Thursday, May 26, 2016

Catholics and Political Debate

Introduction

The probable candidates for the 2016 presidential elections are dismal enough that many Catholics are deeply divided over what choice best fits the Church teaching on voting. Some are certain that Donald Trump is the only reasonable choice. Others are certain they must oppose him. I’m not going to rehash those arguments here. (See my January 18 article on what we have to consider with each choice). Nor am I going to give support to one side or the other in these arguments.

But I do think some proponents of each group are using bad arguments—usually in good faith—that show a misunderstanding of the Catholic obligation. I’d like to examine these arguments in the hope of exposing what we should be looking for in the search for the best course of action in a series of bad choices. Please keep in mind that this article is not about debunking one side of the debate. Rather it is about things I think get overlooked as Catholics grow more intense about the election.

The Importance of Respecting a Properly Formed Conscience

First, we must remember the primary role of conscience in a situation where there is more than one licit response to a bad situation. To put it into a syllogism:

  • We cannot do evil so good may come of it
  • Violating our properly formed conscience is doing evil
  • Therefore we cannot violate our properly formed conscience so good may come of it

From this, we can see that any debate between Catholics on how to vote must be aware of the conscience of the person one tries to persuade. If the person has misunderstood the teaching of the Church and has a conscience not properly formed, we can enlighten him on that error. But we cannot bully or accuse the other of being a bad Catholic simply because his conscience does not let him make the same decision you do. So, arguments made in this debate must recognize and respect conscience.

Defending Life is Key

Properly formed is a key term. We need to keep in mind is that the Church affirms that the right to life is the primary right, and we cannot sacrifice this to advance other topics. We can only justify a vote for an openly pro-abortion candidate if there is a more serious danger present. We can’t tally up a number of lesser points and say that the total outweighs abortion. We also can’t say that an openly pro-abortion candidate is “more pro-life” because of stands on other concerns (as some Catholics claimed in 2008). St. John Paul II made that clear:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we can’t use arguments sacrificing the fight against abortion. That means conservatives hoping for a better candidate in 2020 and liberals thinking other social justice concerns outweigh abortion are both arguing wrongly. That doesn’t mean other issues are unimportant. We must challenge the candidates to address these other problems. But we cannot sacrifice the opposition to abortion in doing so.

As a first step: since the dispute is over the sincerity of one candidate’s claimed conversion on abortion, I believe we need to investigate here. But that means being open to evidence, even if it means we have to reevaluate what we hold. We need to seek and shape our opinions on what is true and apply Christian moral teaching to that truth. That’s simply part of living the Christian life.

Confusing Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils with Choosing to do Evil

This one is popular on Social Media. While phrased in varying ways, it goes like this: I’m not going to choose the lesser of two evils because it’s still choosing evil. That claim shows ignorance about what the lesser of two evils means and some go so far as accusing a person, who says they’re voting for the lesser evil, of violating Church teaching. That has to stop.

Catholic teaching recognizes choosing the lesser evil as discerning which choice will cause less harm when there are no good choices and one of those choices will happen even if one does not choose. At the same time, the Church forbids us from choosing an evil act even if it means less personal harm. That’s why we have to choose martyrdom over apostasy done in order to save our life. But at the same time, we’re not obliged to actively seek martyrdom. If evil will come regardless, we can strive to lessen the impact. St. John Paul II made this clear:

[73] In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

 

 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

This is an example of seeking to limit evil when we cannot stop it outright. Many people view the 2016 election as another case of limiting evil when we cannot stop it. So long as the person has properly formed their conscience by the teaching of the Catholic Church and has not chosen to do something they believe to be evil, we cannot condemn them for ‘choosing evil.'

Personal Interpretation is not the same as Truth

I think the problem in these cases involves people confusing their personal interpretations about events with the facts of these events. Facts tell us happened. Interpretation tells us the meaning of these facts. But if we make a mistake in interpreting facts, we can reach false conclusions—even in good faith. To avoid this, we must constantly examine what we assume to see if it is true and compatible with our Catholic faith. If it turns out to be false, we must abandon it. Christianity neither condones useful lies nor vincible ignorance.

In this election many assume they have reached the only valid choice and, if they find another person who reaches a different decision, they assume either blindness to reality or bad will. But sometimes two Catholics can obey the Church and yet find two different ways on how to best apply that teaching. 

Conclusion: Charity in Debate

When these two Catholics meet, they can have strong feelings that their own view is the best way to do things. That  is not wrong behavior, so long as they are open to constantly seeking whether their political views are compatible with Church teaching. They can debate which of their views better fits Church teaching, but that debate must be charitable. Assuming that the other must be wrong in this case because he disagrees—especially if that assumption involves accusations of being a bad Catholic—is acting without charity.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seriously, People? Reflections on Playing the Hypocrite

So, the other day, Fr. Rosica spoke about Catholic presence on the internet and how sometimes they turn “the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!” He’s mostly speaking of conservative Catholic bloggers as well as those who target his group, Salt + Light, so some might be cynical about the objectivity of the article. I’m not here to quibble about the group or its alleged political leanings. What I am here to write about is the rather bizarre sight of seeing on Facebook some Catholics share that post with approval and the next day turn around and savage people they dislike.

Seriously, people?

Now of course Catholics have to stand up for what is right, and sometimes this means taking a stand. We can't be silent and allow evil to triumph. But, we also have an obligation to practice charity towards our neighbor in doing so and we have an obligation to remove the beam from our eye before removing the splinter from our neighbor’s (see Matthew 7:3-5). In other words, if we support something when we apply it to our neighbors, but are blind to how it applies to ourselves, we’re hypocrites—and people will see our hypocrisy. The thing is, when they see our hypocrisy in living the Christian life, they won’t listen to what we say about the importance of them living the Christian life. If we don’t practice it, why should they?

That doesn’t mean false charges of hypocrisy like those people who cite Matthew 7:1 and claim we’re judging them by saying “X is wrong.” I mean real charges of hypocrisy like accusing someone of savaging the Pope and responding by savaging that person. If savaging is wrong for the modernist or the radical traditionalist, it’s wrong for us to savage them, even if we must rebuke them.

For example, we might take pride in never being disrespectful to a bishop. That is good. But do we show contempt for a politician or a fellow blogger instead? That is not good. We can oppose Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump when they do wrong. But if we openly treat them as enemies to vanquish, and not as fellow sinners to love, why should non-Christians believe us when we say we don’t hate people who have same sex attraction or have an abortion? How we treat the people we oppose will make a more immediate impact than the eloquent arguments we make defending the faith. Remember the words of St. John: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God.” (1 John 4:20)

It’s hard. While I won’t dredge them up for this article (they involve real people who might not appreciate having their names or situations splattered across the internet), I have behaved in a way where my behavior in dealing with people I morally opposed had a greater impact than the words I wrote. I still take part in Facebook mocking of people who do things I find morally wrong and the defensiveness they probably feel alienates them from changing. We might win the battle of words but we don’t win the soul of the one we talk with.

Unfortunately, some people hear this and think it is a call to “sugarcoat” the truth so we don’t offend people. That’s not the case at all. Sometimes people will get offended regardless of what we say or do (see John 15:18-25). We can’t help that. But we can help it they’re offended by our unjust way of speaking. So let’s not think our presentation is a part of the Christian teaching. Yes, we do have to say “X is wrong.” Yes, we do need to stress the importance of avoiding X to save our soul. No, we can't say “You’re an evil bastard who deserves to go to hell because you do X."

I think this is especially important when people hate us and curse us for speaking the truth. Jesus said we had to bless those who curse us, not respond in kind. The modern social media has a bad tendency to turn vile. We’re called bigots and homophobes and transphobes (last week, I didn’t even know that one was a word—and suspect it wasn't) because we refuse to abandon our beliefs that some actions are morally wrong. But if they are going to accuse us of these things, then let us be innocent of the charges. And if we’re going to speak against the gross disrespect of the Pope by a blogger, let us not treat said blogger with gross disrespect in our response.

It may not change what they think of us. But at least we’ll then be innocent of the accusation of hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:19-20).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trapping Oneself by Clinging to False Ideas

But on the day before I was to be shipped home my favorite nun, Sister Patrice, pulled a chair up to my bed. 

“Andy, I have a story to tell you. Do you know how natives catch monkeys out in the forest?”

My face lit up at the thought of a monkey story.

“No. Tell me.”

“Well, you see, the natives know that a monkey will never let go of something he wants even if it means losing his freedom. So here’s what they do. They take a coconut and make a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey’s paw to slip through. Then they drop a pebble into the hole and wait in the bushes with a net. “Sooner or later a curious old fellow will come along. He’ll pick up that coconut shell and rattle it. He’ll peer inside. And then at last he’ll slip his paw into the hole and feel around until he gets hold of that pebble. But when he tries to bring it out, he finds that he cannot get the paw through the hole without letting go. And, Andy, that monkey will never let go of what he thinks is a prize. It’s the easiest thing in the world to catch a fellow who acts like that.”

Sister Patrice got up and put the chair back by the table. She paused for a moment and looked me straight in the eye.

“Are you holding on to something, Andrew? Something that’s keeping you from your freedom?”

And then she was gone.

Andrew, Brother; John Sherrill; Elizabeth Sherrill (2001-10-01). God's Smuggler (pp. 34-35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

A common trend lately, whether in debates on politics or moral concerns, are people who are so convinced they are right, that questioning their premises is “proof" of either bad will, by supporting what they define as the opposite position, or ignorance on a subject because you’re “too deluded” to see the truth. The only way to disprove these charges of your being a foe is accepting what they claim as true. They won’t accept the concept that they’re in the wrong.

This seems to be the case with the reaction to Pope Francis. Certain people believe he intends to overturn Church teaching in favor of a more liberal-friendly version. Some of them want it. Others dread it. Either way, they cling to this belief that they’ll find vindication for rejecting authority, refusing to consider the possibility they had it wrong all along. If it happened once or twice, we could understand this kind of mistake. But when it happens every time, and every time it turns out the Pope has no intention of changing Church teaching, then we know the problem is not with the Pope. 

Rather than accept that fact, they make all sorts of other explanations justifying their misinterpretations. Defenders of the Pope “explain away” his words. The Pope “speaks unclearly.” “Ambiguous documents” mean people will be able to do what they want. These arguments all depend on them proving their clung-to belief is true, but instead, they insist we just accept their claim as proven. They might even go so far as demanding to be disproven and, after refusing to consider your challenges, claim that nobody could refute them.

But, they’re not the last man standing. They simply refused to show up for the bout.

Another example is slander/libel against Christians for rejecting the ideology of gender and sexuality sweeping America today. People cling to the belief that opposition to morally bad actions is a hatred of people who do those actions. It doesn’t matter how reasoned the argument. They simply will not hear any refutation to the “moral opposition = bigotry” claim. The only way to avoid the charge of bigotry is to agree with them. But they will not prove the allegation that they have to prove—that moral opposition is bigotry.

In both the case of the charges against Pope Francis and the accusation that our opposition to arbitrarily changing morality is bigotry are a case of clinging to a belief that they can’t let go without admitting they were wrong. So they offer elaborate arguments why they’re in the right and their opponents must be malicious or deluded. Then, refusing to consider whether they might be wrong, they construct elaborate views of things that ignore inconvenient facts and treat those who disagree as enemies. In refusing to let go of this idea, they’re trapped into holding increasingly obvious falsehoods that prevents them from finding the truth.

I believe that the common denominator between my examples and other examples in the world is this: The false idea we cling to is “I cannot be wrong!” Until we realize we can err about something, we trap ourselves like the monkey in the story and will wind up captured by error. It’s only when each individual asks the question “Am I wrong?” that we can begin determining the truth and follow it.

In saying this, I say each of us must start by looking at ourselves. Not at others holding beliefs we dislike. If we skip that first step, if we assume we can’t be wrong, then we cling to the pebble like the monkey until we cannot escape. Perhaps we should start by looking at that area where we think “everybody else is an idiot!” Are we factually wrong about the issue? Are we wrong about the mindset of the people we think are idiots? Are we wrong about what they really think?

If we find we are wrong in one of those areas, then we need to let go of the error and seek the truth.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Socrates, Pope Francis, and Politicians

“I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” (Apologia 21d)

 

 Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

So, today we saw another misrepresentation of Pope Francis. He spoke about investigating the role of the ancient position of deaconesses and clarifying what role they might play in the Church today. This suddenly became “Pope to investigate ordaining female deacons.” This resulted in both the radical traditionalist looking for “proof” that the Pope is a heretic, and the misguided Catholic who thinks the Church can ordain women jumping to the inaccurate opinion that the Pope justified their views. Once again we had people commit eisegesis, letting their preconceptions interfere with an accurate understanding. Debunking this was pretty easy compared to other incidents.

But after finishing this debunking, I had a thought. We’re quick in investigating false claims when it challenges what we find important. But we seem willing to take the same sources at their word if it supports our friend or harms our foe. This is more noticeable in an election year. We want our candidate to get elected and whatever harms the opponents of the candidate is good enough. So we end up sharing links which achieve this on social media without considering their accuracy.

The problem is, as Christians, we’re not supposed to do this. We’re supposed to speak the truth and live it. This obligation holds firm regardless of whether we talk about the Pope or about controversial politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Paul Ryan (to pick out four controversial names this election cycle from the headlines). We have to avoid rash judgment and calumny in what we say or what we repost. The Catechism tells us:

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.

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594–595.

Before a person makes a negative interpretation about the character of someone, he has the obligation to discover (to the best of their ability) whether the charge is true or whether it comes from a partisan interpretation of the facts. If it is the latter, we need to ask ourselves if this interpretation is the only one possible or if there are other justified interpretations that do not prove the moral badness of the target. In other words, we need to make sure we are not playing the hypocrite. If we object to people misrepresenting or defaming what we hold important, we must not do the same thing when it comes to people we dislike.

For that matter, if someone we like actually does wrong, we can’t pretend that it doesn’t matter and kick it under the rug either. So, for example, if we denounce corruption in one candidate, we cannot be silent if a candidate we like is also corrupt.

Discerning the right thing to do can be a fine line to walk. But it is about not letting our prejudices lead us to act unjustly through action or omission. If someone does wrong, we can’t condone it. But we do have to make sure it is wrongdoing and not disagreement over the best way to do things or a misunderstanding over what happened. 

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m the wise Socrates from the quote in the beginning of this article and everyone else is the person who thinks he knows and does not. I had to catch myself in the act of doing this before realizing I was playing a double standard. I noticed that I just took the word of the mainstream media when it came to public figures I disliked and investigated it when it involved people I approved of. But when I looked more closely at what the articles alleged, I saw other reasonable interpretations than moral badness. Because of this, I had to ask myself, “What sort of witness am I leaving to support my promotion of Catholic moral teaching."

I didn’t like the answer I gave myself.

Since, as Christians, we’re called to be the light of the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13-16), we have to consider what sort of beacon we give to the world compared to the beacon we’re supposed to give. That means we have to do what is right, speaking the truth, even when we think the person involved seems entirely wrong.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Kicking Against the Goad?

We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad. (Acts 26:14).


Goad: a spiked stick used for driving cattle. (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).

The Goad

Kicking against the goad means stubbornly resisting guidance in a way that only harms the one resisting. If the animal didn’t kick, it wouldn’t be injured. Likewise, if Saul hadn’t resisted God’s will by persecuting Christians, he would not have found himself thrown to the ground, blinded. If we resist God, even if we think we are doing right, we harm ourselves until we get on track. 

Watching the Church since 2013, I feel like the latest attack against her revolves around attacking our faith in those who shepherd us. Either people distort his words, for their own benefit, to the point where we have doubts about what the Pope really means, or they attack his character, so we doubt his orthodoxy. Sadly, it is effective. Some Catholics sift his words, seeking sentences and footnotes that justify what they planned to do anyway. Some treat it as if Papal teaching was an treasure hunt where we discover what he “really” means from scattered clues. Others watch what he writes and says, looking for the excuse to reject his authority, as if he were an usurper on the Chair of St. Peter and they were gathering evidence.

I believe we are witnessing Satan’s attack on the sheep of the flock. The attack isn’t intended to destroy the Church or the papacy. It seems aimed at destroying our faith so we no longer trust the Church as mother and teacher. Once the devil can trick us away from the Church, we fall into pride and become easy prey. That doesn’t necessarily mean falling into formal schism. It only means we stop obeying when the Church says something we dislike.

This happens when a majority of Catholics use contraception in defiance to the teaching of the Church. It also happens when Catholics legalistically search for reasons to argue that a Pope’s teaching is non-binding. We make ourselves judges of right and wrong, justifying our behavior as “faithfulness to Jesus, not the Church” or “faithfulness to the true Church over a bad Pope.” But these arguments assume the individual knows more about the teaching of Our Lord and His Church than those He chose to shepherd us—a dangerous attitude when Our Lord warned that rejecting them meant rejecting Him (Luke 10:16).

So, when we resist the Church guiding us, we kick against the goad and harm ourselves. Not because God treats us like Saul, but because we undercut the basis we have for living as Christians, thinking the direction we prefer is the direction God must want us to go and the Church only has authority when she agrees with us. But that’s spiritual anarchy. Our Lord’s words about taking disputes to the Church for the final say in the matter (like Matthew 18:17) assumes a visible authoritative Church.

But if God intends us to have a visible, authoritative Church which we could appeal to, it stands to reason this authority has to be visible today. If the protection from error was in Rome during one era and in Ecône [*] during another, we could never know who we could trust. If the Rock on which Our Lord built His Church can crumble into error, we could never trust the Church to be accurate at any specific time. Each of us could point to our favorite theologians as refuting a theologian we disagree with. Liberals could point to Hans Küng or (retired) Cardinal Kasper, traditionalists could point to Professor Spaemann. For that matter, some could point to Arius or Nestorius. Who’s to say that the protection from error wasn’t with the Patriarchate of Constantinople? But that’s not the Rock of Matthew 16:18. That’s the tower of Babel, scattered in all directions without leadership.  

It’s only when we have a “go to” source of authority in the Church, which judges how we apply the timeless truths of the Church in the present age, that we can avoid Babel. As Catholics, we believe the Church is that authority and we belief the Pope is the head of the Church as Vicar of Christ. That authority is not removed by the bad behavior of a Pope. Our Lord told us we must still obey those leaders (Matthew 23:2-3), though not imitate any bad behavior they do.

Pope Francis has chosen mercy as his theme on how we apply the teachings of the Church. This results in challenges from two sides, kicking against the goad:

  1. Those who think a focus on mercy is laxity.
  2. Those who think focusing on the teachings of the Church is rigorism.
But mercy in applying the teachings of the Church is nothing new or dangerous. St. Pius X wrote in his first encyclical, E Supremi, 113 years ago:

13. But in order that the desired fruit may be derived from this apostolate and this zeal for teaching, and that Christ may be formed in all, be it remembered, Venerable Brethren, that no means is more efficacious than charity. “For the Lord is not in the earthquake” (3 Kings 19:2) [†]—it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity. True the Apostle exhorted Timothy: “Accuse, beseech, rebuke,” but he took care to add: “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2). Jesus has certainly left us examples of this. “Come to me,” we find Him saying, “come to me all ye that labour and are burthened and I will refresh you” (Matth. 11:28). And by those that labour and are burthened he meant only those who are slaves of sin and error. What gentleness was that shown by the Divine Master! What tenderness, what compassion towards all kinds of misery!

 

 Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1903–1939 (Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press, 1990), 9.

Pope Francis reflects this view in Amoris Lætitia when he says we must do more than cite rules:

[50] In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others.”

Francis, Pope (2016-04-22). Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family (p. 40). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.

To reject the authority of Pope Francis is kicking against the goad of the authority his predecessors had. If Pope Francis was wrong to speak on mercy, so was St. Pius X!  On the other hand, if one wants to reject St. Pius X for saying we need to follow Church teaching, we have to reject Pope Francis as well. It’s only when we give respect the teaching authority of the Pope today and in the past that we have a healthy relationship with the Church and Our Lord who founded her.
 
Rebelling against the Church may feel right. Saul thought it was right to persecute her. But in the end, he learned the error of his ways. We ought not to follow Saul’s example. We have the teaching of 2000 years of a Church guided by God through the centuries of hardship and turmoil. We know what God calls us to do. If we do not follow, we’re kicking against the goad, even if we think we’re doing right by claiming to follow Christ against the Church, or the earlier Church against the later.
 

________________________

[*] The SSPX headquarters are in Ecône.
[†] In modern Bibles, this would be 1 Kings. Older Bibles labeled 1 and 2 Samuel as part of the four Books of Kings, so 1 and 2 Kings today were called 3 and 4 Kings then.  Also, I think there is a typo in this version. It should be 1 Kings 19:11. Perhaps someone saw “11” and thought it was a Roman 2 (II).

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Catholic America: Civil War

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes.  (Ps 50:20–21).

My policy on this blog and the attached Facebook page is I won’t write articles promoting my personal political preferences. I have this policy because I don’t want people to think I am portraying my personal preferences as official Church Teaching. Sure, maybe I’ll get careless and someone will deduce my political positions from the evidence I let slip by. But the point is, I believe that a blog aimed at promoting the Catholic perspective should not pervert that perspective with personal political preferences.  Other Catholics who blog may have a different focus, and will advocate their political positions. That’s their call, and I won’t say they do wrong, so long as they make clear that these are opinions, not Church teaching.

But there is a civil war going on between two factions of Catholics I find on the internet. One favors voting for Donald Trump as the least evil choice for 2016. The other believes one can only justify a third party vote. (See HERE for my pre-primary evaluation of the pitfalls of major party vs. third party). Both groups agree that the Democrats running for office openly embrace intrinsic evil and they cannot support such a candidate. But where they disagree is over whether Trump is equally as bad.

These two groups are battling on Facebook, forums and blogs, accusing each other of bad will, even to the point of denying the other is “really” Catholic. That is harmful and usurps the teaching authority of the Church. I say harmful because both groups are seeking the best way to be Catholic. I say “usurps” because such people make a declaration which the Church has not made. The end result is turning Catholics against each other when they should instead be uncovering the truths we must consider to make a good Catholic decision. When you see one faction accusing pro-life organizations “selling their souls to Trump” on one hand and another faction accuse people who can’t support Trump in good conscience as “really being pro-Hillary,” you know Catholic factions have replaced being "co-workers in the truth” (3 John 1:8) with savaging each other.  

I believe before these factions continue to bash each other, we should consider something Archbishop Chaput wrote in 2008 when Catholics were making their decisions on that election:

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 230-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Between now and November, Catholics will be trying to decide what is the best choice they can make. In doing so, we need to remember that the Church clearly teaches that we cannot sacrifice a graver issue for a lesser one. As St. John Paul II wrote:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

If two Catholics with this proper understanding of Catholic teaching, in good faith discern two different decisions on the best way to apply Catholic teaching on voting, one cannot say the other is doing evil in such a case. Each Catholic might be sincere in thinking their way is the best way, but there is a point where we have no perfect choice and we have to make a decision which is one of several possible in being faithful to Church teaching. When that happens, we have no right to question the other’s fidelity.

Let us keep this in mind for the coming months that our actions and our reasoning may be just and charitable, avoiding treating each others as heretics over political opinions.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Do We Follow the Church or Does the Church Just Happen to Agree With Us?

24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:24–27).


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18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)


Some people become or stay Catholics because they agree that the Church has the authority to teach and give their assent to that teaching. Others become or stay Catholics because they find her position on certain topics compatible with their own. The former is like a house built on rock, the latter is like a house built on sand. Like the houses in Our Lord’s parable, the one built on sand faces ruin.

Why do I say this? Because the Church is simultaneously gifted with Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16) and protected from teaching error (Matthew 16:18. Matthew 28:19-20) on one hand and filled with sinful people who need salvation on the other. So when the Church teaches and we dislike the teaching, or if we get scandalized by the bad behavior of some churchmen, the only thing that will keep us on the right path is faith that God protects His Church. If we treat our affiliation with the Church like a political affiliation, what will we do when the Church goes in a direction we don’t like?

Oh noes(probably this...)

Let’s face it. Some parts of Church history were pretty ugly with corruption or weakness. People expecting every past Pope acting like their favorite Pope will find themselves  disappointed and sometimes appalled. Yet, those flaws did not change the truth of her teaching. Popes committing sins condemned by the Church does not change the truth of her teachings.

In the same way, the Church teaches consistently from age to age, but the emphasis she gives in carrying them out can change with changing circumstances. Sometimes certain situations arise that are new. How does the Church apply her teachings to them? Sometimes the relationship between Church and State changes. Ways of evangelizing that worked in a pre-industrial Europe where all Christians were Catholics will not be effective in a 21st century computerized and secularized world.

With both cases, people who like the way the Church handled things in one era are shocked when seeing a change, thinking it a contradiction. If people are part of the Church simply because they like her views and not because they believe the Church received Our Lord’s authority to bind and loose, then a time will come when they do not want to go in the direction the Church teaches we must go. When that happens, they rebel. This rebellion might not result in formal schism or heresy. But they will believe they are right and the Church is wrong.

This is how we get contradictory reactions. Some believe the Church is too conservative and defy her teachings on morality. Others think she is too liberal and defy her teachings on social justice. Both make themselves judges against the Church when it comes to right and wrong. But judging the Church as conservative or liberal misses the point. God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He is neither a modernist nor a traditionalist. When we judge things from what we like, we miss the point of what the Church is.

The Church is our mother and teacher. Our mother because she cares for us, our teacher because she guides us to follow Our Lord faithfully. Our Lord will not let corrupt members hijack her message. If He did, we could never know when we could trust Church teaching. If God doesn’t protect the Church under Pope Francis, how can we know if He protected the Church under St. Pius X? If we deny God protected the Church under Vatican II, how can we know whether He protected the Church under the Council of Trent? This works both ways. The “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic who rejects the past has no basis for invoking the present because the authority of Vatican II depends on the authority God gave His Church from the beginning.

This is why we must look at our attitudes. If we think of Church teaching as liberal vs. conservative, we make the Church into a merely human institution. When we think it goes wrong, we lobby for change. But if her teaching comes from God, then our antics are not lobbying but rebellion.