The Policy of the Bellarmine Forums
In commenting upon the policy of The American Ecclesiastical Review
, Monsignor Fenton made the following observations about the policy of journals in general.
A man who is familiar with any periodical comes to see within a fairly short time, that there are certain objectives toward which that publication tends, certain points which it consistently stresses, certain opinions towards which it constantly exhibits a determined opposition. Thus he inevitably comes to distinguish some of the phases and at least the general direction of the magazine’s policy.
This is as true of online forums as it is of print journals, despite the fact that the moderators of online forums don’t have anywhere near the control over their published content that the editor of a print journal has. In the case of the Bellarmine Forums there have been some very definite decisions made about the nature and purpose of the site, some when it was established, and some policies which evolved as experience has taught us their utility or necessity. It is the aim of this document to define these for readers, despite the fact that, as Mons. Fenton has said, “the policy of any periodical publication is something comparatively easy to discern but tremendously difficult to define.”
Before focussing on some specific points unique to the Bellarmine Forums, I should point out that we have a close affinity with the great American journal for priests edited for so many years by the illustrious Monsignor Fenton. We share several of its key policy parameters as described by Fenton himself.
1. Our aim is utilitarian, not primarily intellectual. We aim to provide a definite service to Catholics who need to make practical decisions in the present difficult circumstances. In this we parallel The American Ecclesiastical Review
, and we differ from academic periodicals such as, for example, Theological Studies
2. Having an utilitarian purpose, we nevertheless do not offer specific advice, but rather we aim to provide resources for sincere Catholics to form their own judgements and to make their own decisions.
3. From these first two points we might therefore characterise the Bellarmine Forums as utilitarian in purpose
and intellectual in means
4. The crisis in the Church is, in our opinion, essentially an ecclesiological crisis
. That is, it centres upon the nature, identity, and visibility of the Catholic Church. The assault of the enemy at Vatican II was primarily directed at the doctrines that concern the Church herself, not chiefly at other aspects of divine revelation. Likewise, in order to understand the crisis, the sincere Catholic is confronted particularly by ecclesiological
difficulties. And further, one of the most saddening and at the same time dangerous fruits of the crisis has been the dramatic lessening of love and respect for the Church by most Catholics, including traditional Catholics. It is fascinating to observe that The American Ecclesiastical Review
focussed particularly upon the same class of doctrines prior to the catastrophe of Vatican II.
[The reader] will see that this publication has sought to bring out God’s revealed teaching on the nature and the necessity of that loyalty we owe to the true Church of Jesus Christ. He will appreciate the fact that the Review has worked to foster that enthusiastic and complete solidarity with Our Lord in His Church which the Holy Father loves to designate by the consecrated phrase, sentire cum ecclesia [thinking with the Church]. He cannot help but note the fact that the Review has consistently stressed those divinely revealed truths which mark the Catholic Church alone as God’s kingdom on earth during these days of the Christian Dispensation. Furthermore the priest who is well acquainted with the Review must have appreciated the fact that it has consistently opposed, in the case of any organization or activity (like the so-called “Springfield Plan”), those features or aspects or “principles” or implications which tend to represent the Catholic Church as a religious organization similar to others in this world.
5. The Bellarmine Forums is already notable for the absence of criticism of the clergy. Despite the evident necessity of disagreement
with many members of the clergy in our present circumstances, the persons
of the clergy are almost always respected gracefully. This has been true even in cases where the policy of particular clergy, such as the refusal on insufficient grounds of Holy Communion, is gravely wrong and pregnant with innumerable evils both for individuals and for the Church herself. Partisans of specific clerics might have occasionally been offended by disagreement thus expressed, but if there has ever been real offence given it can at least be stated with complete honesty that such offensiveness is contrary to the policy of the Forums. The policy of the AER
was likewise to avoid all criticism of the clergy.
It is surely an error to think that we could ever attempt to be a censurer of Bishops, for that were interfering with the Pope; nor to be a corrector of brother priests, since, where that is necessary, it is the business of the Bishops.
6. The policy of the Bellarmine Forums in relation to controversial matters has always been completely clear and very emphatic – those points not decided by the Church may be ventilated freely, always of course within the usual rules of Christian discussion and debate. This too echoes the stance taken by the AER
Scientific criticism, if it has any legitimate purpose, is intended to call forth the free expression of different opinions. There can be nothing but gain resulting from this exercise. If, perchance, the opponents believe their views to be absolutely correct and to admit of no just alternative, it does not hinder the unprejudiced hearer from forming his judgment on the merits of the case as presented by both sides. A magazine, such as ours, should fail its object if it were wedded only to one set of otherwise legitimate views whether in the field of scientific or that of practical theology. We espouse no side in politics or “nationalism;” are pledged to no “party” in the social or ecclesiastical sphere, not even to a “school” in theology.
7. However, this does not mean that we accept a free-for-all in relation to Catholic doctrine.
But whilst the “Review” represents no party in any of those things which admit of a liberal discussion or diversity of opinion, its boundary is unmistakably defined in matters of Catholic faith. Catholic faith means more than the exclusive adherence to the defined propositions of our creed. It implies a distinct loyalty, a natural attraction to the centre of authority in the Church, whence radiates the living force by which all parts are held together in perfect harmony. This centre is immovable, and every portion of the circle which surrounds it owes its perfection and preservation to the conformity with which it yields to the centripetal law which controls its motion. Whenever any doctrine shows a tendency to deviate from this perfect line, whether within or without, whether by maximizing or by minimizing, it must arouse the suspicion of the thoughtful teacher of Catholic truth.
But our disposition to publish the two sides of an argument which was then undecided, should never have extended to the assertion of anything in theology, or under the plea of scientific thought, which would offend, even by implication, against the respect due to the Vicar of Christ, or to the sacred deposit of Catholic Faith. We glory in the fact that we do not feel the least in harmony with that liberal school of theologians, who would sacrifice, without thought, the things God has placed in their trust to the circumstances of the times. In this field we shall ever hold on to the old dictum: Nil innovetur nisi quod traditum est.
Since the standard manuals of theology used commonly as text-books in seminaries prior to Vatican II contain the distilled doctrines of the Church, and generally avoid the various controversial points upon which theologians legitimately differ, these manuals are treated as authorities by the moderators of the Bellarmine Forums. If a position conflicts with the common doctrine of the manuals it is regarded as offending “against the respect due to … the sacred deposit of Catholic Faith.”
8. It is the explicit aim of the Bellarmine Forums to strengthen the Faith of Catholics, particularly by promoting the reading and thoughtful consideration of sound theological texts, and by any other means which seem useful from time to time. In a word, we aim to edify, which means etymologically to build up
. In this also we reflect the policy of the American Ecclesiastical Review.
The first one hundred eleven volumes of the Review carried on their title pages the words “ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat,” [“that the church may receive edification”] in the Latin or in the original Greek of the New Testament.
9. The most sorely tried aspect of the Church in this crisis is her unity. In the words of the famous Ottaviani Intervention
Today, division and schism are officially acknowledged to exist not only outside of but within the Church. Her unity is not only threatened but already tragically compromised. Errors against the Faith are not so much insinuated but rather an inevitable consequence of liturgical abuses and aberrations which have been given equal recognition.
To abandon a liturgical tradition which for four centuries was both the sign and pledge of unity of worship (and to replace it with another which cannot but be a sign of division by virtue of the countless liberties implicitly authorised, and which teems with insinuations or manifest errors against the integrity of the Catholic religion) is, we feel in conscience bound to proclaim, an incalculable error.
It has been the central theme of the Bellarmine Forums from the very beginning to defend, foster, and explain the unity of the Church, so sorely torn and abused by her enemies, and so often rashly treated by her own members! Monsignor Fenton had said that so great was the need to focus on the unity of the Church in his time that the original motto of the Review
If there is one aspect of life in Christ which the Holy Father and the divinely authorized rulers of the Church in our own land have emphasized most powerfully in their teachings, it is the doctrine of Catholic unity. Providentially this note has been sounded ever more urgently at a time when the forces arrayed against the Church have been concentrating upon the task of trying to separate the people of Christ from the leaders God has placed in charge of them. In order to show that all the resources of the Review must be consecrated to the furtherance of this unity, the board of editors has substituted for the original motto chosen by Dr. Heuser the words from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians [Greek text - “in one spirit, with one mind labouring together for the faith of the gospel”]. The purpose of the Review remains and will remain “Ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat.” But because this end is to be achieved only through work for the unity of the Church and of the Faith, work directed against the efforts of Christ’s enemies, the Review works most immediately that we may stand “in uno spiritu unanimes collaborantes fidei evangelii.” [“in one spirit, with one mind labouring together for the faith of the gospel.”]
Monsignor Fenton had referred earlier to “God’s revealed teaching on the nature and the necessity of that loyalty we owe to the true Church of Jesus Christ.” In numerous articles in the AER
it was emphasised that this loyalty demanded by God was to the Church in the concrete, the Church as she is here and now in the world, not to (for example) an ideal but invisible Church which in fact does not exist. Mons. Fenton urged the truth that loyalty and attachment to the Church means unity with all fellow Catholics; that if Our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased to count a man as one of His members, then it is not our office to place that person in some other category. Every Catholic is a member and part of the Church and therefore we are necessarily intimately united with him, and that unity ought to be not merely tolerated, but rather cherished and fostered. From this truth follows a host of practical considerations with respect to fellow Catholics.
10. We must now notice the features of the Bellarmine Forums which are unique. The first of these is that we encourage the use of real names. This policy is aimed at promoting responsibility and a proper gravity in discussing sacred matters. We understand that some people are not comfortable with this and for that reason we do not insist upon it; but nevertheless we strongly encourage it. This policy is aimed at avoiding the kind of irresponsible behaviour often witnessed on forums - lack of charity, posturing, dishonesty, etc. If a member wishes to remain anonymous this will generally be granted, but his real identity must be known to the administrator of the forums.
11. We have very limited resources and a relatively narrow purpose. Our intention is not to replace other forums, but to provide something different - a place where primarily the crisis in the Church and related matters, including the "pope issue,” can be discussed in a reasonable and charitable manner. This of course is not to say that all posts on all other areas of Catholicism are discouraged, but rather that this is not the forum to discuss issues not directly related to the present crisis in the Church – for example, political questions should be avoided, and likewise the seeking of advice for matters of a personal nature.
12. Finally, the Bellarmine Forums and its parent, the Aquinas Site, are under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Vanquisher of all Heresies, St. Thomas Aquinas and of course the redoubtable St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor, par excellence
, of the papacy and the Church.
The men who work and write for the Review are well aware that the objectives for which it strives can and will be achieved through the powerful intercession of Our Lady. They realize that an ardent devotion to Mary on the part of our American priests will inevitably result in the successful accomplishment of those tasks to which God calls the Catholic Church of our country through the words of the Holy Father and of the American hierarchy. Therefore they have dedicated this magazine in a special way to the end of fostering an appreciation of and a love for the Blessed Mother.