Saturday, March 16, 2019

Ending the Standoff


Anyone who has paid attention knows that Catholics [*] in the prolife movement in America are deeply divided these days to the point that some view discrediting the other as more important than defeating the culture of death. This division is largely over politics. Members of the factions disagree over how to vote: what issues are important and what issues can be sacrificed for a greater good. The factions like to accuse each other of betraying the defense of life in favor of politics. Unfortunately, both are blind to the fact that they share the same error and merely tolerate different evils in doing so. This error is that they have moved from fighting the gravest evil first to excusing the evils of the party they tend to agree with. 

What the Church Teaches

We should first consider the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, #27:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. 

It is clear that there are many issues that the Church considers intrinsically evil (can never be made “good” no matter what the circumstances). Catholics are forbidden to defend any of them. Unfortunately, two factions in the Catholic prolife movement do end up defending the indefensible. They are OPLM and the NPLM.

What’s Wrong With the OPLM?

The Old/Original Pro Life Movement (OPLM) tends to think that voting to oppose abortion is the only thing that matters and every other issue can be sacrificed to insure that laws are passed that restrict abortion and judges are appointed that will overturn legalized abortion as a “constitutional right.” The problem is, they forget that their obligation to evangelize the world can’t be set aside until abortion is banned and these other injustices must be opposed too. They also forget the danger of being so invested in that party that they begin to treat the whole political platform with the Christian Faith. They support politicians who have no problem with some of the issues on the list the Church condemns as infamies, and when bishops speak out, accuse the bishops of getting involved in politics. They forget what the Church says:

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. 

Apostolicam actuositatem 5

In other words, they cannot use the (very real) importance of the abortion issue to justify ignoring the other teachings of the Church or the candidates who go against them. The bishops who speak in the Public Square about these evils outside of abortion are not “being political.” They’re carrying out their task.

What’s Wrong With the NPLM?

On the other hand, the New Pro Life Movement (NPLM) focuses on the other issues to the point that opposing abortion is sometimes treated as unimportant. If enough social programs are set in place, women won’t need abortions. Therefore they claim that their vote for a pro-abortion candidate is justified because on the whole, this candidate is “more pro-life” while their opponents only care about life up to birth. They tend to forget that the Church insists that the right to life must include the opposition of legalized abortion. They also run the risk of confusing their party’s platform with the Christian Faith. They remember that the Church defines the right to life as more than just abortion, but err in inventing a moral calculus where issues A+B+C+D > abortion and therefore they vote for candidates who think abortion is a moral good(!) on the ground that they think they’re still defending life because these candidates do other things. They forget the teaching of St. John Paul II:

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.

Christifidelis Laici #38

In other words, many of the issues they cite to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate are not part of the right to life, even though important. They cannot be justify supporting a candidate who supports abortion.

What Needs To Be Done

People sometimes ask which faction is the right one to follow. I think that’s a mistake. Both are fatally flawed and must be rejected. Both downplay a vital part of the right to life. Of course, we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. We can’t hold out for the ideal candidate to the point that we’re rejecting qualified defenders of life because they’re wrong on some issues. But we can—and MUST—reject candidates who support intrinsic evil unless there is an evil that is so bad that we must fight it with all the strength that we would normally use to defend life.

And before you say, that your issue or issues outweigh the other abortion, remember that the Church has gone so far as to put abortion on the same level as murder, genocide, euthanasia and wilful self-destruction. So you can’t use a moral calculus to claim a bunch of smaller issues outweighs it in seriousness. But neither can you say that the other Church teachings can be sacrificed because of the weight of abortion. If you’re going to vote for a politician who supports an intrinsic evil, it had better be for a proportionate reason. As archbishop Chaput put it

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (p. 229)

Unfortunately, when I see one of these factions argue that they are following the Church in voting for their candidate, they never show that their justification is proportionate to the evil they are tolerating.

I think the first step in ending this standoff between two erring factions is to reject both of them. Neither one is the “good guy” here. They might be sincere, but both are willing to sacrifice what they have no grounds to concede. The second step is to understand that the Church teaching is not an opinion. When the Church condemns something, we cannot call it a political opinion that can be rejected. It’s binding.

Second, I think we need to stop abusing the term “prudential judgment.” Prudential judgments are not about whether to obey Church teaching. It is about how to best obey Church teaching. When the Church teaches that something is evil and must be opposed, our task is to decide how to apply it. If we’re trying to avoid the hard conclusions by claiming “prudential judgment” that actually ignores the teaching, that’s just disobedience.

Third, I think that we have to have the courage in our conviction to trust God when it feels hopeless. If we reach the point where we recognize that a candidate we favor is opposed to the teaching of the Church, and we recognize that a properly formed conscience is formed by the teachings of the Church, then we must trust in God if we fear that the candidate we loathe might get in. We cannot do evil so good might come of it, and violating our properly formed conscience is doing exactly that.


[*] There are more than just Catholics in the prolife movement. But since this is a Catholic blog and deals with the Catholic view, this is the group I will focus on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Fundamentally Missing the Point

In my morning newsfeed, I saw an article about a member of Congress proposing a “gotcha” bill that aims to create harassment for lawmakers that propose “heartbeat” abortion bans. This is supposed to be a bill saying “if you wanna regulate women’s bodies, we’ll regulate yours.”

The problem is, this is a fallacy of false analogy. The differences outweigh the similarities by a huge margin. Opposition to abortion exists because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother while this bill attempts to harass men over the natural function of their bodies.

As a Catholic, I’m not bothered by the banning of vasectomies, restrictions on pornography, and making irresponsible fathers responsible for helping support the woman they impregnated if they won’t do the right thing. So, in those cases, it could backfire on her.

However, no law opposing abortion interferes with the free sexual behavior between persons while this law does exactly that. Yes, sexual activity should be between husband and wife alone, but that’s impossible to enforce by criminal law. In contrast to this law, laws restricting abortion exist (once again) because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother. Once a human life is begun, both parents have responsibilities to him or her, whether that means raising the child themselves or putting the child up for adoption.

That’s why the bill only serve to show her ignorance. Erectile dysfunction medicine is not the male equivalent to the “right” to abortion. This medicine is aimed at helping a body to work as intended while abortion is intended disrupt the body from working as intended by killing another human being. That’s false analogy in the bill.

It’s also based on a straw man fallacy. She wants to ban vasectomies while making sex without a condom “aggravated assault” (self-contradictory, by the way) because she wants the bill to “control” men in the same way that she sees bills opposing abortion “controlling” women. But these bills are not about control. They exist (one more time) because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother. The law must protect innocent human beings. The unborn child is an innocent human being. Therefore the law must protect the unborn child.

I doubt this bill will go to a floor vote. The author effectively admitted she’s trolling. Kendrick’s party would likely be unwilling to face the response [*]. But I think it is dangerous anyway. It shows that members of Congress have lost sight of truth and reason. By seeing abortion as a “cure” to a “medical problem,” it shows they have lost sight of the value of a human being. This is why St. John Paul II (in Christifidelis Laici #38) reminded us of the core truth of the right to life coming first:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

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. (Emphasis original)

The laws opposing abortion are part of that defense of the human person and nobody who refuses to defend the life of the unborn can be said to defend human rights. Yes, there is more to the defense of life than the opposition to abortion. But the defense of life can never downplay or exclude that opposition.

As long as reasoning like Kendrick’s exists, it shows we have a long way to go in teaching people about the importance of human life.


[*] It is possible that it could be brought to a vote with the intention of embarrassing Kendrick’s party, forcing them to either vote against it or face backlash.

Friday, March 8, 2019


Lately, in discussion of politics and Church teaching, we’re seeing a notable increase in what I call “deflection.” By this I mean:

1) A proposal is made to deal with issue X.
2) In response, someone points out issue Y is also an issue and demands it get equal billing.
3) People begin focusing on issue Y.
4) Attention is deflected from issue X while the proposal is hijacked to focus on Y.

In logic, two fallacies are in play: tu quoque and red herring. The tu quoque fallacy is an attempt at deflection of guilt by pointing out the wrongdoing of another. The red herring attempts to deflect discussion of the issue by bringing up a separate issue that may have merit in a different discussion but is a distraction from the current one.

An example of deflection comes up in the US every time the Church deals with a moral issue. There are three moral issues with political baggage attached: abortion, immigration, and the death penalty. When the Church speaks on one of these things, somebody (usually someone wanting to deflect from their political party which is guilty of supporting it) will invoke one of the other two issues (which the other party is seen as guilty of) and say that the Church should speak about that other issue. In fact the Church does, frequently. But by insisting that this specific condemnation be shifted or expanded, attention is deflected from the original purpose in order to bury that original issue which denounces their party and instead make those who oppose the deflection look like hypocrites or as defending the indefensible.

This is a dishonest tactic which we should reject. If we are talking about abortion, invoking the other issues are either tu quoque (If you try to make the original issue sound hypocritical) or red herring (If we’re trying to distract). In such cases, we need to make clear that at this time, we are talking about X, and discussion about Y should be brought up in its own time.

Otherwise, we risk losing focus as politically minded Catholics deflect the issue, hiding it or discrediting it. This hinders the obligation we have to make known how people are to live.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Blind Guides


I had a discussion the other day. The topic involved a site that issued an anti-Francis article, arguing that advocated rejecting him as Pope because he “taught error” and St. Robert Bellarmine “taught” that meant he was automatically deposed (I wrote about this misinterpretation HERE in 2016). The person wanted to know how to respond.

Afterwards, I began reflecting on the nature of these attacks on the Pope. The key problem with these sites is their hubris to claim that they—not the successors to the Apostles—had the authority to determine what was and was not authentic teaching. They set themselves up as guides, but they are blind to the nature of the Church they claim to be experts over. 

The Accusations from Blind Guides

We should recall what Our Lord warned: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39). Before getting swept up in the arguments of these blind guides, we need to be aware of some things. First of all, the Pope and bishops do not have to prove their innocence. The accusers have to prove their guilt. They have to prove that a heretical interpretation of the Pope’s words was what he intended in the first place. 

Canon Law (#751) defines heresy as the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith. So, they have the obligation to prove that the Pope is obstinately rejecting some truth of the Catholic Faith as opposed to their own committing the fallacies of accent or equivocation as well as begging the question when leveling accusations.

The Fallacy of Accent

The fallacy of accent is putting a different emphasis on words than the author/speaker intends, changing the meaning. One famous example is the following sentence:

I never said you took my money.

Now read the sentence aloud seven times, each time emphasizing a different word. Notice how the meaning changes—some of them sounding like veiled accusations. If you put emphasis on a different part of the sentence than I intended (I put the emphasis on “never”) then your interpretation of my words is false.

Applying this to the accusations against the Pope and bishops, the accusers have to show that they accented the words of the Pope or bishops in the same way that was intended.

The Fallacy of Equivocation

Certain words are equivocal if they can have more than one meaning. I am reminded of a news story from 2002 when Japan hosted the World Cup and was concerned with hooliganism. So the government sought to advise businesses to avoid things that could lead to an excuse to riot. One of these suggestions was over the term nomihoudai (飲み放題) which has a sense of “all you can drink” for a set period of time. The common translation was “free drinking.” The Japanese government was concerned that the British hooligans would interpret “free” as no charge instead of “unlimited,” and warned bars from using that translation to avoid the risk of angry drunks smashing the place after being presented with the bill.

In the Church, there is a tendency by some Catholics to interpret “mercy” as “laxity” and “God’s will” as God’s absolute approval of something as good [*]. But, if this is not the intended meaning, it is wrong to accuse the Pope of promoting these things. 

Begging the Question

When a person treats something as proof when they actually need to prove their point, they commit the “begging the question” fallacy. For example, “he must be guilty or he wouldn’t have ran from the police” is begging the question. It assumes that guilt is the only motive for running—which is the point to be proven in the first place.

So, if someone argues that the Pope is a heretic, he has to provide evidence. But if the “evidence” is nothing more than a statement which depends on the interpretation of the accuser, his “proof” is no evidence because it depends on the accusation being true in the first place

The Obligation to Seek Out the Truth

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Church teaches that rash judgment is a sin. We are forbidden to assume evil without basis, and we must seek to understand the true meaning of one’s words and actions before trying a charitable correction. But this is precisely what is not done. The Pope is assumed by his critics to be a heretic and everything he does is interpreted under that assumption. There is no attempt to give a favorable interpretation nor an attempt to understand how the Pope understands it. When a critic acts this way, he or she cannot be trusted as a guide.

Blinded Against What the Church Is

These critics make these accusations because they have become blind to what the Church is. The Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ as the ordinary means of bringing His salvation to the world. As such, God protects her from teaching error and gives His authority to her. That protection and authority is not limited to ex cathedra statements, but is applied to teaching of the ordinary Magisterium (canon 752).

Because the Church has this authority from Christ, it is the Pope and bishops in communion with him that have the authority to determine what is compatible with the timeless teachings of the past and what disciplines can be legitimately changed for the benefit of the faithful.

Against this truth, we have people who claim that the Pope and bishops are teaching heresy—contradicting the teaching of the Church. Since Our Lord made clear that rejecting the apostles and their successors was rejecting Him (Luke 10:16), those people who reject the Pope and bishops are rejecting the Church and therefore Christ.

These people, no matter how sincere they might be, are in error. Following them is to follow a blind guide. As Our Lord warned, you will end up in the ditch.

Think about that. Yes, every person in the Church, except Our Lord and His Mother, is a sinner. But the sins and mistakes of the Pope and bishops do not negate their authority and God’s protection in shepherding the Church. You’d be wise to reject any “guides” who say otherwise.


[*] God absolutely wills that humanity has free will. That doesn’t mean He calls the abuse of it good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

On Concern for the Church: The Crucial Difference Between Medieval and Modern

I try to read from Church writings in different eras when I study. In the medieval period, I’m currently reading On Consideration by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Letters 31-60 by St. Peter Damien [§]. Both works have material written to the Popes of their times expressing great concern for moral corruption that existed at the time. I contrast this with the modern material directed to Pope Francis: The Vigano letters, the “correction,” the dubia, and the number of “open letters” out there. When I do, I see a vast difference between the eras.

In the medieval times, these saints—like the modern critics—had strong views on what needed to be done. They brought up cases where the teaching of the Church had been cast aside and urged change. BUT, there was always respect and love for the Pope being addressed, regardless of what they thought of the specific Pope at the time. These appeals were along the line of, “These evils exist contrary to Church teaching. Please take action against them.” In contrast, the tone of modern material tends to be, “You’re an idiot and/or a heretic. These problems are your fault. Resign!” It’s the antithesis to the attitude of the saints [*].

I think the difference between these times and the past is Catholics have lost sight of what the Church is and what the Pope is. The medieval saints could recognize that the individual man serving in the office of Pope was a sinner while recognizing that, in his office of Pope, he was to be loved and respected as the successor of Peter and the visible head of the Church. The modern critics only see that the Pope is a sinner, and do not show love and respect to the office unless the Pope uses it in the way they want. If they want condemnation of enemies and the Pope shows mercy, it’s a “proof “ of error. When the Pope rebukes pharisaical attitudes in the Church, it’s “proof” he’s a hypocrite... since the Pope is denouncing their attitudes.

So, what are we to do? I think we need to recover the distinction that the medieval saints knew: that the man who is Pope is always a sinner in need of salvation, but he is also carrying out the office Christ gave to Peter and his successors. We love the former as a fellow Christian. We love and honor the latter as our way of loving and serving Christ in His Church. This was a point Ven. Fulton J Sheen made in his autobiography, A Treasure in Clay:

Another year when granted an audience, I seated myself in an outer room very near the Holy Fathers private office. During a wait of about fifteen minutes, I made a quick re-view of my life, asking: “Have I really served the Church as well as I should? Have I used the many talents the Lord has given me? Have I cast fire upon the earth as the Lord asked His bishops to do?” I finally came to a negative conclusion. I had done little. At that moment the door was opened; I was ushered before His Holiness. I said: “Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be.” “Oh,” he said, “tell me, I would like to know.” “While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obeisance to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression.” He said: “Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord.” [Emphasis original]

He recognized what the saints recognized in times worse than this one. We would be wise to recognize it too, rejecting the criticism that fails to show that love and respect they did.


[§] I’ve previously read similar works like St. Catherine of Sienna—who was much more respectful to the Pope than popular accounts today claim.

[*] It’s not different from the attitude of medieval critics that the Pope rebuked for error. For example, most of the “Pope is a heretic” attacks directed against Pope John XXII were from heretical groups like the “Spiritual Franciscans” who were disciplined by the Pope.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bizarro World is Here: Reflections on Catholics Deforming the Defense of Life

Imagine a world where Catholics who are devoted to the right to life saying that the US Bishops who condemned the failure in Congress to pass a law against infanticide were “played” by people with political agenda, while those members of Congress who want to expand abortion are praised as being “really pro-life.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the humorous “Bizarro World” from DC Comics where what we consider good is wrong and what we consider bad is right. This is the real world of Earth, 2019 where this is happening right now.

In case you somehow missed it, the Governor of Virginia made a statement that if a child was aborted alive, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” In response, Senator Sasse submitted a bill (text HERE) that declared in part, “If an abortion results in the live birth of an infant, the infant is a legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States, and entitled to all the protections of such laws.” 

It’s a bill that people should recognize as obvious truth. Regardless of the legal status of abortion, once the child is born alive, you don’t have the right to kill it, even if the intention was to abort it. But 44 Senators filibustered the bill to prevent it from becoming law. The chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities responded saying:

There should be no bill easier for the Senate to pass than one that makes clear that killing newborn babies is wrong and should not be tolerated. That even one senator, let alone 44 senators voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, is an injustice that should horrify and anger the American people and commit us to decisive political action. A vote against this bill is a vote to extend Roe v. Wade’s license for killing unborn children to killing newborn babies. The American people, the vast majority of whom support this bill, must demand justice for innocent children.

It is comprehensible that people who are dogmatically in favor of abortion will refuse to allow anything that might threaten it to interfere—no matter how humane the bill might be. But how is it possible that a group of Catholics who claim to be “truly” Prolife responded by saying that the bishops were deceived by politicians with an agenda? Especially when they cited these same bishops’ teachings on other issues, denouncing their opponents for disobedience.

To understand this, we have to understand that in the movements defending life there is something of a schism with multiple factions. Among these factions, there are two prominent ones. One side that says abortion is so important of an issue, that any other issue can and must be sacrificed in order to ensure that the party seen as opposing it will get elected. Another faction says that the defense of life involves more than just abortion, and that a politician who supports abortion rights is actually more prolife than the politician who only opposes abortion. These two factions are known as the OPLM [*] and the NPLM [§] respectively.

The OPLM operates under the assumption that because one party supports abortion, a necessary part in fighting abortion is voting for the other party, even if that party’s platform is also at odds with Catholic teaching. The NPLM operates under a broader understanding of what the defense of life involves. But it also involves a moral calculus that decides issues implementing A+B+C+D has greater importance in defending life than the ending of legalized abortion. Therefore they tend to defend the party that supports A+B+C+D even though that party supports abortion. The defense of A+B+C+D is seen as “more” important in being prolife.

I believe both are perversions of the Catholic teaching, reducing it to opposing the political party they demonize most. The OPLM errs in thinking the other issues don’t matter until abortion is ended. The NPLM errs in thinking abortion is only one issue among many...often becoming the only issue they will compromise on. Both are wrong when they hold a position at odds with what the Church teaches.

The Church holds that the right to life is the fundamental right that all others depend on. Whatever violates that right—from conception to natural death—is to be condemned. Both factions ignore aspects of the defense of life that coincidentally work against their political views. The OPLM tends to have more “conservative” views politically. The NPLM tends to have more “liberal” views. The problem is, both tend to equate their political views with Catholic teaching. Thus, the teachings in line with the political views are emphasized. The teachings that go against their views are downplayed or written off as proof of political “biases” of the bishops.

Before anyone think this article was written in support of one of these factions, let me say this: The Bizarro World of the infanticide bill shows one example of wrongdoing. But it’s not the only one. It can be traced back to a bigger one: Bizarro World Catholics saying they are faithful Catholics because of their rejection of the Pope or bishops establishing what is authentic against them. If the bishop opposes them, it must be because the bishop is biased, not us.

Life issues, social justice, war and peace, sexual morality, etc. The Church teaching involves what we must do to be in right relationship with God. If we won’t listen to the Church, we are not listening to God (Luke 10:16). So let’s not use this failure by this faction to say, “those people are reprehensible.” Let’s use it as a teaching moment: if we know that they are wrong to do X, and we do X in support our own politics, then not only have we done the same wrong, but we have done what we condemn in others, adding hypocrisy to our guilt.

So, if we know they do wrong in explaining away the Magisterium when they don’t like their teachings, how will God judge us when we condemn them and then do the same things ourselves?

[*] “Original/Old Pro Life Movement”
[§] “New Pro Life Movement.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What is Perceived and What Is are not Always the Same Thing

I can understand that abuse survivors and their families have seen the Church at her worst. So it makes sense that they will have a negative interpretation of the recent Summit and how the proposals will be applied. Once trust is damaged, it’s hard to repair it. The problem is, the obligation to seek out the truth and respond proportionately remains. This means one is not punished on suspicion of wrongdoing, but on evidence. It means that the Church cannot laicize a member of the clergy based on accusations, but evidence.

And in the Church, being led on earth by human beings, those investigating can be deceived by those who do evil. So, if one is accused of a heinous crime but no evidence is available to prove it, it is possible that the accused will convince those investigators of his innocence. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the investigators are free of negligence charges. Before the child abuse charges against McCarrick were made public, I had never heard of the “Uncle Ted” accusations. But apparently they were known in his archdiocese [§]. If they were properly reported with evidence, there should have been some sort of investigation that might have stopped this earlier. Abuse victims will reasonably want to know why there was none. 

I’ve read articles about how survivors were disappointed by the Summit. It seems they wanted more bishops laicized, and were disappointed that the focus was on “talk.” The problem is, this Summit wasn’t an Inquisition or an Ecumenical Council. It was about getting bishops—especially in places that thought abuse was an “American problem” [#]—to understand their duties. We will see a Motu Proprio from the Pope and a Vademecum for confessors aimed at removing false understanding on the obligations for reporting abuse.

In other words, the point of the Summit was not vengeance, but on making sure the bishops know their jobs in preventing future abuser priests from getting away with a vile evil—especially before they become bishops. No doubt there are bishops out there who covered up. No doubt there are priests who abused. There may be more bishops who did what McCarrick or Apuron did. The Church will have to find them to make sure justice is done. Some of them may escape detection, but God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). 

Even so, we must remember that we cannot assume from the guilt of some that all are guilty of abuse. We cannot assume from the fact that some covered up that all are guilty of coverups. That is the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. The bishops who did not cover up should not be targeted. Bishops who used sincere but bad judgment should not be treated like those who deliberately chose wrong. We certainly cannot defrock by quota.

Ultimately, this is something where we must provide justice for the victims... but that justice must never be allowed to turn into vengeance. If vengeance is misperceived as justice, the Church cannot grant that any more than she can treat laxity as mercy.

We certainly should pray for the Pope and bishops that they find the way to meet God’s requirements of justice and mercy without them being corrupted.


[§] The question, of course, is how well they were known outside the archdiocese. Who was informed, and with what evidence?

[#] That error is understandable. With the majority of reported cases coming from the United States and Western Europe, it was easy to think of it as a “Western problem.” Even I thought that way once—and more recently than I want to admit.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Justice? Or Vengeance? The Two Are Not the Same

Some comments about the summit are closer to this than to the obligations of the Church

Sadly, many of our people, not just those abused or parents of the abused, but the faithful at large are wondering if we the leaders of the Church fully understand this reality, particularly when they see little care given to abused children, or even worse, when it is covered up to protect the abuser or the institution. They are asking themselves, “If church leaders could act with so little care in giving pastoral attention in such obvious cases of a child being sexually molested, does that not reveal how detached they are from us as parents who treasure our children as the light of our lives? Can we really expect our leaders to care about us and our children in the ordinary circumstances of life, if they responded so callously in cases that would alarm any reasonable person?” This is the source of the growing mistrust in our leadership, not to mention the outrage of our people.

—Cardinal CupichFeb 22 2019.

Cardinal Cupich raised a good point at the Summit in Rome. If bishops didn’t give justice to the victims of abuse and their families, how are they to trust the bishops to guide them in the faith. It’s a question that cannot be dismissed. The fact is some bishops were given the task of providing justice in the face of a vile evil and, for whatever reason, failed to provide that justice and allowed the predators get away with a horrific crime. The faithful need justice and they need to be able to know this will never happen again. This is a legitimate demand.

Unfortunately, intermingled with the demand for justice, is the demand for vengeance and scapegoats. These people are not saying “Bishop X was informed of this case of abuse and did nothing to protect children from future abuse.” They’re saying “All the bishops must have known. Therefore they’re all guilty and need to be laicized.” This is not a legitimate demand. In some cases it seems to reach the point of accusing Popes and bishops, without evidence, based on their ideological views... as if only people on the “other side” can be guilty.

Justice can be defined as acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good, giving what is due. Vengeance, on the other hand, can be defined as retaliation for an injury or offense. The problem is, vengeance often focuses on retaliation without concern for whether the punishment is just. But even when the Church failed to be just in the past, that doesn’t allow the faithful to demand retaliation that is unjust.

I think of this as we see the response by some to the 21 points issued on the first day of the Summit. Two of them received a lot of hostility:

14. The right to defence: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.

15.  Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.

These are principles recognized in most free nations: You’re presumed innocent until proven guilty and if you’re guilty, the punishment must be proportional to the crime. Now Cardinal Cupich, as cited above, rightly pointed out that the victims and families have a right to be concerned about whether the bishops will fail to provide justice based on past results. People who don’t trust the bishops after discovering all the cases that were not disclosed will no doubt fear that this is more of the same.

But even so, we cannot respond to an injustice to the victims with injustice to the accused. So any reforms to the system cannot violate these principles to make it easier to punish. Even though there are a number of credible cases out there, we cannot assume all cases are true without proof. Some accusations may be false, and if it is, allowing that priest to be treated like a criminal would be unjust.

Moreover, we need to recognize there’s a difference between a bishop who knowingly concealed a case of abuse and a bishop who sincerely followed the advice of the recognized experts of the time, believing that the abuser priest was cured and able to return to ministry. Justice requires they be handed differently. We have to be careful that our horror and disgust do not lead us to forget our obligations as Christians. As painful as it feels when dealing with this evil, we do have Our Lord’s command: 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

[Matthew 5:43–48 (NABRE)]

That doesn’t mean “be a doormat,” giving the evildoers a free pass. But it means we cannot be unjust or hateful to those who wronged us. We’re called to administer justice in a way that seeks their salvation, even when we’re tempted to consign them to hell. I’m not saying that this will be easy. We should not have to suffer injustice at the hands of the shepherds of the Church. But, since the Church is a Church of sinful humans, not angels, injustice will happen. So, responding in a Christian manner is necessary.

So what do we do? I think we need to pray for the Pope and bishops involved. If we’re troubled by a proposal, perhaps we should be praying, “Lord, if this is unjust, give them the wisdom to see it. And if I am mistaken, please give me the wisdom to see it.” If we are angry, perhaps we should pray, Lord, if my anger is wrathful, give me the strength to let go.” Ultimately, we are praying both for the Summit to do God’s will and for us to do God’s will if we are mistaken.

If we don’t do that, we risk acting from vengeance, not justice. And that will be acting against God’s will.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reasonable and Unreasonable Petitions

As the abuse summit moves forward, we will see many people calling for different solutions. Some of them will be reasonable. Others will not. The difference is ultimately one of whether the demand recognizes what the Church can legitimately do. The Church cannot change her doctrine. The Church cannot do evil so good may come of it. Any demands along this line are doomed to failure. The Church cannot remove evil from her midst by decree. If she could, St. Peter probably would have done that the day after Pentecost in AD 33. The weeds will remain among the wheat (see Matthew 13:24-30) [§].

And that’s why the Church cannot forget her obligation to be God’s chosen means to bring salvation into the world. As much as the actions of men like McCarrick disgust us, we are not freed from our obligations to seek their salvation. This is difficult and painful. I can’t claim to know what victims and their family members went through. I certainly can’t say, “Well, I would have handled it better.” For all I know, I might have responded to it much worse if I had been in their place.

There are also reasonable petitions. The victims and their family members have a right to make their needs known, provided it is done in a respectful manner. Canon 212 reads:

This means that we the faithful can certainly make known our needs. But we must respect the shepherds of the Church in doing so. We must respect the teachings on faith and morals in doing so. If our petitions do not heed these requirements, then the Church must refuse them. That doesn’t mean that the Church is “doing nothing.”

In my opinion, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Church establish policies that handle bishops who abuse or are culpably silent. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the Church take complaints of abuse seriously. But if our preferred ways of doing this go against what the Church can or must do, we will be disappointed. We must obey God’s teachings.

God remains in control of His Church, even when some of those who shepherd us fail, or even do evil. Cleaning out this vile evil may take years, or even decades after the summit ends—those who did or willingly turned a blind eye to evil will no doubt try to hide the fact, making it as difficult as possible to discover—but it will be done.

In the meantime, we should be praying for the victims, that they find healing and justice. We should also be pray for the Summit that they find a way to justly reform the Church from evil that has gone on too long. But, when we seek justice, our position before The Lord must be like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42. We must say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 


[§] That doesn’t mean being passive in the face of injustice. The fact that we can’t violently uproot the suspected weeds (exact God’s Judgment for Him) does not mean we must let evil go unchecked.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Reflections on the Eve of the Summit

[Preliminary Note—None of this should be interpreted as being directed at those who were victims or family members of victims. Nor should it be interpreted as telling them to “be quiet.” This is about understanding the issues and the purpose of the summit while avoiding condemning it for not doing what it never was supposed to.]

Let’s be clear on something. The Abuse Summit being held in the Vatican is not going to be an Inquisition. It’s not going to drag McCarrick before the body in chains. Bishops won’t be forced to accuse themselves of covering up or being part of a “homosexual cabal.” There won’t be an auto da fé. It won’t be an ecumenical council either. We won’t see the summit drastically changing Church disciplines or teachings. Anyone expecting this (especially the “Summit will be a failure unless they do X” crowd) will be disappointed.

What there will be is a meeting aimed at making the bishops aware of their obligations in the face of reports of abuse, and making clear that this is not just an “American (or western) problem.” There will be discussion of what worked or failed to work. There will be listening to victims. And there will be prayer. The success or failure will not be in what is said and done. It will be in what each country’s bishops do in response.

Notice the vast difference between the two visions. It seems like some people who hate the Pope and some people who want the Church to drastically change her teachings in general are setting expectations that they know will not be met so they can claim failure and allege “coverup” as the reason.

But there are things we need to do to prepare for the summit. First, we need to realize that when corruption festers, it takes years, even decades to clean up. That’s because we not only have to track down people responsible, but also identify and correct those false ideas that might have led people to think that staying silent was a legitimate option. This means educating Catholics about the difference between being faithful to the Church and being silent because a member of the clergy abuses his authority by abuse or coverup.

Second, we need to recognize this isn’t the first step finally taken for opposing abuse. It’s not the final step that will fix everything either. The Church has made many attempts to prevent abuse and ensure that the abusers did not go unpunished. Some worked. Some didn’t. For example, when you read the 1917 Code of Canon Law, you see that there were rules that mandated that the bishop be informed of abuse by a priest in a timely manner [†]. For example:

Technically, if these canons had been followed by all parties, this could have prevented McCarrick from getting away with his crimes for so long.

Unfortunately, these canons didn’t understand the victim might be unable to overcome trauma and shame to come forward. Nor did it allow for the possibility that those who were supposed to pass that information on would fail to carry out their duties. It was also assumed that an abuser priest acted out of attraction to a specific person, and moving the priest away from that victim would end the problem. These assumptions were obviously wrong, and probably added to the sense of suffering for the victims.

So, we can see it’s not a case of “the Church became lax after Vatican II.” We can’t just “go back,” because the known cases from the 1930s until Vatican II happened during this supposed strong period. What the Church is doing now is recognizing where procedures for dealing with these accusations have been ineffective, and working on sharing where the procedures have succeeded.

And in some cases they have. In the United States, the of number of cases peaked in the 1980s, and then began to decline. Since 2002, after the Dallas Accords, new cases of abuse have fallen sharply. The new revelations of priests who abused and bishops who covered up were not recent cases. They were old cases recently uncovered [§]. Yes, they should have been revealed when the other cases were discovered. Yes, this lack of disclosure seriously damaged the faithful’s trust in the Magisterium of the Church.

But, we cannot assume everyone must have known and everyone must be guilty. Between the 1930s and the 1980s, there have been many bishops in the dioceses. Some made decisions that enabled abusers, but some did not. The Church cannot punish the innocent. She must investigate to see who knew and willfully covered up or refused to report. They must be held accountable. The problem is, those are not the only bishops out there. For example:
  • Bishops who sincerely believed the advice from psychiatrists that the priest should be moved.
  • Bishops who succeeded the bishop who made the decision, not knowing about the problem.
  • Bishops who assumed that their predecessors had properly dealt with any problems.
  • Bishops who proactively try to root out problems when they become aware of them [@].
None of those groups of bishops covered up, and should not be punished as if they did. So when people say the bishops instead of some bishops, that response is unjust. No matter how vile the crime, the person who is not guilty is not guilty.

So, yes, call for justice. It’s your right under canon 212—so long as you do it reverently, and give religious submission of intellect and will to the teaching authority of the Church. But don’t call for vengeance or scapegoats. That’s incompatible with our faith.

Please keep these things in mind as the media reports (and probably misreports) on the Summit. Remember what they are attempting to do, and judge the summit on that. 


[†] While some states in the US and some nations like Australia are trying to violate the seal of Confession by forcing priests to reveal what was said, the Church did have a rule that if the victim confessed their part, the priest was supposed to tell them of their obligation to tell the bishop. Judging by the number of cases that took decades to come forward, this policy obviously didn’t work. The 1983 code eliminated the one month requirement for the victim:

[§] In the Pennsylvania report, the number of cases that were not past the statute of limitations was in the low single digits.

[@] After discovering he was misinformed about the Barrios case, Pope Francis was solidly in this camp.

Monday, February 11, 2019

False Prophets and Usurpers

Others are false prophets because of a false intention. But what is the true intention of a prophet? Surely, the benefit of the people. Hence the Apostle says in 1 Cor 14:13: “Someone who prophesies speaks to the people for the sake of their advancement, exhortation, and consolation.” He speaks for the sake of their advancement, so that he renders them devout [cf. Ps 76:12]; for the sake of their exhortation, so that he renders them ready and willing in good works; and for the sake of their consolation, so that he renders them patient in adversities. If anyone seeks from his teaching something else than the benefit of the people, he is a false prophet.

—St. Thomas Aquinas. 
Academic Sermon XIV

I find the words of St. Thomas Aquinas appropriate in dealing with these times. We have people who claim that the Church has fallen into error and is not to be trusted—even though the Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” [1 Timothy 3:15 (NABRE)]. They do not speak in a way that makes the faithful devout, ready to do good works, and patient in adversity. They speak in a way that makes us rebellious, judging who is worthy of our works, and impatient with the existence of sin and weakness. These people may have good intentions, but they are still leading people away from what benefits them. Therefore they are false prophets.

We know that the Church is established by Christ (Matthew 16:18) and teaches through His authority (Luke 10:16). We know that The Lord does not take kindly to those who try to set up a counter magisterium (Numbers 16:1-35).

Yet these false prophets exist. They try to undermine trust in the Church and the rock on which Christ builds it. “The Pope speaks unclearly and causes confusion!” they say. Does he? Or is it a case of those who despise him twisting his words to the worst possible way to “prove” their point?

Perhaps it is time to start asking questions about the critics who make these attacks. Are their attacks building up the Church and encouraging her mission to go convert the world? Quite the opposite. These false prophets are encouraging mistrust, focusing on factions and saying we must disobey those successors to the Apostles. Are these attacks bringing sinners back to the Church? No. In fact, they cheer the concept of a “smaller Church” that expels anyone less holy than them. Do they help us to be patient in trials? No, they point to these trials as “proof” that the Church errs.

So why are we giving them so much attention and credibility? If we profess to believe that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was established by Christ, and we believe that the Catholic Church under the Successor of Peter is that Church, then we heed the teaching of that Church.

The Catechism reminds us:

Think about that. “Whoever despises them despises Christ.” Then think of the Catholics who attack these successors. Should we listen to them? Or should we listen to the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Pope. We know what The Lord said. We know He promised to protect His Church.

We will have no excuse if we ignore the Church and listen to the false prophets.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

On the Wrong Side of (Church) History

One of the conceits I see is the view that the individual Catholic is in the same place as Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, while the Americans bishops are in the place of the English bishops at the time of Henry VIII breaking away from the Catholic Church [§]. This view holds that, in both cases, the bishops were cowardly and went along with an evil, rather than speak out against it. Therefore, they are in the “right” to reject them.

This view is both bad history and bad theology. We forget that, in every age where rejection of the Church arose, there was corruption that led people to think that rejection was justified. But the saints never accepted the idea that sin and corruption justified dissent.

(St. Francis of Assisi)

These individuals today justify disobedience to a Pope based on what they want the Church to be. The problem is: Saints, like More and Fisher, refused to use the bad behavior of a Pope as an excuse to disobey the authority of the Church. In other words, these modern critics (sincere or not) are closer to the those 16th century English who rejected the authority of Rome than they are to Sts. More and Fisher who said the authority of the Church rested with the Pope, even in bad times.

The Church today certainly has serious problems to deal with. We look at the abuse scandal and are shocked: At least some of the bishops seemed willing to sweep problems under the carpet. The 1917 Code of Canon Law seems to have been based on a naive assumption that all parties would be acting out of good will. Even if the numbers were statistically small, it was a problem that grew to cause great harm to the victims and their families and great mistrust towards the Church that is supposed to be Mother and Teacher. We also see the scandal of Catholic politicians who openly defy Church teaching on issues like abortion (some going so far as to express support for infanticide) and same sex “marriage,” and the response of some bishops seems to be “tsk.” People want to know why the wicked seem to get away with wrongdoing without repercussions [#]. People see this and argue we’re in an unprecedented crisis.

The problem with that reasoning is it forgets that the Church has had problems in every age. During the midst of each crisis, the Church looks like it is losing to the attacks against her. Sometimes, in the midst of these crises, bishops behave scandalously or ineffectually. During the midst of the 4th century, it looked like Arianism was going to win. During the 16th century, it looked like the Church would collapse under the dual attacks of corruption within and Protestantism without.

Reforms and opposing attacks were never instantaneous. Defeating Arianism took two ecumenical councils and a lot of struggle against a state that wanted them to win. Martin Luther began his work in about 1517. The Council of Trent didn’t begin until 1545, and wasn’t concluded until 1563. Implementation took over a hundred years.

I don’t say this to be complacent or triumphalistic. Yes, God protects His Church from teaching error. But we have our own role to play in defending and protecting the Church. What I am saying is that we must not assume that the Church is permanently broken and that we are therefore excused from the submission of intellect and will to the Church that Christ requires of us.

We can’t wait passively for God to send us saints to reform the Church. We’re called to be those saints. But we have to remember this: there was never a saint that refused obedience to the Church under the headship of the Pope. Regardless of the crises within the Church, even when they involved Popes behaving badly, the saints gave obedience to the Successor of Peter.  If we won’t do that, we’re not part of the solution...

...we’re part of the problem.


[§] This is not an article about Protestantism. It’s an article about people who inaccurately invoke the rise of Protestantism, equating it with the leadership of the Church today.

[#] The short answer is, canon 1398 is only aimed at people committing an act of abortion. But people do want to know actions are being taken.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Deafening Our Conscience Through Outrage

Everyone notices the wrongdoing done by other people. We see something that seems unjust and we are outraged. We demand instantaneous retraction and until that is done, the one we see as guilty loses all rights to being treated as a human person. If that person is a member of the clergy, he is treated as if he forfeits all rights to the respect and submission due his office.

Meanwhile, more often than not, people refuse to consider their own wrongdoing as anything worth considering. Refusing obedience to the Church because their teachings and actions do not mesh with one’s own beliefs is not recognized as disobedience. Instead it’s treated as “standing up against evil,” where everyone imagines they are a miniature St. Paul, withstanding an erring Peter to his face.

The problem is, we are not like St. Paul. We’re more like the Pharisee who treats the sinner—or the one we think is sinning—as beneath contempt while thinking we’re superior because we don’t sin... or, if we do, at least we don’t sin as badly as them.

That’s a dangerous attitude. It shows we’ve forgotten or ignored our own guilt. As long as we aren’t as bad (in our own eyes) as them, we’re the good ones, the wise ones. That’s a dangerous attitude because it shows we we have become deaf to our conscience. As Benedict XVI put it:

“The Pharisee is no longer aware that he too is guilty. He is perfectly at ease with his own conscience. But this silence of his conscience makes it impossible for God and men to penetrate his carapace—whereas the cry of conscience that torments the tax collector opens him to receive truth and love. Jesus can work effectively among sinners because they have not become inaccessible behind the screen of an erring conscience, which would put them out of reach of the changes that God awaits from them—and from us. Jesus cannot work effectively among the righteous because they sense no need for forgiveness and repentance; their conscience no longer accuses them but only justifies them.”

Values in a Time of Upheaval, p. 82

When we are deaf to conscience, we justify the evil we do, saying it’s not as bad as the evil they do, therefore it’s unimportant. We protest, asking “Why does the Church focus on us when those people are doing worse? What we forget is that the deadliest sin for an individual is the one that sends that individual to hell. 

So you don’t support abortion? Congratulations. You’ve none nothing more than demanded of you. But if you’re committing other sins while refusing to acknowledge and repent of them, you might be no better off in the eyes of God—even if the magnitude of your sins are objectively less.

Our Lord shocked the Pharisees when He said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” [Matthew 21:31 (NABRE)]. If He wanted to shock us equally today, He might say, “the pro-abortion politicians and cowardly bishops” (to name two popular targets of revulsion). If they repent but we do not, then they are in the same situation as the tax collectors [§] while we are in the same situation as the Pharisees. This doesn’t mean, “treat sins as unimportant.” It means “don’t exalt yourself just because you haven’t done that.” 

Or, as St. John Chrysostom, (Homily III on 2 Timothy), discusses on our focus on the great sins of others:

“Let each therefore, with an upright conscience, entering into a review of what he has done, and bringing his whole life before him, consider, whether he is not deserving of chastisements and punishments without number? And when he is indignant that some one, who has been guilty of many bad actions, escapes with impunity; let him consider his own faults, and his indignation will cease. For those crimes appear great, because they are in great and notorious matters; but if he will enquire into his own, he will perhaps find them more numerous.”

So, when we see sin in the Church—especially when it seems to go unnoticed—it’s not wrong to want justice and reform. But it is wrong to play the Pharisee, using the sins of others to justify ourselves. We might be risking our souls by using another’s sins as an excuse to ignore our own wrongdoing.


[§] To put it in historical context: Tax collectors (publicani) of the Roman Empire were not the equivalent of the modern IRS. Their greed and corruption ruined and destabilized entire provinces. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Heavier Than the Burden of Sand

Stone is heavy, and sand a burden, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both. Proverbs 27:3 (NABRE)

As the fallout continues from the “Excommunicate Cuomo” movement (discussed HERE , I’m seeing a deadly snare that the anticlerical movement has set. Having consistently preached a message of “cowardly and heretical” bishops, this movement has undermined trust in the Church to the point that if the bishops don’t do what they want, people are deceived into thinking the bishops are deliberately rejecting Church teaching.

In this case, the snare is telling everyone that the bishops must excommunicate Cuomo. When the bishops point out that canon law doesn’t include politicians in canon 1398, their statement of fact is portrayed as a “refusal” to carry out their task. It’s devious because it’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition. Regardless of what the bishops do, it simply cannot include excommunication unless Canon Law is changed. But the Church doesn’t do ex post facto [@] laws, so this won’t affect Cuomo anyway [§]. 

But since the anticlerical faction has ramped everybody up to demand excommunication, anything the bishops do will be written off as sympathy or laxity. Their enemies will demand that the bishops be replaced by those who will “enforce Church teaching,” even though what they want has nothing to do with real Church teaching.

Authentic interpretation of the Church teaching in each age is determined by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. This isn’t an ecclesial version of legal positivism [#]. This acknowledges the fact that this is where God bestows His authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Canon law is human, so it can be amended for a good reason. But a mob of pissed off Catholics clamoring for vengeance is not a good reason.

I believe we need to start looking at the anger and bitterness that drives these movements. These are not the righteous anger of the prophets. These are wrathful responses to something hated. That something hated is the Church and those entrusted to lead her. The problem is, these attitudes are completely opposite to the Fruits of the Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [Galatians 5:22–23 (NABRE)].

That doesn’t mean we’re to be indifferent to wrongdoing by Catholics. But it does mean that a reaction of wrath and hatred is a warning sign that we are not acting in a Christian way. We should remember God’s words to Cain: “Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.” [Genesis 4:6–7 (NABRE)]. 

It’s time to stop getting needlessly angry at the Church. In the course of the past week, Catholics have forgotten the abuse crisis, the March For Life, and World Youth Day in favor of Covington and New York. Not in a righteous anger, but in a screaming fit very much like the “snowflakes” they mock in the political arena. That’s not the behavior Catholics are called to.

Let’s all remember this: You won’t always like everything that happens in the Church. But our response should be seeking to understand, not assuming that the Church can and should meet our preferences. You won’t ever find a bishop (or anyone else in the Church) who’s not affected by sin. Remember even the Apostles cut and ran once upon a time. Our response should be to pray for them, so they might have the strength and grace needed for their task.

If we won’t do that, then we’re part of the problem by adding the weight of our needless wrath to the real troubles of the Church.


[@] “law that makes illegal an act that was legal when committed, increases the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed, or changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier.”

[§] It should be noted that Cuomo is already barred from Communion (canon 915) on account of his cohabitation relationship. So, unless he formally commits heresy or schism or another excommunicatable offense, there’s not much left the Church can do to him.

[#] The theory that whatever is law is right because it’s law.