Letters to the Editor, Envoy Magazine, January/February 1999.
The Good News...
I just finished reading "Divine Will Hunting" in the May/June ('98) Envoy. Great article. Unlike other articles I’ve read exposing this heresy, Fr. Terry didn’t attack the priests and lay people who promote it.
I have read most of Luisa’s material available in English, as well as attending a Divine Will conference in Dallas a couple of years ago. One of my best friends, an otherwise good Catholic, has gone "nuts" over the Divine Will, offering classes at various parish communities. I can’t reason with her; it apparently is a very intoxicating heresy. Although I found the clergy and laity who promote and believe in this junk to be sincere, and otherwise good Catholics, they are sincerely wrong!
Again, thank you for your insight. I pray this isn’t Fr. Terry’s last article. Ken Pedigo, Tecumseh, OK
My family has been very heavily involved in the Divine Will movement for some eight years. I was 17 when they began and even at that time, I doubted the validity and accuracy of what was being taught. I’ve seen this tear my family apart. It’s at the point now that if you’re not involved in the movement (or are openly opposed to it like my husband and me), you’re somewhat out of the family loop. I’ll have to write to you at some point and give you some in-depth details about the chaos and harm I’ve seen this movement cause. The point of this e-mail, though, is to encourage you to keep fighting this thing. Just being able to read the articles and discussions have refueled me and my husband to keep opposing it head on. Again, thank you for all of your hard work. Tammy, via e-mail
... And the Bad News.
Within the next year or two, the Vatican will hopefully have something to say about Luisa Piccarreta. Do you really think the Vatican would have released her writings if they felt she was a "cult leader" You make it seem as if she were Jim Jones, or something. Someday soon we will "officially" find out about Luisa’s relationship with Christ. However, as one who has taken the time to look into her situation, I have come to the belief that she was very close to our Lord. She was always obedient to her confessors and the Church, unlike many alleged mystics of today. Her main confessor has been declared "Blessed." I don’t suppose that you or Fr. Staples have read what this holy man had to say about Luisa. Recently, this confessor of hers was also honored by Pope John Paul II.
I believe that you and Fr. Staples will someday feel very badly that the article was ever printed and will hopefully privately repent of this error. In conclusion, I only hope you have the decency to print a positive article on Luisa Piccarreta if the Roman Church decides that she is truly a blessed servant of God. Thomas Nicholas, Seven Hills, OH
One must always respect a sincere Catholic who has great zeal for the Faith and seeks to defend it from what he/she perceives to be a distortion, especially if the distortion can seriously harm the faithful. This is even more so when the Catholic is a priest of God. However, when this issue of a doctrine of the Faith has already been pronounced upon by several bishops in union with the pope, then this Catholic runs the very serious risk of being disrespectful of proper Church protocol, and borders on outright disdain for the teaching authority of the bishops. Such an example is Father Terry Staples’ "Divine Will Hunting."
Luisa Piccarreta’s writings (summarized in the Book of Heaven) have received the Imprimatur from Archbishop Joseph Leo after receiving the Nihil Obstat from (now) Blessed Hannibal DiFrancia, the priest originally appointed by the Church to be the official diocesan censor for her writings. Blessed Hannibal, after careful study over a substantial number of years, found nothing contrary to faith and morals. While individuals of this caliber can be wrong, one must give the highest respect to an archbishop in communion with Rome, and to someone who has been beatified by the Church, especially since Blessed Hannibal’s writings on Luisa were examined as part of his veneration and beatification process by the Sacred Congregation for the Cause of Saints. If Blessed Hannibal had been mistaken on Luisa’s writings, this fact would have, in all probability, prevented his beatification. Would God allow a miracle through the intercession of someone approving of serious anti-Catholic doctrine?
In addition; two outstanding Catholic theologians in full communion with Rome, Rev. Domenico Franza of the International University of St. Anthony, a medical doctor and professor, and Rev. Consalvo Valis, O.F.M., professor of dogmatic and mystical theology, also of the International University of St. Anthony, have studied her writings and found nothing contrary to faith and morals. A direct quote from Rev. Valis: "I find it to completely conform with the teachings of the Holy Church and those revealed in the sources of Revelation, including when it speaks in a passing manner on questions of dogma." Adding substantial, additional approval of the hierarchy of the Church, Luisa’s writings have received the written endorsement (which goes farther than an Imprimatur) of the retired archbishop of her diocese, Giuseppa Carata. He is the cofounder of the Association Luisa Piccarreta. Luisa’s writings have also been endorsed by the current bishop of her diocese, Archbishop Caramel Cassette, in a pastoral letter of January 23, 1997. Archbishop Cassette is the head of the diocesan tribunal for the cause of beatification of Luisa Piccarreta. As part of her beatification process, Archbishop Cassati’s Tribunal appointed two additional theologians who have studied her writings and they have also found nothing contrary to faith and morals. Her beatification cause proceeds, and will be submitted to Rome when it is ready.
It is also quite significant that Cardinal Ratzinger’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had no objection to Luisa’s cause for beatification after examining three of her edited works that had been placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, which index has now been abolished (a similar scenario happened with Blessed Faustina Kowalska). Archbishop Cassati has specifically asked in writing (January of 1998) that public promotion (positive or negative) of Luisa’s writings not be engaged in until the cause of beatification is submitted to Rome so that the Church can peacefully finish the process. One of the important points in the writing and publishing of this letter, is to make this fact known to the Catholic community in the United States. I respectfully suggest that the publisher should have presented these important facts.
Envoy prides itself on being obedient to the Magisterium, and readers rely on you to present the position of the Church as represented by the bishop in the diocese that has controlling jurisdiction. Why is there an apparent discrepancy? Again, I would respectfully suggest that the issue is quite simple. The reason is that the bishops and their appointed theologians who have studied Luisa’s writings recognize that there is no new public revelation at issue. As Father Staples correctly noted: this cannot be. Father Staples should be credited with correcting any proponent of Luisa’s writings about this important point. However, it is Father Staples who makes this claim, not Luisa. Nowhere in any of his quotations from the Book of Heaven does she make this claim of new public revelation. She does claim that God is now offering a higher level of sanctity to those willing to pursue it. This does not imply that our existing understanding of holiness from the Apostles does not allow for salvation. Quite the contrary. Our faith does, however, teach that there will be different levels (or mansions) of happiness in Heaven, just as there can be different levels of holiness leading to salvation. Unless the Holy See were to take away the Imprimaturs of Archbishop Joseph Leo and Archbishop Giuseppa Carata and the Nihil Obstat of Blessed Hannibal (and several other theologians), the writings of Luisa Piccarreta are approved by the Holy Roman Catholic Church as having nothing contrary to faith and morals. Our Holy Father has recently issued a document reaffirming the importance of obedience by the laity and priests to the official teaching authority of the bishops, the successors of the Apostles. Our Church and our Faith cannot stand without this submission. This is especially important for communications ministries such as yours. Certainly, one does not have to follow anything contained in private revelations; but how does an article like "Divine Will Hunting" build up the unity of the body of Christ, respect for the teaching authority of the bishops and respect for the reputation of a person that many bishops admire, and who has had her cause for beatification opened at the Diocesan level? Name withheld by request, via e-mail
When we consider the fact that the Church has decreed that there was no obstacle to the opening of her cause because her writings were free of doctrinal and moral error and that she lived a life worthy of being considered for sainthood, it baffles the mind that any just person would publicly denounce her. I think it’s important to remember that as journalists, you have a grave responsibility to present the full truth to the faithful. I’m very disappointed that you didn’t contact those appointed by the Church to promote Luisa’s writings. I was told they would be more than happy to speak with you, if you call them. The phone number for the Center for the Divine Will is 904-381-1220.
Among the moral virtues, spiritual writers praise obedience as the guardian of all virtues. So if we obey the Church, we obey God. If we purport to be obedient to the Church, we must remember that "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the word of God whether in written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone" (Dei Verbum, 10). Will you believe the Vatican’s decision which is made with the authority of the Church, or an opinion given by Father Staples? Gina Romano-Dum, Philadelphia, PA
[Editor's note: We received several other letters strongly supporting the Divine Will movement and strongly critical of Fr. Staples’ article "Divine Will Hunting," but lack of space prohibits us from printing them all. The essence of all the arguments in the letters not printed here are contained in the above three letters.]
Fr. Terry Staples Responds
1. In critiquing her work, I was in no way making a judgment about the sanctity of Luisa Piccarreta. She did in fact write down the details of her revelations in obedience to her confessor. I’ve no reason to doubt her sincerity and I don’t consider her a "cult leader," in the normal sense of the phrase. It’s important to realize the objections being raised about her writings aren’t dependent on her personal holiness. Even canonized saints can be wrong about private revelations. When the Church canonizes saints, she canonizes their virtue, not everything contained in their private revelations. Indeed, there have been saints who were completely wrong in their private revelations (St. Ursula is a good example).
Even private revelations which have been approved by the Church can contain errors. The Catholic chronicler of spiritual theology, Poulain, in his classic work The Graces of Interior Prayer, lists 32 saints and beatified servants of God who had significant errors mixed in with legitimate revelations, as well as bona fide miracles (St. Catherine of Siena, is an example). What can we conclude from this? We cannot accept the doctrine contained in Luisa’s writings simply because she had a reputation of sanctity. Neither can it be concluded that we’re passing judgment on the holiness of Luisa when we claim there are exaggerations and errors in her writings. Her doctrine must be measured against the received doctrine of the Church; this is what I did in my article.
In an official pronouncement, the Holy See said, "The principal subject of the writings of Luisa Piccarreta is the Divine Will conceived in an exaggerated, erroneous manner and presented in a language and with a terminology where often absurd inaccuracies and extravagances abound..." In making this statement, the Holy See was not passing judgment on Luisa’s holiness, nor was it showing disrespect for her. It was passing judgment on the doctrinal claims she made in her writings.
2. The claim made in one of the letters, that I am showing "disdain for the teaching authority of the bishops," by speaking on "a doctrine of the Faith [that] has already been pronounced upon by several bishops in union with the pope," is outrageous. This statement indicates the dangerous confusion being promulgated by the Divine Will movement. The allusion to "a doctrine of the Faith" having been approved by bishops in union with the pope is very problematic. There’s a huge difference between the approval of a private revelation and the approval of a doctrine of the Faith. The approval of a private revelation ultimately has no bearing on the doctrines of the Faith. A private revelation, even if eventually approved, cannot add anything to the deposit of Faith. Cardinal Pitra writes:
"Everyone knows that we are fully at liberty to believe or not to believe in private revelations, even those most worthy of credence. Even when the Church approves them, they are merely received as probable, and not as indubitable. They are not to be used as deciding questions of history, natural philosophy, philosophy, or theology which are matters of controversy between the Doctors. It is quite permissible to differ from these revelations, even when approved, if we are relying upon solid reasons, and especially if the contrary doctrine is proved by unimpeachable documents and definite experience" (Book on St. Hildegaard, xvi).
Even approved private revelations cannot be used to decide questions of history, philosophy or theology. The problem with the Divine Will movement, as it is being presented today, is that Luisa’s works are being used to establish a totally new conception of salvation history. The writings claim to provide a new understanding of the meaning of creation, the nature of Adam and Eve before the Fall, the nature of our Blessed Mother and how she acted in relation to God, the nature of the human operations of Christ and, furthermore, they claim to be an indispensable and unique source of knowledge, without which, the redemption of mankind itself remains incomplete! These are theological and doctrinal matters which cannot be established even by approved private revelations. None of these doctrines which are unique to Luisa’s writings have been approved by the Church and they cannot be taught as Catholic dogma regardless of whether or not her writings are ever approved.
3. I’m also accused of "being disrespectful of proper Church protocol." Perhaps a little background information may help to establish that this is not the case.
I spoke to the "authorized representatives" of Luisa’s cause more than a year ago regarding my objections to their claims. I was told by the secretary who works directly with the archbishop that he could not answer my concerns because he was "not a theologian." I received the same response from other official, authorized representatives of the Divine Will movement. So I sent a written critique of Luisa’s doctrine to Archbishop Cassati himself (the bishop in charge of her cause) and spoke to him personally by phone on two occasions. Nearly two years have passed, and I’ve still not received a response to my objections. No one seems to be willing or able to show how Luisa’s teachings can be reconciled with the Catholic Faith.
I presented my critique of the Divine Will movement to my own bishop (the late John Keating of Arlington) for his review and comments. After studying it, he contacted me and said he found it to be a "very good work for the Church." Thereafter, he referred to me people from our diocese who had questions or concerns about the Divine Will movement.
In addition to submitting my critique to my local bishop for his approval, I sent a copy to Archbishop Agostino Caciavilan, the Vatican’s Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States. He reviewed it, thanked me graciously and forwarded it to Rome to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for their review. I also sent a copy to Fr. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., the chief theologian for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. After studying my findings, he expressed no objections to my critique, and he encouraged me to continue my efforts.
And regardless of what some may say in disparagement of my theological training and qualifications to speak on this subject, I should add that I am not alone in my opposition to the Divine Will movement. Eminent Catholic theologians such as Fr. John Hardon, S.J. and the late Fr. William G. Most – orthodox Catholic theologians of impeccable credentials, men who are staunchly loyal to the Magisterium – are equally staunch in their criticism of Luisa Piccarreta’s writings. These two theologians have publicly warned the faithful about the problems with the Divine Will movement.
In synopsis of his critique of the writings of Luisa Piccarreta, Fr. Most wrote: "The article in L’Osservatore Romano on the condemnation of the writings of Luisa spoke of them as putting things in ’an exaggerated, erroneous manner and presented in a language and with a terminology where often absurd inaccuracies and extravagances abound....’ After reading the above, one may conclude that in spite of any claims of rehabilitation, the strictures of 1938 are still true" (the complete text of his critique is available at http://transporter.com/apologia/kdw.htm).
Similarly, Fr. Hardon warned: "In my judgment, the underlying premises of Luisa’s writings are not consistent with the magisterial teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus she claims that all that we have to do is abandon our own will to the Divine Will, which can be found everywhere. There is an emphasis on complete passivity of the soul in Luisa’s writings. The result is a promotion of Quietism, which was condemned by the Church in the 17th century" (the full text of Fr. Hardon’s letter can be found at http://transporter.com/ apologia/cuf 1tr.htm).
In sum, I have consistently and assiduously followed Church "protocol" in pursuing this matter. Beginning with seeking the approval of my own bishop, I’ve made sure that my work was submitted to the appropriate ecclesiastical and theological authorities for their review. Never once, through all these contacts with the hierarchy, did any priest or bishop even suggest that my methods or findings were somehow "disrespectful of proper Church protocol."
4. It is claimed that, "unless the Holy See were to take away the Imprimaturs of Archbishop Joseph Leo and Archbishop Giuseppa Carata and the Nihil Obstat of Blessed Hannibal (and several other theologians), the writings of Luisa Piccarreta are approved by the Holy Roman Catholic Church as having nothing contrary to faith and morals."
It’s certainly true that two theologians have approved her writings and declared that they didn’t find anything contrary to faith or morals in the writings. There have also been at least two bishops, including Archbishop Cassati, who have actively promoted her writings (and those, like Bishop Andrew J. McDonald, the bishop of Little Rock, who have officially banned them). The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has never approved her writings. Simply allowing her writings to be released and studied does not equate to official approval.
We must be clear about the nature of the Imprimatur. It means that a particular document, having been reviewed by authorized personnel has been approved for printing. The Nihil Obstat (Latin: "nothing obstructs") is the prerequisite for the Imprimatur and it indicates the examiner (usually authorized by a bishop) has reviewed the document and found nothing contrary to the Faith. The Imprimatur, then, represents the official opinion of one bishop. While we should not minimize its importance, it must also be kept in perspective. We cannot equate a work bearing an Imprimatur with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, as some are trying to do. There are numerous problems with such an endeavor. For example, The Hours of the Passion (5th edition), by Luisa Piccarreta, received the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur in 1934. This same document was later condemned by an official act of the Church (Pope Pius XI and the Holy Office) in 1938. Incidentally, this same book, proudly bearing the 1934 Imprimatur, is being circulated today. For some reason, the publishers fail to mention the subsequent condemnation.
How could such thing take place? Easy. Bishops are not personally infallible; neither are their Imprimaturs. Mistaken or poorly considered Imprimaturs have been removed from books, after further consideration. The bishops teach authoritatively on matters of faith and morals only when they are teaching what has been handed on from the Apostles. No bishop can add new doctrine to the Church. In the 17th century, the Spanish priest, Molinos, had 68 of his theological propositions condemned by the Inquisition. This was after his writings had been lauded by priests, theologians, and even popes! The lesson from this is clear: We cannot blindly accept new doctrines as if they were approved by the Church just because a few bishops were unable to detect any errors. Archbishop Cassati himself has said the Church hasn’t yet spoken on Luisa’s writings; they need to be reconciled with Catholic teaching.
5. One of the letters to the editor alleged, "Archbishop Cassati, has specifically asked in writing (January of 1998) that public promotion (positive or negative) of Luisa’s writings not be engaged in until the cause of beatification is submitted to Rome so that the Church can peacefully finish the process." This is only partially accurate. Archbishop Cassati didn’t suspend the promotion of Luisa’s writings simply in order to allow the Church to "peacefully finish the process."
On the contrary, the stated reasons were: 1. "Poor and exaggerated explanations of her writings have already scandalized some faithful;" 2. Her doctrine needs to be reconciled with the teaching of the Church by means of "a definable development of doctrine;" 3. "to insist a lot with conferences and propaganda on Luisa can be dangerous for the cause because, before the Church pronounces itself in her regard, a true ’cult’ to Luisa could develop, and this would in no way be in harmony with the tradition of the Church."
It’s evident from the tone and content of the letters received (and from my personal experience) that the archbishop's concerns have, at least in part, been realized. Sadly, a true "cult" to Luisa has indeed developed, one which promotes an exaggerated and erroneous spirituality, and which promulgates theological opinions that have no roots in Catholic Tradition and are incompatible with Catholic teaching.
I plead with those involved in the Movement to take to heart the information Envoy has presented you. Can what you have learned from the Divine Will movement be traced throughout the history of the Church in the writings of the saints and doctors of the Church? No. Can the novel doctrines of the Divine Will movement be supported without reference to Luisa Piccarreta’s writings? No. That’s why her writings cannot be considered authentically Catholic.
Archbishop Cassati himself has admitted that what has been taught in the conferences on the Divine Will, even from the authorized representatives, is flawed by "poor or exaggerated explanations." Unfortunately, many who have responded to the article in this magazine have been (unknowingly, perhaps) infected with these errors.
6. Finally, it is asked, "how does an article like ’Divine Will Hunting’ build up the unity of the body of Christ, respect for the teaching authority of the bishops and respect for the reputation of a person that many bishops admire, and who has had her cause for Beatification opened at the diocesan level?"
The unity of the Body of Christ can only be founded and built on the truth. The errors being taught in connection with this movement have caused great division within the Body of Christ long before I’d ever heard of Luisa Piccarreta. I have a file full of letters to prove it.
Consider for a moment the basic message being promoted:
The conclusion follows directly: If you don’t accept the writings of Luisa Piccarreta, you’re rejecting God’s will for you. Let’s be frank. This is nonsense. Not only does the Church teach that the faithful are not bound to assent to Luisa’s private revelations, She also teaches that it’s "offensive to Him [God]" to seek or desire any revelation which would attempt to "improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation" (CCC #65, 67). In all conferences all over the U.S., I’ve heard Luisa’s writings being promoted as the indispensable completion of God’s revelation. To truly build up the Body of Christ, we must declare this untrue.
Express yourself. Send your comments to: Editor, Envoy Magazine, P.O. Box 640, Granville, OH 43023, e-mail: envoymag@juno. com.
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