Monday, November 18, 2019

Umm, What? Reflecting on Bizarro World Catholicism

As the antics of some Catholics continue, I am reminded of the DC Comics Bizarro World. The basic concept here is whatever is seen as right, true, and good on Earth is seen as wrong, false, and bad. It’s played for laughs, and it works because we know what is supposed to be right.

In the Bizarro-Catholic world, we’re seeing cases of Catholics who are ignorant of past Church history hailed as knowledgeable and those rejecting the authority of the magisterium with the vehemence of Luther praised as “defending the Church from Protestantism.” Formal teaching today is called “opinion” while opinions from the past are called “doctrine§.When the Pope repeats the Church condemnation against nuclear weapons, he is condemned as ignoring the Church teaching on Just War; when he repeats the consistent Church teaching on caring for the poor and oppressed, he is condemned for being “political.” When he makes something clear, they accuse him of being vague; when his staff corrects a misinterpretation by his critics, the Bizarro Catholics say the Vatican is “walking it back,” or even “lying.”

I could go on and on about these ridiculous antics—and, tragically, the Bizarro Catholics will continue committing them—but it will get annoying. The point is: a certain group that accuses the Pope or the Church today of being in error are actually the ones in error, and the standards they use to judge orthodoxy are opposed to what the Church has always called on the faithful to accept as the guide of what is authentically Catholic.

Pointing this out angers this faction of Catholics. They point to excerpts of obscure Latin documents and contrast them with the actions of the Church today, arguing that it is a “contradiction” and proof of modern error. The problem is, they are arguing about authentic interpretation when the final decision about authentic interpretation is the Pope. They do not consider the development of Church teaching and discipline, and whether the Church sees a need for a changed approach in times that have grown deaf to the methods used in the past.

St. John Paul II warned about this attitude in Ecclesia Dei, when he explained how the SSPX fell into error:

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

The Church will never contradict the doctrines she has previously taught, but that doesn’t mean that what was written in the past cannot be clarified or when loopholes arise. As a result, when someone stands up and says that the Pope or validly convened and ratified Council errs, we have seen the antics of a Bizarro Catholic. And, if we give these critics credence while rejecting the Church under the visible headship of the Pope, we too are Bizarro Catholics.


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(§) Case in point, one of St. Robert Bellarmine’s evaluations of different opinions on whether a Pope can be a formal heretic is considered “doctrinal” when the work in question is simply a defense of Catholicism against Protestant claims. He no more intended to be magisterial that Benedict XVI did when he wrote theological works as Cardinal or as Pope.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

On Popular Anti-Papal Arguments That Are Actually Logical Fallacies

Since the Amazon Synod, there have been several arguments given as “irrefutable proof” that the Pope has promoted heresy, syncretism, and idolatry. The problem is, they are logical fallacies that do not prove what they claim. I write this piece both for those who don’t know how to respond so they don’t fear that it “might be true,” and for those who use them that they stop spreading nonsense.

The First Fallacy: Argument From Silence

I’ve seen an argument going around that tries to justify accusations against the Pope. This argument runs along the lines of “If the Pope didn’t believe X, he should have said something to refute it. Because he didn’t say something, it must be true.” The people who make the argument think it’s proof for the claims made by Scalfari or Vigano. Others have used it for the dubia from Cardinal Burke and others, arguing that since the Pope did not answer it, he could not answer it. 

The problem is, it’s a logical fallacy: The Argument From Silence. This fallacy assumes that if there was anything that could refute their position, then it would have been issued. Since it wasn’t issued, it means there’s nothing to refute it.

This argument overlooks the fact that the Pope is not required to give an answer and may choose not to for different reasons. Sometimes he has allowed his staff to issue the refutation. Sometimes the question was disrespectful in tone or means of distribution, not meriting a response. Sometimes the question is so stupid as to be unworthy of a reply. Perhaps in some cases, the decision not to answer is an imprudent one. But that’s something that the Pope must determine.

The point is: Silence neither proves something is true or false. Silence is simply an absence of proof.

The Second Fallacy: Begging the Question

“Why is Mary Crying?” by Jack Chick. Modern critics are repeating his errors by assuming such acts must be latria.

At the same time that they accuse him of silence, certain critics accuse him despite his response denying their charges. Based on their interpretation of what we all see, they accuse him of “promoting paganism.” To “prove” their point, they provide links to Wikipedia and other sources about Pachamama. They tell us, “See? Pachamama is a pagan idol, therefore the Pope is guilty of promoting idolatry!”

The problem is, these critics are starting with an assumption (apparently originating with an Evangelical§ indigenous chief) that this image was an idol and that all acts of prostration are acts of worship, regardless of culture. These are the points that need to be proven. But, instead of investigating the origin of the image, the religious affiliation of those performing the ceremony, and how it was used before coming to Rome, critics repeat the mantra that it was an idol and cite references against idolatry to “prove” that the Pope is guilty of idolatry. But those “proofs” are only of value if it is established that the object was an idol. But that’s assumed, without the proof needed to justify the accusation.

The Third Fallacy: Appeal to Irrelevant Authority

If one wants to invoke a big name in the Church in this matter, one must ask whether their authority is relevant to the matter at hand before one can accept their claims as authoritative. Certainly the priests, bishops and cardinals are to be heeded when they are acting in communion with the Church and the Pope. As Lumen Gentium #25 explains:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. 

Certainly, when members of the magisterium act in this role, they are to be listened to. But, while giving all due respect to them, clerical critics like Father Mitch Pacwa, Bishop Schneider, and Cardinal Burke@ (those most commonly cited by the most vocal critics on social media) are not experts on the culture and religion of the Amazon region. Moreover, they are offering their opinion#, not speaking in their role as teachers in the Church. If it was intended to be a pagan act of worship (see the Second Fallacy above), then their concerns have merit. But that has to be proven before we can accept their claims.

The Fourth Fallacy: Straw Man

“Aha,” some critics exclaim. “The Pope called it Pachamama. Therefore he proved the charge!” Well, no. The Pope used the common term bestowed on it by the Italian media for purpose of identifying which object he was referring to. Unfortunately, there are no neutral terms in use. For example, to avoid a similar problem, I choose to use the terms “image” or “object” to refer to it, only using the term “Pachamama” is quotation marks*. But it’s not a universal standard and I have to clarify which item I mean. I would certainly be annoyed if someone took my use of the term image to mean “religious image.”

Since the Vatican press office (that’s their job, see The First Fallacy, above) had stated the Pope did not use the term to identify the object as an idol, it should be a case of Roma locuta, causa finita.” But certain people refuse to accept that they misinterpreted him and insist on repeating their arguments as if the correction of their errors never happened.

The Fifth Fallacy: Ipse Dixit

Politics in the United States, unfortunately, operates under the practice of repeating one’s claim often enough that partisans think it’s irrational to question whether it’s actually true. Unfortunately, that’s becoming commonplace in attacks on the Pope. The technical term for this is ipse dixit (literally, “he himself said it”). It is to make a statement and expect everyone to just accept it as true.

Not all dogmatic statements are ipse dixit. One who teaches with authority (the Pope, the bishops in communion with him and teaching in accord with him) can make statements that are binding (see canons 752-754). That’s not because of their personal wisdom, but because of the authority granted their office by Christ. Experts in a field can be cited in their areas of expertise in a limited extent because they are explaining the vetted knowledge in their field. But if they should speak on matters outside their field (the Pope offering stock tips, scientists speaking on religion, actors speaking on politics), what they say does not have authority.

But those who are not experts teaching in their field or speaking with the authority of their office within the Church cannot expect that a statement of theirs be accepted without question. 

How does this differ from the fallacy of irrelevant authority (#3, above)? Irrelevant authority cites someone who might be an authority in topic A in the entirety different topic or context B, where he is not an authority. Ipse dixit is making a statement without authority. So, citing Stephen Hawking (an expert in science) to “debunk” religion is an appeal to irrelevant authority. Stephen Hawking making blanket statements dismissing religion are ipse dixit.

The person who says that “the Pope falsely teaches X” and expects everyone to accept it as true without question is making an ipse dixit statement. This is why (for example) I point to the Church teaching and actual statements by the magisterium when I say “we must do X.” This is also why I insist on accusations against the Pope be proven based on the proper interpretation of what he says/does vs. the proper interpretation of what past teaching is¥. Sure, one might object validly to my being imprecise on how many critics (I always mean “some critics”), but I always try to study how the Church interprets past teachings and cite where I draw my conclusions from. I certainly don’t expect anyone to accept something on my say-so alone.

The problem is: what passes for “proof” against the Pope these days have no basis in fact but only in bare assertions. Claiming that the Pope is a “heretical NWO socialist Peronist etc. etc. etc.” is an ipse dixit clam. The accuser simply lacks the authority to make such a declaration based on his reading of Church teaching.

Conclusion 

These are neither the only fallacies nor the only attacks used against the Pope, but they are current ones used since the Amazon Synod. In pointing out that they are logical fallacies, I show that the reasoning used to accuse the Pope do not prove their point.

To be proven logically true, the premises must be true and the logical form must be valid. The arguments used against the Pope meet neither criteria and should not be accepted by the faithful.


_________________

(§) Keep in mind that many anti-Catholics come from this background. That doesn’t prove that this individual is one (that would be the fallacy of division), but personal biases do need to be considered before accepting non-Catholic claims against Catholics.

(@) Before anyone should accuse me of personal animosity against them, I always found Fr. Pacwa’s talks enlightening and personally favored Cardinal Burke to become the Pope in the 2013 conclave (I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio before he became Pope). My current concern with them comes from statements that they made which might be interpreted as being at odds with the respect and obedience always expected towards Pope Francis’ predecessors.

(#) I don’t believe they have any intention to claim magisterial authority against the Pope in their statements.

(*) I have been told, but cannot independently verify, that the use of italics (which the Pope’s statement used) in Italy serves the same purpose as scare quotes in the United States.

(¥) Other examples might be the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics who argue that a certain passage “allows” them to dissent from a Church teaching because the latter teaching “contradicts” Vatican II. They don’t have the authority to interpret Vatican II contra the Pope.

(€) I suspect many of the people who cry “socialist” based on the Pope’s denunciation of abuses in capitalism have never read Pius XI in his denunciations of the abuses in capitalism.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

They Aren’t Remembering History. Will They Repeat It?

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it§.

—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, volume I

I’ve been reading different Patristic Church histories lately. I find accounts from Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Rufinius, Theodoret, etc. fascinating in describing how the various schisms tried to impose their errors (if they were heretical) or rigorism (if they were schisms) on the Church. 

What made them successful in the short term was how they controlled the narrative and had the ear of important people. They selectively miscited the writings of those with authority in the Church, portraying the Popes and bishops as rejecting “authentic” teaching and falsely accusing them of all sorts of vile crimes. Idolatry, supporting heresy, debauchery, etc. The heretical and schismatic groups tried to get the Popes and bishops deposed from their positions. But in the long term, the orthodox Catholic position triumphed.

When they finally lost in the battle for the Church as a whole, they declared that the Church itself was wrong and broke communion with the successor of Peter and insisted that they were the faithful remnant. Montanism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, etc., were some of the heretical movements that rose from clinging from things the Church condemned. But there were other movements that rose from those who accepted the same beliefs as the Catholic Church but falsely claimed something the Church taught something that she did not* or claimed that the Church approach of mercy to sinners was allowing sin. Groups like the Novatians and Donatists fell into this category.

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

—St. John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

I find that the modern attacks on the Pope and bishops is tragically similar to the attacks in the first centuries of the Church. Many of those hostile to the Pope like to think of themselves as being like St. Athanasius against the Arians or St. Paul opposing St. Peter. But they act more like Hippolytus, Novatian or Donatus, assuming that a position of mercy from the Pope must be a position of laxity or actual sympathy towards error.

While certain critics might think that Santayana’s comment on history justifies their stance, actually they fit what he warned against. They don’t understand the history and development of the Church. Instead they rely on perpetually new interpretations of a fixed moment in the Church that they consider ideal, assume was always the case, and remain ignorant of the actual development and struggle to defend the faith. Being ignorant about this development, they assume deviation from their ideal is error even if it’s orthodox Catholic teaching.

Because they fail to remember history, they cannot see the direction the Church has gone in and how she has changed discipline and custom but left doctrine intact. If certain critics will not remember this history, they might wind up repeating the tragedies that led to error and schism.


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(§) This is the context of the oft paraphrased quote.

(*) Men like Photius, Michael Celularius, Luther, and Calvin also used false accusations to justify breaking with the Church.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

I Don’t Have a Problem With Your Eyes. It’s Your Interpretation That Bothers Me

Depending on one’s outlook, this article might be seen as correcting misconceptions about my approach to fidelity vs. dissent, or it might be seen as “doubling down” on inflammatory comments made against concerned Catholics.  So, let’s talk about the issues.

Issue #1: To Accurately Speak of What Is or Is Not

When Catholics accuse the Pope of something, the first question is whether the accusations are true. That means asking whether the facts are true of course. But it also means asking whether the motives attributed to the facts are true. 

Using Aristotle’s definition of truth, we have to ask whether what accusers say is saying of what is, that it is. If it is not, the accuser does not speak the truth. That doesn’t automatically mean that the accuser is automatically proven guilty of lying. Someone can sincerely believe that a false statement is true. But if they say something false, they do harm regardless of the culpability. Therefore, when someone makes an accusation against the Pope, we have an obligation to determine whether or not it’s true. If it’s false or unproven, we must not pass it along.

Issue #2: I Don’t Have a Problem With Your Eyes. It’s Your Interpretation That Bothers Me

That brings us to one of the popular albeit—in my opinion—stupid quips passed around by Catholics on social media about the video of the ceremony that took place  In the Vatican gardens. Because some people in native garments§ seemed to prostrate themselves before the image popularly known as Pachamama, certain people declared it was worship of an idol. When this was questioned, certain Catholics came forward with the quip# “Who are you going to believe? Me? Or your own lying eyes?”

The quip is supposed to mean that we’re brazenly saying that the “obvious” evidence is wrong. Since we all saw the video, we can’t deny it was an act of pagan worship. The problem is, the question is not what the people did. The question is whether the critics properly interpreted the visuals. 

For example, when St. John Paul II visited Papua-New Guinea, he was greeted by indigenous Catholics who performed one of their cultural rituals. But some of his critics accused him of taking part in a “pagan ritual.” Yes, we all saw the same visuals. But the interpretation was false. This brings us to the Amazon Synod.

Yes, we saw the video too. We saw people who wore strange clothing and did strange things before a strange object. But what has to be proven is that a group of pagans brought an idol to the Vatican gardens and intended to worship it. It’s not enough to say it might be true. The Church has never condemned anyone on the basis of unproven accusations. So where are the anthropological experts that identify the individuals as pagans, identify the image as an idol, and the activity as an Amazonian type of worship? Not only did nobody interview the people involved, but the accusations seem to have one indigenous chief who is an Evangelical as the source of the claims. But since when do we accept the word of one outside the Church as an expert of those within the Church? How would this person describe ordinary Catholic practices?

Some of you might say “But the Pope called it Pachamama!” But that doesn’t work. The Pope used the common Italian media label—a label applied with none of the required experts evaluating it. Think of it this way. We often use common but inaccurate terms for things because that is what everybody knows them by. “Sunrise and sunset” being one major example. Or we refer to the antics launched by men like Martin Luther as the “Reformation,” even though we do not believe that his actions “reformed” anything.

Combine this with the fact that the Pope explicitly denying that this was an idol, and that it was an act of worship¥. Combine it with the fact that the Vatican explicitly denied that the Pope intended to identify the image as literally being Pachamama. Combine it with the fact that those who brought the object said they bought it in a craft market and used it as a symbol for the indigenous people, not an image from the indigenous people. Either the critics have to prove a deception, or withdraw their charges. But don’t say that the video proves it—because the interpretation for the motives of the actions is very much under challenge.

Issue #3: Rash Judgment

The Church, in teaching against false witness, has some strong things to say about rash judgment. Rash judgment assumes a fault without proof for it. As I pointed out in Issue #2, there is no proof for these accusations against the Pope and the Synod. Instead, people judge according to the meaning they put on what they saw and repeat what others claim it means without verifying that the person doing the criticism is an expert on both Catholic theology and indigenous Amazon culture.

This is important. People may cite Father A, Bishop B, or Cardinal C as thinking it was an act of idolatry. But are they speaking with expertise on how indigenous Catholics in the Amazon do things? Or do they think of how American and Western Europeans do things and react negatively? This has to be asked and answered.

This cuts both ways of course. That’s why you’ll never see me accuse Father A, Bishop B, or Cardinal C of promoting heresy or schism*. I focus on dangerous attitudes in the hope of getting people to ask questions rather than make rash assumptions.

Issue #4: Nego Accusatio^The Credibility Gap of Accusers

One of the problems I have when critics tell us that the Pope is committing an error is that those making the claims have been consistently wrong. Small excerpts of long statements are taken out of context and people accuse the Pope of holding things he has actually opposed. Remember the 2015 Synod on the family? The critics said that the Synod would allow same sex “marriage” and contraception. Remember how everyone interpreted “Who am I to judge?” as promoting homosexuality? Remember how they accused him of planning to allow women priests, married priests and women deacons? 

These were all false accusations, regardless of whether the people spreading them did so intentionally or through gullibility. Whenever the full transcripts of what the Pope says have been made available@, the supposedly outrageous soundbites turned out to be very nuanced statements that assume Catholic orthodoxy as a basis. The Pope simply was pointing out that sometimes the practices have fallen into a legalism that spends more focus on keeping notorious sinners away from sacraments than actually reconciling them to the Church. 

Unfortunately, those who are critics of the Pope seem to rely on the sources that have been constantly wrong (whether from bias or simply not knowing what Catholics believe). Perhaps it’s time to start asking ourselves whether we should stop believing those sites who have been consistently wrong about the Pope every time they accused him.


Issue #4: Guilt by Association Fallacy

One doesn’t judge whether an idea is right or wrong based on the people who favor or support it. That’s a logical fallacy. An idea might be good even if unpopular or unsavory people like it. An idea might be wrong even if respectable people support it.

And this also comes into play here. Some critics have pointed to members of the Church who seem to hold heterodox ideas that cheer on the Pope. Yes, these people try to use his actions to promote their own agenda. But it doesn’t mean that the Pope supports their agenda or thinks like them. Yes, some people of questionable orthodoxy have expressed support for the Pope. But you’ll find that some people of questionable orthodoxy have expressed support for his opponents too. If the Pope is supposed to be guilty because some people with agendas think they can exploit his words, then those theologians who oppose the Pope stand condemned whenever a sede vacantist expresses support for those who disagree with the Pope.

But that’s absurd. The bad supporters of Pope Francis and the bad supporters of the “Dubia Cardinals” do not make their ideas wrong. But some critics of the Pope are trying to use those bad supporters to insinuate exactly that without proving that the Pope agrees with those bad ideas.

Issue #5: Misusing the terms None, Some, All; Equivocation 

 

There is a tendency to turn “some” into “all” or “none” depending on how a critic wants to portray it. If you want to downplay something, turn his “some people are saying…” into “nobody” or “hardly anyone says.” If you want to make a claim that somebody exaggerates, portray his “some people” into “all” or “most people.” Then you can say that the person expressing concern is “accusing” everyone who disagrees.

So, when the Pope speaks out against a dangerous attitude, some critics interpret his “some” as “all” and say he’s targeting “faithful Catholics.” But let’s face it: if somebody actually champions an attitude he warns against, that person has a fundamental misunderstanding about the Catholic Faith.

A similar error is to misuse a word which can have multiple meanings to benefit the person by using a different meaning than the intended one. For example, the Church uses the term Social Justice to refer to how our Christian  obligations must be applied in society. Christians must not only live rightly personally, but must also work to govern rightly. Unfortunately, the term is also used to mean a certain political platform, usually associated with socialism. As a result, when the Pope talks about Social Justice in different areas, certain critics replace that meaning with the political meaning and argue that the Pope supports whatever the American£ politicians also invoke the term “social justice.” The result is rash judgment (Issue #2) that accuses the Pope of supporting moral evils that he is on record as opposing. The person who makes these accusations (knowingly or out of ignorance) are causing scandal, not the Pope they fail to understand.

Conclusion: Confusion of Their Own Making

I do not say that all people with difficulties are guilty of this (Issue #5). But certain critics do, and they have stirred up a great deal of confusion, misrepresenting the Pope and bishops to the point that many Catholics believe that the claims made by radical dissenters must have some merit. But we cannot use our lack of knowledge as an excuse for not seeking to learn the truth.

Catholics are to give religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he teaches—even if it is not an ex cathedra teaching. This doesn’t mean, “the Pope can do whatever he feels like.” It means that we trust God to protect His Church. If we think that the Pope is “teaching error,” we have the obligation to determine whether our fears are true before making accusations out of them.

If we will not, any ignorance on our part becomes vincible ignorance—the kind we are morally responsible for if we do wrong. It’s not for me to point at you, the reader, and accuse you. I write this simply to warn people about dangerous attitudes and flaws in reasoning that could lead to the devil deceiving individuals into breaking with the Church while convinced they are the “true defenders of the faith.”


_______________

(#) The quote comes from the Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup.

(§) One individual wore what looked like a brown religious habit. If it was one and legitimately worn, it discredits claims that the individuals must be “pagan.”

(†) Heretical bishops (Arians, Nestorians, etc) did accuse the saints of crimes to get them out of their dioceses.

(¥) The worst accusation one could level against him is that he was lied to. 

(*) I might say that a Priest, Bishop, or Cardinal uses rhetoric that troubles me, but I try to keep in mind that actual dissenters might be twisting or misinterpreting their words just as much as they do with the Pope.

(^) “I Deny the Accusation”

(@) Finding transcripts are not difficult. Personally, I go to the Vatican website or Zenit. You just need to remember that it takes time to get them translated and posted.

(€) If one compares Amoris Laetitia with Cardinal Kasper’s The Gospel of the Family, you’ll see the first pages of the latter are similar to what the Pope wrote. But then there is a sharp break where the Pope remains within Catholic teaching while Kasper proposes following the Eastern Orthodox customs.

(£) I am an American, but let’s face it. Sometimes American Catholics badly confuse the Church teaching with politics, thinking that a faithful Catholic will support their own political views, but Catholic moral teaching predated the existence of the United States by almost two millennia.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Repeating the Tragedy

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.

—Saint John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, p. 240

The continuing aftermath of the Amazon Synod serves as a reminder that there is a certain hazard that orbits around the Church despite the endless attempts to eliminate it over the past two millennia. 

That hazard is the belief that the Church can fall into error but the critic cannot. Whether the rejection of the Church is rooted in heresy based on how the critic reads Scripture, or whether it is simply a schism based on the interpretation of the discipline of the Church, the fact remains that the critic has effectively made himself a “Pope” who insists on his own view of the Church while rejecting the authority of the real one. The result is we see people repeating the same errors over and over, convinced that the falsehoods they were told are true. The result is a repeated tragedy.

Repeating the Logical Errors

Those critics who do make a shipwreck of their faith this way deny that they are doing so because they define heresy and/or schism in an overly limited manner. Since they do not believe what Tertullian, Sabellius, Arius, Nestorius, Berengarius, Wycliffe, Luther, etc. etc. believe, they reason that—because they don’t hold the same errors—they are not guilty of what those infamous individuals did. But that’s the logical logical fallacy of  Denying the Antecedent. Just because one does not break with the Church over the same grounds as those people did does not mean that they are not in error. Consider this:
  • If I am in Los Angeles, I am in California.
  • I am not in Los Angeles.
  • Therefore I am not in California.
Contrary to what the media might think, there is more to California than Los Angeles. Likewise, contrary to what the Pope bashers might think, there is more to heresy and schism than the errors of those listed above. 

Repeating the Canonical Errors

The Church defines things like heresy and schism in light of what they reject. Canon 751 reads:

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

So, if one refuses to submit to the Pope on a matter involving his office (teaching, governing), such a person is committing a schismatic act, whether they formally reject the Papacy as a whole or just a specific act. Moreover, this is not limited to the ex cathedra teachings of the Pope. The ordinary teachings of the Pope are also binding. Canon 752 says:

can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

This canon bases itself on past Church teaching, including: Pius IX Syllabus of Errors #22, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25. It’s also found in Vatican I and Unam Sanctam. So, the Catholic dissenters who try to reject the Pope and claim that those who insist on obedience are Ultramontanist, or Papolators* are actually the ones in error. If they refuse submission, they are behaving in a schismatic manner. If they deny that submission is not required at all, that is a heretical position. As Canon 331 reminds us:

can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

Since these critics insist that they—not the Pope—are faithful Catholics, they invent counterfeit theology that they claim exempts them from obeying this Pope or this Council, saying that their “errors” prove that these statements cannot be binding. For example, they take one of the theological opinions of St. Robert Bellarmine§ that if a Pope becomes a manifest heretic, he stops being Pope. That effectively means that, should the Pope happen to join the Foursquare Gospel Church, he’s effectively renounced his office by leaving the Catholic Church. But the Pope’s  critics conflate it with three positions that the Saint actually rejected: that the Church can depose him. However there no procedure for deposing a Pope (canon 1404), and the idea that one can appeal to a Council against the Pope is the heresy of Conciliarism. Indeed, canon law says (canon 1372):  A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

Repeating the Theological and Historical Errors

Since there’s no canonical process that allows for any body in the Church to accuse, judge, or depose a sitting Pope. So, some try to point to certain morally bad Popes to argue that because they existed, it means that the current Pope can also be a bad Pope. The critics like to imagine themselves as following St. Paul in opposing Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) by opposing Pope Francis for “teaching error.” But while St. Peter and the bad Popes had personal moral failings, the critics claim that the fact that a Pope can be morally bad also means he can teach error (a non sequitur fallacy) and when he does, he must be opposed. 

The problem is: neither Scripture nor Church history can justify that position. Our Lord taught that the moral failings do not take away the authority to teach (cf. Matthew 23:2-3). Church history shows that a morally bad Pope does not justify rebellion. Remember the Popes leading morally bad lives did not justify the Protestant Reformation. Luther had obligations to obey the Pope, his bishop and his religious superiors. He believed they erred and that he was not obligated to obey them. If a Pope can err—and must be opposed if we think he does—when teaching in the ordinary magisterium, then we have no way of saying Luther was wrong to refuse obedience.

This is why I say that the Pope bashers are like Luther: not because I think they have the same theology. But because I think they share the same attitude towards the Church authority which they disagree with. Since that the critics are often vehemently denouncing everything they dislike in the Church as “Protestant,” it is ironic that they duplicate Luther’s treatment of disliked Church Teaching.

Some even go so far as to misapply the term “antipope.” The term is properly used to distinguish one who is falsely set up to be Pope against the real Pope. There are several in Church history, all set up by those who opposed the election or the policies of the actual Pope. 

In the current iteration, some critics claim that Benedict XVI was forced out of office, and Pope Francis was installed by his enemies as an antipope. Under this argument, whatever Pope Francis does is invalid. The problem is, there is no basis for the claim. Using a form of the No True Scotsman fallacy, whatever Benedict XVI said affirming his renouncing of his office and recognition of Pope Francis is deemed to be “coerced.” It’s a sedevacantist claim which is about as silly as St. Paul VI being a “Prisoner under the Vatican while a imposter took his place.”

Repeating the Factual Errors

When I read the writings of those who broke away from the Catholic Church, they all make false claims about the Catholic Church which purport to show that the Church “fell into error” and had to be opposed. For example, men like St. Hippolytus (who died reconciled to the Church) and Novatian, Luther and Calvin, Lefebvre, etc., treated abuses as intended policy under the Popes they disliked, took Scripture and Church Fathers out of context, misrepresented the real intent of the teaching etc. Unfortunately, modern critics do the same. 

For example, Luther miscited Church Councils and Augustine in order to portray a “break” between the past teaching and the teaching of his time. Calvin treated the veneration of religious imagery as idolatry. They contrasted their views of what they thought the Church should be with their portrayal of certain problems in the Church. What they left out was answering the question, “Is this portrayal actually true?”

Likewise, we saw in the Synod on the Family and are seeing in the Synod on the Amazon, critics portraying the words and actions of the Synod in as negative a light as possible and contrasting that portrayal with their own claims of what past Councils and teachings of the Church said. They insisted their interpretation of events were indisputable fact even though a large number of Catholics were disputing their claims.

Take the so-called Pachamama image. The term was given to an object that—by all accounts of those who brought it—had no religious significance at all. The name stuck and was adopted by the secular media. Critics of the Pope used the popularized label as “proof” that it was an idol (Begging the Question fallacy) and when the Pope referred to it using that popularized label, critics seized on that as “proof” that he was “promoting paganism” despite the fact that the Pope said there was no intent to worship and that the Vatican pointed out that the Pope’s use of the term Pachamama was common usage and not technical descriptions.

Repeating the Rash Judgment

The response of the critics was very much a violation of the Church teaching on false witness^. As the Catechism points out:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

When critics do not give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope says; when they do not accept his statements that give a Christian intent in his words and acts, they are judging rashly if they assume and calumniating if they do know his intent but say something contrary to it.

At this point, someone might ask me, “How do you know you’re not the one misinterpreting the Pope.” I would reply that, based on the transcripts that report the Pope’s words in full, what he says shows that he very much believes in God, the Catholic Church and its teachings. I would view any claim that he intends syncretistic or heretical meaning with the same level of disbelief that I would have if someone told me that Elizabeth Warren was in favor of a laissez faire approach to healthcare. That is to say, it is entirely out of character. But many Catholics do not read his writings, but instead rely on brief quotes in articles—which might be drastically out of context. When one reads something by Pope Francis, you need to read the whole thing to understand the point he makes.

Conclusion

As always, I don’t write to point fingers at and condemn specific individuals. Rather, I wish to show how certain attitudes of hostility against the Pope have no basis in terms of logic, Church teaching, theology, history, or avoiding false witness. If one wants to avoid falling into error, he or she needs to avoid those accusations and tactics that lead people to dissent while thinking they are the faithful ones. 

As St. John Henry Newman pointed out, those who lost faith in the infallibility of the Church—forgetting that God protects His Church from binding us to obey error—have failed to grasp what the Church is and who is in charge. If we do not want to trick ourselves out of the Church, we must cling fast to the Church, trusting that God will always protect the Church from teaching error.

If we refuse to do that, if we think that the Church which does not go where we desire is a Church that errs, then we will be deceived into rejecting what God has made necessary. And, if we reject that Church, we will be rejecting Our Lord who established it (Luke 10:16).


_____________________

(*) My personal favorite was when one Pope basher called me a “Papist,” which is a term used by anti-Catholic Protestants against faithful Catholics. A Freudian slip perhaps?

(§) I wrote about this HERE. The Saint’s book is available on Kindle if you don’t want to take my word for it. But briefly: there are five positions that he considers. Three he rejects (all involving the claim that the Church can depose the Pope). Two he accepts. Those latter two are: 1. That the Pope cannot be a heretic (I hold this view). 2. That the Pope only stops being Pope if he is a manifest heretic.

(†) Interestingly enough, there has been an editing war going on with Wikipedia’s entry. If the reports are accurately reported, critics of the Pope are editing the article to portray the image as Pachamama and to make it seem that the Pope was implementing the worship of a vile idol.

(^) One priest I know on Facebook pointed out it is also Rash Judgment of the indigenous peoples to assume their actions were idolatrous. I think he makes a good point.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dealing With the Madness over the So-Called “Pachamama”


time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.” 
—St. Anthony, Abbot

One of my pet peeves is when people who, for whatever reason, when disagreeing with the stance I take in defending the Pope and the Church tell me to “open my eyes.” (It reminds me of St. Anthony’s quote above). While the people who use it probably thinks they’re clever, it’s merely an ad hominem attack that tells the target that if he doesn’t see things the way the accuser does, it means that the person must be at fault for refusing to “look at the facts.” The problem is, that attack doesn’t refute anything, and it serves as a distraction from the fact that their claims are refutable. 

In fact, the more I study the claims (I’ve seen the video, I’ve researched the accusations) of those who attack the Pope and the Synod, the more I am convinced they are falsehoods on par with those spread by Luther in the 16th century when he grossly misrepresented the Church to push his own agenda. 

It’s a tale that grows more ridiculous, more exaggerated as it spreads across social media. In the beginning, the speculation was that the Pope didn’t read his speech because he was “furious.” Now his critics make him into an apostate. It seems to me that these people are being led astray as the devil turns them into “useful idiots” who do his will while thinking they serve God. 

Please note: I’m not defending idolatry or syncretism. I’m rejecting those accusations as false. I think people should remember this: anti-Catholics routinely accuse us of worshiping statues based on our postures and their falsely labeling statues as “idols.” Catholic critics would be wise to consider the possibility that they are at risk of behaving in the same way. They should ask themselves whether Catholics In Amazonia behave differently than Catholics in the United States or Western Europe.

The Vatican didn’t “admit” it was an idol, let alone Pachamama. The image was a carving that was brought to the synod was chosen as a symbol of life made by an indigenous carver. Different people attribute it to being Our Lady of the Amazon or Pachamama. Meanwhile the statement of the Vatican reflects what those who brought the image intended. If one wants to argue that it is “Pachamama,” or that the rites are “pagan,” they need to prove that these images are used as idols and worshipped in this manner. They need to prove that the people involved were in fact pagan.

But this is exactly what they don’t do. They assume bad will on the part of the Pope and the synod and everything that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to them, they assume has a bad cause behind it. But where is the research? Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the investigations into the people that they accuse of worshiping idols to determine it is as they think?

There are none. There are only hostile interpretations and rumors building on those interpretations. At the least, this is rash judgment, if not outright calumny. Both are sins against the prohibition on bearing false witness.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

You’re not Helping

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the anti-Francis movement within the Catholic Church, who often—whether out of ignorance or malice—make false accusations about the Pope, misrepresenting what he says or intends to do. They are responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church. Unfortunately, this is not the only problem group in this dispute. 

The other side are those Catholics who also (and just as wrongly) believe that the Pope is changing Church teaching on a subject or becoming more lenient with something the Church once strongly condemned. The difference is this second group either thinks this “change” is a good idea (and accuse those standing up for what the Church teaches as “rejecting” the Pope) or else is misusing what the Pope actually said to push an agenda, thinking they can pressure the Church into changing a teaching§. They are also responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church.

If we are to properly support the Pope, we must not attribute to him things that he did not say or do. If we do, we will cause double confusion:
  1. By falsely encouraging those Catholics at odds with Church teaching to think their sins are not sins.
  2. By giving the anti-Francis Catholics “proof#” that the Pope is a heretic.
Obviously, we can’t do anything about what the “other side” does except trying to charitably try to explain how and why they went wrong. But we can also cause scandal by misrepresenting what the Pope says and does just because it benefits our causes.

And charitably is a key word here. I’ve seen certain Catholics use abusive language against those who politically disagree with them, committing rash judgment and/or calumny. Then, when they face consequences for their rhetoric, they complain that they are being “targeted.” That does not help defend the Pope from false accusations. Yes, guilt by association is a logical fallacy. But the Pope is still harmed by our bad behavior if we who champion him are behaving shamefully in our defense of him, or if we treat those who attack the Pope in the same way that we condemn when they act the same towards us.

If we profess to be Catholics, especially if we think those opposed to us have gone the wrong way, we must behave in a charitable way in our defense. Otherwise, we’re not helping.

___________________

(§) People have been anticipating the overturning of Humanae Vitae for over 50 years. It hasn’t and will not happen.

(#) You might laugh, but the media misrepresented the Pope’s “Who am I to judge” to mean that homosexuality was okay. The anti-Francis Catholics still believe this while those with same sex attraction felt “betrayed” when the Pope later said things confirming he opposed “same sex marriage.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Are You So Certain That You’re on the Right Side?

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. (769)

(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Back in the days when the Left Behind and other series was popular, I wrote a few blogs about how Christians had a dangerous tendency to conflate their political views with their theology. Their view of the Antichrist was someone who appealed to the liberal left and hedonism. They would interpret the actions of those politicians and members of the Church as symbols or conspirators of a coming apostasy*. The problem is, that kind of Antichrist is not likely to deceive the faithful, and deception of the faithful is exactly what the final trial is about.

The temptations to justify immoral behavior has always been with us. People who argue that the popular sins are not really sins have always been with us. The Church combats them in every age, and the faithful listen to the Church. But, if people should refuse to listen to the Church, trusting in themselves or people who say that the Church cannot be trusted, then we have a situation where the faithful risk apostasy by making their own preferences of right and wrong replace the teachings of the Church which God empowered to teach in His name.

If we follow those Catholics on the basis of their previous defense of the Church but they now argue that the Church is going astray, we will follow them to ruin if we insist on trusting them instead of those tasked with leading the Church.

The common argument is that the Pope is only infallible when he teaches ex cathedra but can err when he doesn’t§, implying that whether or not we obey depends on whether we think the teaching is true or false.

That is to misunderstand the nature of Church teaching. An infallible teaching cannot be reformed. We won’t ever see the Church edit the teaching of The Immaculate Conception in a way that changes how it is understood. We do see things in Rerum Novarum that have been modified to address changes in society#. People invent loopholes to get around previous teachings; new problems emerge and must be solved. The encyclicals of Pius XI, St. Paul VI, and St. John Paul II neither mean that Rerum Novarum was in error nor that his successors committed error by “contradicting” Leo XIII.

But whether from ignorance or a willful act, these Catholics are promoting error by claiming that only the ex cathedra statements are binding on the grounds that the ordinary magisterium can “Err.” What this boils down to is the de facto denial of Christ’s promises to guide and protect His Church. They still view Christ as God, but they reduce His role in the Church to handing down laws from on high and judge the Church for not interpreting those laws in the way they think the laws should be interpreted.

That certainly is a religious deception. It allows those who use these tactics to deny that God leads the Church whenever they happen to disagree with it. Those who fall into this error can certainly be led astray by an Antichrist who can give them what they want: A “Church” that agrees with them so they don’t have to listen to the Church under the visible headship of the Pope. Such an Antichrist will tell them that they can reject the Church when they like because the Church obviously “errs” when it teaches against them.

That’s an Antichrist who can deceive Catholics regardless of their preferences. If we would be faithful to Christ and oppose the Antichrist, we must listen to the Church which teaches with His authority and protection.

__________________

(*) For example, when the novel Father Elijah came out in the late 90s, we saw a thinly disguised Cardinal Martini as actively working to corrupt the Church.

(§) It should be noted that the Catholic Church has consistently taught this is an error. See Pius IX (Syllabus of Errors), Pius XII (Humani Generis #20), Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #25) and the Code of Canon Law (#752). So why do people give credence to Catholics who promote that error?

(#) The Church teaching on the death penalty falls into this category. The fact that conditions may have made the DP tolerable in previous centuries does not mean it is right in all times and circumstances. St. John Paul II taught that those past conditions do not exist today, and Pope Francis confirms it.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Faithful Who Forgot to Believe?

Your words are too much for me, says the Lord. 
You ask, “What have we spoken against you?” (Malachi 3:13)

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

As I watch the antics of those anti-Francis Catholics that inflict confusion on the Church while accusing the Pope of causing confusion, I think we have a curious case: Catholics who claim to be faithful while forgetting one of the important elements of that faith. That element is faith in God to protect His Church from teaching error. For whatever motive§, they say that the Pope is teaching error. But God protects His Church from teaching error. If He did not, we could never know what to obey and what not to obey.

Some might claim that the Pope can err and it’s up to the Church to correct him when he does. They cite canon 212 §3 while ignoring §1 (not to mention 752, 1373, and 1404)# or by applying the wrong definition to “inasmuch.” They cite St. Paul rebuking Peter or the “correction” of Pope John XXII. But neither case involved teaching error. St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for his personal conduct, not his teaching. John XXII did not teach at all. He merely gave an opinion on an undefined (at this time) subject@. While the critics cite these cases to argue that Pope Francis can err, these cases can’t be used to justify the rejection of Pope Francis, who is intending to teach on faith and morals. 

If what they claim about this Pope was true, then we would effectively be conceding the claims of the Orthodox and Protestant denominations and merely disagreeing over when a Pope did teach errors. The problem is, if the Pope can teach errors, we have no way of proving when any Pope& has taught correctly. I say that the Pope taught rightly on X while you disagree. I say the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was right. Another might say that the Robber Synod of 449 was right. If we do not have a final visible authority who has the final say on what is and is not proper teaching*, we have nothing to confirm who teaches rightly or when? How can we profess to be a Church which the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matthew 16:18) if we consistently claim the gates of hell sometimes do prevail when we disagree?

If we insist on holding to our interpretation of a council while refusing obedience to the Popes and Councils we dislike, we do not act as Catholics, but as Eastern Orthodox. If we insist on holding to our interpretation of the Scripture, rejecting the authority of the magisterium under the headship of the Pope, we do not act as Catholics but as Protestants.

But this is what we have in this situation: a group who claims to be faithful Catholics but refuse obedience to the Church under the current visible head. This obedience is not ultramontanism or papolatry. It is the behavior that the faithful were expected to give to the Pope when he taught. This obedience was required when the Pope intended to teach. The concept that the Pope only had to be obeyed when he taught ex cathedra was consistently condemned. For example, Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors condemned the proposition that:

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. — Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

Yet those Catholics who claim they are justified in rejecting Amoris Laetitia or Laudato Si are doing exactly what the Church condemns. Incredibly, some critics say Amoris Laetitia can be rejected because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation that differs from Familiaris Consortio. That traps these critics in a dilemma. If an Apostolic Exhortation is not binding, then Familiaris Consortio is not binding either. But if Familiaris Consortio was binding, then Amoris Laetitia is binding because, CCC #85 (see footnote * below) tells us that authentic interpretation comes from the magisterium in communion with the Pope.

While the critics argue that Laudato Si is an opinion and not binding, #15 specifically identifies the encyclical as “now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. Under canon 752 (see footnote #, below) the teaching of the Pope—even when not infallible—requires the religious submission of intellect and will. This canon references Lumen Gentium #25 which tells us:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

There is no way a Catholic can refuse obedience to the teaching of the Pope and still be considered faithful.

And this brings us back to the point I gave at the beginning. Some Catholics who profess to be the true believers by opposing the Pope have stopped believing one part of the faith. That part is the belief that the successors of Peter teach with the same authority and protection that Jesus Christ gave to the original rock on which He built a His Church (Matthew 16:18)^. The Catholic who forgets this belief can put faith in himself instead of the Church, believing that the Church can err but he cannot. But such a Catholic is not accurately professing the Faith because he forgot what to believe about the authority and protection by which a Pope teaches.


_______________

To understand the origin of the meme, see here: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/is-this-a-pigeon

(§) As always, I want to make clear I neither name nor presume the culpability of individuals. I leave it to God and their confessors to assess that. I merely write on the dangerous attitudes that I believe dangerous to the faithful while (per canon 752) giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he acts as Pope.

(#) The relevant canons:

can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

can. 1404 The First See is judged by no one.

(@) The modern equivalent of St. John XXII might be when Benedict XVI, in the book interview Light of the World, where he mentions “a male prostitute with AIDS” as an example of moving from a premoral outlook to starting to think about the consequences of actions. Many inside and outside the Church wrongly thought this was a teaching. The outcry against John XXII was based on people wrongly thinking he was teaching.

(&) Or, given the hostility towards Vatican II, any Council. If one won’t obey Vatican II, thinking it “errs,” such a one has nothing to say to another who claimed Trent was wrong.

(*) From the Catechism:

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)

(€) Lumen Gentium #25 references the same source cited by Pius IX.

(^) Some claim Christ is the rock, denying this verse gives any primacy to Peter, but in making this statement, He makes Himself the Builder.



Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Realm of the Bizarre

Once again we have a synod in progress and once again we have all sorts of claims about the evils it is supposed to promote. The problem is, when we look at the critics’ accuracy, they have been consistently wrong.

Do you remember, during the synod on the family, the critics were warning about the Church being prepared to allow divorce/remarriage, contraception#, and “same sex marriage”? None of them happened of course. Unfortunately, the accuracy rate of 0% does not stop the usual critics from continuing to accuse the Pope of promoting ”errors.”

These accusations don’t have any basis of fact behind them. They are based on the assumption that Pope Francis is a “heretic.” The critics use circular reasoning—using what has to be proven in the first place as a given—to interpret what he says and does. When the critics don’t understand or don’t agree with what the Pope says, they assume that he must mean it in a heretical way… because he’s “proven” to be a heretic. The result is a string of “proof” that have no basis—the critics simply cling to to their interpretations that presuppose the belief that he must be a heretic.

I find it ironic that these critics—who frequently claim that the Pope is trying to make the Pope Protestant—actually act like Luther or Calvin. When I say this people seem to miss the point. I’m not saying these critics hold to a Lutheran or Calvinistic theology. I’m saying that the critics are making the same errors that these two men made: Misstating the positions of the Pope, making it sound as if evils committed by some within the Church were officially sanctioned by the Pope, making gross errors about what was being taught and misrepresenting their error as if it was the only possible meaning. Even when they are refuted, the critics claim that the Pope is to blame because he “teaches in a confusing manner.” The problem is, it was the critics who claim to be the arbiters of error who did the misunderstanding. So how can we trust them to assess? I don’t just mean in misunderstanding Pope Francis. We also have to ask whether they have misunderstood the teachings they set in “opposition” to the Pope.

We must realize that we can’t set our favorite priest, bishop, or cardinal in opposition to the Pope when he acts as Pope. Canon 1404 points out that the Pope is judged by no one. If Father X or Cardinal Y should argue that the Pope is teaching error, we have to ask whether the Pope is acting as Pope. If he is teaching or acting as head of the Church, we must give religious submission of intellect and will (canon 752). That includes the members of the clergy who are cited in “justifying” disobedience. Remember, Luther was a priest. Donatus was a bishop. Photius and Michael Cerularius were patriarchs. They all rejected the authority of the Pope and wound up in schism. I’m not saying that the popularly cited current clergy are just waiting for to emulate these infamous characters. But I am saying that those who refuse to give submission to the Pope when he acts as Pope do wrong.

What I call “the realm of the bizarre” is the attitude of some Catholics that would have shocked and appalled those saints who fought against heresy and schism. They saw that—regardless of the personal behavior of a Pope—when a Pope taught, he was to be obeyed. Those “Super Catholics” who claim to be the true Catholics while rejecting the visible head of the Church are behaving like every other schismatic throughout history. They all claimed they were justified to reject the Pope. But they wound up outside of it.

We must be cautious lest we wind up the same.

______________

(#) People have been predicting this since the invention of the Pill. 

(†) Many critics try to treat Laudato Si as an opinion when the Pope expressly said in his encyclical that this was teaching.

(∞) When the Pope is simply giving a Press Conference, interview, or a homily, that’s not teaching. Catholics used to know this. But since Benedict XVI’s Light of the World interview, they seem to have forgotten the distinction.

(¶) I won’t accuse specific individuals here. Just as the critics misreport on the Pope, it’s entirely possible that those popularly quoted clergy are also taken out of context. If any of them should (God Forbid) reject the Pope, I leave it to him to take action. But until that happens, I won’t accuse them.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Reflection on the Making of Schism

In fire safety classes, we’re told about the four1 conditions necessary for a fire to start: Fuel, Heat, Oxygen, and Flashpoint or Ignition. They call it a fire tetrahedron. Without all four conditions, you don’t have a fire. I bring this up because, as I study ecclesial history and the writings of those who wound up separated from the Catholic Church, I’ve noticed that the schismatic movements have similar things in common that brought them about, regardless of what era they took place in. Like a fire, there needs to be four conditions to set a a schism rolling. Using the tetrahedron as an analogy, these things seem to be*:

  • (Fuel) Some sort of real or perceived scandal that angers a large percentage of the Catholic population in the region where the schism occurs.
  • (Heat) Some sort of demagogue or symbolic figure who is at odds with the Church on one or more issues.
  • (Oxygen) A misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church teaches.
  • (Combustion or Flashpoint) A point that causes the break in trusting the Church.
Let’s look at each of these:

(Fuel) A Real or Perceived Scandal

The Church, which Our Lord entrusted to sinful human beings, will always have scandals that anger the faithful. Some of these are real scandals. Others are things perceived to be scandals, but are not. The difference between the two is, with a real scandal, the Church needs to clean it up—justly—the sooner the better. The perceived scandal is when the Church has done nothing wrong, but people in some part of the Church think she is to blame for something that has gone wrong. The tricky part is understanding the difference. The Church must discern the two, and deal with it appropriately.

A real scandal is something like the current clerical abuse scandal. It needs to be cleaned up. A perceived scandal is not a scandal, but some people wrongly attack the Church over it. Fr. Adrian Fortescue describes how Photius stirred up a schism in the 9th century by an admixture of condemning differing customs (points 1-2) and stating falsehoods about the disciplines of the Latin Rite which were never imposed on the East (points 3-5):

There are five points: 1. The Latins make the Bulgars fast on Saturday (so they do: that was then the universal custom in the Roman Patriarchate). 2. They eat butter, milk, and cheese during the first week of Lent (that is: we do not begin Lent till Ash Wednesday, whereas the Byzantines do on Quinquagesima Monday). 3. They despised married priests and thereby show themselves to be infected with Manich├Žan error. 4. They do not acknowledge Confirmation administered by a priest. 5. They have changed and corrupted the Creed by adding to it the Filioque. The doctrine that the Holy Ghost proceeds from God the Father and God the Son he described as “godless, atheistic, and blasphemous.” Photius then declares: “We, by the decree of our holy synod, have therefore condemned these forerunners of apostasy, these servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, these liars and fighters against God … and we have solemnly excommunicated them.”

(Fortescue, Adrian. The Orthodox Eastern Church, p. 153)

While the Church must avoid laxity in scandals (the corruption scandals that were fuel for the Protestant Revolt were tragically neglected until they became one of the rallying points), she must also avoid scapegoating or surrendering acts of teaching and governance. If it turns out that the public outrage is directed at something that is not the fault of the Church (usually, this comes over a misperception over what the real problems are), the Church needs to oppose the mob.

(Heat) A Demagogue

Every schism has a leading figure people look to who is at odds with the Church and refuses to admit error when challenged. Some of these demagogues are heretics who obstinately reject what the Church teaches, claiming that she fell into error and until she follows the heresiarch, the Church will remain in error. Others accept the teachings of the Church but reject those who shepherd her, denying their authority or sacramental validity, giving authority to their preferred leaders instead. Patristic era heresies include the Arians and Nestorians. Patristic era schisms include the Novatians and Donatists. 

Both heretical and schismatic demagogues provide the heat to go along with the fuel of real and perceived scandal, and the oxygen of misinformation, raising the danger of schism. The more of the other conditions exist in the Church, the more influence the demagogue is likely to have. Luther probably wouldn’t have gotten far if resentments hadn’t made him seem like a potential cure. He wasn’t, but the fact that he was speaking against abuses led people to accept his claims that they existed because of “errors” in Church teaching.

Here we need to make a distinction between a demagogue and a legitimate reformer in the Church. The former eventually rejects the Church (whether by formal schism or simply refusing obedience) if the Church should say something they propose is wrong, and tries to lead others to follow their vision. The latter accepts and obeys the Church when she says a proposal is incompatible with the Church teaching and proposes reform while obedient in response.

(Oxygen) The Misinterpretation/Misrepresentation (or Rash Judgment/Outright Lies)

I should start by warning against taking an analogy too far. In the literal sense, Oxygen is something essential for life. In the sense of this analogy, it is only used as one of the things needed for a fire to exist.

The oxygen the fire of schism needs is misinformation# that leads people to think it is an unjust institution instead of the Body of Christ. When there is a movement aimed at undermining the teaching of the Church, it’s not enough for those who lead the movement to say, “this is what we believe.” They have to undermine the Church which tells the demagogue and his followers that their view is false. They don’t do this by saying “the Church teaches X this way, but we think X should be taught that way. You decide for yourself.” Instead, they tend to describe the Church teaching in the worst way possible, accusing the Church of holding errors because the Church doesn’t side with them. In the schisms that exist (Orthodox, Protestant, etc.), the Catholic teaching is misunderstood or misrepresented in such a way that makes us look diabolical while the Catholic reading their claims can only say “what in the hell are you talking about?”

One example is Martin Luther. It was not enough for him to say that he disagreed with the Catholic Church and thought our teaching on the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance was wrong. He had to misrepresent them as purely human institutions invented for corrupt purposes2—saying things the Catholic Church never believed, taking documents out of context to “prove” his point.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of nonsense of this type among Catholics too. When we see Catholics state that a Pope or Council intended to “make the Church Protestant” (actual Protestants I have talked to are puzzled by that claim, recognizing that our teachings and the Ordinary Form of the Mass are nothing like their beliefs and practices), it shows that misinformation is more widely believed than the actual teaching of the Church. Pope Francis is widely accused of “reversing” Church teaching and welcoming “pagan practices” when both claims are based on misinformation. 

One can see a lot of this online. I routinely encounter Catholics who tell me to “open my eyes” or say that I’m refusing to consider the “truth” of their position. The problem is, what these Catholics cite as “proof” is misinformation. What they describe is a distortion of the truth. I don’t know what percentage has read but misunderstood what the Pope has taught, what percentage has decided to misrepresent what they dislike, and what percentage is merely “the blind following the blind.” This is why I try to avoid assuming bad will on the part of those I encounter. But the accusations are false. There are a lot of these falsehoods out there, regardless of the motivation. They lead the people astray. Combined with the other aspects discussed, it can cause a dispute to become a conflagration.

(Combustion) Refusal to Believe that the Church teaches with God’s authority and protection

The above three points will always be found in different ways and times in the Church. We’ll always have to deal with scandal, with people at odds with the Church, and with Catholics believing falsehoods about the Church. But the fuel, heat, and oxygen are not enough to have a fire, although if all three are present, we are in grave risk of the fire of schism if the flashpoint is introduced to the mix. That flashpoint is the refusal to accept the Church under the visible head, the Pope, as teaching with the authority given by Christ and protected by error. They might try to argue that they support “the Papacy, but not this Pope” (as Hans Urs von Balthasar warned against3) but Pius XI reminds us:

22. Faith in the Church cannot stand pure and true without the support of faith in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The same moment when Peter, in the presence of all the Apostles and disciples, confesses his faith in Christ, Son of the Living God, the answer he received in reward for his faith and his confession was the word that built the Church, the only Church of Christ, on the rock of Peter (Matt. 16:18). Thus was sealed the connection between the faith in Christ, the Church and the Primacy. True and lawful authority is invariably a bond of unity, a source of strength, a guarantee against division and ruin, a pledge for the future: and this is verified in the deepest and sublimest sense, when that authority, as in the case of the Church, and the Church alone, is sealed by the promise and the guidance of the Holy Ghost and His irresistible support.

(Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, #22)

We need to make a distinction here. Having a difficulty understanding how something the Church teaches fits in with what actions one sees or with what one thinks Scripture or Church documents say is not the problem if he strives to recognize where he got it wrong. It’s when we say “I’m not wrong, the Church is wrong,” refusing to trust the authority of the Church that comes from the Catholic Church being the Church established by Christ and protected by Him when the Church goes against what we think it should  do. If one reaches that point, they risk making a shipwreck of their faith.

We certainly have evidence of bad men becoming Popes in history yet, upon becoming Popes, suddenly refused to carry out the errors they were inclined to do before their election. Consider the case of Pope Vigilius who actually helped get his predecessor exiled and killed with the understanding that when he became Pope, he would return heretical bishops to their sees. But once he became Pope, the Liber Pontificalis tells us he stood up for the Church and would not carry out his task:

But Vigilius replied: “Far be this from me, Lady Augusta. I spoke beforetime wrongly and foolishly; now I do assuredly refuse to restore a man who is a heretic and under the anathema. Although unworthy, I am the vicar of blessed Peter, the apostle, as were my predecessors, the most holy Agapitus and Silverius, who condemned him.”

People trying to discredit Pope Francis by claiming a Pope can teach error should consider this case. In a real case of corruption with the intention to enable heretics, God appears to have prevented him from going ahead with his pre-papal plan, even though he was imprisoned for his refusal. If God should prevent this, isn’t it foolish to think that He would permit a Pope to teach errors?

What these critics don’t seem to consider is that while Popes can change discipline depending on the needs of the Church in a certain time (so a successor could change a discipline enacted by Pope Francis) the Church in communion with the Pope is protected from teaching error. If truth was sometimes found in Rome, sometimes in Constantinople, sometimes in Econe, we could never know for certain when THE CHURCH was teaching truly in any instance. If one would reject Pope Francis when he teaches, why not St. Pius V? If one would reject Vatican II, why not Trent, or even Nicea?

I call this part the flashpoint because of how it interacts with the other elements. This element views the scandals with hopelessness and treats the magisterium as an enemy instead of approaching scandals something to pray about. It looks at the demagogue and thinks “maybe he has a point in his attacks on the Church.” It assumes that the false information about the Church must be true. The person who loses sight of the fact that the Catholic Church, under the Pope as visible head, teaches with Christ’s authority and protection will be tempted to view whatever problems that exist in the Church as places where “the Church is wrong and I am right.”

The Fire of Schism

Each of these conditions are serious and the Church needs to work to eliminate them—the sooner the better. But the existence of up to any three of conditions will not cause a schism. There have always been scandals in the Church or people who wrongly believe that something they don’t understand is a scandal. There have always been demagogues at odds with the Church. There have always been misunderstanding and falsehoods about Church teaching. And there have always been people who lost faith in the Church. But it seems that schism is usually present only when all four conditions are present. The demagogue exploits real scandals or invents false ones. The faithful misunderstand or fall for misrepresentation about the Church. And, even though we have the obligation to trust and obey the Church, under the the headship of the Pope (see canon 752), some of the faithful, facing these problems decide they can’t trust the Church anymore until it becomes what they think the Church should be.

And then you get a schism. Schisms have happened throughout Church history. We need to prevent them and heal those that do start. Not because the Church will fail without those who leave (the Church survived previous schism, and will survive any future schism). But because Jesus doesn’t want us to be satisfied with the 99 sheep who didn’t stray. We need to bring back the 100th. Moreover, the efforts of the Church to go out to the whole world is hampered by the division as she must expend effort to bring back to the fold those who strayed.

Final Thoughts: Whither the Church today?

Since I’ve been speaking out against anti-Francis Catholics since 2013, and have on occasion expressed concern about schism, you may wonder how I view the state of the Church today under these categories. My opinion is we have three of the four conditions present: the fuel (scandal), the oxygen (falsehoods), and the flashpoint (a loss of belief in what the Church is). What I think we lack is a demagogue. Yes, there are people who refuse obedience to the Church, insisting the Church errs. But we don’t have an Arius or a Nestorius. We don’t have a Luther or a Calvin. We don’t even have a Lefebvre. We do havegrossly irresponsible websites that are run by disgruntled Catholics who might have the will, but their influence is small. We do have4 some highly placed Churchmen who might have the following and have (in my opinion) used rhetoric I think is imprudent to the point of recklessness, but these Churchmen don’t seem to will an all out conflict with the Pope (though some of their followers from the irresponsible websites seem willing to follow them if they would give the word, thinking it only a matter of time5).

If a schism should come from this quarter, I don’t think it would happen during the pontificate of Pope Francis (though I could be wrong). I think it would happen in the pontificate of his successor who upheld Pope Francis and moved forward on the same path. This would be the end of their false hope that the Church would “go back” to the way that they prefer. If they would not recognize their own error, they might be led to abandon the fiction of “just the Pope’s erroneous opinion,” “prudential judgment,” or the like, but instead of repenting, they risk outright denying that God protects His Church. And then they are in grave danger.

So, that being said, what should we do? First, I think we should look at ourselves. Are we in any danger of making a shipwreck of our faith? We might think not, but I suspect nobody ever joined a schism unless they harbored resentment and defiance that rose from these conditions. We should pray and study that we might understand and remain in full communion with the Church—which means giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope, even in the darkest of times. Second, I think we can’t be silent when misinformation, perceived scandals or demagogues shake the faithful. And third, we should pray for those who are struggling, that they might not become demagogues or fall into the traps. After that, we need to have faith in God to protect His Church, come what may.


_____________

[*] Assigning these categories to specific elements needed for fire is largely arbitrary. I could have just as easily applied “oxygen” (for example) to scandal as to misinformation. So please don’t draw more from these classifications than convenient illustrations.

[1] There used to be three. I remember in the Cub Scouts, they used an image of a tripod needing three sides to stand. Modern safety classes now include “ignition” as a fourth condition. It kills the analogy, but is more accurate. That’s why you see signs warning about fire danger in the summer: three out of four conditions are present, waiting only for the ignition.

[#] To clarify the interchangeable usage: The unintentional spread of misinformation can be classified as misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The deliberate spread of misinformation is misrepresentation. But whatever the intent, if what someone spreads is false, it’s misinformation.

[2] For one example, see (though I don’t recommend it) The Babylonian Captivity. I leave it to God to judge what Luther’s culpability might be, but whether from misunderstanding or misrepresentation, his charges were falsehoods, tragically still believed by anti-Catholics.

[3] from The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes, which is indefectible, and the sedens, who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning.

[4] As usual, no names in these cases. I leave it to God to assess the culpability of individuals. I just try to point out dangers.

[5] This is why I am cautious about joining in on the attacks some defenders of the Pope make against these high ranking Churchmen. Since some supporters of the Pope misrepresent him to bolster their own ideology, it’s possible that these Churchmen’s supporters are doing the same. I might say on my blog Facebook page that I fear that Cardinal X’s words are dangerous, but I try to avoid violating the Golden Rule in doing so. 

That doesn’t mean I give a free pass to what they do say. I recall favoring one cardinal to become Pope in 2013 (I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio then), but the experience of the past six years leads me to believe he would not have been a good choice.