Friday, November 16, 2018

The Illogic of Rash Judgment

The Church teaches that we must respect the reputation of persons. In speaking about the sins against this obligation, she condemns rash judgment. Reflecting on this teaching, I began recalling logic and valid forms of argument. These are used to establish the truth of an argument. If the premises are true and unambiguous while the logical form is valid, then the argument is considered proven. But if the premises are false or unproven, the conclusion cannot be considered proven.

So, in terms of logic, a rash judgment claims something unproven is true to the harm of the person accused. Let’s look at how this works.

In logic, one valid form of an argument (called modus ponensis:
  • If X is true then Y is true 
  • X is true 
  • Therefore Y is true 
Explaining this...

In order to claim Y is true, the person claiming it must prove X. Otherwise, they cannot claim that Y is proven. So, using recent examples, things like “if Kavanaugh committed sexual assault then he should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “if Vigano’s accusation is true, then the Pope did wrong” are examples of this form of argument. The X to be proven in these cases are “Kavanaugh committed sexual assault” and “Vigano’s accusation is true.” If they cannot be proven then the Y of these cases (“Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “the Pope did wrong”) cannot be assumed to be true.


The honest person, emulating Socrates, realizes that if they don’t know X is true, they don’t claim Y is true. They can of course investigate the claim of X and see if evidence supports it. That’s part of our obligations to speak what is true. This is where the Church teaching against rash judgment comes into play. It insists that we know X is true before we accuse a person of Y.

The Catechism says:


See how that lines up with logic. Rash judgment assumes that a person is guilty of Y without establishing that X is true. The Catechism tells us we must prove X, investigating and gathering evidence before accusing them of moral faults. Otherwise we sin against our neighbor.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

With Growing Concern

Preliminary Note: This article is written acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of the laity put forth in canon 212. No disrespect or rejection of the authority of bishops is intended. This is instead written to express my concern that some of the statements made by bishops at the USCCB conference might end up needlessly adding to the division in the Church today.


It is clear that since the release of the first Vigano letter, there has been a good deal of mistrust directed against the magisterium of the Church. Groups of the laity have openly accused Pope and bishops of corruption and even willful malfeasance. They declare that we cannot trust the clergy and we must have lay oversight over the bishops to ensure that justice is done.

I recognize that the mishandling of ex-cardinal McCarrick and his rise in the Church doesn’t inspire confidence. While the news of his being guilty of sexual abuse only came out this year, there were accounts of inappropriate behavior of seminarians. While I personally had not heard of those rumors prior to the sexual assault scandal breaking, apparently people in his diocese had heard about them. Such a man should not be in the position he was in, and if this behavior was known by his fellow bishops at the time but not reported to the proper authorities in Rome [§], that was a travesty.

Combining this with the fact that not all cases from the 1940s to 1980s (the vast majority of abuse cases in America) were revealed after the 2002 policy changes, it is understandable that a member of the laity might wonder about who else might be responsible for hiding things that should have been passed on. It is also understandable that, knowing some complaints were passed on to Rome at some level, that people want to know how far up this went before it was accidentally overlooked or deliberately hidden.

So let’s take it as a given that it’s not wrong for the laity to expect the Church to be governed justly and it’s not wrong to want reform where it was not. The problem is not in wanting reform. It’s in some of the reforms demanded. If a reform contradicts the nature of the Church as established by Christ, that reform must be rejected. If the lay oversight demanded interferes with the nature of the office of bishops as successors to the Apostles, we cannot implement it. If the office of Bishop is reduced to being an employee of the Church, we must reject it. If the clergy are reduced to vending machines of sacraments, we must reject it. Our Lord gave the authority/responsibility to govern the Church to the Apostles and their successors and they cannot abdicate that.

This means that, when the laity demand something that the Church cannot give, the bishops must defend the nature of the Church. That doesn’t mean we must passively accept corruption. But it does mean we must work within the nature of the Church in reforming it, giving the proper reverence and submission when due.

And that’s where I feel concerned regarding this meeting of the USCCB. They planned to vote on three measures regarding the scandal. However, the Vatican received those measures literally at the last minute, meaning there was no time to review them. Two of them are potentially at odds with Canon Law as it exists. So the Congregation of Bishops asked the USCCB not to vote on them and instead wait for the meeting of the heads of bishops conferences in Rome in February 2019. Keep in mind that this meeting was not just invented on the spot. The Pope announced it shortly after the scandal broke. Any national conference of bishops should see that as the place to reach decisions on policies.

But we actually saw a good deal of complaints about the decision by the Congregation of Bishops. We saw numerous articles about the bishops expressing disappointment. This struck me as providing soundbites that help animate the mob. The mob has been led by demagogues to believe that the Church under the Pope is “sweeping things under the rug.” Saying they are disappointed strikes me as passing the buck. The “Vatican” didn’t arbitrarily block a reasonable reform. The appropriate Congregation determined that the propositions being voted on needed more time to study than the time given between the USCCB sending the draft and the time of the vote. As the old saying goes, “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” In other words, the Church cannot rush into things—especially if the proposals might wind up contradicting canon law and potentially go against Church teaching. So it is not the fault of the Congregation of Bishops that the proposals were not delivered so they could be fully evaluated in a timely manner.

I believe that the USCCB has a responsibility to make the reasons known. It’s one thing to say, “we’re disappointed to see that we failed to deliver the proposals in a timely manner and missed the boat.” It’s quite another to say (or imply) “we’re disappointed that the Vatican wouldn’t let us vote on this.” The former admits the problem. The latter sounds like “it’s not our fault.” Let’s face it. Many Catholics don’t do nuance. They take (or make) soundbites from complex ideas. GK Chesterton described the phenomenon this way:

(All Things Considered, page 170)

What concerns me is that while the directive by the Congregation of Bishops doesn’t block productive work, a mob of Catholics are taking these quotes as “proof” of obstruction. Expressing “disappointment” in this climate feels close to yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater. I understand that the appearance of “doing nothing” is dangerous when people want justice. But so is haste. So is giving the impression that others are “covering up” when that is not the case.

Thus, my request—reverently given—is that the USCCB be careful and precise in expressing themselves to avoid inciting the mob of angry Catholics who misinterpret what they hear and then assume the worst from the Church. While I pray I am wrong, this situation reminds me of my studies of the anti-clericalism in the Church before the Protestant Reformation. Demagogues exploited this in rejecting the authority of the Church in the 16th century, resulting in the sundering of Christianity. Demagogues today could do the same thing.

Otherwise, we could wind up with another tragic schism where people wrongly believe untrue things and use those errors to reject the Church, winding up outside.


_____________________ 

[§] If I understand it correctly, nobody knew of the sexual abuse of a minor until the victim came forward this year, and there was nothing about his beach house behavior that could be reported to law enforcement because it was not against the law in America.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Church is not an Ochlocracy

It used to be that when somebody said that they did not like something in the Church and directed hostility to the hierarchy over it, we used to say, “the Church is not a democracy.” This meant that we did not vote on teachings and we did not decide for ourselves what was and was not true. Nowadays, what we are seeing is not even organized enough to be called a democracy. Nowadays, the dissent seems more like an ochlocracy (government by the mob; mob rule). In opposition to the magisterium entrusted with the task of binding and loosing, we now have an anarchy which is divergent in what they want and only agreed in hostility to the Pope and bishops in communion with him.

These factions listen to whatever voice stirs their passions (a demagogue) while showing contempt to anyone who says these passions are misdirected. The danger of such a mob is it can irrationally turn against those it follows. The leader who seeks to appease the mob will eventually face their wrath. They may cheer Vigano now, but should the archbishop ever tell them they go too far, they will turn against him.

In this time in America, we are witnessing mobs of laity who widely disagree on what is right, but accuse the Pope and bishops of deliberate wrongdoing. When told that a policy is incompatible with the Catholic faith, they demand that the “rules” be changed to allow an emotional remedy. They cheer for bishops who seem to say something they like and vilify those who say, “slow down, think, work in communion with Rome.” The mobs don’t want anything that seems slow. They view it as evasion, coverup, etc.

I think the one of the most important things the USCCB can do right now is to say, “NO” to the mob. They must put doing right above satisfying the mob’s demand for scapegoats. Of course, per canon 212, the laity have a right to reverently express their concerns and the bishops would be wise to take those concerns into account. But the demands of a mob are not what canon 212 refers to.

So, the laity want oversight regarding abuse accusations. They want to throw out bishops they are appalled with. There may be a role for them. There may be a way to make the investigation of wrongdoing more just. But that cannot overturn the role of the magisterium (the successors to Peter and the Apostles) established by Christ. If the laity demand what the Church cannot grant without being unfaithful to Christ, the Pope and bishops must refuse.

We of the laity must strive to understand what the Church can and cannot do. We must strive to understand that the Pope doesn’t just do whatever he wants. The Church is not ruled by whim. Canon law exists to protect the innocent from arbitrary treatment. The Church doesn’t exist to punish sinners, but to redeem them. These truths mean that sometimes a solution takes time to ensure that there is neither a loophole nor an unjust punishment of the innocent. That time spent is not a coverup.

We know that some clergy are abusers and some bishops looked the other way. That was wrong. Catholics are not wrong for wanting justice. But the mob never provides justice. It is only temporarily assuaged before moving to another target.

So looking at the American Church today, we can choose to be with the universal Church, or we can choose to be with the mob. The former takes time and sometimes sinners within cause problems. But Our Lord promised to protect that Church (Matthew 16:18). The latter is fast, but always wrong and Our Lord never promised to protect the mob.

This means that, even with sinners in the Church (and if we want to find them, let’s start with the mirror), to stand with Christ is to stand with His Church (Luke 10:16) and to stand with the mob against the Church is to oppose Christ.

This is why I stand with the Church under the pontificate of Pope Francis, even though it is filled with sinners (including you and me). It may take time, but this Church, guided by Christ, will eventually reform itself. The mob will never reform the Church.



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Becoming What They Oppose

(The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, p11)
While commonly claimed by anti-Catholics, the Church neither taught “buying salvation” (impossible) nor sold indulgences—though some corrupt individuals in the Church made it sound that way

Reviewing some accounts about the Protestant Reformation from the Protestant point of view, I notice there are some problems that pop up consistently. They are:
  1. Claiming that the Catholic Church taught things that it not only never taught, but actually rejected.
  2. Claiming that an abuse which the Church opposed was seen as morally acceptable.
  3. Claiming that whatever contradicts their view is proof of error.
These things were used to justify breaking away from the Catholic Church. The basic argument was that the Catholic Church couldn’t be the true Church if these things were found within. From that came the non sequitur that the Church was doctrinally in error and the leaders of the Protestant groups held the real Church. Countless [#] denominations couldn’t agree on what the truth was except that they believed the Church must be wrong.

This is relevant because these things are used—especially by anti-Catholics—to justify the split of Christianity by demonizing the Church. The problem is, if false claims are used—even if sincerely believed—they actually do harm, by leading people to go against what God wills while believing that they do good. Yes, abuses in the Church existed. But the Church never taught they were morally licit. Rather, they were given too much toleration, and embraced by some.

The false claims and misrepresentations were accepted as true by later generations and left unquestioned to the point that challenges were seen as irrational or willful blindness. So today we see people who literally believe Catholics think they can buy salvation, or that we worship statues, even though both are untrue.

However, before my Catholic readers go into a triumphalistic mode, or my non-Catholic readers become defensive, let me reveal my secret intentions. This article is not an anti-Protestant polemic [~]. Rather, I am using the existence of those past falsehoods to draw parallels to the current crisis in the Church.

The abuse scandal in the Church today is, of course, something that must be rooted out along with other corruptions. It is demoralizing to learn that, despite the 2002 policies, the coverup of past abusers from the 1940s [§] to 1980s continued. For whatever reason, things that should have been dealt with as they happened were swept under the rug and festered to the point that it will take major effort to repair.

But, similar to the falsehoods about teachings and misrepresentation of scandals spread against the Catholic Church by those seeking to justify breaking away in the 16th and 17th centuries, we are seeing Catholics using similar falsehood and misrepresentation to justify dissent from the teaching authority of the Church when the Church teaches differently than they want.

In these times, the attacks are made by those who oppose the Pope. Whatever they dislike going on within the Church or whatever teaching goes against their political views is considered to be “proof” of the Pope teaching error. Like the past attacks, these current accusations fall under the same categories. The Pope is accused of teaching something he actually rejects (like remarriages after divorce or same sex “marriage” for example [@]). He’s accused of covering up to “protect” active homosexuals among the clergy. He’s condemned for emphasizing Church teachings that go against the popular politics of a faction and his words are seen as “proof” that the Church needs to be reformed because it is becoming “political.”

Notice the parallels. The accusations against the Church today have different motivations than the past attacks, but the tactics are the same. Those who disagree with the Church rely on false attacks to claim that it lacks the authority to teach against them. 

Here’s the irony. Many of the people who make these attacks are also openly contemptuous of Protestants. You might think that the people who do this—claiming to defend the Church—would abhor anything that undermines the authority of the Church. But they emulate the tactics instead of avoiding them.


Hypocrisy is defined as “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.” If one claims to be faithful to the Church, they must offer submission of intellect and will (canon 752) to the teaching authority of the Church, trusting God to protect it from teaching error. If one behaves in a way that contradicts this claim of faithfulness, then the claim is hypocrisy.

The dissenting Catholic must consider this. The modern Protestant is not guilty of schism or dissent against a Church they never believed was authoritative (see the Catechism #818). But the Catholic who professes to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church is guilty if he or she refuses to obey the Church (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17).

If we want to save the Church from the corruption (and it exists) and sin, we must become like the saints who remained faithful and obedient when restoring the Church. If we think faithfulness to the Church requires disobedience to the living magisterium then what we do is not a reformation of the Church. It is breaking with the Church... something that contradicts our profession of faith.

_____________________

[#] I’ll avoid the controversy over the claim of “20,000+ denominations.” It’s hotly disputed by Protestants and the exact number is irrelevant. Even the existence of two denominations claiming to be guided by the personal interpretation of Scripture while contradicting each other shows the problem of that theology.

[~] I am, of course a Catholic by conviction. I do believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church and do not accept what contradicts her teachings as put forth by the magisterium. Therefore I cannot accept that the Protestant Reformation was justified. However, I don’t bear ill will towards Protestants. As the Catechism teaches:

[§] I assume that investigations only go back to the 1940s because with crimes prior to that, most of the parties involved (victims, perpetrators) are dead.

[@] This accusation comes up before every synod. The fact that every post-synodal exhortation rejects it has not stopped the accusers.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Reforming the “Reform of the Reform”

There’s an old quote—misattributed [§] to Albert Einstein—that says: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The basic point is, if something always has a bad result, stop expecting it to have a good result next time and try something else.

I think of the saying as we once again see a “reforming” movement in the Church that considers the Pope and bishops to be threats that must be opposed to save and purify the Church. The problem is, Church history is full of”reformers” who—often in times of corruption within the Church—insisted that under the shepherds of the time, the Church had gone wrong and needed to follow their interpretation of Scripture or past disciplines to get back on track. Every one of those movements ended up in heresy and schism. Why should we expect this time to be any different?

The current movement hijacks the term “Reform of the Reform.” Initially, the term referred to the liturgy and correcting the abuses. Then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said (God and the World, page 415) spoke of it this way:


However, the meaning of the term has been changed. People are using it to say that the Church fell into error by attempting to reform things. Vatican II is usually the point of contention, with people saying it either went too far or not far enough. While these two views differ wildly on Church teachings, both insist that the hierarchy of the Church is at odds with what the Church should be.

We’ve been here before. The Waldensians, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Lollards, the Hussites, Lutherans, Zwinglians, Anabaptists, etc. etc. etc. [#] The movements did begin as reactions to corruption in the Church. Wanting reform was not wrong. But when the Church warned them about errors in their ideas, they refused correction, presuming that the Church must be wrong and not them. Some of these movements were excommunicated. Others broke away themselves. But they would not accept the authority of the Church when she warned them that their views were incompatible with the Faith handed down.

We would be wise to remember that the terms “heresy” and “schism” are not mere labeling of things we dislike. The Code of Canon Law is clear on what the terms mean:


When the Church teaches that something is incompatible with the Faith and we reject that judgment, it’s heresy. When we refuse submission to the Pope on the matter, that’s schism. Heresy and schism don’t have to be done out of malice. Those involved can be quite sincere in thinking they are right. Regardless of the sins of members of the hierarchy, that doesn’t change the fact that they have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).

In contrast to this attitude, we have the attitude of the reforming saints. They offered full submission to the magisterium—even in times when morals and discipline were lax. These saints led the Church to real reform, accepting the decisions of the Pope and bishops on what was permissible and what was not.

I think we must look at these two examples when it comes to the problems in the Church today. It’s not wrong to be appalled by the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. It’s not wrong to be troubled when a member of the hierarchy does something regrettable...


...but these things don’t change the authority of the magisterium to determine what is and isn’t an authentic interpretation of the Catholic Faith. We may want a specific solution to a scandal, but it’s the current Pope and bishops who determine if that solution is appropriate.

Catholics need to look at their attitude. Do we rail against “cowardly” bishops and a “heretic” Pope when they teach or act in a way different than we want? If so, we are in danger of schism. Do we think that a teaching or a council needs to be repealed? If so, we are in danger of heresy.

If we want to legitimately reform the Church, it must be done like every other legitimate reform: with the submission to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. But if we insist that the Church must repudiate a teaching or try to argue that Pope Francis’ teachings “aren’t really binding,” our reform is not a reform. It’s error that can become heresy or schism.

So let us reform our attitude towards reform of the Church by keeping submission to the Church as submission to Christ (Luke 10:16). Otherwise, we might discover that we are outside of the Church we try to save.


—————————-
[§] Apparently it first appeared in a 1983 novel by Rita Mae Brown called Sudden Death.
[#] I don’t intend to bash the modern Protestants here. The Catechism points out (#818):

However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.… All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

Not Knowing We Don’t Know

Socrates, in his Apologia, discussed ignorance and wisdom. He was not a skeptic who believed we knew nothing (as some portray). Instead, he recognized that it was better to be aware that one was ignorant than to be ignorant and think one knew the truth about something. The former could be educated by seeking out the truth to learn what was ignorant about. The latter, thinking he knew something when he did not, would never search for the truth, instead remaining locked into his uninformed views.

This is not something limited to one faction or one area of knowledge. One can be conservative, liberal, or moderate. One can be ignorant on religion, philosophy, law, science, or any number of technical subjects. Both a theist and an atheist can be ignorant on a subject. But the wiser man knows his lack. The fool gets into arguments over things he knows nothing about.

Wisdom should not be confused with intelligence or education. A brilliant scientist who gets into arguments about a field he knows little about is still a fool next to a man with little education but enough wisdom to know what is beyond his knowledge.

I think of this as I watch the various religious and political disputes Americans go through today. We are tempted to think that what we don’t know is not worth knowing, and that we can interpret for ourselves what we read—even if we don’t know anything on the topic or the context of what is said. We fill in the blanks with unfounded suspicions and imagine vast conspiracies where people who don’t agree with us are conspiring to damage our Church or our nation. 

I should note that I don’t write this to demand a meritocracy where only those deemed the wisest be allowed to speak. Instead, I think we would be better off if we asked ourselves whether things really were as we thought them to be. Instead of arguing that a member of the Church should have known something, therefore he must be guilty of coverup (or plausible deniability). Instead of arguing about a coming “invasion” of refugees traveling through Mexico, we could ask ourselves how much we actually know about their motivations and intentions.

Being wise about not knowing something should require us to ask questions on a subject? How many people bashing Islam actually know the difference between teaching and culture, or how interpretation of the Quran varies from sect to sect and country to country? How many people realize that the “evils of Catholicism” they rail against were never taught by the Catholic Church? A wise man asks, “Is what I heard true? Or is it just a rumor?” If it is a rumor, then one has the obligation to determine if it is true. If it is not true, then we have an obligation to stop treating it as if it was true. That’s the minimum. It would be wiser to learn what is true about the topic and to share that truth.

I believe that’s part of Our Lord’s commandment in Matthew 7:1 on not judging. We cannot judge one’s moral guilt without knowing the circumstances behind an act. For example, Pope Francis, in Amoris Lætitia, pointed out that before we treat a divorced and remarried person as being in a state of mortal sin, we must ask ourselves whether that person met all the conditions of mortal sin. Nobody’s debating the grave matter. The question is whether the individual had the sufficient knowledge and consent required to make a sin mortal. Unfortunately, people who do not understand this misinterpret it as a “come if you feel called” opening of the Eucharist.

I also think this is relevant to our sexual abuse scandals. Many people are arguing whether the existence of a highly placed Churchman who did evil indicts everybody whom he happened to know. People assume that any complaint made is automatically forwarded to the Pope who knows everything about the incident. Nobody asks whether complaints get redirected, misplaced, or even quashed before it reaches the Pope. Nobody asks whether the information that arrives in Rome is enough to act on.

It’s one thing to say “If X happened, then Y should happen unless other information would make Y unjust.” It’s quite another thing to say “X happened, so unless Y happens, the Pope is evil!” Do we know X happened? Do we know the conditions of X? Do we know Y is a just response for the circumstances surrounding X? That’s where the wise man realizes he is ignorant and tries to learn about X and Y. Sometimes, finding out about X and Y will go beyond our abilities—especially if the information is not available. But in that case, the wise man does not make unfounded statements about X and Y. Instead he learns what he can and does not go further than his knowledge allows.

But if we don’t do that, we’re simply fools, rashly judging things we do not know, but think we do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Unfounded Suspicions Treated As Fact


A common problem in the Church today is unfounded speculation that leads one to draw a conclusion without any justification for it. We “fill in the blanks,” providing an explanation for something that makes no sense to us. Unfortunately, when we lack knowledge, or if we’re acting on preconceived notions, we are not reasoning but speculating. If we assume instead of learn, the conclusions we draw in these cases are not fact and the accusations we make based on them are rash judgment.

To illustrate, the comic to the left (Lucky Star) involves a speculation. To explain it, we need to understand the Japanese urban legend that massaging a woman’s breasts causes them to grow. The other women in the scene are assuming Minegishi is sexually active. Minegishi objects to their assumptions—based on a myth—that make her seem immoral. Minegishi may or may not be sexually active (the comic is about high school/college life, tends to be PG rated and doesn’t go into those topics), but her friends are making a judgment that can’t be justified by the facts they possess.

Members of the Church seem to be in the same place as Minegishi’s friends. They assume a cause-effect in regards to the existence of scandals in the Church without considering whether the reasoning has any merit to it.

For example, the sex abuse scandal in the Church. We know that a large portion of it comes from male abusers and is directed against male victims. It’s a serious problem that needs to be investigated in a way that identifies and roots out the base causes. Unfortunately, many Catholics fill in blanks based on assumptions.

For example, the “lavender mafia” or “gay lobby” claim. The term refers to a belief that there must be a group in the Church that exercises influence to legitimize homosexuality. While the term had originally been used to describe the entertainment industry, by 2007 it was being used to explain how predator priests could exist without being discovered and removed. It has evolved into an assumption that any bishop who failed to act or who ordained a predator priest must be a member; that any Pope who failed to take a desired outcome must have been placed by this “lavender mafia.”

The Church being led by human beings, not angels, will of course have sins to deal with... sometimes heinous ones. No doubt some of these sinners will reach high positions and cover for each other. In settings closed to outsiders, or afflicted by hubris, such people might abandon subtlety. But these facts do not justify a conclusion that there is a Church-wide cabal that encompasses all members of the clergy who act on a same-sex attraction.

Pope Francis made this point in 2013. When asked about the “gay lobby,” the Pope quite reasonably pointed out that there’s always a problem when people with a shared sin get together but the existence of an inclination in a person is not necessarily proof of conspiracy:

So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem.

Another speculation (one that’s been around at least as long as St. Paul VI is that the continued existence of error or dissent in the Church is because the Pope is “sympathetic” to it. Yes, we do have clergy and laity who take stands that are incompatible with the Catholic teaching. It’s not unreasonable to want scandal removed from the Church. But there is a problem with some methods of removing scandal. As long as I’ve been defending the Church, I’ve encountered people who say, “if this was a business, these people would be fired! Why doesn’t the Pope fire these bishops?”

The answer is that the Church is not a business and the bishops are not employees. Yes, there are causes which justify removing a bishop from office (though not as many as you might think). But the bishops are not appointees like in a presidential cabinet. They are successors to the apostles and removing them from their positions is done for grave reasons where the guilt is clear. The Church would rather have a repentant sinner who remains than an obstinate heretic driven out. When the Church finally does condemn a theologian for heresy (for example), it’s after years of dialogue aimed at converting him when it’s clear that he is obstinate. 

Of course, it’s possible to be too cautious. It’s possible to hesitate when decisive action is needed. When that happens, reform is needed. But it’s unfounded suspicion to assume that the Church doesn’t care about error. She does. But she has to show mercy to the repentant and not just give up on the seemingly unrepentant sinner.

Mercy of course is another area of unfounded suspicion. People who want a hard “DEUS VULT!” style Church where the wicked are cast out tend to view Pope Francis’ words on mercy as a moral laxness that was never found in the Church before 2013.

But it was. Benedict XVI stressed the same mercy that is the hallmark of his successor:

Homily, November 4, 2010.

The unfounded suspicion here is that mercy secretly means laxity or permissiveness. So the critics think that the Pope is advocating divorce and remarriage, contraception, and “same sex marriage” when he actually reaffirms Church teaching on the subject.

Thus we see the danger of the unfounded suspicion. If one assumes it to be true, they will believe any falsehood that uses the unfounded suspicion as a basis. Consider the anti-Catholics whose sole source of “information” are the Jack Chick tracts and 16th century propaganda. They never question whether there information is true. As a result, they are willing to believe lies that fit their suspicion. Lest we become arrogant with the anti-Catholics, let us not forget that there are Catholics who form unfounded suspicions about the Pope, the bishops, and councils they dislike. They build on these suspicions until they believe whatever allegations made against them. 

This is not a minor matter. One of the Ten Commandments forbids bearing false witness. This is not limited to lies. It also forbids speaking about what one does not know, assuming them to be true. The Catechism teaches:


Do we really think we can speak falsely or recklessly and not have to answer it at the final judgment? If we would avoid condemnation, we must make every effort to learn, speak, and live the truth. This means studying, and it means hearing our teacher, the Church. This means that when the Pope teaches, even under the ordinary magisterium, we must give religious submission of intellect and will. This means that when what the Church says something in opposition to what we think it means, we trust that the Church is right, not ourselves. As St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote:


This doesn’t mean we think that a lie is true because the Church says so. That means we trust that God will always protect His Church, under the headship of the Pope, from teaching error. If we would be faithful to God, we will give up our unfounded suspicions and follow Him by following His Church led by His current vicar, Pope Francis.