Priestly Motto

“The greatest of these is love!” (1 Cor 13:13)

Each Christian has his or her own gifts and vocation in the Church. But it is love alone that gives life to our vocation and makes it bear fruit. This verse, which I have chosen as a motto for my priestly min­istry, designates the priesthood as a service of love, a ministry springing from love and aiming at love. As a priest I am called to make visible the saving love of Christ in the Christian community, to accompany and assist all in living their vocation to love.

Priestly Ordination

On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 15, 2012, I was ordained to the priesthood by  Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, together with five other men, in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

6 new priests, with cardinal Schönborn and the rectors and religious superior.

More photos and downloads are available at www.priesterweihe.at.

Please say a prayer in thanksgiving for the grace of this vocation, and that the Lord make us holy and good instruments of his work!

"For many" or "for all"? Pope Benedict on the Translation of "pro multis"

Pope Benedict XVI wrote to the German Bishops explaining why the liturgical text "pro multis" is to be translated as "for many" (für viele) rather than "for all" (für alle), and giving guidelines for the catechesis that should prepare priests and laity for the revised translation.

This translation is made from the German text on the German Bishops' Conference website.

April 24, 2012: letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the members of the German Bishop's Conference, on the Question of the Translation of the Words spoken over the Chalice.

Pope Benedict wrote a letter dated April 14, 2012 to the member of the German Bishops' Conference. In this letter he takes up the matter of the appropriate way to translation the words pronounced over the chalice in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Holy Mass. The Bishops' Permanent Council discussed this letter on April 23, 2012. We here make public the text of the Holy Father's letter.

Your Excellency!

Venerable, dear Archbishop!

During your visit on 15 March 2012 you let me know that regarding the translation of the words “pro multis” in the canon of the Mass, there remains no consensus among the bishops of the German speaking regions. Apparently there is a danger that in the soon to be expected publication of the new edition of the “Gotteslob”, some parts of the German speaking regions want to maintain the translation “for all”, even though the German Bishops’ Conference had agreed to use “for many”, as was desired by the Holy See. I promised you to express myself in writing about this serious matter to head off such a division in the heart of our prayer. The letter which I hereby send through you to the members of the German Bishops’ Conference, I will also have sent to the other bishops of the German speaking regions.

Let me first speak briefly about the origin of the problem. In the 1960s, when the Roman Missal was to be translated into German under the responsibility of the bishops, there was an exegetical consensus that the words “the many” and “many” in Is. 53, 11 and following was a Hebrew expression signifying the totality, “all”. According to this view, the word “many” in the accounts of Matthew and Mark was a Semitism, and must be translated as “all”. This understanding was also applied to the actual Latin text that was to be translated, the “pro multis” of which refers back, by way of the Gospel accounts, to Is. 53, and therefore must by translated as “for all”. This exegetical consensus has since that time crumbled; it no longer exists. In the German translation of Sacred Scripture the account of the Last Supper says: “This is my Blood, the Blood of the Covenant,  which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24, cf. Matt. 26:28). This indicates something very important: The rendering of “pro multis” with “for all” was not merely a translation, but an interpretation, which certainly was and remains an interpretation with arguments in its favor, but which is an interpretation and not just a translation.

This mingling of translation and interpretation belongs in hindsight to the principles that immediately after the Council guided the translation of the liturgical books into the vernacular. One was conscious of how removed the Bible and the liturgical texts were from the language and thought of modern man, so that even when translated they would have to remain to a great extent incomprehensible to those taking part in the liturgy. In this new attempt the sacred texts would be opened up in translation to the participants of the liturgy and yet would remain very remote from their world, indeed, their remoteness would now be even more visible. Thus it seemed not only justified, but even obligatory to mingle interpretation with translation and so to shorten the way to the people whose hearts and minds were to be reached by these words.

To a certain degree the principle of translating original texts according to their meaning, not necessarily a word-for-word translation, remains justified. Since I frequently have to pray the liturgical prayers in various languages, I notice that one can often hardly find any common meaning between the various translations, and the common text that underlies them is often only distantly discernible. Into these translations have crept banalisations that are real losses. Thus over the years it has become ever clearly to me, also personally, that the principle of non-literal but structural equivalence as a translation guideline has its limits. Following such insights, the instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 28 March 2001, once more brought to the fore the principle of literal equivalence, though of course without dictating a one-sided verbalism. The important insight that lies at the root of this instruction consists in the above-mentioned distinction between translation and interpretation. This is necessary both in regard to the Word of Scripture and in regard to the liturgical texts. One the one hand, the sacred Word should, as far as possible, be presented as itself, including its foreignness and the questions it bears in it; on the other hand, the Church has been given the task of interpreting – within the limits of our own understanding – so that the message which the Lord has meant for us may come to us. The most sensitive translation cannot replace interpretation: it belongs to the structure of Revelation that the Word of God is read in the interpreting community of the Church, that faithfulness and making now present are united. The Word must be there as itself, in its own form, which may be strange to us; interpretation must be measured by its faithfulness to the Word itself, but at the same time must make that Word accessible to the modern hearer.

In this context the Holy See has decided that in the new translation of the Missal the words “pro multis” must be translated as such and not immediately interpreted. The simple translation “for many” must replace the interpretative rendering “for all”. In this context I want to point out that in both Matthew and in Mark there is no article: not “for the many”, but “for many”. If this decision is, as I hope, quite understandable from the perspective of the fundamental relationship of translation and interpretation, I am still aware that it presents an enormous challenge for all who have the task of interpreting the Word of God in the Church. For regular patrons of the church this almost inevitably appears as a rupture at the heart of what is holy. They will ask: did Christ not die for all? Has the Church changed her teaching? Can and may she do so? Is this indicative of a reaction destructive to the heritage of the Council? We all know, through the experience of the last fifty years, how deeply the changes of liturgical forms and texts affects the souls of the people; how much must a change in the text on such a central point affect the people? Since this is so, when in view of the difference between translation and interpretation a decision was made for the translation “many”, at the same time it was decided that a thorough catechesis must precede the use of this translation in the individual language regions, a catechesis in which the bishops must make clear to their priests, and through them to their faithful, what the issue is really about. This preceding catechesis is the basic prerequisite before the new translation comes into force. As far as I know, such a catechesis has till now not been made in the German speaking region. The intention of my letter, dear brothers, is to ask you most urgently to develop such a catechesis, to discuss it with the priests, and at the same time make it available to the faithful.

In such a catechesis one must first very briefly explain why after the Council the word “many” was translated in the Missal by “all”: to unambiguously express the universality of the salvation that comes from Jesus, as he willed it. This leads of course immediately to the question: If Jesus died for all, why did he say “for many” at the Last Supper? And why do we stick to these institutional words of Jesus? To this we must add that Jesus, according to Matthew and Mark, said “for many”, but according to Luke and St. Paul he said “for you”. This apparently narrows the circle even more. But this is exactly the point from which we can arrive at the solution. The disciples know that the mission of Jesus extends beyond them and their circle, that he came to gather together the scattered children of God from all the world (cf. Joh. 11:52). This “for you” makes the mission of Jesus very concrete for those present. They are not some anonymous elements of a vast totality, but everyone knows that the Lord died precisely for me, for us. “For you” reaches into the past and into the future; I have been named very personally; we, who are here gathered, are known and loved as such by Jesus. In this way, “for you” is not a narrowing of the mission, but a way of making it concrete, that is valid for every community that celebrates the Eucharist, that unites itself concretely to the love of Jesus. the Roman Canon united the two Biblical readings in the words of consecration, saying accordingly: “for you and for many”. During the reform of the liturgy, this formulation was then adopted for all the Eucharistic prayers.

But now once again: Why “for many”? Did the Lord not die for all? That Jesus Christ, as the Son of God made man, is the man for all men, the new Adam, belongs to the fundamental certainties of our faith. I would like to call to mind just three passages in Scripture indicative of this: God delivered his Son “up for us all,” Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:32). “One man died for all,” he says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians about the death of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:14). Jesus has “offered himself as a ransom for all”, it is said in the First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2:6). But even more then must we ask again: If this is clearly so, why does the Eucharistic Prayer say “for many”? Well, the Church adopted this formulation from the institution narrative of the New Testament. She says it thus out of respect for the Word of Jesus, to remain faithful to him even in his very words. Respect for the Word of Jesus is the reason for the formulation of the Eucharistic Prayer. But then we ask: why did Jesus say it this way himself? The true reason for that is that Jesus, in this way, showed himself as the servant of God of Isaiah 53, identified Himself as the form that the word of the prophet was awaiting. Respect of the Church for Jesus’ Word, Jesus's fidelity to the word of the “Scripture”, this double faithfulness is the concrete basis for the formulation “for many”. We join in this chain of reverent fidelity by the literal translation of the words of Scripture.

As we have seen, that the “for you” in the Lucan-Pauline tradition does not narrow, but rather makes concrete, so we can now recognize that the dialectic of “many” – “all” has its own significance. “All” moves on the ontological level – the being and action of Jesus includes all of mankind, past, present and future. But in fact, historically in the concrete community of those who celebrate the Eucharist, he comes only to “many”. In this way we can see an threefold significance in the relationship of “many” and “all”. Firstly, it should mean for us, who are allowed to sit at his table, surprise, joy and gratitude, that he has called me, that I may be with Him and may know Him. “Thanks be to the Lord, who has called me out of mercy into His Church…” [From a hymn of the “Gotteslob”] Then, secondly, this is also a responsibility. How the Lord reaches the others – “all” – in his own way remains ultimately a mystery. But without a doubt it is a responsibility to be called by him directly to his table, so that I may hear: for you, for me has he suffered. The many bear responsibility for all. The community of the many must be the light on the candlestick, the city on the mountain, leaven for all. This is a calling that concerns everyone personally. The many, who we are, must be conscious of their mission to be responsible for the whole. Finally, a third aspect may be added. In modern society we have the feeling that we are not at all “many”, but very few – a small swarm that is becoming ever smaller. But no – we are “many”: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues,” the Revelation of John says (Rev. 7:9). We are many and we stand for all. In this way both words, “many” and “all”, belong together and stand in relationship to each other in responsibility and promise.

Your Excellency, beloved brother bishops! With all this I wanted to indicate the basic content of the catechesis, with which priests and laity should be prepared as soon as possible for the new translation. I hope that all this can serve a more profound celebration together of the Eucharist and thus enter into the great task that lies before us in the “Year of Faith”. I hope that the catechesis will soon be presented and thus become part of the liturgical renewal for which the Council worked from its very first session.

With an Easter blessing, I remain in the Lord,

Yours

Benedictus PP XVI.

First Priestly Blessing

It is commonly held that a priest can offer a "first blessing" for the entire first year as a new priest. Sometimes it is said that there is a plenary indulgence attached to receiving a blessing from a priest within the first year after his ordination to the priesthood. I have been looking for the origin and basis of this tradition, but haven't found much. Maybe one or another of my readers know something about this.

The two questions I have are: first, is the notion that there is something special attached to a priest's blessing within his first year of priesthood based on (1) a pious tradition, (2) some liturgical tradition, or (3) a determination made by some pope?

Second, what is that "something special" that is attached to the blessing of a new priest within the first year of ordination (if not an indulgence)?

Summer Theology Program in Italy, 2012 – UPDATED

A slight change has been made to the dates of the second summer program run by the Saint Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. The program will take place again in Norcia, Italy,  from June 18 to June 30, 2012.

The theme this Summer is biblical theology, focusing on the Gospels. Selections from commentaries by St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and Joseph Ratzinger aim to lead to a deeper understanding of the Word of God and provide a starting point for discussion. Some lectures will be given on topics such as biblical inspiration, the use of the bible in the liturgy, and lectio divina. Again, a disputation in the scholastic style will be held during the program.

Holy Mass, the sung Latin Benedictine office with the monks, spiritual guidance and confessions are all readily available, and a number of optional excursions are offered.

Those who have or can make the time, and can afford the €675 (at the moment under $900 USD — covers tuition, room, and half-board, i.e., a light breakfast and a multi-course Italian dinner each day) plus the transportation to and from Norcia, are highly encouraged to consider this academic and spiritual program.

For much more detailed information, see the description of the program on the Center's own website.

Homily for Sts. Cyril and Methodius

St. Cyrill and St. Methodius are the patron saints of the parish Church where I am live and am assigned as a deacon. We celebrated their feast as a solemnity last Sunday. The readings were Acts 13:46-49 (Paul and Barnabas saying that after rejection by the Jews, they turn to the Gentiles, since Christ has charged them to spread the Gospel to all peoples) and Luke 10:1-9 (the sending of the 72 disciples).


Today Jesus speaks in the Gospel about a harvest. Who of you (children) has harvested fruit or vegetables from the tree or vine? (Children name various fruits they've harvested.) There are many good fruits and vegetables one can harvest and enjoy. Do you know what happens to the fruit if no one harvests it? (It spoils.) Yes, first it gets a bit overripe and doesn't taste as good, then it rots and you can't eat it any more, it's no good, at least not for us, maybe bugs and worms still enjoy it.

Something like that can happen with persons, too. It's sad, but sometimes good things in people spoil and are lost, because no one recognized them, helped these persons to harvest and preserve them. There is a lot hidden within everyone. But it is to be brought out, and one needs help for that. Not everyone can already read when they are three years old. They need someone to help them learn to read. We need people, too, to help us learn to love, to have faith, to trust.

Jesus knows this situation. He says, „The harvest is great, but the workers are few.“ He doesn't mean the harvest of fruits and vegetables, but the harvest of love, trust, faith, hope. Seeds of these beautiful, wonderful things are present among men. But they have to unfold, to grow, and one has to make them one's own. Otherwise they are dry up and perhaps vanish. Jesus wants everyone to be a loving person, a believing person, one who can hope and trust even when bad things happen. But Jesus sees a problem. There are few people to help make this happen, few workers. He gives us two answers to this problem. He says „Pray that the Father send workers for the harvest.“ Our Father knows what we need, and he can see to it that the people we and others need are there for us. And he says to his disciples, “You go! Go tell the people what I told you, God is with them. He is very close to them.” He sends them out. The disciples were happy with Jesus, happy to listen to him and to his message. But they should share this happiness with others, too. Jesus gives them some advice on how they can do this more effectively. They shouldn't carry too much around with them, so that they can travel more freely from one place to another to carry the message, so that they don't have to worry constantly about their money and other possessions. They shouldn't constantly move about trying to find the best place. When someone invites them into their home, they should stay there for some time and preach the good news.

But it wasn't only those persons, who saw Jesus and spoke with him, who went out and told about him. Again and again there have been such men. Our church gets its name from two such men: Cyrill and Methodius. They were brothers, who after public life and work entered a monastery to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation, to spend time with Jesus, like the disciples did. And this was a beautiful and lovely thing to do with their lives. But a request came from the Slavic people: “Many have come to us and told us of Jesus andhis teaching. But we couldn't understand them very well. We need people who will talk to us in a way they we can understand, people who are familiar with our language, our customs and ways of doing things.” The two brothers were asked to go there and to instruct the Slavs in the Christian faith, and they accepted this mission. They considered it important that Christian faith, the bible, and the liturgy not come across as something altogether foreign forced on the people, did not want to say to them, in effect “There's our faith. If you can make anything of it, well and good. If not, we can't do anything more for you.” They put much effort into translating expressions of faith and the liturgy so that it was understandable for the people. To that end they invented an alphabet for the language. Our alphabet, the Roman alphabet, was less suited, since the sounds are so different. In this way they made Christ's message, always one and the same, the message of faith, love, and responsibility, understandable for the people there.

When we look at the Cross, we see to its right and left many cards that all say the same thing, peace, but in many different languages. In the upper-left corner, the third from the top, it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet that Cyril and Methodius invented. Christ's Gospel has to be translated into the languages of the people. But for Cyrill and Methodius, as for us, it wasn't and isn't only a matter of speaking the right language such as Italian, German, English, Slavic. It is also a matter of so speaking about the faith, so celebrating it, and so living it, as to better help people to be drawn to it and to understand it. Let us pray that, through the intercession of these two patron saints, God grant us, as a parish and as individuals, the grace to witness to, to speak about, and to live our Christian faith, which we have ourselves heard and received, so as to bring others to Christ. Amen.

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's choice, described in William Styron's novel by that name, has become a textbook example of a (moral) dilemma.

Sophie, a polish Catholic, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She is there given a choice: one of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one; otherwise both will be gassed to death. She screams in torment that she cannot make such a choice, pleading that she cannot do so. As the order is given for both children to be taken to the gas chamber, she suddenly does choose. Thinking that her older and stronger son has a better chance of surviving the camp, she in agonizing pain says that they can take her younger daughter. Two years later, haunted by the guilt of this choice, Sophie commits suicide. (Narrative summarized and slightly adapted from the novel)

The following accounts seem to me to sum up the evaluations I have encountered.

1. Sophie did wrong because she chose between the lives of her children.

According to the Talmud, if an enemy comes and demands that you choose someone to hand over to him to be put to death, with the threat that you will otherwise all be killed, you may not do so, but must all be willing to die instead of choosing someone to die. But if the enemy demands a particular person, then according to Rabbi Yohanan you may deliver up that person, even if that person is not guilty of a crime deserving death. Here the understanding seems to be that by making a choice whereby one person dies and other lives, one is making oneself master of life and death, an authority that belongs to God alone.

According to this principle, Sophie acted wrongly in choosing which one of her children would live.

2. Sophie did wrong because she consented to the unjust death of one of her children
Sophie did wrong because she consented to the death of one of her children as a means to saving the other one. According to this view, what Sophie did would have been wrong even if there was no choice between children, even if, for example, she was told, "if you tell me, 'take the girl', I'll just take her to the gas chamber, otherwise I'll take both."

In regard to this argument, we should note that while Sophie was told to choose which one of her children she wanted to be allowed to live, she expressed her choice by telling them which one of her children they could take to the gas chamber. This seems to indicate that she wasn't perceiving a significant difference between these two ways of choosing, either because she didn't consider there to be a significant difference between the two, or just because in her anguish she wasn't thinking clearly about it. Nonetheless, one might argue that in principle it would actually be okay to choose which child to live, but not which child to die.

3. Sophie did wrong because she was dispositive or instrumental in the death of one her children.

Sophie did wrong because by her choice and words she was instrumental in determining which of her children was killed. This claim differs from claim 2 in that it regards not so much the interior act of the will, consent to unjust death, as the external act chosen (telling the Nazis to take the girl), and the outcome to which it leads.

4. Sophie did wrong because she consented to her captor's will to murder one of her children.

5. Sophie did wrong because she materially cooperated with her captor's evil will, making use of that evil will to achieve good.

6. Sophie acted rightly, making a reasonable choice and taking a reasonable means to save the life of one of her children.

7. Sophie may have done wrong or may have done right, depending on what she was thinking and willing in regard to the situation.

8. Sophie did not do right or wrong. The choice was outside the bounds of morality.

These accounts arguably represent all basic possible moral evaluations of the choice: if the choice is wrong, it is so either because the choice between her two children as such is wrong, or because there is formal consent or material contribution to a grave evil, where that evil is understood either as the death of her child, or as the Nazi's moral evil in willing the murder of a child. If it was not wrong, than it was either right, was potentially right or wrong, or the distinction between right and wrong was inapplicable.

So, which of these accounts is correct? Was Sophie right to feel guilty? Did she do wrong? Did she do right?

Obama Administration Opposes Religious Freedom

The Department of Human of Health and Human Services came out with a statement today, January 20, 2012, regarding a decision for which Obama is ultimately, and should be held responsible, which requires employers to include contraception in their health insurance plans, removing the exemption for organizations opposed to contraception on account of religious convictions. Instead, they are to be allowed an extra year before they are forced to include contraception in their plans — until August 1, 2013, instead of just till August 1, 2012.

It is said that "This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services." This looks like a case of extreme mental reservation. It seems probable that Obama did not want his opposition to religious freedom to have all its consequences this year, because he knew he would then not be re-elected, and is hoping that the decision and postponement of enforcement will please the left, without alienating Catholics, other Christians and believers all too much.

Bishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, expressed his and the U.S. bishops' opposition to the mandate. "The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he stated. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation."

I don't know what the bishops will be seeking, but I wonder whether it might be most prudent not to seek to have the unjust decision repealed immediately, but to deal with it in such as to see to it that the issue ensures that Obama is not re-elected, and that it is repealed by the next president (or recognized by the supreme court as gravely contrary to the first amendment).

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Dear brothers and sisters, we stand today on the boundary between Christmas and the liturgical ordinary time. The Christmas crib and Christmas trees are gone, we are clothed in green for the cycle of ordinary time. But the readings, especially the Gospel, continue the grace and mystery of Christmas. Jesus was born as a child, came into the world, and was revealed to it. He showed himself to the world. He also spoke and still speaks to the world, in a particular way through his call, of which we hear in the readings and in the Gospel.

"Behold, the Lamb of God!” says John. These words, which we hear at ever Mass, are decisive words. John was a charismatic man, who excited and challenged people. Disciples gathered around him. But John does not want to remain his disciples. He points to Jesus! “Behold the Lamb of God!” With this pointing he fulfills the meaning of his own life. Every one of us seeks meaning in life, and find it in various ways. But very few recognize the meaning of their life so clearly as John. He lives, he exists for one thing alone, to point to Jesus. That is the high point of his life, with which he attains the greatest joy. Now it but remains for Jesus to grow; he, John, may diminish.

What does John set in motion? At first glance it doesn't seem to be anything special. We don't hear of any great stories, any wonders, any astonishing discourses–only a few personal meetings and talks. But these meetings and talks were unforgettable. Certain special happenings – a great, unexpected success, the news of a death or assassination attempt, the “Yes” of a beloved – remain to their small details in our memory. We recall where we were, with whom, when he happened, and so on. It was this way with the disciples who encountered Jesus. This meeting made such an impression on them that they could remember years later at what hour of the day it occurred. It was the tenth hour – 4 PM. And this meeting had so inspired them that they couldn't hold themselves back; they had to go quickly to a relative or friend and say to them, “See whom we have found! He is the one for whom we have all waited, on whom we have set our hope!”

John pointed to Jesus, and the disciples followed him. They felt his mysteriously attractive power, but did not yet really know him. They wanted to know who he really is. So they ask him, “Master, where are you staying?” Where are you at home? What is it like to live with you? Jesus did not give them a quick answer, but invited them: Come and see! Or rather, come and you will see! And this answer developed a lifelong for the disciples. They learned through Jesus' words and through experience that he is a special way present in the Eucharist, as he promises “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:56) And they learned that Jesus is in all his beloved friends; he lives in us when we allow him, when we open ourselves to his love.

God calls everyone of us. But there are many forms that God's call takes. It is few who are called as successors of the apostles. It is perhaps few who experience God's call in as impressive a way as Samuel. But what is essential remains the same, that there is someone from whom we somehow hear, “See him! Listen to him! He is the one who fulfills your longing and your hope, who will make you happy!” and that we have the confidence to say this also to others. Or as in Samuel's case, “Listen to these words, to this teaching, to these thought! Thus you will be led well!” And that we are seek to learn every more intimately who Jesus, to ask him anew “Where are you staying?”, and to experience his presence with us in the celebration of the Eucharist, and in our fellow men and women.

In this Mass, let us pray that we, who have heard and followed his call to faith, may experience still more this longing to know him, and believe and experience ever more strongly his presence among us.

Readings for this Sunday: 1 Sam 3:3-10,19; 1 Cor 6:13-15,17-20; John 1:35-42

USA Supreme Court Gets It Right on Religious Liberty

Yesterday, January 11, 2012, the USA Supreme Court ruled unanimously and decisively in favor of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School's right to complete freedom in hiring and dismissing its ministers, regardless of provisions of civil law concerning employment such as those of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A case alleging unfair discrimination had been brought against the school by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al. and Chreryl Perich. (Summary statement, full judgment and concurring opinions [PDF])

"Cheryl Perich" had been hired by the school and had later accepted the position of a "called" teacher (in contrast to a "lay" teacher). She had taken disability leave at the beginning of the 2004-2005. She then wanted to return to work the following February. The school's principal stated that it had contracted with a lay teacher to fill her position for the remainder of the earth, and school administrators expressed their opinion that she was unlikely to be physically capable of returning to work that year or the next, and offered to pay a portion of her health insurance premiums if she would resign as a called teacher. She refused, showed up to work on the first day when he doctor cleared her medically for work, February 22. The congregation considered this behavior and insistence inappropriate, and voted to rescind her "call", thereupon terminating her employment. She filed a charge against the church and school with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that her employment had been terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and prohibits retaliation for making a charge under the ADA. The EEOC then brought a suit against the Hosanna-Tabor church and school, claiming that she had been fired in retaliation for threatening a lawsuit under the ADA. Hosanna-Tabor argued that the suit was barred by the First Amendment because it concerned the freedom of a religious institution to regulate its own affairs and ministers, that Perich had been fired for a religious reason, namely that her threat to sue the Church violated the Synod’s belief that Christians should resolve their disputes internally. (Following St. Paul in Corinthians 5).
A district court had originally decided in favor of the school. The Appeals Court reversed that decision, and the case finally came to the USA Supreme Court in 2011.

The Supreme Court ruled that (1) the "ministerial exception" to legislation concerning employment of ministers was valid, and that (2) Perich was a minister for the purposes of this exception.

The justification given for the "ministerial exception" to legislation concerning employment of ministers was that the employment of ministers is intimately linked to religious belief.

The members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.

The EEOC and Perich had argued that Hosanna-Tabor's stated reason for firing Perich, namely that her way of acting had violated the church's religious beliefs, was merely a pretext, and that the real reason was her disability. To this the court noted that it is irrelevant what the "real" reason for firing Perich was. "The purpose of the [ministerial] exception is not to safeguard a church’s decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful — a matter “strictly ecclesiastical,” — is the church’s alone.

The court did not, however, affirm that the discernment of who is a "minister" lies outside the court's competence. The opinion of the court, as delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, suggests that it does lie within the court's competence; the court gives a number of reasons why Perich is to be considered a minister, of which one reason is the fact that she was called and considered such by the church. For this reason, Justice Thomas noted his own opinion in a concurring note that "the Religion Clauses require civil courts to apply the ministerial exception and to defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as its minister." He notes that "a religious organization’s right to choose its ministers would be hollow" if it lay in the competence of secular courts to determine whether a given person is or is not a "minister", "if secular courts could second-guess the organization’s sincere determination that a given employee is a“minister” under the organization’s theological tenets." Whether an employee of a religious organization is a "minister" is of itself a religious question, and therefore to be decided by the religious body. This opinion seems right to me, and it is unfortunate that the court did not adopt this view as a whole — though that need not overshadow the value and importance of the important and correct decision of the court.

The summary judgment suggests that there is a certain tension between the state's interest in regulating employment to foster justice and hinder unjust discrimination, and the freedom of religious groups to regulate themselves, but that the judgment here comes principally on the side of religious freedom.

The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important. But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission. When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.

The suggested tension is also, in my opinion, a real one. As St. Augustine, e.g., and St. Thomas Aquinas point out, human law cannot punish or forbid all wrongdoing, since while seeking to do so, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the common good. (De libero arbitrio I, 5,6, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 91, a. 4 & q. 96, a. 2). Opinions may differ about whether American government's regulation of employment even in general benefits the common good by fostering justice and hindering injustice. But in any case, such lawful regulation can in principle be so beneficial. It can hinder various injustices. Given the realistic supposition that some such injustices will be present in religious organizations, the government could hinder those injustices by refusing to recognize the right of religious organizations to govern themselves, prohibiting and punishing those injustices, but this would be to do away with particular injustices by means of an even graver injustice.