A Defense of Bishop Rhoades from More False Accusations by Robert Sungenis (6/26/11)

(I was informed by a reader that at the NCRegister website, Robert Sungenis was again falsely accusing Bishop Kevin Rhoades of holding to the dual covenant error.  In the process, Bob was also falsely characterizing the record regarding his hostile and uncharitable writings and postings against the Jewish people.  I'd hoped that if Bob was largely "left alone" in regard to his interactions with Bishop Rhoades [as he has been for almost two years now] that he would become more circumspect and at least stop making more false accusations.  Sadly, that hasn't occurred.  So, at the NCRegister website, I defended His Excellency from Bob's latest unjust attacks and documented what Bob has actually written and posted regarding the Jewish people [see: Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 11:07 AM (EDT)]. Bob replied again there and I decided to produce a more comprehensive response here instead while leaving a link at the NCRegister website so readers there could access it.  My response is divided into two postings:  the first, a further defense of Bishop Rhoades may be found below; the second, further documentation of Bob's history on Jewish issues, may be found by clicking here.  All the previous comments made by Bob, as well as my first response, may be found at the NCRegister website by clicking here ).  ~  Michael Forrest (6/26/11)

 

SECTIONS:

 “Supersessionism”…Again

Three Strikes

Tone Alone vs. Tone AND Content -  Is Fr. King a Lying Sneak?

Forced by Bishop Rhoades to Voluntarily Comply

Bishop Rhoades Simultaneously Rewarded and Punished by the Vatican for the Same Thing

Visiting a Synagogue is just fine…unless you’re Bishop Rhoades

Bishop Rhoades Acting in God’s Stead by Spreading Heresy to Unsuspecting Catholics

A More Reasonable and Consistent Narrative

 

 

I want to clarify that I’m not actually debating Bishop Rhoades’ orthodoxy with you, Bob.  His orthodoxy is plain to anyone of good will and more than adequately established even for you if you would only apply your own previously stated standards (see here).  Bishop Rhoades doesn’t hold to or teach the dual covenant error.  Almost everything you’ve written in your comment at the NCRegister website about His Excellency has already been answered.  These are links to the answers again: here, here, here and here .

I’m trying to help you to see that you’ve created a new, false narrative in your mind about these matters that doesn’t jibe with the facts as you yourself have previously presented them.  As we’ve documented in the articles above, you’ve moved the goal posts on Bishop Rhoades and we even predicted that you would move them again in just the way that you did.  The most charitable explanation I can find for your behavior is that your emotions are clouding your judgment, impairing your memory and hardening your heart. In your many writings about this situation, your sense of betrayal and anger at Bishop Rhoades has been clear.  Perhaps your self-described “Italian temper” and tendency to see conspiracies a bit too easily are combining to get the better of you.

 

“Supersessionism”…Again


The only thing we haven’t already fully answered is your new defense of the word “supersessionism.”   Several points deserve notice.

1) Nothing you wrote changes the fact that “supersessionism” is an ill-defined term of non-Catholic origin that commonly has a pejorative nuance and otherwise varied meanings.  It isn’t the well-defined, universally understood term that you claim.  Again, I invite you to read Variations Within Supersessionism by Protestant theologian, Dr. Michael Vlach.  Vlach has spent a great deal of time studying the development of the term “supersessionism” (you can read a short bio: here). As Vlach states in the conclusion to his study on the meaning of supersessionism:

“replacement theology or supersessionism is not a ‘one size fits all’ perspective. There are variations within this view…any discussion of supersessionism or replacement theology should take into account the various nuances that exist within the supersessionist view.”  

For more evidence that there is no one, single definition of supersessionism, read the following articles: here, here, here, and here.  The fact remains that there isn’t a single Catholic magisterial document in which the word “supersessionism” or “antisupersessionism” is used, much less defined.

2) Whether Fr. King or Fr. Massa first mentioned “supersessionism” at your meeting isn’t the point.   Merely using the word isn’t necessarily a problem.   It becomes a problem when you use it as an absolute litmus test of orthodoxy by which to publicly condemn a person for teaching heresy, as you have done.  And it becomes even more of a problem when you use that alleged remark to accuse another person who didn't even make it, as you have done to Bishop Rhoades.  

3) In your comment at the NCRegister website, you imply that there was enough discussion about the word “supersessionism” at your 2007 meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg that Fr. King and Fr. Massa made it completely clear to you that you all held exactly the same “common definition.”   There are some serious problems with your new story -- it doesn’t jibe with the previous story you and your friend Tom Herron told.

In Old Covenant:  Revoked or Not Revoked (Jan. 2008), you stated only that Fr. King “made a remark to the effect that…‘we don’t believe in supersessionism any longer.’”  Your choice of words clearly conveys that it was a single, brief remark and that you weren’t even sure about the precise words Fr. King used.  In the very next sentence, you stated that after Fr. King’s alleged remark, “I did not make a response at that time.” (See p. 11)  As such, it’s also clear that you had no dialogue at all with him or Fr. Massa about “supersessionism” by which you could have determined that you all held to the same definition.

According to your own original account, whatever Fr. King may have said about “supersessionism” at that time, it’s clear that it was no more than a passing remark made in the context of a long meeting.   As such, you’ve blown his mention of this term out of all proportion.  In fact, your friend Tom Herron - who you invited to that meeting in order to support you - made no mention of this allegedly crucial remark made by Fr. King about “supersessionism” in his very lengthy, detailed account in Culture Wars (T. Herron, Fear of the Jews in Harrisburg, Oct 2007).  Herron even stated that it wasn't clear what Fr. Massa believed in regard to "Dual Covenant Theology" (p. 14).  In light of all this, your new story that Fr. King and Fr. Massa made it completely clear to you that you all held exactly the same “common definition” of supersessionism just isn’t credible.  

4) You asserted that the 1988 USCCB document on the liturgy supports your contention that a uniform definition of "supersessionism" is well established in the Church and that your definition is the same.  There are many problems with this assertion, but the following three points will suffice:

a) You stated that this USCCB document uses the word “supersessionism” and you put quotation marks around it as if a verbatim quote.  But the word “supersessionism” doesn’t appear in the document.  Instead, the word “superseded” appears on one occasion, in section six.  As has been previously explained, there’s an important difference between the words “supersede” and “supersessionism” beyond the fact that they’re different parts of speech (see: here).

b) Most importantly (and ironically), your own critique of this 1988 USCCB document actually proves that: 1) the bishops and others involved in promulgating it do not understand “supersessionism” in the same way that you understand it and 2) you agree there’s at least one version of “supersessionism” being used in Catholic circles that’s theologically erroneous because it goes too far (see pp. 6-7). 

You wrote:

R. Sungenis:  The USCCB…attempts to give the impression that the relationship of the New Testament to the Old is either/or, and thus it forces the reader to take one side or the other.  We can see this ploy by the verbiage employed.  It frames the debate into one which equates “abrogate” and “superseded” with “discarding,” thus failing to make the proper distinction between legal supersession and practical use of the Old Testament. The legal stipulations of the Old Covenant (e.g., the ceremonial, civil and ethical laws) are legally abrogated and superseded by the New Covenant, but that doesn’t mean the New Covenant is “discarding” the Old Covenant as something of no value. The Old Covenant contains many divine principles of life and salvation that remain important; and so highly does the New Covenant regard these principles that it quotes them in its own covenant (cf. Romans 13:8-10; 1Co 9:9). We are obligated to obey them, however, not because the Old Covenant is still legally valid, but because only the New Covenant is legally valid and has incorporated these particular Old Covenant principles. THAT is what the Church has continually taught since its inception. (Article)

So, first, according to your own critique, the bishops involved in promulgating this 1988 document understand “supersede” in a different way than you do.   This contradicts your assertion that there’s a uniformly accepted definition of the term in Catholic circles and that you share it.  And second, according to your own critique, their version of supersessionism is theologically erroneous because it goes too far by treating the Mosaic Covenant as “discarded.”   This proves that you agree there’s at least one version of “supersessionism” used by Catholics that should rightly be rejected because it’s too extreme.

The only remaining question is whether you’re right in asserting that the definition these bishops used for “supersede” is incorrect and that your definition is “the correct one”.  The most obvious problem with this assertion is that there are no authoritative, magisterial sources that establish any definition at all for the term “supersede” (or “supersessionism” or “antisupersessionism” for that matter).  So, there’s no magisterial authority you can appeal to in order to establish which definition is supposedly correct and which is not.  The second problem is that, although you stated in your critique of this USCCB document that the word “supersede” doesn’t “equate” with “discard”, Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus lists “discard” as a synonym for “supersede.”   Even in on-line dictionaries, one of the definitions of “supersede” is “to discard” (see: Collins English Dictionary).  As such, the definition these bishops used for the term “superseded” isn’t incorrect; it’s one of a few acceptable alternatives.

Again, all this continues to establish is that the terms “supersessionism”, “antisupersessionism” and even “supersede” have no uniform, authoritatively fixed definitions and that they are understood and used differently by different people, just as I’ve said before (see here and here).  Not unlike the term “proselytism” (see: here), these words carry very different nuances and implications for different people (for instance, see: here, here, here, here, and here).  Catholics can legitimately reject them, if they understand them in a certain sense.  Therefore, it’s completely inappropriate to use these terms by themselves as an absolute litmus test of orthodoxy by which to publicly condemn another person for teaching heresy.  Not even a bishop or tribunal – those who have actual authority – would ever consider doing such a thing.  In addition, your use of the word “supersessionism” to publicly condemn Bishop Rhoades and/or Fr. King of heresy doesn’t even comport with your own publicly stated standards (see: here).  You’ve publicly chided others for doing less than what you’ve done to Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King.

c) As we've already seen from the writing of Cardinal Dulles (here), there are those who accept that the New Covenant has “superseded” the Old (Mosaic) Covenant while not accepting what he has described as a "crude" or extreme form of supersessionism that goes beyond that. We know that Bishop Rhoades is one of them because he publicly endorsed our article that makes precisely this distinction; he explicitly singled that distinction out and said he believed it was "right on the mark" (here).    

Yet, even though Cardinal Dulles and Bishop Rhoades seem to have the same view of this issue, the difference between your treatment of Cardinal Dulles and Bishop Rhoades is stark (see: here).  Of Cardinal Dulles, you wrote:  “By and large, I thought his essay made some good points. It sought to give a fair and Christ-centered focus to this very important question. I think it is one of the better treatments of this issue that I have seen coming from Catholic prelates close to these issues.”  Conversely, you’ve publicly stated that Bishop Rhoades is afraid of Jews because they own the mortgages on his diocesan property and he’s “attempting to propagate” a pro-Jewish heresy to “unsuspecting Catholics” because he has greater “allegiances” to Jewish causes than to the Catholic faith.   Even the notoriously contentious and radically traditionalist Angelqueen Forum greeted Bishop Rhoades' statements regarding the covenants and salvation with amazement and appreciation for their force and clarity:  "that is the first time in my life that I have heard a bishop speak like that" (see: here).

It seems reasonable to conclude that if Fr. King said something negative about “supersessionism”, he had in mind the “crude” or “extreme” form that Cardinal Dulles and Bishop Rhoades don’t accept, either.  You seem to think that if someone says they reject “supersessionism” then they must necessarily accept the dual covenant error.  But that’s not true.  A person can legitimately reject both – if he understands “supersessionism” in one of the “crude” or “extreme” senses of the term. Remember, you yourself reject a version of supersessionism that equates “superseded” with “discarding” because you believe that definition goes too far.  (However, judging by many statements you’ve made on this topic, you seem to hold to an extreme version of supersessionism yourself:  see here.)


Examples of Moving the Goal Posts, Completely Changing the Story and Refusing to Admit Error

 

Three Strikes

From the beginning, going back to 2002, your focus has been on the notion that Jews have their own salvation plan with God and that Catholics should therefore not be evangelizing Jews.  Here are your own words in 2002:

R. Sungenis:  “The RCM [Reflections on Covenant and Mission] has merely been trying, although utterly failing to set the stage for this bombshell question:  Should Catholics convert and baptize the Jews.  Everything else in this report is commentary.  The real question is conversion.”  (Source)

You boiled your objections involving the dual covenant error down to the same thing in the 2008 article that you trumpeted as the ultimate treatment of this issue:  Old Covenant: Revoked or Not Revoked (OCRNR):

R. Sungenis:  “Since the Jews have an eternal covenant with God, they thus have their own salvation program, and are not to be the targets of Christian conversion efforts.  Is there any reason why we should not call this heresy?” (p. 12)

In that same 2008 article, along with accusing Bishop Rhoades of having greater “allegiances” to Jewish causes than to the Catholic faith (and of being afraid of Jews because they own the mortgages on his diocesan property), you accused His Excellency of holding to the same “heresy” as found in RCM.

A year or so later, you again accused Bishop Rhoades of holding to the same error as found in RCM and you again boiled that error down to opposing the evangelization of Jews and teaching that Jews have their own path to salvation:

R. Sungenis:  Rhoades [sic] made no attempt to convert [the Jews in the synagogue his visited] to Christianity, since he and his fellow Jewish ideologues believe that Judaism is just another way to God and that Christianity is only a better means of doing so. He learned that from his mentor William Cardinal Keeler, the co-author with Jewish rabbis of the 2002 document Reflections on Covenant and Missions [RCM], the document that claimed that the idea that Jews were to have the Gospel preached to them and that they needed to convert to Christianity was no longer theologically acceptable.  (Q and A #261

And in 2010 you repeated again that Bishop Rhoades held to the same heresy as found in RCM:

R. Sungenis:  During the meeting with Fr. King, I discovered that both he and Bishop Rhoades held to the heresy of antisupersessionism...this came as little surprise to me, since William Cardinal Keeler had held the same heresy in his 2002 document Reflections on Covenant and Missions... (Source)

The glaring problem for you is that Bishop Rhoades has publicly and unequivocally affirmed the Church’s missionary mandate to the Jewish people (directly contrary to RCM). He’s also publicly stated,It is not correct to speak of two independent covenants in effect today, one for Jews and one for Gentiles, since Jesus is the only Savior who continues His saving work in the Church and by means of the Church, His Body. There is only one salvific economy” (again, directly contrary to RCM). And he’s publicly endorsed the USCCB document that explicitly criticizes RCM.  As such, Bishop Rhoades has already directly refuted your false accusations. 

In another place, you cited a statement made by Bishop Rhoades that there is “no Catholic campaign to convert Jews” as supposed proof that he doesn’t believe that Jews should be invited to become Catholic.  That’s also nonsense.  The purpose of creating distance from loaded terms like “campaign” and “proselytism” is to lower fears that the Church intends to systematically engage in the precise kind of ham-handed, hostile and uncharitable, one-hammer-fits-all “evangelization” in which you and others like you engage.  Bishop Rhoades has publicly and explicitly supported inviting all men, Jew and Gentile alike, to accept Christ and enter the Church.  But he, like St. Peter, insists that it be done with profound respect and charity (see #4 here and see here).

Remember also that you’ve been falsely portraying Bishop Rhoades as being opposed to the positive change to page 131 of the USCCA.  Over three years ago we reported that he supported and voted for that change and we reiterated it again a year later, but you continued to spread false information, regardless (here).

So, your accusations against Bishop Rhoades have been and continue to be “slanderous and erroneous”, exactly as His Excellency stated.  And instead of admitting that, apologizing for and retracting them, you’ve altered your accusations against Bishop Rhoades for a second time, almost exactly as predicted near the end of Bishop Rhoades and the Dual Covenant Theory.  (See here and here).

In your article, “My Response to Bishop Rhoades” and also in your new comment at the NCRegister website, you’ve required His Excellency to sign off on statements you’ve created in order to prove his orthodoxy to your personal satisfaction.  If you can’t already see how completely inappropriate that is, I’m sure I can’t explain it to you.  Bishop Rhoades has faithfully articulated the language put forth by the Church on this issue.  No Catholic, let alone a bishop, need repeat your personal formulations in order to establish his doctrinal orthodoxy.  But more importantly, your demand for additional statements from Bishop Rhoades is disingenuous because you’ve already decided that he’s being dishonest.  His Excellency has expressly denied your public accusations against him -- calling them “slanderous and erroneous.”  But you refuse to believe him.  As you believe that Bishop Rhoades is being dishonest, then he can make no statement that could ever satisfy you.   I think you know perfectly well that Bishop Rhoades isn’t about to play Charlie Brown for you as you play Lucy and pull the ball away repeatedly. But demanding another statement from His Excellency and being able to complain that he never provided it certainly makes for useful rhetoric.

 

Tone Alone vs. Tone AND Content -  Is Fr. King a Lying Sneak?

For some time now, you’ve asserted that at your July 2007 meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg you were solely corrected for your “tone” in regard to Jewish issues and not for your "content".  In 2009 you repeated this assertion and then you went on to accuse Fr. King of being dishonest and sneaky because, according to you,  he later "slipped in the word content”:  


R. Sungenis:  The upshot of the “published letter” [Catholic Apologetics International and Its Teaching on the Jews] was that I conceded to Bishop Rhoades that my “tone” in delivering my articles on the Jews needed improvement. I’ve always been sensitive to tone, since with my Italian temper I can sometimes get a little too harsh. “Tone” was the very word that Fr. King stressed as the necessary change that he and Bishop Rhoades agreed would settle the controversy (however ambiguous that word was then or now). But it appears they were not being honest with me. In his subsequent letter to me, Fr. King slipped in the word “content.” In the end, it was really “content” he and the bishop were pushing. And it wasn’t just any content. It was content that had to do with whether the Jews still had legal possession of the Old Covenant. We know this for a fact because my “published letter,” although it contained a very conciliatory “tone” toward the Jews (e.g., item #7 stated: “It is the hope of Catholic Apologetics International that Jews and Catholics can work together to live peaceably in this present world, and that we cooperate with on another whenever we have the opportunity to do so. All forms of hatred against the Jews are to be condemned. Christian love should be shown to Jews at all times...”), also contained, as its first item, my teaching that the Old Covenant was no longer valid for the Jews, and Bishop Rhoades wanted me to take it down.  (Source)

 

The obvious problem with this account is that in the "published letter" to which you refer, Catholic Apologetics International and Its Teaching on the Jews (CAITJ, July 31, 2007) - written a mere four days after the meeting in question - you explicitly stated that you were corrected by Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King for both your tone and content.  You even said that you conveyed your agreement with their overall negative assessment of your tone and content.  Here it is, in your own words:

 

R. Sungenis:  In a personal letter he wrote to me, and in a follow up meeting I recently had with his vicar general, the Very Reverend William J. King, JCD, along with the executive director for ecumenical and inter-religious affairs of the USCCB, the Reverend James Massa, the shepherds God has placed as overseers of my life and work have asked me to reconsider the tone and content with which I write about the Jewish people for CAI. They provided me various examples in which I have crossed the line into inappropriate language and accusations, and I communicated to them my agreement with their overall assessment(Source)

 

By your own admission here, your "content" was in view all along.  As such, Fr. King did not dishonestly "slip in the word 'content'" after the meeting in a subsequent letter.  Your accusation against him is therefore false and slanderous.  

In addition, I strongly disagree with your other assertions about there being no problems with CAITJ in terms of either tone or content and the record  -  as conveyed by Fr. Harrison - proves that the Diocese of Harrisburg disagreed with you as well (see point #5, p. 12).  You jumped to an unwarranted conclusion as to why the bishop decided you needed to stop commenting on Jews altogether.  The problem was not that you opposed the dual covenant error and it never was.  But I’ll address that later.  

 

Forced by Bishop Rhoades to Voluntarily Comply


The specific story about whether or not Bishop Rhoades ordered or merely asked you to stop commenting on Jewish issues has changed five times now.

On July 31st, 2007, you stated that you were given a "directive" by Bishop Rhoades to stop writing and speaking about all Jewish issues (here).  On August 5th, 2007, you went even further by stating that you were forced to comply with Bishop Rhoades’ directive under penalty of "interdict" (here). But then, the very next day, you indignantly insisted that you were merely "asked" (here).  Subsequently, in January 2008, you wrote an article and reversed yourself again  indicating that you were actually "ordered” (here).  Then, in June 2008,  your close friend, Fr. Harrison, wrote an extended article with your help – insisting that you were given a mere "request" to stop writing about Jewish issues (here).  But then, in January 2010, your good friend and mentor, E. Michael Jones, wrote a bizarre fund-raising letter in which (among other things) he stated that Bishop Rhoades "told Robert Sungenis he wasn't allowed to talk about the Jews” (here).  

There's no way to reconcile all of these discrepancies, Bob, even factoring in Fr. Harrison’s analysis.  The story has repeatedly changed -  most notably, depending upon the audience and the point being made at the time.

 

Bishop Rhoades simultaneously Rewarded and Punished by the Vatican for the Same Thing


You would have people believe that Bishop Rhoades was “shipped off” by the Vatican to Fort Wayne-South Bend as some sort of rebuke for his handling of the situation with you and Jewish issues.  But, ironically, your friend and mentor, Mike Jones, would have people believe the exact opposite.  According to Jones, the Vatican was so pleased and impressed by Bishop Rhoades' handling of the situation with you and Jewish issues that they sent His Excellency to Fort Wayne-South Bend (where Jones lives) in order to "silence" Jones and even "burn him at the stake" for his handling of Jewish issues.  Click here for more.


Visiting a Synagogue is just fine, unless you’re Bishop Rhoades

Here, you attack Bishop Rhoades but defend Pope Benedict XVI for doing the same thing. 

R. Sungenis: So [Pope Benedict XVI] visited a Jewish synagogue. Is that a crime? Where is that declared a heresy in Catholic dogmatic teaching? As for your opinion "not to ask for them to come to Jesus of course," do you really know that for sure, Jamie? Did you talk with the pope? Did he write you a letter saying he didn't want to ask the Jews to come to Jesus? No, none of that occurred. The only thing he did was visit a Jewish synagogue and shake a few hands with people who are non-Catholics. What pope hasn't done that? What pope wouldn't do that? I suggest you stop judging by appearances. (Source)

Vs.

R. Sungenis: “Bishop Rhoades frequently attended Jewish synagogues and prayed there with the Jews, the very people who deny that Jesus Christ is God. Rhoades made no attempt to convert them to Christianity…” (Q & A #261)

Should you be tempted to make a distinction between praying at and visiting a synagogue, Pope Benedict XVI has prayed at synagogues, too (here).  And notice how you assume the very worst about what Bishop Rhoades does at a synagogue while condemning your patron for doing the very same thing to Benedict XVI.

Bishop Rhoades Acting in God’s Stead by Spreading Heresy to Unsuspecting Catholics


You have been telling everyone that you knew right then and there at your July 27, 2007 meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg that Bishop Rhoades was intent upon spreading the dual covenant “heresy” to “unsuspecting Catholics”:

R. Sungenis: “ I knew upon leaving the building the erroneous theology [Fr. King], Rhoades and the USCCB were attempting to propagate to unsuspecting Catholics.”  Jan. 2008 (Click here.)

R. Sungenis: “During the meeting with Fr. King, I discovered that both he and Bishop Rhoades held to the heresy of antisupersessionism – the view that the Jews still retained legal possession of the Mosaic covenant.” Oct. 2010 (Click here.)

If that is the truth, if you knew right then and there at your July 27, 2007 meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg that Bishop Rhoades was trying to spread what you consider to be an extremely dangerous heresy to “unsuspecting Catholics”, then why did you assure your readers that Bishop Rhoades’ teaching on Jewish issues was trustworthy a mere four days after this same meeting? Why did you gush about His Excellency’s gifts of “wisdom and counsel”, going so far as to say that you considered his “direction as if it was from God Himself” and pledging your filial obedience because "he acts in God's stead"?  Again, you wrote these things a mere four days after the meeting in question.  Here are your own words, written on July 31, 2007:

R. Sungenis:  "Neither our obedience to our bishop nor our bishop's directives [about my handling of Jewish issues] should in any way be interpreted as either of us compromising on the truth, but only that the truth be communicated with....a 'human and Christian spirit'...both in its content and in its tone…"

R. Sungenis:  "I take their wisdom and counsel with the utmost seriousness and consider their direction as if it was from God himself. I consider it an honor not only to be a member of the Catholic Church but also to be under the vigilance of such wise and caring pastors. In short, I consider it a privilege to obey them."

R. Sungenis:  "If in the future we write any new material on the Jews, it will always be with the required due diligence, as if the bishop were present with us. Since he acts in God’s stead, we will do our utmost to please him so as to preserve the peace and tranquility he so desires to maintain in the body of Christ."  (Source)

In light of the fact that you wrote the negative story only after you became angry with Bishop Rhoades, I think one can make a solid guess as to which story is false.


A More Reasonable and Consistent Narrative

A Timeline of Events and Bishop Rhoades Sets the Record Straight both lay out what most likely happened to you and why.  But a few new things are worth briefly noting here. 

First, why did you so drastically change your narrative as to what happened at your July 27, 2007 meeting with Fr. King and Fr. Massa?  It seems clear that your interpretation of what happened after you wrote Catholic Apologetics International and Its Teaching on the Jews (CAITJ) was the pivotal event that precipitated the unfortunate spiral between you and Bishop Rhoades/Fr. King.  You’ve indicated that you felt extremely angry about and betrayed by what happened during that time.  Below, I’ve presented a more benign interpretation of events that I believe is more plausible and aligns better with the facts.  Again, my intention and interest here isn’t to debate Bishop Rhoades’ orthodoxy.  My intention is to help you consider a more benign interpretation of events that aligns with the fact that Bishop Rhoades isn’t a dual covenant proponent.

As is evident throughout CAITJ, you held Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King in the highest esteem after your July 27th meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg.   In CAITJ – written just four days after that meetingyou expressed complete deference to and confidence in Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King and praised them as the very epitome of wise, faithful and trustworthy Catholic shepherds.  At this juncture, you also thought that everything was resolved between you and the diocese.  And you were firmly convinced that the entire text of CAITJ was impeccable in both tone and content, so you felt confident that CAITJ would give you something of a last word on the matter.  As such, when Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King directed you to remove CAITJ and to stop writing about all Jewish issues again, you naturally felt frustrated and very angry. To make matters worse, it was becoming apparent that you wouldn’t be able to use the name “Catholic” any longer on your work – something we know you coveted because of the note you wrote to your friend and patron, Edgar Suter (which he then forwarded to a large group of people, including David Palm and me – available here).  No doubt, all of this was also cause for no small amount of embarrassment.    

At this point, I believe your frustration and anger led you to view Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King essentially as enemies.  And this in turn led you to a new, much more negative interpretation of events – one in which Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King became heretical, pro-Jewish subversives and you became an unjustly persecuted defender of orthodoxy who was resisting them for the good of the Church.  You concluded that you were really only being opposed by His Excellency and his vicar general because you were taking what you’ve described as a “strong stand” against the dual covenant error and you even found some circumstantial support for that reinterpretation (such as the negative remark about “supersessionism” you say that Fr. King made).  I don’t doubt that you genuinely came to believe this narrative.

But you were mistaken; that’s not really what happened.  We know from the abundant, direct evidence listed at the beginning of this letter that Bishop Rhoades isn’t a dual covenant proponent and that he appreciates responsible, charitable criticisms of it.  So, if it wasn’t your opposition to the dual covenant error, what else could Bishop Rhoades have found to be unacceptable in CAITJ?  And what else other than CAITJ could have caused him to change his mind and decide that it would be better for you to stop addressing Jewish issues entirely, particularly under the “Catholic” mantle?

Again, it would be helpful to look at the actual letter that Fr. King wrote on August 23rd to see what he and/or Bishop Rhoades specifically mentioned.  But unfortunately, to date, you’ve only been willing to release a couple of very short excerpts from it that you believe to support your previous interpretation of events. However, some of the problems with CAITJ have already been presented (here and here).  (The text of CAITJ itself can be read here).  

First, it seems clear that you didn’t consider the propriety of engaging in a significant, newly formulated criticism of Jews in the immediate context of an acknowledgment of fault for many unjust and inappropriate attacks against them.  After you’ve repeatedly maligned and otherwise offended people, it’s not appropriate to essentially say, “I probably shouldn’t have done that, but now let me point out what’s really wrong with you.”  Second, as noted here, although you've insisted since January 2008 that your "tone" was impeccable in CAITJ (see: Old Covenant, Revoked or Not Revoked, p. 11), the record - as conveyed by Fr. Harrison - proves that Bishop Rhoades and/or Fr. King disagreed.  They found your “tone” to be unacceptable.  Fr. Harrison wrote:  

The Vicar General, Fr. King, replied with a long letter, dated August 23, 2007, stating that in the judgment of Bishop Rhoades, the 7-point statement on Judaism contained in the letter was not fully satisfactory because of the tone and content of some passages.  (Dr. Robert Sungenis Has Disobeyed No Binding Precept of His Bishop, p. 11)

 

I think His Excellency's judgment was reasonable, particularly considering the context in which CAITJ was written.   Aside from it being inappropriate to publish four pages of newly formulated criticisms against Jews in the context of an acknowledgment of fault for offenses committed against them, several sentences in CAITJ were unnecessarily harsh and/or contentious (again, particularly in this context). The following is one example that comes to mind:


“We deplore and condemn any Catholic who attempts to attain the cooperation of the Jews by placating them with a dilution of the Catholic faith and her doctrine.” 


Words like “deplore” and “condemn” are unnecessarily harsh and combative in this context.  It’s also inappropriate to be warning Catholics against “placating” “the Jews” here.  The term “placate” commonly has a somewhat pejorative or patronizing connotation like the word “pacify.” If you felt it was imperative to voice your concerns for the integrity of Catholic teaching in this context, it could easily have been done in a much less negative and adversarial way.  You could have written something like, “We also maintain that neither Catholics nor Jews should ever feel pressured or obligated to dilute or deny their distinctive beliefs in order facilitate these cooperative efforts.”

In addition, the continued use of “the Jews” in CAITJ inappropriately broad-brushes Jewish people as though they’re monolithic (which is one of the practices that many have objected to in your writings). And, as in other places in CAITJ, this statement was written with an air of almost magisterial authority – as though it were a formal decree issued by a Council of the Church rather than a personal statement made by a layman on his website.  There are other instances of inappropriate tone in CAITJ.  As such, I don’t see any good justification to conclude that concerns about “tone” were merely a cover for Bishop Rhoades/Fr. King’s supposedly “real” objection to CAITJ and the “real” reason you were directed to stop commenting on all Jewish issues.    

It’s also noteworthy that, according to Fr. Harrison, Bishop Rhoades/Fr. King objected to the content of “some passages” in CAITJ, not just one single passage. And, again, it would be very helpful to see the entire letter from Bishop Rhoades/Fr King that was written on August 23rd.  I have to believe that they spent a great deal of space addressing concerns that weren’t about “supersessionism” in this letter that Fr. Harrison described as “long.” 

Third, your new criticisms of Jews probably should have been submitted to Fr. King and Bishop Rhoades for review before publishing them - again, especially considering the circumstances.   By prominently mentioning and thanking Bishop Rhoades and indicating that he was allowing you to write CAITJ, people would naturally assume that he personally approved it.  Basically, you put His Excellency on the spot.  By so doing, there’s little doubt that you significantly heightened his sensitivity to anything potentially problematic in what you wrote – whether tone or content. 

Fourth, some of your points in CAITJ contain questionable and/or potentially problematic assertions that a bishop understandably wouldn’t want to be seen as publicly approving.  For example, point #6 appears to judge almost all Jews over the last 2,000 years of being morally culpable for not believing in Christ and becoming Catholic. In essence, CAITJ effectively declared most all Jews over the last 2,000 years as being in Hell.  Clearly, such a judgment is God’s alone to make.  The Church has never made such a condemnatory judgment or statement and neither should you or anyone else.  I believe that this statement alone would have kept almost any bishop from accepting CAITJ. And in regard to point #5, the Church has never staked out a definitive position on this sensitive issue and so it seems inappropriate to be so absolute and dogmatic about it.  Point #3 misses an available “both/and” and also seems to run contrary to the position taken by Pope Benedict XVI, Lumen Gentium 16, CCC 1963 and Nostra Aetate 4 (as documented here and here). As such, again, it seems inappropriate to be so absolute and dogmatic about it.

When I first read CAITJ, I had trouble believing that Bishop Rhoades would have approved it – particularly in that context.  I doubt that any bishop would have approved it.  In fact, in an email I sent to you very shortly after CAITJ was posted, I told you that I found it problematic in both tone and content.  It seems clear to me that Bishop Rhoades and/or Fr. King looked at CAITJ and ultimately concluded that if this was the best you could do so shortly after being corrected – including giving the unfortunate (and inaccurate) public impression that Bishop Rhoades had signed off on CAITJ – then you should stop writing about Jews altogether, particularly under the “Catholic ” mantle.  It would be understandable for them to conclude that you would likely only degenerate further from there.  And so you did.  You returned to things like promoting a revisionist book on the Holocaust, suggesting that the Pope is sympathetic to Holocaust revisionism, “News Alerts” about an “Israeli 9-11 connection”, an offensive Israeli TV show episode, a complaint about too many Jews being on the Supreme Court, a warning about Israel potentially destroying Europe with “nukes”, an article about Jews attacking websites, falsely accusing your critics of being Jews (scroll down to the last comment: here), and perhaps most importantly, a somewhat sanitized version of the article about Jews that caused so much discord and controversy back in 2002 (but which still included material taken without attribution from a Holocaust revisionist, a Nazi admirer and a white supremacist:  see here) and more.

Also, did you ever consider whether Bishop Rhoades could eventually have gotten wind of the fact that after he gave you a directive to remove the Jewish material at CAI within two weeks, you left everything up and then added additional problematic material over the course of the next month - including a cartoon of a Jewish soldier pointing a machine gun in a child’s face (see here)?  Remember, many people – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – were reportedly writing to Bishop Rhoades throughout this time and information was widely available on the Internet about it (see here).  So, it seems possible that these facts – none of which have anything to do with Bishop Rhoades being a heretic who was intent upon spreading his heresy to unsuspecting Catholics – could have come to His Excellency’s attention later and played at least some part in his ultimate decision in your regard as well. 

As I’ve previously stated, it seems evident that you believed you had cowed and silenced Bishop Rhoades by the sheer force of your arguments and the threat of "exposing" him as a Judaizing heretic to the Vatican. No doubt, the bishop was reduced to silence, but for a very different reason. Can there be any real doubt that the extreme rashness and belligerence exhibited in your letter would merely have served to confirm in Bishop Rhoades' mind that he was correct in directing you to completely cease and desist from commenting on anything involving the Jewish people? Is it difficult to imagine that Bishop Rhoades would have come to the conclusion that it wasn't possible to have a reasonable, constructive discussion with a person possessed of such a judgmental and contentious mindset?

Then, recall your patron Lionel Andrades, who harassed the priests of the Diocese of Harrisburg via email on your behalf by spreading the false accusations you’ve leveled against His Excellency.  Instead of rebuking your patron for his outrageous behavior and apologizing to Fr. King and Bishop Rhoades, your response was to make more accusations and demand an apology from them! (See here).  In view of all this, it’s clear why the Diocese of Harrisburg ceased communicating with you altogether.

I’m sorry if that seems harsh to you, but what you’re doing is dangerous and wrong on many different levels. And these unfortunate events don’t stand in isolation.  They’re part of a pattern that’s apparent in your autobiographical chapter of Surprised By Truth, which was aptly titled, “From Controversy to Consolation.”  By your own account, throughout most of your adult life, you’ve frequently stirred up controversy, dissention and animosity while moving from one faith community to the next.  And in each place, you’ve been absolutely sure that you were correct and those who disagreed with you were completely wrong (click here).

It was only after your reversion to the Catholic faith that you had a season of grace and relative peace that allowed you to produce your finest works:  the Not By series.  Sadly, that season passed and you’ve returned to your old ways.

Again, I urge you to think very carefully about what you’re doing here with Bishop Rhoades and Fr. King and what you’re going to do from here on.  You need to stop slandering them and then apologize for and retract your false accusations.   Remember also, your entire rationale for refusing to listen to Bishop Rhoades’ direction to stop commenting on Jewish issues was based on the accusation that His Excellency was “attempting to propagate” the dual covenant error to “unsuspecting Catholics”.   As that accusation has been repeatedly proven false, no impediment remains to your obedience.  

But before making a decision in that regard, I invite you to recall and reflect on the public statement you made about Bishop Rhoades immediately after your meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg because you had a good and profound insight:  it’s an honor and a privilege to obey and be under the vigilance of such a wise and caring pastor who acts in God’s stead (here).  Perhaps then you’ll be able to enter another, more lasting season of grace and peace in which you can eventually return to the kind of fine work you've previously produced for Christ and His Church.  That’s my sincere hope. 

In Christ Jesus,

Michael Forrest 


Follow-up information:

Answering Sungenis' Latest "Response" on "the Bishop Rhoades affair"  

and

 Sungenis' Own Standards of Heresy: Why Don't They Apply to Bishop Rhoades?