Thursday, November 14, 2019

On Popular Anti-Papal Arguments That Are Actually Logical Fallacies

Since the Amazon Synod, there have been several arguments given as “irrefutable proof” that the Pope has promoted heresy, syncretism, and idolatry. The problem is, they are logical fallacies that do not prove what they claim. I write this piece both for those who don’t know how to respond so they don’t fear that it “might be true,” and for those who use them that they stop spreading nonsense.

The First Fallacy: Argument From Silence

I’ve seen an argument going around that tries to justify accusations against the Pope. This argument runs along the lines of “If the Pope didn’t believe X, he should have said something to refute it. Because he didn’t say something, it must be true.” The people who make the argument think it’s proof for the claims made by Scalfari or Vigano. Others have used it for the dubia from Cardinal Burke and others, arguing that since the Pope did not answer it, he could not answer it. 

The problem is, it’s a logical fallacy: The Argument From Silence. This fallacy assumes that if there was anything that could refute their position, then it would have been issued. Since it wasn’t issued, it means there’s nothing to refute it.

This argument overlooks the fact that the Pope is not required to give an answer and may choose not to for different reasons. Sometimes he has allowed his staff to issue the refutation. Sometimes the question was disrespectful in tone or means of distribution, not meriting a response. Sometimes the question is so stupid as to be unworthy of a reply. Perhaps in some cases, the decision not to answer is an imprudent one. But that’s something that the Pope must determine.

The point is: Silence neither proves something is true or false. Silence is simply an absence of proof.

The Second Fallacy: Begging the Question

“Why is Mary Crying?” by Jack Chick. Modern critics are repeating his errors by assuming such acts must be latria.

At the same time that they accuse him of silence, certain critics accuse him despite his response denying their charges. Based on their interpretation of what we all see, they accuse him of “promoting paganism.” To “prove” their point, they provide links to Wikipedia and other sources about Pachamama. They tell us, “See? Pachamama is a pagan idol, therefore the Pope is guilty of promoting idolatry!”

The problem is, these critics are starting with an assumption (apparently originating with an Evangelical§ indigenous chief) that this image was an idol and that all acts of prostration are acts of worship, regardless of culture. These are the points that need to be proven. But, instead of investigating the origin of the image, the religious affiliation of those performing the ceremony, and how it was used before coming to Rome, critics repeat the mantra that it was an idol and cite references against idolatry to “prove” that the Pope is guilty of idolatry. But those “proofs” are only of value if it is established that the object was an idol. But that’s assumed, without the proof needed to justify the accusation.

The Third Fallacy: Appeal to Irrelevant Authority

If one wants to invoke a big name in the Church in this matter, one must ask whether their authority is relevant to the matter at hand before one can accept their claims as authoritative. Certainly the priests, bishops and cardinals are to be heeded when they are acting in communion with the Church and the Pope. As Lumen Gentium #25 explains:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. 

Certainly, when members of the magisterium act in this role, they are to be listened to. But, while giving all due respect to them, clerical critics like Father Mitch Pacwa, Bishop Schneider, and Cardinal Burke@ (those most commonly cited by the most vocal critics on social media) are not experts on the culture and religion of the Amazon region. Moreover, they are offering their opinion#, not speaking in their role as teachers in the Church. If it was intended to be a pagan act of worship (see the Second Fallacy above), then their concerns have merit. But that has to be proven before we can accept their claims.

The Fourth Fallacy: Straw Man

“Aha,” some critics exclaim. “The Pope called it Pachamama. Therefore he proved the charge!” Well, no. The Pope used the common term bestowed on it by the Italian media for purpose of identifying which object he was referring to. Unfortunately, there are no neutral terms in use. For example, to avoid a similar problem, I choose to use the terms “image” or “object” to refer to it, only using the term “Pachamama” is quotation marks*. But it’s not a universal standard and I have to clarify which item I mean. I would certainly be annoyed if someone took my use of the term image to mean “religious image.”

Since the Vatican press office (that’s their job, see The First Fallacy, above) had stated the Pope did not use the term to identify the object as an idol, it should be a case of Roma locuta, causa finita.” But certain people refuse to accept that they misinterpreted him and insist on repeating their arguments as if the correction of their errors never happened.

The Fifth Fallacy: Ipse Dixit

Politics in the United States, unfortunately, operates under the practice of repeating one’s claim often enough that partisans think it’s irrational to question whether it’s actually true. Unfortunately, that’s becoming commonplace in attacks on the Pope. The technical term for this is ipse dixit (literally, “he himself said it”). It is to make a statement and expect everyone to just accept it as true.

Not all dogmatic statements are ipse dixit. One who teaches with authority (the Pope, the bishops in communion with him and teaching in accord with him) can make statements that are binding (see canons 752-754). That’s not because of their personal wisdom, but because of the authority granted their office by Christ. Experts in a field can be cited in their areas of expertise in a limited extent because they are explaining the vetted knowledge in their field. But if they should speak on matters outside their field (the Pope offering stock tips, scientists speaking on religion, actors speaking on politics), what they say does not have authority.

But those who are not experts teaching in their field or speaking with the authority of their office within the Church cannot expect that a statement of theirs be accepted without question. 

How does this differ from the fallacy of irrelevant authority (#3, above)? Irrelevant authority cites someone who might be an authority in topic A in the entirety different topic or context B, where he is not an authority. Ipse dixit is making a statement without authority. So, citing Stephen Hawking (an expert in science) to “debunk” religion is an appeal to irrelevant authority. Stephen Hawking making blanket statements dismissing religion are ipse dixit.

The person who says that “the Pope falsely teaches X” and expects everyone to accept it as true without question is making an ipse dixit statement. This is why (for example) I point to the Church teaching and actual statements by the magisterium when I say “we must do X.” This is also why I insist on accusations against the Pope be proven based on the proper interpretation of what he says/does vs. the proper interpretation of what past teaching is¥. Sure, one might object validly to my being imprecise on how many critics (I always mean “some critics”), but I always try to study how the Church interprets past teachings and cite where I draw my conclusions from. I certainly don’t expect anyone to accept something on my say-so alone.

The problem is: what passes for “proof” against the Pope these days have no basis in fact but only in bare assertions. Claiming that the Pope is a “heretical NWO socialist Peronist etc. etc. etc.” is an ipse dixit clam. The accuser simply lacks the authority to make such a declaration based on his reading of Church teaching.


These are neither the only fallacies nor the only attacks used against the Pope, but they are current ones used since the Amazon Synod. In pointing out that they are logical fallacies, I show that the reasoning used to accuse the Pope do not prove their point.

To be proven logically true, the premises must be true and the logical form must be valid. The arguments used against the Pope meet neither criteria and should not be accepted by the faithful.


(§) Keep in mind that many anti-Catholics come from this background. That doesn’t prove that this individual is one (that would be the fallacy of division), but personal biases do need to be considered before accepting non-Catholic claims against Catholics.

(@) Before anyone should accuse me of personal animosity against them, I always found Fr. Pacwa’s talks enlightening and personally favored Cardinal Burke to become the Pope in the 2013 conclave (I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio before he became Pope). My current concern with them comes from statements that they made which might be interpreted as being at odds with the respect and obedience always expected towards Pope Francis’ predecessors.

(#) I don’t believe they have any intention to claim magisterial authority against the Pope in their statements.

(*) I have been told, but cannot independently verify, that the use of italics (which the Pope’s statement used) in Italy serves the same purpose as scare quotes in the United States.

(¥) Other examples might be the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics who argue that a certain passage “allows” them to dissent from a Church teaching because the latter teaching “contradicts” Vatican II. They don’t have the authority to interpret Vatican II contra the Pope.

(€) I suspect many of the people who cry “socialist” based on the Pope’s denunciation of abuses in capitalism have never read Pius XI in his denunciations of the abuses in capitalism.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

They Aren’t Remembering History. Will They Repeat It?

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it§.

—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, volume I

I’ve been reading different Patristic Church histories lately. I find accounts from Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Rufinius, Theodoret, etc. fascinating in describing how the various schisms tried to impose their errors (if they were heretical) or rigorism (if they were schisms) on the Church. 

What made them successful in the short term was how they controlled the narrative and had the ear of important people. They selectively miscited the writings of those with authority in the Church, portraying the Popes and bishops as rejecting “authentic” teaching and falsely accusing them of all sorts of vile crimes. Idolatry, supporting heresy, debauchery, etc. The heretical and schismatic groups tried to get the Popes and bishops deposed from their positions. But in the long term, the orthodox Catholic position triumphed.

When they finally lost in the battle for the Church as a whole, they declared that the Church itself was wrong and broke communion with the successor of Peter and insisted that they were the faithful remnant. Montanism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, etc., were some of the heretical movements that rose from clinging from things the Church condemned. But there were other movements that rose from those who accepted the same beliefs as the Catholic Church but falsely claimed something the Church taught something that she did not* or claimed that the Church approach of mercy to sinners was allowing sin. Groups like the Novatians and Donatists fell into this category.

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

—St. John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

I find that the modern attacks on the Pope and bishops is tragically similar to the attacks in the first centuries of the Church. Many of those hostile to the Pope like to think of themselves as being like St. Athanasius against the Arians or St. Paul opposing St. Peter. But they act more like Hippolytus, Novatian or Donatus, assuming that a position of mercy from the Pope must be a position of laxity or actual sympathy towards error.

While certain critics might think that Santayana’s comment on history justifies their stance, actually they fit what he warned against. They don’t understand the history and development of the Church. Instead they rely on perpetually new interpretations of a fixed moment in the Church that they consider ideal, assume was always the case, and remain ignorant of the actual development and struggle to defend the faith. Being ignorant about this development, they assume deviation from their ideal is error even if it’s orthodox Catholic teaching.

Because they fail to remember history, they cannot see the direction the Church has gone in and how she has changed discipline and custom but left doctrine intact. If certain critics will not remember this history, they might wind up repeating the tragedies that led to error and schism.


(§) This is the context of the oft paraphrased quote.

(*) Men like Photius, Michael Celularius, Luther, and Calvin also used false accusations to justify breaking with the Church.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

I Don’t Have a Problem With Your Eyes. It’s Your Interpretation That Bothers Me

Depending on one’s outlook, this article might be seen as correcting misconceptions about my approach to fidelity vs. dissent, or it might be seen as “doubling down” on inflammatory comments made against concerned Catholics.  So, let’s talk about the issues.

Issue #1: To Accurately Speak of What Is or Is Not

When Catholics accuse the Pope of something, the first question is whether the accusations are true. That means asking whether the facts are true of course. But it also means asking whether the motives attributed to the facts are true. 

Using Aristotle’s definition of truth, we have to ask whether what accusers say is saying of what is, that it is. If it is not, the accuser does not speak the truth. That doesn’t automatically mean that the accuser is automatically proven guilty of lying. Someone can sincerely believe that a false statement is true. But if they say something false, they do harm regardless of the culpability. Therefore, when someone makes an accusation against the Pope, we have an obligation to determine whether or not it’s true. If it’s false or unproven, we must not pass it along.

Issue #2: I Don’t Have a Problem With Your Eyes. It’s Your Interpretation That Bothers Me

That brings us to one of the popular albeit—in my opinion—stupid quips passed around by Catholics on social media about the video of the ceremony that took place  In the Vatican gardens. Because some people in native garments§ seemed to prostrate themselves before the image popularly known as Pachamama, certain people declared it was worship of an idol. When this was questioned, certain Catholics came forward with the quip# “Who are you going to believe? Me? Or your own lying eyes?”

The quip is supposed to mean that we’re brazenly saying that the “obvious” evidence is wrong. Since we all saw the video, we can’t deny it was an act of pagan worship. The problem is, the question is not what the people did. The question is whether the critics properly interpreted the visuals. 

For example, when St. John Paul II visited Papua-New Guinea, he was greeted by indigenous Catholics who performed one of their cultural rituals. But some of his critics accused him of taking part in a “pagan ritual.” Yes, we all saw the same visuals. But the interpretation was false. This brings us to the Amazon Synod.

Yes, we saw the video too. We saw people who wore strange clothing and did strange things before a strange object. But what has to be proven is that a group of pagans brought an idol to the Vatican gardens and intended to worship it. It’s not enough to say it might be true. The Church has never condemned anyone on the basis of unproven accusations. So where are the anthropological experts that identify the individuals as pagans, identify the image as an idol, and the activity as an Amazonian type of worship? Not only did nobody interview the people involved, but the accusations seem to have one indigenous chief who is an Evangelical as the source of the claims. But since when do we accept the word of one outside the Church as an expert of those within the Church? How would this person describe ordinary Catholic practices?

Some of you might say “But the Pope called it Pachamama!” But that doesn’t work. The Pope used the common Italian media label—a label applied with none of the required experts evaluating it. Think of it this way. We often use common but inaccurate terms for things because that is what everybody knows them by. “Sunrise and sunset” being one major example. Or we refer to the antics launched by men like Martin Luther as the “Reformation,” even though we do not believe that his actions “reformed” anything.

Combine this with the fact that the Pope explicitly denying that this was an idol, and that it was an act of worship¥. Combine it with the fact that the Vatican explicitly denied that the Pope intended to identify the image as literally being Pachamama. Combine it with the fact that those who brought the object said they bought it in a craft market and used it as a symbol for the indigenous people, not an image from the indigenous people. Either the critics have to prove a deception, or withdraw their charges. But don’t say that the video proves it—because the interpretation for the motives of the actions is very much under challenge.

Issue #3: Rash Judgment

The Church, in teaching against false witness, has some strong things to say about rash judgment. Rash judgment assumes a fault without proof for it. As I pointed out in Issue #2, there is no proof for these accusations against the Pope and the Synod. Instead, people judge according to the meaning they put on what they saw and repeat what others claim it means without verifying that the person doing the criticism is an expert on both Catholic theology and indigenous Amazon culture.

This is important. People may cite Father A, Bishop B, or Cardinal C as thinking it was an act of idolatry. But are they speaking with expertise on how indigenous Catholics in the Amazon do things? Or do they think of how American and Western Europeans do things and react negatively? This has to be asked and answered.

This cuts both ways of course. That’s why you’ll never see me accuse Father A, Bishop B, or Cardinal C of promoting heresy or schism*. I focus on dangerous attitudes in the hope of getting people to ask questions rather than make rash assumptions.

Issue #4: Nego Accusatio^The Credibility Gap of Accusers

One of the problems I have when critics tell us that the Pope is committing an error is that those making the claims have been consistently wrong. Small excerpts of long statements are taken out of context and people accuse the Pope of holding things he has actually opposed. Remember the 2015 Synod on the family? The critics said that the Synod would allow same sex “marriage” and contraception. Remember how everyone interpreted “Who am I to judge?” as promoting homosexuality? Remember how they accused him of planning to allow women priests, married priests and women deacons? 

These were all false accusations, regardless of whether the people spreading them did so intentionally or through gullibility. Whenever the full transcripts of what the Pope says have been made available@, the supposedly outrageous soundbites turned out to be very nuanced statements that assume Catholic orthodoxy as a basis. The Pope simply was pointing out that sometimes the practices have fallen into a legalism that spends more focus on keeping notorious sinners away from sacraments than actually reconciling them to the Church. 

Unfortunately, those who are critics of the Pope seem to rely on the sources that have been constantly wrong (whether from bias or simply not knowing what Catholics believe). Perhaps it’s time to start asking ourselves whether we should stop believing those sites who have been consistently wrong about the Pope every time they accused him.

Issue #4: Guilt by Association Fallacy

One doesn’t judge whether an idea is right or wrong based on the people who favor or support it. That’s a logical fallacy. An idea might be good even if unpopular or unsavory people like it. An idea might be wrong even if respectable people support it.

And this also comes into play here. Some critics have pointed to members of the Church who seem to hold heterodox ideas that cheer on the Pope. Yes, these people try to use his actions to promote their own agenda. But it doesn’t mean that the Pope supports their agenda or thinks like them. Yes, some people of questionable orthodoxy have expressed support for the Pope. But you’ll find that some people of questionable orthodoxy have expressed support for his opponents too. If the Pope is supposed to be guilty because some people with agendas think they can exploit his words, then those theologians who oppose the Pope stand condemned whenever a sede vacantist expresses support for those who disagree with the Pope.

But that’s absurd. The bad supporters of Pope Francis and the bad supporters of the “Dubia Cardinals” do not make their ideas wrong. But some critics of the Pope are trying to use those bad supporters to insinuate exactly that without proving that the Pope agrees with those bad ideas.

Issue #5: Misusing the terms None, Some, All; Equivocation 


There is a tendency to turn “some” into “all” or “none” depending on how a critic wants to portray it. If you want to downplay something, turn his “some people are saying…” into “nobody” or “hardly anyone says.” If you want to make a claim that somebody exaggerates, portray his “some people” into “all” or “most people.” Then you can say that the person expressing concern is “accusing” everyone who disagrees.

So, when the Pope speaks out against a dangerous attitude, some critics interpret his “some” as “all” and say he’s targeting “faithful Catholics.” But let’s face it: if somebody actually champions an attitude he warns against, that person has a fundamental misunderstanding about the Catholic Faith.

A similar error is to misuse a word which can have multiple meanings to benefit the person by using a different meaning than the intended one. For example, the Church uses the term Social Justice to refer to how our Christian  obligations must be applied in society. Christians must not only live rightly personally, but must also work to govern rightly. Unfortunately, the term is also used to mean a certain political platform, usually associated with socialism. As a result, when the Pope talks about Social Justice in different areas, certain critics replace that meaning with the political meaning and argue that the Pope supports whatever the American£ politicians also invoke the term “social justice.” The result is rash judgment (Issue #2) that accuses the Pope of supporting moral evils that he is on record as opposing. The person who makes these accusations (knowingly or out of ignorance) are causing scandal, not the Pope they fail to understand.

Conclusion: Confusion of Their Own Making

I do not say that all people with difficulties are guilty of this (Issue #5). But certain critics do, and they have stirred up a great deal of confusion, misrepresenting the Pope and bishops to the point that many Catholics believe that the claims made by radical dissenters must have some merit. But we cannot use our lack of knowledge as an excuse for not seeking to learn the truth.

Catholics are to give religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he teaches—even if it is not an ex cathedra teaching. This doesn’t mean, “the Pope can do whatever he feels like.” It means that we trust God to protect His Church. If we think that the Pope is “teaching error,” we have the obligation to determine whether our fears are true before making accusations out of them.

If we will not, any ignorance on our part becomes vincible ignorance—the kind we are morally responsible for if we do wrong. It’s not for me to point at you, the reader, and accuse you. I write this simply to warn people about dangerous attitudes and flaws in reasoning that could lead to the devil deceiving individuals into breaking with the Church while convinced they are the “true defenders of the faith.”


(#) The quote comes from the Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup.

(§) One individual wore what looked like a brown religious habit. If it was one and legitimately worn, it discredits claims that the individuals must be “pagan.”

(†) Heretical bishops (Arians, Nestorians, etc) did accuse the saints of crimes to get them out of their dioceses.

(¥) The worst accusation one could level against him is that he was lied to. 

(*) I might say that a Priest, Bishop, or Cardinal uses rhetoric that troubles me, but I try to keep in mind that actual dissenters might be twisting or misinterpreting their words just as much as they do with the Pope.

(^) “I Deny the Accusation”

(@) Finding transcripts are not difficult. Personally, I go to the Vatican website or Zenit. You just need to remember that it takes time to get them translated and posted.

(€) If one compares Amoris Laetitia with Cardinal Kasper’s The Gospel of the Family, you’ll see the first pages of the latter are similar to what the Pope wrote. But then there is a sharp break where the Pope remains within Catholic teaching while Kasper proposes following the Eastern Orthodox customs.

(£) I am an American, but let’s face it. Sometimes American Catholics badly confuse the Church teaching with politics, thinking that a faithful Catholic will support their own political views, but Catholic moral teaching predated the existence of the United States by almost two millennia.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Repeating the Tragedy

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

—Saint John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, p. 240

The continuing aftermath of the Amazon Synod serves as a reminder that there is a certain hazard that orbits around the Church despite the endless attempts to eliminate it over the past two millennia. 

That hazard is the belief that the Church can fall into error but the critic cannot. Whether the rejection of the Church is rooted in heresy based on how the critic reads Scripture, or whether it is simply a schism based on the interpretation of the discipline of the Church, the fact remains that the critic has effectively made himself a “Pope” who insists on his own view of the Church while rejecting the authority of the real one. The result is we see people repeating the same errors over and over, convinced that the falsehoods they were told are true. The result is a repeated tragedy.

Repeating the Logical Errors

Those critics who do make a shipwreck of their faith this way deny that they are doing so because they define heresy and/or schism in an overly limited manner. Since they do not believe what Tertullian, Sabellius, Arius, Nestorius, Berengarius, Wycliffe, Luther, etc. etc. believe, they reason that—because they don’t hold the same errors—they are not guilty of what those infamous individuals did. But that’s the logical logical fallacy of  Denying the Antecedent. Just because one does not break with the Church over the same grounds as those people did does not mean that they are not in error. Consider this:
  • If I am in Los Angeles, I am in California.
  • I am not in Los Angeles.
  • Therefore I am not in California.
Contrary to what the media might think, there is more to California than Los Angeles. Likewise, contrary to what the Pope bashers might think, there is more to heresy and schism than the errors of those listed above. 

Repeating the Canonical Errors

The Church defines things like heresy and schism in light of what they reject. Canon 751 reads:

can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

So, if one refuses to submit to the Pope on a matter involving his office (teaching, governing), such a person is committing a schismatic act, whether they formally reject the Papacy as a whole or just a specific act. Moreover, this is not limited to the ex cathedra teachings of the Pope. The ordinary teachings of the Pope are also binding. Canon 752 says:

can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

This canon bases itself on past Church teaching, including: Pius IX Syllabus of Errors #22, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25. It’s also found in Vatican I and Unam Sanctam. So, the Catholic dissenters who try to reject the Pope and claim that those who insist on obedience are Ultramontanist, or Papolators* are actually the ones in error. If they refuse submission, they are behaving in a schismatic manner. If they deny that submission is not required at all, that is a heretical position. As Canon 331 reminds us:

can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

Since these critics insist that they—not the Pope—are faithful Catholics, they invent counterfeit theology that they claim exempts them from obeying this Pope or this Council, saying that their “errors” prove that these statements cannot be binding. For example, they take one of the theological opinions of St. Robert Bellarmine§ that if a Pope becomes a manifest heretic, he stops being Pope. That effectively means that, should the Pope happen to join the Foursquare Gospel Church, he’s effectively renounced his office by leaving the Catholic Church. But the Pope’s  critics conflate it with three positions that the Saint actually rejected: that the Church can depose him. However there no procedure for deposing a Pope (canon 1404), and the idea that one can appeal to a Council against the Pope is the heresy of Conciliarism. Indeed, canon law says (canon 1372):  A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

Repeating the Theological and Historical Errors

Since there’s no canonical process that allows for any body in the Church to accuse, judge, or depose a sitting Pope. So, some try to point to certain morally bad Popes to argue that because they existed, it means that the current Pope can also be a bad Pope. The critics like to imagine themselves as following St. Paul in opposing Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) by opposing Pope Francis for “teaching error.” But while St. Peter and the bad Popes had personal moral failings, the critics claim that the fact that a Pope can be morally bad also means he can teach error (a non sequitur fallacy) and when he does, he must be opposed. 

The problem is: neither Scripture nor Church history can justify that position. Our Lord taught that the moral failings do not take away the authority to teach (cf. Matthew 23:2-3). Church history shows that a morally bad Pope does not justify rebellion. Remember the Popes leading morally bad lives did not justify the Protestant Reformation. Luther had obligations to obey the Pope, his bishop and his religious superiors. He believed they erred and that he was not obligated to obey them. If a Pope can err—and must be opposed if we think he does—when teaching in the ordinary magisterium, then we have no way of saying Luther was wrong to refuse obedience.

This is why I say that the Pope bashers are like Luther: not because I think they have the same theology. But because I think they share the same attitude towards the Church authority which they disagree with. Since that the critics are often vehemently denouncing everything they dislike in the Church as “Protestant,” it is ironic that they duplicate Luther’s treatment of disliked Church Teaching.

Some even go so far as to misapply the term “antipope.” The term is properly used to distinguish one who is falsely set up to be Pope against the real Pope. There are several in Church history, all set up by those who opposed the election or the policies of the actual Pope. 

In the current iteration, some critics claim that Benedict XVI was forced out of office, and Pope Francis was installed by his enemies as an antipope. Under this argument, whatever Pope Francis does is invalid. The problem is, there is no basis for the claim. Using a form of the No True Scotsman fallacy, whatever Benedict XVI said affirming his renouncing of his office and recognition of Pope Francis is deemed to be “coerced.” It’s a sedevacantist claim which is about as silly as St. Paul VI being a “Prisoner under the Vatican while a imposter took his place.”

Repeating the Factual Errors

When I read the writings of those who broke away from the Catholic Church, they all make false claims about the Catholic Church which purport to show that the Church “fell into error” and had to be opposed. For example, men like St. Hippolytus (who died reconciled to the Church) and Novatian, Luther and Calvin, Lefebvre, etc., treated abuses as intended policy under the Popes they disliked, took Scripture and Church Fathers out of context, misrepresented the real intent of the teaching etc. Unfortunately, modern critics do the same. 

For example, Luther miscited Church Councils and Augustine in order to portray a “break” between the past teaching and the teaching of his time. Calvin treated the veneration of religious imagery as idolatry. They contrasted their views of what they thought the Church should be with their portrayal of certain problems in the Church. What they left out was answering the question, “Is this portrayal actually true?”

Likewise, we saw in the Synod on the Family and are seeing in the Synod on the Amazon, critics portraying the words and actions of the Synod in as negative a light as possible and contrasting that portrayal with their own claims of what past Councils and teachings of the Church said. They insisted their interpretation of events were indisputable fact even though a large number of Catholics were disputing their claims.

Take the so-called Pachamama image. The term was given to an object that—by all accounts of those who brought it—had no religious significance at all. The name stuck and was adopted by the secular media. Critics of the Pope used the popularized label as “proof” that it was an idol (Begging the Question fallacy) and when the Pope referred to it using that popularized label, critics seized on that as “proof” that he was “promoting paganism” despite the fact that the Pope said there was no intent to worship and that the Vatican pointed out that the Pope’s use of the term Pachamama was common usage and not technical descriptions.

Repeating the Rash Judgment

The response of the critics was very much a violation of the Church teaching on false witness^. As the Catechism points out:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

When critics do not give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope says; when they do not accept his statements that give a Christian intent in his words and acts, they are judging rashly if they assume and calumniating if they do know his intent but say something contrary to it.

At this point, someone might ask me, “How do you know you’re not the one misinterpreting the Pope.” I would reply that, based on the transcripts that report the Pope’s words in full, what he says shows that he very much believes in God, the Catholic Church and its teachings. I would view any claim that he intends syncretistic or heretical meaning with the same level of disbelief that I would have if someone told me that Elizabeth Warren was in favor of a laissez faire approach to healthcare. That is to say, it is entirely out of character. But many Catholics do not read his writings, but instead rely on brief quotes in articles—which might be drastically out of context. When one reads something by Pope Francis, you need to read the whole thing to understand the point he makes.


As always, I don’t write to point fingers at and condemn specific individuals. Rather, I wish to show how certain attitudes of hostility against the Pope have no basis in terms of logic, Church teaching, theology, history, or avoiding false witness. If one wants to avoid falling into error, he or she needs to avoid those accusations and tactics that lead people to dissent while thinking they are the faithful ones. 

As St. John Henry Newman pointed out, those who lost faith in the infallibility of the Church—forgetting that God protects His Church from binding us to obey error—have failed to grasp what the Church is and who is in charge. If we do not want to trick ourselves out of the Church, we must cling fast to the Church, trusting that God will always protect the Church from teaching error.

If we refuse to do that, if we think that the Church which does not go where we desire is a Church that errs, then we will be deceived into rejecting what God has made necessary. And, if we reject that Church, we will be rejecting Our Lord who established it (Luke 10:16).


(*) My personal favorite was when one Pope basher called me a “Papist,” which is a term used by anti-Catholic Protestants against faithful Catholics. A Freudian slip perhaps?

(§) I wrote about this HERE. The Saint’s book is available on Kindle if you don’t want to take my word for it. But briefly: there are five positions that he considers. Three he rejects (all involving the claim that the Church can depose the Pope). Two he accepts. Those latter two are: 1. That the Pope cannot be a heretic (I hold this view). 2. That the Pope only stops being Pope if he is a manifest heretic.

(†) Interestingly enough, there has been an editing war going on with Wikipedia’s entry. If the reports are accurately reported, critics of the Pope are editing the article to portray the image as Pachamama and to make it seem that the Pope was implementing the worship of a vile idol.

(^) One priest I know on Facebook pointed out it is also Rash Judgment of the indigenous peoples to assume their actions were idolatrous. I think he makes a good point.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dealing With the Madness over the So-Called “Pachamama”

time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.” 
—St. Anthony, Abbot

One of my pet peeves is when people who, for whatever reason, when disagreeing with the stance I take in defending the Pope and the Church tell me to “open my eyes.” (It reminds me of St. Anthony’s quote above). While the people who use it probably thinks they’re clever, it’s merely an ad hominem attack that tells the target that if he doesn’t see things the way the accuser does, it means that the person must be at fault for refusing to “look at the facts.” The problem is, that attack doesn’t refute anything, and it serves as a distraction from the fact that their claims are refutable. 

In fact, the more I study the claims (I’ve seen the video, I’ve researched the accusations) of those who attack the Pope and the Synod, the more I am convinced they are falsehoods on par with those spread by Luther in the 16th century when he grossly misrepresented the Church to push his own agenda. 

It’s a tale that grows more ridiculous, more exaggerated as it spreads across social media. In the beginning, the speculation was that the Pope didn’t read his speech because he was “furious.” Now his critics make him into an apostate. It seems to me that these people are being led astray as the devil turns them into “useful idiots” who do his will while thinking they serve God. 

Please note: I’m not defending idolatry or syncretism. I’m rejecting those accusations as false. I think people should remember this: anti-Catholics routinely accuse us of worshiping statues based on our postures and their falsely labeling statues as “idols.” Catholic critics would be wise to consider the possibility that they are at risk of behaving in the same way. They should ask themselves whether Catholics In Amazonia behave differently than Catholics in the United States or Western Europe.

The Vatican didn’t “admit” it was an idol, let alone Pachamama. The image was a carving that was brought to the synod was chosen as a symbol of life made by an indigenous carver. Different people attribute it to being Our Lady of the Amazon or Pachamama. Meanwhile the statement of the Vatican reflects what those who brought the image intended. If one wants to argue that it is “Pachamama,” or that the rites are “pagan,” they need to prove that these images are used as idols and worshipped in this manner. They need to prove that the people involved were in fact pagan.

But this is exactly what they don’t do. They assume bad will on the part of the Pope and the synod and everything that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to them, they assume has a bad cause behind it. But where is the research? Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the investigations into the people that they accuse of worshiping idols to determine it is as they think?

There are none. There are only hostile interpretations and rumors building on those interpretations. At the least, this is rash judgment, if not outright calumny. Both are sins against the prohibition on bearing false witness.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

You’re not Helping

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the anti-Francis movement within the Catholic Church, who often—whether out of ignorance or malice—make false accusations about the Pope, misrepresenting what he says or intends to do. They are responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church. Unfortunately, this is not the only problem group in this dispute. 

The other side are those Catholics who also (and just as wrongly) believe that the Pope is changing Church teaching on a subject or becoming more lenient with something the Church once strongly condemned. The difference is this second group either thinks this “change” is a good idea (and accuse those standing up for what the Church teaches as “rejecting” the Pope) or else is misusing what the Pope actually said to push an agenda, thinking they can pressure the Church into changing a teaching§. They are also responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church.

If we are to properly support the Pope, we must not attribute to him things that he did not say or do. If we do, we will cause double confusion:
  1. By falsely encouraging those Catholics at odds with Church teaching to think their sins are not sins.
  2. By giving the anti-Francis Catholics “proof#” that the Pope is a heretic.
Obviously, we can’t do anything about what the “other side” does except trying to charitably try to explain how and why they went wrong. But we can also cause scandal by misrepresenting what the Pope says and does just because it benefits our causes.

And charitably is a key word here. I’ve seen certain Catholics use abusive language against those who politically disagree with them, committing rash judgment and/or calumny. Then, when they face consequences for their rhetoric, they complain that they are being “targeted.” That does not help defend the Pope from false accusations. Yes, guilt by association is a logical fallacy. But the Pope is still harmed by our bad behavior if we who champion him are behaving shamefully in our defense of him, or if we treat those who attack the Pope in the same way that we condemn when they act the same towards us.

If we profess to be Catholics, especially if we think those opposed to us have gone the wrong way, we must behave in a charitable way in our defense. Otherwise, we’re not helping.


(§) People have been anticipating the overturning of Humanae Vitae for over 50 years. It hasn’t and will not happen.

(#) You might laugh, but the media misrepresented the Pope’s “Who am I to judge” to mean that homosexuality was okay. The anti-Francis Catholics still believe this while those with same sex attraction felt “betrayed” when the Pope later said things confirming he opposed “same sex marriage.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Are You So Certain That You’re on the Right Side?

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. (769)

(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Back in the days when the Left Behind and other series was popular, I wrote a few blogs about how Christians had a dangerous tendency to conflate their political views with their theology. Their view of the Antichrist was someone who appealed to the liberal left and hedonism. They would interpret the actions of those politicians and members of the Church as symbols or conspirators of a coming apostasy*. The problem is, that kind of Antichrist is not likely to deceive the faithful, and deception of the faithful is exactly what the final trial is about.

The temptations to justify immoral behavior has always been with us. People who argue that the popular sins are not really sins have always been with us. The Church combats them in every age, and the faithful listen to the Church. But, if people should refuse to listen to the Church, trusting in themselves or people who say that the Church cannot be trusted, then we have a situation where the faithful risk apostasy by making their own preferences of right and wrong replace the teachings of the Church which God empowered to teach in His name.

If we follow those Catholics on the basis of their previous defense of the Church but they now argue that the Church is going astray, we will follow them to ruin if we insist on trusting them instead of those tasked with leading the Church.

The common argument is that the Pope is only infallible when he teaches ex cathedra but can err when he doesn’t§, implying that whether or not we obey depends on whether we think the teaching is true or false.

That is to misunderstand the nature of Church teaching. An infallible teaching cannot be reformed. We won’t ever see the Church edit the teaching of The Immaculate Conception in a way that changes how it is understood. We do see things in Rerum Novarum that have been modified to address changes in society#. People invent loopholes to get around previous teachings; new problems emerge and must be solved. The encyclicals of Pius XI, St. Paul VI, and St. John Paul II neither mean that Rerum Novarum was in error nor that his successors committed error by “contradicting” Leo XIII.

But whether from ignorance or a willful act, these Catholics are promoting error by claiming that only the ex cathedra statements are binding on the grounds that the ordinary magisterium can “Err.” What this boils down to is the de facto denial of Christ’s promises to guide and protect His Church. They still view Christ as God, but they reduce His role in the Church to handing down laws from on high and judge the Church for not interpreting those laws in the way they think the laws should be interpreted.

That certainly is a religious deception. It allows those who use these tactics to deny that God leads the Church whenever they happen to disagree with it. Those who fall into this error can certainly be led astray by an Antichrist who can give them what they want: A “Church” that agrees with them so they don’t have to listen to the Church under the visible headship of the Pope. Such an Antichrist will tell them that they can reject the Church when they like because the Church obviously “errs” when it teaches against them.

That’s an Antichrist who can deceive Catholics regardless of their preferences. If we would be faithful to Christ and oppose the Antichrist, we must listen to the Church which teaches with His authority and protection.


(*) For example, when the novel Father Elijah came out in the late 90s, we saw a thinly disguised Cardinal Martini as actively working to corrupt the Church.

(§) It should be noted that the Catholic Church has consistently taught this is an error. See Pius IX (Syllabus of Errors), Pius XII (Humani Generis #20), Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #25) and the Code of Canon Law (#752). So why do people give credence to Catholics who promote that error?

(#) The Church teaching on the death penalty falls into this category. The fact that conditions may have made the DP tolerable in previous centuries does not mean it is right in all times and circumstances. St. John Paul II taught that those past conditions do not exist today, and Pope Francis confirms it.