Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reflections for the Struggling

There are a certain set of Catholics who began by supporting Pope Francis but reached a point where certain news (the Barrios case and the Vigano allegations, or the refinement of the teaching on the death penalty) led them to think their previous trust was misplaced. Some of my followers have asked me to blog on this. I’ll certainly do my best. Of course, since I believe that the Pope has done nothing to warrant revoking my trust, this attempt may disappoint them. We may end up yelling to each other, “Why the hell are you so blind?”

I don’t intend to be arrogant or condescending to the Catholics who want to be faithful. Instead, I hope to give the struggling Catholics other things to consider than the either-or dilemma they see no way out of.

The Credibility and Proof Issues

I think we need to keep in mind that allegations are not proof of wrongdoing. The claims can be false—even if the accuser sincerely believes them to be true—or the reasons for the actions remove culpability. If the claims are false or reasons remove culpability, then these actions are not valid reasons to reject the Pope. If Vigano’s accusations are false, then we can’t use them as a reason to mistrust the Pope. 

At the current time, there has been no proof to those accusations. The people cited as proof have refused to provide their own testimony and the so-called independent confirmation have been rejected. Benedict XVI’s secretary has called the claim “fake news” and those who were said to have assisted Vigano draft the letter have now denied it. We have gone from seeing claims that Pope Francis willfully overturned Benedict’s censure of McCarrick shrivel into claims that the Pope may have issued some kind of request.

The problem then is we don’t have a basis to justify an accusation against the Pope. Those American bishops [†] who say they found the claims “credible” do not do so from evidence. They did so from having a favorable view of Archbishop Vigano’s character. One problem I have with this is it indirectly says that they don’t have as favorable a view of the Pope’s character if they would accept Vigano’s ipse dixit statements as having merit. They have made demands of the Pope, but not similar demands of Archbishop Vigano. 

It’s not for me to question those bishops’ motives, but I find it a little troublesome.

The FUD Factor 

“FUD” stands for “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It certainly fits the undermining of the Papacy over the last five years.

Certain Catholics have been hostile to Pope Francis since before he became Pope [§]. They have consistently given a negative interpretation to his actions, attempting to portray them as proof of his being a heretic. They take soundbites that seem terrible when taken in isolation and treat that isolated quote as the whole. Thus the Pope is portrayed as thinking homosexuality is morally allowed based on the “Who am I to judge quote” but take no notice of the context or his affirmations of marriage as being between one man and one woman. He’s portrayed as opening up the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried when he actually called on bishops and confessors to assess whether all the conditions for mortal sin were present instead of merely assuming they were. He’s accused of calling the death penalty intrinsically evil (contra past teaching) when he actually said recourse to it was inadmissible at this time—which built on St. John Paul II’s teaching and closed a loophole that essentially negated what he said.

These words, yanked out of context and constantly repeated, lead Catholics to begin to think “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But that’s a refusal to determine the truth as we are required to. When different factions constantly argue that the Pope is a heretic when He teaches contrary to their ideology and these factions point to each other’s disputes as “proving” their points, it’s easy for faithful to think there is truth behind baseless accusations.

The accusations against the Pope that he causes confusion are ironic because
it’s the critics themselves who spread the confusion they blame him for...

The problem is, these critics do not have the authority to interpret what past Church teaching means in opposition to the magisterium. If the Pope decides to change a discipline or determine how doctrine is best applied in this era, he absolutely has that authority. The Catholic who argues that what a Pope says contradicts past teaching, he means that the Pope rejects his personal interpretation of past teaching. But the individual Catholic lacks the office to judge the teaching of the magisterium. 

An imperfect (because the Supreme Court lacks the authority and protection the Church has) analogy might being us disagreeing with the Supreme Court over a ruling. Regardless of what we might think the law should be, it is the Supreme Court, not us, whose decision has authority. Unlike the Supreme Court and its disastrous rulings, we believe God protects His Church and that the decrees of the magisterium are binding (Matthew 16:19, 18:18, Luke 10:16) and require our religious submission of intellect and will (Canon 752).

Sin and Authority

St. Augustine once said, “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian. The former title speaks of a task undertaken, the latter of grace; the former betokens danger, the latter salvation.” The Pope and bishops in communion with him are sinners in need of salvation, just as we are. But the fact that they are fellow Christians and fellow sinners does not mean that we can disregard what they teach as Pope and bishops. Because what they teach is binding on us (provided a bishop does not go against the Pope), the fact that some of them might turn out to be notorious sinners does not negate their teaching office.

So even if Vigano’s accusations were true (a notion I absolutely reject!) this would not remove the Pope’s authority or give anyone authority to depose him. His instructions on Amoris Lætitia or changing the Catechism would remain binding. His call for continuing the synod on youth would not be negated.

What people need to remember is that regardless of what scandals come along, Our Lord has given us the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20) and we cannot set this aside on the grounds that some bishops have engaged in coverups or scandalous behavior. Did they do wrong? Yes, some did. But the Church remains Our Lord’s Church with His promises remaining kept.

This teaching authority doesn’t mean that the Pope or bishops will always make the best appointments—some may turn out to be scandalous. It doesn’t mean they’ll carry out the best sanctions against wrongdoers. It doesn’t mean that a successor won’t need to make revisions. It doesn’t mean that a Pope won’t do something embarrassing out of misunderstanding or bad advice...


But it does mean when the magisterium says “We’re going to do things this way,” they do have the authority to make that decision. If it turns out that they made a bad one (like appointing McCarrick), that doesn’t mean that none of their teachings or rulings have authority. 

So, if (this is the point the accusers have to PROVE) it turns out that Benedict XVI did make a request about McCarrick (it seems that Pope Francis’ accusers have backed away from claiming that he imposed canonical sanctions) then we can’t say that the Pope engaged in a coverup. It could mean he made a bad decision that could easily have been made in good faith. The accusations not only say he knowingly did wrong, but claim to know his intentions in doing so.

It’s still “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

One tactic I’ve seen involves people saying that because the Vigano claims are “credible,” the Pope needs to open up the archives to refute them. No. That’s shifting the burden of proof. It assumes that the Pope is guilty until proven innocent. The Pope doesn’t have to open up the archives to prove his innocence. The burden of proof lies with the accusers. That means we don’t sign petitions demanding that the Pope clear this up. Church teaching on rash judgment means we don’t assume he is guilty without proof... which Vigano and company have not provided. Instead, he’s said to check the records. But, if there are no such records critics will (they already have!) accuse the Pope of stonewalling or destroying the records. The only way his critics will accept what the records reveal is if they prove guilt.

In other words, the accusations combined with the call for the Pope open the archives is effectively an admission of no evidence combined with a demand for the Pope to enable a “fishing expedition.”

Things Take Time 

If we want things done right, as opposed to a superficial fix, they take time to plan. No, it’s not just a matter of setting up a videoconference between the Pope and all the bishops. It’s going to involve each bishop involved collecting the data on their diocese—both under their leadership and under their predecessors. They’re going to have to look at what worked and what failed. They’ll have to bring forth suggestions that must be discussed and evaluated in order to create a just solution free of loopholes.

What we have is a revelation that some bishops chose to conceal wrongdoing instead of correct it. The Barrios case and the Pennsylvania report show that the old ways of doing things are ineffective. We’ll probably need some changes to canon law and put a system in place to report wrongdoing by bishops.

Personally, I think that the Pope was working on this since the news broke of McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report. I don’t believe that the Vigano letter put pressure on the Pope to act. I think it probably was a distraction, not an aid to this work.

We Must Recognize When We Lack Knowledge 


We all have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” when we hear partial information. We assume motives for actions and think that not seeing action means a willful refusal to act. We rely too much on rumors and news sources who consistently misreport news from the Church when they rely on soundbites.

Most don’t look at canon law, relevant documents, or transcripts from the Pope. They say “Something has to be done!” but don’t ask what the Church already does. Yes, the Pope has full authority of teaching and governing the Church. But we also have rules in place designed to protect from unjust treatment. The Pope can change these rules if he sees fit. But he will not do so arbitrarily.

Now I won’t tell everyone to pick up a huge library and start studying. While we need to understand the truth of things, people have different levels of education and needed time to study. What works for me might not be possible for others. But the first step is to stop filling in gaps in our knowledge with assumptions. If we don’t know something, we need to learn.

Conclusion: But I Can’t Trust Anymore!

Some people I know have stopped trusting the Pope. Whatever they thought the last linr would be, they think the Pope crossed it. The problem is, as I see it, the Pope hasn’t crossed any lines. There has been an effort to undermine him from the beginning. Those people involved have made so many claims that the Pope is heretical that it has virtually become a schism. They have led people to lose trust in God’s promises and to think there must be something to these anti-Francis Catholics’ claims by the sheer volume.

Does the Pope sin, make errors of judgment, and do things we wish he didn’t? Of course. Just like his predecessors and just like his successors will do! It is naive to think Pope Francis is the only Pope to do these things.

Do I think the Pope has taught error or willfully chosen to act against the Church? No. Do I think the devil is trying to deceive us into thinking that the Pope has done these things? Definitely.

We will always have bad priests and bishops in the Church. That’s been a problem since Judas. We will always have Popes who sinned. That’s been a problem since St. Peter. But that doesn’t change the Church or her authority. The existence of a McCarrick doesn’t discontinue the teaching authority of bishops. 

Yes, we need to reform the Church. But we need to realize that the true state of the Church is not as her enemies claim. We don’t place our trust in a mere human being or a mere human institution. We place our trust in Jesus Christ and the Church He established and promised to protect.

Once we do that, we can reasonably approach the sins of the current age instead of falling into panic.

____________________________

[†] Outside of the United States where some bishops sided with Vigano, the bishops have largely stood with Pope Francis. The exceptions I have heard of are one bishop from Scotland and Bishop Athanasius Schneider from Kazakhstan.

[§] As head of his archdiocese, he cracked down on a group who was abusing the Extraordinary Form, forbidding the use.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fault Lines in Finding Fault


In geology, fault lines are where tectonic plates grind past each other. Sometimes they stick for awhile. When they finally slip, the result is an earthquake [§]. I find fault lines a good metaphor for the current strife in the Church. People pushing it in the direction they think best cause friction and conflict and, when a major scandal comes, this friction turns into a major jolt. While we can’t predict where slips—or scandals—will occur, the visible fault lines give us a sense on the general region the earthquake will be centered in. 

To (probably dubiously) apply this as a metaphor to the current strife, I think where we’re likely to cause friction can be found in where we have our previous leanings. The Church, despite the warnings of St. Paul or St. Clement I, is split into factions. Each one has its own ideas of the heroes or villains in the Church. Each one has ideas on what is right and wrong with the Church. So when a scandal arises, the general tendency is to say that the blame rests on the villains and things we see wrong with the Church. As a solution, we suggest that we turn it over to our heroes and do the things we think are right.

The problem is, we’re just as bad of sinners as those who have the responsibility to shepherd the Church and we lack the authority to do so. The result is, we often generate the friction by pushing in our preferred direction and when that friction becomes a theological earthquake, we blame the Church for the disaster, thinking that if only they had listened to us, the Church wouldn’t be in this mess. The problem is, we don’t have the whole picture. We can offer conjecture based on the facts we do have, but if we don’t have all the facts, our judgments will probably go wrong somewhere... we’ll be causing friction that leads to ruptures, possibly even schism.

I don’t say that we should just be passive and let the clergy do everything to avoid trouble. That’s clericalism and the Pope has warned against that. We of the laity have a role to play and, provided we do so reverently, we can make our needs and concerns known to those who shepherd (canon 212). But we have to know our limitations and not insist that what we know is all there is to know. It’s one thing to have a necessary conflict between good and evil. It’s another to coopt these conflicts as a proxy for our personal preferences. 

For many, this set of accusations against the Pope [†] is a proxy war for what people already thought about him. Those who dislike him tend to give credence to the claims of Archbishop Vigano. Those who like him tend to doubt the accusations. Hopefully, we don’t let our preconceived notions get in the way of seeking the truth. Unfortunately, many do. They either accuse the Pope or Vigano of “lying” because that sounds more serious than “mistaken recollection” or “saw the situation differently.” They say the Pope was guilty of a “coverup” because that supports their narrative of a bad Pope better than “the Pope was deceived by a charismatic individual who lied” or “Vigano was mistaken about the nature of what Benedict XVI intended to do with McCarrick.”

If we want to actually help the Church, we need to consider the possible reasons and eliminate the ones the evidence doesn’t support. For example, as more comes out on the backgrounds of the people involved in this scandal, I find it hard to believe that the Pope knowingly and willingly took part in a coverup. I don’t find it improbable that the Pope was mistaken about the true nature of some people and assumed he had the necessary facts to make changes [∞]. He strikes me as someone who strives to do what was right. So I believe that if he did reverse Benedict XVI’s decision (the point to be proven), he most likely believed he was doing what was right before God. A critic of the Pope would no doubt disagree with my assessment. But both of us would have to be open to seeking the truth and avoiding rash judgment—on the Pope, Vigano, Wuerl, Burke etc. etc. etc. If we don’t, we’re guilty of rash judgment against the one we hold in contempt.

We should remember Socrates and the lesson of knowing we do not know something. If we know we’re ignorant, we can learn. If we don’t know we are ignorant, we won’t even try to learn.


To do this, we need to catch ourselves when we think “There’s no good reason the Pope (or Vigano) would do this! He must be lying!” There can be a good reason that exonerates. Or there can be an earnest mistake that reduces or eliminates culpability. We need to be aware of the possibility and consider how the one we think wrong might have reached the conclusion sincerely.

If we can do that, we can help reduce the friction in the fault lines our factionalism causes and help reduce confusion and conflict in The Lord’s Church.



______________

[§] Yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying. This is a theology blog, not a geology blog.
[†] If you’re joining me for the first time, let me just be up front about it: I think he’s innocent.
[∞] These, being juridical acts, not acts of teaching would still be authoritative, but not protected by infallibility. He could reverse his predecessor’s decision and his successor could reverse his decision with no contradiction of doctrine.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Ten Reflections on Combox Comments on Abuse in the Church

Preliminary Notes: It is not the intention of this article to pass judgment on or lecture to the victims of abuse or their family members. Regardless of what the Church does to solve the crisis, that will be little comfort to the victims who will rightly hold that the Church never should have let itself get into this situation in the first place. It won’t discuss specific cases of abuse either. I imagine that actual victims won’t want some blogger to use their personal suffering to make a point.

Introduction 

The revelation that there are credible charges sexual against someone who managed to become a cardinal and the discovery that some bishops concealed cases of sexual abuse instead of reporting them to the proper authority was shocking. Those bishops brought harm to individual victims and their families. Moreover, despite doing so to protect the “good name of the Church” they actually failed to achieve that: if the bishops had promptly done what they were morally obligated to, the brief embarrassment over the publicity of turning predators over to the proper authorities would have been outweighed in the long run by establishing the credibility of the Church as protecting the victims. Now that stain will last for decades, if not centuries.

However, despite the anger and disgust over this mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, we need to keep some facts in mind if we are to have a just response. None of these points should be seen as trying to “explain away” the evil done. Rather they are aimed at reflecting on things constantly repeated on social media and mentioning things that I think we should remember.

1) Sexual abuse is not exclusively a Catholic sin

The Catholic Church is singled out for the predator priests. But the percentage of priests who abuse is roughly the same as sexual abuse in non Catholic churches and non Christian institutions. Statistically speaking, the greatest source of abuse are the public schools. That’s understandable. Predators seek out positions of trust that give access to their victims. If that position is so respectable that people would immediately think the victims are lying, then they can do a lot of harm without being detected. Because nobody believes the victim, patterns that should have tipped off those in authority are ignored.

But we can’t say that if the Catholic Church didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have any abusers.

2) The fact that it’s not excusively Catholic doesn’t excuse us

A victim won’t feel comfort over the fact that it was just as likely to happen elsewhere. The fact is it shouldn’t have happened here at all. Yes the numbers are statistically small. But even one case in 2000 years would be shameful. Even if the the world ignores everybody but us, we still have an obligation to fix our part in it.

3) Statutes of Limitstions have mostly run out

Why aren’t McCarrick and the priests named in the Pennsylvania report facing criminal charges? Because there is a time limit on how long the state has to press charges. While the limitations vary by state, few crimes have no limits. Murder is one of them. Others vary widely depending on the state. So, crimes dating from the 1940s to the 1980s (probably later than that) can’t be prosecuted.

One thing that gets brought up is why don’t the bishops support extending the statute of limitations? The problem is, under criminal law, extending the statute of limitations violates the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws. Apparently the state can extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits. The problem is, the proposed laws excludes state run institutions. Public schools, the institutions with the highest rates of abuse, have been consistently been protected.

4) Vatican City can’t arrest and prosecute for crimes committed outside Vatican City

If McCarrick had committed his crimes in the Vatican, he could very well have been prosecuted there (like the Vatileaks). But they can’t prosecute him for crimes he committed elsewhere. All they can do is hold a canonical trial imposing Church sanctions. The problem is, if a person refuses to follow the sanctions, the Church can’t do anything except excommunicate him. If such a person doesn’t care about that penalty, the Church can only leave such a one to God.

5) Just because “everybody knows” something that doesn’t always mean the authorities know 

A few weeks ago I was listening to a NPR news story about sexual abuse from a school team doctor. The former student said that when he talked it over with fellow teammates, the general reaction was that this was something that the freshmen went through. It was treated like a big joke...but nobody reported it to authorities.

That came to mind when I heard the “everybody knew about it” regarding Catholic scandals. People may widely talk about it among themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they included the police among those they spoke to. It doesn’t mean that bishops were given usable information that they could act on.

I’m not saying this explains everything. There are reports of bishops who did knowingly try to hide the problem. Those bishops will need to have their actions addressed.

6) Not all bishops were involved in a deliberate coverup 

We know some bishops preferred to conceal the truth and move predator priests around. But not all did. Some seem to have thought that such behavior involved a fixation with a specific person and moving the priest away from the victim would end the crime. Some followed the advice of psychologists and had the priest treated, believing the experts when they said the problem priest was “cured.” Others became bishop after the problem was in place and were surprised to learn when a laicized priest under their authority made the news. Finally, we had the bishops who took action when they discovered problems.

Each of those cases involve different levels of culpability and how they are treated should reflect that.

7) One of the major problems seems to have been communication 

There are numerous stories going around about complaints being made that went nowhere. Whether they went to the right place but lacked actionable information, whether they got diverted en route, or whether there was another reason, it seems like problems in a country’s Church tended to be kept in country. In the Barrios case in Chile, the Pope seemed to sincerely believe that there was no credible evidence against him. Once he found out otherwise, he acted swiftly.

I’m of the view that, whatever reforms are made, we definitely need one that gets complaints to where they need to be with no possibility of being misdirected, concealed, or lost.

8) In some countries, there seems to have been mistrust over involving the state

In the 19th and 20th centuries, relations between Church and state were strained. There was mistrust against what the state might try to do if involved. The result was some bishops preferred to keep the state out. I have read that Ireland’s bishops decided not to report to the government because canon law did not require them to...something that needs to be corrected.

Yes, some governments exceed their rightful authority. Australia’s attempt to abolish the seal of confession is one example. Yes, the Church does have a right and responsibility to protect herself from that. But the Church does need to set out rules on cooperation with the state on reporting crimes that apply no matter what level of hostility the state has.

9) Real Reform takes time 

We live in a society that demands instant results. But often the instant results we demand turn out to be unjust once we have more information. We now know that certain procedures didn’t work and need to be reformed. But making good reforms without exploits will take time: time to investigate how things went wrong, time to investigate how to make them right, time to turn them into canon law. If we don’t do that, we’ll have to deal with more problems down the line.

10) The Church still must carry out the Great Commission and deal with other problems

When the Pope issues statements pertaining to issues other than the abuse scandal, some Catholics get angry. “He should focus on this and nothing else until it’s solved!” But that doesn’t work. The Church exists as Our Lord’s ordinary means of bringing salvation to the world. That means she must address other evils that endanger people’s salvation and teach us on things that we wrongly think are “unimportant” based on our ideology.

It means we must not drop important issues. For example, I think that archbishop Chaput is a good bishop for the most part. I found his Render unto Caesar very helpful in dealing with Church and state. But I disagree with his call to set aside the upcoming synod on youth and replacing it with a synod on bishops. Yes, we do need a synod on Bishops. But such synods take time—usually 2 years—to set up (see #9 above). In the meantime, the Pope realizes the need for a synod on youth, to keep them in the Church and out of the “nones” category. That’s a real issue that won’t go away while we work on the scandal.

Yes, people inside and outside the Church may accuse us of “ignoring” the abuse issue or “having no credibility now.” But the Church has to deal with these issues regardless of what scandals arise.

Conclusion 

Nothing in what I write should be interpreted as supporting “business as usual” or not caring about the scandal. If someone believes I do, they have grossly missed my point.

But with all the anger out there, it seems that many on social media are not thinking things through. They assume the worst of the Church. Whoever does not say what the critics want them to say are “lying” or “stonewalling.” This article reflects my combox debates with angry people who seem to see only part of the issue.

Yes, let’s work for just reform according to the rights and responsibilities of canon 212.


But let us also be aware of things that the Church cannot ignore or neglect in carrying out reform.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

They Ended in Schism

(Preliminary note: it’s not my intention to accuse anyone involved in this latest dispute of fomenting schism. Rather, I hope to remind everyone that certain attitudes can lead to that danger if not kept in check)

The thing that troubles me about the reaction to the scandals is the open contempt that some are showing to the clergy, treating them as an enemy that the Church needs to be liberated from. They rightly want reform but think that the cause of the corruption are not just some corrupt bishops and priests, but the bishops and priests. The problem is, this is not the first time that this happened. There were other movements in the history of the Church who began with a desire to reform the Church and ended in schism.

We’ve had groups like the Donatists, the Fratricelli, the Lollards, the Protestants, etc. They gradually started viewing the clergy as enemies and rejected them. When the Church told them they were wrong, they retorted that the Church was wrong. Eventually they wound up leaving the Church in the name of reform.

In this current crisis, I’m not accusing those concerned over scandals as fomenting schism. But I do wonder if we’re seeing fault lines that may turn into schism if left unchecked. The mistrust can lead to rejection of rightful authority. That rejection can turn into separation from the rightful authority. But, as Catholics, we cannot reject that rightful authority—even if some misuse it or personally sin grievously—because this authority is given to the Church by God.

This doesn’t mean “business as usual” when it comes to scandals. But it does mean recognizing the authority to teach and govern is not set aside for the bad behavior. John XII was a notoriously bad Pope. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia describes him as “a coarse, immoral man, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general odium.”  Yet, if he had ever taught as Pope [§], the obligation to obey would bind and the faithful would have to trust God would protect him from teaching error. People tried to depose him, but the attempt had no authority.

The situation we have in the Church today is nothing like the scandals of past centuries. I’m not arguing the fallacy of Relative Privation here. The fact that a past scandal was worse doesn’t mean we don’t suffer in a current one. But what it does mean is if the Church survived that, it will survive this and we are not excused from obedience.

What we have is a reaction of revulsion against the evils committed by one bishop and a small number of clergy combined with the revelation of some bishops knew but preferred to keep it hidden instead of stopping it. Yes, we do have evil in the Church. Yes, it does have to be rooted out. Wanting these things corrected is not wrong. But reckless accusations, assuming without proof the Pope must be guilty and demand for him to resign, assuming the clergy are an enemy of reform—these are wrong.

I would urge the faithful who are (quite legitimately) struggling with feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal to remember this and not allow themselves to fall into these attitudes.

___________________

[§] He never did. God protecting His Church sometimes means that an evil Pope doesn’t get around to teaching at all.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Reflecting on Seeking Truth

Introduction 

My blog’s Facebook page suddenly got a lot more active. I’m fielding a lot more comments and messages in the past week than I did in the past three months. The common theme of this interaction was the issue of truth. Whether asking what it was or arguing about whose theory is true, people show a belief that truth exists and a sincere desire to know and live out what is true. 

Since truth cannot contradict truth, when we encounter conflicting claims, they can’t both be true. However they can both be false. This means that we can’t argue that rejecting one claim means the other must automatically be true. Aristotle famously defined truth as “to say of what is that it is, and to say of what is not that it is not.” If we want to do this, we must investigate what things are.

This article will not be an exhaustive treatment of truth or logic, but I will mention some things I think are in danger of being forgotten.

The Authority of Our Lord and His Church to teach Truth

As Christians, we believe Our Lord Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the light. So we must live in accord with His teaching. As Catholics, we believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Our Lord established (Matthew 16:18) and made necessary (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). So we must live in accord with the Church teaching if we would be faithful to Him (John 14:15). The ones who determine what is compatible with these teachings are the magisterium—the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. They bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). This office exists regardless of the sinfulness of the men holding the office. We trust that God protects His Church from teaching error (Matthew 16:18, 28:19-20). Because of this, any attempts to separate loving God from obeying His Church does not live according to the truth.

This becomes challenging when some members of the magisterium do grievous wrong. But we are not excused. Our Lord anticipated the teacher who did evil when he said in Matthew 23:2–3: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” When the bishops exercise their office in communion with the Pope, their personal sinfulness is not an exemption from obedience.


Avoiding Things That Lead to False Conclusions 

There are all sorts of things that can mislead. They don’t have to be deliberate lies. A person can think they sound reasonable. But if the argument has false premises or bad logic, the conclusions are unproven. For example, if “proof” of a claim depends on the claim being true, those proofs aren’t proof. That’s begging the question. If a person calls his opponent a liar at the beginning and turns his audience to suspicion of his opponent, that’s turning people away from considering all sides, that’s poisoning the well. If a person conjures up strong emotions to sway the audience to a desired conclusion, that’s an appeal to emotion fallacy.

Moreover, a person can lie about or be mistaken over facts. If they speak falsely, they cannot prove a conclusion.

There are many ways to mislead. But the person misleading might think it is true. Someone untrained in logic or mistaken about facts can sincerely go wrong without intending to mislead. But we have to investigate claims—especially accusations of wrongdoing—to determine if they are true. 

The Credibility Issue

Some sources are more reliable than others. Sources that shows repeated ignorance, deception, or bias are seen as more dubious and their claims are given less weight than informed sources which strive to be accurate and balanced. While we can’t just outright reject a claim solely based on the origin (that’s the genetic fallacy), we can certainly question the claim of a dubious source.

The Evidence Issue

If I make a shocking claim, you shouldn’t accept it just because I said so (ipse dixit). We have to ask whether it happened or happened under the circumstances claimed. A lack of evidence isn’t proof that it didn’t happen. But neither can silence be used to prove it did (“nobody denies it....”) A lack of evidence means nothing more than a lack of evidence. It doesn’t prove somebody destroyed evidence. It doesn’t prove that the person making the claim is a liar. It just proves... nothing.

A variant of this is the “everybody knows” claims. You can’t interview “Everybody.” We need to talk to a credible witness or an expert. “Everyone” may have heard, but not everyone is a witness. People talk, rumors expand. Do they have any basis? Or is it hearsay? Except in rare circumstances (like the “dying declaration”) you can’t testify what someone else told you. The person who saw it has to testify.

Nobody likes a dead end. We like things to be resolved. But real life sometimes can’t provide what we need to prove something. Criminals walk free. Society endures that on the grounds that it is better that a guilty man go free than an innocent man be punished. In terms of reason, we would say: if we can’t prove a man is guilty, the courts can’t say he’s been proven guilty.

Putting it Together 

So, when it comes to evaluating a claim, we have certain restrictions that push us to the truth. We must accept the Christian-Catholic view on right and wrong. We must identify things that could mislead us and reject them. We must consider the reliability of the one who makes a claim and whether evidence backs it up. If one or more of these things are absent, we cannot declare that claim “proven true.”

Applying This to the Scandals 

Going by what Christ and His Church had taught, rash judgment is closed to us. We cannot assume malfeasance unless malfeasance is proven. Based on logic, we cannot use bad reasoning that leads us or others to wrong conclusions. In terms of credibility, we cannot rely on sources known to be unreliable or biased to form the basis of our views. In terms of evidence, we must rely on what is proven, not on what is claimed.

The problem I see is, in America at least, a vocal portion of Catholic Social Media is ignoring these things. Many are allowing their preferences and biases to shape their opinion and treat it as fact. A person who has a longstanding hostility to the Pope or has indiscriminately read biased sources are swallowing up whatever fits their ideology.

I don’t object to seeking the truth. But there is a strong tendency towards rash judgment that must be rejected. If we would be unbiased, we must be willing to consider the idea that the Pope is not guilty of accusations against him—something that seems to be sadly lacking on what I see in social media (which probably means I have to start unfollowing the worst offenders).

Conclusion 

Is there wrongdoing in the Church? Of course. Even before McCarrick and the Pennsylvania report, that was clear. There will always be wrongdoing in the Church. That doesn’t mean we should be complacent about it. In each era of Church history, there are always things that need reform. This era is no different. 

But in assessing where the wrongdoing is and curing it, it requires us to be open to finding the truth and eliminating things that lead us astray. This is a requirement for everyone. The person who assumes that only the person who disagrees with us need to do this is not looking for the truth.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Pope in the Dock: Reflections on an Unproven Accusation

While I am not complacent with the scandals afflicting the Church, neither do I think this is the worst crisis in the history of the Church. I am concerned, however, by the actions of the anti-Francis Catholics who are using this scandal to press what they see as an advantage in  their five year attack on the Pope. In their attempts to target the Pope and bishops which they dislike, they are making proposals which will do lasting damage to the Church carrying out her mission.

As I see it, we ought to treat any accusations against the Pope like we would treat an accusation against a close family member. If someone accused your spouse or child of a crime, you’d say: Buddy, you better make damn sure you have incontrovertible proof of your claims before you go any further. We don’t demand our family members to prove their innocence. We insist that the accusers to prove guilt. Right now, the critics have no proof, incontrovertible or otherwise. Vigano turns out to have gotten his story from Lantheaume (who has refused to talk further on the topic). The National Catholic Register turns out not to have gotten “confirmation” from Benedict XVI, but from an unidentified source. If there were sanctions against McCarrick, they were so secret that nobody seems to know they existed—including Pope Francis.

And that seems to be the problem with the attack on the Holy Father. The allegation is that Benedict XVI imposed sanctions preventing McCarrick from exercising public ministry “in 2009 or 2010.” Pope Francis is then accused of lifting those sanctions against McCarrick and, therefore, stands guilty of coverup. But if anybody can corroborate the story Lantheaume told Vigano, they have not come forward so far. Meanwhile, it seems that—fair or not—Vigano had damaged his reputation as trustworthy in the eyes of the Vatican to the point that, even if there was anything to the sanctions claim, Pope Francis might have found him to be a dubious source of information.

The Vigano letter seems to be conjecture. He thinks he sees cause and effect in the interactions of the Vatican that shows a coverup. But what he calls evidence seems to depend on his assumption that the Pope is guilty of knowingly covering up. But if the Pope didn’t cover up, then his examples are not proof. In logic, we call this begging the question. 

Keeping this in mind, the calls for the Pope to resign are premature. Before we can even discuss this, we have to ask whether the Pope even did what he was accused of. If he did not, then any demands for resignation are not only useless, but harmful to the Church. Only if it is proved that he did this, can we move on to looking at the reasons for his actions and see whether they were an actual coverup or whether it was an error in judgment. Remember that infallibility does not mean that administrative or judicial actions will be free of problems. A Pope can make what he thinks is the best decision on administrating the Church and make a bad decision.

If that’s grounds for demanding a Pope resign, we might as well all jump ship to one of the Eastern Orthodox churches because you will not find a single Pope who was free of sin or mistaken judgment.

So, what if we look further and hypothetically do find malfeasance? (which I DO NOT believe will happen). That will be tragic, but will have no bearing on his authority. Only God can remove a sitting Pope and we still have the obligation to give religious submission of intellect and will when a Pope teaches. In such a case, we can only pray for God to guide the Pope to do the right thing.

But, since the opponents can’t verify Vigano’s claims, we can’t even begin to assume that the Pope is guilty without committing rash judgment. We should pay attention to the Catechism on this:


Where is the attempt to give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope said and did? Where is the attempt to ask his account? Who has given us any more than hearsay and ipse dixit when it comes to determining fault? There are no such attempts. That leaves us rash judgment or, if any accusers speak falsely, calumny.

We must also remember that the Pope is not a criminal in the dock and we are not judges. He is the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter. We don’t get the right to refuse to give him obedience or respect because he has been accused.

Pope Francis asked reporters, “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.” At this point, my own judgment is there’s no evidence to support the accusations, but there are reasons to question them. In saying that, I don’t make rash judgments of my own. I will leave the assessment of the Pope’s accusers and their motives to God and to those with the authority within the Church.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Schism In All But Name

No doubt by now you’ve heard many accounts about the 2018 abuse scandal. I want to discuss a certain aspect of that story that went unreported—the aspect of dissent that was building for decades and came to fruition in the opposition to Pope Francis. No doubt some will disagree with my observations here. But I do believe it explains how the backlash to this scandal could have erupted so quickly. To get to the point we’re at in late August, 2018 didn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t need a conspiracy theory either. 

What it took was years of dissenters pretending (or deceived into thinking) their opposition was faithful Catholicism. I think it can be traced to resentment after changes in discipline. Certain Catholics, who thought these changes went against what they thought the Church was supposed to be, believed the Church to be in error. They blamed the Church for any negative behavior from dissenters—a post hoc fallacy. Over the decades, this mistrust and blame led to a growing suspicion that the magisterium was wrong while they were the arbiters of what was orthodox.

By the pontificate of Pope Francis, the suspicion became open contempt. People believed that the Pope was a heretic and whatever he did was suspect. His critics, through suspicions, gave the worst possible interpretation of his words, “confirming” their suspicion that he was a heretic in a vicious circle. What he said was compatible with his predecessors, but was assumed to be a contradiction by Catholics ignorant of his predecessors’ teachings. The result of this was a refusal to accept the authority of the Pope. His critics refused to accept his authority to govern or taught. Confusion resulted, but the critics blamed the Pope for the confusion.

The result was when the renewed outrage over the abuse scandal arose, his critics blamed him for a problem that went back to the 1940s and was mostly eliminated by 2002. What was different was that we learned some bishops were involved in concealing abuse in the same period—and one cardinal stood credibly accused of abuse. Understandably, Catholics wanted those who covered up to face the consequences for their acts. The problem was in determining which living bishops did wrong, and which ones merely inherited the problem.

The anti-Francis Catholics demanded immediate results, even though a just investigation and canonical trial takes time. Much longer than the two weeks between the Pennsylvania report and the time of writing this sentence. Because the Pope did not mention specific policy changes in his condemnation of the evil, critics accused him of doing nothing—again two weeks after the release of the report.

Finally we had the Vigano letter. Putting aside the arguments about his motives, we have an accusation that Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick in 2010, but Pope Francis knowingly removed these sanctions in 2013, taking part in the coverup. As of the time of my writing this, nobody has proven that Benedict XVI made such a decision. In fact, Cardinal Wuerl has explicitly said nobody told him that such sanctions were in effect—and he would be the one responsible to make sure they were enforced. [§] In his press conference, Pope Francis told reporters to stop being lazy and investigate the accusations. I believe he is confident of the results of that outcome.

But the mistrust this faction caused has reached such extremes that any bishop who denied being part of the coverup was deemed a liar. As a result, the critics had a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. Any bishop who didn’t go along was “part of the problem.” Any bishop who did was “proof” that the other bishops were liars. There’s no way a bishop can prove his innocence under these circumstances.

And, here we are. A vocal faction has hijacked the narrative and attacked anyone who challenged the claims. They were so loud that many people are beginning to believe them. Now, when the Pope and bishops reject the accusations, people believe the propaganda.

This is schism in all but name. I will not be part of it. Like this Pope or hate him, he is the Vicar of Christ. Like or hate the bishops, they are successors to the Apostles. They do have the authority to bind and loose regardless of personal sins. Yes, reform is needed. But it cannot be a revolt. It must work with the magisterium, not against it.

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[§] Also of note, if Benedict XVI imposed sanctions and Pope Francis lifted them, Cardinal Wuerl would have an excuse for not getting involved in the McCarrick case. But instead of saying he was ordered to end sanctions, he insisted he received no instructions to begin them.