God Exists, But Does the Magisterium?

October 1999

Kenneth D. Whitehead, a temperate fellow, has let loose with a shocking statement about the condition of the Catholic Church in the U .S.: “There no longer effectively is any accepted Church Magisterium in the traditional sense…a Magisterium that teaches ‘with authority’ and sees its pronouncements accepted on the basis of that authority” (this from his article “How Dissent Became ‘Institutionalized’ in the Church in America,” in the July Homiletic & Pastoral Review, edited by the unimpeachable Fr. Kenneth Baker).

If dissent has become institutionalized and the Magisterium has essentially ceased to exist in the U.S., how did this come to be? Whitehead, a scholarly former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and no bishop-basher, traces it in large measure back to a pastoral letter issued by the U.S. bishops in 1968, Human Life in Our Day, which carried a short chapter called “Norms of Licit Theological Dissent,” which, curiously, cited no theological or ecclesiastical sources. To Whitehead, the notion of licit dissent is “incoherent.”


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New Oxford Notes: October 1999

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