The Scandal of Disobedience to the Magisterium
By Archbishop Raymond Burke
Recognizing the responsibility of Christians and of all men of good will to enunciate and uphold the natural moral law, we also recognize the scandal which is given when Christians fail to uphold the moral law in public life. When those who profess to be Christian, at the same time, favor and promote policies and laws which permit the destruction of innocent and defenseless human life, and which violate the integrity of marriage and the family, then citizens, in general, are confused and led into error about the basic tenets of the moral law. In our time, there is a great hesitation to speak about scandal, as if, in some way, it is only a phenomenon among persons of small or unenlightened mind, and, therefore, a tool of such persons to condemn others rashly and wrongly.
Certainly, there is such a thing as pharisaical scandal, that is, a malicious interpretation of the morally good or, at least, morally indifferent actions of another. The term comes from the supposed scandal which Our Lord Jesus caused to the Pharisees by, for instance, healing the man born blind on the Sabbath (cf. Jn 9:13-34).
But there is also true scandal, that is, the leading of others, by our words, actions and failures to act, into confusion and error, and, therefore, into sin. Our Lord was unequivocal in his condemnation of those who would confuse or lead others into sin by their actions and their failures to act. In teaching His disciples about temptations, He declared: "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin (Lk 17:1-2).
It is clear that Our Lord taught as a primary responsibility, with the gravest of consequences, the avoidance of scandal, namely, of any act or failure to act which could lead another into sin. Our Lord’s words are nothing less than vehement.
To ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, for example, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation. The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law (Code of Canon Law, cann. 915; and 1184, § 1, 31).
It is said that these disciplines which the Church has consistently observed down the centuries presume to pass a judgment on the eternal salvation of a soul, which judgment belongs to God alone, and, therefore, they should be abandoned. On the contrary, these disciplines are not a judgment on the eternal salvation of the soul in question. They are simply the acknowledgment of an objective truth, namely, that the public actions of the soul are in grave violation of the moral law, to his own grave harm and to the grave harm of all who are confused or led into error by his actions. The Church confides every soul to the mercy of God, which is great beyond all our imagining, but that does not excuse her from proclaiming the truth of the moral law, also by applying her age-old disciplines, for the sake of the salvation of all.
When a person has publicly espoused and cooperated in gravely sinful acts, leading many into confusion and error about fundamental questions of respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, his repentance of such actions must also be public. The person in question bears a heavy responsibility for the grave scandal which he has caused. The responsibility is especially heavy for political leaders. The repair of such scandal begins with the public acknowledgment of his own error and the public declaration of his adherence to the moral law. The soul which recognizes the gravity of what he has done will, in fact, understand immediately the need to make public reparation.
If there has always been the danger of giving scandal to others by public and seriously sinful actions or failures to act, that danger is heightened in our own time. Because of the confusion about the moral law, which is found in public discourse, in general, and is even embodied in laws and judicial pronouncements, the Christian is held to an even higher standard of clarity in enunciating and upholding the moral law.
It is particularly insidious that our society which is so profoundly confused about the most basic goods also believes that scandal is a thing of the past. One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. Teaching about the relationship of human ecology to environmental ecology, Pope Benedict XVI underscores a contradiction in "the overall moral tenor of society," which leads us and especially our youth into serious confusion and error: "If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other (Caritas in veritate, no. 51).
One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church. In a society whose thinking is governed by the "dictatorship of relativism" and in which political correctness and human respect are the ultimate criteria of what is to be done and what is to be avoided, the notion of leading someone into moral error makes little sense. What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society.
Lying or failing to tell the truth, however, is never a sign of charity. A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church's unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life.
Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.
+ Raymond Leo Burke
Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the
WORLD PRAYER CONGRESS FOR LIFE
ISTITUTO PATRISTICO «AUGUSTINIANUM»
Via Paolo VI, 25, 00193 ROMA
October 9, 2010
The above is only part of the address, which was distributed by Robert Moynihan, "The Moynihan Report"