In early September, 2007, Robert Sungenis posted a letter he had sent to the Vatican. In this letter Sungenis goes on for 12 pages, presenting his objections to one sentence on page 131 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, a statement he referred to as “erroneous, if not heretical” (p. 2):
"the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them."
We would note that Sungenis generally managed to express himself in a decent, respectful manner. In fact he wrote:
“I have great respect both for the USCCB and the catechism it produced for the benefit of Catholic adults…” (page 1)
And he even managed to admit the possibility that he may not understand this statement correctly:
“Unless I am misunderstanding the words or the intent of the United States Catechism, I do not see any other conclusions that can be made.” (p.3)
However, it is evident that this respectful approach was a tactic designed to conceal his true opinion of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Clearly, he wanted to be taken seriously by the Vatican and realized that the more contentious, condemnatory approach he usually adopts would fall upon deaf ears. This was certainly a prudent decision, but it would have been more effective had he continued to keep his true views to himself.
In subsequent public writings not sent to the Vatican, he opted to share his honest views of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops. The fact is, completely contrary to his humble statement to the Vatican, Sungenis had no doubt in his mind at all that he was interpreting this statement in the only possible way. One will note that, like his treatment of Jewish issues, he has a penchant for painting the entire conference of bishops with a very broad, condemnatory brush.
“More and more the USCCB has shown itself to be a predominately liberal institution…Where there should be absolute outrage from the USCCB on the scandals and heterodoxy occurring within its own rank and file, there is little more than complacency.” (page 6)
“the USCCB is fast becoming a mouthpiece for modern dissidence and liberalism in American Catholicism. We had a revealing indication of the USCCB’s agenda when it joined with the ADL in reviewing a stolen copy of an early draft of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, which in an ad hoc committee of five liberal Jews and four liberal Catholics condemned it as “anti-semitic.” When Gibson threatened to sue, the USCCB apologized for its devious actions.” (page 7)
“Mouthpiece”, “Agenda”, “Devious"
“I later found out that Rhoades was in league with the USCCB on this issue.” (page 11)
“In league with the USCCB”? That turn of phrase is most often employed with the most nefarious characters…as in, “in league with the Devil.” The negative implication is clear enough.
“I knew upon leaving the building the erroneous theology he, Rhoades and the USCCB were attempting to propagate to unsuspecting Catholics.” (page 11)
“Attempting to propagate to unsuspecting Catholics.” Apparently, Sungenis would have us believe this is part of another conspiracy.
If this is representative of the “great respect” Sungenis has for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wonders what he might say if he did not respect them.
The question also needs to be asked: Did Sungenis ever make a serious, filial effort to obtain a clarification from the bishops? We are aware that he once sought out an influential layman at the USCCB who Sungenis knew had strong, liberal leanings. No doubt Sungenis singled him out because he believed this individual would give him the fodder he sought, rather treating this serious matter as a game of "gotcha!" But did he approach the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a faithful son? Did he apply a rule that St. Ignatius recommends in regard to any common individual, let alone the successors to the Apostles? Or did he view the bishops as adversaries, opponents against whom he would enjoy scoring points and “winning”?
"it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another's statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so defend the proposition from error." (Rule #22, The Spiritual Exercises)
Indeed, this is what Jacob Michael set out to do. In a correspondence dated January 26, 2007, Jacob wrote wrote to the USCCB:
In a section of the Catechism dealing with the Old Covenant, the statement is made that ‘the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.’”
”My question is this: what does the Catechism mean here, concretely? Is this an affirmation that the Old Covenant is salvific for the Jewish people today? Does it mean that we are living in what some theologians call a "bi-covenantal" situation? Or is this merely an affirmation that the Jews retain a special relationship to God because of the Old Covenant, while not stating that the Jewish people can be saved apart from Christ?” (emphasis added)
On February 2, 2007, Msgr. Daniel Kutys of the USCCB responded:
“My understanding of the meaning of that statement is your final observation… God never goes back on his word. But as you also suspect, the enduring nature of the Covenant does not preclude that one day all people will come to Christ and the responsibility all Catholics have to evangelize others about the need for faith in the Triune God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.” (emphasis added)
Certainly, as Bishop Rhoades has acknowledged, it is understandable that one might be confused by this particular sentence. It could certainly be improved. And it appears clear that the bishops are already aware of this fact and it would not be surprising to eventually see it modified for the sake of clarity.
But as faithful Catholics, we must refrain from reaching the worst possible interpretation of the teaching being given by our bishops. How much more must we refrain from accusing our bishops of “attempting to propagate” errors to the "unsuspecting" faithful, as though our bishops are willful agents of evil.
Bob has made much of the “response” he received from the CDF to his letter. However, as even Wikipedia has noted, the response he received appears to be a postcard-sized form letter with two brief sentences and a stamped signature. The reader will notice that the letter does not even address Sungenis by name and the topic of the letter he sent isn’t mentioned in this “response” he touts as a “reply from the Vatican.”
Catholics can trust that good, sober minds are already aware of this issue and it will be handled as the successors to the Apostles deem appropriate, with or without the contributions of those who approach them with deep suspicion.