Friday, July 19, 2019

Evading Responsibility

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. (John 15:12-17)

The Church teaches us about following Jesus and keeping His commandments. Those commandments follow the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40). When the Church teaches, “We must do X,” or “We must not do Y,” we can be sure that X and Y are areas that either respect or violate those commandments. 

But all too often, we evade our responsibility by making excuses for why we don’t obey the Pope or the bishops when they teach. For example, saying “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t want to impose my beliefs on others,” while supporting laws that impose the belief that abortion is good. Or saying “Those immigrants came here illegally, we should help others who live here instead,” while failing to help either immigrants or citizens in need.

These evasions do not excuse us. These commandments are not limited to those who are born or those who are legal citizens, and, as Lumen Gentium #14 reminds us:

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

It seems to me that if we’re making excuses for refusing to hear the Church (a dangerous thing. cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) in the current magisterium, we should ask ourselves “Why?” What excuses can we give before God at our Judgment for refusing to hear those teachings on how to obey His commandments.

Perhaps we should consider the possibility that when we accuse the Pope or bishops of “getting into politics,” the real issue is that we refuse to get out of politics. If so, we do this to our own peril: in doing so, we’re making our preferences into an idol which we obey rather than God. No matter what excuses we might make, it will not justify our evading obedience.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Catholics and the Either-Or Fallacy

People have a habit of thinking in a binary manner: Either X or Y. If one doesn’t support X, they must therefore support Y. The problem is, that’s only sometimes true. It’s only true if there are only two possible choices and you must pick one. But, if choosing Z is an option, if rejecting both X and Y is an option, or if choosing elements of X and Y are options, then the either-or dilemma is false because it is NOT a choice of only X or Y.

When it comes to the teaching of the Church, Catholics often commit this fallacy. They interpret Church teaching in a narrow way, then argue that whoever disagrees with their narrow interpretation must—by the fact of that disagreement—be in opposition to Church teaching. But they overlook the possibility that the Church teaching is different from what these critics think it is and actually rejects the dilemma the critics present.

Recently, we’re seeing American Catholics fall into this trap over the debate on immigration. The bishops, following Church teaching, have been speaking out against changes to immigration policy that makes it harder for legitimate asylum speakers to apply and presents migration as an “enemy horde” to be defended against. Supporters of this policy are accusing the bishops of supporting illegal immigration. In terms of logic, they are saying:
  • Either support the current administration’s policy OR support illegal immigration (Either X or Y)
  • Not supporting the current administration’s policy (Not X)
  • Therefore supporting illegal immigration (Therefore Y)
The problem [§] with this reasoning is that the Church is not saying “Y.” The Church is saying “Neither X nor Y.” The bishops recognize that the needs of security are legitimate, but also recognize that we cannot use this need as an excuse to evade our Christian obligations to help those in legitimate need. What the Church is calling for is a just process that seeks to find and aid—without delay—those who do need help. The bishops don’t want members of MS-13 in the country any more than the rest of us do. But they do realize that trying to keep all or most immigrants out in order to keep out the gang members is not a just response.

Whatever the issue, the Catholic is tempted to see the “right” solution as the one they support (X) and whoever rejects X must support the antithesis, not recognizing that they could be the ones in error. Some Catholics label the Church teaching against contraception and abortion as being about “controlling women” because they interpret these intrinsic evils as necessary “rights” so women can be “free.” Other Catholics interpret the Church teaching on social justice as “promoting socialism” because it necessarily condemns government laxity on the topic. In both cases, they accuse the Pope and bishops of supporting “Y” when the Church is rejecting both X and Y.

The Either-Or fallacy used by Catholics against the magisterium is effectively an attempt to shift the blame: “I can’t be in error, therefore YOU must be!” by way of wrongly accusing the magisterium. As Catholics fall into this trap, they see the Church as increasingly going wrong—never considering that they have been misled about what is right behavior for Catholics.

It doesn’t have to be on an issue either. It can also happen if someone assumes that a problematic action must be “proof” of willful heresy as opposed to misunderstanding, a mistake, or a matter of personal sin. Or a case where we don’t see a public rebuke leads to an assumption that the Church “approves of the error” instead of a private correction.

The “either-or” fallacy leads Catholics to violate the proper sense of Matthew 7:1–assuming to rashly judge hearts and minds where no justification to do so exists. To avoid this logical error and the accompanying sin of rash judgment, we need to consider whether there is more to a story than our usual sources; more to an action than our presumed motives. We can certainly say X is wrong, when we know (i.e., using submission to the magisterium as the guide for our knowledge) that X goes against Church teaching. But we can’t justify attitudes that reject or explain away the teaching of the Pope and bishops in communion with him, or make accusations against them without explicit proof that there are only two possible conclusions and they have deliberately chosen the evil one.

_________________

[§] In this form, it’s also a logical error of Denying the Antecedent.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Ignoring the Watchman: A Reflection on Our Double Standard Views of Evil

When we think about the concept of doing evil, we tend to treat our own sins and those of our own faction as minor, while treating the harmful consequences of the acts from those we dislike as if those who did them were acting with the motivation of Aaron in the Shakespearean play, Titus Andronicus:

Lucius: Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?
Aaron: Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day, and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,
Wherein I did not some notorious ill:
As kill a man, or else devise his death;
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it;
Accuse some innocent, and forswear myself;
Set deadly enmity between two friends;
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears,
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut! I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene I.

This way of thinking helps explain why we have a growing divide between factions today when there should be no factions in the Church. By limiting the meaning of evil to “with malice aforethought,” we do not judge our sins rightly and assume that those who disagree with us must sin in the worst way. But doing evil is to do things contrary to the teaching of God as passed on by His Church. If we knowingly disobey these teachings, we are doing evil. There are two things to remember. First, venial matter, imperfect knowledge, or less than full consent may reduce our guilt. Second that evil was done regardless of the level of guilt. By downplaying our own willful disregard to “unimportant,” we’re committing presumption. By exaggerating other’s sins to malicious, we are violating the proper sense of Matthew 7:1ff.

This is evident when we see American Catholics play the “bishops should stay out of politics” card when they teach on something that challenges our complicity on something we write off as “unimportant.” Tragically, this complicity is bipartisan. If the Church speaks out against the unjust treatment of migrants, some Catholics will object to the bishops focusing on this instead of X—with X being something that they already happen to agree with. If the Church defends life and the sanctity of marriage, some Catholics will object to this, insisting that the bishops focus on Y instead—Y being something that they just happen to agree with. Both are willing to overlook that the Church does in fact teach on X and Y as well as on the just treatment of migrants and on life and the sanctity of marriage.

All of us need to realize that this behavior is not standing up for “more important” teachings. It is rejection of the Church teachings which we dislike. Yes, we can be quite sincere about opposing X and Y. But Church teaching is about more than X and Y which don’t directly affect us.

In addition, all of us face the temptation of assuming that, because the individual bishop is not speaking about X or Y at that moment, they must maliciously oppose Church teaching on X or Y. Or, that because the bishop speaks about showing compassion to those who violate Church teaching in an area we feel vehement about, it “must” mean he is lax about the teaching in this area, or even plotting to undermine it. The possibility of him wanting to both save those sinners and protect us from committing rash judgment never seems to occur to the critics.

But see what we’ve become! By assuming that the teaching that rebukes us is “unimportant,” we deafen ourselves to the teachings that could lead us to repentance. By assuming that those who violate teachings we vehemently support must be malicious in intent, we judge in a way forbidden to us. In both assumptions, we endanger our souls.

Yes, some sins are objectively more destructive than others. But that does not mean the “others” can be ignored. I’ve often said in my blog that the deadliest sin for each person are the ones most likely to damn that person to hell. If the Church warns that something we’re indifferent to or complicit in our support for, we’re fools to ignore the warning and blame the messenger for speaking out. We should remember the prophecy of Ezekiel when the Church speaks out:

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

The Church, as a watchman, is warning us. If we don’t listen, we too will die in our sins.




Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reflection on a Hidden and False Assumption

Preliminary Note: This is not the only case of error out there. I could probably write a logic text using nothing but examples from anti-Francis Catholics to demonstrate bad reasoning. But it is an error that undermines trust in the Church and needs to be addressed by itself.

I had a critic take exception to my last article, arguing (among other things) that the existence of certain evils in the Church was the fault of “Rome.” It’s a common allegation, one I’ve been fighting since before I started blogging (I’ve fought the SSPX using it against St. John Paul II for about as long as I’ve been on the Internet). It does have an enthymeme in it. That hidden premise is the belief that any persistent sin in the Church can only exist because of the approval or negligence of “Rome.” Because a sin exists, a Pope they dislike is accused because if he “took action,” the sin wouldn’t exist.

The problem is, under that line of reasoning, it indicts every Pope since St. Peter, and overlooks the fact that societies sometimes have vicious customs—evil acts commonly accepted in a society despite the teaching of the Church. For example, the French and their infamous acceptance of mistresses despite the fact that the Church has consistently condemned adultery and concubinage. If the current widespread sins of Catholics “proves” the approval or incompetence of the magisterium, then it also follows that the Church is to blame for not stopping mistressing. St. Paul VI (Humanae Vitae) is to blame for the acceptance of contraception among Catholics, and St. John Paul II (consistent warnings against the culture of death) for the prevalence of abortion. Never mind that they and their successors fought these evils and urged Catholics to reject and oppose them.

Even if one only speaks about corruption among the clergy (where there’s even less of an excuse for ignorance), you can’t say that it could only exist because of approval or indifference of Rome? St. Peter Damian wrote “The Book of Gommorah” (epistle 31) about the practice of homosexuality in monasteries and urging reform. Popes did take action to reform these evils but the evil did not vanish. Are we to condemn every Pope from Leo IX forward for this fact? Abortion was condemned since the first century but some Catholics still support it. In other words, this argument aimed at accusing one Pope or one Council would actually indict all of them if the widespread existence of a sin is the fault of a Pope.

This attitude is effectively a re-emergence of Pelagianism, believing that one is able to overcome sin through their own efforts. This re-emergence assumes that the Pope just has to make a harsh enough statement and Catholics will obey. We should consider what Pope Francis had to say in Gaudete et Exsultate:

49. Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.” When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything,” and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. In every case, as Saint Augustine taught, God commands you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot, and indeed to pray to him humbly: “Grant what you command, and command what you will.”

Some things are beyond human effort and, if God’s permissive Will allows them to remain, we will not be able to overturn them no matter how much we want to (cf. Numbers 14:39-45).

This doesn’t mean “do nothing.” It means each age has its own evils and we must work to overcome them, relying on the grace of God to strengthen us for the task. Not by accusing people of malfeasance if the results are different than we want.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Traveling in a Dangerous Direction

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged. (Lumen Gentium #14)

In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (Gaudium et Spes #16)

Continuing a theme from last time  the Pope and bishops have consistently and forcefully spoken out, warning Catholics against losing sight of our moral obligations towards the least of our brethren… warnings that are often received with hostility from Catholics who support the political policy or the party promoting it. 

This hostility is shown by accusing the bishops of being the ones with a political bias (“the Church should stay out of politics!”), by employing the tu quoque fallacy (“why doesn’t the Church clean up X first?”), the either-or fallacy (“the Church should be focusing on Y instead”) or by shifting the responsibility (“It’s the fault of Z for being in this situation”).

All of these accusations do demonstrate something: that these critics are aware that the Pope and bishops are speaking against the position they defend for whatever motive. If these critics are Catholics, they cannot claim ignorance that when they teach, the Pope and bishops are to be heeded, not finding excuses to reject that teaching.

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.

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.

can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

Code of Canon Law

Liberal Catholics tend to attack the Church for teaching against things like abortion and sexual morality while conservative Catholics tend to attack the Church over social teachings. Both offer excuses as to why they can ignore the Church teaching, calling those areas of dissent “unimportant” and holding the things they already agree with as vital truths that the Church should focus on. But both forget that the deadliest sin for an individual is not some horrible crime if the person has no inclination to commit it. It is the unrepented sin which one refuses to heed the Church over (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Remember, a Cafeteria Catholic is a Cafeteria Catholic whether they reject Church teaching on contraception and abortion on one hand, or reject Social Justice teachings on the other.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 reminds us of the obligation of the Church here:

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. 

When the Pope and the bishops warn us about the sins we excuse in ourselves, it isn’t because they’re blind to their own political bias. It’s because we are. They are warning both of the evils in their political factions, but we have a habit of forgetting when they speak out against those we disagree with and bitterly remember when we ourselves are rebuked.

If the Pope or a bishop teaches something that seems wrong to us, we have an obligation to investigate the Church teaching and whether we either misunderstood what they said or misunderstood the actual teaching itself. Yes, individual bishops lack authority and fall into error if they teach or act in opposition to the Pope (cf. CCC #883). Yes, a Pope can make a mistake speaking as a private person. Yes, both are just as much sinners as we are. But Christ established the Catholic Church and gave the Apostles and their successors under the headship of Peter and his successors the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Without knowing where the final authority lies, we could never know who to trust and who to avoid. 

If we want to be faithful to God, we must be faithful to His Church and not looking for excuses to evade obedience. Otherwise, we’re on a short road to disaster.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Current Danger of the Age

In the United States, a real danger for Catholics is emerging. I call it a real danger because it is not from those obviously bringing in false ideas from the outside which the faithful easily reject. It is coming from those who claim to be faithful Catholics while rejecting those with the authority to teach the faith—the Pope and bishops in communion with him—because they claim that the Pope and bishops are heretical, because they claim that what the magisterium teaches is not protected from error, because they call it an opinion or a prudential judgment.

To justify their claims, they cite their personal interpretation of Scripture and previous Church teaching, arguing contradiction between then and now, assuming that their own interpretation is true when that is what they must prove. They argue that the misinterpretation of the Pope and bishops by those outside or at odds with the Church is “proof” of their accusations of errors—ignoring the fact that these same people also misinterpreted the Popes and bishops who they do approve of. Then, when shown that their interpretation is false, either accuse the Pope or bishop of speaking “unclearly” or accusing the defenders of “explaining away” the “obvious meaning.”

The irony is, these super-Catholics who claim to promote the teachings of the Church against “modern innovations” are rejecting one of the major ones: That Jesus Christ established the Church, bestowed His protection on her, giving the Apostles and their successors (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18) the authority to teach in His name in a binding manner. When they teach in their role as Pope or as bishop, we are required to give religious submission of intellect and will, neither saying nor doing anything that contradicts this teaching, regardless of whether the teaching is ex cathedra or ordinary magisterium.

But when the Pope and bishops teach that we must do X or must avoid Y, Catholics are all too willing to scornfully reject those teachings if it challenges their preferred views. For example, most recently, we see some Catholics scorn and mock what the successors to the Apostles teach on the obligation to treat migrants justly, misrepresenting it as calling for “open borders,” encouraging migrants to “violate laws,” and “letting everybody in.” Whether they know this is false or they wrongly think it is true, they cannot escape the fact they do wrong: because the former is calumny and the latter is rash judgment. Both are undermining the consistent teaching of the Church. The people who do this are promoting error (in denying their moral obligations) and schism (by rejecting these teachings and encouraging others to do the same).

Below, I leave you with some of the texts that witness to the consistent teaching of the Church about our required obedience, showing it is no recently invented “papolatry.” The modern excuses of dissent were utterly alien to Catholics of the past and should not be used today either.

Texts to Study

So when S. Peter was placed as foundation of the Church, and the Church was certified that the gates of hell should not prevail against it, was it not enough to say that S. Peter, as foundation stone of the ecclesiastical government and administration, could not be crushed and broken by infidelity or error, which is the principal gate of hell? For who knows not that if the foundation be overthrown, if that can be sapped, the whole building falls. In the same way, if the supreme acting shepherd can conduct his sheep into venomous pastures, it is clearly visible that the flock is soon to be lost. For if the supreme acting shepherd leads out of the path, who will put him right? If he stray, who will bring him back? In truth, it is necessary that we should follow him simply, not guide him, otherwise, the sheep would be shepherds.

—St. Francis De Sales, Catholic Controversies

By unity is meant that the members of the true Church must be united in the belief of the same doctrines of revelation, and in the acknowledgment of the authority of the same pastors. Heresy and schism are opposed to Christian unity. By heresy, a man rejects one or more articles of the Christian faith. By schism, he spurns the authority of his spiritual superiors.

—Cardinal James Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers

Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation.

—Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter III

I said: “Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be.” “Oh,” he said, “tell me, I would like to know.” “While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obeisance to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression.” He said: “Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord.”

—Fulton J Sheen: A Treasure in Clay


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.

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.

can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

—1983 Code of Canon Law

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” (834, 1369; 837)

883 “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”

884 “The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.” But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church


Saturday, June 29, 2019

We Don’t Get to Wash Our Hands of These Things

27. Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et Spes)

Individual Catholics have the same tendencies as everyone else. We tend to think about ourselves as basically good and our failings minor, tolerant of those who share our secular outlooks. We also tend to be extremely harsh with others’ failings, especially if they hold secular views we dislike. One consequence of this is the temptation of classifying Church teaching according to our secular views. When the Pope or a bishop teaches in a way that we see as matching our outlooks, he’s considered “good.” When he teaches in a way that challenges our outlook, he’s seen as “political” or “heretical,” and we say he should be focusing on “important” issues.

However, Gaudium et Spes #27 (quoted above) shows us that the obligation of Catholics to our neighbor encompasses topics that we tend to classify as both “conservative” and “liberal,” warning that these evils are gravely sinful in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, many Catholics seem to be nonchalant about carving out which issues they’ll obey and which ones they’ll ignore, which means that many Catholics are—without justification—classifying grave sins as unimportant compared to other issues or even morally acceptable. They will side with their parties despite the fact that the Church warns that these things are infamies.

In America, this is clearly shown where roughly half the Catholic population seems willing to ignore the infamy of abortion and the other half is willing to ignore the subhuman living conditions of the poor. When challenged on this hypocrisy, these Catholics make excuses, declaring that the teaching they dislike is merely an “opinion” or a “prudential judgment” while condemning the other side for supporting evils… never considering that the other side is making the same arguments and the same excuses. Meanwhile, non-Catholics look at both sides of this and recognize it for the hypocrisy it is. Unfortunately, they will think that this is the nature of the Church and not the nature of dissenting from the Church (cf. Romans 2:24).

If we want to be saved from damnation, we need to stop making excuses or accusations. If we profess that the Catholic Church is the Church established and protected by Christ, we need to be diligent about praying for the grace to accept and obey those parts of Church teaching which run counter to our politics. Otherwise, our obedience to the teachings we were in no danger of rejecting will not save us from judgment over the teachings we ignored or knowingly rejected.