Monday, July 25, 2016

Church Authority and Political Agendas

When we profess our belief in the Catholic Church, we are professing that she is the Church Our Lord built on the rock of Peter and that she teaches on account of God’s authority, not the authority of human beings (See Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16 for example). So when the Pope intends to teach the Church or the bishop intends to teach his diocese, we recognize that authority by giving assent. This authority goes beyond borders and social status, and guides us on how we must live to have eternal life.

On the other hand, when we look at politics, we are looking at a finite system of government that promotes the common good of the people living in a nation. The laws are good when they support moral goodness, and bad when they do not. A government can give people what they want even though it is evil, and as a result govern badly even if it is popular. Ideally, a good government should have laws that promotes virtue and opposes vice—though we do not believe law should suppress every vice (see HERE). Politics and civil government deal with temporary things. Their policies only last as long as the government does, and it is easy for nations to become corrupted over time with the shared values they profess.

When you stack the two side by side, it is clear that wise Catholics ought to put the teachings of the Church above the laws of government when the two are in conflict. That doesn’t mean disloyalty to our country. We’re called to be good citizens and promote the common good. But we’re not to put the political platforms of a government (a finite good) above the state of our souls. So when Catholic citizens vote, or when Catholic members of government create or enforce laws, they need to approach these things with our eternal end in mind. When they don’t—when they insist on supporting politicians or laws which go against God’s commands—they fail in their calling as Christians and they fail in their tasks as citizens or government officials.

We need to make a distinction here. I'm not talking about circumstances which leads a Catholic vote to limit evil in order to prevent some of harm a corrupted government causes until a time when we can reverse the evil done. I’m talking about Catholic voters and politicians who support what the Church condemns as evil, even if they claim to personally oppose it. They are not only doing harm to their souls and those of others, but they damage society as well. That’s why we must oppose things like legalizing abortion or redefining marriage so it becomes a sexual relationship instead of building the family as the basic unit of society cause this damage.

Catholic voters need to identify the politicians who support the evils that do the greatest harm to souls and to society itself and oppose them. It’s not a matter of preference like ice cream flavors. Some of these politicians may also support things we do like. It’s a matter of looking at things like a Catholic, seeing the good and the evil and using prudential judgment on how to promote the good and limit the evil.

There can be legitimate differences of opinion. When there are only good candidates, people can have different thoughts on the better one. When there are only bad candidates, people can disagree on who is the greater evil. But we have to use the moral teaching of the Church, not our political agendas, to make that judgment. That means we look to the Church under the leadership of the Pope and bishops in communion with him to guide us. We don’t pick and choose from these teachings to excuse what we were going to do anyway.

When we make decisions on how to vote, we need to ask ourselves if we are voting this way to follow Our Lord through the teaching of His Church, or whether we are voting this way to support a political agenda which is incompatible with our calling as Christians. How certain are we that Our Lord will not condemn us at the Final Judgment?

If we don’t like the answer, perhaps we should pray and study and see if we can find an answer before going ahead.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Determining Moral Acts in Politics

These are ugly times. Most Catholics know that the stakes are high in this election, but disagree on what to do about it. The problem is not that they disagree on what to do about it, but that many are savaging others for not reaching the same decision. For example, in my personal Facebook feed, I see some Catholics vehemently stating that voting for one candidate is the only way we can escape from more of the evil and harassment we received over the last eight years. Others are just as vocal in insisting this person is the worst choice. While some of my fellow Catholics are charitable in their disagreement over how to vote. Others hurl anathemas against each other, accusing each other of supporting the evils associated with the choice.

Part of the problem is the fact that all the candidates (Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Republican) who might get elected support an intrinsic evil that would disqualify them from consideration. As the USCCB teaches in their voting guide:

42. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

 

 USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2015

People can point to this list to say the other candidates don’t qualify and we can’t vote for them. The problem is, one of them is going to get elected, and we will be facing intrinsic evil. So we need to seek out what we must do when there are no good choices.

The first thing we need to do is distinguish between choosing to do evil and seeking to limit evil—a distinction some Catholics are losing sight of. Choosing to do evil means we choose to do something condemned as wrong by our Church. Limiting evil means trying to lessen the impact of an unavoidable evil. St. John Paul II gave us an example of the latter in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae:

[#73] A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. 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.

In his example, the Pope describes a lawmaker who cannot stop the evil of a law that supports abortion and points out that such a person can vote to limit the harm done by the law. This is not cooperating with evil. Unfortunately, some Catholics have lost sight of that in 2016. Determining the goodness of an act depends on three things:

  1. The action chosen
  2. The intended reason the person has for doing the action
  3. The circumstances that affect the action

Unless all three are good, we cannot call the action good. For example, if we choose a bad action, our intention cannot make the act good because the ends do not justify the means. Or if we do a good action like giving a snack to a child with a good intention, but the child has a peanut allergy and dies as a result, the end result is bad. Nine times out of ten, there might be nothing wrong with that act. But in this one case, it does matter and a serious evil resulted. The person may or may not be to blame for the circumstances depending on what they did know and what they reasonably could find out (“is it OK if I give your child peanuts?”).

In terms of voting, we have to assess the action we choose, the reason we choose to do it and whether the circumstances increases or decreases the harm done. The standard is not our relative preferences but the Church teaching on good and evil. Does our freely chosen act allow good or evil? Do we choose to do it for a good or evil end? Do the circumstances around our choice make things better or worse compared to our other choices?

This means we have to be clear on what the Church teaches about moral acts and apply them to candidates and party platforms. We have to be clear that we’re voting to defend the Catholic faith, trying to oppose evil or at least limit it if blocking it is impossible. We need to consider the consequences of our vote and stand ready to oppose the evils our candidate does support if he or she should get elected.

But we have to beware of the advice we receive. I have seen Catholics deny that we must oppose intrinsic evils passed into law or enshrined in a Supreme Court ruling. They take the words of Catholic saints out of context and argue that we can’t outlaw all sins (misusing St. Thomas Aquinas), so we don’t have to worry about politicians supporting things like the legality of abortion. But St. John Paul II called that out as garbage:

[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).

We need to remember it is the Church who interprets right and wrong. Not someone on Facebook or Twitter. The Pope and the bishops have this authority to tell us how to apply Church teaching. When someone argues a sin is not a sin, we know we cannot trust them. But when we follow the Church and do not evade what she says, we can reach different decisions in good faith. When this happens, judging these things as heresy or supporting evil is false.

If we’re not sure if a person has properly understood Church teaching, we can ask how they understand it. But if they do understand it properly, then we should remember what Archbishop Chaput offered as his opinion (which I happen to share):

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

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.

The point we must never forget is this: We need to keep fighting for the sanctity of the human person, starting with the unborn child and extending throughout life. We abandon our vocation as Catholics if we give up; if we either drop out of political issues altogether or knuckle under to America’s growing callousness toward human dignity.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Our choice for president must reflect Church teaching, and not seek to explain it away. If others draw a different conclusion, but their choice also reflects Church teaching, we cannot condemn it. It is true some might distort what the Church says to justify voting wrongly. But in that case, we should remember that God will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. St. Paul’s warned the Galatians:

Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

GIRM Warfare: Roma locuta est, et nemo exaudiet

If you read Cardinal Sarah’s address, it’s pretty clear he had no intention of issuing directives. While I might quibble here or there on a point, it’s a reasonable article on restoring the sense of sacred. Near the end of the address, he mentioned ad orientem (facing the East, or at least the apse), but as a fraternal request. That’s not the problem. The problem was Catholics misinterpreted what the cardinal had to say. Doing the same thing they do with Pope Francis’ press conferences, people took his words out of context and saw this as the first step of overturning the Ordinary Form of the Mass. 

To prevent this from getting out of hand, the Vatican released a communique saying that this was not a prelude to a change of rubrics and the Church was not going to mandate ad orientem over ad populum (facing the people). They have the right and responsibility to make things clear. In the past, this would have solved it. As the old saying goes (a paraphrase of St. Augustine), Roma locuta est, causa finita est.

But nowadays, it seems we could say “Roma locuta est, et nemo exaudiet.” (Rome has spoken, and no one will hear). Instead of hearing and learning from what the Church teaches, some Catholics are making ad orientem an issue of fidelity. Those Catholics who support this position get cheered as champions of orthodoxy. The Pope and bishops who say there will be no changes get accused of cowardice or irreverence. If the Vatican will not say what they want to hear, they will not accept her authority on the matter.

As a result, people argue about the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) and the translation of §299. In English, this section reads:

299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.[116] The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.

The dispute is over the phrase, “that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.” Some Catholics argue that this is a mistranslation of the Latin and the proper sense of the term is, “which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out."

The problem is, regardless of how many Latin experts there are out there arguing over what expedit means, we have to ask how the magisterium understands the term. Does the Church understand it in the sense of the English translation? Or does she understand it in the sense of what the critics mean? The Fr. Lombardi press release (found HERE with the original Italian and the English translation) shows that the Vatican views the preferred translation as “desirable.” [†]

I’m not going to make myself an arbiter of who has a better command of Latin. My point is we have to understand whose interpretation carries weight. That interpretation comes from the magisterium, not the individual priest or layman.

It is important to note two things:  

  1. That Fr. Lombardi’s communique does not mandate ad populum. Nor does it forbid ad orientem. It merely makes clear the Church position on the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Mass, the fact that there will not be any new requirements, and people should not use the term “reform of the reform” to avoid confusion. 
  2. The GIRM itself does not mention facing the east or facing the apse anywhere. Sometimes it speaks of facing the faithful. Sometimes it speaks of facing the altar. One can reason that ad orientem is not forbidden because it doesn’t say what side of the altar the priest must be on when facing the altar. 

Personally, I think the USCCB has described the situation wisely:

 However, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has clarified on earlier occasions that this does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem. In fact, there are rubrics in the Order of Mass which reflect the real possibility that the celebrant might be facing away from the assembly (see for example n. 29 before the Prayer over the Offerings: “Standing in the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending then joining his hands, he says ...”). Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and, most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served. Such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop.

This insight allows parishes to address the needs of the faithful, but also insists on the Church acting in communion and not as individuals.

As for us, we must not rebel against the lawful authority of the Church to bind and loose as she sees fit. Yes, the Code of Canon Law 212 §3 allows us to make known reverently our opinions on this matter. But we need to regain the sense of respect and obedience towards our shepherds when we do so. I have no complaint against people who prefer ad orientem and practice it with the blessing of the Church. But the “my way or the highway” from some ad orientem supporters towards the bishops has to stop.

 

_______________________

[†] I don’t speak Italian, but, for whatever it’s worth, running the Italian translation of the Latin through Google Translate seems to indicate “desirable” is the intended meaning in the press release. I’m not going to use Google Translate as an authoritative source against a skilled translator, of course. I’m just pointing out what I saw.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"The Papacy But Not This Pope"

The title of this article comes from a passage written by Hans Urs von Balthasar about the growing hostility towards the Pope:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes, which is indefectible, and the sedens, who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning. Bossuet, despite his sincere identification with the Church, forever wavered in his position regarding the papacy, measuring with “two measures and two weights” and taking shelter under similarly useless distinctions that simultaneously pledge obedience and refuse it. Moreover, there is the whole Gallican issue of acceptation (“toujours des énigmes!” remarks de Maistre), which plays on the ambiguity of being “in one accord” with the spirit of the Church communio, on the one hand, and simply obeying the directives of superiors on the other. Y. Congar has written on what is justified and what is not in this approach. The reservations of Gallicanism do not at first touch the communio. Rather, they wish to qualify every papal decision, be it by an appeal to a council or by a stipulation that the directives must be accepted by the whole Church (bishops and flock) to be valid.

Another kind of stipulation is applied by the Jansenists, who support papal authority as long as it does not clash with a higher forum, e.g., the authority of St. Augustine, the authentic interpreter of the Pauline doctrine of justification. There were endless quarrels over the bull Unigenitus, about its range, its interpretation and about the earlier distinctions made by the Jansenists between the quaestio facti and juris. (The Pope condemned the statements of Baius or Jansenius, but did he condemn them in the sense in which the authors meant them? This, it was thought, would have gone beyond his competence.) All these were attempts to avoid an unappealable final decision by the existing papal authority. Surely conscience is the final authority of an individual’s moral behavior, but when a community within the Catholic Church refers to a dictate of its collective conscience against a final papal decision, it has already lost the sense of the Church communio.

von Balthasar, Hans Urs. The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church [†] (Kindle Locations 1039-1057). Kindle Edition.

The thing that bothers me the most about the Church today is seeing growing numbers of Catholics who once defended the Church from Vatican II through Benedict XVI, but now question the orthodoxy or wisdom of Pope Francis at some level and look to alternate leaders to follow instead. While some have taken this to the level of claiming the Pope is dangerous, most seem to treat the Pope as if he doesn’t understand the faith. Articles with titles like “What the Pope needs to learn about X” are not rare in these times. In essence, the people who refuted attacks on past Popes from theological liberals seem to be embracing these arguments against Pope Francis and using the same ad hominem attacks (papolatry, ultramontane) against those Catholics who defend him.

These Catholics don’t like what he says and they want to disagree—BUT (and I think this is important to stress) they don’t want to commit sin in doing so. This is why the opposition to Pope Francis revolves around the dividing lines of where his words stop binding and where they can label his words as “error.” The danger is, they run the risk of going too far and crossing the line they want to respect. In this article, I hope to identify some of these danger zones.

“When Do I Have to Obey?"

The attitude that asks when what the Pope says is no longer binding is a dangerous one. It’s dangerous because it implies that the authority of the Pope is a burden we must escape from. In contrast, St. Pius X spoke about what sort of attitude Catholics should have:

Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey—that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope. (Allocution Vi ringrazio to priests on the 50th anniversary of the Apostolic Union November 18, 1912)  [§]

Reading the words of St. Pius X, I see him as saying: When the Pope speaks to us, whether he intends to formally teach or not, he speaks for our benefit and we would be wise to learn from what he has to say. If he is right, then the Catholics who try to find excuses not to listen or think the Pope is a burden or harmful do not love him in deed, even if they love him in theory. But, when defenders of Pope Francis cite this allocution, these critics argue that this does not apply. I have read some comments saying that St. Pius X couldn’t have anticipated a “modernist, Marxist Pope” or he wouldn’t have said this. But his words do not justify this opinion or allow people to appeal to other theologians or saints against the Pope.

The Church has been clear on the range of authority of the Pope. It’s not just in his ex cathedra teachings. It also exists in his governing the Church. The First Vatican Council teaches, in Pastor Æternus:

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

 

 Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 42.

People who say ad populum is wrong may want to take note.

The Pope has the right and responsibility to apply the timeless teaching of the Church to the circumstances of today. Bishops and theologians advise him, but the final decision is his. When he does so, he is binding and loosing as Our Lord intended in Matthew 16:19. We trust in The Lord to protect us from a Pope binding a bad teaching or loosing a good teaching.

When The Pope Isn’t Speaking as Head of the Church

But what about when he’s not teaching as Pope?

I won’t deny that Papal press conferences and interviews cause headaches. I just deny the claims of some people who say the Pope causes these headaches. But this does bring us to the question of the Pope speaking as a man and not as the head of the Church. This is a recent phenomenon. Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have given interviews, addresses and written books during their pontificates but were offering their private views, not teaching as the Pope. How are we to approach this? A 1915 book on apologetics offers this insight:

The Pope is therefore not infallible when he gives a decision as man, bishop, scholar, preacher, or confessor, nor when he expresses an opinion on questions of art, politics, or secular science. Infallibility is quite distinct from personal impeccability.

 

 F. J. Koch, A Manual of Apologetics, ed. Charles Bruehl, trans. A. M. Buchanan (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1915), 177–178.

What the Pope says in these cases are not protected under the charism of infallibility. But it doesn’t follow that this means what a Pope says in these circumstances are laden with error. His holiness, learning, and wisdom as a man, bishop, scholar, preacher or confessor still exists and we should consider this. People who defend the Pope on these grounds are not guilty of Papolatry. Nor are they ultramontane.

What this qualification does mean is we don’t call someone a heretic just because he disagrees with what Benedict XVI says about Our Lord in his Jesus of Nazareth books. It also means if a Pope like John XXII speaks in a homily, he’s not teaching heresy or defining a teaching. It also means that the laws he passes as ruler of Vatican City (or earlier of the Papal States) are not Church teaching.

The Fact that Bad Popes Existed Doesn’t mean Pope Francis is One

Another pitfall to avoid is thinking just because bad Popes existed in Church history does not mean Pope Francis is one. Bad behavior goes back to St. Peter eating apart from Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14), and Popes are sinners just like the rest of us. So every Pope will have cringeworthy moments. But when people appeal to bad Popes to argue Pope Francis is one, they dredge up the notorious Popes. Benedict IX, John XII, Alexander VI, Julius II and others.

The problem with this appeal is these Popes behaved badly, but they did not teach badly as Popes. Either they taught rightly or did not teach at all. The Popes who did wrong did so as men or as rulers. They practiced vice, treated their position as if they were a secular king. etc. Pope Francis behaves nothing like this, so it is an irrelevant analogy. Some, realizing this, will point to John XXII [∞], Liberius, or Honorius and argue that they spoke falsely or heretically, and Pope Francis can do the same. The problem is, the Church denies those Popes taught heresy, even privately. Their faults were they taught ambiguously or did not act when they should have. So these Popes antics don’t mean Pope Francis is heretical.

That brings us to our next point.

Do We Understand Context and Meaning? 

The problem with people accusing Pope Francis of holding error is that they assume that Pope Francis embraces the dubious claims of Cardinal Kasper and then interpret the Pope’s words according to the meaning the Cardinal gives them. For example, some Catholics are afraid that the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia promotes giving the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried. Yes, Cardinal Kasper appears to favor this. But the Pope said something entirely different:

Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration.

That’s one example of how people put a meaning into the Pope’s words he never intended. They assume that “integrating” the divorced and remarried into the Church means giving them the Eucharist and get upset. But they don’t consider whether the baggage they attach to a word is what the Pope intends. We who are Americans or western Europeans have a view of the world we think is normal, but the rest of the world doesn’t share it. He describes problems in South America and we think he hates capitalism or America. He talks about gradually moving people away from vicious customs in Argentina and we think he supports American vice. That’s not his fault. That’s our fault for assuming the rest of the world thinks like us.

We make this worse by our reliance on instant news coverage popping up on our smartphones from religiously illiterate sources. They take one sentence from an interview and treat it as if he is changing Church teaching. We rely on the analysis of that one sentence and form an opinion before the full transcript comes out. The problem is, you can’t interpret Pope Francis by one sentence. You have to look at his whole answer. He tends to describe a scenario first, and from that scenario describe a solution. If you don’t keep the scenario in mind, the quoted sentence sounds like he’s okay with sin. But if you do look at his whole answer, it becomes clear that he is not okay with sin.

I think we rely too much on bullet points and one sentence summaries. As a result, we aren’t used to diving into complex descriptions when we find them. But that’s our problem, not the Pope’s, and it’s our task to understand what he means, not to blame him because we misinterpret through our cultural mindset.

Conclusion: Judgment vs. Love and Respect

can. 1404 The First See is judged by no one.

One thing we have to remember when people want to question the Pope’s orthodoxy, that act assumes they have the right to judge his actions. Such an action implies their knowledge and their fidelity to the Church is greater than his. It assumes to read his heart and mind and finds them wanting. But we cannot do this. When the Pope teaches, we need to give assent (Canon 752). When he speaks privately, we need to be respectful. We have no right to judge him.

That doest mean the Pope can do whatever the hell he wants and we can’t say anything. There is fraternal correction. St. Thomas Aquinas describes how we must handle this:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

 

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii.), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

 

 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, (II-II q.33 a.4 resp.) trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne).

The problem is the social media complaints against the Pope show nothing fraternal. It assumes wrongdoing and speaks in an unflattering way. Some is patronizing. Some is abusive. But it generally assumes the Pope is, at best, guilty of fuzzy thinking or, at worst, a heretic. People do speak of him as if he were a burden. People do say they still wish Benedict XVI was still Pope. People do hope he’ll retire or die soon. Not everybody does these things, but the point is the attitude which thinks he is a burden to the Church is undermining our faith and trust in the shepherds. We look at what he says and does and judge whether we think it is acceptable or not.

But what we don’t ask is if we are sinning in our attitude. St. Pius X linked loving the Pope with respect and obedience. He rejected the idea of looking to another theologian against the Pope. But how many people look to Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Sarah or Bishop Athanasius Schneider [∑] as being more reliable than the Pope when it comes to fidelity to the Church?

I want to be clear I don’t seek to judge any individual or blog here. I wrote this article because I see troubling things undermining the authority of the Church and the Pope, leaving people afraid and mistrustful. I just hope to encourage people to think a different way about these things, trusting God to protect His Church under Pope Francis just as He protected the Church under every other Pope. If any person is struggling with these things, I hope my reflections help and do not drive them away in defensiveness.

__________________________

[†] The actual title of the book was Der antirömische Affekt which translates as “the anti-Roman attitude.” (according to Google Translate) The book spoke about the hostility to the Pope c. 1974. Much of this anti-Roman attitude seems to fit today as well.
[§] This translation was from 2012 when Benedict XVI was Pope. Many people who cited it then deny it now.
[∞] Despite the views of some, Pope John XXII did not even preach heresy privately because the Church had not yet defined the matter at the time he offered his opinion.
[∑] I want to make clear here that I do not blame them for people elevating them this way against their will. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Confusing Church Teaching With Opinions on Applying It

Dealing with Biblical literalists, I noticed they constantly made the same mistake. That mistake was confusing the words of Scripture with their opinions on applying it against the Catholic Church. They would keep insisting that this wasn’t their opinion. After all, they were citing the words of the Bible—weren’t they? What they couldn’t grasp was this: We did not deny the authority of Scripture. Nor did we deny the words of the text. What we did deny was their claim to applying it accurately against the Church.

While some Catholics may laugh at their silly blind spot, some of them make the same error in applying Catholic teaching. They cite a teaching of the Church, they apply it against a practice in the Church or behavior by an individual and accuse them of going against Church teaching. Like the literalist, they assume that the rejection of their opinion on how to interpret it is a rejection of Church teaching itself. 

The problem with the literalist and the Catholic demanding on their interpretation of Scripture or Church teaching is one of authority. The problem is not what Scripture or Church teaching says. It’s about who can interpret it in a binding way. The person who does not have that authority cannot demand people follow their views. They can only point to the teaching authority that exists. The teaching authority belongs to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. The priest takes part in this authority by working with the bishop and never apart from him.

The rest of us can explain the teaching of the Church. But we have the responsibility to explain it rightly and make sure we separate what the Church teaches from how we would like people to apply it. There is a difference. If a Catholic tries to twist Church teaching to justify disobedience, we need to challenge that. But if a Catholic is faithful to Church teaching but disagrees on the “nuts and bolts” ways to apply this teaching, savaging him is wrong.

Discerning this difference is not always easy. Yes, people sometimes do get things wrong and we need to help them understand the right. But in doing so, we have to make sure we have a clear understanding on what the Church teaches, and make sure we are not replacing Church teaching with our own opinions on what we think should follow from it.

For example, I have seen people argue that Church teaching demands Catholics vote for or against a specific candidate. Some will go so far as accusing Catholics who disagree with them of being bad Catholics. This confuses Church teaching with personal opinion on applying Church teaching. Yes, Catholics who vote for a candidate because the candidate holds a view which is against Church teaching do wrong. And, yes, Catholics need to consider the consequences of their vote. But if a Catholic  uses Church teaching to guide them, seeking to be faithful, we can’t accuse them of being faithless just because their decision does not match ours.

As I see it, if we find a person’s actions troubling but not intrinsically evil, we have to discern their reasoning and how they understand Church teaching. If they understand Church teaching rightly, and are using Church teaching to guide their actions, we cannot condemn them. The Catechism tells us how we must approach things:

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.

 

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

But some Catholics don’t give a favorable interpretation. They don’t ask how the other understands it. They don’t correct with love. They assume from the fact that the other disagrees on how to best handle a situation, they must be bad Catholics. That’s rash judgment, and the Church forbids it.

Think about that the next time you’re debating on social media.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quick Quips: Getting Things Wrong

Quick Quips

Once more, here is a series of thoughts too small to rate a blog post on their own, combined into a general theme of people getting things wrong. 

Drama Queens in the Church

There is a phenomenon in the Church where some people look at whatever incident comes along, assumes the worst and says this is the most serious crisis in the history of the Church. Usually they say this  about the modern Western materialism and secularism on one hand, and members of the Church publicly saying things which are stupid and sometimes even sinful. I see this, and I want to say, “More serious than Arianism, or Nestorianism? More serious than when heretics used monks as brawlers to attack orthodox Catholics? More serious than heretical rulers trying to impose themselves over the authority of the Church? More serious than those times when the Freemasons, Nazis and Communists tried to suppress Christianity in different countries?"

I’m not denying these times are harmful for souls and we have to oppose the harmful movements. I’m just saying that we should stop being drama queens, thinking our times are the worst times, as if we could do nothing about it. Faithful Catholics have stood up against the evils of every age. Now it’s our turn to step up and face the challenge.

Ad Disorientum

I have no objection to Cardinal Sarah’s recommendations that the priests say the Mass ad orientem (facing the [liturgical] east). if my pastor follows his recommendation, I’ll support him and explain the reasons why. If the Church mandates it, I’ll give my assent. I won’t let my personal preferences stand in the way of the legitimate authority of the Church in a matter of discipline. The Church had the right to make the change to ad populum (facing the people) and she can change it back again to emphasize different aspects of the faith or stop an error. It’s like the Church allowing or withholding the chalice for the laity.

But I do object to how some combox warriors are portraying it. This is not going to solve all our problems. People are people who get bad ideas. The Church could go back to the 1962 Missal and some idiot would try to turn it into a “clown mass” despite the rubrics. Nor will people “just get used to it.” Remember, some people who grew up with ad orientem bitched for 40 years about the change. We’re supposed to think people who grew up with ad populum won’t react the same way?

They Don’t Just Get the Pope Wrong

People pitched a fit when Archbishop Chaput published guidelines for applying Amoris Lætitia. They’re outraged that the bishop said that to receive the Eucharist we cannot be guilty of a grave sin, and people who remarried when their first marriage was valid need to live as brother and sister if they want to receive. His words are:

Every Catholic, not only the divorced and civilly-remarried, must sacramentally confess all serious sins of which he or she is aware, with a firm purpose to change, before receiving the Eucharist. In some cases, the subjective responsibility of the person for a past action may be diminished. But the person must still repent and renounce the sin, with a firm purpose of amendment.

With divorced and civilly-remarried persons, Church teaching requires them to refrain from sexual intimacy. This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist. 

Archbishop Chaput isn’t saying anything new. This has always been the position of the Church and, despite claims from the combox warriors, this doesn’t contradict Amoris Lætitia.

For Mercy’s Sake!

People get mercy wrong. When the Pope speaks of mercy, he’s not advocating moral laxity in the Church. Mercy is (according to the glossary in the Catechism), “The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends.” But the Pope links mercy to repentance. If we want God to show us mercy, we must repent and turn away from wrongdoing. Bishop Robert Barron describes Pope Francis’ approach this way:

[M]any receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer mattered. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness. Or, to shift to one of the pope’s favorite metaphors, it is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires not minor treatment but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield. Recall that when Francis was asked in a famous interview to describe himself, he responded, “a sinner.” Then he added, “who has been looked upon by the face of mercy.” That’s getting the relationship right.

Barron, Robert (2016-03-31). Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (Kindle Locations 617-622). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

When we seek mercy, we seek the healing from the field hospital. When we show mercy, we’re taking a role in assisting the Divine Physician. But either way, we recognize a terrible wound exists that needs treatment. The Pope’s not saying “reclassify that wound as being a natural condition.” We should stop thinking he is.

Conclusion

We need to avoid confusing our thoughts and feelings on a subject with what the Church teaches or with what the Pope says. People get things wrong and, from those mistakes, create scenarios of disaster where there are none. But these disasters are in our own minds. That’s not to say everything is fine and dandy in the Church. Things never were in the Church (See Acts 6:1 for example). But we need to keep things in context to avoid driving ourselves to despair, believing the Church has fallen into ruin. That paralyzes us. We don’t work with the Pope and Church in bringing people to Our Lord. Instead we brawl on the deck of the Barque of Peter over which way we think the ship should be going...

…and that’s the attitude present in every serious crisis in the Church.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reaching Out to the Concerned Catholic

 

First, to my fellow bloggers and apologists:

As a blogger I profess the Catholic faith is true, and that God continues to protect the Church under the Pope today just as much as He did with his predecessors. So when I meet someone who attacks this Church, I respond by showing why the attacks are false and what the truth is on the subject. Sadly, there are some Catholics among these attackers who claim to be faithful to the Church but their fruits show that to be a lie. If a Catholic rejects the authority of the Church in their own time, he rejects God (see Luke 10:16), and we must oppose them if we would block them from leading the faithful astray. But I think we get so focussed on these faithless Catholics that we forget why the faithful, who might heed them, do listen. 

Those of us who do apologetics have invested time into studying the faith and investigating charges against it. In doing so, we’ve accumulated knowledge to defend the faith. But I think we forget that not everybody has our knowledge. What is obvious to us might not be obvious to them. That doesn’t make them stupid—and we should never think that. It means they have different levels of education and specialization. The concerned Catholic might never have heard of Church texts we have read, but have a knowledge of computers we can’t match.

A friend of mine told me a story of different knowledge specialties:

In my previous position, I served as the IT Systems Administrator for a space science research center. I was the only IT person for Center, though I had student assistants, and so my work covered a very broad scope. On the same day, I could be both configuring a server and making sure that someone's desktop machine was set up to use the printers. This work environment gave me an exceptionally clear view into how much of a difference specialized knowledge and training could make and into how differences in such knowledge could radically affect perceptions of intelligence. Some of the physicists with whom I worked were quite good with computers. This was especially so if they wrote their own code for simulations. Yet even those physicists were often only good at what they needed to do to achieve their research goals. A number of researchers I knew were very much novices with computers, though, and when they needed my help with their workstations it was not unusual for my computing knowledge to make me appear to be some kind of genius and, at the same time, their lack of knowledge caused their advanced degrees and scientific brilliance to fade into the background.

While I worked with these researchers, though, I did pay some attention to what they were doing in their work. It was readily apparent that they were as far beyond me in mathematics and physics as I was beyond them in computers. Perhaps even moreso. I remember helping an elderly physicist with a very basic computer matter while, on his desk, I could see handwritten notes of mathematical formula so advanced that I could not begin to understand them. This man has a brilliant mind in his own right - just not at computers. Oh, how much folly may come from relying overmuch on perceptions!

We should keep this mind and not be patronizing when giving explanations. Because they don’t have our specialized knowledge, they might not be able to see why arguments that trouble them are bad. What they do know is that the world looks like it is at war with everything they hold important, and the Church seems to be weak in opposing the world. So when they meet people who seem more knowledgeable than they do, who confidently claim the Church needs to change to regain control—especially when they cite some stern Pope from the past and compare it to today—they might assume these people know the answer. Remember, we too looked for teachers to help us understand.

We can’t just lump them all together and assume that the smackdown that the dissenter richly deserves will also be effective against this kind of Catholic. What we need to do is approach them with compassion, hearing their concerns, and giving them the tools they need to fight the battle. Their need doesn’t make them stupid. It makes them everyday people who want to do the right thing. We should help them with encouragement and sympathy. Not mock them by lumping them in with “that thing that used to be conservatism” when they disagree with us or call them Pope-bashers because people they thought they could trust lied to them.

So I think we ought to be more discerning in our blogs and in the comboxes. We shouldn’t assume they’re radical traditionalists and we shouldn’t assume they’re stupid or right-wingers when we meet them. Some Catholics we meet on the internet are not enemies of the faith, instead...

  • they are people of good will, wanting to do what is right.
  • they don’t have our specialized knowledge in defending the faith.
  • they are no less intelligent than we are.
  • they need our help in recognizing the attacks undermining their faith in the Church.
  • we will answer to God if we drive them away.

Second, to the concerned Catholics, wanting to be faithful:

I’d like to take a little time talking to you as well. Hopefully I won’t come across as patronizing or harsh in doing so.

One thing you should know about debates on social media is there is a lot of venom directed at Catholics defending the faith and that leaves us defensive. So, if you repeat the lines these people use, we might think you’re one of them. We shouldn’t, but it happens. I’m not proud of it, but I have verbally done this a few times:

Pope heresy

It’s not fair if we respond to you with wrath, but think of it like dealing with someone at your job who doesn’t know how things work, but insists their way is right. You want to be patient, but if they keep pushing, you might get annoyed. We’re like that too, so please be understanding. We’re trying to explain things and sometimes get abuse from people who don’t know how things work as a result

That leads to the second point. You need to know when you don’t know how things work or don’t understand what something means. I sometimes meet people who don’t understand how the Church governs herself or that her teaching gets expressed with different emphasis from age to age but is the same teaching. So when they see a Catholic openly doing wrong and don’t see any retribution, they think the Church is lenient or even supportive. For example, I’ve seen some Catholics wonder why the Pope with his absolute power doesn’t just excommunicate the pro-abortion politician or silence the priest or bishop who says something foolish.

But what we forget is the Pope isn’t the CEO of a results driven corporation. He’s the chief shepherd of Our Lord’s flock who has the task of bringing them to God. So when he deals with Catholics who go wrong, he has to consider how his response will affect that task. Will a soft touch be ineffective? Will a harsh response drive the sinner away? We don’t know and we shouldn’t demand a different action if we don’t know the situation.

This brings up a third point. As Catholics, we believe that God protects His Church. He will not allow the Church to bind error or loose truth (see Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18). Knowing this, we can spot false teachers. Those who say the Church needs to change her teaching about good and evil, and those who say the Church is teaching error are false teachers because they deny Our Lord’s promise. If God forbids something, the Pope will not call it good, regardless of what his enemies say.

Some critics will point out that we have had some bad Popes. That’s true, we have. The problem is that argument tries to smear the Pope through guilt by association, but just because we have had bad Popes in the past does not mean Pope Francis is one. Some point out that the Pope’s press conferences aren’t infallible. Nobody ever claimed they were. But again, the fact that they’re not infallible does not mean they’re chock full of errors.

Finally, I’d like you to consider this. Some people blame Vatican II and the Popes from St. John XXIII onwards for ruining the Church. They think that if this Council and these Popes had not had their way, the Church never would have had this problem. But that’s false. The entire world went through an upheaval, including non-Catholic (and even non-Christian) nations. There was a general rejection of authority—both religious and secular—and a rejection of morality. So when people try to blame the Church today for the crisis of faith, remember these people are wrong about the cause.

Conclusion

I believe the defenders of the faith and the concerned Catholics need to be willing to listen to each other, not talk past each other. There are problems in the Church. There always have been, and there probably always will be until the Second Coming. That doesn’t mean we should be passive. But it does mean we need to constantly learn about our faith so we will not falter or grow embittered. Let us all trust in God, and remember that God built our Church. He will not let it fall into ruin.