Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
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Msgr. David Q. Liptak
Q. Was there some compelling reason underlying the recent controversial declaration from the Vatican on the oneness of the Roman Catholic Church?

A. Why should clear position statements on perennial Catholic doctrine be assessed as surprising? That our ancient and historic Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church is a doctrine of faith. To put this plainly, the Catholic Church holds and teaches that the See of St. Peter is the center of all religious convergence, and that without the Church, salvation does not occur – there the Catholic Church is mysteriously present.

All of which is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See, for example, Nos. 816, 846, 855 and 866. The first reference cites Lumen Gentium, the crowning document of Vatican Council II:

“The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it… This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successors of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.” (LG 8,  2)

This is hardly new doctrine; besides, Vatican II took place in the 1960s – almost a half century ago. But Vatican II’s doctrine is faithfully in continuity with all previous Church Councils, dating from I Nicaea in the fourth century. And I Nicaea rests on the Sacred Scriptures as read within the Church – on the Bible and Tradition as conveyed by the Church’s Magisterium.

Hence, the reason for the most recent (June) Vatican declaration on the unicity of the Catholic Church lies, curiously, with the reason as to why it appears surprising to some.

And this reason is due not to the doctrine, but to “soft” theology on the part of many commentators, including (and this is key to understanding the situation) poorly trained or weak theologians, largely “theologians” in academic settings such as colleges and universities.

The overall problem about the unicity of the Roman Church has erupted over the past few decades with respect to one Latin verb in the paragraph from Lumen Gentium cited above in the quotation from the Catechism. This word is, simply, subsistit; meaning “subsists.”

Instead of discovering the precise significance of this Latin verb from ancient and perennial doctrine, many poorly trained or fragile theological writers and academics have invested the verb subsistit with a significance alien to (indeed, at times at odds with) received Tradition.

The June Vatican document, therefore, is a doctrinal (not simply a theological) reaffirmation of the received Tradition going back to Apostolic times. This represents the Voice of the Church itself, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI. One section of this document reads:

“… ‘subsistence’ meaning this enduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.”

Why did the Vatican Council use the verb “subsists” (subsistit) instead of the ordinary verb “is”? The reason given by the June document is that the verb “subsists,” while indicating the full identity of the Church of Christ as the Catholic Church, also indicates that there are “numerous elements of sanctification and of truth” which are “found outside the Catholic Church’s structure,” but which as “gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.”

“Nevertheless,” the latest Vatican document concludes, “the word ‘subsists’ can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe in the ‘one’ Church); and this ‘one’ Church subsists in the Catholic Church.”

Thus, it is possible, in accordance with Catholic doctrine, “to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them…”

The June document is formally entitled, “Response to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine of the Church.” (28 June 2007)

When it is read properly it is really an assist to ecumenical endeavor. To interpret it as disruptive of ecumenical progress is to misread it.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.