectives depending on the people and the situation.

One must also remember that the Catholic Church is large enough for differences of opinion and approach on many issues. While the core of our faith may be easily identified, how we get there may comprise many different paths. It is unlikely that most people will ever need to confront the conflict you suggest.

Finally, that conflict may be rooted in how we have come to see the modern papacy. The late Pope John Paul II asked the bishops of the world to participate in a discussion of how the papacy might continue to evolve in the new millennium. It may be that the Office of the Bishop of Rome will look and be very different in future years than it is today.

Q 4: I noticed that among the links on your website, there is ODAN, an anti-Opus Dei organization. My understanding is that Opus Dei is Church approved and that it fosters lay involvement in the Church's mission. On the face of it, this would seem to be a very positive thing, one very much in line with Vatican II. I was wondering what your view is of Opus Dei. What do you make of it? Is the inclusion of ODAN among your links an oversight on your part or are you suggesting that Opus Dei is not a positive force in the Church?

A 4: The Church in Europe is very different from the Church in the United States. In Europe, the Church is often defined more by movements than by parishes. Opus Dei is one of those movements. Unfortunately, it is not a good one. Opus Dei has always been controversial. In an effort to squelch some of the controversy and criticism of Opus Dei, Pope John Paul II made it a personal prelature, which means that it answers directly to the Pope through his appointed representative. Clearly John Paul's European background left him sympathetic to movements that are designed, at least theoretically, to support the faith. Opus Dei is not one of those movements.

To put it bluntly, Opus Dei is a cult. The common understanding of a cult is an organization that tends to over identify with its founder. A cult also seeks to control the minds, and whenever possible, the entire lives of its followers. This is exactly what Opus Dei does, as evidenced by those people who have managed to escape its net and then tell their stories. The Catholic faith should not be about brainwashing and mind control. Since I respect the Pope, I am left with the conclusion that he does not know the truth about Opus Dei, or he would suppress it.

Obviously, including ODAN among my links is intentional, and will hopefully help people who have been damaged by Opus Dei to find help, peace and reconciliation. Much more information is available on the ODAN website, but I hope this helps a little.

Q 5: If Universal Salvation is true, there would seem to be no need for churches. So why did Jesus call Peter the rock on which he would build his church?

A 5: I refer you back to an earlier answer about the kingdom. The Church has become, at least ideally, the kingdom that both recognizes Jesus and makes Jesus present in our world. Even given the theology of Universal Salvation, the Church has a critical role to play in God's plan of salvation. I would suggest that the Church has not always been a very effective means of communicating the presence or person of Jesus. At least in part because we have misunderstood the notion of the kingdom, and because we have had a tendency to condemn people who did not believe, we have made it difficult for people to embrace the good news of Jesus. Jesus called Peter the “rock” because the Church is supposed to be the unshakable source for the proclamation of the Good News. The Church is the means of living the kingdom in this world, independent of salvation itself.

Q 6: I have been an Anglican for many years. Over the last 10 years or so my faith became vey lukewarm, almost non-existent at times, until about 6 months ago. I have always been pulled to Catholicism and have had considerable Catholic influence throughout my life. To cut to the chase, I have gone through RCIA and am due to be received into the Catholic Church on Pentecost. However, I wonder if I'm being true. I cannot say with hand on heart that I believe in the Marian dogmas or papal infallibility. Sometimes I feel comfortable about them, other days I feel uncomfortable. I can't say that I disbelieve, either, but I have more doubts than certainty. Having said that, I think it is important to honor the Virgin Mary and I think venerating her and asking her intercession is good and useful. I also like the idea of the papacy, but infallibility cause me problems, too.

There are other, smaller points, that I don't fully agree with but they are not dogmas of the church. I love the Roman Catholic Church; I love the Eucharist, the tradition...many things. I know that some Catholics would tell me that I would not be a Catholic if I don't adhere to every point of Catholic teaching. I want to be a Catholic but at the same time I don't want to be disloyal. I would be grateful to hear your thoughts..

A 6: Thank you for the very thoughtful question. This is obviously something very important to you that you have wrestled with for some time. Let me begin by saying that no one can decide for you whether or not to become Catholic, not even family members or friends. While the Catholic faith is primarily a community faith, the decision to belong is always most personal.

Let me also try to put to rest some of your concern about doctrine. Contrary to what some of your Catholic friends say, it is not necessary to believe everything the Church teaches in order to be a good Catholic. First of all, if there is no room for question or dissent, then God has wasted a perfectly good intellect (not to mention conscience) on each of us. Secondly, when it comes right down to it, everyone picks and chooses, even if they do not admit it. Hoswever...

The following might help you put things into perspective. Catholics are no more monolithic than other grouping of people. Even within the world of doctrine, not all dogmas are equal. You mention that you have questions about the Marian teachings and Papal infallibility. Here is a tool that I have often used in teaching. The details or examples, can be expressed variously, but this might prove helpful. Imagine a series of concentric circles. The innermost circle comprises the teachings about God and Jesus. They constitute a belief that there is only one God, that God is a Trinity of Persons, that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity and that he possesses two natures--he is fully God and fully a man. Anyone who does not believe those most basic tenets cannot be a Christian. He or she may be a wonderful person, even a deep believer in God, but not a Christian. This inner circle is why Unitarians (who do not claim to be Christian) and Mormons (who claim to be but do not have a Christian belief and understanding of the Trinity) are not Christian.

The second circle might be the teachings about the Church and sacraments. People who do not believe these tenets could be Christian, but not Catholic. The next circle might include teachings about morality. Next might come teachings about Mary and the saints. Although teachings on the outer circles might be true, they do not hold the same force as the circles closer to the center, and within these there is much more room for debate, nuance and even dissent. For instance, was Mary conceived without sin--the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? The Catholic Church says yes, although one of the greatest theologians in Catholic history, Thomas Aquinas, did not believe so (of course, his belief was never put to the test since the doctrine was not proclaimed in his lifetime). Does it even matter? Well, whether or not Mary was conceived without sin does not directly impact one's faith in Jesus as Son of God and Redeemer. For my part, if I have a reason to believe something different from what the Church teaches, I pursue my theology and try to articulate and validate my reasoning. At the same time I do not claim to know everything, and so I can come to a wrong conclusion. It is only problematic if that conclusion affects the compelling of Church teachings. If, on the other hand, I have no particularly strong reason to disagree with something, I am perfectly willing to let my faith be directed by Church teaching. The Immaculate Conception is one such example. I don't care one way or the other if Mary was conceived without sine and it does not affect my faith in Jesus. I also can craft an argument that makes sense for this the belief. In the end, I accept the teaching but do not over emphasize it.

Papal infallibility is another question. As a doctrine it is historically suspect. In practice it does not much matter, since the Popes, perhaps guided by the Holy Spirit, are not so arrogant as to claim infallibility in specific teachings. The doctrine was defined at the Fist Vatican Council and only once has it been invoked, namely in defining the Church's belief in the Assumption of Mary. Most theologians will point to a safeguard in the doctrine--in order to invoke the doctrine of infallibility in any teaching, the Pope must state BEFORE THE FACT, that the proceeding teaching is infallible. So, for example, John Paul II's statements about the ordination of women are not infallible. Although I think the doctrine of infallibility was itself a mistake, it really only becomes an issue if a particular Pope were to invoke it. In the meantime, it is mostly academic.

So, what does all this mean for you? As I stated at the beginning, only you can decide whether or not to become Catholic. Doing so does not require you to "check your intellect and conscience at the door," so to speak. The Catholic Church, which is the people of God, not the institution, is not monolithic. We are all on a continuing journey and no one person, no one group, nor any one era of people can claim a monopoly on the truth. You, yourself, may have much to contribute to the ongoing development of the Catholic faith. May I suggest that in making your decision you leave the academic and theological issues--at least the ones that are not all that compelling or practical--to the theologians. Instead, it might be best to focus on and immerse yourself in those elements you mention in your question that you find enriching, such as the Eucharist and the various traditions of the Church.

I hope this is helpful to you and that the Holy Spirit will help you decide. You have already entrusted yourself in prayer and preparation, and I am sure that the Spirit will continue to lead you on a path that will deepen your faith in God whatever that decision. I will pray that you be so guided.

Q 7: Do the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils represent the core beliefs of the Catholic Church? And should I be familiar with them to be a good Catholic?

A 7: The pronouncements of the various Ecumenical Councils throughout history do represent core teachings of the Church. They are, in the most fundamental sense, attempts to understand and concretize the faith. We must remember that the Christian faith is fundamentally a community religion. Individuals or groups cannot simply call themselves Christian without regard to what the whole Church believes about Jesus Christ. Recall that in John's Gospel Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to help us understand everything he taught. It is our belief that the Holy Spirit has been given to the whole church, and that in a unique way that same Spirit is present and active when the Council Fathers come together to reflect on our faith.

It would be good to be familiar with at least the main pronouncements of the Councils, since many of them addressed historical problems or heresies in the Church. The creeds, dogmas, doctrines, etc. express, in opposition to those heresies, what we believe. It is unfortunate that some highly educated lay Catholics lack a significant knowledge and understanding of what we actually believe, and how to implement our faith in daily living. Knowing some of the teachings of the Councils is a start to being an informed Catholic.

Q 8: You say the church as a whole is protected from error in matters of faith, but different segments may disagree on how to express that faith. When you say the church as a whole, do you include the Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, and other denominations, or do you mean Roman Catholics as a whole? And what position do the seven (or more) Ecumenical Councils hold?

A 8: As I have previously noted, there were two major splits in the Christian faith. The first one, in 1054 that divided the Church between the East and West, and the Reformation that further splintered Western Christianity. One of the unfortunate effects is that the Orthodox Churches and the various Protestant denominations do not have any visible or practical unity. The Orthodox Church has defined itself primarily along ethnic lines, with no Patriarch in charge of the whole church. The various Protestant denominations are often autonomous by region, by local church, or even by local parish.

Therefore, when I speak about the whole Church being protected from error, I am speaking about the Catholic Church. The unity of the Catholic Church with the Bishop of Rome provides a validation for the expressed faith of any particular church.

There have been 21 ecumenical councils in the history of the Church, most of these preceding the two great schisms. Their teaching is an essential part of the faith of the Catholic Church, and is incorporated into the beliefs of many non-Catholic Christians. Historically, many of these councils have been called specifically to correct or clarify teachings in some particular part of the church. In the process, some of those teachings were determined heretical, and the true faith was further clarified and defined.

Q 9: I hadn't been to church in months, but had been meaning to make it to the Catholic Center. The priest who took your place delivered a homily that was so BORING! It was like all the homilies I hear each time I go to church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At an Advent homily, he spoke about how before we ask for an iPod for Christmas, we should think about those less fortunate than ourselves. Fine, but I've heard this homily so many times that now it sounds like gobble gobble. On top of that he addresses the college and graduate students as if they were little kids or young teenagers. This depressed me.

I'd been disillusioned with the Church in general already, but this was the icing on the cake. I honestly don't think I would have kept going to Church during college and even after, if it were not for your homilies. They gave me the feeling that things could change and that the church might one day reflect the values that I believe in. But his mass seemed like all the masses I attended in Tulsa before going to college--the priest afraid of speaking against even the most ridiculous traditions like denying priesthood to women. Now I'm not sure which church I should go to with the hope of getting anything anything out of it. But I'm trying not to be too pessimistic.

A 9: Thank you for the compliment and strong voice of support. I hardly know where to begin. I don't think it is my place to criticize my successor. Aside from being less than objective, I think it would be arrogant even counter-productive to his ministry. Perhaps he just needs time to settle in and be more comfortable with the reality of college life and the level of maturity that reflects students at a major research university.

I do know that many of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese have been well trained in homiletic (preaching). I also know that some are less adept or skilled at this particular part of ministry in spite of their training. Others, on the other hand are quite skilled in preaching, even if they do not challenge some of the current disciplines of Church life.

I would recommend not giving up too easily, but rather seeking out a parish where you will be able to experience challenging and thought-provoking homilies. I would also note that there are periods in our lives when religion ebbs and flows, and this might be one of those times in your own life.

Q 10: Is the Society of Saint Pius X is still excommunicated?

A 10: it is my understanding that the organization is still considered in schism with the Roman Catholic Church. As such, anyone who adheres to the schism (at least includes the clergy), is automatically excommunicated. It is possible that some members of the laity do not comprehend the schismatic nature of the movement and therefore do not incur automatic excommunication.

Q 11: Our pastor retired a couple of moths ago. He had been in our parish for 20 years. He was a cool priest, approachable, non-judgmental--just a real person. So a new priest arrives. He has made it very clear that he is the new guy in town, that this is now his parish and things will change. I'm not sure I like that attitude. I have not gone to Mass for three weeks now.

He has said that if you are late for mass, he doesn't think you should take communion because you didn't participate in the entire Mass. If you leave after Communion instead of returning to your seat, he doesn't want to talk to you after Mass. Brides can no longer wear strapless or sleeveless wedding gowns. He'll have a selection of shawls for them to put over their shoulders.

Before he even had his books put away, he told the church wedding coordinator and myself that he was definitely making changes to the way weddings are done at our church, even though he's never seen one.

Maybe this is how it should always have been and I just did not know it. Maybe our former pastor was too nice. I just think there should be a different way to communicate and initiate change. And why not wait and find out what the unique character of our parish is? Am I just being resentful over nothing? I feel like he is on some kind of power trip. I usually can adapt and I know full well that attending Mass is not about the priest. But, I'm not felling the love on this one!

A 11: Thank you for your question. It is obvious that you have fond feelings about your former pastor and a profound love for your parish. Please do not consider this comment either patronizing or trite, but change in our lives is always difficult. There is not one of us who would not like things to continue as they are--at least not if we are comfortable with them. But, as wiser people than I have stated, the only true constant in life is change. That having been said there are some observations I would like to share.

Your question carries much passion and I can hear the emotion in your words. I do not know your parish, either of the priests, and I do not know whether your former pastor was negligent in administration, nor do I want to suggest that. It rather sounds as if he was a genuinely pastoral person. It is also difficult to sit in judgment on the new priest based solely on your observations. However, I think that you are being kind in suggesting that he is on some power trip. I suspect it runs far deeper than that. Clearly, if he steps into a new situation and declares certain things must be done his way simply because he is charge, he is indicating a desire to exercise power and make sure that everyone knows where that power lies. It is very authoritarian. It is also frequently indicative of a very insecure person, not the type one would like administering a parish.

Beyond that, his directives raise the specter of cultural imperialism, specifically in regard to wedding gowns. There is nothing inherently immodest, indecent or inappropriate about a strapless gown. Without knowing him, there is no way of knowing why he would make such a rule or what causes such attitudes to surface.

There is no supporting Church authority or law to allow him to refuse Communion to someone who arrives late for Mass. On the contrary, there is specific law that would prevent him from doing so. In your question you did not state that he refuses, but when a person driven by authoritarianism makes a suggestion, it is never just a suggestion. Unfortunately, I think his overall approach may be a harbinger of things to come in the Church. Although it is quite another question, the new English translation of the prayers for the Catholic Liturgy is an example. It is a purely authoritarian approach, and I suggest that your new priest will be in his element.

As I noted, you have a great love for your parish church and community. If he continues in this vein, there will undoubtedly be people who leave to find a more conducive place for worship. Sadly, you may need to be one of them.

Q 12: Does the Roman Catholic Church recognize abstinence from sexual intercourse within marriage as an acceptable form of birth control? the "rhythm" method of birth control is not 100% effective. If a married couple is economically only able to have one child and still give that child a good home, proper nutrition, education, physical and mental health care, quality time, and spiritual/moral guidance and support to be able to give back to the community it seems that abstinence is the responsible method of choice. Of course, people who get married in order to justify having sex may not agree.

A 12: Birth control remains a problematic issue in Catholic teaching. To begin with, the Church is not opposed to birth control, quite the opposite. The Church strongly encourages married to regulate the size of their families based on a number of concerns--population control and providing for the welfare of children being among them. The Church's prohibition is only against "artificial" means of birth control, such as the pill, or the use of condoms. These would properly be defined as "contraception" in that they interfere with the natural biological processes that are part of sexual intercourse.

It is also worth noting that no form of birth control is 100% effective, except for abstinence. The rhythm method is much more effective than people wish to acknowledge, but rhythm, along the ovulation or so-called "Natural Family Planning" approach, requires at least some days of abstinence. Abstinence, however, presents other issues since human beings are guided by choice, and not just instinct when choosing to engage in sexual activity.

Most Catholics have already decided on the issue of contraception and have chosen to ignore the official teaching. This is not as problematic as one might assume, since a foundational principle of canon law is that if a rule is not accepted by the people at large, it is not binding. For those who are concerned about the teaching of the Church, I have written more extensively on the subject in Artificial Contraception, located on the Faith Discussion page of this website.

Q 13: Does the Roman Catholic Church recognize abstinence from sexual intercourse within marriage as an acceptable form of birth control? the "rhythm" method of birth control is not 100% effective. If a married couple is economically only able to have one child and still give that child a good home, proper nutrition, education, physical and mental health care, quality time, and spiritual/moral guidance and support to be able to give back to the community it seems that abstinence is the responsible method of choice. Of course, people who get married in order to justify having sex may not agree.

A 13: I hardly know where to begin. It seems condescending for me to suggest that you should be patient. Certainly that is true. But it is equally true that you have a right to be concerned and upset. One problem with a church service is that the preacher has a captive audience--at least if people want to avoid the obvious rudeness of walking out. Then again, it seems that the preacher is demonstrating a certain rudeness of his own by haranguing on the issues of marriage, abortion and contraception, as this priest apparently did.

Please note my use of the plural “issues”. Abortion and contraception are synonymous. And neither has anything to do with whether or not a woman “stands by her man”. There are many reasons why marriages come to an end. Clearly, no woman should remain in an abusive relationship just because she is married. Further, To suggest that abortion and contraception are the same is simplistic at best and ignorant at worst. The Catholic Church has a clear teaching against abortion. Actually, there are exceptions, but that is for another day. Suffice it to say that the church is opposed to abortion, a teaching that is rooted in a deep respect for life--the same respect that causes the church to teach against capital punishment, even though that topic does not get the same attention from the pulpit.

Contraception, on the other hand, does not have the same weight of importance. Not only is there disagreement among theologians about the validity of the teaching, but a number of bishops from various countries have even suggested that we need to revisit that teaching. Your speaker was wrong to suggest that using artificial means of contraception is somehow “telling God what his plan is”. That is a laughingly elementary statement. From that perspective, even the use of NFP would be telling God what his plan should be in our lives.

I do not know why the visiting priest spoke on those topics. Perhaps it was part of a program in your parish. The simpler truth may be that he had nothing else to say. Aside from the fact that he was wrong on several points, he might want to take his lead from Pope Francis, who suggested that we talk too much about these topics.