The Final Exhortation already written 30 years ago? - by Cardinal Ratzinger


Prot. N. 102/79

Your Excellency,

I am writing to bring to a close the Apostolic Visitation process, which was assisted by the visit of Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, DC, to the Archdiocese of Seattle from November 2-8, 1983.

Prior to that visit, both significant criticism and considerable praise had been directed toward your own pastoral ministry and that of your collaborators in Seattle. To quote from this Congregation's own October 4, 1983, letter to you, 'It was precisely because it did not want to give uncritical acceptance to the published and private criticisms made about the Archdiocese of Seattle that the Holy See...has undertaken this project.' Toward that end, the Visitor conferred with at least sixty-seven members of the clergy, religious and laity. In addition, he examined many pertinent documents, statements issued by the Archdiocese, and letters. Principally, though, Archbishop Hickey spent some four to five hours of intense discussion with you. That interview, taped and transcribed, was later reviewed by you and approved. Archbishop Hickey, with a model sense of cooperation and collegial concern, filed a lengthy and exhaustively documented report with this Congregation, and with that, his involvement with the Apostolic Visitation process ended.

After a careful review of the entire body of testimony, and of other materials as well, this Congregation is now in a position to make the following observations which, we hope, will be received by you in the spirit in which they are offered, and will be of assistance to you as Archbishop of Seattle

1. There are many indications that you have striven with heart and mind to be a good bishop of the Church, eager to implement the renewal called for in the decrees of the Vatican Council II. You have worked zealously to bring into existence the various consultative bodies promoted by the Council and mandated by the recently revised Code of Canon Law. Numerous people spoke of your laudable and conscientious efforts to involve the laity in the work of the Church and you have sought diligently to be open and accessible to your people. You have been repeatedly described as a man of Gospel values, sensitive to the needs of the sufferings and the aggrieved. Your concern for justice and peace is well known. Time and time again you have given clear evidence of your loyalty to the Church and your devotion and obedience to the Holy Father.

2. It is also true that you and those who assist you have suffered from exaggerated criticism and routine misunderstanding. Our observations are based neither on the complaints of your more strident critics, nor on publications that are obviously biased. Nor do we wish to encourage extremist groups who are wholly lacking in a spirit of cooperation and seek to destroy or suppress whatever is not to their liking. It is our intention, rather, to support what you have done to promote the renewal of the Church in Seattle and to point out, at the same time, areas which we consider are in need of correction and improvement.

3. It is with this background of your own commitment to the real service of the Lord and the authentic renewal of His people, that this congregation wishes to outline these problems and to enlist your cooperation in resolving them.

4. It appears that there has been a rather widespread practice of admitting divorced persons to a subsequent Church marriage without prior review by your Tribunal, or even after they have received a negative sentence. Catholics have been advised that after divorce and civil remarriage, they may in conscience return to the Sacraments.

Such a practice lacks foundation in the Church's clear teaching about the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage after consummation, and in sound jurisprudence. A clear presentation, then, of the sacra mentality and indissolubility of Christian marriage should be made to all your people. Every effort must be made to avoid written materials which equivocate regarding the essential properties of marriage and which may encourage the divorced to attempt a second marriage without the Tribunal's declaration of nullity. At the same time, steps need to be taken to ensure that your Metropolitan Tribunal, both in its constitution and practice, conforms with all the prescriptions of the revised Code of the Church's public law.

5. A number of other basic doctrinal problems can be identified. While it is impossible to judge how widespread they are, and although they may seem to be abstract, they too often have had real implications and concrete effects in the day-to-day life of the Church in Seattle.

a. It is important that clear and firm guidance be offered to those in the Archdiocese who seem reluctant to accept the Magisterium as capable of giving definitive direction in matters of faith and morals.

b. It is important that the nature and mission of the Church be taught in their entirety. The Church should be understood as more than a merely social entity, governed chiefly by psychological, sociological, and political processes. When it is viewed in this way, its institutional or visible dimension is placed in opposition to its Divine Origin, mission, and authority. such a view misunderstands the meaning of the Church and destroys all prospects of the authentic renewal for which the Vatican Council II so clearly called.

c. Incorrect notions of the Church's mission and nature, as well as flawed understandings of the dignity of the human person, can frequently be traced to faulty Christology's. It is imperative that every effort be made to ensure that the Church's integral faith concerning Christ be handed on: His divinity, His humanity, His salvific mission, His inseparable union with and Lordship over the Church.

d. Vigorous efforts must be made to engender in priests, religious and laity, a correct appreciation of the sacramental structure of the Church, especially as it provides for sacred ministry in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. An effective seminary program needs to be established which inculcate in candidates for the priesthood an understanding of the sacraments as the Lord's gifts to His Church. While efforts to encourage the laity to fulfill their apostolate and assume their proper roles in the Church should continue, the unique ministry and office of the Bishop, as well as that of the priests who assist him, must never be obscured.

e. A critical reexamination of policies and programs of the Archdiocese should be conducted to ensure that they are based on the clear vision of the human person which is at the heart of the Gospel message. An anthropology which is dominated by the tentative conclusions of the human sciences could well undermine many pastoral initiatives, however well intentioned.

f. There is a need to correct misunderstandings concerning the role which conscience plays in making moral decisions. In particular it is necessary to highlight the valid claim on the Catholic conscience which is made by the authoritative teaching of the church.

In all these areas it is vitally important to consult with competent, faithful theologians, clergy, and religious to determine how best to proclaim the Church's entire deposit of faith in our changing times.

When guided by an authentic theological method such efforts are not only not in conflict with the teaching of the Church, they are a faithful response of her constant call to vindicate the rights of the poor. It is also important that the faith be imparted in a way, which is sensitive to the suffering and the powerless.

No bishop should hesitate to overrule advisors who propose opinions at variance with the authentic teaching of the Holy See. At the same time, he must seek ways to hand on that teaching convincingly.

6. As per your letter of March 14, 1984, we realize that you have taken steps to correct the practice of contraceptive sterilization which had been followed in local Catholic hospitals. Such procedures are clearly and explicitly forbidden in all Catholic institutions.

The clear moral teaching contained in this Congregation's 1976 Declaration on Sexual Ethics, as well as the teaching found in the documents of the U.S. Bishops' Conference must be maintained and explained in an effective manner.

7. In matters of pastoral practice, first Confession should precede first Communion. This decision, which terminates any authorized experimentation, was incorporated in c. 914 of the revised Code. Accordingly, the sequence of first Confession prior to first Communion is not optional, nor can a custom to the contrary be established.

8. Similarly, the use of general Absolution must be strictly limited to the conditions listed in the relevant documents of the Holy See and in particular in c. 961 par. 1. The fact that many penitents would naturally congregate at the times of great feasts Christmas and Easter for example, would not of itself constitute the necessary condition that they would be deprived of the grace of the sacrament for a long time if general absolution were not given. Responsible supervision on the part of the office for liturgy is indicated.

9. Likewise, the attention of the clergy and the faithful should be drawn to the fact that non-Catholic Christians may be admitted occasionally to communion in the Catholic Church under specific conditions as listed in c. 844 par. 4, and in the related documents of the Holy See on this question. Catholics, however, are permitted in some cases to receive the Eucharist in non-Catholic churches, but only in those whose sacraments are recognized by the Catholic Church, as is clear from c. 844, par. 2.

The Catholic Church believes the Eucharist to be a sign of unity already achieved. Routine intercommunion on the occasion of weddings or funerals, wherever it is the practice, should be recognized as clearly abusive and an impediment to genuine ecumenism.

10. Effort to encourage full and lively participation in the sacred liturgy should be fostered. However, practices, which are not in accord with the Roman Sacramentary and the related directives of the Holy See, should be eliminated. The appointment of a carefully trained priest to aid in the supervision of sacramental and liturgical discipline is indicated here as well.

11. Concern for priests who have left the ministry is obviously a duty of a bishop, but he must always be aware of the Church's discipline. Laicized priests are excluded from performing certain roles, as amply described in their rescripts of laicization. The status of priest who have left the ministry but who have not been laicized must be recognized as much more irregular, and they can hardly be employed formally or informally by the Church in any way. The same applies for their civilly married wives.

12. It has been noted that in 1976 and in 1979, the Archdiocese of Seattle devised questionnaires to obtain information useful for the formation and conduct of Archdiocesan programs. Some, unfortunately, understood these questionnaires to be a kind of voting process on doctrinal or moral teachings. The questionnaires did reveal certain deficient doctrinal understandings and the results point to the need for a more careful and extensive catechesis for both children and adults.

13. With regard to the role of women in the church, the teaching of the Church regarding their God-given dignity and importance should be given full weight. The current fierce politicization of this issue must not impede the Church's efforts to vindicate the rights of all.

The exclusion of women from Sacred Orders was dealt with at length in this Congregation's 1975 Instruction, Inter Insigniores and should be explained unambiguously.

14. A final question of pastoral practice pertains to ministry to homosexual men and women. The Archdiocese should withdraw all support from any group, which does not unequivocally accept the teaching of the Magisterium concerning the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity. This teaching has been set forth in this Congregation's Declaration on Sexual Ethics and more recently in the document, Educational Guidance in Human Love, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1983. The ill-advised welcome of a pro-homosexual group to your cathedral, as well as events subsequent to the Apostolic Visitation, have served to make the Church's position appear to be ambiguous on this delicate but important issue. A compassionate ministry to homosexual persons must be developed that has as its clear goal the promotion of a chaste lifestyle. Particular care is to be exercised by any who represent the Archdiocese, to explain clearly the position of the Church on this question.

In bringing all the above points to your attention it has been our purpose to assist you as effectively as possible in your office as Archbishop of Seattle. We commend you for your kindness and patience during the Apostolic Visit and during the many months needed by the Holy See for careful review and appropriate action.

May the Holy Spirit of Christ be with you and with His people whom you serve.

With my own best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Signed/ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger