Spreading the truth about the papacy Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

We are right in the midst of our Year of Faith and at the heart of an attempt to undertake what both Blessed John Paul the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict have called us to — that is, a “New Evangelization.” And not only that, but we find ourselves in the era of a new pope. As I write this column the Conclave has yet to begin, but by the time you are reading it, it is quite possible that we will have a new Pope.

Contrary to media reports (since they have a vested interest in juicy scandal), one of the key things that the Cardinals in Conclave will (or have) focus(ed) upon, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is electing a Pope who will continue to carry out that New Evangelization.

Indeed, there have been and are sinful people in the Church, and indeed there is sinfulness “all the way to the top,” because there are sinners all the way to the top of the Church here on earth, but our first sin is and has always been a turning away from God and that to which He is calling us. Turning back to God is precisely what the New Evangelization is all about, and that is where any reform of the Church must begin. Every man, woman, and child in the Church — from the Pope on down — must be called once again to meet the authentic person of Jesus Christ in a life-changing way, and to be changed by Him. We must be shaken from the drowsiness which set in immediately for Peter and the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, and which sets in for us at nearly every turn. By way of His Vicar, Christ must return to us, again and again, to say, “Wake up . . . pray . . . the hour is at hand!” (see Mt 26:36-46, et al.)

And so we (will) have a new Pope, a new successor of St. Peter, who like the ones before him has a duty to keep vigil and to lead the Church, in the way that Peter would be commissioned to do. And the entire world is and has been called once again to be “Evangelizers” by the successors of Peter and the Apostles, and that work can and should begin right now. One great way to strengthen the faith of the world around us and the Church right now is to take advantage of the fact that the Successor of Peter is in the middle of the news right now and that people are curious. One of the most important Truths of Jesus Christ that needs to be spread right now is the truth about the Papacy, about the Pope.

What does it mean to be the Pope?

Jesus Christ was active in his public ministry for three years. He suffered and He died for us, He rose from the dead, He redeemed the world, and then He sent His Holy Spirit to give birth to His Body, the Church. As Jesus walked the face of the earth, His own basic ideas for His Church got spelled out — one of the great moments was when He chose one of the Twelve and said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you (Peter) the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:18-19).” It was from this point that Jesus began the plan for His Church. He later told all of the Apostles that they would have that power “to bind and to loose (Mt 18:18),” and to forgive sins by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:23),” but there is a specific mission and specific powers that he gave to Peter as “rock” of His Church.

Jesus is the invisible head of His Body, the Church, but he governs the Church directly, through the Holy Spirit and through the Church’s visible head, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope — who is the direct successor of St. Peter. These are things that we have to understand and to explain. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and therefore he was the Pope of the whole Church. Peter was chosen by Christ and was sent to be Bishop of Rome, from which seat he was to be Pope of the whole Church. Peter received from Christ the “power of the keys” which we mentioned above and which means that Peter received from Christ special gifts for himself, for the good of the Church — gifts that were not given to the other Apostles.

So Peter has those special gifts to teach what is true and to teach what is good in a way that unites all the other Apostles and thus all the other people. And Peter and his next direct successor, our next Pope, has special gifts to act as a measure of the faith of the Church. He is the one whose primary responsibility is to preserve and conserve the Truth of our faith. When there are any questions, we turn to Peter, we turn to the Pope, and this is the way it has been from the earliest days of the Apostles.

Our belief in the Church

At Mass each Sunday, we profess our faith, saying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . I believe in the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” When I say that I believe that the Church is Apostolic, it means that I believe Christ has built the Church such that the Pope is the direct successor of St. Peter and that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. When we say the Creed — that basic profession of our faith — that is what we mean as Catholics. It is not something arbitrary, but rather is foundational.

Many of our brothers and sisters (and they are our beloved brothers and sisters) in the Church today, don’t understand that. And in the name of the Holy Spirit, I want to remind you of it today, so that you can help me to remind and to teach our brothers and sisters this reality of the apostolic nature of the Church.

The mass media teach another kind of Catholicism, and this is the kind of “Catholicism” that gets into people’s minds. In that version of “Catholicism,” you have the opinion of the Pope (who is sort of just a CEO of the corporate Church), then you have the opinion of individual bishops (who are sort of just the regional managers), then you have the opinion of certain groups of priests, then you have the opinion of certain groups of religious sisters, then you have the opinion of certain theologians, and even the opinion of groups which stand for the very opposite of the Church, from which you can choose whatever opinion you want (or formulate your own, for that matter) then announce whatever opinion as the decision of your “conscience” — malformed though it may be by all the other “opinion groups.” The media and certain theologians have told us that all of those opinions can be used to decide religious matters and are just as good as the opinion of the Pope.

That version of “Catholicism” may be widespread, but it certainly isn’t being spread by the Holy Spirit. That version of “Catholicism,” does not believe Jesus’s words to St. Peter and the Apostles and does not believe that the Pope and the bishops are the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles. This leaves many, many people with no concept of what it means to be the Pope, or to be the bishop.

Offering the Truth

And this is precisely the place into which we are called to go with the New Evangelization. Each of us is called to be an Evangelizer and it is the job of each one of you to offer the Truths of the Faith, including breaking the news to brothers and sisters that the Pope is the measure of the faith of the Catholic Church and that when the Pope teaches that certain things of faith and morals are true, it doesn’t matter whether a certain group here or there has a different opinion. They don’t have the gifts of Peter, who is the watchman of the mysteries of God.

You have to be the ones to let people in on the truth that no Pope can change the Church’s teaching about abortion, or about “same-sex marriage,” or about artificial contraception, or about conscience protection, or about euthanasia, or about the ordination of women, and so on with many things. It is the duty of Peter’s successor to preserve the faith and thus he does not have the authority to change the Truth on such matters that have been defined by the Church.

We hear lots of opinions, even from Catholics, about the kind of Pope people want, and many people want a Pope who is going to fall more in line with their own opinions and to change things that are unchangeable. The Pope, whoever he is, doesn’t have the authority to change things that are defined. It’s that simple.

We have to break that news as kindly and as gently as you can to those who have another idea. Your ministry to carry the truth of Christ and His Church out into the world never was more important. The New Evangelization means that we confess with our mouths and believe in our heart the Truth of Faith. Faithful Catholics are great at believing in their hearts, but when it comes to confessing with our mouth, we tend to think, “well we don’t do that, the Protestants do that.” We have to do it — especially my brother priests and I.

We have to undertake the New Evangelization and we need to remember never to be, in our faith, like the older son in this past weekend’s reading of the prodigal son. Recall that the older son remained in his father’s house, and served for years and years while his brother went far astray. But it wasn’t until the father welcomed the wayward son home that we see just how sad and bitter the older son had become. Even though he shared all of the wonderful bounty that the father had, the older son didn’t live in that bounty with love and with joy. Let us try to remain in our Father’s house and let us go out and invite our brother and sisters in, with that joy and with that love.

Now, have no doubt, we are in a very challenging time. There is a great deal that we have to do in terms of offering the Truth, in love, to our brothers and sisters. So much right now depends on your willingness, and your ability, to speak out strongly and clearly about the truth of our faith — especially these days when people are asking so many questions. Times are trying and much is being said about the Pope and the Church, so what better Truth to hold onto, but that Jesus promised directly to Peter that He would not abandon the Church? Let us remember this reality and teach it. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts and our lives so that we will be able to lead and to teach people who need to hear the Truth and so many who are asking questions at this very time. And let us welcome our new Pope just as the “old Pope” Benedict has himself promised to do, with unfailing faith and loving reverence and obedience.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God bless you all. Praised be Jesus Christ! Long live the Pope!