Saturday, May 25, 2019

Do We Act as We Believe? The Double Standard Trap

There’s a saying, falsely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach always. If necessary, use words.” Sometimes mocked by people who don’t understand it, it actually means we should realize that our behavior will show others how seriously we really take our faith. As Tertullian described the words of persecutors seeing the behavior of Christians: 

The practice of such a special love brands us in the eyes of some. ‘See,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’; (for they hate one another), ‘and how ready they are to die for each other.’ (They themselves would be more ready to kill each other.)” (Apology, Chapter 39).

Keeping this in mind, Catholics have to beware giving a bad witness by the tendency to condone in an ally something which they absolutely will not tolerate in an opponent. So, you might see the gaffes of politician A treated as proof of senility, while similar gaffes by politician B is treated as a simple mistake. You might see a Catholic blogger condemn voting for Candidate X on grounds of limiting evil while advocating voting for candidate Y on the same grounds. This can also happen within the Church. You might see a Catholic denouncing other Catholics dissenting against the teaching of one Pope while rejecting the authority of his successor.

I call this “Okay for me, but not for thee.” It’s not limited to Catholics of course. But since we’re supposed to be the light of the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth, the witness we bear should be consistent. If a thing is wrong, we are supposed to bear witness to the truth in both our words and actions. But if we turn a blind eye to the sins of our allies, the witness our actions bear shows that we don’t really act from love and justice. Rather we act hypocritically from partisan motivations. And if the person who sees this and is repelled by it ends up facing judgment for rejecting the call from God, we are likely to face judgment alongside him or her.

This doesn’t mean we treat our friends like enemies, harshly judging their actions (cf. Matthew 7:1ff). Nor does it mean that we treat wrongdoers with laxity. It means we act justly and mercifully to friend and foe alike. We refuse to ever justify evil, but we act in a way that seeks the good of the wrongdoers and not driving them away from seeking salvation.

That is the witness we want to show by our actions: behavior that leads the other to ask, “what guides these people to live in this way.” Then our words will be recognized as sincere, that we really believe and practice what we call them to be.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

They Who Speak Falsely

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.

—Fulton J. Sheen in Preface, Radio Replies, volume 1

Reading Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I find more evidence of something I’ve long noticed: the modern anti-Catholics of today are merely repeating the false statements that the Reformers of the 16th century taught about the Catholic Church as if they were fact. Take this sample, for example:

In fact, the distinction between latria and dulia, as they called them, was invented in order that divine honors might seem to be transferred with impunity to angels and the dead. For it is obvious that the honor the papists give to the saints really does not differ from the honoring of God. Indeed, they worship both God and the saints indiscriminately, except that, when they are pressed, they wriggle out with the excuse that they keep unimpaired for God what is due him because they leave latria to him.

—Book I, Chapter XII, #2

Notice that Calvin isn’t just saying that some Catholics fell into an error of “worshipping” saints and angels (a charge we absolutely deny). He accuses the Church of inventing an excuse to justify worshiping them. That is a serious charge, requiring evidence—first that we do these things, second evidence of the “invention.” He provided none. Instead, he piled up false statements, committing the fallacy of equivocation on Latin and Greek terms [§] and cited Scripture to “prove” we were wrong to do things we never did in the first place.

This is a serious matter. What Calvin said was FALSE. He either knew what he said was false (which is calumny) or he assumed Catholics must have believed that without determining that his assumption was true (which is rash judgment). Whichever one it was, it was bearing false witness against Catholics, and that evil has spread for over 400 years (there were multiple versions of Institutes spread out over 30-odd years). Anti-Catholics believe and repeat these  (and many other) falsehoods, and Calvin bears responsibility for their attacks. He either lied or he failed to determine if his accusations were true before presenting them as true.

I bring up Calvin, not to bash Protestants or invite others to do so. Rather I do so to bring up a modern parallel showing up in the Church today: The problem of certain Catholics who are alienated by the Church, falsely claim she is teaching error—whether through calumny or rash judgment—and quote Scripture or past Church teaching [#] to prove the Pope is guilty of teaching something he never said. Whether they failed to determine whether their accusations were true before spreading them or whether they knew it was false, they spread falsehoods about the Church.

In other words, they—who think of themselves as the defenders of the true Faith—commit the same errors as Calvin (who thought he was defending the true faith) did in attacking the Church, and do the same damage, leading people to believe falsehoods and hate the Church for not being the fictional image they think it was.

This faction of Catholics (which has a strong antipathy towards Protestantism in general and the Reformers especially—to the point of using “Protestant” as an epithet against Catholics they disagree with) are guilty of the same things. If Calvin was wrong, so are they. If Calvin caused harm, so do they. Considering the imprecations they hurl against men like Calvin and Luther... well they might want to consider Matthew 7:2. “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” We don’t know how God will judge Calvin or his level of culpability. We do know that the Church (Lumen Gentium #14) warns us:

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should think about that seriously when we are tempted to condemn the shepherds of the Church as teaching “error” simply because their approach is different than our preference.


[§] In one particularly risible example, to “prove” his point, he translates Galatians 4:8 as “they exhibited dulia toward beings that by nature were no gods.” The actual translation was “you became slaves to things that by nature are not gods”. The man apparently either confused doula (in the form of [ἐδουλεύσατε] edouleusate) meaning “to be a slave” with a form of dulia (which is sometimes spelled doulia) which means to honor, or else based his falsehood on a bad copy of the Greek. Sometimes an iota (“i”) of difference is substantial. (I consulted the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament 28th edition for reference)

[#] Often relying on their own bad translation of Latin documents with results similar to Calvin’s error described in the endnote above this one.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thoughts on America’s Vile Institution

During the past couple of months, proposed state laws designed to challenge the evil of abortion have been attacked in such a way that exposes its demonic nature. The life of an innocent person is sacrificed on the altar of “Choice” in America the same way that infants were sacrificed on the altar of Moloch in Canaan. 

America, since 1973, has effectively declared that they do not care if the unborn child is a human person. They demand the “right” to abort without interference and any objections to that “right” mean that the opponent is trying to “control women” and “impose their religion on others.”

Objection to abortion, however, is not a means to an end of power. Opposition to abortion is based on the recognition that the unborn child is an innocent human being and no person, no court, has the right to deliberately kill an innocent human being for the benefit of another. Under this view, abortion is simply a violation of human rights.

The issue of abortion is very much like a previous national American sin: the evil of chattel slavery which denied the personhood of certain individuals and gave control over their lives to another [§]. Abolitionists were accused of violating the rights of slave owners, and free states were accused of trying to control slave states. Slave owners could point to the infamous Dred Scott decision to justify a “right” that many (even at the time of the ruling) thought was no right at all [#].

To understand why we must oppose abortion, one needs to understand that we believe that the unborn child is by nature a human person already. It does not “turn into” a person at a certain point in time. Therefore (as mentioned above), no court, no government has the right to decree that one person has the right to kill an innocent person.

That applies regardless of the circumstances of conception. Tragically, Donald Trump, who campaigned for President partially on the grounds of being prolife, announced that he supported exceptions for rape and incest. Some of his supporters have argued that we should be grateful enough for what he has done. Moreover, these cases (even if statistically rare) are extremely hard to come out with the courage to oppose because everyone feels compassion for the victim and nobody wants her to suffer. But the unborn child conceived is a human person. The right to life is not revoked because of rape or incest [*]

People who recognize that abortion is evil need to be aware of the central issue—the human personhood of the unborn child—when faced with offers to compromise. We can never give support or silence over the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. Appeals to “choice” or circumstances or “Constitutional Right” can never be accepted as valid. This is true regardless of religion or political stance.


[§] While slave states eventually put legal restrictions on deliberately killing slaves, no slave owner was ever prosecuted.

[#] Moreover, when one reads Roe v. Wade, it’s a nightmarish collection of irrationality and illogic. It argues that there’s no consensus for when life begins. It argues that our Constitutional rights only refer to people who are already born. None of the claims made in the ruling logically proves that life only begins at a certain point. It can only argue, “we don’t know when life begins, so go ahead and abort!” In all other circumstances, that’s reckless endangerment or manslaughter at the minimum. 

[*] Some Christians and Jews have argued that abortion is justified under resisting the unjust aggressor. But that loses sight of the fact that the unborn child is a separate person from mother or father. The rapist is the unjust aggressor. Not the child. Abortion in this case only adds a second victim (the child) to the evil done. The proper response is support (physical, emotional) for the mother.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Church Teaching vs. Political Views

One potential problem—as I have mentioned before—Catholics face is the temptation to think of certain concerns as political opinions while elevating their political opinions to Catholic teaching. The result of this is when the Church speaks out against things an individual Catholic thinks is political, the individual believes that the Church is “losing sight” of her mission, getting involved in politics. But, when the Church speaks against a political stance at odds with Church teaching and the individual Catholic thinks the stance is Catholic teaching, that individual accuses the Church of falling into “error.”

So, when the Church speaks about environmental responsibility and the individual Catholic thinks “environmentalism” is a political issue, he or she says the Church should focus on “more important” issues instead. This doesn’t go only one direction though. Catholics with different slants might think that abortion and transgenderism are “political” issues the Church should stay away from. Regardless of political slant, these individuals say the Church is “obsessed” with “minor” things and should focus on “more important” issues... which they happen to support.

The other side of the problem is the elevating of political views to doctrine. The individual usually draws a political stance based on their interpretation of a Church teaching. From there they conclude that rejecting the stance is a rejection of Church teaching. For example, the Church has condemned socialism [§]. From that, some have concluded that laissez-faire capitalism is compatible with Catholic teaching so the Pope warning against its excesses and injustices is seen as “changing Church teachings.” Alternately, some Catholics draw on the Church teaching on caring for the poor and reason that opposing government programs and taxes to fund them must be a rejection of Church teaching.

Both of these assumptions are “doctrinizing” political views. Yes, the Church requires us to do or avoid certain things. But she doesn’t require us to endorse specific political positions in doing so—provided they don’t use that argument to evade Catholic teaching. Yes, Catholics can disagree on the best means to oppose abortion or make society more just. But they cannot use that as an excuse to downplay or ignore the injustice [#]. The Catholic who uses this to avoid their moral obligation altogether does wrong. Remember what Our Lord had to say on the subject (quoting Isaiah):

Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 
“This people honors me with their lips, 
but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me, 
teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ ” (Matthew 15:7–9)

We need to remember that where the Church binds, we have no authority to loose. Where the Church looses, we have no authority to bind. When the Church teaches, we have an obligation to obey. If we let our political opinions interfere with listening to the Church, the rebuke of Our Lord and Isaiah falls on us.


[§] To avoid the fallacy of false analogy, we do need to be aware of the forms of socialism condemned and not automatically assume that the similarities an individual Catholic thinks he sees are the same thing.

[#] For example, the person who ignores or supports abortion and claims that they’re more pro-life because of their support on other issues. See Christfideles Laici #38.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Limiting the Voice of the Church

I was reading a back issue of First Things the other day and came across a curious claim by the author of the essay. This claim was that the Church ought not to speak on every issue that comes along, but should instead limit herself to speaking about crucial issues (such as sexual morality and abortion).

The reason I found this curious was the issues the author thought the Church should hold back on were also issues that the Church has always spoken about: the obligation to aid the poor. It made me reflect though. Catholics have fallen far when they reduce part of the Church teaching (the part at odds with their politics) to “political opinions.”

The teaching of Pope Francis and the bishops today on care for the homeless, the migrant is no different from his predecessors. Rather we overlook the fact that his predecessors spoke on these topics just like we forget that Pope Francis speaks on the moral issues. For example, St. John Paul II said in a June 2, 2000 homily:

Unfortunately, we still encounter in the world a closed-minded attitude and even one of rejection, due to unjustified fears and concern for one’s own interests alone. These forms of discrimination are incompatible with belonging to Christ and to the Church. Indeed, the Christian community is called to spread in the world the leaven of brotherhood, of that fellowship of differences which we can also experience at our meeting today.

If the Pope said this today, we’d have people accusing him of speaking out against today”s American policy in the Middle East or Mexico with people cheering or denouncing him. But he was speaking at a jubilee of migrant and immigrant peoples almost 20 years ago, when our political landscape was different. But with almost 20 years separating the two Popes, the concern of the Church is the same: self-interest and fear is leading Christians to avoid the Christian need to care for those in need. When we say “the Pope should stay out of politics,” we are effectively trying to silence the Church from speaking out on our moral obligation.

It goes the other way too. When the Church speaks out on sexual morality and the right to life, we hear others saying they’re political (or, my personal eyeroll favorite, “getting played” by politicians) even though the Church has always spoken on these things. Just like certain Catholics ignored or accused St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI of being political when they spoke out on social justice, other Catholics ignore Pope Francis when he condemns abortion, same sex “marriage,” and “gender theory.” Thus, the Popes we like are earnest and the ones we dislike are “political.”

But none of these Popes are “being political.” They’re speaking on issues that can affect our souls. Trying to silence the Popes from “being political” is actually trying to silence the Popes from saying what we need—but don’t want—to hear.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Myths and Lies

The term “myth” in the dictionary (Oxford) has two definitions. 
  1. a traditional story concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.
  2. a widely held but false belief.
I’m inclined to think that when it comes to anti-Catholicism, we can combine the two and describe it as “a widely held but false belief explaining a natural or social phenomenon.” By this, I mean that in defending a movement opposed to the Church, proponents of the movement must retroactively justify the opposition. Because actual history does not provide such a justification, these proponents must invent one that explains it. Thus we wind up with a bizarre claim that the original form of Christianity was “corrupted” or “driven underground” by the Catholic Church early on through “error” and “innovation.”

Under this tactic, the teachings of the Church are turned into a huge straw man that Catholics have never believed while the actual corruption is transformed into something that was openly supported and blessed by the Church instead of the abberation it was actually seen as. The absence of technology before a certain point is transformed into a conspiracy. Cause and effect is assumed when it needs to be proven (post hoc fallacy).

Thus abuse in the matter of indulgences (for example Tetzel or how the use of charitable donations could be misunderstood as buying and selling) was transformed into an invention of the Church interfering with the relation between God and man. The fact of widespread illiteracy (those who were literate in that time did know Latin) and no printing press before the 15th century became the Church “withholding” the Bible from the laity.

Under this myth, aberration is portrayed as “normal.” There’s the case of how monks and priests were supposed to be stupid and uneducated. Yet the former clergy who began Protestantism were highly educated as monks and priests and they were not self-taught. Who taught the Reformers about Scripture in the first place? Luther didn’t find the Bible hidden in a storeroom. He was assigned to teach it by his superior in the Augustinian order!

I could go on and on, and the anti-Catholics undoubtedly will. But the point is that the Church corrected her corruption, while holding firm to her teachings. The Church made them clearer against misunderstanding, yes. Reduced opportunity for abuse, yes. Made uniform standards, yes. But the teachings were never repudiated. In fact, men like Luther, Zwingli, Knox, etc., misrepresented what the Church taught, whether knowingly or out of their own misunderstanding. (I leave it for God to judge).

As I’ve said in similar articles, this is not a “Protestant bashing” article. Rather I take this historical issue of misunderstanding or misrepresentating the Church (which continues among anti-Catholics), and apply it to the “widely held but false belief explaining a natural or social phenomenon” that Catholics use to attack changes in discipline which they dislike. 

Take the case of First Things, issue 249 (January, 2015). In an article arguing that the Church was compromising with the sexual revolution, the author wrote:

By renouncing the discipline of the Friday fast after Vatican II, the Church abandoned the stomach—after which collapsed an entire social system of Friday-focused marketplace and restaurant businesses that was organized around the Church’s claim upon the body. The same goes for the Church’s provision of Saturday-evening Masses. This decision relaxed Christianity’s claim to “own” our bodies on Sunday. 

I find his comments to be the Catholic equivalent of the anti-Catholic propaganda. St. Paul VI did not renounce the Friday fast. Rather, he recognized that penance needed to be... penitential. In the Apostolic Constitution, Paenitimini, he wrote:

The Church, however, invites all Christians without distinction to respond to the divine precept of penitence by some voluntary act, apart from the renunciation imposed by the burdens of everyday life.

To recall and urge all the faithful to the observance of the divine precept of penitence, the Apostolic See intends to reorganize penitential discipline with practices more suited to our times. It is up to the bishops—gathered in their episcopal conferences—to establish the norms which, in their pastoral solicitude and prudence, and with the direct knowledge they have of local conditions, they consider the most opportune and efficacious.

It’s the person having lobster on Friday, not the Church, abandoning the stomach. The diabetic who can’t abstain from meat isn’t abandoning the stomach by replacing it with another penance. Likewise, with the vigil Mass, Ven. Pius XII established the Vigil to benefit the person who has to work or travel on Sunday. One can abuse the intent, but the Church “relaxed” nothing.

We can point to other myths. Consider the claim that the Ordinary Form of the Mass was designed by Protestants (explicitly denied by those involved)... a myth aimed at justifying disobedience to the Church and rejecting the legitimate exercise of the magisterium. Consider the “Pope Francis allowing divorced/remarried to receive the Eucharist” when his point was determining whether all elements of a mortal sin was present instead of assuming they were. For that matter, consider all the (continuing) claims that the Pope is changing Church teaching on homosexuality, even though he consistently teaches against it. Or that he intends to force through female deacons even though he has said, “I can’t do a decree of a sacramental nature without having the theological, historical foundation for it.”

I can go on, and like the anti-Catholics, these people will.

When it comes to the anti-Catholic, the anti-Vatican II, or the anti-Francis myths, we have to ask ourselves this: Do those who spread them know they are false? If they do, they commit calumny. If they don’t, they commit rash judgment. Both are sins. The former is deliberate. In that case, the person spreading the myth knowingly participates in a lie. The latter is a failure to investigate the justness of a claim before assuming guilt and spreading unjust gossip. Their culpability, I leave for God to judge. But He has forbade false witness.

Whether the reader is hostile to the Catholic Church or a member, we have an obligation to speak honestly and make sure what we hear is true before spreading it. If we refuse to meet that obligation, we will have to answer for it.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reactions From the Outside, Inside

In my daily theological studies (there’s not much to do in a hospital, so better to be productive than watching TV all day), I have the displeasure to be reading the work Reformation For Armchair Theologians. It’s a book written from a Protestant perspective and naturally gets a lot about the nature and beliefs of the Catholic Church wrong. I don’t think the author has any malicious intent. I think it’s because he writes from outside the Church, assuming the allegations leveled against her must be true, and that the reasons for the Reformation are true. 

[EDIT: He has a Ph.D in Reformation history, so he has far fewer excuses for his errors than the average non-Catholic repeating what he was told, which was the focus of my point]

Of course it’s rash judgment and gossip to simply pass on the negative stories one has been told without verifying them. But one who is outside the Catholic Church [§] may be less culpable because many sincerely think they are repeating the “truth,” and it never occurred to them that they might be false (cf. Luke 12:47-48).

I mention this as a frame of reference for my main point: the fact that some Catholics emulate this outsider view, saying false things about the nature and beliefs of the Catholic Church in the present (usually negative) or past (usually positive). Their interpretation of Church history and the present events assume as true things that they have have to prove (begging the question fallacy). Such judgments can’t claim the reduced culpability that the non-Catholic might have because we profess to be in a Church established by Christ that teaches with His authority and has His protection from error. As Vatican II teaches (Lumen Gentium #14):

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

If we profess to believe what the Church teaches about her own nature, we have no excuses if we try to interpret events in a way that denies that teaching. Yet many do exactly that. They assume that they have properly and (probably subconsciously) inerrantly understood the nature and teaching of the Church. If anyone—even the magisterium—should teach at odds with this assumption, then that person or magisterium is presumed to be in error. Thus we see all sorts of fabricated theology that tries to limit when the teaching of the magisterium must be obeyed. These fabrications are based on the times when real bishops historically fell into error (separated from communion with the Pope), trying to apply those consequences to the rare occasions a Pope (Honorius I, John XXII) made private statements of dubious orthodoxy.

The problem is, those were private statements with no teaching authority. In contrast, these teachings they deny are public acts when actually “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” (canon 752). 

In other words, these critics are inside the Church [#], but giving an interpretation of the Church that one would associate with a non-Catholic view of one who doesn’t know what the Church really teaches. But, since we profess memberships in a Church that teaches that the Pope and bishops teach as the successors of Peter and the Apostles respectively, we do not have the ability to plead sincere ignorance. We know God protects His Church and we know that the Church teaches with binding authority. We know that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Luke 10:16). So, if we profess to be faithful members of this Church, we cannot justify our disobedience. Or, as Our Lord put it:

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:40–41)

If we profess to be faithful Catholics, we are saying “we see.” So if we reject the Church, assuming error on the part of the magisterium, when we disagree, we are acting against what we have no excuses for not knowing, and our sin remains.


[§] To avoid confusion, I am using the term “outside the Catholic Church” in the sense of “not formally being a member of the Catholic Church.” I am not using it in the sense of “not a Christian” or any other Feeneyite sense.

[#] Although some of them might be sede vacantists who claim we have no valid Pope in office.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Is It Really So?

Awhile back, I was reading about St. Paul VI. The account pointed out that there was a ten year gap between his last encyclical (Humanae Vitae) and his death in 1978. The conclusion drawn was that he was so shaken by the response to Humanae Vitae, that he withdrew for ten years into a sort of isolation while the Church fell into chaos.

There was a major problem with this conclusion though: it wasn’t true. Yes, Humanae Vitae was his last encyclical. But it wasn’t his last teaching. The 1970s were filled with Apostolic Constitutions and Motu Proprio on different topics, implementing Vatican II and dealing with the rebellion that arose in the late 1960s. Not to mention his unprecedented travels [§].

This example of Church history should remind us that if you only look at part of the data instead of the whole picture, you’re going to reach a false conclusion. The Church has 2000 years of history which need to be understood when assessing what is going on. If we look at only parts of it, we won’t correctly interpret it.

I bring up this example to make a point about how people portray the Church. If someone only tells part of the story with part of the data, it could turn out that the story they tell about the Church is false. If someone tells part of the story about the Church prior to Vatican II, focusing on the strongest elements alone, it will appear as if that period was a “golden age.” It wasn’t. Or if someone takes the words of Pope Francis out of context, omitting the things he says and does that defend the moral teaching of the Church, it will sound like he’s a heretic.

But you can use this tactic with any age of the Church to make it sound good or bad. You can make a saint sound demonic or a heresiarch sound faithful. Ultimately, that’s how you can detect the bias. If someone consistently takes quotes out of context to fit the narrative, it’s most plausible to suspect that the person is devoted to a narrative about the Church instead of the Church as she is.

The Church as she is will, of course, have sin and sinners in every age. Every Pope will have his flaws. But there will also be saints in every age, and the Popes will have their strong points as well. The accurate evaluations will recognize both. The biased version will omit whatever goes against their preferred interpretation. We should keep this in mind when we read accounts trying to set one era of the Church against another.

[§] We tend to think of St. John Paul II as the first to make these trips, and indeed he definitely traveled the furthest so far. But St. Paul VI was the first modern Pope to travel.

Monday, May 6, 2019

We Know Who Our Teachers Are

One comment I frequently encounter in these times of confusion is the one that states. “I don’t know who to follow.” This comment certainly does show confusion in the Church because it shows that some Catholics have lost sight of who teaches,

The Church teaching consistently points out that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter and the bishops are successors to the Apostles. They have the same authority to bind and loose as St. Peter (Matthew 16:19) and the Apostles (Matthew 18:18). Rejecting their teaching is a serious matter (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

There is no denying there have been faithless bishops. There is no denying there have been morally bad Popes. But that doesn’t change the fact that God has entrusted His authority with the Apostles and their successors, making no exceptions for our obedience. In fact, The Lord made clear that there was a difference between obeying the authority of the teacher and the hypocritical personal practices of the teacher:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matthew 23:1-3).

Yes, we may have bishops who act wrongly, and we must not follow that. But when they teach in communion with the Pope, they teach with authority. As Lumen Gentium #23 tells us:

This collegial union is apparent also in the mutual relations of the individual bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity.

Since the Pope and bishops are the legitimate authority of the Church, we trust that The Lord, the invisible head of the Church, will protect that authority from teaching error. They have the authority to bind and loose, and even the ordinary magisterium requires religious submission of intellect and will (see canons 752-753) [§].

In contrast to this, we have individuals and groups who presume to speak against this authority. A cardinal, a bishop, a priest, or a member of the laity dislikes what the magisterium says and issues a statement implying or accusing the magisterium of error. But, acting apart from the Pope, they act without authority. It’s like the members of the early Church who tried to argue that to be Christian, one must be Jewish first. In issuing their response, the Apostles rebuked their acting without authority:

Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’ ” (Acts:15:22-29)

No doubt those members of the Church thought they were defending what the Church should be, but what they thought right was deemed wrong by St. Peter and the apostles. Those self-appointed defenders of the Church were deemed without mandate and disturbing the peace because they acted without the authority of the Church.

Now some might cite Galatians, where St. Paul opposed St. Peter, but that is a misapplication. The text reads:

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14)

St. Peter’s action was not a false teaching. It was avoiding drama over the controversy about Jews and Gentiles. It caused scandal in the local Church and needed to be corrected. But this is an example of Matthew 23:1-3. Not following the bad example of one who teaches with authority.

We do know who teaches with authority. The Pope and bishops in communion with him. We know that those who presume to act outside of this communion are without a mandate and disturbing the peace. If we are concerned about the magisterium going “the wrong way,” let us remember that The Lord promised to protect His Church and He is entirely reliable.

Yes, a morally or intellectually bad Pope is not impossible—though I deny Pope Francis is one—but this has never falsified Christ’s promise to protect His Church and never will. And this is why I continue to have faith in the Church, regardless of what disturbers of the peace might claim.

[§] the text of the canons, for quick reference:

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Unasked For, But Needed, Reprimand

One of the curious things to watch in the Church are the Catholics who say that the Pope needs to stay out of politics and spend more time focusing on Church teaching. Of course, what the critics define as “politics” are the issues where the Pope speaks against the position that the critic holds. Popes speaking on public issues that they agree with are no problem.

The troubling thing about this attitude is it tries to force Church teaching into comfortable partisan positions that don’t threaten the critic. The problem is, the Church is given her mission to bring The Lord’s salvation to the world. When an individual, a group, or a nation acts in a way contrary to what we must do to be saved, the Church must speak out. As God told Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:7–9):

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. 

The Church has the same task as Ezekiel. When we as individuals, groups, or nationalities do evil, the Church must speak out. 

One of the temptations in this case is to point to another existing evil (one which we oppose) and argue that the Church should focus on it instead because it is “more serious.” That’s a dangerous way to think, however. There’s no doubt that some sins are intrinsically evil and worse than others. But the deadliest sin is the one that sends you (or me) to hell. We rightly oppose abortion and same sex “marriage,” but our opposition to these evils will not excuse us from a mortal sin that we do commit. In fact, we might be putting ourself in the position of the Pharisee who praised himself compared to the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Let’s face it. The Pharisee wasn’t guilty of the sins that the Tax Collector was guilty of. But that doesn’t mean that the Pharisee was free of sin.

We should remember that the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) has a lot to say about how we responded to those in need. If the Church warns us that our favorite policies neglect those whom Christ commanded us to help, responding with “stay out of politics” is a wildly inappropriate response and suggests either gross ignorance of or opposition to what the Church teaches. As the Vatican II document, Apostolicam actuositatem, teaches:

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

This is true regardless of whether the Church is seeking to convert the people of a nation to stop slaughtering the unborn or whether the Church is trying to convert the people of a nation from treating migrants as less than human—or any other sin that endangers our souls by wronging others.

When the Church speaks out on an issue that seems to strike close to home, perhaps we should consider it a merciful opportunity to ask ourselves if we have gotten complacent and drifted from where we need to be.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Truth vs. Perception

While I’m in the hospital doing rehabilitation from a recent amputation, I have the opportunity to do a lot of theological study. One of the things I’ve been doing is reading the post-Vatican II writings of St. Paul VI where he implemented the Council teachings into the practice of the Catholic Faith. I find his writings demonstrate a solid theology that reflects The Lord’s parable of the head of a household (Matthew 13:52) who “brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” He understood and respected the timeless teachings of the Church and the need to make them intelligible to the modern generation that thought the Church archaic and irrelevant.

I contrast that with all the horror stories critics bring forward about the rebellion within the Church with all the banality and dissent. In comparing the two, we discover that the Church never condoned these things. Rather there was a second movement within the Church—one predating Vatican II—that balked against certain disciplines and obligations. When the rebellion of the 1960s happened, this second movement identified with it and its call for radical change.

Unfortunately, some of the Catholics (rightly troubled by this rebellion) committed the non causa pro causa (“non-cause for a cause”) and post hoc fallacies in response. They assumed that since these rebellions came after Vatican II, Vatican II caused the rebellion and since these rebellions did not immediately vanish, it meant that St. Paul VI and his successors approved of the rebellion. Combine this with an ignorance about what the Council actually taught and you have a false perception that people believe simply because they can see problems exist in the Church and can see things they dislike in the Church.

This result was understandable but false. Since the Church was perceived as stable before the Council, but was now facing chaos, it was easy to link the problem to the dislike. Groups like the SSPX grew by claiming that the Council taught “errors” and the only way back from the “error” was to go back to the way things were before the Council. The problem is, there were no errors.

It’s remarkably similar to the anti-Catholics who see things they think of as error. They assume that the Church needs to “go back” to a time before the “errors” (a fictional time when the Church was allegedly guided by the Bible alone). Like the anti-Vatican II crowd, they assumed that the Church went wrong where it taught what they dislike. But there were no errors in teaching. There was corruption when members of the Church failed to live according to that teaching.

And, of course, we have the same problem today with anti-Francis Catholics who assume that the Pope is teaching “error” and insist that we must undo what he did to “save” the Church. These critics overlook the fact that the problems we have now were problems we had under his predecessors. 

In all these cases, reform had to happen or will have to happen where wrongdoing happened. But the reform that was needed was not the reform the critics demanded. The reform was not needed because of the teaching. It was needed because of people acting in opposition to the teaching. The truth and the perception were different.

Ultimately we need to beware of the “obvious solution” that matches the preferences of the person making it. If we want to correct problems, we need to look at the problem and not assume cause and effect intersect at the point of our dislike.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Is the Road to Hell Paved With Bad Reasoning?

The Pope issued a statement today on the moral responsibility that capitalist systems must address. Predictably, defenders of capitalism and opponents of the Pope began pointing out the flaws of socialism, accusing him of championing it. This is bad reasoning. Speaking about the flaws of A does not mean a support of B (“either-or fallacy “). Pointing out the flaws of B does not debunk the arguments pointing out the flaws of A (“begging the question fallacy”). Reflecting on this, I was struck by the following: Is the road to hell paved with bad reasoning or the refusal to reason?

In saying this, I don’t mean invincible ignorance. Nor do I mean that one must be a logician to be saved. Rather, I mean there is a danger with seizing on whatever reasoning one can find to justify opposition to a disliked Church teaching without investigating the soundness of the argument. Since we have an obligation to form our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we cannot refuse to investigate whether we are in error. If we do, this is vincible ignorance, which is liable to judgment. As Gaudium et Spes taught (#16):

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

If one grasps onto sophistry to justify dissent, that person cares less for truth than for supporting an ideology. And we, who profess to be Catholic, would be wise to remember Our Lord’s words on the higher standard we are held to: 

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Luke 12:47–48).

As Catholics, we are the ones entrusted with more. With a Church established by Christ Himself, we are the ones who know our Master’s will. As Lumen Gentium #14 says (citing Luke 12:48), 

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should keep this in mind always. All the advantages we receive through the Church comes with a corrresponding obligation. We have a Church that teaches with Christ’s authority. If we refuse to keep the obligation, of hearing the Church, and forming our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we will not be saved.

I believe part of this obligation is the obligation to ask whether our “justified” disobedience is really a refusal to ask if we are in error. One can mistakenly reason without guilt if it were impossible to know otherwise. But if we “reason” ourselves into dissent, we should be aware that we do not have the charism of infallibility. The Church does. So our “reasoned” opposition must be spurious if we think we must be right and the Church wrong.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Catholic “ME-gesterium” Pitfall

One of the popular citations used against Pope Francis (or Vatican II) comes from St. Vincent of Lerins, on defining what is Catholic:

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Commitorium, Chapter 2, §6

The definition is true in itself. The Catholic Faith is consistently taught from generation to generation. No faithful Catholic would deny it. The witness of the Apostles and their successors is constant, and someone who taught otherwise (St. Vincent was writing against the novelties of Donatists and Arians) was identified as heretical when they contradicted this ancient Faith.

The problem with the modern citation of this ancient writing (written AD 434) is it overlooks the legitimate development of doctrine. As St. John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia Dei, #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 problem with the current attacks on the legitimate development of the Church teaching is that the critics use St. Vincent of Lerins falsely. They look to what the Church Fathers and Medieval Theologians said about a topic and compare it with what the Church says today. But they confuse what the Church Fathers wrote with what they think the Church Fathers mean, not understanding the context of the writing.

Here’s an example. I have encountered some Feeneyite leaning Catholics who argued that non-Catholics necessarily go to Hell because Pope Boniface VIII wrote, in the Bull Unam Sanctam: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Since non-Catholics aren’t subject to the Pope, these Catholics argue that non-Catholics cannot be saved.

The problem is, the context of Unam Sanctam was not written about those outside of the Church. It was about King Philip the Fair, of France, demanding that the French clergy put obedience to him before obedience to the Pope. Pope Boniface was teaching that no secular ruler could claim a higher authority over the Church. That doesn’t mean that one can refuse obedience to the Pope. It means that these Catholics were misapplying a teaching in a way that was never intended. Whatever “contradiction” they think they saw with later teaching, it was never intended by the original teaching.

This is a growing problem with the Church today. Faithful Catholics are not wrong to study the writing of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. But if they rely on their own “plain sense” reading without considering subsequent development on how it is applied, they risk deceiving themselves into making themselves into what I call a “ME-gesterium,” where they pass judgment on Church teaching on the grounds that what the Church teaches doesn’t match with their personal interpretation.

I think Blessed John Cardinal Newman’s words about converts who left the Catholic Church again applies to this mindset as well:

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.

An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, page 240

In the case of the “ME-gesterium” Catholic, he or she probably remains in the Church, but considers any future development of the Faith to be “error” that needs to be overturned.

The Church is infallible in teaching ex cathedra in a special way. But the protection of the Church also falls on the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church—which is the normal way the Church teaches [§]. As Ven. Pius XII put it (Humani Generis #20):

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Likewise, Lumen Gentium 25 tells us:

25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. 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. 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.

This is confirmed in Canon 752:

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.

Notice that the Church consistently teaches that even the ordinary magisterium is binding on the faithful. This undercuts the common claim that whatever is of the ordinary magisterium is merely opinion that is liable to error.

The “ME-gesterium” has a dangerous pitfall: it assumes that the individual can clearly understand the past writing of the Church but the Pope and bishops in communion with him do not. It assumes that the individual cannot err but the Pope can if his teaching goes against their understanding. It assumes that every teacher past and present speaks and reasons as a 21st century American so a grasp of history (ecclesiastical and secular) and culture is not needed to understand the full import of past teachings in the context of today.

Ultimately, the danger of the ME-gesterium is pride. The individual thinks they cannot err, but the Church can. In claiming to defend the Church from “heresy,” they take the first step towards it: denying the authority of the Church to determine the proper interpretation of the timeless teachings to meet the moral concerns of today. 

If we want to be faithful Catholics, let us recognize that God protects His Church. Not all Popes or bishops have been saints. Some were bad men. But God protected the Church from error in the worst of times. That protection exists now and until the consummation of the world (Matthew 28:20). If we do not believe that, we should recognize it as a warning sign that our own faith is in danger.


[§] Most ex cathedra teachings were made to combat heresies which refused to obey the Ordinary Magisterium.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

So You Say...

Another day, another manifesto issued by certain Catholics claiming that the Pope is guilty of heresy and calling on the cardinals and bishops to take action against him. There’s nothing new about this one. It’s based on the interpretation of the Pope’s words by a small number of priests and laity—already notorious for their hostility to the Pope in the past—compared to their interpretation of previous Church teaching.

There’s a problem, of course. That problem is these accusers are committing the begging the question fallacy. Their “proofs” that the Pope’s words are heretical is dependent on the unproven assertion that the Pope is a heretic and therefore whatever he says, that goes against their understanding of Church teaching, must be said with the intention of obstinately denying a truth of the Catholic Faith (canon 751). But their assumption must be proven true, not assumed to be true. And here lies the problem. We have to ask the following:
  1. Are their interpretations of the Pope accurate?
  2. Are their interpretation of past teaching accurate?
If the answer to either question is, “No,” (and it is) then these individuals are not defenders of the faith, but blind guides, leading the blind.

When it comes to the interpretation of the Pope’s words, we need to realize that his critics are notorious for relying on out of context soundbites and turning them into radical statements. Do you remember the term “Rabbit Catholic?” Outraged Catholics assumed that the Pope was against large families and pro-contraception. Actually, he was speaking about a woman guilty of providentialism (expecting God to take care of all consequences while refusing to use the legitimate means God provides to avoid the consequences—effectively putting God to the test). This is the sort of thing that gets twisted into “Pope promotes heresy.”

Good scholarship doesn’t do that. When there is a question about meaning, one studies the context of the problematic statements, discovering that there is no error. Just a different way of expressing the truth. 

So, who determines the authentic interpretation of the truth? The answer is the Pope and bishops in communion with him. That doesn’t mean that the Pope makes up whatever he wishes (a common accusation by anti-Francis Catholics). It means that when the Pope teaches—even in the ordinary magisterium—we are obligated to give religious submission of intellect and will (canon 752). We trust that since God protects His Church from error, He will prevent the Pope from making a binding teaching out of error. That doesn’t mean the Pope will be impeccable in the governance of the Church. It simply means that we can trust God to protect us from a morally or intellectually bad Pope—things which I deny this Pope is. This trust is important as there is no way to appeal against the decision of the Pope (canon 1404). Either we trust God to always protect His Church or we admit we can never know when to trust the Church.

Since the signatories of this letter represent no part of the magisterium (none are bishops, one could argue they are not in full communion with the Pope either), we cannot accept their claims to judge the orthodoxy of the Pope. Fr. Nichols O.P. (the only signatory with wide recognition) has written some insightful books on theology, but that does not give him the authority to teach in a binding manner against the Pope. No matter what one may think of the arguments in the letter (I’m not impressed), there is no authority behind it. The letter can’t claim “the Pope contradicts Church teaching.” It can only say, “we think the Pope contradicts Church teaching.”

To which I reply: “So you say. But the Pope has the authority to bind and loose, not you. So I will follow him, not you.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Pharisee and the... Other Pharisee?

The Catholic social media erupted last night after Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took aim at Vice President Pence, calling him unChristian on account of his political stances. The division was down party lines, but both sides were free with citing Our Lord’s words of not judging, while pointing out how the other faction supported things incompatible with Christian teaching. The problem was: both sides accused the other side of judging while ignoring the fact that they were judging as well.

Of course it’s not the point of my blog to make political endorsements or to side with one party as “God’s Party.” Rather, I write this to point out that both factions involved in this social media fight are playing the role of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. By this, I mean that neither group is approaching God by saying, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Rather both sides are saying “I thank you God that I am not like that Democrat/Republican.”

Speaking objectively, there is no political party that is not at odds with Catholic teaching in some way, whether life issues, sexual morality, social justice, or other issues.  We, being called to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, have an obligation to reform the political party we affiliate with where it goes wrong. Unfortunately, what people do is play the tu quoque card—being quick to condemn the wrongdoing of the other side while downplaying the moral wrongs of their own party as unimportant so long as the “greater evil” of the other side exists. 

As a result, when the Church speaks out against one evil, she is condemned by the party who defends it and accused of being puppets of the other side. When she affirms that abortion and homosexual acts are gravely sinful, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Republican Party. When she speaks against unjust immigration and economic practices, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Democratic Party. Individual Catholics are adept at pointing out this hypocrisy on the other side while being blind to it on their own.

I want to make clear that Our Lord’s words on not judging means we can’t wash our hands and say, “Welp, that person’s going to Hell. No point in wasting time on him.” It doesn’t mean we cannot call an action evil.  In fact, God has warned us that we will answer for being silent. As God told Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:8):

When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. (NABRE)

Unfortunately, in our political climate, we do the opposite. We don’t speak out to save, we speak out to show our contempt. We say they are going to Hell for ignoring Church teaching X, while we’re focusing on opposing the greater evil first. The problem is, we define this by making the greater evil fit entirely in the political platform of our enemies while the lesser evil coincidences with our preferred party. 

This has to stop. Both parties are Pharisaical. The deadliest sin to us is the one that sends us to Hell, not the one we have no inclination to commit. Until we can see that and say to God “be merciful to me, a sinner” instead of “look at how bad they are!” we will be that Pharisee in the parable.

Monday, April 1, 2019

To Speak the Truth

The Problem

The recent secular and religious news demonstrates one of the flaws in our society: people prefer our version of reality to what the truth turns out to be. So, when the truth comes out, people invent reasons to argue that the truth isn’t true but their opinions still are true. What this means is sobering. It means that we are no longer a people who seek out and follow what is true. Instead, we are ignoring what is true when it threatens us.

The Symptoms

This behavior is easy to spot in others. We shake our heads when the people we disagree with start making excuses. But we behave the same way. The person who supports something automatically discounts anything that could undercut the assumption it is good. Those who oppose it automatically discount anything that could undercut the assumption it is evil. If we were honest, we would recognize that our opinion is either true or false. Recognizing this, we would do our best to investigate the facts and determine whether they fit or contradict our opinions. Then we would abandon those opinions that went against the facts and determine what conclusions did fit the facts.

The Examples 

But instead of doing that, people invented falsehoods and obscure facts to deny what challenges them. For example, to deny the fact that abortion is an act aimed at ending a human life, abortion supporters try to reframe the issue as women making “a choice,” but not saying what choice a woman is making. They say that the unborn child is “just a blob of tissue,” ignoring the fact that we could define an adult human being as “a blob of tissue” as well. There is no attempt to ask whether whether the opposition is right in saying that the unborn child is alive. They simply say “we can’t know,” without asking... because if they did ask, they would be forced to realize that the “choice” is to decide to kill another human being.

Another example would be anti-Catholic attacks. The basic issue is whether the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ or not. If the Catholic Church is that Church, then all refusal to obey her and remain in communion with her is to act in opposition to Christ (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). That is what all who are outside of the Church must investigate. Anti-Catholics refuse to investigate this issue and justify their refusal by making claims against the Church: The claim that we worship statues or think Mary is a goddess, the claim that we think we can earn our way to heaven, the claim that we tried to hide the Bible, etc. 

The people who claim these things have an obligation to investigate if these things are true before using them as a reason to reject the Church. The fact is, Catholics do not believe any of these things. Therefore, using Aristotle’s definition of truth, these anti-Catholics are saying of what is not that it is and do not speak the truth. In fact, they are bearing false witness against the Church and these claims are not valid reasons to reject the Church.

I could also mention the attacks against Pope Francis, where he has been constantly accused of promoting heresy during his pontificate. Every so-called scandal has turned out to either be a sentence wrenched out of context or an absolute falsehood.

The Obligation 

Bearing false witness is a sin. Since what we hear and say is either true or false, and since we either know it or we don’t, we have the obligation to investigate whether these things are true. If they are true, we must follow them. If they are not, we must reject them. But what if we aren’t sure?

In that case, we have the obligation to see if there is any merit to them before repeating them. If we discover they are false, or we cannot find evidence that they are true, we must not repeat them as if they were true. Some things we will never know for certain. We must not spread something that is unproven, even if it benefits our ideologies or people we support. Nor can we use ignorance as an excuse to do whatever we prefer. We have the obligation to seek and carry out the truth.

One thing to be aware of here there is the “gotcha” question where someone tries to set a trap based on a claim we don’t know the truth about. The “gotcha” tries to force you into thinking that if A is true, Church teaching B must be rejected. That’s an attempt to abuse the obligation to follow the truth by presenting something unproven as true.

In such a situation, you need to discover what Church teaching B is before determining if it is related to A. That doesn’t mean, “I can’t find any refutation, so it must be true.” It means, “Given the Church teaches with the authority given her by Christ, I must understand what teaching B is before accepting the word of someone who tells me it is wrong.” In this case, we need to remember that just because we don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t have one. In the meantime we are not obligated to abandon Church teaching on the say so of someone who attacks it.

One example of this kind of challenge: it was popular to argue that the Church teaching on contraception could be changed because the Church had changed her teaching on usury. I was extremely doubtful of the challenge, but for years, I could not find an answer. The matter was solved when I discovered the Papal document Vix Pervenit by Pope Benedict XIV. In it, he continued to condemn usury in lending money at interest to people in need, but called for a study distinguishing how investing differed from usury. The challenge used to argue that Church teaching had been changed before was false.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, our obligation is to search for and live according to the truth. We cannot knowingly speak what is false, and we cannot simply spread assertions if we don’t know if they’re true... something popular on the internet today. As Christians, we recognize that Christianity is true. As Catholics, we recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ. So we have an aid in discerning truth from falsehood. Because of this, we have even less excuse than the average unbeliever. 

Let’s remember that the next time we’re tempted to use what benefits us—but is false—over what is true.

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.