Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Problems of Misinterpretation

In my past few articles, I’ve discussed the problems of Catholic critics who confuse their interpretation of Church Teaching with what the Church actually intends. Whether they start out with false premises, or whether they use fallacious reasoning with true premises, or (sadly, very common) using both false premises and fallacious reasoning, they wind up claiming that Church teaching justifies something that is actually contrary to what the Church teaches.

Some do this to claim that a sin is not a sin, and that they are therefore not guilty of choosing an intrinsic evil. Others do this to discredit a Church teaching they dislike, arguing that we must return to their idealized view of when the Church was right and abandon or restore disciplines to match their idealized concept—the teaching they dislike is considered “proof” of heresy or political bias.

This is not the sole provenance of one faction. I’ve seen some Catholics claim that Jesus wanted a Church of love and mercy—denying that He ever intended condemning acts that they think shouldn’t be sins. I’ve seen other Catholics balk when the Church has changed disciplines when the magisterium determined they no longer serve the intended purpose, claiming the Church has fallen into “heresy.” But both groups are confusing what they want with what best serves keeping God’s commandments and evangelizing the world.

These critics judge the actions of Pope and bishops based on what they want (and, therefore, what they think God must want). If the Pope and bishops do not take that stand, it is considered a betrayal of either Christ or His Church. So, the liberal Catholic applies their assumptions to St. John XXIII, Vatican II and Pope Francis and think they are “correcting” the former “errors” of other Popes, Councils, and Bishops. Conservative Catholics think they are “committing errors” contradicting previous teaching.

But, their conclusions are based on false assumptions. They assume that the Church they conceive of is the way the Church is supposed to be. But if the assumption is false, they cannot prove the conclusion. If their conclusion is not proven, we cannot use their arguments as the basis of enacting teachings in the Church.

It’s important to realize that such false assumptions need not be malicious. The person can be quite sincere. It’s quite possible that the person is assuming that the simplified explanation Sr. Mary X gave them in Catholic grade school was doctrine and either embraced or rebelled against it, thinking it was a doctrinal teaching. The individual can fail to realize that the possibility that the explanation was oversimplified, or that they misunderstood it.

I think this lack of realization is the real problem in the Church. If we do not grow in our understanding of the actual Church teaching, we can easily be led astray. If we don’t understand that the style of Church teaching may sound more forceful in one age than in another, we might be confused over what is doctrine, what is discipline, and what is governance. Doctrine does not change from X to not X. But it can develop with a deeper understanding over time. Discipline and acts of governance can change if the magisterium deems it beneficial to do so.

Yes, it is possible that a Pope can be a notorious sinner, or that a bishop can be unjust. But it does not follow from the fact that we have had such Popes and bishops in the past, that the current ones fit in that category. That’s the point to be proven. If we simply assume the point to be proven, we commit the begging the question fallacy. The “evidence” we provide that is based on that assumption proves nothing.

If one wants to argue that St. John Paul II “betrayed” Vatican II (as liberals like to allege) or that Pope Francis “teaches heresy (as some conservatives like to allege), the obligation is for the individual to investigate whether they have gone wrong themselves—not for the teaching authority of the Church to prove them false.

The problem is, it quickly becomes apparent that the critic has often either not read or has only superficially read the relevant materials. Instead they tend to rely on summaries from biased sources, assuming that the Church has always understood the teaching in the way they think it means. Therefore, the Church is “proved” to be doing wrong—not in fact, but in their mind

Such misunderstanding cannot lead to a proper understanding of the Church. Instead, it leads to obstinacy. Ironically, though the liberal and the conservative disagree with each other about what this fictitious ideal is, they wind up using the same arguments, and ultimately denying the authority of the Church—all the while condemning the other side for their dissent.

The only way to escape that trap is to recognize who has the authority to interpret the past Church teachings and apply them to the present. That authority is the current Pope and bishops who are successors to the Apostles. We believe that Our Lord protects His Church from teaching error in matters where she must be given assent. Without that promise, we could never know when the Church was teaching error.

If we would be authentically Catholic, we must trust Our Lord to protect His Church. When Our Lord has sent authentic reformers from outside the magisterium, they were always respectful and obedient to those chosen to be the shepherds. Those who became heretics and/or schismatics refused to give that respect and obedience.

Yes, we have had a few bad Popes in the history of the Church. But they have never taught error despite doing wrong, or rarely thinking wrong in private thought. The current critics of the Church, by alleging the teaching of error, are de facto denying God’s protection exists.

But once you deny that, you cease to be a witness to the truth of the Church and instead become a stumbling block that causes scandal to potential members. If you deny the Church has authority on issue Z, you lead person to question why the Church has authority on issues A-Y. 

So instead of dogmatizing our errors, we have to realize that since the Church is protected from teaching error, we must consider how the Church can teach differently from our expectations on what she should teach. Yes, there will be people obstinately in error out there. Yes, Catholics who don’t like to follow them will look for lax or rigorist spiritual guides telling them what they want to hear. But these Catholics and their blind guides do not take away from the actual teaching authority of the Church under the current Pope. 

We must remember that, when we encounter a teaching from the Magisterium today that runs counter to what we expect, we have the obligation to seek understanding and not assume the difference means error on the part of the Church.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thoughts on the Ultramontanism Label

A tactic used by some foes of the Pope is discrediting his defenders by calling them Ultramontanist or Ultramontane. The term has had different connotations in different ages of the Church. Initially, it was used to denote Catholics who defended the authority of the Pope over all aspects of the Church, in opposition to those Catholics who claimed there were limits on the Pope’s authority—usually from those who claimed that a Council could outrank a Pope (a view condemned as a heresy) or that a ruler had a more immediate authority over the Church in his nation than the Pope.

In the current form, the label is a Straw Man and an Ad Hominem attack. It attempts to portray the defender of the Pope as a blind fanatic who believes everything that comes from the Pope’s mouth is an ex cathedra statement. Since it is true that not everything that comes from the Pope’s mouth is a teaching, not everything he says or does is sanctified simply because the Pope says it. The defender labeled as Ultramontanist is treated as a simpleton who is ignorant about the Catholic faith and easily misled.

The problem is, no informed defender of the Pope ever made such a claim about the Pope. I don’t doubt you can find some misinformed Catholics out there who believe that, but I’m sure you can find some misinformed Catholics who literally worship Mary too. But if you do find any, you can be sure they don’t represent accurate Catholic thought.

The Catholic who defends the Pope is not doing the theological equivalent of “my country, right or wrong!” Rather he is saying that the Catholic attacking the Pope has misrepresented what he teaches and has failed to give the assent required (Canon 752) when the Pope teaches. The Popes are not protected from error, nor making a binding teaching, when they grant interviews or press conferences. They are not protected from error when governing Vatican City (or, previously, the Papal States). They are not protected from error when they write a book, like St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth

But when they intend to teach, making known their intention in an official Church document—for example, by an encyclical—then we are required to give assent. This requirement is not limited to infallible statements. Pope Pius IX condemned the notion that only an infallible statement is binding. Vatican I declared those who limited the authority of the Pope over the Church to be anathema.

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema. (Pastor Æternus, Chapter 3)

 

Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 42.

Defending the Pope when he issues such a teaching statement (considered part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church is not “Ultramontane.” It is offering correction to the Catholic who is failing to give the required assent.

Indeed, the critic who uses the “Ultramontane” label when a defender of the Pope defends a teaching of the ordinary magisterium shows the real lack of knowledge. All of the Church teachings which were defined infallibly were also previously defined through the ordinary magisterium. The Church defining Transubstantiation in AD 1215 did not mean people were free to believe otherwise in AD 1214. Indeed, Berengarius of Tours was condemned in the 11th century for denying Transubstantiation because it had been taught by the Church, even though not defined in a formal ex cathedra act.

No, the defenders of the Holy Father are not Ultramontane. They are correcting the error from the critic who has misrepresented the Pope while defending his lawful authority as the successor of Peter. They are giving the same respect and assent to the Popes from 1958 to the present that was also due their predecessors. That’s not a blind devotion. That’s expected of the faithful, as St. Pius X said in November 1912:

And how must the Pope be loved? Non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate. [1 John 3:18] When one loves a person, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to fulfill his will, to perform his wishes. And if Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself, “si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit,” [John 14:23] therefore, in order to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey him.

Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey - that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a heart filled with pain, that with deep sadness I express, not for your sake, dear brothers, but to deplore, with you, the conduct of so many priests, who not only allow themselves to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not embarrassed to reach shameless and blatant disobedience, with so much scandal for the good and with so great damage to souls.

(Allocution Vi ringrazio) [†]

___________________________________

[†] Ironically, the site this came from was quite happy to share it in 2012 when Benedict XVI was Pope. They don’t feel the same about Pope Francis. 

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

…as I went away, I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” [Apologia 21d]

 

Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

Knowing less than you think you do is a dangerous situation to be in. It leads a person to act on what they wrongly think is real. When this happens, people reach wrong conclusions, perform the wrong actions, assume the wrong motives. The result is some sort of harm done to oneself or others. 

In some fields, it is apparent to most people when they are in over their heads. Take medicine. Doctors study for years to learn how the body functions, how it can go wrong, and how it can be made right—but even with all that knowledge, mistakes can be made. Now imagine the average person thinking he knows more about medicine than he does. Such a person might guess how to handle a simpler diagnosis, but not always. The more complicated the procedure, the more likely this person is to commit an error, and the more serious the condition, the more serious the consequences of an error.

Most of us know our limitations when it comes to obviously technical fields. But in other fields—especially when it comes out to determining the truth of how we ought to live—people act as if they are experts. They pass judgment on what they think is right, with no consideration as to whether their knowledge of truth or the situation might be lacking.

This is especially the case when it comes to determining the moral way to live. Human beings, by nature, tend to interpret things based on what they want. The assumption is that what they want is good, and those who interfere with that want is bad.

But, if you’re a parent who’s had to childproof a house, you know that what a child wants and what is good for the child are two different things. The child wants to put dangerous items into their mouth, or stick their fingers in dangerous places. He or she resents the parent interfering. The parent’s rules keeps them alive and eventually the child learns why the parent made the rules, learning it is not arbitrary, but based on truth about what causes harm.

In a similar manner, the person who rebels against the moral rules, thinking they know better, endangers souls and sometimes bodies. In assuming that the one who issues these rules are wrong, they think they know more than they do. To be clear, I’m not talking about a blind adherence to any rule. Yes, it is important to understand what the rules are. But it is also important to understand why the rules exist.

This is especially true when the Church teaches. As Catholics, we know that the Church has authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Because of that, we know that Church teachings create a boundary between living as we ought and living contrary to what we ought. But if we don’t understand the reasons for the teaching, we run the risk of resenting those rules or of reading more restrictions into the rules than actually exist.

Take, for example, the Church teaching on social and economic justice. Certain Catholics resent these teachings—they’re at odds with their political preferences—and say that the Church should work on saving souls, not meddling in politics. The problem is, the person who says this is ignorant of our obligation as Christians to create a society that is just and not a hardship to do what is right. As Vatican II points out:

5. Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.

 

Catholic Church, “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

Reforming society is not separate from our mission to save souls—it’s part of that mission. But if we’re ignorant of the what and why of Church teaching, we can end up fighting the Church while thinking our actions right. 

And that’s a major danger. Whether it is a liberal Catholic who resents teaching on sexual morality or a conservative Catholic who resents a social justice teaching, we have a person who thinks they know more than they do and demands that the Church follow his lead. But, because they know less than they think they do, it is dangerous to put trust in their views.

Laxity is not the only danger. Rigorism is another danger. When we start thinking that only those who act like us can be saved without considering whether the Church allows for more options in being faithful, we can wind up falsely accusing the faithful of error. We can start assuming that mercy is the enemy of justice. So, when the Church shows mercy, we run the risk of resenting it instead of rejoicing.

We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 35–36.

From what I have observed watching critics who want to “purify” the Church is they don’t seem to grasp the mission of the Church. Some of them want to reduce the Church to a charitable organization that discards the demands of morality Others want to turn the Church into an exclusive club where they are members, but sinners of a certain type are excluded—that type generally reduced to those who commit different sins from what the critic thinks acceptable.

Neither group seems to remember that the Church was established for bringing Our Lord’s salvation to the world. Neither group seems to remember that we need that salvation ourselves. The temptation is to demand the immediate repentance of others while deciding our own sins are not sins or are not important enough to repent of.

I think this ultimately describes the danger we face in not knowing that we don’t know—that our lives require a constant turning back to God, and that we cannot write off the sinner we deem worse than us.  Our Lord warned the Pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the Kingdom of Heaven before them. (Matthew 21:31b). Our Lord didn’t say that because he thought they were morally good. He said that because they were repenting while the Pharisees thought they had nothing to repent of.

In other words, the Pharisees did not know that they did not know how God was calling them to live. As a result, they assumed whatever was different from their views was error. When we err in that manner, refusing to hear the Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) we are ignorant about our ignorance. But since we, as Catholics, have no excuse for not knowing that Our Lord made the Church necessary and authoritative, our ignorance is vincible and can endanger our souls. And that is more dangerous than not knowing that we know nothing about medicine.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Blind Leading the Blind

Blind leading the blind

Have you ever encountered someone who speaks confidently on a subject and offers his opinion as fact—but makes many errors about that subject? It happens in all areas of life. I find that it usually happens when a person assumes that what they have heard on a subject is correct, or that the opinions they have formed are the only way something can be interpreted. The problem is, if what they have heard is not correct, or if there is more than one way that something can be interpreted legitimately, then the conclusions they draw can be wrong.

In the Catholic Church, we believe that the magisterium guides us in coming to a correct understanding of how we must live to be authentically Christian. Things that run counter to the magisterial teaching cannot be called good.

Unfortunately, some Catholics believe that the magisterial teaching is an opinion to be judged—if it does not square with the individual’s interpretation, that teaching is judged an “error.” Thus we have some Catholics argue that Humanae Vitae is an anti-woman opinion that can be ignored. Others argue that Catholic Social Teaching is an opinion that “proves” that bishops are expressing liberal political views. It doesn’t occur to them that their own views are opinions that are at odds with the Catholic teaching.

This is not something that only one faction is guilty of. Liberals shamefully reject St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI while holding up their false understanding of St. John XXIII and Pope Francis. Conservatives shamefully reject St. John XXIII (Mater Si! Magistra No!) and Pope Francis while holding up a false understanding of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

What makes things worse is when these people take their views and spread them to others, teaching them that the Church was “betrayed” by the Popes they dislike, and we need to follow their views to get the Church back to where she should be. But if they are in error about what the Church requires and permits, how can they lead us to where the Church should be? Our Lord’s words should be heeded here: “If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14b). 

Our Lord spoke these words about the Pharisees, who challenged Our Lord over not holding His disciples to their views of moral obligation. Now, the word Pharisee has a lot of baggage. People associate them with religious conservatives—with all the negative stereotypes they associate with that faction. Religious conservatives resent that link because they don’t believe they behave with that attitude. Personally, I think it is a mistake to associate the term with a factional view. I think it is more accurate to understand Pharisees as group who believed that their views were right, and that those who disagreed were wrong—even when the one challenging them had the authority to do so.

I also believe that the Pharisee today is the one who clings to a set of views, judging others compared to their views, but never considering their rejection of the magisterium—which has Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16)—is rejecting truth for their own “traditions” (Matthew 15:6b).

If we want to be faithful to God, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15). Since he gave the authority to bind and loose to Peter and the Apostles (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and we believe as Catholics that the Pope and bishops are the successors to Peter and the Apostles, it follows that the Pope and bishops today have that same authority and we must obey them.

Yes, every Pope and bishop is a human being, and therefore a sinner. Yes, they can say some cringeworthy things and do actions we find regrettable. The problem is there is a difference between a Pope or bishop speaking as a person (for example, in an interview) and speaking with the intention to teach in a way we are bound to accept. When the Pope teaches, we are obliged to give assent—even if his teaching is not given ex cathedra. If we refuse to give that assent, then we are dissenters—cafeteria Catholics who negate our claim to be faithful by picking and choosing when we will give this assent.

Once we understand that faithfulness to Our Lord includes listening to and following His Church, we can see that listening to the person who claims that the teaching of the Church is in error is to follow the blind guide—and doing so will result in our falling into a pit with them.

These blind guides will point to the existence of bad Popes and bishops in history. Since people did wrong, it is possible that the disliked Pope or bishop is doing wrong. They then go on to misapply history. For example, both conservative and liberal dissenters like to point to St. Catherine of Sienna and how she “rebuked” Popes for error (false—she rebuked them for not returning to Rome from Avignon). They like to point to how Pope Liberius “banished” St. Athanasius (false—the documents cited were debunked as forgeries). They like to point out how St. Robert Bellarmine taught how we could depose a Pope (false, he was mentioning different opinions on what to do if a Pope hypothetically became a heretic).

Using this misapplication of history, they try to argue that these examples justify their own dissent against the current Pope and bishops are justified. The problem is, they commit the fallacy of false analogy where the differences are greater then the similarities. They might cite the case of a privately held opinion of Pope John XXII (which was not yet defined), but the false analogy is they are not speaking on a personal opinion, but on rejecting actual Church teaching that they do not understand or dislike.

Ironies abound. They will reject Amoris Lætitia on the grounds that it is merely an apostolic exhortation that “contradicts” the binding Familiaris Consortio—but Familiaris Consortio is also an apostolic exhortation. They share the same level of teaching authority. In a similar manner, they deny the authority of a Papal encyclical (conservatives denigrate Laudato Si, liberals denigrate Humanae Vitae) because it is not taught ex cathedra, but we are still obligated to give assent to Church teaching even when taught under the ordinary magisterium. In fact, Pope Pius IX condemned (Syllabus of errors #22) the notion that we were only bound to obey things proposed infallibly.

The problem was described by Plato over 2000 years ago. In a Socratic dialogue, he described how some people did not know what was true—and they were ignorant of the fact that they did not know. Because of that ignorance, they thought that their misinformation was reality and reacted with hostility when their ignorance was revealed and their views debunked.

I believe the blind guides today share this problem. They don’t know that they don’t know. Their flawed view of Church history and teaching leads them to justify their own views against the Church, not realizing that a lack of knowledge leads them to judge wrongly when they are told that they are in the wrong. The Catholic who dissents against sexual moral teaching calls the Church patriarchal and conservative. The Catholic who dissents against social justice calls the Church liberal and modernist. In both cases, the error is not with the Church, but with them.

Ultimately, each Catholic will have to decide. Will they listen to the Magisterium of the Church today that tells us how to apply past teachings to current circumstances? Or will they listen to the disgruntled internet sites which tell them that the Church is in error until it complies with their own views? The person who does the first is wise. The person who does the second is following a blind guide.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reformation Day 2017 and Catholic Dissent

With the run up to “Reformation Day,” we’re seeing some Protestant groups bring up the false claims of things the first Protestants “saved” people from. While the rehashed assertions are annoying (we never believed what they accused us of), they are not a serious threat. There is a mountain of books out there defending the Catholic Church from those charges—either showing that these things were taken out of context, or were abuses condemned by the Church.

We’re also seeing some Catholics repeating the polemics from the 16th century. These Catholics harshly condemn people like Luther, Henry VIII, and Zwingli for rejecting the Catholic Church. They also use the words written to rebuke and warn people who were choosing to leave the Church 500 years ago are applied to people who were never were part of the Church to begin with. Because modern Protestants are not Catholics, they are assumed to be defiantly rejecting the authority of the Church which they are assumed to know. That lacks charity and prudence. Regardless of the wrongs (John 17:20-21) done 500 years ago, God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) still applies even to those we disagree with. In fact, the Catechism tells us:

817 In fact, “in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church—for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.” The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body—here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism270—do not occur without human sin: (2089)

Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.

818 “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.… All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.” (1271)

819 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.”274 Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”276

Curiously, many of these polemical Catholics, who denounce 21st century Protestants for rejecting the authority of the Church, also reject the authority of the current Pope and bishops in communion with him when they disagree. This makes me wonder if these “defenders” understand the essence of what they claim to defend. Given that the 16th century schism involved the question of who has the authority to interpret Scripture and past teaching, as well as to determine how Christians should live authenticity Christian lives in new circumstances, one would think that these defenders of the Church against Protestantism should recognize that authority and protection from error exists in every generation. If God can protect the Church during the pontificates of Liberius, Honorius I, or John XII, he can protect the Church in this generation, where we lack those kinds of corruption.

Instead, many of these “defenders” behave in the same way they condemned in Martin Luther.  Like him, they believe that the Church fell into error and needed to follow their views to get back on track. Like him, they view their interpretations as correct and the Church in error if the Church goes against their interpretation. But, if Luther was wrong to reject the authority of the Church, then the anti-Francis or anti-Vatican II Catholic is also wrong to reject it because it is the same authority. But, if they claim they are right to reject the authority of the Church when they disagree, then they play the hypocrite when they condemn Luther. They concede his principles and merely disagree on the particulars justifying rejection.

This doesn’t mean we treat everything that a Pope says or does as infallible (a common but false charge made by anti-Catholics and by anti-Francis Catholics). I wish St. John Paul II had not kissed that Qur’an. I wish Benedict XVI had not lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops and had not used that example of “the male prostitute with AIDS.” But these things do not take away from the authority of the Popes. What it does mean is that, when the Pope teaches, we give assent to his teaching, trusting that God protects His Church. That doesn’t mean that the teaching in question can’t be refined later (if doctrine) or changed (if discipline). The intellectually or morally bad Popes (and I reject the accusation that Pope Francis is one of these) never taught error, even if they sinned grievously. This protection from error is not a gift of prophecy. It is protecting the Church from binding error or loosing truth.

So, while I may get annoyed when certain Protestants repeat anti-Catholic charges, I think a greater danger comes from the Catholics who claim to defend the faith but actually attack the rock (Matthew 16:18-19) upon which Our Lord built His Church. I can understand (even though I cannot accept) how Protestants who have very little experience with Catholics can believe these myths and think that the Papacy is a human institution with no spiritual authority. But the Catholic has no such excuse. Since we believe that the Church was established by God and protected from error, we cannot reject the teaching authority of the Church when it does not go our way. 

We should consider the consequences of that stance. If we pick and choose when we will listen to the Church and when we will not, then what witness do we give to those outside of the Church? If we reject the Church when we think she went wrong, we give the non-Catholic ammunition for claiming that the Church went wrong 500 years ago or more. Why should they want to enter the Church if we give the impression that the Church can fall into error? 

Speaking in an insulting manner towards non-Catholics will not persuade anyone to consider entering into full communion with the Church. Behaving as if the Church can fall into error will not convince anyone either. If we want to bring converts into the Church, let us start by considering the example we give to others. Do we act as if we believe that the Church is protected by Our Lord? Or do we act as if the Church is merely a human institution that can fall into error, and that we can ignore her?

Let’s keep that in mind when considering how people will perceive our actions. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

14 Thoughts on Properly Understanding Church Teaching

Introduction

Last week, the Pope gave an address on the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In it he startled some people by proposing that the section on the Death Penalty be revised, saying it was never legitimate to use. As usual, people went berserk. The usual game was played: The Pope was reported as “changing Church teaching,” and the usual suspects either thought it was good or bad. Very few people I encountered asked whether this might not be a change of teaching in the first place, but actually a deepening of understanding regarding the value of life.

I think the problem is some people tend to know less about how the Church teaches then they think. As a result, whatever doesn’t square with their understanding is automatically a change. So these people tend to think that the Church is moving to the “left” or the “right” (sometimes factions accuse the Church of both at the same time).

This article is a response to this problem. I’ve come up with a list of 14 things we should keep in mind to properly understand Church teaching. This list is not done in a particular order. It is more a list that formed pondering the problems I’ve seen. Nor is it an exhaustive article. I could spend more time and come up with more things to consider (in fact, as I finalize this for posting, I think of more I want to add) but that would turn a blog post into a massive tome. Of course it is not a doctrinal article. I’m a member of the laity. I merely offer this as a set of thoughts on what we must keep in mind.

Things to keep in mind 

So here are 14 points I think are important to remember when dealing with the confusion around what the Church has to say.

1) There is a difference between “irreconcilable” and “I cannot reconcile A with B.” The first says that A and B are objectively in conflict and cannot be resolved. The second admits that the inability to reconcile is at the level of the individual or group, but not necessarily at the level of objective truth.

2) Since we hold that when the magisterium teaches—as opposed to a Pope or Bishop giving a homily or a speech—we are bound to obey, we must either trust that God will protect the magisterium from binding us to error, or we must reconcile our mistrust of the magisterium with Our Lord’s promise to be with and protect His Church always (Matthew 16:18, 28:20).

3) Discipline is not doctrine and, therefore, can change—even if that discipline has been held for a long time. Doctrine cannot change, though it can develop. So, if we think that a Pope is saying or teaching something “against doctrine,” we have the obligation to make sure it is not a change of discipline.

4) We must realize that our interpretation of Church documents is not the same thing as Catholic doctrine. We must also realize that our interpretation is not necessarily correct. We must interpret these things in light of the magisterium, not assume that we are right and the magisterium is wrong.

5) In different ages, the magisterium expressed itself in different ways. Sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle. We cannot assume by the language or the age of the document that something is doctrinal. For example, some believe that the language used by St. Pius  in Quo Primum (promulgating the Missal of 1570) means it was an infallible declaration, and the Mass in that form could never be revoked. There’s a problem with that claim. Blessed Paul VI used language in promulgating the Missal of 1970 affirming it was law and affirming it superseded previous documents [∞]. If tone is a sign of ex cathedra definition, then we already have cases of conflicting doctrine. It’s only when we investigate how the Church understands past teachings that we can determine authority.

6) When appealing to the Old Testament, we must realize that God did not mandate things like slavery, herem (putting all inhabitants of a city to the sword), divorce when they did not exist before. God actually put limits on things existing in even harsher forms among the Hebrews’ neighbors. God was moving them away from the barbarisms and towards stricter limits when the Israelites were able to bear them. So, a Pope taking a stand against the Death Penalty is no more going against Scripture than a Pope condemning genocide is contradicting Scripture on herem.

7) As the Church develops doctrine and changes disciplines, she sometimes limits pre-existing behaviors and eventually eliminates them. In the time of St. Paul, slavery and divorce were accepted facts of life in the Roman Empire. In Pre-Christian Britain and Germany, burning at the stake was considered a legitimate punishment. When the Roman Empire became Christian, the secular laws on slavery and divorce remained on the books, and continued to be followed. Some Christians justified the existence of these pre-Christian practices. While Popes condemned the reemergence of slavery in the 15th century, Christians continued to keep slaves. In fact, they pointed to the Old Testament to justify it.

8) However, we cannot use Divine Accommodation or the Church gradually overcoming the sins of the world to claim that the moral commandments can someday be superseded. Atheists sometimes attack Christians for following Biblical teaching on sexual morality by pointing to parts of the Jewish Law that we don’t follow. Some people try to argue that the condemnation of homosexuality is just as changeable as the condemnation of the eating of shellfish, but that is a false analogy. Divine Accommodation, culminating with the teaching of Jesus Christ has been about closing loopholes and holding the faithful to a higher standard (Matthew 5:22-48)

9) We must base our judgment on what is promulgated, not on what we fear will be promulgated nor on what we think should be promulgated. When the Pope gives an address or writes a book, that is not a teaching act. It is helpful in understanding how to apply Church teaching, but it is not teaching. In these non-teaching instances, we should listen respectfully and attentively. But we should not view those things as “proof” that the Pope is a heretic.

10) An individual priest, bishop, cardinal, friend of the Pope, unnamed source, etc., who claims to have the ear of the Pope or claims that the Pope is in error is not a proof that the Pope is in error. For example, Cardinal Kasper claimed that the Pope agreed with his views on marriage. But actually, Amoris Lætitia did not accept his ideas of treating divorce and remarriage as the Eastern Orthodox do, and the Pope has affirmed things that some people have claimed he would deny.

11) There is a difference between Church Teaching and the application of Church teaching. The former is doctrine. The latter is a discipline on how doctrine is carried out. If the Church forbids a certain application, then that application is closed to us until the Church sees fit to change it for our spiritual good. This is not something we can “lobby” the Pope and bishops over. Yes (per Canon 212 §2, 3), we can make known our needs and desires respectfully. But if they think it is inopportune or not needed, we cannot disobey without sinning. For example, In the Council of Trent, the Church determined it was not opportune to permit Mass in the vernacular. After Vatican II, it was permitted. But a priest who tried to say Mass in the vernacular when it was forbidden did wrong. The priest who does so today does not.

12) How we think Church teaching should be applied is not Church teaching. Some Catholics, including some priests, bishops, and cardinals, believed that all Catholics who were divorced and remarried must be treated as if they gave full consent to mortal sin. The Pope said that confessors must evaluate each case, and if culpability was diminished so that the sin was not mortal, the person might be permitted (i.e., not given a right) to receive the sacraments if conditions justified it [†]. This is not a change of doctrine or permitting sin. Nor is it a refusal to obey Our Lord on marriage or St. Paul on the Eucharist.

13) Abusus non tollit usum. (Abuse does not take away [right] use). The fact that people misuse the teaching of the Church or the writings of a saint does not make those things bad. I have seen people misrepresent St. Thomas Aquinas on Double Effect to try to justify abortion. That does not mean that the concept of double effect is evil. I’ve seen people misapply the Church teaching on just war. That does not mean that the teaching on just war is evil. People misrepresenting Pope Francis is not something new. It’s just that communications were not as swift before the Internet and the smartphone. People had to wait for St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor to be released and read it before they could report on it. People immediately spread errors about Benedict XVI’s Light of the World interview and so-called changes in Caritas in Veritate

14) The Church is not to blame for your misinterpretation. All of us have the obligation to seek out the truth and live in accord with it. That is different from making a literalistic “plain sense” reading of a summary of what the Pope said from a hostile or a religiously illiterate source.  All too often I have encountered people who misinterpreted the Pope and, when shown the quote in context, they blame the Pope for “not speaking clearly.” Assuming a negative interpretation from one’s words or actions instead of learning what is actually meant is rash judgment [¶]. 

Conclusion

I believe that remembering these things can go a long way towards remaining calm as people seek to disrupt the Church by remaking it into what they think it should be. If we realize that the magisterium alone has the authority to determine how to apply Church teaching, and realize that what we want may not be compatible with God’s will, we will be less likely to be deceived by those who claim that their claims about what they think the Church holds supersedes what the current magisterium of the Church says (Luke 10:16).

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[∞] Missale Romanum: “We wish that these Our decrees and prescriptions may be firm and effective now and in the future, notwithstanding, to the extent necessary, the apostolic constitutions and ordinances issued by Our predecessors, and other prescriptions, even those deserving particular mention and derogation."

[†] I personally believe that if some bishops are accurately represented as having a “come if you feel called” policy, they misapply Amoris Lætitia

[¶] I think this is another problem that got worse with the emergence of the smartphone. A reporter rushing to be first with something he wrongly thinks is a change in Church teaching gets an out of context quote traveling around the globe before the actual transcript appears. People tend to treat that first report as the truth, and then the official transcript as a “walking back” or “clarification.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Fatal Flaw: Thoughts on the Anti-Francis Rebellion

The critics of Pope Francis unrelentingly tell us that he is promoting confusion and error in the Church through either malice or incompetence. They point to certain quotes popularized in the media and unfavorably contrast it with previous Catholic teaching as “proof” of their charge that the Pope contradicts what the Church has always taught. The problem is, when one reads these quotes and previous documents in context, we see that neither justify the critics’ interpretation. Once we recognize this, we see the fatal flaw in the anti-Francis rebellion—that the critics are assuming as true what they have to prove (the begging the question fallacy) and that the texts they cite as “proof” prove nothing at all.

These critics remind me of the anti-Catholic fundamentalists I have encountered over the years. They quote Scripture against the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church but are unaware that Church and Scripture are not in conflict. Sometimes it is a case of not properly understanding Scripture. Sometimes it is a case of ignorance about what the Church teaches. But in both cases, what they call the “plain sense of Scripture” is nothing more than what they think it means.

The same is true of the anti-Francis Catholics. They think, “Who am I to judge?” means an approval of homosexual behavior. They think, “Rabbit Catholics” proves contempt for large families. They think that speaking about compassion for refugees is a deliberate condemnation of the Trump administration. They think that calling for confessors to investigate the level of consent present in the divorced and remarried Catholic is permission for all of them to receive the Eucharist. None of their accusations are true. But these critics who repeat them refuse to consider the possibility of their making an error.

I think these critics indict themselves (see John 9:41) when they say that the Pope is “unclear” or “needs to clarify.” That’s an admission of their interpreting Church teaching or what the Pope said. But, if one realizes that it is a matter of interpretation, that person has an obligation to see if the perceived conflict is a matter of individual misinterpretation. That means looking at how the Church herself understands the teachings—not how individuals or groups understand it [†]. That means we look to the shepherds of the Church, not the preferred website which is notorious for hostility to the Pope. If we don’t find an answer immediately, that doesn’t mean the accuser proved his point. We have to keep searching, trusting that the Church has an answer even if we don’t know it [§].

The problem with the Amoris Lætitia attacks is, as I see it, that certain Catholics have lost sight of (or never learned) the three requirements for mortal sin: Grave Matter, Full Knowledge, and Sufficient Consent. If one of these is lacking, the sin is not mortal—though it remains a serious matter needing correction. The critics I encountered personally focus on grave matter (which nobody denies) and point out that no Catholic should have total ignorance that it is a sin. But they overlook that some sinners may have wound up in their situation without wanting to defy the Church. The Church has recognized this with the alcoholic and the sexual compulsive who want to stop their sins but keep getting dragged back in because of defective consent. The Church has recognized the plight of the Catholic whose spouse insists on using contraception against their own will. The individual has still done serious wrong, but is trying to oppose it (a lack of sufficient consent) and needs the help of the Church in finding an escape from what seems like an impossible situation.

Instead, these critics assume that the Pope is ignoring the words of Our Lord about divorce and remarriage being adultery. They ignore that the confessor has long had the obligation of determining culpability and that this can change (without denying the objective evil) depending on the individual sinner. Pope Francis did not “open the floodgates.” He reminded confessors to investigate the culpability in every case, rather than automatically assume that the penitent deliberately willed to reject the Church with a full understanding as to what it meant. 

The fact that the critics have never, to my knowledge, acknowledged this aspect of moral theology is a sign of the fatal flaw in their rebellion. They focus on what they think the Pope means, while begging the question in assuming that the Pope is either heretical or incompetent. Since they assume but do not prove [¶] that the Pope promotes error, they view the quotes through a distorted lens. The person who does not start with accepting their assumption will not accept the quotes as proving the point.

But instead of trying to prove the point, many argue that whoever refuses to accept the contested assumption is “blind” or a heretic themselves. The argument runs something like this:

Critic: The Pope is a heretic because he doesn’t follow Church teaching.
Me: I think your interpretation of Church teaching is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.
Critic: Then you’re also a heretic or blind to the reality.
Me: How does that make me blind or a heretic?
Critic: Because you don’t follow Church teaching.

The point is, the critic ignores the fact that we challenge his own interpretation, not Church teaching. The critic assumes that a right thinking Catholic will think the same way he does. If someone—even the Pope—does not accept that interpretation, it is “proof” of his being in error.

This is the fatal flaw: The critic errs in interpretation but assumes they are not in error. As long as the Church does not follow what they think the teaching should mean, they see it as “proof” that the Church errs and needs correction. But our opposition to the critics is based on the fact that neither have the authority nor the training [∞] to properly interpret the Church teaching against the Pope and bishops they disagree with.

At this point, I think we must realize that these individuals need our prayers, that they realize that they are making a shipwreck of their faith and need to stop thinking of things as the true faith vs. the Pope.

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[†] For example, some critics condemn Amoris Lætitia on the grounds that certain bishops have implemented a “come to the Eucharist if you feel called” policy. But that policy runs counter to the actual text of the Exhortation which tells bishops and confessors to investigate individual cases. People forget that throughout history some bishops and theologians have misrepresented Church teaching to avoid changing wrong behavior. One of the more infamous examples of this were the bishops from the American South before and during the Civil War who portrayed the Papal condemnation of slavery as only a condemnation of slave trafficking from Africa—which the South didn’t do anyway.

[§] As a personal example, during my years at Steubenville, I was doing a paper on the writings of Charles Curran. One of his arguments for changing Church teaching on contraception was that the Church had changed teaching before on moneylending—once forbidding it and later permitting it. I thought his argument sounded false, but I could not find an answer to his argument. Ten years later, I discovered the actual encyclical. In it, Pope Benedict XIV called for an investigation into whether there was a difference between investment and lending to people in need. The condemnation of usury remained unchanged. Curran’s argument was false.

[¶] The whole flaw of this fallacy is that one uses the point that needs proof as “proof” itself of the point. But, if the point is not proven as true, then anything used as “evidence” under that assumption is only valid if the point is first proven. 

[∞] I am referring to the typical social media critic here, not the cardinals who made what I think is a problematic response. Any rebuke of them, I leave to the Holy Father, and do not presume the right to do so myself.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Collision of Errors: Reflection on the Anti-Francis Movements

On social media, I regularly encounter critics of the Holy Father. While these critics do not all move in lockstep, and do not all share the same outlook in general, they do tend to make the same arguments. It seems to me that this is the result of a growing number of Catholics believing attacks against the Pope and interpreting his words according to their own outlook. As these different groups agree with each other that the Pope is “wrong,” they tend to start viewing each other’s claims as a reinforcement of their own suspicions.

The Radical Traditionalist Error

One of these factions is the radical traditionalists [†]. They tend to view the Church and the Popes since St. John XXIII as suspect, if not heretical. While we tend to forget it nowadays, they hated St. John Paul II because of his actions against the SSPX, and they elevated his rare gaffes to deliberate heresy. They were hostile to Benedict XVI until his motu proprio permitting the increased use of the extraordinary form of the Mass

John paul ii kisses koranSt. John Paul II was mistaken about how to be polite,
but some said this was “proof of heresy.”

Some of them join fringe movements and a few even go so far as to claim that there is no Pope. Such Catholics start with the assumption that the Church and the Pope can indeed fall into error, while they are a “faithful remnant,” defending the faith. So, they have no problem with thinking Pope Francis can be a heretic. 

The Political Slant Error

Another way of thinking is that of the political conservatives. They tended to like St. John Paul II because of his defense of life and opposition to communism and Benedict XVI because he was the one who took action against politically liberal dissent. The exception was when they pointed out social and economic injustice. Then they try to downplay the authority of Papal teaching, calling it an “opinion” or “prudential judgment.” They have alleged that St. John Paul II was out of touch with “real” capitalism, since he lived in communist Poland. They also tend to think of issues like immigration reform and environmentalism as politically liberal.

They tend to think of a Pope speaking on an evil in general as a specific attack on them personally. So, when Francis became Pope, warning of injustices in these areas, they assumed he was anti-American or anti-Trump. Their assumptions on liberal vs. conservative led them to think of Pope Francis as a “liberal” and assume he supports the entire agenda of political liberalism in America.

The Self Appointed Interpreter Error

Another mindset seems to think that Catholic teaching is a case of “You make the call” from the NFL [§]. They rely on what they think the Pope means or what they think a previous Church document mean. But they don’t seem to consider that their own understanding can be flawed. They see a past document of the Church as saying X, and Pope Francis saying Y. They assume X and Y are contradictory, but lack a study in theology to understand the nuances. They often confuse discipline with doctrine, and misunderstand the phrasing in older Church documents. The result of this is, when a Pope decrees something that is different from their understanding, they think the Pope must be the one in error.

For example, when St. John Paul II taught that conditions when the death penalty could be justly applied were virtually nonexistent today, they appealed to older documents where the Church spoke about whether it could be legitimately used at all, thinking St. John Paul II was contradicting past teaching. But he wasn’t. It was the faulty reading by his critics that led them to draw that conclusion.

With Pope Francis, these “interpreters” assume that Amoris Lætitia tries to ignore the fact that remarriage after divorce is grave matter. It does not. 

The Guilt By Association Error

Another error I see is from those who assume “guilt by association.” So, if a liberal likes Pope Francis, that is a sign that Pope Francis is a liberal. They assume that the Pope appointing certain people to commissions for their expertise on a subject is “proof” that he approves of their errors and political slant—but they ignore the fact that he also appoints conservatives. From this, they also assume that whatever bishop or cardinal speaks in the Pope’s defense must be proof that they themselves must be in error.

They assume that he approves of everything Cardinal Kasper says, but do not realize that the cardinal went well beyond what the Pope was willing to accept. The cardinal seems to support the Eastern Orthodox idea of valid marriages after divorce. The Pope does not. Yet, people assume that the Pope endorses everything Cardinal Kasper stands for. A study of Pope and cardinal shows this is a false accusation.

Where it Collides

I see these groups (and they are not the only groups out there [¶]) reinforcing each other. The conservative who is suspicious of the Pope’s so-called liberalism hears the accusations from the radical traditionalists and thinks they are a confirmation that something is wrong with the Pope. The person relying on their personal interpretation of Church documents gets swayed by the conservative accusing the Pope of liberalism. The radical traditionalist assumes the Pope appointing someone they dislike is a confirmation of his “heresy.”

Each of these groups have false accusations against the Pope, based on their flawed outlook. Each of these groups hear the false accusations of other groups and thinks it is a confirmation of their own suspicions. Thus, they think there is a mountain of evidence when it is actually a begging the question fallacy. The “evidence” depends on their assumptions being proven true. If their assumptions are false, then their claims are not evidence.

Conclusion

Once we are aware of these factions and their errors, we can understand why a collection of small groups can have a large impact. As they continue to repeat their claims and more people assume that there must be something to them, people think, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  The Pope must be in error or people wouldn’t be complaining about him.

But if the groups making the complaints are in error (and I hold they are) about what the Pope said or what earlier Church teaching said, then they are not proof against the Pope, but rather a case of “the blind leading the blind” (Luke 6:39). To avoid falling into the pit they lead to, we must make the Church the final guide in interpreting Scripture and applying past teaching to the present circumstances. We must remember that Our Lord promised us He would protect His Church, and that promise is just as valid today as it was in our idealized period of Church history.

That doesn’t mean we think the Pope is infallible in his opinions or his press conferences. What it means is we trust that when the Pope gives a teaching we must give assent to (see canon 752), that God will prevent him from teaching error. An old example I recall is: if the Pope were infallible in mathematics, he wouldn’t have to get a 100% to be infallible. He could turn in a blank test, not answering any questions.

In other words, the charism of infallibility doesn’t just work in guaranteeing that what the Pope is 100% pure. I think that limited view is part of the problem. It also means the Holy Spirit can dissuade a bad Pope from teaching. Liberius, Honorius I and John XXII never taught error, because they never taught on the error they are associated with. So, for example, while some renaissance era Popes may have believed in a geocentric universe, they never taught geocentricism as a belief of the Church. If the accusations against Pope Francis were true, that would disprove the Catholic teaching on protection from error and call into question previous declarations from the Church.

To avoid error, we must hold fast to our faith in Christ protecting His Church under the headship of the Pope. If we believe this, then we must consider the possibility of our own error if we perceive a contradiction.

_________________________________

[†] It is important not to confuse radical traditionalists with those who simply prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. While all radical traditionalists are traditionalists, not all traditionalists are radical. [All A = B does not mean All B is A].

[§] I haven’t followed the NFL for years so I don’t know if they still use this as filler.

[¶] For example, I haven’t really touched on the modernists and political liberals who wrongly interpret the Pope according to their own prejudices and add to the fears of the “Guilt by Association” error.

Friday, September 22, 2017

In This I Remain Convinced: A Reflection at the Tenth Anniversary of this Blog

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this blog for ten years now at this point. When I started it on Xanga, I figured I’d dabble and let it fade away. But every time I was ready to hang it up for good, something came up that led to a post. During the past ten years, the attacks on the Church came and went. The militant atheists, the virulent anti-Catholics, the government, the liberals and conservatives, radical traditionalists and modernists, all had their turn. I’ve even seen some of my views change (For example, to my shame, in 2007, and up until Benedict XVI visited America, I was contemptuous of the bishops). 

But despite the change in attackers, and the changes to this country, one thing has not changed. That is the Catholic Church herself. The Church I defended in 2007 is the same Church I defend in 2017. Yes, Popes, bishops, priests, and theologians leave and are replaced. But the Church has not changed her teachings. The accusations made about Pope Francis were made about his predecessors. There have been moments where the men running the Church have done something I didn’t like at times, but none of those actions were a change of teaching.

I remain convinced that Jesus Christ Himself established the Catholic Church, giving her His authority and protection. I believe this authority and protection has existed unbroken from the time of the Apostles to the present day. Even in the rare occasions when we had bad Popes (and i deny the current Pope is one), God protected them from teaching error.

I remain convinced that Our Lord will continue to keep this promise. That isn’t triumphalism or ultramontanism. I realize each Catholic has his or her task to perform in bringing about the Kingdom of God. But the Rock which Our Lord built His Church on will not collapse. We should remember that when we see things we dislike. I remain convinced that the most immediate danger to Catholics is the attempt to separate them from the Rock of Peter, rejecting the authority of the Pope and believing one can be a faithful Catholic in opposition to him.

I don’t know whether this blog will go on for another 30 years, or whether something will happen tomorrow that prevents me from writing another word. But I do know this blog will continue to defend the Catholic Church under the headship of the Pope and bishops in communion with him for as long as I am writing it. Not because of their personal talents, but because I believe in Our Lord’s promise. I pray I might never reach the state where I think I know better than the magisterium how to run the Church.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Same Church, Same Teaching, Same Authority

St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us (Oratio XLIII, #50) where an official of Emperor Valens ordered St. Basil the Great to comply with an unjust government decree, using threats. When St. Basil refused, vehemently, the exchange went like this:

50. Amazed at this language, the prefect said, “No one has ever yet spoken thus, and with such boldness, to Modestus.” “Why, perhaps,” said Basil, “you have not met with a Bishop, or in his defence of such interests he would have used precisely the same language. For we are modest in general, and submissive to every one, according to the precept of our law. We may not treat with haughtiness even any ordinary person, to say nothing of so great a potentate. But where the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else, and make these our sole object. Fire and sword and wild beasts, and rakes which tear the flesh, we revel in, and fear them not. You may further insult and threaten us, and do whatever you will, to the full extent of your power. The Emperor himself may hear this—that neither by violence nor persuasion will you bring us to make common cause with impiety, not even though your threats become still more terrible.”

 

Gregory Nazianzen, “Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen,” in S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 411.

I think of this exchange in these recent times. Between 2009-2016, when the Obama administration instituted policies contrary to the Church, some Catholics accused the bishops (or even the Pope) of partisan politics when they spoke out, while others rightly pointed out they were exercising their office. Today, we’re seeing the same arguments, but some of the parties involved have changed sides. Those who once accused them of partisanship, champion their stance as long as they politically agree with it. Those who once defended the bishops now accuse them, because they politically disagree with them. In both cases, the rallying cry was the Church should “stay out of politics.”

But neither the teaching nor the authority has changed. The Church has the obligation to speak out against things in opposition to God’s commandments and the natural law. This obligation does not end at the doors of the Church. Nor does it end with the baptized. The fact is, long before the Europeans first encountered America, the Church was standing against the evil of the states, both telling the Christians not to cooperate with evil and telling the rulers they needed to repent. When it comes to rendering to Caesar and to God, the bishops have always spoken out when Caesar intrudes on God’s portion.

Those Catholics who sometimes say, “Hear the Church,” and sometimes, “Ignore the Church,” undermine any profession of faith they might make.  If the Church is right when we agree, and wrong when we disagree, the nominal Catholic or non-Catholic will be led to think that Church teaching is just another advocacy platform which can be changed as needed. But the Church is not an advocacy group with a political slant. She is the same Church which our Lord built on the Rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18). She has the same authority and responsibility that the Apostles had, and the same promise of protection. Yes, Catholics in a region—Bishops, Priests, Laity—might be swept away in error. But the Bishop of Rome and those who kept communion with him have never taught error. Some have lived less than saintly lives, but that does not disprove our Lord’s protection.

This is what makes the current hostility to the Pope and bishops so alarming. If what the critics claim is true, then we must face this reality: Either Jesus made a false promise (meaning He is not God) or the Church erred in how she interpreted that promise (meaning she not only can, but does teach error). In either case, we have no guarantee that even our preferred teachings are true.

But, if Jesus’ promise is true, and the Church does correctly interpret His promise, then we can safely give assent to what the Pope and bishops in communion with him teach, when carrying out their office. As Msgr. Ronald Knox pointed out,

Here is another suggestion, which may not be without its value – if you find yourself thus apparently deserted by the light of faith, do not fluster and baffle your imagination by presenting to it all the most difficult doctrines of the Christian religion, those which unbelievers find it easiest to attack; do not be asking yourself, "Can I really believe marriage is indissoluble?  Can I really believe that it is possible to go to hell as the punishment for one mortal sin?"  Keep your attention fixed to the main point, which is a single point – Can I trust the Catholic Church as the final repository of revealed truth?  If you can, all the rest follows; if you cannot, it makes little difference what else you believe or disbelieve.

(In Soft Garments, pages 113-114).

It is not the holiness of the man holding the office which makes the teaching true. It is the authority and protection given by Our Lord. But since it is the authority and protection of Our Lord, then to fight the bishops is to fight God (see Acts 9:4-5). So, to appeal to early Church teaching against later, or to appeal to Jesus against the Church rejects God (Luke 10:16). The person who “compares” the words of the Pope to the words of Christ, or the words of the Pope to the writings of past centuries, confuses their interpretation with what the Church understands it to mean. Remember, while we are called to use our reason in being faithful, we are also to give assent to teaching the Church gives (see Code of Canon Law 752-754).

Are there times when the Pope and bishops don’t teach? Of course. A Papal press conference or interview, or privately written book (for example, the Jesus of Nazareth books of Benedict XVI). But when the Pope or bishop intends to teach using the ordinary magisterium, we are required to give assent. So, whether the Pope and bishops speak out on sexual morality, or whether they speak out on social justice, they are not offering an opinion on Obama or Trump. They are reminding us on what our obligations are before God. Whatever our politics, we cannot act in a way that they say is wrong.

With this in mind, when we face a conflict and are tempted to reject what the Pope and bishops say, we must consider the possibility that we have misinterpreted the Church teaching, what the Pope said, or (very often) both.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Partisan Rebellion

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.

The US Bishops (rightly, in my opinion) took a stand against Trump’s decision to end DACA. In response, one faction of Catholics took a stand against the US bishops. They angrily condemned the bishops for “meddling in politics,” for “picking and choosing what laws to follow,” “for only caring about collections and numbers of people in the pews,” and for “being pro-Democrat.” Ironically, a different faction of Catholics (opposed by the first) made the same arguments when the US bishops opposed Obama’s actions on abortion, the contraception mandate, same sex “marriage,” and (though people forget it), immigration.

In both cases, what we have are Catholics who let their political views influence how they view the Catholic faith—which is a perversion of how it should be. When they do not like what the bishops say, they accuse the bishops of being partisan. It never occurs to these critics that the bishops are taking a stand because Catholic teaching requires it.

The fact is, no political faction is identical with Catholic teaching. Each faction gets something wrong, either in intention or in act. So we must hear the Church and let her teaching shape our political views. Unfortunately, regardless of faction, many Catholics seem willing to put the views of their preferred politicians over the teaching of the successors to the apostles. The bishops’ words are rejected as ignorant opinions, while the politician’s words are accepted as truth. 

The problem is, factional politics tend to create endless varieties of cafeteria Catholicism. Both conservative and liberal Catholics face the temptation to focus on issues they already agree with while downplaying or ignoring what they dislike. When the Church emphasizes what they dislike, it is often portrayed as a partisan betrayal of faith for politics. But it seems to me this is a reversal of the truth: The partisan Catholic is being deceived into thinking their partisan views are true Catholicism.

Like it or not, Catholic teaching focusses on both the moral behavior and the care for people in need. Neither is waived because of our own preferences or our fears that the teaching we prefer might be “undermined.” Yes, there can be a legitimate difference of opinion on how to best follow Catholic teaching. But we can never accept an “opinion” that sets aside Church teaching (cf. Mark 7:11). So, for example, Catholics can disagree on the best way to defend the right to life, but never downplay the right to life. Catholics can disagree on how to best handle illegal immigration, but not to undermine the teaching on how human beings are to be treated regardless of status.

I believe we need to evaluate our anger when the Church takes a position contrary to our politics. We may tell ourselves that we think the Pope or bishop is “betraying” the Church for a partisan reason, but we have to ask whether we’re the ones betraying the Church for a partisan reason. I also believe we need to consider whether our rejection of a bishop when he says something we dislike is a scandal that leads others to sin (Matthew 18:6-7). If we choose to reject a bishop on one topic, we have very little to say when another chooses to reject a bishop on something we think is vitally important.

It is important that we study what the Church teaches on a subject to make sure we have not gone wrong. But we also must recognize that the Church, not us, is the final decision maker on how these teachings are properly understood. For example, I know of some Catholics who claim that it is more “pro-life” to vote for a pro-abortion candidate because their policies will reduce the need for abortions. That interpretation was rejected by St. John Paul II, when he wrote:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

Likewise when it comes to issues we find “hitting too close to home,” we need to make sure that we are not undermining Church teaching by interpreting it in a way that allows us to do as we please when the magisterium says we may not do as we please.

As a final point, it is not for me to judge the conscience of any individual of course—that is a task for the individual’s confessor, and far exceeds the competence of a layman. But I can point out that it is dangerous to use our political views to judge the shepherds of the Church. Before we claim that we can reject their “opinions,” we need to make sure they are in fact opinions, and not a legitimate application of the teaching authority of the Church.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Lack of Reflection

ReturnOfDracula6Like the vampire in a mirror, there is a serious lack of reflection today on what one says…

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen an escalation of attacks on the teachings of the Church by people who think they are defending the Church. I’ve seen a homily accusing the Pope of teaching error and insisting we must be faithful to the Church over the Pope, talking about Matthew 16:18-19, of all things. I’ve seen a Catholic blame the Church for “abandoning” the term “Catholic Christian” in favor of “Catholic.” I’ve seen the ongoing fight between Catholics who claim to be Pro-Life and those who claim to be “really” Pro-life. I’ve seen the usual assortment of attacks on Pope Francis, Vatican II, the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and the ongoing attacks on Church teaching on homosexuality as “needing to change.” These varied arguments seem to have one thing in common: While the attacker seems to have reflected on the fact their action before carrying it out, they do not seem to reflect on the ramifications of what they say. 

First, let me exclude something from the scope of this article. I am not talking about sufficient reflection as one of the requirements of mortal sin. I leave it to the individual’s confessor to decide whether the individual sin mortally or not. The lack of reflection I mean involves a failure to think about the damage one causes, and what truth of the Church they undermine. While such people think they are serving the good, they are actually causing harm.

In all of these cases, there are two major errors: A lack of reflection on what the Church teaching is, and a lack of reflection on the position attacked. While error and injustice exists and must be opposed, some people see error and injustice where there is none. When it comes to the Church, people tend to either dogmatize customs, or they tend to downplay actual teaching authority. When it comes to opposing others, attacks revolve around thinking that disagreement with their own position is endorsement of evil. In both cases, the person does not reflect on whether he is mistaken about his understanding. In fact, regardless of his political views, he assumes he must be right.

If one is mistaken about Church teaching, then they can see an evil where there is none, or they can think something is harmless when it is harmful. On the other hand, if one is mistaken about what another person holds, the individual might falsely accuse the other, when he is innocent of the charge. It is only when one is right about both that one can begin to investigate. So, for example, the Catholic who misuses Pope Francis’ “Who am I to Judge?” comment as supporting homosexuality is wrong regardless of whether he praises or condemns the Pope. The Pope did not support homosexuality. The same applies to the claims that the Pope supports the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried. He does not. He supports having confessors investigate whether all the conditions for mortal sin are present in the individual.

Likewise the bloggers brawling about what it means to be truly pro-life. I find that both sides each think the other side is neglecting Church teaching. But when all is said and done, both sides are confusing their political preferences with Church teaching, and that confusion leads them to think that a rejection of their politics is ignoring Church teaching. The same with the Catholic who thinks Church teachings are founded in bigotry, instead of under the teaching of Our Lord. If Same sex “marriage” goes against God’s will, then the person who opposes the Church is not opposing intolerance, but God Himself.

Don’t confuse this with moral relativism. I’m not saying, “What might be true for you isn’t true for me.” I’m saying, we need to make sure that our conception of what is right and wrong is in line with what the Church teaches—not in the sense of what we think it means, but what she actually means as applied by the Pope and bishops in communion with him. We’re not comparing Pope Francis with Pope Pius X. We’re not comparing Vatican II with Trent. We’re talking about people causing dissension on the basis of their own personal ideas of what Papal utterances or Ecumenical Councils should mean. But individuals don’t have the right to decide for themselves what they should mean. The living magisterium of the Church decides how to apply these teachings.

This is where we have the lack of reflection. People don’t ask if they went wrong somewhere. They assume that if something doesn’t sit well, it must be the other who is at fault. The problem is, every heresy we had in the Church, every schism, they arose from people who thought the Church or person they opposed could err, while they could not. Throughout history, bishops, priests, and laity have fallen away by deciding the Church had gone wrong—but never when they submitted to, and were in communion with, the Holy See. If we’re not careful, we may find that we, like them, have become what we hated and opposed the Church, while thinking we were doing the right thing. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reflections on the Riot Aftermath

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27).

One thing that shouldn’t have to be said (but apparently does) is that even if there had been no attempts to remove statues, provocations, rioting, or deaths, the white supremacists in Charlottesville would have to be condemned. If we want to call God, “Our Father,” we have to accept all the other people whom  God has called to be in that relationship with Him. That would be everyone, because God desires everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not show partiality to some over others (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35). We cannot treat others as less than human because of their ethnicity. Nor can we pretend that our Catholic faith is compatible with such racist views. 

In light of the recent riot, we need to be clear on this. But one thing that troubles me about social media in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riot is the fact that some are turning it into a proxy war for the arguments they were having before the riot. Some believe that those who hold different political views are guilty of supporting or enabling the racists. Others believe that the defense of their beliefs requires downplaying the actions of the racists. Both are wrong, and we should not let either group define the discussion for us.

Racism is morally indefensible. So is rioting, and people across the political spectrum need to condemn it without pointing to the actions of extremists on the “other side” as if they cancelled each other out. We can condemn evil on both sides without turning it into a false equivalency or a tu quoque argument along the lines of, “Yes, this was bad, but so was that…they’re all scum, what can we do about it?” We can focus on one evil without downplaying another. We can ask questions about the second evil without downplaying the first.

But people also need to realize that it is unjust to accuse people of differing political views of supporting racism. If one actually supports racism, that must be opposed. But opposition to racism is not the exclusive property of one political ideology, and we should reject the “guilt by association” fallacy. Offensive radical beliefs do attach themselves, like parasites, to the fringes of political factions. That does not mean that the majority of that political faction approves of the extremists.

We need to break out of the common either-or fallacy. It is false to think that either a person agrees with us or approves of everything we hold evil. It is also false to think that a moral objection to the words of the President is support for the Antifa, or that voicing concern about rhetoric is support for racism. Before we denounce someone of supporting evil, we must make sure they actually support that evil. Different people have different levels of skill in expressing themselves. People who are not skilled in expressing themselves might be unclear, but that lack of clarity does not mean an attempt to conceal support of evil.

As Catholics, we have an obligation to seek out what is true. We cannot simply assume that our personal interpretation is what is meant. Before tearing into another, we need to be sure that our interpretation of the words of that person is accurate. That has been lacking on social media. I have seen moral objections raised to badly expressed assertions—and then others savage these objections savaged as a support of evil. That is unjust.

This leads me to another point: As Catholics, our mission in part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is to bring people to Christ. This includes the people we disagree with. But how will we bring people to Christ if we have hatred for them? We must show mercy to those in error. Imagine how things might have been if the missionary saints had treated the pagans in the same way that we treat those who disagree with us? Since we are called to bring the evil to repentance, we will answer for the stumbling blocks we put in the way of helping people find their way to God. That doesn’t mean acting so pusillanimous or wishy washy that that we are afraid to speak against evil. But it does mean that our opposing evil must be aimed at saving the evildoer from damnation, not at vanquishing them and sending them to hell.

Yes, there is a lot to be angry about over the White Supremacists and their views. There is a lot to be angry about the deaths and injuries. But as St. Paul said, if we are  to be angry, let it be without sin.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Refusing Obedience is Disobedience

Introduction

In my morning Bible reading, I’m at the point of 2 Chronicles where Asa and Ahab, in two separate incidents, consider the prophets’ speaking a warning from God as treason on the part of the prophet. While Ahab was an evil king, Asa, up to that point was considered a good king who walked with God. It’s a reminder that such behavior is not just from the godless. Despite how we have lived up to this point, we can still fall away from right relation with God if we put our own preferences first. It’s not just this one instance. The New Testament tells us of the Pharisees—Men who desired to live holy lives in the way they thought best—found themselves in opposition to God. Not because they chose to spurn God. Rather, they thought that Jesus had to be wrong because what He taught was in conflict to what they thought it meant to be faithful.

I think these examples should stand as a warning for us. The Old Testament Kings responded to prophets warning them about their wrongdoing by imprisoning the prophets. The Pharisees responded to Jesus warning them about their wrongdoing by plotting to have Him executed. In losing sight of the fact that we can go wrong, we risk being opposed to God while believing we are in the right.

The Danger for Catholics

This is not something limited to Biblical times. Nor is it limited to one faction within the Church. The danger exists when one of us decides that he doesn’t like how the Church handles something. It might be a dissent associated with “liberalism” like sexual moral teachings. It might be a dissent associated with “conservatism” like social justice teachings. In both cases, the person believes the Church has gone wrong, and will remain wrong until she agrees with them.

Blessed John Henry Newman saw the danger, and described it this way [†]:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 240.

We believe the Church is infallible because we believe she was established by Our Lord, given authority by Our Lord, and protected from error by Our Lord. The individual Churchman or layman can be sinful and be led into error. So, when the Pope teaches, we must decide. Do we believe that God protects him from teaching error? Or do we merely happen to agree with the Church up to a certain point and then reject whatever seems different?
 
Unfortunately, the lack of certitude seems to be growing. People who assumed that their personal view of the Church was all the Church could be, grew angry when the Church affirmed something they viewed as a political view or error. But, when the Church teaches, we are obliged to recognize her authority as from God. Dr. Peter Kreeft points out:
 

A “cafeteria Catholic” or a half Catholic or a 95 percent Catholic is a contradiction in terms. If the Catholic Church does not have the divine authority and infallibility she claims, then she is not half right or 95 percent right, but the most arrogant and blasphemous of all churches, a false prophet claiming “thus says the Lord” for mere human opinions. It must be either / or, as with Christ himself: if Christ is not God, as he claims, then he is not 95 percent right or half right or merely one of many good human prophets or teachers, but the most arrogant and blasphemous false prophet who ever lived. Just as a mere man who claims to be God is not a fairly good man but a very bad man, a merely human church that claims divine authority and infallibility is not a fairly good church but a very bad church.

 

The only honest reason to be a Christian is because you believe Christ’s claim to be God incarnate. The only honest reason to be a Catholic is because you believe the Church’s claim to be the divinely authorized Body of this Christ.

 

Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 105.


If the Church was created by Our Lord and given the authority to teach with His authority, then we must obey the Church teaching if we would obey Him (John 14:15, Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17). If one rejects Humanae Vitae while accepting Laudato Si, or if one rejects Laudato Si while accepting Humanae Vitae, one is a cafeteria Catholic.
 
Refusing Obedience is Disobedience
 
But, instead of accepting the authority of the Church to teach, people prefer to attack. They might attack the entire Church as “being against God,” invoking “mercy” and saying the Church is “judgmental.” Or, they might accuse the Pope and bishops of being in error. In both examples, the assumption is whatever they dislike is error to be rejected. Such a view makes the individual the judge of the Church—changing the Church from Mother and Teacher to Child and Student who must be taught by us.
 
But under such a view, it makes no sense to be a Catholic because it rejects (overtly, or through failing to think things through) what the Church professes to be. As Dr. Kreeft pointed out, if the Church claims to be what she is not, then the anti-Catholics are right and the Church is a monstrosity. But if the Church is what she claims to be, then we must give assent when she teaches, not offer explanations as to why we can ignore a teaching we dislike.
 
Be aware that this is not the fault of one faction. During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it was easier to see this disobedience among “liberal Catholics.” Under the pontificate of Pope Francis, the dissent of “conservative Catholics” is more obvious. But both kinds of dissent were present in both cases—it was just harder to notice the dissent of conservatives against Popes before 2013, while after 2013 liberal dissent against the Pope does not get reported.
 
The thing to remember is, while some sins are more deadly than others, the deadliest sin is the one which sends an individual to hell. For the person who has no intention to use the “right” to abortion available in our country, the sin of abortion is not likely to damn him. But another sin could very well condemn him to hell. This is especially true if we try to hide our dissent by pretending the Church must be wrong.
 
Conclusion
 
If we do this, we are doing the same thing to the Church that the Old Testament kings did with the prophets and the Pharisees did with Our Lord. Instead of considering and obeying the source of authority, we get angry and attack the Church for not saying what we want to hear, or saying what we don’t want to hear. We can pretend that our disobedience is really obedience to a higher source, but Our Lord does not permit this. He said that the one who rejects the Church rejects Him, and the One who sent Him (Luke 10:16). 
 
People can try to muddy the waters and try to argue that they can ignore the Pope when He doesn’t teach infallibly (ex cathedra), but that ignores the fact that the binding ex cathedra definition grows out of the binding teaching of the ordinary magisterium. Our Lord has commanded us to obey His Church. This means we trust Him to protect His Church from error. If we refuse to trust the Church and her visible head, the Pope, it means we refuse to trust the Head of the Church—Our Lord. No matter how we twist history to make a private error or band behavior of a medieval Pope justify disobedience of a Pope who does none of that, Our Lord’s command cannot be evaded. If we think otherwise, we will answer for it.
 
____________________
 
[†] The problem seems to fit “cradle Catholics” as well, and should not be seen as a “convert only” problem. Blessed John Henry Newman’s observation should not be seen as indicting all converts, or only converts.