What is your view of Catholic apologetics today? I know that a lot of other apologists have tried to ostracize you because of your views on certain things, and I guess I have to wonder myself. Didn’t you used to teach on EWTN? Can you give me your assessment on what the controversy is all about or what you do that others do not do?
R. Sungenis: Paul, glad you asked. Let me start with the state of Catholic apologetics today. Overall, I think it is good, at least compared to what it was about 25 years ago when Catholic apologetics was practically non-existent. But I think it could be much better today if we all banded together and used each other gifts and talents instead of competing with one another. As the saying goes, all ships rise with the tide.
But while we are on the subject of the division in Catholic apologetics, I think we need to analyze what causes it. In brief, a Catholic apologetics organization’s appeal and approach depends basically on two things: (1) whether the organization deals with the controversies within the Catholic Church itself, and (2) whether the organization deals with highly controversial issues, such as Jews/Judaism, Scientism, Feminism, Contraception/NFP (to name a few).
Catholic apologetics, by and large, is an undefined enterprise. Just what is “apologetics”? Normally it is defined as a “defense of the faith,” but that definition means many things to different people. To use a more biblical analogy, I would say that each Catholic apologetics organization defines itself along one of two lines: (a) it sees itself as predominately filling the role of an evangelist, introducing people to the Catholic faith and educating them on a basic level; or (b) it sees itself as predominately filling the role of a prophet, seeking correct doctrine above all; exposing sins and weaknesses in the Church; and educating the public on a deeper and more academic level. There are certainly combinations of these approaches in each apostolate, but the basic distinction exists, nevertheless.
By and large, you will find that organizations such as EWTN, Catholic Answers, Envoy Magazine, Catholic Convert, CUF, Scott Hahn ministries, Catholic Legate, and many similar apostolates that follow the same approach, will engage in very little of #1 and #2. They have a very light, or possibly sanitized, portrayal of Catholicism, looking to avoid as much controversy as possible and instead sticking with the mainstay of the “us/them” arena – the criticism of Protestantism in general, or the usual suspects like Harry Potter, The Davinci Code, etc. I’m not saying this is entirely bad. I’m only saying that, if you are looking for apostolates that portray this more positive/less controversial side of Catholicism, these are the apostolates you will want to follow.
The unfortunate thing I see, however, is that many of these lighter-fare apostolates often criticize or ignoring other Catholic apostolates that engage in much more of #1 and #2, and they tell their patrons to stay away from such apostolates, making them look like miscreants or extremists. These apostolates seem to have an overriding fear – the fear of having Catholicism portrayed as being out-of-touch with the statusquo and modern academia (e.g., science, politics, psychology) or in any way critical of the Jews, Judaism or Zionism for fear of being labeled “anti-semitic.” This is bad because it keeps the Catholic in a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland menagerie and prohibits him from seeing and dealing with all the other groups and problems he will eventually confront in being a Catholic.
Then there are the more traditional apostolates, such as the Remnant and Catholic Family News (CFN), to name just a few, who concentrate vigorously on #1 and #2, although they go, as far as I see, too far on #1 since they more or less reject Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Missae as largely worthless and riddled with doctrinal error; and they seem a little unsure about how much of #2 they should be doing, since they also have a certain fear of being stigmatized with the “anti-semitic” label. Further, they too seem to be lacking in the expertise needed to deal with the intricacies of the scientific fields. Still, if you want to know the dirt on every pope in the 20th century, or the coverup of Fatima, or the compromising pereti of Vatican II, or of every liberal Catholic theologian from Karl Rahner to Hans Kung, then Catholic Family News, The Remnant, and organizations similar to them are second to none. For the most part their scholarship is impeccable. My only concern, sometimes, is the final interpretation of what they find (e.g., the rejection of all or parts of Vatican II, Novus Ordo, etc).
Our organization, CAI Publishing, Inc. and the Bellarmine Theological Forum, is somewhere in between the above two approaches (and I don’t say that just to put us in the middle of two extremes). We deal with a moderate amount of #1. I say “moderate” since we do not question the validity and/or applicability of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass (in fact I hold that Vatican II is without error in its doctrinal teachings). By the same token we have been highly critical of the actions of John Paul II (e.g., Assisi prayer meetings; institution of altar girls and female authorities in chanceries; failure to discipline and stop wayward clerics both in doctrinal aberrations and moral laxity; bowing to modern cosmology and cosmogony; unbridled philosemitism and causing undue confusion about the Old Covenant; failure to do the Fatima consecration properly; failure on properly treating the SSPX (which Pope Benedict had to reverse); changing the tradition on papal power; the inordinate canonization of saints; profusely but needlessly apologizing for pretwentieth century popes, etc.), since we believe he departed, in these actions, from Traditional practices and even Vatican II. We also do a lot more of #2 than either of the above two groups, mainly because we have studied much more about the Jewish/Zionist threat against the Church and are not curtailed in the slightest degree by demagogic accusations of “anti-semitism.” We are also unafraid to take on modern science (e.g., evolution, Big-Bang cosmology, Copernicanism) since we have sufficient expertise to do so. I think I should also say that the literature produced by our organization is not for the light of heart. If you have read our biblical commentaries, for example, you have noticed that they are written on a high academic level, for that is where we feel God wants our niche to be. There are a lot of Catholic apostolates that want to appeal to Joe-Six-Pack, and they have my blessing, but that is not our focus.
I think there is one more thing to point out as an example of our influence and success in light of how small we are compared to EWTN, Catholic Answers and Hahn- CUF. In 2008, the US bishops voted 243 to 14 to eliminate a heretical sentence from page 131 of the 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. The sentence stated that the Mosaic covenant was eternally valid for the Jews, implying by the word “eternal” that it has the power to give salvation to the Jews. Ours was the only Catholic apostolate in the United States to bring this gross theological error to the attention of the Vatican and the US bishops. Not only did no other apostolate help, they actually criticized us for our strong stance on the issue, and they sought to make excuses for prelates that were holding the same view as the US catechism. Once the US bishops took their vote in 2008, however, we were obviously vindicated, and we helped save the Church from a terrible heresy. My critics went to their respective corners licking their wounds, as it were. The point I’m trying to make is, since our apostolate had, for many years prior, already taken a strong stand against the Jewish incursion into the Catholic Church, and since we made a practice of not shying away from highly controversial issues, we were really the only apostolate in the US equipped, theologically and psychologically, to take on the issue and survive the criticism from Jewish ideologues. Not only would other apostolates (e.g., those of the EWTN, CUF, CA, variety) not even consider taking on such an issue, the truth is, they are so reticent to deal with Jewish issues that they actually find themselves promoting Judaism and Zionism in one form or another, as we have pointed out on various occasions.
So there you have it. Each of these groups has a different focus and philosophy. I think they all produce a certain amount of good in their own way, but they also have their particular problems. Overall, I would say that EWTN, Catholic Answers and Hahn-CUF are, for lack of a better term, somewhat milquetoast when it comes to dealing with the more controversial and significant problems occurring in the Church and in the world. My assessment is that they either don’t know where the real battles are or they know and choose to ignore them, and have more or less settled into a politically-correct apologetic. Except for the abortion issue, I really don’t find much of a clarion call from them. On the other hand, I would say an organization like ours that regularly deals with these controversial issues runs the risk of alienating a lot of Catholics because our focus is much more on the problems in the Church than its positive movements. Hence, because of their more positive appeal, I would expect the EWTN-like apostolates to have the lion’s share of the Catholic “apologetics” community, whereas I would expect apostolates like ours to attract the deep thinkers and politically-incorrect crowd. That’s just the nature of the respective animals. But that’s ok. We each have our gifts, strengths and focus. I think God is using us all, but I think He would like to see us all get along much better than we have, and that is what all three groups need to pray for.