NCR Inconsistency on Sensus Fidelium and the Cardinal Newman Society

Just yesterday morning the Editors at the National Catholic Reporter touted the importance of the sensus fidelium on the matter of women’s ordination.

Today, one day later, they published a piece that pretty much ignores an application of what they called for because it is wielded by the Cardinal Newman Society and people faithful to the Church’s Magisterium and hierarchy.

Yesterday, in support of women’s ordination, they wrote:

We must speak up in every forum available to us: in parish council meetings, faith-sharing groups, diocesan convocations and academic seminars. We should write letters to our bishops, to the editors of our local papers and television news channels. … We have heard the faithful assent to this in countless conversations in parish halls, lecture halls and family gatherings. It has been studied and prayed over individually and in groups.


The Cardinal Newman Society is well-known for its role in controversies over speakers and course offerings on Catholic campuses. Catholic college and university leaders who have come within the group’s crosshairs describe “blast communication” tactics that include waves of protest emails, letters and calls to bishops and college officials.

That looks to me like an implementation of what they called for in the previous paragraph.

Think: thousands of phone calls and emails from concerned, faithful Catholics across the fruited plain coming in to the bishop’s office and directly to the university. A great groundswell of faithful Catholics, individuals fed up with institutions that use their Catholic credentials to undermine the faith rather than promote and spread it, take it upon themselves to voice their displeasure.

On that phrase, “sensus fidelium,” Jeff Miller over at his Curt Jester blog helpfully offered, “While no Latin scholar by any stretch of the imagination I think the phrase just might have something to do with fidelity.”

Indeed. You *might* say the faithful who contact the bishop or the school are sharing the sense they have of what a Catholic institution ought to be and do.

I wonder why the Editors at the Reporter don’t congratulate the good people at the Cardinal Newman Society for their effectiveness at spurring-to-life the sensus fidelium in defense of what these members of the laity think is authentic Catholicism.



  • Tim Spalding

    I think a clue to the problem might be found in your sentence “ignores an application of [the sensus fidelium] because it is wielded by the Cardinal Newman Society.” The sense of the faithful is not “wielded,” like a sword, or a tool, perhaps, it merely exists. It is a source of truth in the church, not a species of lobbying. While the Newman Society may well be correct in what it advocates, the sensus fidelium is not the same thing as a coordinated campaign of influence.

    • Tom Crowe

      Tim— Interesting commentary, but hoist on your petard.

      First, you might note that my use of “wielded” was respecting the interpretation and methods that NCR had called for with respect to pushing forward their political agenda with respect to women’s ordination. If you are interested in a slightly more in-depth look at what I have written and believe regarding “sensus fidelium” you are invited to read my piece from yesterday (linked from the first paragraph above).

      Second, “Catholic believers,” you say? Good! One who openly and brazenly dissents on matters of faith and morals is not a Catholic “believer.”

      • Tim Spalding

        I agree to some degree with your characterization of NCR’s advocacy. I would beg you to notice, however, that I didn’t say anything in favor of their methods. That if am against your guy, I must be in favor of the other one is the logic of sports teams—and of internet debate.

        That said it might be worth it for all of us to consider appropriate and inappropriate ways to know and express the sense of the faithful. I suppose I do see a difference between speaking up in parish meetings and coordinated and targeted email blasts. I am not, however, comfortable with the tactics employed by most advocates here, and think they all partake of the same unreasonable and uncharitable methods.

        On the question of Catholic believers, you take a familiar line, but one that partakes more of the logic of sports, clubs and political parties than of different, and more charitable logic of the church. A Catholic may be very wrong—even believe heretical things—and yet be a Catholic. Obviously the people you’re declaring aren’t actually Catholics–the majority of American Catholics!–haven’t actually been declared so formally by competent authorities. As for automatic excommunication, the canonical standard without a clear act, like illicit ordination, involves theologically and practically difficult questions of knowledge, diligence, persistence in error, etc. And it involves questions of the state of another’s mind and soul you are simply not competent to answer. In any case, most American Catholics could not meet them. (59% of Catholics have hardly researched and diligently considered the issue, have they?)

        Consider how the church has in fact responded here. Clerics who have participated in the ordination of female priests have, of course, been declared excommunicated. (Illicit ordination is the same red-line the Donatists crossed!) But that’s about it. Now consider how you think you can extend that–declaring that ordinary Catholics who have committed no such schismatic act, and indeed do not favor one, are also excommunicates for favoring the possibility—often the possibility of dialogue about the possibility—that women might some day be priests.

        Maybe some day the church will in fact declare most of the people you sit next to at church excommunicates. (Wouldn’t that be grand!) But they haven’t, and you have no legitimate canonical reason for treating them as such. I suggest you get used to disagreeing with them as Catholics—wrong Catholics, bad Catholics, whatever—rather than unilaterally deciding they aren’t.

  • abadilla

    I also wonder why the bishops where this rag has been published for so long, have tolerated this source of confusion and rebellion among the faithful.



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