Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. urged future priests in his archdiocese to adhere to the Church's rich, living tradition rather than accepting ideas that undermine its teaching authority.
“There are not several creeds nor are there multiple moralities from which you can choose,” the cardinal told seminarians in the archdiocese in a Sept. 3 letter.
As they work towards furthering their academic formation, he encouraged them to remain authentically connected to the teaching office of the Church, remembering that “there is only one faith.”
Cardinal Wuerl explained that Christ, who is “the perfect revelation of the Father” sent his disciples to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles as they continued this ministry, and they appointed successors in this hierarchy.
“It is only through this uninterrupted tradition, stretching back to the time of the apostles and continued by their successors, the bishops, that we can be sure of the integrity and validity of the Christian faith,” he said.
“In this way, we have a guarantee that what is taught today is what Jesus actually taught and intended as guidance for his followers.”
Through the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church, we can be certain of the bishops’ teaching authority in reliably transmitting the truths of our faith, he added.
“The Magisterium, the Church’s teaching office, does not assert that in its proclamation of the faith it has exhausted every development, nuance or application of the faith in the circumstances of our day,” the cardinal acknowledged.
“But the Church does define that the authoritative teachers of the faith will not lead us into error and away from Christ,” he explained. “No one else can rightfully make that claim.”
Today, Cardinal Wuerl said, there are some theologians who suggest that there are two Magisteria, the teaching of the bishops and the teaching of theologians.
He cautioned against the claim that theology abides in a separate realm from the passing on of the faith through received tradition.
The theological writers making these claims present teachings that contradict Church doctrine, arguing falsely that the pope and bishops “do not understand the nature of theology,” he said.
The cardinal warned of an effort by some people “to discredit the teaching office of the bishops” in order to put forward their own teaching.
Although these individuals and groups may label themselves “Catholic,” they “present positions that clearly contradict the faith,” he said, noting that these dissenting positions often deal with abortion, homosexuality and sexual activity outside of marriage.
Cardinal Wuerl told the seminarians that as priests, they will minister to many people who have been introduced to the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” a “defective lens” that sees Church teaching as ruptured, often embracing new ideas “that were never accepted as a part of Christ’s Gospel” in the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council.
Unfortunately, he said, this mentality has drawn support from the culture and mass media and has “permeated the teaching faculties of a number of Catholic schools.” Therefore, many Catholics lack a full understanding of Church teaching and the reasons for it, particularly in the areas of morality and social justice.
“To them you will need to be a voice of invitation, reproposing Christ, his Church and his teaching,” the cardinal said.
He urged the seminarians to turn to the Catechism as “a sure source reference for true Catholic teaching” if they ever have doubts about an idea presented by a theologian.
“Your starting point and constant reference in this theological task must always be the articulated faith of the Church,” Cardinal Wuerl told the future priests of the archdiocese.
“Your fidelity to the teaching of the Church, and docility particularly before the judgment of the Magisterium, would be signs that your efforts are derived from the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” he explained.