Monday, February 20, 2017

It Didn't Start With Francis


While I don’t particularly like the song, it’s practically mandatory 
to show this video in a post like this

Introduction

One common trend in social media is a number of Catholics claiming that things were wonderful under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the opposition against Popes only arose in reaction to the things Pope Francis did. From their comments on social media, I can identify three groups:

  1. There are a lot of Catholics who were not aware of the controversy in those pre-Internet/Smartphone times
  2. There are a lot of recent converts out there who missed the attacks against previous Popes, and are encountering something they never were aware of.
  3. Some Catholics have conveniently “forgotten" their hostility to previous Popes

I will leave it to God to judge whether anyone is in category three, but I think the first two probably explains a lot of it.

Before the internet, the only way to get information was either to rely on the media, or order encyclicals from either Daughters of St. Paul or the publishing company of the American bishops (I can’t even recall what it was called back then). On one hand, Catholics had to wait until the document was published in the country. On the other hand, so did reporters, and they would usually call a local pastor to get commentary for their news articles. So things were slower back then. There were still attacks, of course.

We Forget How and Why the Rebellion Happened…

No, it didn’t start with Francis, and it didn’t start with Vatican II.

We forget that the priests and religious who caused problems after Vatican II were ordained before Vatican II. We forget some of them were highly respected. Fr. Schillebeeckx, for example, was a highly respected moral theologian, whose early manuals are still cited by orthodox Catholics because of their quality. We forget some of them were highly respected by the bishops who would later find them problematic. We forget that some who were later honored by St. John Paul II were viewed with suspicion by the Holy Office, (St. Padre Pio, Benedict XVI), and some of them were silenced.

We forget that a generation rose up and rejected authority, political and religious. Nations that were not Catholic, or even Christian, had unrest. We forget the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the mistrust of government, and the hostility to unjust laws (like segregation) influenced a generation. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at opposing injustice. A large portion of a generation began to think the state and the Church were to blame for these things by their very existence. When the state enforced the law, when the Church insisted some behaviors were morally evil, this was “fascism.” Never mind they were using this epithet against a generation that opposed fascism.

We also forget the dramatic change that came in 1968 (not 1965). Everybody was expecting the Catholic Church to “change her teaching” on contraception. Because they misunderstood how the Church worked, they assumed that because the majority report (going beyond their authority of investigating whether the Pill was contraception) urged a change in teaching, that it was a guaranteed thing. So when Blessed Paul VI reinforced the traditional Catholic teaching, many were angry. They irrationally felt betrayed over the Church “betraying” them in something she never promised and would never do.

Because we forget this, I think we are unable to understand the scope of what the Church faced, and what a monumental task it was to repair. Theologians were called to get back in line with the Church, and when they didn’t, several were suspended from teaching theology.

We Forget the Rebellion from the Right Happened at the Same Time

We also forget that certain Catholics, trying to remain faithful, became embittered with the inadequate response from the bishops. Committing a post hoc fallacy, they assumed that because the unrest followed Vatican II, the unrest was caused by Vatican II. So they began to agitate for reversing the Council. The SSPX rose at this time. When the bishops, and later the Pope, began to crack down on their abuses, they refused the obedience which was a keystone to the pre-conciliar teaching that they professed to support. Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended by Blessed Paul VI for illicitly ordaining priests against a direct order not to, and was excommunicated by St. John Paul II for consecrating bishops against a direct order not to.

What people forget is the SSPX and those who sympathized with them hated Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II for their actions taken. These people constantly gave their actions a negative twist, accusing them of heresy and modernism[†]. Even some who were not part of the SSPX blamed the Holy Father for not cracking down on the dissenters they disagreed with, while saying that the defeat of that faction should take priority[¶], but he was ignoring them to punish the SSPX and others.

Between Scylla and Charybdis with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI

This resulted in the Pope being hated by both sides, each accusing the Popes of favoring the other side. Cries of “Why don’t you punish them for X?” appeared in religious newspapers, magazines and others. It was assumed that the continued existence of a faction without a public censure was “proof” that the Pope identified with this side. When St. John Paul II wrote about social justice, he was accused of identifying with socialism. When he wrote on abortion, he was accused of being right wing.

Generally speaking, vocal factions in the Church argued that whatever he did against them was proof of being political or heresy[§], while what he did that they agreed with was “too little too late.” They certainly confused Catholics trying to be faithful. With so much smoke, people wondered if there was fire. Catholics trending towards liberalism began to believe the accusations that the Pope was cold hearted and insensitive. Those trending towards conservatism began to believe the accusations that he was weak on dissent and was sympathetic, uncaring, or ignorant of what was going on in the Church.

The Rise of the Internet and the Smartphone

We also forget that knowledge (or misinformation) of and criticism about Papal actions grew with technology. The Printing Press was invented in 1440. The Telegraph was invented in the 1830s. The Fax Machine was invented in 1846. The telephone was invented in 1876. The radio was invented in 1894 (Vatican Radio began in 1931). With each step, it was easier and faster to distribute news, and the Church was able to distribute her documents more widely and quickly. But everything still depended on hard copy (except for the relatively few items on microfilm and microfiche). If a copy was not available in bookstore or library, you had to either drive long distances or do without[Ω].

The media depended on experts to interpret what the Church said, and that depended on some ludicrous situations. When it was announced that the Pope was releasing a new encyclical, the media wondered if this meant the Church was finally changing her teaching on contraception, abortion, and women’s ordination[√]. Then they would call local pastors and bishops and be disabused of their notions.

The next phase of communications emerged when Internet was commercialized in 1995. Over the next 20 years, more information would get onto the internet, but so would misinformation. In addition, more people would be given an audience[ø]. This also meant the critics of the Pope would be able to increase their reach. Then in the late 2000s, the Smartphone combined the internet with instant access without having to be at a computer, allowing the individual to be instantly informed about things happening around the world.

Unfortunately, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and, when it comes to news on the Church, that weakest link was the media that believed that someday the Church would have to change her teaching. These reporters, with their religious illiteracy, did not understand the nuances of moral theology or how the Church taught. For example, when Benedict XVI gave a book length interview with Peter Seewald in 2010, he gave a hypothetical example of a gay prostitute with AIDS to illustrate how a person might begin to think about an issue in terms of morals. But the media thought the Church had finally changed!

It wasn’t the first time. In 2006, his lecture in Regensburg was wrongly portrayed as a denunciation of Islam, and his Caritas in Veritate (2009) was portrayed as a movement towards liberalism in terms of economic policy. Reporters and their editors thought that the world would eventually change the Church, and viewed each unfamiliar concept as a change towards their politics.

This led to a new situation. The Church would speak, the media would misrepresent, and Catholic critics would blame the Pope for the confusion. Never mind that the media never once stopped to confirm their information. Never mind that they’ve been consistently wrong, and the actual documents or transcripts show Popes did not say what they were alleged to say when taken in context.

Getting From There To Here

So, what we have here is a set of attitudes from different factions that contribute to confusion:

  1. A rebellion against the authority of the Church when it goes against a faction
  2. A belief that the Church has to change or revert to avoid error
  3. A belief or fear that this change is imminent
  4. A tendency to make hostile interpretations of actions as having sympathy or support for the other side (believed to be in error)
  5. A religiously illiterate media that does not understand the depth and nuance of Church teaching
  6. Blaming the Pope for those misinterpretations.
  7. Increasingly rapid communications from people responsible for the above problems
Put these factors together and we have instantaneous response to the actions of the Pope which are affected with the biases of the person responding. It’s the same actions, but it happens faster now than it did in previous pontificates and reaches a far larger audience.

And Now, Here We Are

This is why I must shake my head in sadness and disbelief when I encounter Catholics who say, “Things were never this way before Pope Francis.” They certainly did happen back then. But before the Smartphone (which only took off in the later years of the pontificate of Benedict XVI), before the Internet (which arrived only during the pontificate of St. John Paul II), things were much slower and some errors could be refuted before they spread too far. 

But now, with the internet and the smartphone, a wild rumor can spread around the world before the Vatican Press Office can respond[π]. If a reporter wrongly thinks the quote,“Who am I to judge?” means the Pope is going to change Church teaching on homosexuality, there’s not much the Church can do to stop the misinformation from happening. She can only offer a correction and encourage people to listen to what was made in context.

This is the situation Pope Francis inherited.

  1. A rebellion from day one when radical traditionalists called his election “a disaster.” 
  2. Some hoping and some fearing change to Church teaching.
  3. A belief that this change would happen.
  4. A hostile interpretation as heretical overshadowing everything he said or did
  5. A religiously illiterate media quoting out of context, and predicting he would change Church teaching on homosexuality, abortion, contraception, etc. and hostile factions believing it.
  6. Blaming the Pope for those out of context quotes. 
  7. An instantaneous communication misrepresenting what Pope Francis said and did. 
It is these factors that lead to confusion in the Church. It has been true since the rebellion of the 1960s, and continues today, aided by improved communications of error. We didn’t hear as much about this confusion from his predecessors because the internet and the smartphone came relatively late to the game. 
 
Conclusion
 
There will always be some incidents where a Pope doesn’t act as we think a Pope should act. Since, a Pope is a sinner in need of salvation like the rest of us, it is possible a Pope will do something regrettable. But this catastrophic view of the Church we have today shows a lack of knowledge of problems we’ve always had. Blessed John Henry Newman, for example, had to defend Pope Pius IX from those who received faulty understanding about what he said as reported by an ignorant media.

We need to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because someone is not aware of the controversies involving the predecessors of Pope Francis does not mean these controversies did not exist. They most certainly did—but they had a much more limited reach than today. We should keep this in mind, and not assume that because this is the first time we’re noticing it, that this is the first time it happened. Once we clear out this misinterpretation, we can see the real issues clearly and perhaps come to a better attitude in dealing with them.

_________________________

[†] Prior to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they made the same attacks against him.
[¶] When these critics were questioned about the censures given, it was never enough. They believed the Holy Father should have excommunicated them, even though that was not the established penalty.
[§] For example, the picture of St. John Paul II kissing the Qur’an, and the Meeting in Assisi were portrayed as “proof” that he was a heretic.
[Ω] As a personal anecdote, in 1992, doing my senior thesis for my B.A degree, defending the Church against the charge of “sympathy to the Nazis,” I had no access to Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge or Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus which denounced the Nazis, and was unable to use them (I still got an A, even though my thesis advisor was overtly hostile to the position I took). Nowadays, anyone can do a Google search and get the full text
[√] These were the big three the media obsessed over during this era. They really seemed to believe that a change was possible, which should have served as a warning to how incompetently they would deal with Pope Francis. 
[ø] For example, without the internet, I am sure that I would not be able to reach the audience I have with my blog The expense of publishing would have made it literally impossible.  
[π] If the Vatican News Service would lock the reporters on the plane until the full transcript of a press conference was released to the public, I’d be all for it. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Little Knowledge Is Dangerous: Catholic Combox Warriors Revisited

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

 

John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei, #4

Introduction

Encountering some anti-Francis combox warriors, one of them alleged that: "Even if the Pope claims to speak ex cathedra, but what he said was not in line with the authentic Magisterium, they we cannot follow his teaching, as it would be outside the Church. In which case, it would not be ex cathedra.” When I saw that, I was left kind of stunned at the ignorance. When the Pope speaks ex cathedra, that’s a guarantee that he is not teaching error at all! But this person (and others commenting on the post in question) have reached a state where they would rather deny the authority of the Church than consider the possibility of being rebels against the Church they profess to believe in.

This isn’t a problem linked to one faction (and, to be fair, it doesn’t involve all Catholics in a faction). I’ve seen modernist/liberal Catholics try to argue that the Catholic teaching goes against Our Lord’s teaching on love and mercy. I’ve seen traditionalist/conservative Catholics argue that a Pope (from St. John XXIII to the present) goes against previous teaching. In both cases, the Catholic in question argues that the Church is in error and will remain in error until she becomes what the combox warrior thinks it should be.

The problem is, whether the critic is citing the words of Our Lord or a teaching of the Church, the quote is usually ripped out of context. It’s obvious that the person has not considered the rest of what the text says or what else has been said. For example, yes, Our Lord did speak on love and mercy—but also about hell and the need to follow Him and His Church to avoid it. Yes, in some centuries, Popes emphasized certain aspects of the Church teaching against attacks from that direction, but that emphasis was not a denial of the other aspects. 

An Example Where Catholics Go Wrong

Let’s take the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam. I have seen Catholics cite the line[†], “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff” to deny that non-Catholics can be saved and to insist that every Pope from St. John XXIII forward who speaks about the salvation of those outside of the Church are heretics. What they overlook is the fact that Pope Boniface VIII was dealing with the Caesaropapism of the French king, Philip the Fair, who refused obedience to the Pope and insisted that the clergy owed him obedience over obedience to the Pope.

Yes, it is true there is no Salvation outside of the Church as St. Cyprian of Carthage put it. But what this means is whoever is saved is saved by Christ and His Church, not through Buddha or some other figure, nor from some other religion. But it does not mean that only Catholics will be saved (that’s the heresy of Feeneyism, condemned at the direction of Pope Pius XII). In fact, Even before the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX spoke on the possibility of those outside the Church being saved. In Singulari Quidem #7, he said, “Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.”

Vatican II reaffirmed the necessity of those who know of the necessity of the Church to enter and remain within it: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium #14). The Church recognizes (Lumen Gentium #16) that those who never received knowledge of Christ might be saved when they seek to do right, but…

[O]ften men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

In other words, we don’t despair of people who die who are ignorant of Christ and His Church through no fault of their own, but to save them from falling into evil ways or despair, we have to reach out to them. What many people think is indifferentism, is actually a discussion of what is and is not humanly possible in carrying out Our Lord’s work.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

This is just one example I’ve encountered over the years. People pull one quote off of a site which portrays it as contradicting a later statement (which actually clarify what the earlier statement means) and go on their merry way wrongly believing the Church today is in error and trying to persuade others of this misinformation. The problem is, there’s no real effort made to understand what the Church has taught and how she has deepened her teaching. Likewise, when they encounter something that doesn’t square up with how they interpret these out of context quotes, they assume the other must be in error, not themselves.

The problem is, this is vincible or culpable ignorance, not the invincible ignorance a person who has never accurately encountered the teaching of the Church might possess. As Catholics belong to the Church established by Christ, shepherded by the successors of the Apostles, we don’t have an excuse when we reject that authority. Yes, individual bishops can reject the authority of the Church and promote error (as the early centuries of Church history show), but the safe path has always been with those shepherds who follow the Bishop of Rome. Whenever a Pope has believed an error, it was always a private error and never a binding teaching. 

And that’s why a little knowledge is dangerous. People ignorant of the history of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius I cite them as “proof” that a Pope can be a heretic and “teach error,” even though they never taught error and historians are divided over whether they ever held it. Such people wrongly believe John XXII “taught” heresy on the beatific vision, even though he did not teach (he did mention it in two homilies), and the issue was not defined until his successor, Benedict XII decided to settle the issue.

Unfortunately, some Catholics choose to undermine the teaching of the Church by embracing arguments that attack the authority Our Lord gave the Church. That’s dangerous because when one has a difficulty, we have an obligation to investigate it, and not let it fester into a doubt. That doesn’t mean that Catholics must abandon their families, live as monks and study obscure documents. God understands our limitations in our vocational obligations or ability to study and doesn’t expect us to do the impossible. But He does expect us to put faith in Him and the Church He established, offering obedience (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16, John 14:15) when the shepherds teach in communion with the successor of Peter. When we find a difficulty, we ought to seek an answer while trusting in God to protect His Church.

Conclusion

The teaching of the Church is vast. For example, I read theology for pleasure as well as for study, and even I discover new things every day on how the teaching can be applied. There are many in the Church wiser and more knowledgable than me and they too discover new things every day. None of these discoveries have ever shown the magisterium of the Church going from “X is a sin” to “X is permissible.” That might surprise the person who has wrongly believed that Pope Francis “contradicts Church teaching.” But this false belief comes from being ignorant of what the present Pope really said, being ignorant of what his predecessors really said, or (often) both.

What we need to remember is God has been protecting His Church. He has protected us from wicked Popes changing teaching to justify their behavior. He has protected the Church from Popes making a teaching out of erroneous materials, even when not teaching ex cathedra[§]. This protection did not end in 1958 (when St. John XXIII became Pope), 1962 (when Vatican II began), 1965 (when it ended), or 2013 (when Pope Francis was elected). If there was ever a time when this protection was withdrawn, Our Lord’s promises in Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20 would be false (a blasphemous charge) and we could never know when the Church was teaching wrongly. Those who hate the Church have argued for centuries that they are right and the Church has fallen into error. If Vatican II could teach error, why not Trent? If Blessed Paul VI could teach error in promulgating the Missal of 1970, why not St. Pius V in promulgating the Missal of 1570?

We must stop assuming the fault is with the Church when the magisterium teaches differently than we think the Church should teach. We need to ask whether our limited knowledge is the cause of this error, and seek to learn from sources which remain faithful to the Church today, and not those sources adversarial to her. Otherwise we risk the ruin of souls through our vincible ignorance.

 

_______________________

[†] Ironically, critics of the Pope seem to have forgotten the quote since Pope Francis became Pope. Their quote-mining would indict them for refusing to follow what they demanded before.

[§] For example, when Blessed Paul VI called a commission to study whether the Pill was contraception or not [Because it didn’t work like barrier methods, the question was whether it was legitimate like medicine], nobody knew that the Pill had an abortifacient effect. If the Ordinary Magisterium (which some Catholics wrongly believe can be error-prone) had ruled it was not contraceptive, we could have wound up with the Church approving an abortifacient while condemning abortion

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts on Difficulties and Doubt

Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of religion; I am as sensitive as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines, or to their compatibility with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and borne in upon our minds with most power.

 

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 264–265.

Introduction

Let’s begin with a personal anecdote: Sometimes I come across difficulties with parts of Scripture and theology. I ask myself How does THAT work? Whether it’s some harsh passages of the Old Testament, or when a Pope or a Saint says something that seems different from my understanding of how things fit together, it can be jarring. Then there’s always the example of Catholics behaving badly throughout history, I have an ideal on what the Church should be, and I compare that to the real life example if actual Catholics, and find that even heroic Catholics have done troubling things.

But while I have difficulties at times, I have never had any doubt about the authority of Church teaching or Our Lord’s protecting the Church from error. So I submit to the teaching of the Church, trusting  that however God might judge an issue, it will be done in a way that reflects His justice and mercy both. I would certainly resent any accusations that I denied or doubted the teaching of the Church because of my difficulties on comprehending how a teaching works. Why? Because I do not reject the teaching as I try to understand it better.

I believe that if I were to doubt the mercy of God or the teaching of the Church on a matter, I would soon find myself at odds with both God and His Church. I would be making myself the arbiter of what should be where I presume to pass judgment on things I have no right to do so. I think those paying attention to what goes on in our faith are aware of the factionalism arising in the Church. We’ve been seeing the anti-Francis attacks since the day he became Pope which assumes what he does differently is “heretical.” Sadly, we’re seeing an emerging position that declares all persons who oppose the Pope must be “schismatic.” I think both of these movements confuse difficulty and doubt, either in their own minds or in the behavior of others, and we need to discern the real difference to avoid the twin dangers of losing faith by harboring doubts, and the rash judgment of assuming another’s difficulty is a doubt.

Doubt from Ourself

I think we harbor doubt when what we see something we do not understand and assume something must be wrong with it because we’re not comfortable with how it sounds. If we’ve invested in a certain opinion or school of thought, then a shift of emphasis sounds like “error” instead of a legitimate change of how we approach something. If we take this difficulty and assume the Church must have gone wrong, we are harboring a doubt in the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error. In a similar way, when we try to find reasons to deny that a teaching we dislike is actually a teaching, we are harboring doubts about the authority of the Church to bind and loose.

These and similar attitudes to these lead to doubting that what the Church teaches is done with God’s authority and with His assurance that He will not permit the Church to teach us error. Once we embrace this doubt, we will replace trust in God with trust in ourselves, thinking that if the Church does not act as we see fit, she must be in error.

Assuming Doubt in Others

On the other hand, some assume that a difficulty with a teaching automatically equals a rejection of that teaching. A person who voices their concern with how people might misinterpret a Church teaching (while accept the validity of that teaching) is not doubting. Yes, we want to avoid legalism in following Church teaching, but one can wrestle with understanding what the teaching means and one’s limited capacity to understand (and by being human, we do have a limited capacity).

One example I see with this, is in the recent attacks on Cardinal Burke in Social media comments. I have seen some Catholics treat him with the same abusiveness that anti-Francis Catholics direct at the Pope. But, regardless of what thinks about how he’s handled things or how his supporters have used/misused his words, much of what he says and does seems based on difficulties in reconciling the teaching authority of the Pope with his understanding on the Church teaching on marriage—but he does not doubt either one. While I don’t approve of how he handled the issue of the dubia, he denies the Pope is in heresy, and should not be treated as a schismatic that rejects the authority of the Pope along the lines of Canon 751.

Conclusion

I think we need to remember our limitations. The fact that we have difficulties reconciling two teachings of the Church does not mean one must be false. But, if we try to downplay one in the name of defending our conception of the Church, that is a warning that we are harboring a doubt. At the same time, when we see people expressing a misgiving, we should be certain they are actually harboring a doubt before accusing them of doing so. They just might be trying to accept the truth but are having trouble in understanding how to do so. We must be careful in not being the stumbling block that turns their difficulty to doubt.

So let us avoid turning difficulty to doubt by remembering that while our own knowledge and power are finite, God’s knowledge and power are not—and He can and will protect His Church. And let us avoid accusing a fellow Christian of doubting if all he is doing is working his way through a difficulty. If such a one submits to the authority of the Church while struggling to understand, we should help them, not attack them.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Losing the Sense of Sin: A Reflection

Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin. Smother that, deaden it — it can hardly be wholly cut out from the heart of man — let it not be awakened by any glimpse of the God-man dying on Golgotha’s cross to pay the penalty of sin, and what is there to hold back the hordes of God’s enemy from over-running the selfishness, the pride, the sensuality and unlawful ambitions of sinful man? (Pope Pius XII)

The words of Pope Pius XII about the greatest sin being the loss of the sense of sin is a good warning for our times, but I wonder if we actually consider the fullness of what it implies. For years I interpreted it as an indictment of modern psychology and sociology denying morality in general. No doubt that is one aspect of it. But I’ve begun to wonder if there’s more to it than that. It seems to me that there’s another aspect to it, and that aspect is, “others sin, but I don’t—at least not in important ways.” That kind of mindset allows us to be religious, but focussing on the sins of others and never asking whether God is just as offended with us as he is with others. That’s dangerous because, if we think this way, we don’t examine our consciences seriously and don’t repent of what we do—except superficially.

This temptation can be found in all different factions—and the danger is to only see it only in them, not us. It’s easy to do. We might ask, “Why does the Church speak out on X (whatever we think is minor, or perhaps justified) but not on Y (what others do, but we don’t)?” The conservative Catholic might think of X as social justice, and Y as sexual morality. The liberal Catholic might think of X as sexual morality and Y as social justice. The Church speaks on evils involving both, but we tend to resent it when the Church teaching jogs our conscience and tells us we have to change.

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14).

I think the hostility of the Pharisees to Jesus serves as a good example for our own hostility. The Pharisees sought to live what they thought was a pure life pleasing to God. I don’t think we can doubt their sincerity. The problem was, they lost sight of the fact that they needed to repent as well. So, when Jesus spoke to them in parables showing that they were falling short, they responded with anger. After all, they were trying to live rightly! The tax collectors weren’t even trying! Why didn’t Jesus speak against them! But instead, Jesus told them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:31b)” He didn’t say that because He was morally lax and wanted to change teaching. He said that because the one who knows he is a sinner and wants to repent will enter Heaven before the self-righteous who thinks he doesn’t need to change.

Pharisee and Tax collector

Yes, we do need to speak out on sin to the world that has been deceived to think that guilt over sin is merely a psychological disorder. But we also have to look to ourselves and consider how we have acted against what God calls us to be, constantly repenting and rejecting what is against His will. We must do this regardless of what the world does. We certainly cannot say that we’re fine because we’re not as bad as them (whoever we consider “them” to be).

As long as we cannot do this, we will be like the Pharisee who lost the sense of his personal sin.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Don't Have to Listen to You! Thoughts on Rebellion Against the Ordinary Magisterium

Ultramontaine

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me”; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. (Humani Generis)

 

Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1939–1958 (Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press, 1990), 178.

 

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

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

can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

 

Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247–248.

One error that afflicted modernist dissenters for generations, and is now spreading to critics of Pope Francis is the error that if the Pope does not teach ex cathedra, then what he says might be riddled with error and we don’t have to follow it. This position further claims that only the ex cathedra teachings of the Pope are binding, but we can ignore what the bishops. The problem is, since most of the teachings done by the Church don’t involve ex cathedra declarations, this error amounts to justifying disobedience to whatever teaching or Pope the person wants to ignore. 

What this error ignores is the fact that ex cathedra definitions start out as teachings from the Ordinary Magisterium. The infallible definition is only made when the ordinary teaching is denied and needs to be clarified. So the Church infallibly defined Transubstantiation in response to certain individuals rejecting the ordinary magisterium of the Church. So, if the ordinary magisterium of the Church was not binding, then a good number of Church teachings on doctrine and morality would not be binding, and (under this logic) people were “free” to reject these teachings before an Ecumenical Council or a Papal Bull said otherwise.

But the Church, in her wisdom, taught about what the faithful are bound to obey. People forget that the First Vatican Council not only defined the authority of an ex cathedra statement, but also defined that the Pope was to be obeyed under the ordinary magisterium as well:

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

 

Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 40.

That’s actually a serious (and binding) teaching made in an Ecumenical Council presided over by Pope Pius IX. People who refuse submission to the Pope, acting as Pope, risk the loss of faith and salvation. There is nothing in Church teaching that allows the individual Catholic to withhold obedience from the teaching authority of the Pope. It is only when the Pope does not intend to teach, that one is not bound to follow. If the Pope roots for the Falcons, we’re not obliged to do the same. When Benedict XVI published Jesus of Nazareth, this was not teaching binding doctrine. But when Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, he did say that (#15), “It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.”

With this so clear, the only way the dissenter can try to evade it is by trying to impeach the authority of the Pope by accusing him of acting against Our Lord Himself (popular with those who want to accuse the Church of being “merciless” in terms of sexual moral teachings) or against the previous teachings of the Church (popular with those who dislike the Church changing disciplines). One popular tactic is to cite the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine [†] that, “a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church.” [Ω]

The problem is, we have never had a manifest (proven) heretic Pope. Even Cardinal Burke denies Pope Francis is in heresy. We’ve had two Popes accused of privately holding heresy (Liberius and Honorius), and one Pope (John XXII) who held a personal opinion that had hitherto never been defined but was later condemned by his successor. One could argue from St. Robert Bellarmine (in the forgotten part of his opinion) that this is a sign, “that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.” [§]  

So when critics of the Pope argue that they can ignore or reject the Pope if he teaches what they think is error, we see they have made an argument without authority which tries to claim the Pope or bishops who teach what they dislike can be rejected. But as we’ve shown above, the Church does not now nor ever accepted this as valid. To be blunt, these people are living in a fantasy world which can endanger their souls. They think their interpretations must be right and a Pope or bishop who says otherwise must be in error. But it is the Pope and bishops in communion with him who have the authority to interpret Scripture and Tradition and apply it to the problems of today. We trust that God protects His Church from teaching error in matters we are bound to obey. Otherwise we would be caught in a paradox—being forced to obey the Church (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17) in disobeying Our Lord by His own command. 

I find it far more reasonable to believe that God protects His Church, under the stewardship of the Pope, from teaching error than to believe that He reneged on His promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) and to protect it (Matthew 16:18-19) after Vatican II or after Pope Francis was elected Pope. That may involve the Holy Spirit dissuading a bad Pope from teaching at all.

But the rebellion against the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church when the Church intends to teach is dangerous. Whether it is based on ignorance or obstinacy, we will have to account for why we did not obey the Church and chose to trust in ourselves instead of Him when Our Lord Himself declared the Church necessary.

 

_________________________________

[†] For a more in depth analysis of St. Robert Bellarmine that I wrote, see HERE.

[Ω] Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) (p. 309). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. It should be noted that the term “true opinion” does not mean “fact.” It means an opinion reached through valid reasoning.

[§] Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) (p. 304). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. The saint goes on to say that the opinions that a Pope can be deposed for heresy can only be considered if this view is false. But he just said he considers this view probable and easily defended. So the rest is more of a theoretical exercise.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Non Serviam, 2017 Style?

A troubling trend that shows political ideology leading to dissent from Church teaching is not limited to one faction is the contempt directed against the Pope and bishops over their reaffirmation of the Catholic moral obligation to help the immigrant and the refugee. Instead of listening to those entrusted with binding and loosing, we’re seeing some Catholics respond as if they were patronizingly speaking to a grossly uneducated person giving an unwelcome opinion. The bishops get lectures on what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote and what the Catechism says about the right of governments to make decisions on these matters. But the bishops are not offering their personal opinions here. They are citing Church teaching to say that the disputed policy does not fulfill our obligation to help those in need. Since they are teaching, then we are bound to listen…

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

 

Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.

What we are seeing is a continuation of the old American Catholic antics where factions within the Church treat Church teaching as a biased and uninformed opinion “proving” the bishops must be “liberal.” Ironically, this faction spent the last 8 years denouncing another faction within the Church which accused the bishops as being “the Republican Party at Prayer” because they reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on life and sexual morality.

It leads me to ponder this point—what kind of witness to we leave when we condemn others for not following Church teaching while refusing to follow it ourselves when it goes against our political beliefs? It is one thing to (charitably) disagree among ourselves on the best way to follow Church teaching when the Church teaches, “We must do X; we must not do Y.” But when the bishops reaffirm that a political policy goes against the prohibition on doing Y, supporting Y is not a difference of opinion but a rejection of the authority of the Church—and Our Lord is quite clear that this rejection is a rejection of Him (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17-18).

If we follow Church teaching only when it matches what we want to do anyway, rejecting it when it doesn’t, we are not obeying the Church and following God. Instead, we’re proclaiming to the world that Church teaching is a matter of convenience—obey when it was what you were going to do anyway, and ignore it without consequences when it is not. When we do this, we’re behaving like any other “personally oppose but…” Catholic out there, forgetting that John 14:15 and Matthew 7:21-23 are directed at us, not just “other people.”

This is not a call for us to be mindless sheep, doing whatever we are told regardless of whether it is right or wrong. This is about recognizing who has the final say in determining how Church teaching applies to the situations of our times. It’s about recognizing that we’re not just called to be Christians when it is convenient and leaving it behind when it is not. The magisterium has the authority to determine when a behavior or a belief is compatible with what God calls us to be. The Church doesn’t demand we support a certain political party, or agree with a certain program. But she does tell us that when a state, a party, a program, or a person does evil or supports it, we cannot give our consent to it while claiming it is compatible with our faith.

When we say, “The Church is wrong on X,” we are refusing to obey the One who gave the Church her authority. If we happen to agree with the Church 99% of the time but still insist on choosing when we will or will not obey, we are giving the same non serviam (“I will not serve”) the devil gave to God. This is true regardless of whether our dissent is based on politics or on religious preference.

We need to remember that when we profess to be Christians, but refuse to follow the Church Our Lord established, we are in danger of hearing at the Final Judgment: ”I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23b)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thoughts on Controversy and the Church

One trend I come across in social media is the claim that, before Pope Francis or before Vatican II, the Church and the Popes taught clearly, but now everything is ambiguous and needs clarification. This is an error, but it’s an easy one to make. The error revolves around the fact that the further away we are from a controversy, the less we hear about the things which led up to a formal definition by the Church. We remember that Nicaea I condemned Arianism. We don’t remember the disputes about the interpretations of Scripture and the meaning of equivocal words. We think of the old maxim, Rome has spoken, the cause is finished, and wonder why people should still fighting except that the Pope isn’t clear. But we forget that when St. Augustine said this, he was actually speaking about the repeated disobedience despite the teaching of the Holy See:

For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed.

 

Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 504.

When we dig into the history of the Church we see that, when the Pope or a Council teaches on a subject, error doesn’t vanish. The decree just establishes the dividing line where one has to choose—either to accept the authority of the Church or to reject it. Error, however, doesn’t say, “Yep, I’m wrong but I don’t care.” Error rarely says, “I’m going to leave and start my own church!” What normally happens is Error denies that it is in opposition to Church teaching. Rather it either pretends to be faithful anyway or else it claims that the magisterium is wrong, and would have taught differently if they were really following Our Lord, or The Bible, or other Church teachings.

For example, when St. Pius X condemned modernism, many real modernists denied they held the positions condemned in Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentibili Sane. They would simply modify their positions slightly, claiming obedience to the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the teachings. If we were to apply the logic of the critics of Pope Francis or Vatican II, we would have to say St. Pius X was to blame for the continued disobedience. But in fact the disobedience came from those who chose to misrepresent what the Pope said. We can also point to the fact that Catholics and Protestants alike have pointed to St. Augustine to justify their contradicting positions on grace and actions. Did St. Augustine teach confusion? Or did one side cite him wrongly? I think we can recognize that St. Augustine did not teach contradiction or error.

What these examples show is that confusion and dissent existed before Vatican II. We forget about it because, if we read about these things at all, we only read about the final results, and not the path that led to that point. We don’t see the discussion that evaluated each claim and argued over the merits and problems. We wonder why the Pope hasn’t issued a decree, excommunicated a politician or answered a dubia. We forget how Blessed John Henry Newman explained, over 150 years ago, why dispute and confusion existed in the process:

And then again all through Church history from the first, how slow is authority in interfering! Perhaps a local teacher, or a doctor in some local school, hazards a proposition, and a controversy ensues. It smoulders or burns in one place, no one interposing; Rome simply lets it alone. Then it comes before a Bishop; or some priest, or some professor in some other seat of learning takes it up; and then there is a second stage of it. Then it comes before a University, and it may be condemned by the theological faculty. So the controversy proceeds year after year, and Rome is still silent. An appeal, perhaps, is next made to a seat of authority inferior to Rome; and then at last after a long while it comes before the supreme power. Meanwhile, the question has been ventilated and turned over and over again, and viewed on every side of it, and authority is called upon to pronounce a decision, which has already been arrived at by reason. But even then, perhaps the supreme authority hesitates to do so, and nothing is determined on the point for years; or so generally and vaguely, that the whole controversy has to be gone through again, before it is ultimately determined. It is manifest how a mode of proceeding, such as this, tends not only to the liberty, but to the courage, of the individual theologian or contraversialist. Many a man has ideas, which he hopes are true, and useful for his day, but he wishes to have them discussed. He is willing or rather would be thankful to give them up, if they can be proved to be erroneous or dangerous, and by means of controversy he obtains his end. He is answered, and he yields; or he finds that he is considered safe. He would not dare to do this, if he knew an authority, which was supreme and final, was watching every word he said, and made signs of assent or dissent to each sentence, as he uttered it. Then, indeed, he would be fighting, as the Persian soldiers, under the lash, and the freedom of his intellect might truly be said to be beaten out of him. But this has not been so:—I do not mean to say that, when controversies run high, in schools or even in small portions of the Church, an interposition may not rightly take place; and again, questions may be of that urgent nature, that an appeal must, as a matter of duty, be made at once to the highest authority in the Church; but, if we look into the history of controversy, we shall find, I think, the general run of things to be such as I have represented it. Zosimus treated Pelagius and Cœlestius with extreme forbearance; St. Gregory VII. was equally indulgent with Berengarius; by reason of the very power of the Popes they have commonly been slow and moderate in their use of it.

 

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 289–290.

One can also read the CDF documents where a theologian’s works were ultimately condemned. In them, there is a process of dialogue in which the Church determines whether the person understood his ideas went against the Church, and if so, entered a discussion on how to make things right. It took years from the time the case was taken up until an obstinate theologian’s work was condemned. It takes years because the Church wants to make sure they do not wrongly judge someone who has merely stated the truth in a new way.

The modern critics however do not take years—whether in studying the Catholic faith or studying the person alleged to be a heretic. They match what they think they know about the faith and compare it with what they think they know about the person they dislike. The problem is often these Catholics treat their reading of Church documents in the same way that the Biblical literalist interprets the Bible—without regard to context or nuances in translation, and without regard for one’s limitations.

That’s not to say that only people with a PhD have anything to say about Scripture or Sacred Tradition or Church documents. What it means is we ought to realize we can go wrong, and we can avoid error by making sure our reading does not contradict the magisterium. Just because one person thinks the Pope contradicts a document does not, in fact, mean the Pope contradicts that document. The critic forgets to consider the possibility of his own error. 

This seems to fit in with the Pope recently expressing his concern about “restorationist” (a belief we need to “go back” to an earlier time) attitudes, saying, “they seem to offer security but instead give only rigidity.” Expecting that the only response to a problem in the Church is strict response is to reject any response of compassion. Rigidity (wrongly) views the Pope’s words on mercy as moral laxity and condemn him with a growing demonic hatred. But many of those Catholics I have tangled with cannot get beyond a binary thinking of “either rigid or heretical.” But if there is a third option, a none of the above, then the binary thinking is right.

Now the epithet of “Pharisee” gets overused (and, yeah, I know I’m guilty of using it at times, too) but rigidity was one of the problems with the pharisees. They wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), they were scandalized that He dined with tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-13), and that he allowed the sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). Our Lord was not lax in these cases, but he was merciful, and this is what the Pope is calling us to emulate—don’t treat the sinner with harshness, but with love.

I think the ultimate problem with controversy in the Church is that Catholics (whether ordained, religious, or laity) presume they know all the facts about Church teaching and about the situation of the sinner and reject the approach the Church takes if it does not match the individual’s flawed understanding. And that’s where we have to change. We have to stop thinking we are the ones who pass judgment on the Church when the Church does not match our preferences, and let the teaching of the Church pass judgment on our preferences.