Former Detroit Auxiliary Bishop: Alpha Devoid of ‘Catholic Essentials’

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  December 11, 2017   

Maintains Protestant-inspired course "a marvelous tool" for evangelization

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DETROIT ( - A former auxiliary bishop of Detroit (and current coadjutor archbishop of Agaña, Guam) has admitted the Alpha program lacks a host of "Catholic essentials."

In a 2016 address to Catholics, Alpha advocate Bp. Michael Byrnes told his audience, "We haven't heard much about Mary, we haven't heard much about the saints, we haven't heard anything really about the sacraments, except for maybe baptism ... we haven't heard anything about the Magisterium, about bishops."

"So why haven't we heard about this?" Byrnes asked, rhetorically. "Because it's Alpha."

Still, Byrnes supports the Protestant-inspired course.

The bishop applauded the Faith for containing "so much richness" but likened it to "a firehose," suggesting that the fullness of Catholic truth is too much for uncatechized Catholics or the unchurched to swallow.

Painting Alpha as "a cup of water," he insinuated the program is a superior means of reaching seekers.

"What Alpha is really for is to reach the people who are furthest away from Jesus," Byrnes said, and "that's ultimately what Alpha is. ... And it's a marvelous tool in that respect. ... It's almost like pre-evangelizing in a certain sense."

To support his contention, Byrnes lifted a quote from Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): "When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion," Francis advised, "the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary."

Alpha ... does not have the doctrinal and methodological foundations required for the teaching of the Catholic Faith.

"The message is simplified while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing," the pontiff added.

"This," Byrnes asserted, "really reflects the genius of something like Alpha ... We're giving really just the essentials, and it's not Protestant essentials, it's not even Orthodox essentials, it's not Catholic essentials — it's the essentials of being a Christian."

In other words, Catholic essentials are not "the essentials of being a Christian."

The Magisterial teaching authority of the Church is not essential. The Sacraments — "except for maybe baptism" — are not essential. The Eucharist — the source and summit of the Faith — is not essential.

This is protestantism. It is why Cdl. Raymond Burke has thoroughly condemned the Alpha program.

As international director of the Marian Catechist Apostolate, in December 2015 Burke was asked to review Alpha's suitability for Catholics.

Burke concluded his investigation with a stark warning: "Having studied the program, both from the perspective of doctrine and methodology, I must make it clear that the program may not be used, in any form, in the Marian Catechist Apostolate and that Marian Catechists are not to become involved with it."

"While, like so many similar programs Alpha may seem to offer a more attractive and effective form of evangelization and catechesis," he added, "it does not have the doctrinal and methodological foundations required for the teaching of the Catholic faith."

Pope St. John Paul II

And yet, Alpha is used as a primary catechetical tool in diocese after diocese — in thousands of Catholic parishes — across the United States and in dozens of countries around the world.

In his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), Pope St. John Paul II warned against taking up theological novelties to reach the uncatechized and unchurched:

It is not, therefore, a matter of inventing a "new program." The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ Himself who is to be known, loved and imitated so that in Him we may live the life of the Trinity and with Him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures ... This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.

Likewise, in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), Bl. Pope Paul VI wrote, "[T]he Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims."

The pontiff reiterated the Catholic Church is tasked with the commission to evangelize and that evangelization is ineffective apart from her, "This mandate is not accomplished without her and still less against her."

Bl. Pope Paul VI

He sorrowfully recalls those "well-intentioned" but "certainly misguided" people who are "continually claiming to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church. The absurdity of this dichotomy is clearly evident in this phrase of the Gospel: 'Anyone who rejects you rejects me.'"

Almost in anticipation of novelties like Alpha, Paul VI also warned:

In the Church's evangelizing activity there are of course certain elements and aspects to be specially insisted on. ... Any partial and fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelization in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it. It is impossible to grasp the concept of evangelization unless one tries to keep in view all its essential elements.

Alpha is blind to these "essential elements" or stated another way the "Catholic essentials" — essentials like the Magisterium, the sacraments, and above all, the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the Faith.

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