Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bishop Rhoades and the Dual Covenant Theory


While it is our intention to bring this blog to a close, we believe it is important to end by removing any possible remaining confusion caused by the false and slanderous accusations Robert Sungenis continues to level against his bishop, the Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, in regard to the dual covenant error.

At the beginning of July, 2009, Lay Witness magazine published an article written by us (Michael Forrest and David Palm, specifically) entitled, “All in the Family: Christians, Jews and God,” (available on-line here).

In this article, we made the following statements directly rejecting the dual covenant error:

“The New Covenant in Christ has superseded the Mosaic (or “Old”) covenant. The term ‘supersession,’ which was first used by an Anglican minister, has subsequently been used by some Catholics to describe this truth. It appears in no magisterial texts; yet, as originally used, it does accurately describe Catholic teaching.”

“While the Church continues to grapple with certain nuances in the relationship among Jews, Christians, and God, she has never taught the dual covenant theory…”

“the dual covenant theory…fundamentally compromises the Church’s Great Commission, given by Christ (cf. Mt. 28:18–20). Additionally, the public advocacy of this theory has created an unwarranted expectation among our Jewish brethren that in turn leads to their understandable frustration each time the Church reaffirms that the Gospel and the Church are for all men.”

“the dual covenant theory holds…that [the Jewish people] have their own path to salvation through Judaism and therefore do not need to be—and should not be—presented with the Gospel and invited to expressly enter the Church (which is false).”

“The Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Magisterium consistently testify that the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Church is for all men—Jew and Gentile alike.

“God has given man one sure path to salvation, and that path is through the definitive and universal covenant in Jesus Christ by means of His Church. It is a serious error to direct anyone away from that sure path, regardless of the intention.”

In fact, Sungenis himself agreed that we rejected the dual covenant error, even commending us for it:

R. Sungenis: "Well, at least Forrest and Palm are not teaching the...heresy that Jews don't need Jesus Christ to be saved, as was Cardinal Keeler in the 2002 Reflections on Covenant and Missions document and the 2006 Catholic Catechism for Adults...for that Forrest and Palm are to be commended." (See here).


The problem for Sungenis is that Bishop Rhoades wrote a letter to Lay Witness (Sept/Oct 2009) in which he explicitly endorsed our criticism of the dual covenant error - stating that it was "right on the mark." In that endorsement, he also stated that he fully supported the U.S. bishops' "note" criticizing and correcting Reflections on Covenant and Mission (also available on-line here):

Dear Michael and David,

Thank you very much for your article All in the Family: Christians, Jews and God. I appreciate your good scholarship and your fidelity to the teachings of the Church. Your reflections bring much needed clarity to a complex topic. I believe your critique of both the dual covenant theory and extreme supersessionism is right on the mark.

I was also happy to support the Note on Ambiguities in "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" recently issued by the Committee on Doctrine and the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The conclusion of that Note states: "With Saint Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the "gifts and the call" that he has given to the Jewish people (Romans 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God's promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God's grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation. Fulfilling the mandate given her by the Lord, the Church, respecting human freedom, proclaims the truths of the Gospel in love."

Thank you for proclaiming the truths of the Gospel in love!

Gratefully yours in Christ,

+Kevin C. Rhoades
Bishop of Harrisburg

As we reported over a year ago (see here), Bishop Rhoades also fully supported and voted for the change to the problematic sentence on page 131 of the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults. Bob has ignored this fact as well.

As such, while we have previously provided more than ample evidence of the orthodoxy of Bishop Rhoades’ beliefs and teaching in regard to the covenant issue and have illustrated that Bob’s proposed evidence wasn’t the evidence he thought it to be (here, here, here and here), His Excellency's letter to Lay Witness makes completely clear that – contrary to Bob’s public accusations:

1) Bishop Rhoades is not a proponent of Cardinal Keeler's problematic Reflections on Covenant and Mission document,
2) Bishop Rhoades is not a proponent of the dual covenant error,
3) Bishop Rhoades is not promoting a "hybrid" wherein the Old Covenant is salvific as long as it is "not apart from Christ."
4) Bishop Rhoades is not attempting to propagate “heresy” to “unsuspecting Catholics.”
5) Bishop Rhoades is not trying to convince or force anyone to adhere to the dual covenant error, and
6) Bishop Rhoades is not trying to silence anyone for merely criticizing the dual covenant error – in fact, His Excellency appreciates charitable and responsible efforts to address it.

Therefore, Bob’s public accusations against Bishop Rhoades are "slanderous and erroneous," exactly as His Excellency stated in February, 2008 (here).

While Bob would like everyone to believe that his personal war against Bishop Rhoades is about doctrinal purity, the facts prove that it has actually been about Bob's self-promotion. Some time ago, Bob and one of his most ardent followers accidentally exposed the real reason why he turned on Bishop Rhoades after first praising His Excellent profusely, pledging filial obedience to him and even assuring his followers that his bishop's teaching on Jewish issues was trustworthy. Anyone who wants to understand Bob's actual intentions and motivations, according to his own words, really needs to read this: click here.

Unfortunately, regardless of how many times he has been corrected, Bob continues to publicly level false and slanderous accusations of heresy against his bishop and remains unwilling to admit that he has done so based upon "evidence" that doesn’t begin to meet his own previously stated standards and criteria. Below are the standards and criteria Sungenis himself established while publicly defending the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#121) against the charge of heresy – specifically in regard to its teaching that “the Old Covenant has never been revoked” (here):


It's ambiguous, but it's not heresy. . . . I'll grant you that your reasoning COULD be a possible interpretation, but the point is that you don't know it IS the interpretation, at least not well enough to levy the charge of heresy. Heresy does not deal with ambiguities. It sanctions direct and provable statements of error. . . . I really don't have to prove anything. George is the one who has to prove something, since he is the one charging the CCC with heresy. . . . Heresy is a deliberate, calculated and unequivocal statement to circumvent established dogma. . . . I simply would not use the word "heresy" at all, . . . "Proximate to heresy" is a juridical term, and when you get into canonical jurisprudence, then you're required to give substantial evidence for the accusation and conviction. If you can't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, you don't have a case. ~ R. Sungenis


Below are the criteria Sungenis established when defending "prelates of the Church" from accusations of heresy (Q and A #42):


When we are dealing with prelates of the Church, the best place to go to define heresy is canon law, and the previous decisions made by the Church upon its formal heretics. As such, the Church has always weighed all the evidence before it makes a judgment on whether something is heretical, or whether a person is a heretic. In canonical terminology, "heresy" requires two things: (1) that the doctrine being denied has been defined by the Church at the highest levels of her authority (e.g., de fide, de fide Catholica, de fide devina et Catholica, or de fide ecclesiastica definita, or de fide divina). (2) The person would have to recognize the teaching at this level, and would have to give a specific denial of it for it to be canonically called "heresy" and for him to be classed as a "heretic." Even then, the Church gives room for the suspected heretic to recant or modify his views when probed by the Church, which is also a canonical process. If he persists, then he is treated accordingly.

In addition, when the person who is being accused is the pope, even much more caution has to be added to the procedure. If someone doesn't like something that the pope said, he can raise his objections in the spirit of humility and he has a right to be heard. But he does not have the right to call the pope's statement a "heresy," since that is a term reserved to canonical courts who alone have the right and authority to judge the issue.

Moreover, in my own personal experience, at least in half the cases I've seen concerning complaints about either Ratzinger or Pope Benedict XVI, it is the accuser whose theology is a bit askew or extreme, and it is the accuser in many of the other cases who is much too quick to set himself up as the judge and jury, and with little room for giving his victim the benefit of the doubt. ~ R. Sungenis


These are reasonable and charitable standards, but to date, Bob has steadfastly refused to apply them to his own bishop:

  1. Where has the Church ever defined, or even used, the terms "supersessionism" or "antisupersessionsm" at all - let alone "at the highest levels of her authority"? Nowhere. Then how could Bishop Rhoades or Fr. King "recognize the teaching"?
  2. Where has Bishop Rhoades ever given a "specific denial of it"? Nowhere.
  3. Did Sungenis raise his objections "in the spirit of humility"? No. By his own account, he accused Bishop Rhoades of holding to heresy and threatened to try to "expose" him to the Vatican.
  4. Did Sungenis have the right to call Fr. King's statement a heresy? No. By his own standards, that is reserved to canonical courts "who alone have the right and authority to judge the issue."
  5. Has Sungenis been "much too quick to set himself up as the judge and jury, and with little room for giving his victim the benefit of the doubt"? Yes.
  6. Sungenis has never even spoken to the bishop about his views on the Old Covenant. The evidence for his accusations is entirely speculative, requiring one to draw negative inferences from circumstantial evidence that are unwarranted and unjustified. Therefore, by his own stated standards (noted above), his accusations are groundless and they should never have been made.

Bob's false accusations that Bishop Rhoades adheres to the dual covenant error have rested on two pieces of "evidence":

  1. Perfectly orthodox answers His Excellency provided to a series of questions posed by Michael Forrest that Bob personally found to be suspicious or evasive. Bob completely ignored the fact that the bishop unequivocally and explicitly affirmed the Church’s missionary mandate to the Jewish people – something that is flatly rejected by adherents to the dual covenant theory. He also completely ignored the language that Bishop Rhoades employed from Dominus Iesus that affirms there is one economy of salvation – not two – and that economy of salvation is through Jesus Christ by means of His Church (here). Again, Bob also seems unaware that Bishop Rhoades fully supported and voted for the change to the problematic sentence on page 131 of the USCCA – although we reported this over a years ago (here).
  2. Alleged statements made by Fr. King, the Vicar General – not Bishop Rhoades – that were negative in regard to “supersessionism.” Previously at this blog (here) and also in All in the Family (here), we pointed out that the term “supersessionism” is not even of Catholic origin. While used by some Catholics, it appears in no Catholic magisterial texts and has no precise, Catholic definition. Not unlike the term “proselytism,” it can and does carry very different connotations, implications and nuances (here). As such, it is completely inappropriate for Bob or anyone to utilize this word as a sort of absolute litmus test for orthodoxy (for an important discussion of Bob's misuse of the term "supersessionism," click here and here).
As we also stated in a previous piece at this blog, if Fr. King understands the term “supersessionism” in one of the “extreme” or “crude” senses (as Avery Cardinal Dulles phrased it and as Bob himself uses it: see here), then he has a perfectly legitimate reason for not accepting it. It is therefore unjustifiable to level a public charge of heresy against Fr. King based on his alleged rejection this informal and ill-defined term – let alone to publicly charge Bishop Rhoades with heresy because his vicar general rejects the word.

Additionally, we have documented that Bob has been more than satisfied with – and has even highly praised – far less explicit statements made by John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, the USCCB, Cardinal Kasper and Leon Suprenant as proof that these men had rejected the dual covenant error (here). Yet, he has adopted a drastically different standard with his own bishop. Bob has even gone to the absurd extreme of requiring Bishop Rhoades to sign off on three statements that he personally composed in order to be acquitted of his trumped up charges (here and here).

Be that as it may, Bishop Rhoades’ letter (above) proves conclusively that there is no legitimate basis on which to even question His Excellency’s beliefs and teachings in regard to the dual covenant error at all, let alone to publicly charge him with having a "war...with Catholic doctrine" and “attempting to propagate” heresy to “unsuspecting Catholics” because he has greater “allegiances” to Jewish causes than to the Catholic faith (as Bob has done). Bob's accusations against Bishop Rhoades have essentially been a two-pronged effort to get the focus off of his own atrocious behavior and errors and to convince people that he's actually a hero crusading for doctrinal purity against nefarious pro-Jewish forces (click here for more on that).

We hope that Bob doesn't choose to change the field of play again by altering his original accusations and finding new reasons to level public accusations against Bishop Rhoades. However, based on his previous articles about the Jewish people and God, we anticipate that he may object to the assertion that the Jewish people retain a special (although non-salvific) relationship with God. But we invite Bob and his supporters to review the following evidence we previously provided that his own theology already implicitly acknowledges that the Jewish people retain a special relationship with God:



Regardless, even if Bob rejects the evidence that the Jewish people still retain a special relationship with God (something even the Holy Father believes), this disagreement is of a completely different essence and magnitude than whether or not the Jewish people need Christ and the Church like everyone else in the world.

Contrary to Bob's story, Bishop Rhoades did not direct him to cease writing about Jews and Judaism because of Bob’s opposition to the dual covenant error (click here). Rather, His Excellency directed him to cease writing about Jews and Judaism for the reasons that he plainly stated – Bob's writings and postings on Jewish issues have been and too often continue to be “hostile, uncharitable and unchristian,” including even those that are largely theological in nature (for more on that, click here, here, here and here).

We continue to sincerely hope and pray that Bob moves toward mending his relationship with Bishop Rhoades by retracting and apologizing for his false and slanderous accusations and by following His Excellency’s sound and reasonable direction in regard to Jewish issues.

Michael Forrest, David Palm and Jacob Michael


Note: We recommend reading A Defense of Bishop Rhoades from More False Accusations by Robert Sungenis (click here), which illustrates that Bob has repeatedly changed his story and contradicted himself in regard to his accusations against Bishop Rhoades.