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Sending a Clear, Pro-life Message
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Catholic Schools and Pregnancy
Not Interested in Community
Purgatory Not in the Bible
Dealing With Jehovah's Witnesses


Q: My unmarried daughter was recently expelled from a local Catholic high school for being pregnant. The father of her unborn child, however, continues to attend the same school.

My daughter has chosen life for her unborn child yet this is how the school responds! It seems to me that they are following a hypocritical policy. Would Jesus expel her from a Catholic school?

When I spoke with a priest at a local parish about this, he was surprised that the school had expelled her. Does such a policy reflect how Catholic high schools deal with pregnant female students?

A: At one time, many all-girls or coed schools followed this policy, but most of them dropped it almost 20 years ago, I think. From 1975 to 1984, I taught at Roger Bacon High School, then an all-boys Catholic high school. The school became coed in 1984, and I returned as chaplain and teacher eight years later.

I have taught pregnant students. In the early 1980s the interparochial and private high schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati adopted a policy that students are not to be expelled for being pregnant.

The older policy mandating expulsion arose from a feeling that any other course of action could be interpreted as condoning premarital intercourse. “Could be interpreted” are the key words here because a single action is frequently open to multiple interpretations.

In light of rising abortion rates, continuing such a policy in Catholic high schools could now be interpreted as an unspoken encouragement to abort rather than to carry a child to term. It also legitimates a double standard based on gender.

I hope that you, your daughter and this Catholic high school will find a way for her to continue her education there, as well as to give birth to her child. This child’s father continues to have natural and legal responsibilities toward this child.

Not Interested in Community

Q: The word “community” is being grossly misused in the Catholic Church today. I feel disillusioned, disappointed and discouraged with my Church. Recent changes have made us more like other Christians.

For example, there is no reverence anymore—with all the loud talking and even laughing during the distribution of Holy Communion. It doesn’t feel like Mass—and now Baptisms are included, which makes for more distractions.

Personally, I don’t want a community. I want a quiet, beautiful place to pray and be peaceful. Now I cannot concentrate.

A: Reverence before, during and after Mass remains important. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for a period of “sacred silence” after Holy Communion is distributed (#43). Shorter periods of silence can be observed after the first and second readings on Sundays and after the homily (#56).

The Eucharist is, however, the prayer of many followers of Jesus Christ—not of a single person. Private prayer is needed, but the Eucharist cannot be reduced to the backdrop for an individual’s private prayer. Its readings and prayers are meant to be proclaimed to a community of disciples responding to Jesus’ instruction, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

The Church makes special provision allowing Baptisms at Mass to indicate to parents, godparents and everyone present that they all have new responsibilities toward infants, children, teens or adults who are being baptized.

The Catholic Church is a community, branches united to one another and to the vine who is Jesus (see John 15:1-17). Jesus says that loving one another is important. According to 1 John 4:21, “This is the commandment we have from [God]: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” We understand that to mean all people.

Q: My Protestant friends have challenged me about the Catholic Church’s belief in purgatory. They rightly say that this term never occurs in the Bible. When did it first appear in Catholic theology?

A: In A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Paulist, 2000), Gerald O’Collins, S.J., and Edward Farrugia, S.J., note that authors such as Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) and Tertullian (d. 225) wrote “in various ways of purification after death and our communion through prayer with our dear departed.” The Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-45) “taught the cleansing suffering endured after death (by those not yet fit for the beatific vision) and the value of prayers and pious works offered for their behalf.”

O’Collins and Farrugia continue: “The Council of Trent (1545-63) maintained the doctrine of purgatory, said nothing about the nature and duration of purgatory, and reiterated the value of offering prayers and the Eucharist for those in purgatory....The state of purgatory can be understood as a final process of loving but painful maturation before we see God face to face. With the last judgment, purgatory will come to an end.”

Some notion of temporal punishment due to sin, the basis for the teaching on purgatory, is reflected in the decision by Judas Maccabeus to offer sacrifices for deceased Jewish soldiers who had worn pagan amulets (see 2 Maccabees 12:38-46). Judas Maccabeus presumed that the prayers of the living can help the purification of those who have died.

Second Maccabees and six other Old Testament books are not in Protestant Bibles because Martin Luther accepted the later rabbinic tradition of recognizing as divinely inspired only those books originally written in Hebrew. For over 1,000 years, however, Christians had recognized those books as belonging in the Bible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (#1030-31).

The teaching on “temporal punishment due to sin” reflects the fact that every sin has a life of its own, even after it has been confessed and forgiven. A lie that I tell on Tuesday and then confess on Saturday does not vanish. Its evil effects continue until people are no longer interested in repeating it. Believing otherwise is naïve.

This is not to say that every Catholic who has spoken or written about purgatory has presented this teaching correctly. An exaggeration, however, is a caricature that does not fairly represent the original teaching.

Father Leonard Foley, O.F.M., chose to end his classic book, Believing in Jesus, with these words: “Being saved is being cleansed, liberated, raised up to the life of Jesus daily. Purification is the daily dying to whatever is selfish, untrue, un-Christlike, and daily being raised by him to a deeper sharing in his own life.

“We are called to be like persons in purgatory in one crucial way: We are trying to learn to say the last words of the Bible as they say them, with bursting desire. To say them with no lingering strains of selfishness, with no lack of trust, with our whole heart and soul, mind and strength: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).”

Q: A young woman keeps coming to my house to promote the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I used to think they didn’t differ much from Catholics, but now I realize that they do not believe that Jesus is God or that our souls are immortal. Their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures differs significantly from the New American Bible. How did this come about?

A: Although you may not phrase it this way, a basic difference between you and this woman is that you see the Bible as given to a faith community that determined which books belong in the Bible and that interprets difficult passages in a trustworthy way. I recommend that you read “Interpreting the Bible: The Right and the Responsibility,” by Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M. (September 1997 Scripture From Scratch newsletter).

Christians were reading the Bible for almost 18 centuries before 1872, the year that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, began his preaching career. Shouldn’t that suggest that his private interpretation of Scripture could include mistakes?

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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