Here is a sample of things I have heard with my own ears preached from the pulpit during Mass:
– We can’t trust Luke’s account in the book of Acts about Jesus’ ascension, because Luke wasn’t personally present for the event
– The Ascension isn’t that Jesus ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, but that he ascended into our hearts
– The Holy Spirit is not a person
– The three persons of the Trinity are like different roles God plays at different times
– Casting doubt on the Immaculate Conception by giving a false history of the dogma
If you didn’t already know, these are all heresies.
A heresy is the denial of a dogma. It undermines the faith, leads people astray, and, if held obstinately, is mortally sinful.
And, I emphasize, these falsehoods were not taught by people outside the church, they were preached by ordained ministers during the most important liturgy of our religion.
To be clear, for anyone who knows me, none of these things were taught by my current parish priest, who is a faithful, orthodox, zealous man of God who leads our parish well. But they are all things I have heard taught by other priests or deacons.
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is none of this is the least bit surprising. I bet almost all Catholics who sufficiently know the faith have heard major heresies preached from the pulpit, not to mention errors taught by priests and others in authority in Confession (e.g. “contraception’s not a sin, no need to confess it”), religious education classes, RCIA, marriage prep, theology courses, and private conversations.
Faithful Catholics have learned to just cope with it: don’t get too upset, maybe say something or not, convince themselves that it’s not that bad (you don’t want to be accused of rigidity!), decide they are worn out from fighting, and then otherwise go on to live the faith in their own lives as best they can.
But we shouldn’t ever be used to it. Heresy is spiritually deadly. Heresy preached from the pulpit is a grave scandal. It should never happen, and when it does, it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Whether the solution comes from bishops, fellow priests, or lay people acting lovingly and prudently to correct their priest or tip off their bishop, this problem needs to stop.
“You’re just encouraging annoying lay people to be doctrine police,” someone might respond to me. “Priests will be afraid to preach for fear of causing problems for themselves.”
There are limits, of course. Lay people shouldn’t be too nit-picky. If an otherwise faithful priest makes a small error, you can cut him some slack.
But I’m not talking about otherwise faithful priests making a small error by mistake. I’m also not talking about lay people disagreeing with their priest’s politics, or thinking his homilies are boring. I’m talking about priests denying basic tenets of the faith.
It is one of the grave duties of a priest to know and preach the Gospel. If he doesn’t know it, or doesn’t believe it, such that he is preaching heresy, then that is a very serious problem for the priest. More important than any lay people “watching him,” God is watching him, and the priest will be held accountable. If knowing that he will be confronted or reported to his bishop when he teaches heresy keeps an unfaithful priest from preaching his false opinions or encourages a faithful but poorly educated priest to better study, then that’s better for everyone.
“But that’s not the job of lay people. Leave it to his bishop!” Lay people would love it if they didn’t have to get involved. But how can a bishop know what his priest is preaching on any given Sunday when he is not there?
“My priest is great! I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Congratulations! There are many faithful, orthodox priests who preach the faith well. Thank God for your priest and pray for God’s continued graces for him.
But that obviously isn’t all priests. Ideally, we’d live in a world in which you could be confident that your priest knew the faith well and believed it. Priests could do their job and lay people could do theirs. Both priests and lay people have enough work to do and would prefer to not have to fight over things as basic as dogmas of the faith.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s only old priests who preach heresy. Time will take care of the problem.” Let’s assume this is true. Does a bishop not care that error is taught to lay people in the mean time? And what about the soul of the priest? The “wait it out” strategy is a cop-out dressed up in false prudence.
We’ve tolerated heresy in our parishes for far too long. May God grant Catholics the knowledge, wisdom, love, and kindness to stand up for the truth.
And, of course, please pray for your priest, and all priests. They have a very difficult job and need your support!