It seems like it is once again time for Catholics and other detractors of the Pope to bear witness through example to the old Latin saying: Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine (Small error in beginning, large error in the end). When people begin with a faulty assumption, and use that faulty assumption as the basis of their entire argument, you wind up with an unsupported claim. That’s just logic here. If the premises are false or the structure of the argument is unsound, then the conclusion cannot be proven. If it’s true, it’s true solely by coincidence, not reasoning.
And We Should Accept Your View Because…?
With every press conference we have, we can be sure that a subset of the Catholic laity will stretch the meaning of the word “faithful” beyond recognition by condemning the Pope. Certain individuals and groups have taken it upon themselves to go over the words of the Pope, comparing their interpretation of his words with their interpretations of what the Church said in the past and making a conclusion that the Pope is a heretic. Of course the ones who are judging him are also the ones making the accusation. What’s left unasked by these people is this: Why should we accept their assessment of the Pope or prior Church teaching as correct?
Are they experts in theology? Experts in the relevant languages? Have they read the full documents which they set contra the Pope? Or are they people relying on the mainstream media coverage of what the Pope said and on blogs and publications hostile to the Pope to interpret him and the rest of Church documents? There can be a lot of nuance in Catholic teaching, and most people trying to interpret the Church teaching for themselves don’t recognize that nuance—hell, they don’t normally even read the actual documents for themselves.
That much is apparent when you see how they use the term heresy as an epithet, giving one the impression that they don’t seem to understand what the Church means by the word.
Heresy is defined in the Code of Canon Law as:
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.
Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.
Since heresy is the obstinate denial/doubt of the truth as believed by the “divine and Catholic faith,” we need to ask first [†] whether the Pope has denied or doubted a Catholic teaching in the first place, and only then, if the answer is yes, can we move on to whether it is obstinate denial or doubt. The problem is, all the evidence cited is a begging the question fallacy. The examples are only proof if the assumption of heresy is true—but that’s what has to be proven!
That’s the ultimate problem. The people who dislike the Pope give his words and writings a negative interpretation which they assume to be heretical. But it is the accusers who have to demonstrate that their interpretation is the interpretation the Church holds to and that they have not misinterpreted a nuanced phrase, whether by the Pope or by one of his predecessors
I saw a Catholic blog try to make an argument that Pope Francis was a bad Pope because, even if he didn't try to change Church teaching, there were multiple millions of Google results for Pope Francis and Contraception (he claimed 4 million hits, I found 2 million) and the damage was done (it is argued) on account of what he said.
Of course, if you do a Google search for "Are Catholics Christian," you get 25 million hits despite the fact that The Church has been teaching Christ since she was established by Christ. You'll also find a lot of hits for "is the Catholic Church antichrist," "Catholics worship Mary," or "Catholics worship statues." Basically any anti-Catholic statement will bring hits in the 5 digits or more.
Another problem, is the total number of hits does not assess what percentage of them are promoting an error and what percentage are refuting them.In other words, the number of hits on a claim on the Catholic Church ≠ the truth of the claim. This is basically an appeal to numbers fallacy. If 99% of the population believe something that is false, that does not change the falsity of the belief. If 1% believe something that is true, that small % does not make it false.
So Why Give Credence to Something You Don’t Ordinarily Trust Anyway?
Of course these two points lead us to another question. Why exactly we see people who recognize that the media is biased in their reporting on politics [*], refuse to consider the possibility that it is biased in reporting on religion? If the media can misrepresent the political concerns of the Right to Life and the proper understanding of marriage, they can certainly misrepresent a Pope when it suits them.
Yet, we see that the people who wouldn’t trust the media to accurately report on the political position of a presidential candidate without an agenda have no problem whatsoever accepting the media reports on the Pope. So why is that?
Personally, I think it is a case of people disliking the media when it says something they disagree with. So, I suspect that the person who believes that the Pope is a bad person agrees with the media in these reports because it confirms what they already want to believe, just as the person who wants to believe the Church can change her teachings agrees with the media portrayal because they want it to be true.
[†] Actually, the first point is realizing that Canon Law says: "CAN. 1404 The First See is judged by no one” and these “judges” haven’t any authority to behave as they do. If they have concerns, per Canon 212, they need to make them known “with reverence toward their pastors.” Something entirely lacking.
[*] Both the person who believes that only Fox is biased and the person who believes that only Fox is not biased are greatly misled. All news organizations have a bias. It’s just easier to be blind to a bias you agree with.