Saturday, July 13, 2019

Ignoring the Watchman: A Reflection on Our Double Standard Views of Evil

When we think about the concept of doing evil, we tend to treat our own sins and those of our own faction as minor, while treating the harmful consequences of the acts from those we dislike as if those who did them were acting with the motivation of Aaron in the Shakespearean play, Titus Andronicus:

Lucius: Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?
Aaron: Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day, and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,
Wherein I did not some notorious ill:
As kill a man, or else devise his death;
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it;
Accuse some innocent, and forswear myself;
Set deadly enmity between two friends;
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears,
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut! I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene I.

This way of thinking helps explain why we have a growing divide between factions today when there should be no factions in the Church. By limiting the meaning of evil to “with malice aforethought,” we do not judge our sins rightly and assume that those who disagree with us must sin in the worst way. But doing evil is to do things contrary to the teaching of God as passed on by His Church. If we knowingly disobey these teachings, we are doing evil. There are two things to remember. First, venial matter, imperfect knowledge, or less than full consent may reduce our guilt. Second that evil was done regardless of the level of guilt. By downplaying our own willful disregard to “unimportant,” we’re committing presumption. By exaggerating other’s sins to malicious, we are violating the proper sense of Matthew 7:1ff.

This is evident when we see American Catholics play the “bishops should stay out of politics” card when they teach on something that challenges our complicity on something we write off as “unimportant.” Tragically, this complicity is bipartisan. If the Church speaks out against the unjust treatment of migrants, some Catholics will object to the bishops focusing on this instead of X—with X being something that they already happen to agree with. If the Church defends life and the sanctity of marriage, some Catholics will object to this, insisting that the bishops focus on Y instead—Y being something that they just happen to agree with. Both are willing to overlook that the Church does in fact teach on X and Y as well as on the just treatment of migrants and on life and the sanctity of marriage.

All of us need to realize that this behavior is not standing up for “more important” teachings. It is rejection of the Church teachings which we dislike. Yes, we can be quite sincere about opposing X and Y. But Church teaching is about more than X and Y which don’t directly affect us.

In addition, all of us face the temptation of assuming that, because the individual bishop is not speaking about X or Y at that moment, they must maliciously oppose Church teaching on X or Y. Or, that because the bishop speaks about showing compassion to those who violate Church teaching in an area we feel vehement about, it “must” mean he is lax about the teaching in this area, or even plotting to undermine it. The possibility of him wanting to both save those sinners and protect us from committing rash judgment never seems to occur to the critics.

But see what we’ve become! By assuming that the teaching that rebukes us is “unimportant,” we deafen ourselves to the teachings that could lead us to repentance. By assuming that those who violate teachings we vehemently support must be malicious in intent, we judge in a way forbidden to us. In both assumptions, we endanger our souls.

Yes, some sins are objectively more destructive than others. But that does not mean the “others” can be ignored. I’ve often said in my blog that the deadliest sin for each person are the ones most likely to damn that person to hell. If the Church warns that something we’re indifferent to or complicit in our support for, we’re fools to ignore the warning and blame the messenger for speaking out. We should remember the prophecy of Ezekiel when the Church speaks out:

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. (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

The Church, as a watchman, is warning us. If we don’t listen, we too will die in our sins.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reflection on a Hidden and False Assumption

Preliminary Note: This is not the only case of error out there. I could probably write a logic text using nothing but examples from anti-Francis Catholics to demonstrate bad reasoning. But it is an error that undermines trust in the Church and needs to be addressed by itself.

I had a critic take exception to my last article, arguing (among other things) that the existence of certain evils in the Church was the fault of “Rome.” It’s a common allegation, one I’ve been fighting since before I started blogging (I’ve fought the SSPX using it against St. John Paul II for about as long as I’ve been on the Internet). It does have an enthymeme in it. That hidden premise is the belief that any persistent sin in the Church can only exist because of the approval or negligence of “Rome.” Because a sin exists, a Pope they dislike is accused because if he “took action,” the sin wouldn’t exist.

The problem is, under that line of reasoning, it indicts every Pope since St. Peter, and overlooks the fact that societies sometimes have vicious customs—evil acts commonly accepted in a society despite the teaching of the Church. For example, the French and their infamous acceptance of mistresses despite the fact that the Church has consistently condemned adultery and concubinage. If the current widespread sins of Catholics “proves” the approval or incompetence of the magisterium, then it also follows that the Church is to blame for not stopping mistressing. St. Paul VI (Humanae Vitae) is to blame for the acceptance of contraception among Catholics, and St. John Paul II (consistent warnings against the culture of death) for the prevalence of abortion. Never mind that they and their successors fought these evils and urged Catholics to reject and oppose them.

Even if one only speaks about corruption among the clergy (where there’s even less of an excuse for ignorance), you can’t say that it could only exist because of approval or indifference of Rome? St. Peter Damian wrote “The Book of Gommorah” (epistle 31) about the practice of homosexuality in monasteries and urging reform. Popes did take action to reform these evils but the evil did not vanish. Are we to condemn every Pope from Leo IX forward for this fact? Abortion was condemned since the first century but some Catholics still support it. In other words, this argument aimed at accusing one Pope or one Council would actually indict all of them if the widespread existence of a sin is the fault of a Pope.

This attitude is effectively a re-emergence of Pelagianism, believing that one is able to overcome sin through their own efforts. This re-emergence assumes that the Pope just has to make a harsh enough statement and Catholics will obey. We should consider what Pope Francis had to say in Gaudete et Exsultate:

49. Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.” When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything,” and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. In every case, as Saint Augustine taught, God commands you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot, and indeed to pray to him humbly: “Grant what you command, and command what you will.”

Some things are beyond human effort and, if God’s permissive Will allows them to remain, we will not be able to overturn them no matter how much we want to (cf. Numbers 14:39-45).

This doesn’t mean “do nothing.” It means each age has its own evils and we must work to overcome them, relying on the grace of God to strengthen us for the task. Not by accusing people of malfeasance if the results are different than we want.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Traveling in a Dangerous Direction

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. (Lumen Gentium #14)

In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. 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. (Gaudium et Spes #16)

Continuing a theme from last time  the Pope and bishops have consistently and forcefully spoken out, warning Catholics against losing sight of our moral obligations towards the least of our brethren… warnings that are often received with hostility from Catholics who support the political policy or the party promoting it. 

This hostility is shown by accusing the bishops of being the ones with a political bias (“the Church should stay out of politics!”), by employing the tu quoque fallacy (“why doesn’t the Church clean up X first?”), the either-or fallacy (“the Church should be focusing on Y instead”) or by shifting the responsibility (“It’s the fault of Z for being in this situation”).

All of these accusations do demonstrate something: that these critics are aware that the Pope and bishops are speaking against the position they defend for whatever motive. If these critics are Catholics, they cannot claim ignorance that when they teach, the Pope and bishops are to be heeded, not finding excuses to reject that teaching.

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

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

can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

Code of Canon Law

Liberal Catholics tend to attack the Church for teaching against things like abortion and sexual morality while conservative Catholics tend to attack the Church over social teachings. Both offer excuses as to why they can ignore the Church teaching, calling those areas of dissent “unimportant” and holding the things they already agree with as vital truths that the Church should focus on. But both forget that the deadliest sin for an individual is not some horrible crime if the person has no inclination to commit it. It is the unrepented sin which one refuses to heed the Church over (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Remember, a Cafeteria Catholic is a Cafeteria Catholic whether they reject Church teaching on contraception and abortion on one hand, or reject Social Justice teachings on the other.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 reminds us of the obligation of the Church here:

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. 

When the Pope and the bishops warn us about the sins we excuse in ourselves, it isn’t because they’re blind to their own political bias. It’s because we are. They are warning both of the evils in their political factions, but we have a habit of forgetting when they speak out against those we disagree with and bitterly remember when we ourselves are rebuked.

If the Pope or a bishop teaches something that seems wrong to us, we have an obligation to investigate the Church teaching and whether we either misunderstood what they said or misunderstood the actual teaching itself. Yes, individual bishops lack authority and fall into error if they teach or act in opposition to the Pope (cf. CCC #883). Yes, a Pope can make a mistake speaking as a private person. Yes, both are just as much sinners as we are. But Christ established the Catholic Church and gave the Apostles and their successors under the headship of Peter and his successors the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Without knowing where the final authority lies, we could never know who to trust and who to avoid. 

If we want to be faithful to God, we must be faithful to His Church and not looking for excuses to evade obedience. Otherwise, we’re on a short road to disaster.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Current Danger of the Age

In the United States, a real danger for Catholics is emerging. I call it a real danger because it is not from those obviously bringing in false ideas from the outside which the faithful easily reject. It is coming from those who claim to be faithful Catholics while rejecting those with the authority to teach the faith—the Pope and bishops in communion with him—because they claim that the Pope and bishops are heretical, because they claim that what the magisterium teaches is not protected from error, because they call it an opinion or a prudential judgment.

To justify their claims, they cite their personal interpretation of Scripture and previous Church teaching, arguing contradiction between then and now, assuming that their own interpretation is true when that is what they must prove. They argue that the misinterpretation of the Pope and bishops by those outside or at odds with the Church is “proof” of their accusations of errors—ignoring the fact that these same people also misinterpreted the Popes and bishops who they do approve of. Then, when shown that their interpretation is false, either accuse the Pope or bishop of speaking “unclearly” or accusing the defenders of “explaining away” the “obvious meaning.”

The irony is, these super-Catholics who claim to promote the teachings of the Church against “modern innovations” are rejecting one of the major ones: That Jesus Christ established the Church, bestowed His protection on her, giving the Apostles and their successors (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18) the authority to teach in His name in a binding manner. When they teach in their role as Pope or as bishop, we are required to give religious submission of intellect and will, neither saying nor doing anything that contradicts this teaching, regardless of whether the teaching is ex cathedra or ordinary magisterium.

But when the Pope and bishops teach that we must do X or must avoid Y, Catholics are all too willing to scornfully reject those teachings if it challenges their preferred views. For example, most recently, we see some Catholics scorn and mock what the successors to the Apostles teach on the obligation to treat migrants justly, misrepresenting it as calling for “open borders,” encouraging migrants to “violate laws,” and “letting everybody in.” Whether they know this is false or they wrongly think it is true, they cannot escape the fact they do wrong: because the former is calumny and the latter is rash judgment. Both are undermining the consistent teaching of the Church. The people who do this are promoting error (in denying their moral obligations) and schism (by rejecting these teachings and encouraging others to do the same).

Below, I leave you with some of the texts that witness to the consistent teaching of the Church about our required obedience, showing it is no recently invented “papolatry.” The modern excuses of dissent were utterly alien to Catholics of the past and should not be used today either.

Texts to Study

So when S. Peter was placed as foundation of the Church, and the Church was certified that the gates of hell should not prevail against it, was it not enough to say that S. Peter, as foundation stone of the ecclesiastical government and administration, could not be crushed and broken by infidelity or error, which is the principal gate of hell? For who knows not that if the foundation be overthrown, if that can be sapped, the whole building falls. In the same way, if the supreme acting shepherd can conduct his sheep into venomous pastures, it is clearly visible that the flock is soon to be lost. For if the supreme acting shepherd leads out of the path, who will put him right? If he stray, who will bring him back? In truth, it is necessary that we should follow him simply, not guide him, otherwise, the sheep would be shepherds.

—St. Francis De Sales, Catholic Controversies

By unity is meant that the members of the true Church must be united in the belief of the same doctrines of revelation, and in the acknowledgment of the authority of the same pastors. Heresy and schism are opposed to Christian unity. By heresy, a man rejects one or more articles of the Christian faith. By schism, he spurns the authority of his spiritual superiors.

—Cardinal James Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers

Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation.

—Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter III

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.”

—Fulton J Sheen: A Treasure in Clay

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

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

can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

—1983 Code of Canon Law

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” (834, 1369; 837)

883 “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”

884 “The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.” But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saturday, June 29, 2019

We Don’t Get to Wash Our Hands of These Things

27. Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

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. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et Spes)

Individual Catholics have the same tendencies as everyone else. We tend to think about ourselves as basically good and our failings minor, tolerant of those who share our secular outlooks. We also tend to be extremely harsh with others’ failings, especially if they hold secular views we dislike. One consequence of this is the temptation of classifying Church teaching according to our secular views. When the Pope or a bishop teaches in a way that we see as matching our outlooks, he’s considered “good.” When he teaches in a way that challenges our outlook, he’s seen as “political” or “heretical,” and we say he should be focusing on “important” issues.

However, Gaudium et Spes #27 (quoted above) shows us that the obligation of Catholics to our neighbor encompasses topics that we tend to classify as both “conservative” and “liberal,” warning that these evils are gravely sinful in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, many Catholics seem to be nonchalant about carving out which issues they’ll obey and which ones they’ll ignore, which means that many Catholics are—without justification—classifying grave sins as unimportant compared to other issues or even morally acceptable. They will side with their parties despite the fact that the Church warns that these things are infamies.

In America, this is clearly shown where roughly half the Catholic population seems willing to ignore the infamy of abortion and the other half is willing to ignore the subhuman living conditions of the poor. When challenged on this hypocrisy, these Catholics make excuses, declaring that the teaching they dislike is merely an “opinion” or a “prudential judgment” while condemning the other side for supporting evils… never considering that the other side is making the same arguments and the same excuses. Meanwhile, non-Catholics look at both sides of this and recognize it for the hypocrisy it is. Unfortunately, they will think that this is the nature of the Church and not the nature of dissenting from the Church (cf. Romans 2:24).

If we want to be saved from damnation, we need to stop making excuses or accusations. If we profess that the Catholic Church is the Church established and protected by Christ, we need to be diligent about praying for the grace to accept and obey those parts of Church teaching which run counter to our politics. Otherwise, our obedience to the teachings we were in no danger of rejecting will not save us from judgment over the teachings we ignored or knowingly rejected.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Golden Calf of Politics

Wherever you live, cities shall be ruined and high places laid waste, in order that your altars be laid waste and devastated, your idols broken and smashed, your incense altars hacked to pieces, and whatever you have made wiped out. (Ezekiel 6:6)

One thing that becomes clearer as we go along is the fact that Christians are turning their political views into an idol that they worship alongside of God. I don’t mean that in the sense of total apostasy from the Christian Faith. I mean that in the sense of the ancient Israelites worshiping God but worshiping Him at the same time that they worshiped the idols as a way of covering all the bases.

The prophets of the Old Testament warned against that attitude. The Israelites couldn’t claim to be worshiping God even if they gave 99% of their loyalties to God and 1% to Baal. It was all or nothing. The Church today, following the teachings of Our Lord, repeats that warning. Even if somebody thinks that they are giving 99% of their obedience to God, and holding back on 1% where they cling to a belief which goes against Him, that 1% means that they are not following God… they’re merely agreeing with Him and His Church when it suits them.

It’s easy to spot when the political idolaters champion a cause we dislike. The typical conservative Catholic rightly reacts with revulsion towards the “personally opposed but…” Catholic who enables abortion as a “right.” The typical liberal Catholic rightly reacts with disgust over those who justify the mistreatment and neglect of migrants. But both of them turn a blind eye towards the sins of their own party, making excuses on why they’re “justified” in supporting the political platform at odds with the Catholic Church while the successors of the Apostles are accused of “playing politics” when they remind us of our moral obligations.

Perhaps we should reflect on where we stand on political idols. If the Pope or your bishop teaches that something our political party supports is wrong, would we try to amend our political views to follow the Church? Or would we accuse them of being “political” when they speak out? The answer is—depressingly—all too often the latter. American bishops are simultaneously accused by Catholics from both major factions of favoring the “other” party when they repeat Church teaching. 

If we feel inclined to defend our parties and politicians while attacking the Pope or our bishop when he reaffirms Church teaching, we have it backwards. We won’t go to hell for rejecting the party. We might find ourselves for rejecting the Church. We Catholics believe that Jesus Christ established our Church and gave her the authority to teach in His name, binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). He made clear that professing His name was not enough if we didn’t do His will (Matthew 7:21-23, John 14:15). He made clear that there were consequences for rejecting His Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). This is not because of “ultramontanism” or “papolatry.” This is because we have faith in Christ to guide and protect His Church from error.

If we refuse to listen to the Church, we’re like the idolators among the ancient Israelites… giving God partial attention while refusing to love Him alone with all our heart (see Deuteronomy 6:4). It didn’t end well for the ancient Israelites. It won’t end well for us either.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

They Are Human Lives Lost, Not a Political Statement!

In response to the news of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, who drowned in an act of desperation, the Church expressed sorrow and dismay over the loss of life. The US bishops expressed concerns about the policies that left people, waiting months for asylum, to desperate acts.

Shamefully, some Catholics responded callously with an attitude of “it’s their own damn fault and nothing to do with us,” arguing that any policies we in the US have are entirely blameless. That’s an attitude completely at odds with our Catholic Faith, and demonstrates just how damaging our political divide is becoming.

First of all, regardless of one’s political views, we should grieve over the loss of life without trying to reduce it to the political motivations. Second of all, everyone reading about this story should be asking—again, without political motivation—whether we should do something besides going “tsk tsk” over something “far away” or immediately jumping in to defend government policies. Third, citizens of the countries involved should honestly ask themselves whether policies or conditions in their own countries contribute to these tragedies.

Matthew 25:31-46 gives us a warning. If we refuse to help those in need when it is in our power to do so, we will answer for it (cf. Luke:16:19-31). I’m sure that the people Our Lord was talking about in His parables had excuses for their not getting involved. But those excuses were of no avail when they came to judgment.
Yes, in hindsight, this family would have been better off not trying to cross the river than to drown crossing it. But I think we forget the conditions in other places might be so bad that those living under them are driven to risks we can’t imagine taking ourselves.

The second picture in this article is of Peter Fechter, who was killed in 1962 trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Yes, there are some differences. He was deliberately killed, not killed in an accident. But the similarity is that both cases involved people who were so desperate to escape the conditions they were trapped in that they felt driven to try these attempts. In neither case can we shrug our shoulders and say “they shouldn’t have tried it,” as if it had nothing to do with us. If we do, we might find Our Lord saying at the Final Judgment, Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:45)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

To Speak the Truth

Throughout Church history, different factions have challenged the authority of the Church, arguing that she has gone wrong in some manner. Were it only a case of arguing whether the interpretation of a passage in Scripture should be A or B, or whether a discipline should be changed, it would be much simpler to discern the truth about claims.

But these challenger factions—secular or religious—don’t limit themselves to assertions about what they think should be. They have to accuse the Church of making declarations or taking actions with a malicious purpose, usually a purpose that targets whoever the demagogues want support from. 

Some of these accusations are based on misrepresenting real scandals that some in the Church did commit. Some are based on fears of what might follow from the implementation of a teaching. In either case, these are generally portrayed as if the whole magisterium intended, decreed, and knowingly gave its blessing to the evils done by some. 

For example, Hippolytus, to justify his schism, argued that Pope Callixtus was enabling contraception and abortion by lifting prohibitions against slaves and free women marrying. The abuse was possible, yes. But no faithful Catholic would have made use of it. Those who would do this probably would have done it without the change. Martin Luther began with the corruption that did exist in Rome and appealed to the resentment of the German nobility towards the political power of the Pope, as a means of attacking the Pope’s religious authority.

Other claims are simply falsehoods in which those who began them either grossly misunderstood Church teaching or were willing to speak falsely in order to promote opposition towards the Church. Either they said that the Church said or did something she did not, or accused her of failing to do something that she did. 

An example of this would be John Calvin falsely claiming that the Church taught we were saved by our own efforts, not by God’s grace. He spent a lot of time “refuting” challenges to his denial of free will by equating Church teaching as Pelagianism...which was never taught by the Church in the first place. Or we can point to the modern attacks against Church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexual acts. The common attacks are that the Church is hostile to women and people with same sex attraction... things far from our actual reasons for the teaching.

This is why I think Aristotle’s definition of truth is so important. If we believe that we must do X and oppose Y, we must speak truthfully in defending X and refuting Y. Otherwise we are using falsehoods. Here, I think I should make a distinction. A lie is a deliberate act of speaking falsely, but a lie is not the only way of speaking falsely. One can sincerely believe that a falsehood is true (the anti-Catholics often seem to sincerely repeat propaganda dating from the 16th century). One can assume that their personal interpretation of the writings of—or more likely, an excerpt from—an antagonist are correct (as many anti-Catholics and anti-Francis Catholics do, using a small quote without reading it in context) and establish a false “they believe...” accusation.

But sincerely believing an error about somebody’s alleged wrongdoing is not the same thing as invincible ignorance. If I say all of Group X supports an evil, I have an obligation to investigate to see whether what I believe is true. Am I correct that they understand a passage the way I think they do? Am I getting my information from primary sources, or hearsay? Have I interpreted a passage in a way Group X never intended? So long as learning the truth is possible, we can’t settle for what we think we know when an accusation could be rash judgment or calumny.

And, if we must make sure we speak truly in those cases, how much more is the wrongdoing to use evil means to achieve what we think is a good end? If we want to “embellish” the truth to convince people to join our cause because we think it will benefit them, we are doing what God forbids (cf. Romans 3:8).

Ultimately, when we want to point out a wrongdoing as proof of a universal statement or accuse someone of teaching error, we have an obligation to investigate whether what we think is actually true. We must say of what is  that it is and we must say of what is not that it is not. If we’re not sure, we must not accuse until we are sure. Otherwise, we bear false witness.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

How Long Will You Straddle the Issue?

The quote in the graphic reminds us that the Catholic Church is a body whose members span the globe, from every nation on Earth and our moral obligations must reflect that. However, the individual Catholics are members of particular nations, and this fact can limit our perspective.

When faced with these two facts, individual Catholics can either expand their understanding of who their neighbors are (see Luke 10:25-37), or they can decide that what happens outside their nation is less important than the benefits within.

The Catholic who chooses the second option cannot claim to be living according to the teachings of the Church, even if they adhere to the letter of the law.

However, we should also remember that this limited view is not only about national borders. We can also run the risk of limiting our practice of the Catholic Faith by treating Church teaching outside of our political preferences as “simply optional,” “merely prudential judgment, or “the Church getting into politics.” When the Church teaches something that goes beyond our preferred boundaries, we have a choice. We can either admit that we’ve gone wrong—through ignorance or dissent—and need to reassess our values, or we can double down and say “the bishops got played” over issues we disagree.

We should consider the words of Msgr. Ronald Knox before deciding to believe that the Church “got it wrong”:

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

(In Soft Garments, pages 113-114).

If any of us wants to claim that we are faithful Catholics, we need to ask if we really believe that the Church is the “final repository of revealed truth,” is the Church established and protected by Christ. To paraphrase 1 Kings 18:21, we might ask ourselves, How long will you straddle the issue? If you believe that the Catholic Church is established and protected by God, follow her out of obedience to Him. It is that simple. If the Church can teach error now, we have no way of knowing that she didn’t teach errors earlier. But if the Church was protected from error in the past, it’s unreasonable to think that our dissent is because we’re right. It’s much more plausible to believe that we fell into error ourselves.

Some will no doubt point (selectively) to times in Church history when bishops fell into heresy. Yes, individual bishops can fall into error if they teach in opposition to the Pope, who is the final stop in determining truth and error. And yes, individual bishops and even Popes can sin or make mistakes in understanding. Popes and bishops need salvation like the rest of us. But the Pope and bishops in communion with him have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and rejecting them has serious consequences (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

And don’t say that “this only applies to the ex cathedra teachings. The ex cathedra teachings were defined in response to people rejecting the regular teachings of the Church. They were binding before they were formally defined. 

So, when we’re tempted to dissent, claiming we know better, we need to stop straddling the issue and either accept the authority of the Church as being protected by Christ or admit we do not believe in the teaching authority of the Church.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dangerous Parallels

One of the things that the anti-Francis Catholics use as a defense is that the Pope is “unclear” or “confusing.” Therefore, they say, it’s not their fault if they think he’s in error and accuse him of heresy. He should just speak clearly and there wouldn’t be this sort of problem. They claim that his predecessors never had this problem with being misunderstood, therefore it must be his fault.

I find that claim bizarre. Catholic apologetics frequently deal with anti-Catholics who misinterpret or take Papal statements out of context to justify their attacks against the Church. However, whether it’s because these anti-Catholics sincerely repeat the false accusations made in the 16th century, or because they are willing to lie themselves, these people could search out what the Popes really did say, but did not [§].

Every group that has broken from the Catholic Church has begun with misrepresenting what the Church has taught and portraying what individual sinning churchmen have done as the sanctioned teaching of the Church. Even before they broke away, these groups used this misrepresentation to justify their own disobedience by way of claiming that the Church herself has gone wrong while insisting that they hold to the real truth.

If one searches, they can find sins and lamentable judgment in the behavior of any saint, let alone everyone else. They can find people deliberately twisting the words of a Pope to justify sins instead of focusing on the good. But one should consider the words of St. Francis de Sales in this case:

But if, instead of making your profit of these examples [#] and refreshing your minds with the sweetness of so holy a perfume, you turn your eyes toward certain places where monastic discipline is altogether ruined, and where there remains nothing sound but the habit, you will force me to say that you are looking for the sewers and dung heaps, not the gardens and orchards. All good Catholics regret the ill behavior of these people and blame the negligence of the pastors and the uncontrollable ambition of certain persons who, being determined to have power and authority, hinder legitimate elections, and the order of discipline, in order to make the temporal goods of the Church their own. What can we do? The master has sown good seed, but the enemy has oversown cockle.

(The Catholic Controversy, Part II, Article III, Chapter X) 

If you deliberately look for failure, you’ll find it. But that doesn’t mean that the Church caused that failure by the teaching of Popes. This is where the anti-Francis Catholics need to ask whether they’re going in the same direction as those who previously broke with the Church. There are Catholics out there who confused discipline and doctrine and hate the Church because they think she “changed” teachings. They are taking soundbites—without reading the full transcript or document—and using their out of context interpretation of these soundbites to “prove” their suspicions are true.

Their behavior dangerously parallels that of the past cases of leaving the Church. If they’re not willing to remember that God protects His Church from error, they may find that they make themselves enemies of the Church under the claim of defending her.


[§] Reading Calvin and Luther, I’ve seen them make vague undocumented assertions about what “popes” say, making it impossible to identify if it was really said, who said it, and in what context. Anti-Catholics seem to repeat their vague assertions as if they were proven facts. Anti-Francis Catholics tend to do the same.

[#] St. Francis is contrasting actual religious life with the occasional corruption used to attack the Church.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reflections on Christian Obligation and Politics

Politics lately tends towards extremely polarized devotion to the party platform while proudly proclaiming that only they have the good of the country in mind. At the same time, they accuse their foes of openly acting to destroy everything that is good and just.

In this mindset, Christianity is cited when the teaching coincides the person’s political views but condemned when it takes a stand against something promoted by the faction. This is not limited to one faction. The Political Left denounces the Church for her stances on issues like sexual morality and abortion. The Political Right denounces the Church for her stances on treatment of immigrants and economic justice. Both factions accuse the Church of being on the “other side” and say that the Church should “stay out of politics” and should “focus on more important issues” (that is, become a religious endorsement of Party X).

Unfortunately, many Christians—including Catholics—are guilty of taking part in this behavior. They believe that the Church should promote their favored political views and condemn what they condemn, while being silent on the moral issues that are at odds with their political party. This cannot be our approach if we want to be faithful. 

If we want to be faithful, we must put fidelity to the Church teaching first and judge the political parties according to that teaching. Given the state of American politics today where both major parties have embraced fundamental evils, it’s not surprising that people of good will disagree over how to vote to reduce or at least slow down the evils. Unfortunately, even here the Christian dialogue that should take place is replaced by slogans. I’ve seen people claim that “the bishops got played” in standing up for laws defending life, that the bishops are “ignoring the Catechism” in standing up for the just treatment of illegal immigrants. I’ve seen proponents of one party say “voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil,” to condemn their opponents while ignoring the fact that they are doing the same thing.

I find that Archbishop Chaput’s views on the obligation of those who vote for a pro-abortion party fits for every voter facing the fact that their party supports an evil or rejects a good:

What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform—one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them. (Render Unto Caesar, p. 228)

Whatever the Church teaches is evil, we cannot support. If we vote for a party in spite of their evil positions, we had damn well better do our best to oppose and change that evil. If we choose party A over party B, we had better be certain what the Church teaches on these evils, and not redefine the meaning of the Church teaching to fit our politics. You might say that issues A+B+C+D outweigh the defense of life (for example), but St. John Paul II taught, in Christifideles Laici:

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, fĂ­nds 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.

The Christian’s role in politics is not to benefit a particular view. It is to promote the public good according to God’s commands. What God commands is good because He is good [§], and we cannot say that as long as we don’t commit the evils we weren’t going to do anyway, we’re “good enough.” When the Church warns us against X, it’s not a matter of control. It’s a matter of our salvation. If we find ourselves resisting the teaching of the Church in a certain area, perhaps we should ask if we are in danger over sins in that area.


[§] No doubt somebody will point to the darker portions of Old Testament where God exacted judgment on certain nations through the Israelites. While the issue is off topic, the accusations tend to treat those nations as if they behaved like 21st century “enlightened” Americans instead of barbaric nations practicing what we would consider Class A felonies. God’s earlier commands were aimed at moving the Israelites away from the barbarisms of their neighbors in preparation for the arrival of Christ. God’s laws to the Jews on warfare were restrictions on behavior, not a license to run wild.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Don’t Leave the Barque of Peter For a Ship of Fools

Another day, another case of people committing rash judgment in response to something they think the Pope is doing, but has nothing to do with the actual events.

This time, the case involves a synod called to look into whether the Church should ordain married men living in the remote regions to provide people with access to the priestly ministry when there are too few priests to meet the need of the people living there. If accepted, the Church would call married men of stable families—similar to how she calls married men to be permanent deacons—to fill the role.

This would not be an abolition of celibacy in the West. This would not mean that those already priests could marry. The only precedent it could set is that if it happens that another region should wind up with the same circumstances, the Church could allow this to the people there as well.

But some are declaring that the discipline of celibacy is a doctrine and the Pope is a heretic. In doing so, they have met challenges by denying that Eastern Rite Catholics are in communion with the Church. Others say that the Church should start ordaining women instead (she can’t). Some misinterpreted this as throwing open the doors to allowing priests to marry everywhere. 

All of this shows that the people who are “defending” the Church from the Pope (a small but very vocal portion of the laity) are ignorant about what the Church teaches and/or what is going on beyond the headline [§], and condemning the Pope for doing things he has no intention of doing. They sound increasingly like the typical anti-Catholic who condemns what he thinks is Catholic teaching when Catholic teaching is either nothing like their accusations or else held for reasons completely different from what they think.

These critics are sure that they represent the true Church while holding views at odds with her actual teaching. But they overlook the fact that some Catholics who are convinced that the Church is in error have wound up in various sede vacantist groups, fundamentalist anti-Catholic groups, Old Catholic groups, or the Orthodox church—all of which require deny some part of the long held Catholic teaching. That’s ironic, considering they’re claiming to defend the Church from error. But it’s not surprising because they have never believed a crucial teaching. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote [#]:

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

The critics, whether they leave the Church or remain within, either never believed in or stopped believing in the infallibility of the Church. Whether they stay or go, they have effectively abandoned the Barque of Peter to become a ship of fools, attacking the Church for not accepting their error as truth.


[§] I’ve seen it get as ridiculous as some critics assume that the “Amazon synod” meant that was involved in changing Church teaching. This is not a joke... though I wish it was.

[#] While he was writing about Catholic converts who returned to their original denomination, I believe it also fits cradle Catholic critics.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A War With Words

The political and media elites are going out of their way to portray Christian moral teaching as bigotry. The defense of the teaching on contraception was infamously labeled as “a war on women.” The teaching on homosexual acts is labeled as “homophobia. And of course, if you oppose abortion, you only care about life from “conception to birth.”

Meanwhile, these elites say that, to avoid biased language, they will not use terms that could sway people towards opposing abortion… but use terms calculated to sway people towards favoring it. Abortion is a “woman’s right.” When the media discusses it, you can be sure that the picture will feature pro-abortion signs. Meanwhile, homosexual acts are an alternative but equally acceptable lifestyle.

The result is a “heads they win, tails we lose” situation where the proponents of behavior incompatible with Christianity is portrayed as normal while Christian teaching is portrayed as bigotry. Then, after decades of propaganda, the elites profess to be pleasantly surprised to “learn” that an increasing number of Christians are becoming “enlightened” and rejecting “outdated norms.” There’s nothing surprising about it. If a Catholic doesn’t seek to understand why the Church teaches as she does, he or she will probably fall for the straw man arguments used by the elites to attack our teachings. And if elites can lead the masses to think that the teaching is based on bigotry while combining it with distorted negative stories [§] about Christianity (see HERE for a 2013 article I wrote about this), hostility is a natural result. It’s a standard tactic of totalitarian dictatorships.

Unfortunately, there’s very little we can do from a worldly perspective. Those who hate our teachings have a much wider reach and a much larger budget for spreading their attacks than we do for responding with truth. So, from a worldly perspective, the lies will travel further and faster than the truth. This should not surprise us. As Our Lord warned us in John 15:18–21,

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.

But our powerlessness by the standards of the world does not mean giving up in despair. By worldly standards, it’s hopeless. But we are not limited to worldly power. In our own limited ways, we can spread a little bit of truth, telling people, “No, that is not what we believe, we believe this.” Whether in conversation, or on social media, on blogs, podcasts, YouTube, etc., we can reach out to a few people and possibly change their minds through the grace of God.

But, if we want to do this, we must do four things:
  1. Pray always for those in error.
  2. Make sure what we say and write follows the teachings of the Church and shows respect for those tasked to lead her.
  3. Speak with charity towards those who spread error.
  4. We have to act too, not just “let Father do it.”
I think we’re all tempted to drop one or more of these things. We forget about praying and that God is ultimately in charge. We behave as if the Church has problems and forget obedience, leading others to question why they should obey. We speak rudely, and alienate not only those we are disputing but also those watching our exchange. We expect the priests, bishops, and Popes to do everything, and forget about the individual witness we can bring in small communities.

It won’t be swift, but remember: it took close to 300 years for Christians to convert the Roman Empire. Our efforts won’t be once for all. The Church still has to continuously speak out against recidivism and new errors. But if we do these four things, we might find that God allows our actions to bear fruit, a little bit at a time, bringing people away from error and too truth. Our small effort might turn out to be like the loaves and fishes a child offered to Our Lord… and were turned into something far greater.


[§] That’s not to deny that some Christians have done evil. But it is interesting that those condemning the Church for her teachings always bring them up (tu quoque) as if the sins of some disqualified her from teaching.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What Will You Become?

In the classic version of the online game called World of Warcraft, there was a group called “The Scarlet Crusade.” If you followed the quests in order, it started out looking like they were devoted to protecting the world from the hordes of undead. But you quickly learned that they were extremists who operated under the principle that the ends justified the means, turning on anyone who disagreed with that approach. 

In the reboot, taking place about five years later, you encounter the Scarlet Crusade, where they have become undead themselves. The implication is that their “ends justify the means” approach led them to becoming what they hated while remaining in denial about the fact that they caused their own downfall. As one NPC shouts in game as you fight, “The Scarlet Crusade is not over! Undeath is merely a setback!” Later, when you return from your quest, an NPC of another group (who sent you to fight the Scarlet Crusade) says that they fight evil without being bound by morality… implying that the cycle will continue.

I find this bit of game lore makes a good illustration of the principle of someone gradually becoming what they hate through justification of their own wrongdoing.

This came to mind when studying the attacks made by Martin Luther against the Church [§]. In his early days, Luther claimed that he was not against the Church, but trying to reform abuses within her. But shortly before he was excommunicated in 1520, he was openly attacking the authority of the Church, and treating the defense of the magisterium as defending the sins committed by the men holding the office:

They allege that the words of Christ were spoken to them: “Whoever hears you hears me; whoever rejects you rejects me.” They rely strictly on these words and have no compunction about saying, doing, or not doing whatever they want. They ban, curse, rob, kill, and perpetrate all the evildoings as they please without any restraint. In no way did Christ mean that we should obey them in everything they say and do but only when they speak his word, the gospel, and not their own words and do his work and not their own.

—Martin Luther, Treatise On Good Works (1520)

Yes, abuses did exist, but reforms had begun before he was born, slow and resisted as they were. Luther appears to have committed the logical fallacies of composition and hasty generalization in assuming that the real regional abuses were universal and caused by false teachings, while committing the begging the question fallacy in claiming that adopting his theology was the only true reform (Luther believed he was trying to “restore” what the Church had “lost” [#]). Because the Church could not accept his personal interpretation of Scripture and the Patristics that he used to justify his claims, Luther believed that the magisterium had to be opposed.

What struck me while reading this was how similar Luther was in reasoning to the anti-Francis Catholics in the Church today. Yes, their theology is vastly different, but their reasoning is almost identical: that because the Church today rejects their personal interpretation of past Church documents, the magisterium is accused of teaching error. Like Luther, these critics argue that until the Church accepts their interpretation (“returns to the true teaching”), they will be in error.

Those defending the authority of the Church magisterium today point out that the mistaken judgments and sins of the person holding the office (for all people sin) are not the same thing as the teachings of the Pope and bishops in communion with him and that the teachings are binding despite the sinfulness of the individual Pope [&]. But, like Luther, the anti-Francis Catholics equate this defense with defending the “errors” of the Pope and saying that anything the Pope says or does.

This brings us to the issue of concern. The modern anti-Francis Catholics are sounding increasingly like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others who made false statements about the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Like the 16th century founders of Protestantism, they set their interpretations as doctrine and accused the Church today of doing wrong. Luther, et al, when faced with the choice of rejecting their personal interpretation and rejecting the Catholic Church, chose the latter. 

The modern critics should be very cautious that they don’t make the same choice. Otherwise, similar to the fictional Scarlet Crusade mentioned above, they might find themselves outside of the Church proclaiming: “Schism is only a setback!”


[§] In case you’re worried, I read the writings of the16th century founders of Protestantism to make sure I am accurately reporting their positions instead of getting information second hand.

[#] At the risk of oversimplifying: with the reemergence of interest in the classic (pagan) Greco-Roman philosophers, there was a movement to go back to the original sources (ad fontes) of Greek documents to get the proper meaning, since some texts did have copyist errors. Renaissance thinkers applied this to Scripture, assuming that the translation of Scripture was equally compromised.

[&] See canons 751-754.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

An Ignorant Wrath

Whoever answers before listening, theirs is folly and shame (Proverbs 18:13)

You might have heard the story about Pope Francis “changing” the Our Father. Actually, while you might have heard that from various news sources, it’s just another case of the media getting the story wrong. The real story is that the Pope approved a revision of the Missal by the Italian Bishops conference to make the Italian translation more accurately follow the Latin text—which is the standard to judge by—in the Our Father and the Gloria. As Catholic News Agency pointed out:

News reports in English may have given the impression that Pope Francis had changed the Our Father for the whole of the Church, rather than his see having confirmed a change made by the bishops of Italy.”

So, there was no story here. Everybody laughed it off, right? Wrong. The internet erupted with attacks from anti-Francis Catholics and anti-Catholics… two groups that are depressingly sounding more and more alike each day. His accusers immediately said he was “changing the Bible.” Except he wasn’t. The Latin Missal was revised in 2002 (under the pontificate of St. John Paul II) and the Italian Missal was revised to more accurately reflect the Latin. The Vulgate wasn’t changed. The Greek original wasn’t changed. 

Critics said he was ignorant of languages because the Lord’s Prayer matched the Bible “perfectly.” And to “prove” it, they quoted Scripture to “refute” him…using the Douay-Rheims Bible, despite the fact that English wasn’t even involved. Unsurprisingly, the line “lead us not into temptation” the prayer did match the verse in Matthew 6:13, which is not a surprise because that (with the exception of Matthew 6:11) is where the English translation of the prayer came from. (Citing the Douay to justify the current phrasing of The Lord’s Prayer in English is essentially a huge circular argument).

The Douay is a translation of a translation. The original Scriptures exist in Hebrew and Greek. The Vulgate translated it into Latin. The Douay translated the Latin Vulgate into English. The problem is when you translate from a translation, the result is less optimal than translating it from the original language because while Greek and Latin translate into each other well, neither corresponds with English as easily. 

That doesn’t mean that the Vulgate or the Douay is defective. It means that translating the same thing twice into two different languages is less clear than translating once. It does mean that the Douay That’s why Ven. Pius XII called for more accurate translations of the Scriptures in the encyclical Divini Affluante Spiritu (1943). The Douay predates the standards he called for, so it should not be used to counter more recent translations approved for use in the Church.

These accusations against the Pope show that wrath directed at him was born in ignorance. They did not know that the Pope changed nothing but only approved a legitimate change. He did not make a global change for the Church. He did not change the words of Scripture. He did not mistranslate the prayers of the Church. All of these accusations were based on critics not knowing the facts of the story, and a lack of knowledge about the teaching and history of the Church on these matters.

Yet, these critics are driving the attacks on the Pope, arguing that he is unfit to lead the Church. What they say is false, but some Catholics follow them anyway. Those Catholics should remember the warning of The Lord in Matthew 15:14–Let them alone; they are blind guides (of the blind). If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.

A Catholic who denounces the Pope based on ignorance, is a blind guide. A Catholic who follows such a guide will be led astray and might wind up in the pit of schism or other errors.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Thoughts on Gradualism, Defeatism, and Overcoming Intrinsic Evil

■ noun a policy or theory of gradual rather than sudden change.


I’ve encountered some pro-lifers who are objecting to the recent laws strictly restricting abortion. From my reading, they seem to make two arguments.
  1. That many opponents of abortion are not willing to go so far as to give up exceptions for incest, rape, and “life of the mother.” If we alienate them, the fear is they will go to the pro-abortion camp.
  2. That laws that strict are more likely to be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, thus locking in abortion as a right.
Therefore, they argue, we should start with a lower goal and work our way up. These people seem sincere about being pro-life but, in all honesty, I think they’re wrong in their reasoning that leads to their conclusion. St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#73), wrote about politicians trying to limit the effects of abortion laws:

In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

Note, this is not about reducing the effectiveness of a law to improve popularity among people. This is about “half a loaf is better than none” in cases where a pro-abortion law is inevitable. In such a case, putting whatever restrictions one can achieve into such a law is better than no restrictions at all. But that isn’t the case here. Here, we have legislators who believe we have the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade and other unjust abortion rulings.

Case #1: Alienating Supporters

With this in mind, how does the first argument fit in with Catholic teaching? Badly—it’s practically an inversion of Church teaching. In this case, it’s not about “limiting the harm done by such a law” because the law is passed and signed already. It’s about “limiting the law in the name of public opinion” by keeping people who have an imperfect understanding of the defense of life from jumping ship by creating exceptions. 

As I see it, if these people object to not allowing exceptions now, why should they accept eliminating these exceptions later? I think it’s more likely that when we move to eliminate those exceptions later, these people will think we’re guilty of “bait and switch” and resist our actions anyway. The difference is they’ll also think we’re liars.

One person who used the “alienating supporters” argument suggested to me that after doing the more limited law, we can work on education. To which I say we should have already been doing that and we should still do it for those who are sincerely pro-life but misled regardless of the status of laws.

Such people of misdirected good will need to understand that:
  • “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC #1789)
  • Abortion—which is deliberate termination of pregnancy by killing the unborn child (Catechism, Glossary)—is an evil act 
  • Therefore, one may never commit abortion so good may come of it.
This is not intended to be a logical form. Rather I’m showing that two of principles that one must hold to be pro-life lead to the third principle. This third principle excludes exceptions for rape, incest, and “life of the mother.” Rejecting these principles means one is mistaken about what being pro-life means.

Let’s apply the principle of St. John Paul to this: we can say that while abortion laws that only allow it for rape, incest, and life of the mother are less evil than laws allowing unrestricted abortion and can be tolerated if those are the only two options. But if the option exists to ban all abortion in a state legitimately exists, we cannot choose the exceptions option instead.

Think of it this way. Imagine a person who opposes slavery or segregation in most cases, but wants exceptions in case they need it. Such a person would not be pro-freedom, no matter how sincere they were about opposing 99% of the cases of slavery [#]. We would not include that 1% exception in our attempts to abolish slavery if the option to abolish it entirely existed. Abortion is the same case: something that is always evil and the exceptions are still evil acts.

Case #2: The “unconstitutional” fear

This leads us to the second objection: that a total abortion ban might get thrown out, enshrining abortion forever, while a law with some exceptions might be upheld. My response to that is: the Supreme Court judge who would vote to rule a total ban unconstitutional, would also rule the abortion ban with exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother to be unconstitutional. As long as we have any Supreme Court judges who think abortion is a human right, instead of a human rights violation, there is a danger that any restrictions at all will be thrown out.

I find that there is a defeatist attitude about passing laws restricting abortion. I’ve seen some go as far as to say Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, so we should spend our time instead making abortion less “necessary” instead of opposing it. Some have also said that people will just seek illegal abortions, so even if we do overturn it, we’ll never end it [%]. That attitude betrays a false understanding of Christian obligation. St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae #73, also reminds us:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.

Capitulation that accepts abortion as inevitable is incompatible with our call to change injustice. We cannot put our faith in a corner. We have obligations here. As the Vatican II document, Apostolicam actuositatem (#5), puts it:

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.

Refusing to fight injustice is to fail in our obligation. Moreover, it is ironic that people who take this defeatist attitude don’t take it with other injustices. They’re quick to invoke the Seamless Garment on other issues. But they forget another teaching of St. John Paul II in Christifideles Laici, #38:

“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.”

Remember, Gaudium et Spes #51 [§] equated abortion with murder, genocide, torture and other evils these people normally oppose. If we think that a person is wrong to oppose subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of genocide, we should think the person who opposes subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of abortion is equally wrong [~].

Since we recognize these other things are evil, we must treat abortion with the same gravity.


An intrinsic evil is something which is always wrong by nature and can never be turned into a good act by circumstances or intention. Saying we should create unnecessary exceptions to banning the evil, or refusing to fight it are incompatible with our Catholic calling. Abortion is one of these intrinsic evils, and the proposed “necessary” exceptions and “focusing on other areas” is therefore also incompatible with our Catholic calling. We need to be on our guard not to allow these attitudes to enter our thinking. Otherwise, regardless of our intentions, we are not really pro-life.

True, there are different ideas on how best to fight the evil of abortion. But not fighting it is not an option.


[#] Remember, the three exceptions demanded for abortion are less than 1% of all abortions.

[%] This is the “argument from consequences” fallacy, trying to argue that banning abortion is wrong because of negative consequences. But replace “abortion” with “murder” or “rape.” Is the argument reasonable? No, and using it for abortion is equally unsound.

[§] The relevant text of Gaudium et Spes #51 is:

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. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

[~] While I support the Seamless Garment as properly understood, the problem I have with the late Cardinal Bernadin’s speech on the seamless garment is it can be misunderstood as saying X+Y+Z > abortion. I don’t believe the Cardinal meant that, but people have twisted it to argue exactly that.