Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Conservative Op-Ed Writer and the Precipice

I came across a rather bizarre article in the New York Times about the Church. That in itself is not too unusual for that paper. What made it even stranger was the advocacy of disobedience by conservative Catholics. In "The Pope and the Precipice,” we see conservative columnist Ross Douthat opine that the Pope is supporting change on the Church teaching on sexuality and the votes on the final relatio was intended as a rebuke of the Pope . . . and perhaps it should be.

He writes the following:

Francis is charismatic, popular, widely beloved. He has, until this point, faced strong criticism only from the church’s traditionalist fringe, and managed to unite most Catholics in admiration for his ministry. There are ways that he can shape the church without calling doctrine into question, and avenues he can explore (annulment reform, in particular) that would bring more people back to the sacraments without a crisis. He can be, as he clearly wishes to be, a progressive pope, a pope of social justice — and he does not have to break the church to do it.

But if he seems to be choosing the more dangerous path — if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy, if he seems to be stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change — then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.

They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.

Mr. Douthat would have us believe that the Pope really believes the Church teaching must change:

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.


Yes, Francis has taken no formal position on the issues currently in play. But all his moves point in a pro-change direction — and it simply defies belief that men appointed by the pope would have proposed departures on controversial issues without a sense that Francis would approve.

 He believes that the Pope can err unless opposed, and he fears a schism can occur if the Pope changes the teaching (see HERE)

I think his understanding of God’s role in all of this seems to be a defective one. If the Pope changes a teaching in such a way that it says that a sin is not a sin, or that public sinners may receive the Eucharist, this is a matter involving salvation—if the Pope teaches wrongly in this matter, it is something that will endanger the souls of many. If the Pope could do that, we could never trust a teaching of the Church. We could never know when the Church taught error and could never be sure we could trust a teaching.

But if this be true, then either the Catholic Church has misunderstood the meaning of Christ’s promises or it means Christ could not keep His promises. Either way, the Church teaching on same sex attraction would be the least of our worries because it means the Church already has taught gravely serious error.

So this is the precipice Mr. Douthat is standing in front of. He’s convinced that the Pope will choose wrongly unless he is challenged. Once you take that step it’s a long way down, because it makes you the arbiter of right and wrong and the judge of the Church. That way lies the dissension, rebellion and schism that he fears. Basically it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on from wanting to avoid it.

But I believe Mr. Douthat grossly misreads the intent of Pope Francis. He is not a “hippy-dip” liberal. He has a record of writings and actions which show he has spent his time defending the Church teaching.

If you read what he has to say, in context, we see that he has always defended the Church teaching from those who would change things. Consider four years ago, (three years before he became Pope), then Cardinal Bergoglio took a stand leading the Church in Argentina against the attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. The article cites him as saying:

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

These are not the words of a man who supports a change in Church teaching.

Mr. Douthat’s problem is not that he’s a false Catholic. I won’t accuse him of being a heretic or a schismatic. He seems very sincere in his faith, wanting to be obedient to the Church. The problem is that he sees things in one possible way, and that way is the belief that Pope Francis is what the liberals claim him to be.

As for myself, I don’t fear the catastrophes he does, and this is for two reasons:

  1. I believe that Jesus Christ is still watching over His Church (which is found in communion with the successor of St. Peter) and will not permit her to teach error.
  2. I believe Pope Francis loves God and loves the Church and is determined to be a good servant of Christ.

Because of that, I cannot accept his thesis. There may be a schism if certain Catholics are deceived into trusting their own wisdom over Christ’s and believe that the Church will teach error. But this won’t be the Pope’s fault. This will be the fault of those who lost their faith in Christ, and see the Church as a battleground of factions.

So, I keep praying for the Pope every day, and trust in God to give him the needed grace to serve faithfully.

Forget the role of Our Lord and Savior, and you put yourself on a precipice . . . the only way to avoid a fall is to get off the ledge.

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