Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reaching Out to the Concerned Catholic


First, to my fellow bloggers and apologists:

As a blogger I profess the Catholic faith is true, and that God continues to protect the Church under the Pope today just as much as He did with his predecessors. So when I meet someone who attacks this Church, I respond by showing why the attacks are false and what the truth is on the subject. Sadly, there are some Catholics among these attackers who claim to be faithful to the Church but their fruits show that to be a lie. If a Catholic rejects the authority of the Church in their own time, he rejects God (see Luke 10:16), and we must oppose them if we would block them from leading the faithful astray. But I think we get so focussed on these faithless Catholics that we forget why the faithful, who might heed them, do listen. 

Those of us who do apologetics have invested time into studying the faith and investigating charges against it. In doing so, we’ve accumulated knowledge to defend the faith. But I think we forget that not everybody has our knowledge. What is obvious to us might not be obvious to them. That doesn’t make them stupid—and we should never think that. It means they have different levels of education and specialization. The concerned Catholic might never have heard of Church texts we have read, but have a knowledge of computers we can’t match.

A friend of mine told me a story of different knowledge specialties:

In my previous position, I served as the IT Systems Administrator for a space science research center. I was the only IT person for Center, though I had student assistants, and so my work covered a very broad scope. On the same day, I could be both configuring a server and making sure that someone's desktop machine was set up to use the printers. This work environment gave me an exceptionally clear view into how much of a difference specialized knowledge and training could make and into how differences in such knowledge could radically affect perceptions of intelligence. Some of the physicists with whom I worked were quite good with computers. This was especially so if they wrote their own code for simulations. Yet even those physicists were often only good at what they needed to do to achieve their research goals. A number of researchers I knew were very much novices with computers, though, and when they needed my help with their workstations it was not unusual for my computing knowledge to make me appear to be some kind of genius and, at the same time, their lack of knowledge caused their advanced degrees and scientific brilliance to fade into the background.

While I worked with these researchers, though, I did pay some attention to what they were doing in their work. It was readily apparent that they were as far beyond me in mathematics and physics as I was beyond them in computers. Perhaps even moreso. I remember helping an elderly physicist with a very basic computer matter while, on his desk, I could see handwritten notes of mathematical formula so advanced that I could not begin to understand them. This man has a brilliant mind in his own right - just not at computers. Oh, how much folly may come from relying overmuch on perceptions!

We should keep this mind and not be patronizing when giving explanations. Because they don’t have our specialized knowledge, they might not be able to see why arguments that trouble them are bad. What they do know is that the world looks like it is at war with everything they hold important, and the Church seems to be weak in opposing the world. So when they meet people who seem more knowledgeable than they do, who confidently claim the Church needs to change to regain control—especially when they cite some stern Pope from the past and compare it to today—they might assume these people know the answer. Remember, we too looked for teachers to help us understand.

We can’t just lump them all together and assume that the smackdown that the dissenter richly deserves will also be effective against this kind of Catholic. What we need to do is approach them with compassion, hearing their concerns, and giving them the tools they need to fight the battle. Their need doesn’t make them stupid. It makes them everyday people who want to do the right thing. We should help them with encouragement and sympathy. Not mock them by lumping them in with “that thing that used to be conservatism” when they disagree with us or call them Pope-bashers because people they thought they could trust lied to them.

So I think we ought to be more discerning in our blogs and in the comboxes. We shouldn’t assume they’re radical traditionalists and we shouldn’t assume they’re stupid or right-wingers when we meet them. Some Catholics we meet on the internet are not enemies of the faith, instead...

  • they are people of good will, wanting to do what is right.
  • they don’t have our specialized knowledge in defending the faith.
  • they are no less intelligent than we are.
  • they need our help in recognizing the attacks undermining their faith in the Church.
  • we will answer to God if we drive them away.

Second, to the concerned Catholics, wanting to be faithful:

I’d like to take a little time talking to you as well. Hopefully I won’t come across as patronizing or harsh in doing so.

One thing you should know about debates on social media is there is a lot of venom directed at Catholics defending the faith and that leaves us defensive. So, if you repeat the lines these people use, we might think you’re one of them. We shouldn’t, but it happens. I’m not proud of it, but I have verbally done this a few times:

Pope heresy

It’s not fair if we respond to you with wrath, but think of it like dealing with someone at your job who doesn’t know how things work, but insists their way is right. You want to be patient, but if they keep pushing, you might get annoyed. We’re like that too, so please be understanding. We’re trying to explain things and sometimes get abuse from people who don’t know how things work as a result

That leads to the second point. You need to know when you don’t know how things work or don’t understand what something means. I sometimes meet people who don’t understand how the Church governs herself or that her teaching gets expressed with different emphasis from age to age but is the same teaching. So when they see a Catholic openly doing wrong and don’t see any retribution, they think the Church is lenient or even supportive. For example, I’ve seen some Catholics wonder why the Pope with his absolute power doesn’t just excommunicate the pro-abortion politician or silence the priest or bishop who says something foolish.

But what we forget is the Pope isn’t the CEO of a results driven corporation. He’s the chief shepherd of Our Lord’s flock who has the task of bringing them to God. So when he deals with Catholics who go wrong, he has to consider how his response will affect that task. Will a soft touch be ineffective? Will a harsh response drive the sinner away? We don’t know and we shouldn’t demand a different action if we don’t know the situation.

This brings up a third point. As Catholics, we believe that God protects His Church. He will not allow the Church to bind error or loose truth (see Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18). Knowing this, we can spot false teachers. Those who say the Church needs to change her teaching about good and evil, and those who say the Church is teaching error are false teachers because they deny Our Lord’s promise. If God forbids something, the Pope will not call it good, regardless of what his enemies say.

Some critics will point out that we have had some bad Popes. That’s true, we have. The problem is that argument tries to smear the Pope through guilt by association, but just because we have had bad Popes in the past does not mean Pope Francis is one. Some point out that the Pope’s press conferences aren’t infallible. Nobody ever claimed they were. But again, the fact that they’re not infallible does not mean they’re chock full of errors.

Finally, I’d like you to consider this. Some people blame Vatican II and the Popes from St. John XXIII onwards for ruining the Church. They think that if this Council and these Popes had not had their way, the Church never would have had this problem. But that’s false. The entire world went through an upheaval, including non-Catholic (and even non-Christian) nations. There was a general rejection of authority—both religious and secular—and a rejection of morality. So when people try to blame the Church today for the crisis of faith, remember these people are wrong about the cause.


I believe the defenders of the faith and the concerned Catholics need to be willing to listen to each other, not talk past each other. There are problems in the Church. There always have been, and there probably always will be until the Second Coming. That doesn’t mean we should be passive. But it does mean we need to constantly learn about our faith so we will not falter or grow embittered. Let us all trust in God, and remember that God built our Church. He will not let it fall into ruin.

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