Consider a putatively-conservative Roman Catholic archbishop who invites his priests to pray with Lutherans in a Lutheran community building. This really happened. But because this bishop is “pro-life,” he is considered “conservative” by most of his laity. Thus, most mainstream Catholics will pretty quickly forgive a bishop inviting their own Catholic priests to a Lutheran prayer service. That is, if they even think there’s anything to forgive in that. I think the attitude among most of the laity today is basically: Well, I make mistakes in my vocation, so I can’t judge my superiors who make mistakes in their vocations.
Fair enough. There’s some humility in that attitude.
But there’s several reasons that promoting the heresy of indifferentism (the notion that all religions can get you to heaven) is very different from, say, arguing with your spouse. The first reason is that heretical worship is not pleasing to God and it’s a violation of the first-commandment. The second reason is that misleading people of numerous world religions (including Catholicism) to believe that any religion can get you to heaven may in fact lead many souls to hell forever. The third reason is that Pope St. Leo the Great taught that God gives more anointing to higher orders in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church than the lower levels in the laity (but that lower levels are not lacking at all.) So we clergy have less excuses for misleading the public on the Catholic Faith.
But the forth reason is one that most of you have probably never thought about. Consider what it would mean for a Pope or prelate to publicly kiss a Koran. When a member of the clergy like me is tempted to do actions that indirectly intimate (if not directly speak of) the public heresy of indifferentism (the notion that any religion besides Catholicism can get you to heaven) we have no excuse for falling into such sins for all the reasons named above. Because the fourth reason is this: We actually have a ton of time on our hands to avoid such a sin of indifferentism by prayer and study. A fifth reason as to why I’ll never “accidentally” kiss a Koran or invite brother priests to a Lutheran building is because it is extremely easy for us to avoid heresy since the Catholic faith is so simple. If we pause to think about our sermons, we have 2,000 years of the Magisterium to pull on before we open our mouth or send out a pastoral letter or travel to meet with people of other world religions. An argument with your spouse has not been planned out for months and publicized to millions of people. That is why lay folks’ sins of private arguing are different from our public sins of theological errors.
The funny thing about the Catholic faith is that if you have a well-formed 10 year old, he or she can sniff out error in a sentence almost immediately. Or, put in the positive, a good Catholic child can explain the Catholic faith without any errors by about the age of 10. Our Faith is so simple that even children can speak the Catholic faith without errors. So why do we give a “pass” to putatively-conservative prelates?
Recently, an archbishop had a Requiem Mass for countless homeless people who died on the streets of his city. I think it is great he did this. But then the archbishop said this was to “accompany our beloved deceased homeless on their way to heaven.” What? As an ex-paramedic in a big city, I can tell you most of the homeless die in drugs, alcohol, violence and with extremely sordid sexual pasts. I’m not saying they all go to hell. In fact, I have great hope that Jesus may give anyone who has had such a hard life the chance to receive the gift of perfect contrition at the very last second before cardiac arrest. But the bishop’s words teach the wrong thing about the four last things.
Notice that I don’t even have a problem with having a Requiem Mass for people who haven’t received the sacraments in years, as many traditionalists would. But to publicly teach this is to “accompany [them] …on their way to heaven” overturns the Church’s teaching that not only is a Requiem Mass offered for future homeless casualties living in danger of perdition to avoid hell, but such vocabulary from the bishop even overturns the notion of the necessity for the Mass to make propitiation for the souls of the already-deceased homeless who—by some mind-blowing miracle of God—did in fact make it to Purgatory without the sacraments (as 99% of them live without the sacraments. Yes, I know this is the case as an ex-city-paramedic who has talked to many of them.) (And, no, “accompany” is not the same as “propitiation.”)
Such words may not directly overturn the necessity of dying in a state of grace, but indirectly they most certainly do. And as I always say, we priests and bishops will answer not only for our denotations but also our connotations. The teaching of the Magisterium that one needs to die in a state of grace to go to heaven is extremely, extremely basic Catholicism that even children know how to explain. Such public errors on the four last things can not be overlooked just because they come from a putative-conservative. As I said two paragraphs up, our Faith is so simple that even children can speak the Catholic faith without error.
One of the only times I have ever spoken heresy was to a group of traditional Benedictine nuns during my sermon to them at a Traditional Latin Mass. I spoke something wrong about St. Joseph in my sermon. My error in that sermon was not too serious. I never questioned his chastity or even his perpetual virginity. It was something that I can not even remember, but the RCA-dog head-tilt that all these well-formed nuns did told me right away I said something wrong. After Mass, I went into their refectory (with the permission of Mother Superior) and apologized and corrected myself. (Because I pointed out that they all did the RCA-dog head-tilt at my theological error on St. Joseph, all the nuns were giggling at my self-deprecating humor.) But the important thing is that I did not want to answer to God for even the smallest theological heresy at the end of my life. I say “small,” but the fact is that no heresy is “small” in the eyes of God. It’s easy for us to avoid error, and I should have been much more prepared and astute for those Brides of Christ. In fact, my main sin in all of this was probably the arrogance of thinking I could preach off-the-cuff to such holy nuns with little to no preparation on the life of St. Joseph. 1
In any case, here is why you never ever should give us clergy “a pass” to teach you the wrong things on salvation even if you don’t live your vocation perfectly:
1) Public first-commandment sins are pre-meditated and the most serious.
2) We clergy have high levels of grace poured out on us to fulfill our vocations.
3) It’s easy to avoid heresy. Even children can do it since our Catholic Faith is simple.
4) We clergy have a lot of time sitting around planning our next sermon. So, if we are ever tempted to speak error, we have tons and tons of time to choose to avoid such a pre-meditated sin against the Catholic Faith—that Faith revealed by God Himself.