Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Difference Between a Cafeteria Catholic and a Repentant Sinner

So, I saw on a blog the other day where the author was citing an authority for a moral issue. In this case the author was citing the SSPX and said that the SSPX was “for real about Church discipline” and he was willing to listen to them. On the other hand, the author has no respect for the teaching authority of the current Pope and the bishops. When someone called the author out of this, asking about the contradiction of the SSPX being disobedient, the author replied that the SSPX followed all pre-conciliar teachings and disciplines. To which the reply was “except obedience to the Pope."

Now I’m not naming the blog or linking to the article in question, because the point of this article is not about condemning a person or article or website. Rather, watching this exchange, I found myself reflecting on the common epithet “Cafeteria Catholicism” and what distinguishes Cafeteria Catholicism from other people who find themselves running afoul of the Church. Are all of us Cafeteria Catholics on account of our sins? Or does the term reflect a specific mindset?

Of course the term is an epithet, not a theological term. That makes it harder to pin down in a way people will agree on. Generally the term is based on the concept of the Cafeteria: where individuals serve themselves from a line of food and select and reject based on their personal preferences. The term “Cafeteria Catholic” then means that when it comes to the Church teaching, an individual decides to accept or reject teachings based on their preferences—they accept the teachings they agree with and refuse to follow the ones they disagree with. This is going to be the working definition I will use in this blog.

Oh sure, the cafeteria Catholic—regardless of whether the person is conservative, liberal, modernist or traditionalist—will offer justifications as to why they do not have to obey the disliked teaching. But the point is, they will not accept the possibility that they could be wrong and the Church on the issue. Therefore the Church can be disobeyed (it is argued).

I think this is quite different from the sinner who knows that they are doing wrong and wants to change. Certain people have inclinations which lead them into sin (for example, addiction to drugs or pornography, alcoholism, and so on). Others are in situations where they feel trapped in a bad situation. Others simply chose pleasure over God and now regret it.

The difference between the two is the cafeteria Catholic knows the Church teaches against what they demand but rejects the authority of the Church to tell them right from wrong when they do not want to obey. The latter knows what they do is wrong and wishes that sin was not between them and God. They recognize they need salvation, even if they feel unable to turn back for one reason or another. This person is like the tax collector in Our Lord’s parable who “…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.'” (Luke 18:13)

I think the Pope gets it. In his talk of mercy (which is well publicized) and repentance (which is virtually ignored), he seeks to reach out to the second group. He wants to help make the path of return to the Church easier for a person who is ashamed of what they are. Unfortunately, people assume he is reaching out to unrepentant cafeteria Catholics who have no intention of accepting the fact that they are doing wrong.

As we begin Advent, let us consider whether there is any rebellion in our hearts that make us cafeteria Catholics—and in doing so, avoiding thinking of cafeteria Catholics as only being people we disagree with—and if there is, let us turn to Our Lord and say ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

Friday, November 20, 2015

We Need to Address All Concerns: Thoughts on the Syrian Refugees and the Threat of Terror

After the Paris attacks, proposals for resettling Syrian refugees have become widely debated. On one side, we see people arguing that the risk of terrorist infiltration means we cannot allow anybody into our country, and asking why Muslim countries can’t take them in. On the other side, we see people arguing that we have an obligation to help these people regardless of those risks of infiltration. Unfortunately, these debates are polarizing and tend to demonize their opponents. Those who stress security portray the other side as advocating a blind throwing open of the doors. Those who advocate helping refugees portray the other side as “being afraid of widows and three year old orphans” or being the party of Herod (no lie. I actually saw a Catholic blogger make that charge).

This is actually the Either-Or fallacy which assumes the two extremes are the only possibilities and the position which is contrary to the support view is very bad. The fallacy overlooks the possibility that there can be three or more possible actions to take and that their opponents don’t actually hold the position attributed to them (the Straw man fallacy). Some of these debates can be quite uncharitable...

Rash judgment

Unfortunately, when it comes to considering the religious obligations in this issue, the tendency is to misuse the words of the Bible and Christian moral teaching to justify a view which has a political motivation. Facebook is covered with memes of people mocking Christians with security concerns by comparing that with the Nativity story of Sts. Joseph and Mary finding no room at the inn and implying that these Christians would have denied Jesus’ parents hospitality. On the other side, people are pulling up quotes from the Bible and from Theologians (out of context) to imply that the duty of security of a nation allows Our Lord’s words about charity to our neighbor to be set aside.

These debates fail to do something important—to find a way to help people in need without endangering others living in the country. In other words, searching out a third position that falls between the extremes.

Now Our Lord did have some strong things to say about caring for the people in need in both the Old and New Testament. Parables like the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46) and the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) tell us about the dangers to our salvation by neglecting people in need. So we cannot try to explain away our moral obligation by selectively quoting theologians without being guilty of setting aside the Word of God in favor of the tradition of men (Mark 7:1-15). But in helping others, nations and groups do also have the obligation of insuring that people are protected from the predations of those who would misuse our hospitality to harm others.

So that brings us to the question of applying both obligations and seeing how we can help while avoiding harm to the people who live here. That means we have to consider the legitimate concerns of both giving aid and protecting the innocent. Now that is not always easy to determine. But we need to avoid thinking in terms of “All or Nothing."

For example, if it is determined that America is too much at risk to allow refugees to come here, that does not eliminate our obligation to help. Certainly as a nation and as individuals we would still have an obligation to see how we can help the refugees where they are, providing them aid and security from harm. But if it is determined we can take in refugees, our government has the obligation to protect the population from those who might slip in with the intention to do us harm.

Ultimately, we need to consider this. Christians who are stressing security must not do so in a way that makes Christians appear to be hypocrites in the eyes of the world. Christians who are stressing helping those in need must not appear to be reckless in terms of security. We must seek to carry out both the obligation to help those in need and to protect the innocent from harm. This is not an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation.

So, we need to stop the infighting and demonizing of those we disagree with. We need to find solutions and not just say that because we can’t find one, we’re not obligated to meet the needs of one of the two concerns. Let’s keep this in mind when we are prepared to debate this on the internet and tempted to demonize those we disagree with.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

If We Compromise Our Own Morality, We Become Like Them

The terrorists attacks in Paris were a terrible thing. That is undeniable. It also seems we cannot put off the task of opposing ISIS any longer. It seems nobody is debating these things. Even the Holy Father has condemned these attacks. So we’re all on the same page that what we are discussing. But I am seeing some of my fellow Catholics say things that seem to indicate that they think that the fact that these terrorists have done evil means we can do anything we want to them and it will be justified. We must realize that any military response to these terrorists requires us to behave according to our moral beliefs about war. That’s common sense. If we decide “anything goes,” then we really have nothing to say to the terrorists who already use “anything goes” as their tactic. 

The Catholic Church has a lot to say on the topic of Just War:

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: (2243; 1897)

— the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

— all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

— there must be serious prospects of success;

— the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.


 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 556.

The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, says something very similar:

500. A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral. In the tragic case where such a war breaks out, leaders of the State that has been attacked have the right and the duty to organize a defence even using the force of arms. To be licit, the use of force must correspond to certain strict conditions: “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”.

If this responsibility justifies the possession of sufficient means to exercise this right to defence, States still have the obligation to do everything possible “to ensure that the conditions of peace exist, not only within their own territory but throughout the world”. It is important to remember that “it is one thing to wage a war of self-defence; it is quite another to seek to impose domination on another nation. The possession of war potential does not justify the use of force for political or military objectives. Nor does the mere fact that war has unfortunately broken out mean that all is fair between the warring parties”.1052

 Catholic Church, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014).

As I see it, the damage caused by ISIS is certain, lasting and grave. Other means of preventing the evil do have been shown to be ineffective. The only debatable issue seems to be over whether we can have serious prospects of success (as opposed to a quagmire). If we’re going to do this, we need to be committed to doing it right, as opposed to leaving a land in ruins only to have to do it all over again in 10 years time.

But, even though we have what looks like a just cause for a war, in my opinion, we are not permitted to conduct that war in a way which produces evils worse than whatever is to be eliminated. We are not permitted to sow indiscriminate destruction with the intent of wiping out all the terrorist leaders and fighters. While accidental killing of the civilian may be unavoidable, we must conduct ourselves in such a way as to avoid it as much as possible. If it ever becomes the goal of the attack, or happens because we are indiscriminate on our part in carrying out the attack, the action is not justified, but is evil instead.

That means we have the responsibility to undertake any military action in such a way that we do not act to punish the innocent along with the guilty. While it seems to me, we have the just cause for starting a war, our obligation continues in our conduct at war and how we handle the post-war. We’re not free to turn these places into a wasteland or a nuclear slag pit and then go on our way, leaving the survivors to dig their own way out. We’re not free to target all Muslims or all Arabs for the sins of some. Our strategy has to have a just purpose for war, a just behavior in war and a just conclusion at the end of the war.

So let us be aware of this obligation as we speak out about this vile act of terrorism and call for our leaders to act. Let us make sure that our actions reflect our beliefs and do not assume that we are now free to use any and all means in response.


For the reader’s consideration, here is what St. Thomas Aquinas has had to say about Just War:

First Article

Whether it is Always Sinful to wage War?

We proceed thus to the First Article:

Objection 1. It seems that it is always sinful to wage war. Because punishment is not inflicted except for sin. Now those who wage war are threatened by Our Lord with punishment, according to Matth. 26:52: All that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Therefore all wars are unlawful.

Obj. 2. Further, Whatever is contrary to a Divine precept is a sin. But war is contrary to a Divine precept, for it is written (Matth. 5:39): But I say to you not to resist evil; and (Rom. 12:19): Not revenging yourselves, my dearly beloved, but give place unto wrath. Therefore war is always sinful.

Obj. 3. Further, Nothing, except sin, is contrary to an act of virtue. But war is contrary to peace. Therefore war is always a sin.

Obj. 4. Further, The exercise of a lawful thing is itself lawful, as is evident in scientific exercises. But warlike exercises which take place in tournaments are forbidden by the Church, since those who are slain in these trials are deprived of ecclesiastical burial. Therefore it seems that war is a sin in itself.


On the contrary, Augustine says in a sermon on the son of the centurion (cf. Ep. ad Marccl., cxxxviii.): If the Christian Religion forbade war altogether, those who sought salutary advice in the Gospel would rather have been counselled to cast aside their arms, and to give up soldiering altogether. On the contrary, they were told: ‘Do violence to no man; … and be content with your pay.’* If he commanded them to be content with their pay, he did not forbid soldiering.


I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rom. 13:4): He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii.): The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.


Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Q. X., super Jos.): A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.


Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom.*): True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandisement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good. For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii.): The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and suchlike things, all these are rightly condemned in war.


Reply Obj. 1. As Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii.): To take the sword is to arm oneself in order to take the life of anyone, without the command or permission of superior or lawful authority. On the other hand, to have recourse to the sword (as a private person) by the authority of the sovereign or judge, or (as a public person) through zeal for justice, and by the authority, so to speak, of God, is not to take the sword, but to use it as commissioned by another, wherefore it does not deserve punishment. And yet even those who make sinful use of the sword are not always slain with the sword, yet they always perish with their own sword, because, unless they repent, they are punished eternally for their sinful use of the sword.


Reply Obj. 2. Suchlike precepts, as Augustine observes (De Serm. Dom. in Monte i.), should always be borne in readiness of mind, so that we be ready to obey them, and, if necessary, to refrain from resistance or self-defence. Nevertheless it is necessary sometimes for a man to act otherwise for the common good, or for the good of those with whom he is fighting. Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Marcellin.): Those whom we have to punish with a kindly severity, it is necessary to handle in many ways against their will. For when we are stripping a man of the lawlessness of sin, it is good for him to be vanquished, since nothing is more hopeless than the happiness of sinners, whence arises a guilty impunity, and an evil will, like an internal enemy.


Reply Obj. 3. Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except to the evil peace, which Our Lord came not to send upon earth (Matth. 10:34). Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix.): We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.


Reply Obj. 4. Manly exercises in warlike feats of arms are not all forbidden, but those which are inordinate and perilous, and end in slaying or plundering. In olden times warlike exercises presented no such danger, and hence they were called exercises of arms or bloodless wars, as Jerome states in an epistle (cf. Veget.,—De Re Milit. i.).

(STh., II-II q.40 a.1) 


 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Paternal Rebuke, Lovingly Given: Blessed Paul VI's Letter to Marcel Lefebvre

In 1976, Blessed Paul VI wrote this letter to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In it he rebuked the recalcitrant Archbishop for his words and actions. Having encountered it recently, I found that he does in fact answer firmly and in a straightforward manner the claims of the radical traditionalist which they use to justify their disobedience. I share it here for my readers:


Pope Paul VI’s Letter to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

(This letter was sent to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre one month after he visited the pope on September 11, 1976. The archbishop had rejected parts of the Vatican II decrees and some of the subsequent post-conciliar enactments of the Holy See and had been the object of widespread publicity as he celebrated Tridentine Masses in various parts of Europe.

In June, 1976, the archbishop had defied a direct order from the pope not to ordain seminarians at the seminary he founded in Ecône, Switzerland. In this letter, the Pope told the archbishop that while pluralism in the Church is legitimate, it must be a licit pluralism rooted in obedience. The Pope said the archbishop, rather than practicing obedience, had propagated and organized a rebellion. This, he added, “is the essential issue” in the archbishop’s regard.

In this letter, the Pope outlined his conditions for rectifying matters, including a call for a declaration from the archbishop affirming adherence to Vatican II, and a declaration that would have, among other things, retracted accusations or insinuations leveled against the Pope.

The text of the Pope’s letter has been taken from Origins, NC Documentary Service: December 16, 1976.)

When We received you in audience on last September 11 at Castel Gandolfo, We let you freely express your position and your desires, even though the various aspects of your case were already well known to Us personally. The memory that We still have of your zeal for the faith and the apostolate, as well as of the good you have accomplished in the past at the service of the church, made Us and still makes Us hope that you will once again become an edifying subject in full ecclesial communion. After the particularly serious actions that you have performed, We have once more asked you to reflect before God concerning your duty.

We have waited a month. The attitude to which your words and acts publicly testify does not seem to have changed. It is true that We have before Us your letter of September 16, in which you affirm: “A common point unites us: the ardent desire to see the cessation of all the abuses that disfigure the church. How I wish to collaborate in this salutary work, with Your Holiness and under Your authority, so that the church may recover her true countenance.”

How must these few words to which your response is limited—and which in themselves are positive—be interpreted? You speak as if you have forgotten your scandalous words and gestures against ecclesial communion—words and gestures that you have never retracted! You do not manifest repentance, even for the cause of your suspension a divinis. You do not explicitly express your acceptance of the authority of the Second Vatican Council and of the Holy See—and this constitutes the basis of the problem—and you continue in those personal works of yours which the legitimate authority has expressly ordered you to suspend. Ambiguity results from the duplicity of your language. On Our part, as We promised you, We are herewith sending you the conclusion of Our reflections.

1. In practice you put yourself forward as the defender and spokesman of the faithful and of priests “torn apart by what is happening in the church,” thus giving the sad impression that the Catholic faith and the essential values of tradition are not sufficiently respected and lived in a portion of the people of God, at least in certain countries. But in your interpretations of the facts and in the particular role that you assign yourself, as well as in the way in which you accomplish this role, there is something that misleads the people of God and deceives souls of good will who are justly desirous of fidelity and of spiritual and apostolic progress.

Deviations in the faith or in sacramental practice are certainly very grave, wherever they occur. For a long period of time they have been the object of Our full doctrinal and pastoral attention. Certainly one must not forget the positive signs of spiritual renewal or of increased responsibility in a good number of Catholics, or the complexity of the cause of the crisis: the immense change in today’s world affects believers at the edge of their being, and renders ever more necessary apostolic concern for those “who are far away.”

But it remains true that some priests and members of the faithful mask with the name “conciliar” those personal interpretations and erroneous practices that are injurious, even scandalous, and at times sacrilegious. But these abuses cannot be attributed either to the Council itself or to the reforms that have legitimately issued therefrom, but rather to a lack of authentic fidelity in their regard. You want to convince the faithful that the proximate cause of the crisis is more than a wrong interpretation of the Council and that it flows from the Council itself.

Moreover, you act as if you had a particular role in this regard. But the mission of discerning and remedying the abuses is first of all Ours; it is the mission of all the bishops who work together with Us. Indeed We do not cease to raise our Voice against these excesses: Our discourse to the consistory of last May 21 repeated this in clear terms. More than anyone else We hear the suffering of distressed Christians, and We respond to the cry of the faithful longing for faith and the spiritual life. This is not the place to remind you, brother, of all the acts of Our pontificate that testify to Our constant concern to ensure for the church fidelity to the true tradition, and to enable her with God’s grace to face the present and future.

Finally, your behavior is contradictory. You want, so you say, to remedy the abuses that disfigure the church; you regret that authority in the church is not sufficiently respected; you wish to safeguard authentic faith, esteem for the ministerial priesthood and fervor for the eucharist in its sacrificial and sacramental fullness. Such zeal would, in itself, merit our encouragement, since it is a question of exigencies which, together with evangelization and the unity of Christians, remain at the heart of Our preoccupations and of Our mission.

But how can you at the same time, in order to fulfill this role, claim that you are obliged to act contrary to the recent Council in opposition to your brethren in the episcopate, to distrust the Holy See itself—which you call the “Rome of the neo-modernist and neo-Protestant tendency”—and to set yourself up in open disobedience to Us? If you truly want to work “under Our authority,” as you affirm in your last private letter, it is immediately necessary to put an end to these ambiguities and contradictions.

2. Let us come now to the more precise requests which you formulated during the audience of September 11. You would like to see recognized the right to celebrate Mass in various places of worship according to the Tridentine rite. You wish also to continue to train candidates for the priesthood according to your criteria, “as before the Council,” in seminaries apart, as at Ecône. But behind these questions and other similar ones, which We shall examine later on in detail, it is truly necessary to see the intricacy of the problem: and the problem is theological. For these questions have become concrete ways of expressing an ecclesiology that is warped in essential points.

What is indeed at issue is the question—which must truly be called fundamental—of your clearly proclaimed refusal to recognize in its whole, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and that of the pope. This refusal is accompanied by an action that is oriented towards propagating and organizing what must indeed, unfortunately, be called a rebellion. This is the essential issue, and it is truly untenable.

Is it necessary to remind you that you are Our brother in the episcopate and moreover—a fact that obliges you to remain even more closely united to the See of Peter—that you have been named an assistant at the papal throne? Christ has given the supreme authority in his Church to Peter and to the apostolic college, that is, to the Pope and to the college of bishops una cum Capite.

In regard to the pope, every Catholic admits that the words of Jesus to Peter determine also the charge of Peter’s legitimate successors: “… whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt. 16:19); “… feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:17); “… confirm your brethren” (Lk. 22:32). And the First Vatican Council specified in these terms the assent due to the sovereign pontiff: “The pastors of every rank and of every rite and the faithful, each separately and all together, are bound by the duty or hierarchical subordination and of true obedience, not only in questions of faith and morals, but also in those that touch upon the discipline and government of the Church throughout the entire world. Thus, by preserving the unity of communion and of profession of faith with the Roman pontiff, the church is a single flock under one pastor. Such is the doctrine of Catholic truth, from which no one can separate himself without danger for his faith and his salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3, DZ 3060).

Concerning bishops united with the sovereign pontiff, their power with regard to the universal church is solemnly exercised in the ecumenical councils, according to the words of Jesus to the body of the apostles: “… whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt. 18:18). And now in your conduct you refuse to recognize, as must be done, these two ways in which supreme authority is exercised.

Each bishop is indeed an authentic teacher for preaching to the people entrusted to him that faith which must guide their thoughts and conduct and dispel the errors that menace the flock. But, by their nature, “the charges of teaching and governing … cannot be exercised except in hierarchical communion with the head of the college and with its members” (Constitution Lumen Gentium, 21; cf. also 25). A fortiori, a single bishop without a canonical mission does not have in actu expedito ad agendum, the faculty of deciding in general what the rule of faith is or of determining what tradition is. In practice you are claiming that you alone are the judge of what tradition embraces.

You say that you are subject to the Church and faithful to tradition by the sole fact that you obey certain norms of the past that were decreed by the predecessor of him to whom God has today conferred the powers given to Peter. That is to say, on this point also, the concept of “tradition” that you invoke is distorted.

Tradition is not a rigid and dead notion, a fact of a certain static sort which at a given moment of history blocks the life of this active organism which is the Church, that is, the mystical body of Christ. It is up to the pope and to councils to exercise judgment in order to discern in the traditions of the Church that which cannot be renounced without infidelity to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit—the deposit of faith—and that which, on the contrary, can and must be adapted to facilitate the prayer and the mission of the Church throughout a variety of times and places, in order better to translate the divine message into the language of today and better to communicate it, without an unwarranted surrender of principles.

Hence tradition is inseparable from the living magisterium of the Church, just as it is inseparable from sacred scripture. “Sacred tradition, sacred scripture and the magisterium of the church … are so linked and joined together that one of these realities cannot exist without the others, and that all of them together, each in its own way, effectively contribute under the action of the Holy Spirit to the salvation of souls” (Constitution Dei Verbum, 10).

With the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, the popes and the ecumenical councils have acted in this common way. And it is precisely this that the Second Vatican Council did. Nothing that was decreed in this Council, or in the reforms that we enacted in order to put the Council into effect, is opposed to what the 2,000 year-old tradition of the Church considers as fundamental and immutable. We are the guarantor of this, not in virtue of Our personal qualities but in virtue of the charge which the Lord has conferred upon Us as legitimate successor of Peter, and in virtue of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as well as to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). The universal episcopate is guarantor with us of this.

Again, you cannot appeal to the distinction between what is dogmatic and what is pastoral to accept certain texts of this Council and to refuse others. Indeed, not everything in the Council requires an assent of the same nature: only what is affirmed by definitive acts as an object of faith or as a truth related to faith requires an assent of faith. But the rest also forms part of the solemn magisterium of the Church to which each member of the faithful owes a confident acceptance and a sincere application.

You say moreover that you do not always see how to reconcile certain texts of the Council, or certain dispositions which We have enacted in order to put the Council into practice, with the wholesome tradition of the Church and in particular with the Council of Trent or the affirmations of Our predecessors. These are for example: the responsibility of the college of bishops united with the sovereign pontiff, the new Ordo Missae, ecumenism, religious freedom, the attitude of dialogue, evangelization in the modern world.…

It is not the place, in this letter, to deal with each of these problems. The precise tenor of the documents, with the totality of its nuances and its context, the authorized explanations, the detailed and objective commentaries which have been made, are of such a nature to enable you to overcome these personal difficulties. Absolutely secure counselors, theologians and spiritual directors would be able to help you even more, with God’s enlightenment, and We are ready to facilitate this fraternal assistance for you.

But how can an interior personal difficulty—a spiritual drama which We respect—permit you to set yourself up publicly as a judge of what has been legitimately adopted, practically with unanimity, and knowingly to lead a portion of the faithful into your refusal? If justifications are useful in order to facilitate intellectual acceptance—and We hope that the troubled or reticent faithful will have the wisdom, honesty and humanity to accept those justifications that are widely placed at their disposal—they are not in themselves necessary for the assent of obedience that is due to the Ecumenical Council and to the decisions of the pope. It is the ecclesial sense that is at issue.

In effect you and those who are following you are endeavoring to come to a standstill at a given moment in the life of the Church. By the same token you refuse to accept the living Church, which is the Church that has always been: you break with the Church’s legitimate pastors and scorn the legitimate exercise of their charge. And so you claim not even to be affected by the orders of the pope, or by the suspension a divinis, as you lament “subversion” in the Church.

Is it not in this state of mind that you have ordained priests without dimissorial letters and against Our explicit command, thus creating a group of priests who are in an irregular situation in the Church and who are under grave ecclesiastical penalties? Moreover, you hold that the suspension that you have incurred applies only to the celebration of the sacraments according to the new rite, as if they were something improperly introduced into the Church, which you go so far as to call schismatic, and you think that you evade this sanction when you administer the sacraments according to the formulas of the past and against the established norms (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40).

From the same erroneous conception springs your abuse of celebrating Mass called that of Saint Pius V. You know full well that this rite had itself been the result of successive changes, and that the Roman Canon remains the first of the eucharistic prayers authorized today.

The present reform derived its raison d’être and its guidelines from the Council and from the historical sources of the liturgy. It enables the laity to draw greater nourishment from the word of God. Their more active participation leaves intact the unique role of the priest acting in the person of Christ. We have sanctioned this reform by Our authority, requiring that it be adopted by all Catholics.

If, in general, We have not judged it good to permit any further delays or exceptions to this adoption, it is with a view to the spiritual good and the unity of the entire ecclesiastical community, because, for Catholics of the Roman Rite, the Ordo Missae is a privileged sign of their unity. It is also because, in your case, the old rite is in fact the expression of a warped ecclesiology, and a ground for dispute with the Council and its reforms under the pretext that in the old rite alone are preserved, without their meaning being obscured, the true sacrifice of the Mass and the ministerial priesthood.

We cannot accept this erroneous judgment, this unjustified accusation, nor can We tolerate that the Lord’s Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, should be the object of such divisions (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18), and that it should even be used as an instrument and sign of rebellion.

Of course there is room in the church for a certain pluralism, but in licit matters and in obedience. This is not understood by those who refuse the sum total of the liturgical reform; nor indeed on the other hand by those who imperil the holiness of the real presence of the Lord and of his sacrifice. In the same way there can be no question of a priestly formation which ignores the Council.

We cannot therefore take your requests into consideration, because it is a question of acts which have already been committed in rebellion against the one true Church of God. Be assured that this severity is not dictated by a refusal to make a concession on such and such a point of discipline or liturgy, but, given the meaning and the extent of your acts in the present context, to act thus would be on Our part to accept the introduction of a seriously erroneous concept of the church and of tradition. This is why, with the full consciousness of Our duties, We say to you, brother, that you are in error. And with the full ardor of Our fraternal love, as also with all the weight of Our authority as the successor of Peter, We invite you to retract, to correct yourself and to cease from inflicting wounds upon the Church of Christ.

3. Specifically, what do We ask of you?

A.—First and foremost, a declaration that will rectify matters for Ourself and also for the people of God who have a right to clarity and who can no longer bear without damage such equivocations.

This declaration will therefore have to affirm that you sincerely adhere to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and to all its documents—sensu obvio—which were adopted by the Council fathers and approved and promulgated by Our authority. For such an adherence has always been the rule, in the Church, since the beginning, in the matter of ecumenical councils.

It must be clear that you equally accept the decisions that We have made since the Council in order to put it into effect, with the help of the departments of the Holy See; among other things, you must explicitly recognize the legitimacy of the reformed liturgy, notably of the Ordo Missae, and our right to require its adoption by the entirety of the Christian people.

You must also admit the binding character of the rules of canon law now in force which, for the greater part, still correspond with the content of the Code of Canon Law of Benedict XV, without excepting the part which deals with canonical penalties.

As far as concerns Our person, you will make a point of desisting from and retracting the grave accusations or insinuations which you have publicly leveled against Us, against the orthodoxy of Our faith and Our fidelity to Our charge as the successor of Peter, and against Our immediate collaborators.

With regard to the bishops, you must recognize their authority in their respective dioceses by abstaining from preaching in those dioceses and administering the sacraments there: the Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, etc., when these bishops expressly object to your doing so.

Finally, you must undertake to abstain from all activities (such as conferences, publications, etc.) contrary to this declaration, and formally to reprove all those initiatives which may make use of your name in the face of this declaration.

It is a question here of the minimum to which every Catholic bishop must subscribe: this adherence can tolerate no compromise. As soon as you show Us that you accept its principle, We will propose the practical manner of presenting this declaration. This is the first condition in order that the suspension a divinis be lifted.

B.—It will then remain to solve the problem of your activity, of your works, and notably of your seminaries. You will appreciate, brother, that in view of the past and present irregularities and ambiguities affecting these works, We cannot go back on the juridical suppression of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X. This has inculcated a spirit of opposition to the Council and to its implementation such as the Vicar of Christ was endeavoring to promote.

Your declaration of November 21, 1974, bears witness to this spirit; and upon such a foundation, as Our commission of cardinals rightly judged, on May 6, 1975, one cannot build an institution or a priestly formation in conformity with the requirements of the Church of Christ. This in no way invalidates the good element in your seminaries, but one must also take into consideration the ecclesiological deficiencies of which We have spoken and the capacity of exercising a pastoral ministry in the Church of today. Faced with these unfortunately mixed realities, We shall take care not to destroy but to correct and to save as far as possible.

This is why, as supreme guarantor of the faith and of the formation of the clergy, We require you first of all to hand over to Us the responsibility of your work, and particularly for your seminaries. This is undoubtedly a heavy sacrifice for you, but it is also a test of your trust, of your obedience and it is a necessary condition in order that these seminaries, which have no canonical existence in the Church, may in the future take their place therein.

It is only after you have accepted the principle that We shall be able to provide in the best possible way for the good of all the persons involved, with the concern for promoting authentic priestly vocations and with respect for the doctrinal, disciplinary and pastoral requirements of the church. At that stage, We shall be in a position to listen with benevolence to your requests and your wishes and, together with Our departments, to take in conscience the right and opportune measures.

As for the illicitly ordained seminarians, the sanctions which they have incurred in conformity with Canon 985, 7 and 2374 can be lifted, if they give proof of a return to a better frame of mind, notably by accepting to subscribe to the declaration which We have asked of you. We count upon your sense of the Church in order to make this step easy for them.

As regards the foundations, houses of formation, “priories” and various other institutions set up on your initiative or with your encouragement, We likewise ask you to hand them over to the Holy See, which will study their position, in its various aspects, with the local episcopate. Their survival, organization and apostolate will be subordinated, as is normal throughout the Catholic Church, to an agreement which will have to be reached, in each case, with the local bishop—nihil sine Episcopo—and in a spirit which respects the declaration mentioned above.

All the points which figure in this letter and to which We have given mature consideration, in consultation with the heads of the departments concerned, have been adopted by Us only out of regard for the greater good of the church. You said to Us during our conversation of September 11: “I am ready for anything, for the good of the church.” The response now lies in your hands.

If you refuse—quod Deus avertat—to make the declaration which is asked of you, you will remain suspended a divinis. On the other hand, Our pardon and the lifting of the suspension will be assured you to the extent to which you sincerely and without ambiguity undertake to fulfill the conditions of this letter and to repair the scandal caused. The obedience and the trust of which you will give proof will also make it possible for Us to study serenely with you your personal problems.

May the Holy Spirit enlighten you and guide you towards the only solution that would enable you on the one hand to rediscover the peace of your momentarily misguided conscience but also to ensure the good of souls, to contribute to the unity of the Church which the Lord has entrusted to Our charge and to avoid the danger of a schism.

In the psychological state in which you find yourself, We realize that it is difficult for you to see clearly and very hard for you humbly to change your line of conduct: is it not therefore urgent, as in all such cases, for you to arrange a time and a place of recollection which will enable you to consider the matter with the necessary objectivity?

Fraternally, We put you on your guard against the pressures to which you could be exposed from those who wish to keep you in an untenable position, while We Ourself, all your brothers in the episcopate and the vast majority of the faithful await finally from you that ecclesial attitude which would be to your honor.

In order to root out the abuses which we all deplore and to guarantee a true spiritual renewal, as well as the courageous evangelization to which the Holy Spirit bids us, there is needed more than ever the help and commitment to the entire ecclesial community around the pope and the bishops. Now the revolt of one side finally reaches and risks accentuating the insubordination of what you have called the “subversion” of the other side; while, without your own insubordination, you would have been able, brother, as you expressed the wish in your last letter, to help Us, in fidelity and under Our authority, to work for the advancement of the Church.

Therefore, dear brother, do not delay any longer in considering before God, with the keenest religious attention, this solemn adjuration of the humble but legitimate successor of Peter. May you measure the gravity of the hour and take the only decision that befits a son of the Church. This is Our hope, this is Our prayer.

From the Vatican, October 11, 1976.



 James Likoudis and Kenneth D. Whitehead, The Pope, the Council, and the Mass: Answers to Questions the “Traditionalists” Have Asked, Revised Edition (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006), 345–355.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Unfounded Attacks: They're Tragically Fallacious


What’s most tiresome about the attacks against the Holy Father is that they essentially make an unsubstantiated accusation of the Pope seeking to change Church teaching to embrace error. What this boils down to, however, is that the critics are claiming that they have a proper understanding of the faith while that of the Pope or, in many cases, the whole Church is in error and must be opposed. In other words, if the Pope does not behave in the way his critics want him to behave he is considered to be heretical and working to destroy the Catholic faith—though whether he does so through incompetence or malice, the critics have not come to an agreement on.

When challenged on this by defenders, these critics then misrepresent any attempt to disprove their claims as “explaining away” what was said or “claiming infallibility” for every little thing the Pope says or does. I once, not too long ago, had critics accuse me of being blind because, I always defended him and disagreed with their interpretations of the Pope’s words and actions. I find that to be rather alarming: The anti-Francis mindset has reached the point where the accusations are assumed to be true by default, and these critics refuse to consider the possibility that they misinterpreted what the Pope actually said.

The Begging the Question Fallacy and Attacks on the Pope

It’s gotten to the point that the person who defends the Pope is assumed to be sympathetic to the things the Pope is falsely accused of. The claim that the Pope is a bad Catholic is considered to be true, even though the accuser has provided no evidence to justify the claim (just unsubstantiated accusations) based on their begging the question interpretation. And begging the question is the fallacy here. They have to prove that:

  • Their understanding of the Pope’s words is correct.
  • Their understanding of the Pope’s intentions are correct.
  • Their understanding of prior Church teaching is correct when contrasting it with what the Pope says and does.

But these accusations are not proven. They are merely assumed. The Pope is assumed to be guilty and no matter what he may say or do that defends the faith, this will be ignored while whatever sounds strange to them is assumed to be proof that the Pope is a menace to the Church that must be opposed. The problem is, the so-called “evidence” is only evidence if the accusation is true—which has to be proven, not assumed. As Aristotle once put it:

This is what those persons do who suppose [5] that they are constructing parallel straight lines: for they fail to see that they are assuming facts which it is impossible to demonstrate unless the parallels exist. So it turns out that those who reason thus merely say a particular thing is, if it is: in this way everything will be self-evident. But that is impossible. (Pr. and Post. Anal. 65.1.1–9)


Aristotle, “ANALYTICA PRIORA,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).

This is a real problem when it comes to Catholics on the Internet today It is simply assumed that the individual interpretation of the Pope’s words and the words of his predecessors are correct and it is simply assumed that differences perceived between these interpretations is proof that the Pope intends to change the teaching of the Church. These assumptions are held as true when the individual interprets the words and actions of Pope Francis are heretical—but if the assumption is false, these are not proofs. 

That, in a nutshell, is the “Emperor has no clothes” moment of the accusation.

Who Are We to Believe? Ipse Dixit claims, not Facts, are the Source of the Accusations

Once we see these attacks are based on the perception of the critics, we can ask ourselves: What gives them the right to make this determination to judge the Pope a heretic and those who defend him of also being heretics or dupes? We can make this challenge because the attacks on the Pope are based on the personal interpretation of the Church documents—but the personal interpretation of these documents are not an authoritative interpretation. In challenging their citation of St. Pius V or the Council of Trent, we are not rejecting the authority of that Pope or that Council. We are rejecting the authority of the person who claims that their individual interpretation of these documents is more accurate than the interpretation by the current magisterium.

Such allegations that the Pope is heretical are ipse dixit (Latin: 'he himself said it’) allegations. That is to say, a “dogmatic and unproven statement” (COED) or “an assertion made but not proved” (Merriam-Webster) made by an individual. The critic of the Pope asserts that the Pope has taught contrary to one of his predecessors. The question is, “according to whose interpretation?” Who has the authority to determine whether the cited text means what the accuser says it means in determining whether heresy has been committed?

Inigo ipse dixit

The answer is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. They are the ones who determine the application of the teachings of the past and how they apply to the problems of the present. They are the ones who distinguish the doctrines which cannot be changed from the disciplines which can be changed, as well as how and when/if they can be changed. As canon law puts it:

can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.


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.

Now it may be argued that I am not practicing what I preach, citing a Church document without the authority to do so. I would deny this charge. I cite the canon law to show who the Church decrees has authority to teach in her name, while recognizing that I do not have the authority to anathematize those who disagree with me or to demand that the Pope or bishops apply their authority in a specific way.

Ultimately, ipse dixit is a misapplication of who has authority to make a decree. One may have the authority in a limited sphere to decide questions relevant to the situation. For example, it is the judge, not the lawyer, who has the authority to rule whether a legal argument has the force of law. However, outside of the judge’s sphere of authority, any decree made by the judge lacks authority.

Misunderstanding and Misrepresentations: Attacking a Teaching That Was Never Made in the First Place

Of course, that brings us to another problem. Someone may try to poke a hole in my analogy of the judge by pointing to the terrible abuses of judicial authority taking place in America today. They may point out that infamous Supreme Court rulings like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Obergefell and say that the Supreme Court had no authority to make such rulings (and in doing so, they would be correct) and then claim that the Pope is trying to make similar decrees.

But when dealing with this argument, one has to compare what the Pope has said with what was alleged. If what is alleged does not equal what was said, then we have a misrepresentation. But since the misrepresentation does not equal what was said, attacking the misrepresentation does not refute the argument. This is the Straw Man argument: “a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.” In other words, a misrepresentation of what was really said.

The pontificate of Pope Francis has constantly been beset by straw man arguments. The most infamous of these misrepresentations is the quote of “Who am I to judge.” Both liberal promoters of “same sex marriage” and conservative critics of the Pope interpreted that statement as if he was sympathetic to treating homosexuality as being no different than heterosexuality. Liberals were encouraged by this “change.” Conservatives were outraged. But there was no “change.” The Pope was not making a moral statement about a sinful act. He was making a statement about a priest who was rumored to have a notorious past (but had since repented) and answering a question over whether he was to be fired over these reports.

What Pope Really Said

In other words, a truly Catholic view of sin and repentance was misrepresented as a change of Church teaching. To attempt to attack the Pope on the grounds of his saying “Who am I to judge,” is to attack a straw man. His words did not mean what they were portrayed to mean. Yet, that did not prevent his foes from spending his entire pontificate so far in accusing him of wanting to change Church teaching.

Do We Really Know a Man By the Company He Keeps? Not Always: The Guilt by Association Fallacy

The opponents of the Pope insist they have not misinterpreted him. They point to the scandalous statements made by Cardinal emeritus Kasper and Cardinal Daneels on divorce/remarriage and on “same sex marriage” and how they invoke mercy. They then point out that the Pope, too, has emphasized mercy in how to deal with people in a situation of divorce/remarriage or with same sex attraction. Therefore, it is assumed that the Pope shares the scandalous views of Kasper and Daneels and wants to change Church teaching.

However, the fact that the Pope speaks of mercy and Cardinals Kasper and Daneels invoke mercy does not mean they invoke mercy with the same end in mind. This is the Guilt by Association fallacy. This fallacy judges an idea by the bad character of an individual supporting it. For example, Jozef Stalin supporting a strong police does not mean all who support a strong police want to do so in order to enable a police state. Even the most vile people in history have happened to agree with ideas that happen to be true, and to recognize that truth does not mean endorsing abuses one attempts to justify in its name.

So to try to link Pope Francis to the ideas of Kasper and Daneels because of the invocation of mercy does not prove the point that they are linked. The attempts to do so are actually an attempt to smear the Pope because Kasper and Daneels hold problematic ideas that uses similar rhetoric.

When We Do Not Know if a Thing is Happening, That is not Proof of the Opposite: The Arguments from Silence and Ignorance

Another attack involves the idea that if I am unaware of something, the opposite is true. This one can be illustrated by a Facebook debate I once had. When the Pope issued a statement on social justice, a critic replied, “Well, why doesn’t he say something about the suffering Christians in the Middle East?” I replied that he had and I provided a link to the statement. This woman was startled, having no idea that he had spoken out. She had assumed that because she had heard no reports of the Pope’s pleas for assisting the suffering Christians, that the Pope did not say anything about it.

That is the Argument from Ignorance fallacy. Assuming that one’s lack of knowledge about an event means that the event did not happen. It is false because we are not omniscient beings. There can be things we do not know.

Another fallacy is similar: The argument from silence. This argument assumes that because there was no refutation to what was alleged or no known evidence to refute the allegation, the allegation must be true. This often happens when people assume that the lack of public action against a public sinner means that there was no action taken at all against the sinner or even that this is proof of the Pope’s sympathy for the sinner’s views. But that does not follow. The Pope can interact with a person behind the scenes, and we might never hear of it. So the lack of a public action ≠ no action taken. Nor does it mean “sympathy for the malefactor."

In other words, a lack of evidence is simply that—a lack of evidence. Not evidence in favor of the opposite. Only evidence in favor of the opposite is evidence in favor of the of opposite.


I could have come up with many more examples of logical fallacies present in the attacks on the Pope. Indeed, I keep wanting to squeeze in more like No True Scotsman and Non Sequitur. As well as the formal fallacies like Affirming the Consequent and Denying the Antecedent. When it comes down to it, the Appeal to Antiquity is very common in radical traditionalist circles. But eventually that leads to having a book length treatise instead of a blog article.

But regardless of how many fallacies I discuss, the point boils down to this. The attacks challenging the orthodoxy of the Pope have no basis in fact and they have no basis in reason. The reasoning they use cannot support the allegations made. The result of this fact means that the allegation against the Pope cannot be proven and therefore must cease to be repeated as if it were proven.

Proof of an accusation requires a clear demonstration that a fact is true and that it is relevant to the charge at hand. When we cannot make these demonstrations, we cannot claim they are proven. But when it comes to the Pope and his detractors, those who dislike him cannot demonstrate that the charges of heresy are true and they cannot demonstrate that the facts they cite are relevant to the accusations they make.

Catholics need to be aware of the fact that these attacks have no basis of truth to them, because when a point is claimed over and over, some people begin to believe that they must be true, because they hear it “everywhere.” Others become demoralized because they are tired of hearing the same claims over and over and wonder whether it is worth fighting anymore. We need to remember that logically fallacious arguments cannot demonstrate the proof of their claims, and that the attacks against the orthodoxy of the Pope, without exception, are logically fallacious.