Thursday, June 4, 2020

Guilt, Innocence, and Resentment

One thing that annoys people is being lumped into a group that they have nothing in common with and being lectured to as if they held the characteristic being condemned. It’s understandable because that kind of lecturing is part of the fallacy of composition(stereotyping) that runs along these lines: Person A holds an offensive trait. Person A belongs to group X. Therefore, Group X holds the offensive trait. Through that reasoning, Person B, who also belongs to Group X, is assumed to hold that offensive trait. The result is Person B begins to resent the accusation personally, and often discounts the offensiveness of that trait, thinking it is false or exaggerated universally.


The resentful response is understandable, but it is also dangerous. Even if Person B doesn’t hold that offensive trait, that doesn’t mean that the offensive trait doesn’t exist. So, if enough people think like Person B, then blindness to—or downplaying of—the evil emerges. From this reaction, we see the counterreaction that assumes that the whole group must be guilty and anyone who denies they hold that trait is either lying or in denial about their guilt.

This kind of thing becomes a vicious cycle, with people growing more entrenched in their views. Some people reach the point of denying or downplaying the guilt of those who are guilty. Others become bigoted against people in Group X, assuming the guilt is universal§. The result is the actual evil never gets corrected, and each time it comes up, mutual resentments prevent an effective response.

The obvious example of this is the recent killing of George Floyd. There is understandable anger over the behavior and mindset that led to his death. And there is understandable resentment over being accused of that behavior when one doesn’t hold it. But it’s not the only example. We’ve seen this happen in the clerical abuse scandal, and the debates over whether policies on illegal immigration are unjust. In all of them, the evil exists. But some portray the evil as a universal, and some of those who resent the universal accusation denying the existence or the extent of the evil. Because of these, factions become entrenched.

So, what are we to do? Obviously, the evil exists and has to be corrected. Those who resent being lumped in with the ones doing evil can’t deny that. At the same time, not everybody is guilty of that evil, and we must not use rhetoric that accuses everybody for the guilt of some. 

This is where we need to watch out for a second fallacy, the guilt by association fallacy. In this fallacy, the fact that somebody with somebody repugnant who holds a view makes the view itself evil. So, in modern times, the fact that radical movements oppose an evil is often used as a justification for rejecting the opposition of the evil, often confusing the end with the means. In our most recent crisis, some have used the fact that radical groups are violently demonstrating in the protests against racism as a reason to reject the protests themselves. That rejection does not logically follow. Likewise, the fact that anti-Catholics misuse the abuse scandals for their own purposes does not mean that anger over the actual scandals should be ignored. Just because racists make use of the concerns of illegal immigration does not mean there are no valid concerns.

The repugnance we feel against an evil does not excuse us from our moral obligation to speak truthfully and with charity. The anger we feel against being falsely accused does not excuse us from opposing the evil that the false accusation is based on. As Christians, we are not allowed to use calumny or rash judgment against our foes, and we are not allowed to turn a blind eye against evil either. This requires us to look at what is and respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, determining what is true doesn’t fit in well with the mob mentality of an enraged social media site. It’s easy to reject anything that doesn’t fit in with our preferred narrative. We call whatever goes against that narrative, “fake news.” And some of the news is fake. But not everything we dislike is fake, and not everything we like is true. To avoid calumny and rash judgment, we have to determine whether our accusations are just before we repeat them, and we have to make sure our apologetics are true before we share them.

I won’t say that’s all we have to do to solve our problems, because there’s a lot more to it than that. But I imagine if we were aware of this problem and did our best to avoid doing these things, perhaps we would be able to focus more effectively on the actual injustices that need solving.

But if we won’t individually look at our own responses here, we’re only adding to the problems.

_________

(†) This shouldn’t be confused with the Guilt by Association Fallacy (I’ll get into that one later in the article). 

(§) Sometimes we see both sides turn this into “Instead of focusing on THIS, we need to focus on THAT,” where “this” is an issue they don’t care about and “that” is an issue they care about. However, both issues can be important.

(‡) One example is, Hitler used the German people’s desire for security and order (which are legitimate needs) to gain support for his evil plans. The fact that so many went along with that evil serves as a warning to look at the plans put forward. But his evil actions do not make the natural desire for security and order “Hitlerian” by nature.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Opposing Evil Outside and Inside

There's battle lines being drawn

Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

 

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

 

What a field-day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly say, hooray for our side

 

—Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth

 

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a troubling trend. The anger over the George Floyd killing and the anger over the riots were pitted against each other, so that any expression of sympathy or concern was seen as an endorsement of the opposing evil. So, being angry at the killing was seen as an endorsement of the riots, while being angry over the rioting was seen as an endorsement of police racism. Any expression of opposing the extremes on both evils tends to be treated as a “both sides” moral equivalence.


The problem is, there are evils on both sides and each side must oppose the extremists on their own side if we are to see any real reforms. Those who are angered by the killing of Mr. Floyd need to make clear that rioting is not an appropriate response. Those who are angered by the rioting need to make clear that support for the police in general does not mean giving the police carte blanche when an officer does wrong or if a particular police department has an inherent injustice. 

The teaching of the Catholic Church applies to all factions here: “One may never do evil so that good may result from it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1789). That includes turning a blind eye to an evil because we believe in or otherwise benefit from the good. Prudence may dictate how we respond in opposing evil, but we can never ignore the valid concerns of others, even if we cannot accept their response.

The Catholic Church has openly condemned the killing and the racism it forces us to confront—that condemnation even coming from the Pope, who called opposing racism a pro-life issue. But I have seen some Catholics say that the Church should focus on “real” issues instead, while others say that the Church has not “done enough.” I think both of these subgroups are using the murder of Mr. Floyd as a proxy for their battle over ideology, wanting the Church to behave as they think. We should reject both of them as we seek to solve the evils in our country because both are (even if sincere and blind to their errors) focused on partisanship.

I’m not saying that the two evils cancel each other out here, or that the existence of an evil in one group negates the valid concerns that group has. I’m saying this: When we oppose an evil, we need to make sure we do not embrace or tolerate evils in our own group out of expedience or thinking “that’s not as important.” In opposing racism, we must make it clear we also reject evil means of opposing it. In opposing rioting, we must make it clear we also reject the evils that sparked the rioting.

If we won’t do that, we’re not working for justice, but partisanship. And nothing will change as long as we do that.

 

________

(†) For my non-American readers, America doesn’t have a national police force outside of the limited nature of the FBI and the US Marshals. Some of our states don’t even have state police, having only local city or county jurisdictions. So, any reform of “the system” actually means reforming many systems, some better than others, some worse. Problems with police brutality have come from both “Blue” and “Red” states, regardless of which party is in political power at the national level. (As usual, I put the terms in alphabetical order to avoid appearance of bias), so reforming this issue is not going to be simply a matter of “regime change.”

(‡) Please be aware that, by referring to these two subgroups, I am not saying that all people opposed to a certain evil are guilty. Please review THIS if you think that by saying “some,” that I mean all.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

We’ve Been Here Before—And It's Time We Stop

Lest somebody misinterpret what I’m reflecting on in this post, let me first say this:

Whether we call it murder or willful manslaughter (I find it difficult to grasp the nuances of what determines the legal difference when the murder is not premeditated), the death of George Floyd was an unjustifiable act of police brutality that must be condemned. Those involved should be held accountable to the degree they were responsible for the death. When it comes to discussing this, there should be no “but” in our words that negates our condemnation. If there is some sort of regional or national problem that makes his death a “symptom” of a greater problem, we should be looking into what sort of just response needs to be carried out to correct it quickly (as opposed to a meaningless gesture).

FULL STOP.

NOTHING that I say below should be interpreted as trying to downplay that evil.

What I have to say next is not an attempt to defend or explain away any injustice, past present or future. Nor is it a blanket accusation. If you’re not guilty of what I’m about to discuss, then I’m not speaking about you. Only God has knowledge of what’s in your hearts. I do not.

Having issued my statement against that evil act, I find myself dismayed to see once again how the tragedy of the death of this man is—like every other tragedy caused by evil—being exploited by some (not all) people who use it to attack the factions they were already opposed to. 

Let’s face it. We’ve been here before, and every time we arrive, we leave with no changes except a greater divide between us. We have too often seen the unjust killing of a person, followed by rioting, followed by people making excuses for those who unjustly killed or those who unjustly rioted. Under this endless cycle, nothing ever gets done because nobody ever tries to break away from it. In fact, it’s always the fault of the “other side” that an evil happens. 

Think about the noise for a moment. Think about how many times over the years decades you have heard some people say that “if he had only cooperated with the police, this wouldn’t have happened” or “the fact that this happened is because of national racism.” Now think of the silence—the silence over the thing happening when our favored party is in power but was condemned when the other party was in charge. The silence is about as deafening as the noise.

What I’m speaking about here isn’t just a problem with America’s shameful history of minorities being terrorized by bad cops. Whether it’s racist cops and rioting here, or terrorism followed by the mistreatment of migrants all over the world, we will always find people coming up with unjustifiable “justifications” that this is tragic but unavoidable, while that is condemned as a proof of evil by the other side. Often people combine the two. Some ask, “Why are we focusing on this when we don’t get upset by a worse issue?” To argue that way falls into a tu quoque fallacy where the evil of group A that we oppose cancels out the evil of group B that we favor. 

I’m saying that if we want to work for justice, we need to stop making excuses for one side and focusing on the evils of the other. We must look at ourselves too and see if we’re being hypocrites by way of selective outrage. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) tells us that whatever we want others to do to us, we must do to them. If we want others to behave justly towards us, we must behave justly towards them. Because, while people are not very good at seeing their own hypocrisy, they are very good in seeing it in others. So, if we’re outraged at others for turning a blind eye to something, be aware that they’re looking at us in the same way. Both sides look at each other with disgust and nothing gets done.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about speaking out against an evil until we clean up our own mess. Evil must be opposed wherever it rises up, after all. But it does mean that opposing evil is not limited to pointing fingers at the other side. Remember, the “other side” is doing the same thing about us.” If we get angry at them labeling us hypocrites, then let us be sure they have no opportunity to justly do so.

At this point, I figure the reader either understands what I am saying, or wrongly thinks I am siding with one of the factions. So, there’s probably not much more I can say. So, to wrap up, I would say this: regardless of what we do, there will always be some sort of appalling evil we will need to respond to. In facing that evil, we will need to be certain that we scrutinize our own motives and demands for hypocrisy, eliminating when we see it. Otherwise, the other hypocrites will use our hypocrisy to justify their own stance. And nothing will be done.

We’ve been here before too many times already.

And it’s time we stop.

______

 

(†) Regardless of whether they reciprocate.

(‡) Unfortunately, we have the example of the “Original Pro-Life Movement” vs. the “New Pro-Life Movement” continuously falls into this trap, both accusing anyone calling for them to clean up their own house of insisting on this.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Church Authority and its Malcontents

A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions). [Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma pp. 9–10]

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. [Pope Francis, Laudato Si #15]

One of the books I have been going through for my daily studies is Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Written in the 1950s, it classifies different teachings of the Church and theological opinions according to their levels of theological certainty and authority. It’s the kind of work that only a theology geek could wade through and enjoy it. Since I am of that type, I find it fascinating.

One of the developing trends I see in reading it is how certain things that the Church teaches as binding—things that one would be heretical or schismatic to deny—are not de fide definitions. What would make them de fide is the Pope teaching ex cathedra or a definition by an ecumenical council and approved by the Pope. But the fact that a teaching is not de fide does not mean it is not binding.

The difference between an ex cathedra teaching and a teaching of the ordinary magisterium is that the former is irrevocable and irreformable. The latter can be revoked (as in disciplines) and reformed (when the teaching is developed to face new conditions that previous Popes and Councils were not aware of. So, it would be an error to say that because a teaching is not ex cathedra, we can ignore it. Instead, we must say that while a teaching of the ordinary magisterium can be ended or changed, we are bound to it as it stands until the Church does change it. And, once it is changed, we cannot appeal to the earlier version against the current.

I think some critics miss the nuance here. They think that the Church could contradict a past dogma and call a former evil a good. This is where we get the “Pope is going to approve gay marriage” or “Pope is going to approve women priests” nonsense. Those are things that cannot be changed. But things like whether we say the Mass in Latin or the vernacular; whether we have abstinence from meat on Fridays or can substitute it for another penance; whether we ordain unmarried men or include married men; whether we receive the Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand; whether the laity receive the chalice… these are all things that can be changed, and the changes can be revoked if the Church sees it necessary for the good of the Church. 

We cannot argue that a change is “proof” of error on the part of the Church in the past or in the present. I’ve seen some Catholics argue that the change on the discipline in one area shows that the Church can be wrong in another areas. For example, Catholics who try to deny the authority of Humanae Vitae on the grounds that the Church “changed” her teaching on meatless Fridays or on charging interest. They claim that the Church was “wrong” before on meat and interest. Therefore, they think the Church is “wrong” now on contraception and can be disobeyed until the teaching is “changed.”

Anti-Francis Catholics make the same error, assuming that the changes he made in application or discipline are rejections of doctrine, and they can safely ignore these teachings until a future Pope “changes them back.”

The fact that a teaching from the Ordinary Magisterium can be modified is not a justification to refuse obedience or claim that a teaching is in error and therefore not binding. Yes, individual bishops acting apart from the Pope can err. Yes, councils not sanctioned by the Pope can err in trying to teach.  Yes, Popes can be mistaken as private individuals expressing an opinion*.  But when Popes teach, we are bound to give religious submission of intellect and will (cf. canon 752Humani Generis 20 et al.) and we put our trust in God to protect the Church from teaching error.

Nor can we say that the changing or revocation of a past teaching from the ordinary magisterium is “proof” of heresy by the Pope. 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” (see canon 751). Changing what can legitimately be changed is not a denial of the Catholic faith. 

We should keep this in mind when people try to encourage rejection of a Pope’s teachings. When the Pope teaches X in the ordinary magisterium, and a Bishop—or even a Cardinal—says the Pope is wrong, we would do well to remember Canon 1404: “The First See is judged by no one.” Nobody below the Pope has authority over him to judge his teaching. If someone were to try to appeal to an Ecumenical Council against him, they would be wise to remember canon 1372: “A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.” If one wants to cause a groundswell of opposition, they should remember canon 1373: “A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.”


These penalties should serve as an illustration of just how seriously the Church takes the refusal to obey the Pope when he teaches as head of the Church—whether ex cathedra or through the ordinary magisterium—about the Catholic faith. Whatever excuses we might invent that justify our disobedience, they rise from the refusal to accept that authority when it goes against what we think the Church should be. 

But an authentically Catholic understanding of Scripture, or teachings on faith and morals, is subject to the judgment of the Successor of Peter. This authority to judge must not be understood as being contrary to what Jesus taught. If we really believe that Jesus established the Catholic Church and protects it from error, we need to accept the teachings of those who succeed the Apostles: The Pope and the bishops in communion with him because we trust that they are also protected. 

But, if we won’t accept their teachings, and accuse the Pope and bishops of error, the first question we need to ask is whether the real error lies with us, not them.

__________________

 

(†) And, thus, nothing that the critics of Vatican II can ignore.

(‡) What changed was dealing with a new situation: Borrowing for investment instead of for need. Charging interest for things a person needs to survive remains evil. I’m of the view that the “payday loans” do fall under the condemnation of usury. 

(§) The logical error in their argument is False analogy, where they assume that because the Church changed X, she can or must change Y. But if the differences between X and Y are greater than the differences, you can’t say that the same reasoning applies.

(*) All of the “proofs” cited that a Pope can err involve a Pope either behaving badly (not a teaching) or expressing a private opinion (not a teaching). If the Pope isn’t teaching, he can’t teach error.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Have We Forgotten Our First Love?

Reading Scripture this morning, I came across this passage from Revelation 2:1-5 (NABRE).

The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands says this: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The reason this stood out for me this time through the New Testament was how it might tie in to the infighting going on in the Church at this time. With all the focus on the policies of the Church and which faction they benefit, it seems to me that we are in danger of losing our first love of Christ that should be our motivation in dealing with others. Our Lord didn’t give us a church. He gave us The Church under the headship of Peter and his successors. In defending the Church, some treat it as an institution that we either favor if we agree with it, or get angry with if we disagree with it.

But if the Church is God’s gift to us to be the visible means of carrying out His mission, then reducing our participation to fighting over what we want the Church to be is forgetting our first love of God. That doesn’t mean we keep silent when there is a problem in the Church. But it does mean we need to handle these problems in light of our love for God and His for us.

Do we believe that God established what we know of as Christianity? Then let us live it out of love for Him, not as a collection of bylaws for membership. Do we believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ created and continues to protect? Then let us handle our affairs in the Church out of love for The Lord who built it on the rock of Peter, giving all due obedience out of love, not out of reluctance or legalism. If we make known our needs (see canon 212 §3), then let us do so out of love of God and each other as the Greatest Commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) was formulated, and not “The Pope/Cardinal/Bishop/Priest is a jerk and a moron!”

It’s unfortunate that the different factions in the Church seem to think the Greatest Commandments is suspended when dealing with those we think are wrong. For example, I’m unhappy with the anti-Francis attitude in the Church. But I have to constantly remind myself that my dislike for their behavior does not merit treating them contemptuously. Those who dislike the Pope, or those who dislike the “dubia cardinals” and other critics (along with all other factions out there) should remember that treating these people as enemies goes against the One who must be our first love.

Yes, sin is wrong and must be opposed. But we cannot treat sinners as those to be despised. That was the attitude of the Pharisee that our Lord condemned. Jesus taught, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2). We need to remember that if we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments (cf. John 14:15). That means we must look at ourselves and see how we have transgressed. But love and mercy (even when correcting) is part of His commandments. 

No, loving the sinner does not mean calling the sin good. But too many think it does. Both the “conservative” and “liberal” Catholics think the Church calling for moral laxity when it calls for mercy. They merely differ over whether they think it is good or not. But both are wrong. The sins we tolerate—disguising our partisanship as mercy for the sinner—are wrong just as wrong in the eyes of God as the ones we abhor (and show no mercy for the sinner).

So, to regain our First Love that we have lost like the Ephesians, we need to start acting out of love for God and our neighbor and not limiting our compassion to our allies and treating our enemies with evil. 

 

________

(†) One year for Lent, I gave up using sarcasm in my replies on social media. You might think that’s ridiculous (and maybe it is), but it definitely left me thinking about the charity and tone of what I said. It also changed my views of them. The further I go back in my blog history, the more cringeworthy some of my comments seem. So, what I write in this post has a particular relevance to my personal life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Factional Nonsense: A Problem Plaguing American Catholicism

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

There’s been a story going around (soon to be a released documentary) about the late Norma McCorvey—the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade—that she was first the face of pro-abortion and then pro-life because of money. I don’t know if this is true or a matter of convenient editing in response to the fear that abortion might lose its protected status. Indeed, we have contradictory accounts from people who were alleged to have been paying her. If it’s false, she’s not around to defend herself. If it’s true, that might be the origin of the movie Citizen Ruth. But I noticed that the usual suspects in Catholic America swooped in to use this as one more opportunity to demonize their opponents. 

And that’s a problem. Too many American Catholics are seeing this as just one more battleground to advance their political views while pretending they are defending the real meaning of Catholic teaching. I don’t doubt that both of these factions have members who are sincere about the people who they try to help by their cause. But I’m seeing a disturbing number of American Catholics who seem to show more schadenfreude over whatever makes their opponents look bad than concern about people.

American Factional Catholicism tends to be split into two groups: conservatives who think that things they don’t like in the Church are liberal, and liberals who think the things they don’t like in the Church are conservative… often to the point of trying to insist that the Church embrace their politics if they want to be truly in step with God. And they sneer when they do so. We’ll hear that the bishops belong to the other side of the political divide and are partisan in doing so when they speak against the preferred faction. We’ll see accusations that the Catholics from faction A are not truly Catholic because they maliciously support the evil in their faction.

Both of these factions ought to be rejected. The Catholic teaching is not factional, and both of our American factions are at odds with the Church in serious ways. But all too often we see Catholics from these factions think that only the “other side” is political.

It’s time for us to stop putting up with factional nonsense. If we’re inclined to lean towards one faction in determining who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy,” we need to rethink our understanding of the Church. We’re called to evangelize the whole world and reform our own lives in the process. That means being aware of the log in our own eye before we look down on others for the splinter in the eyes of other people. If we’re willing to make excuses for our own faction while condemning Catholics from another faction for doing the same, we are no better than they are. If we demand that everyone obey the Church where we agree and refuse to do so where we disagree, we are no better than they are. And, since we ought to know our obligations, what do we call it if we refuse to do it?

But if we look to overcome the evils in the factions we think are more beneficial and respond in charity to those who belong to factions we oppose, we might find ourselves doing God’s work instead of behaving like factions that pretend to be serving God when they’re really serving themselves.

And if we’re tempted to think that this is a problem only with the “other side,” then we need to start with ourselves.

_______________


(†) The premise of the movie is a satire about pro- and anti-abortion activists battling to use the title character as a symbol for their causes, and using money to bribe Ruth (a grossly irresponsible drug addict of a character), forgetting her humanity. When it came out it was roundly condemned by both sides for playing up the stereotypes of their own side.

(‡) And (as an aside for the non-American reader), unfortunately, in America it is a both. We’re very dualistic, politically.

(∑) To avoid appearances of political bias, I try to sort Conservative-Liberal and Democrat-Republican dichotomies in alphabetical order. I also try to capitalize or leave the compared terms as lowercase consistently as well. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Thoughts on Truth and Sincerely Believed Error

I’ve been encountering a lot more conspiracy theories—though not by choice—on social media lately. The tendency always seems to be based on the taking the facts of a case and giving dubious interpretation to those facts. There might be liars out there who feed this information to those who believe it, but many of them seem sincere in their belief and are shocked if you question their ideas. Because it’s “obvious” to them, they think it should be obvious to everyone.

Of course, we can all think of examples among certain groups of people. The anti-Francis Catholics and the like immediately come to my mind. Others might immediately think of the COVID-19 deniers. But it goes way back. I don’t doubt that the people who believe Jack Chick tracts or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion get equally shocked by our disbelief, thinking their bizarre ideas are true. 

But other falsehoods are given more widespread credibility. I’ve seen people allege Christian conspiracies against whatever sinful behavior gets transformed into a “minority.” So, our objections to certain behaviors—especially by those who work at Catholic schools and can cause public scandal—is often treated as a sort of conspiracy to discriminate. Our teaching on contraception and abortion becomes a “war on women.” These are just as dubious as the rest of the conspiracy theories, but they are repeated and believed by many more than the wingnuts of society that we’re alarmed by.

In all of these cases, we have people who feel threatened by a certain Church teaching or government policy. They cannot perceive any other reason for that action than hostility to what they hold. That results in a belief that hostility towards X must be the cause for the position. It’s true we do need to beware of extremists and factional media who believe that legitimate policies or teachings are malicious. But we also need to beware of the mainstream media leading others to think this way about causes they simply disagree with.

Ultimately, we must scrutinize whatever we hear. Just because what we hear goes along with what we want to be true doesn’t make it so. Yes, our enemies can do evil, but so can our allies. And our allies can cause harm with good intention, but so can our enemies.

We cannot assume the worst of our enemies while being silent on the wrongs of our allies. Truth and charity are obligations for the Catholic. If we want others to speak truthfully and charitably about us (even if they’re sincere in believing their errors), we have an obligation to speak truthfully and charitably about others (even if we are sincere about believing our errors). That’s the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and it applies to us even if others do not respond in kind. God will judge those who bear false witness against us, and He will judge us if we bear false against others.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Truth, Whether Convenient or Not

As we in the United States continue the lunacy that we call the election season, I notice a certain problem—where we see many people willing to make excuses for the factions that they support in a crisis but assume the worst possible motives for the factions they oppose. That’s not to say that the factions are equally valid of course. It’s quite possible to have one faction be correct on an issue and a second be wrong. But it overlooks the possibility of people being sincere in their error, or that the difference is one of policy, not of right and wrong.

This is a behavior which Catholics cannot condone. While sometimes we might have the right to conceal a truth rightly held in confidence, we’re never permitted to spread a falsehood to benefit our friends or harm our foes. This means we need to consider the reliability and biases of our sources before repeating what we hear. Regardless what we think of Trump, Pelosi, or Ocasio-Cortez, we don’t have the right to accuse them of things we don’t know are true, even if we rightly oppose what they stand for or against.

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of news going around with the COVID-19, where people are willing to accuse Trump of crimes against humanity for wanting to end the quarantine, or accusing the Democrats of creating a dictatorship for wanting to continue it. But these accusations strike me as wanting to denigrate the opponent when there is an election at stake, not as an accurate criticism of the actual policy.

In short, we’re seeing people replace a search for truth with propaganda. And as long as we’re willing to hear the propaganda we want to hear while deriding the truth we don’t want to hear as “fake news” we are likely overlook injustice as long as it suits us… and then turn around and get angry for the other faction using those precedents we set against us. That’s the recipe for an unjust society.

A just society requires us to determine whether a claim made is true or not, and reaching a conclusion that addresses the truth we don’t want to hear. For example, what are we to make of the coronavirus quarantine when we don’t have good numbers on how virulent it is or whether our policies are “flattening the curve” as the popular saying goes? We see people in some countries lifting the quarantines and we want to know why we’re still having restrictions. Whether someone is “reckless” for wanting to lift the quarantine or “totalitarian” for wanting to be more cautious depends on the truth of how dangerous or benign the coronavirus is. Our preference for one party or another doesn’t allow us to “shade” the truth to our favor.

Regardless of our political preferences, we have an obligation to make sure that our defenses for our faction or accusations against the opposing faction are truth.  If they’re not truth, we must not use them. If we’re not sure if they’re true, we must not present them as if they are true. We must not rely on the mindset of “I wouldn’t put it past him/her.”  Anti-Catholics have come up with all sorts of slanders against us based on that way of thinking. And since we must not do unto others what we do not want them to do to us, assuming guilt based on what we think someone is capable of is rash judgment.

In saying this, I’m not advocating the misuse of Matthew 7:1 where people think not judging means “let them do whatever they want.” I mean we must not assume guilt without actual evidence of guilt, nor assume motive without proof that this is the actual motive. 

Some people might protest, saying “we’ll never prove anything that way!” But these people should realize how they sound when they say that. This is saying that suspicion is good enough to convict when this is exactly what Our Lord condemns when He says not to judge. Our conspiracy theories—no, not only nuts follow them—are not proof of wrongdoing.

That doesn’t mean passivity in the face of wrongdoing. But it does mean that we must avoid begging the question where the “proof” we used to justify our accusations depend entirely on the accusation being true in the first place.

Yes, our politicians seem to be a disreputable bunch nowadays. But that in itself is not proof of wrongdoing. And even if one is guilty of wrongdoing, we must not impute the motives that are based on how we see their character. We must determine the truth before judging… even if nobody else does, because we profess to be Christians, and the God we know, love, and serve forbids us to do otherwise.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Practicing What We Preach: The Problem of Catholics and Toleration of Evil

Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

While it’s easy to forget it with all the other turmoil going around, the United States will have an election in November. Many Catholics have already decided how they will vote. Both sides justify that decision by pointing out the evils on the other side. They inevitably will say that the stakes are “too high” to do anything but vote the way they were going to vote anyway.

Catholics on both sides will use identical arguments, merely choosing a different “non-negotiable” issue that disqualifies the other side, and condemning the other side for refusing to think like them… even though they think identically in terms of arguments used in justifying themselves. In other words, for many Catholics, the elections involve who they plan to vote against, and whoever votes in a way opposed to how they plan to vote is condemned as willfully standing on the side of evil.

And God help the bishops when they speak out on an evil that one of the parties embrace. Catholics of that party invariably attack their bishops as being partisans for the other party. If the bishops speak out on abortion and the defense of marriage, they’re called “The Republican Party at Prayer” (an attack used in the 2008 and 2016 elections) or accused of being “played” by Trump. If they speak out against the treatment of migrants and the support for torture, or for military action that violate the teaching on Just War, they are accused of being Democrats. In 2016, the bishops were accused by Catholics on both sides of belonging to the other side. 

While I have been aware of this behavior for as long as I have taken my Catholic faith seriously (I’m sure it’s been going on far longer than that), what I seldom see is Catholics taking a serious look at the state of their preferred political party in light of the teachings of the Catholic Faith. While Catholics might ask the other side how they can possibly justify a vote based on their violation of teaching X, they usually deny or downplay the importance of the teaching that their party rejects.

But, if we are called to be the Salt of the Earth, and the Light of the World (cf. Matthew 5:13-16), then we must work to make the Christian message known to the world, not only by our words, but by our actions. If we want the world to see the Christian message as truth and not as another political position, we need to judge the political parties by our Catholic Faith, and not the Catholic Faith by our political parties. That means that, even if we decide that Issue X is more immediately dangerous than Issue Y, this does not absolve us from holding our party accountable for supporting Issue Y and fighting to change the policy.

If we will not do this. We should keep in mind, Our Lord’s words in Matthew 7:3-5.

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. 

If we want to avoid judgment from The Lord, we must remember that whatever standard we hold Catholics in the other party to, we must hold ourselves to the same standard. If we want Catholics in the other party to stop tolerating evil, we must stop tolerating it in our own. Otherwise, we will be opening the Church to charges of hypocrisy by those outside the Church who see our individual double standards and assume the whole Church is guilty. In fact, we risk causing scandal by letting others think that what we do justifies their own actions. Since God warned us about scandals and millstones (Matthew 18:6-7), we can be certain that if we cause others to justify their own inaction, we will certainly be called to answer for it.

None of this should be seen as justifying a relativistic “vote for whoever you want.” I do believe that certain positions should be a disqualification. What I am calling for is that we practice what we preach. If we are so outraged that Catholics of the “other party” are tolerating a great evil, then let us look at what our own party supports and stop making excuses for our inaction. If we want the “other side” to start challenging wrong in their party, then let’s do the same.

_____________


(†) Readers from outside the United States, who often have a large number of political parties, need to keep in mind that the majority of Americans are divided into two major parties and a number of inconsequential parties that only get noticed when the electorate views both with disgust. But then most of them vote for one or the other anyway.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hatred as a Response to Mercy

At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them—in this case the Pope—he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint. (Benedict XVI. Letter of March 10, 2009)

Benedict XVI wrote these words in response to the backlash over the lifting of excommunication of the four illicit bishops of the SSPX and a call to reconcile them back into the Church. I recall the controversy of the time. In the now defunct Xanga version of my blog, I had written that while I personally had misgivings over the decision, I recognized his right to make this decision under his authority to govern the governing of the Church.

Recently re-encountering this letter, I was struck by the similarities between the message of mercy Benedict XVI had for the members of the SSPX who were (and, sadly, still are) at odds with the Church, and the message of mercy Pope Francis has for those at odds with the Church (like the divorced and remarried). But people seem to favor the outreach to one, but not to the other. In both cases, we have people willing to point out the wrongdoing on those unrepentant in the group and say that the Pope is in favor of their wrongdoing… otherwise he would never have opened the door to mercy. And, of course, it is easy to see the fault in the other side’s mercy while downplaying the problems that inevitably crop up with the mercy shown to a faction that we have empathy for.

Perhaps we should consider this when we look at those at odds with the Church. Whatever they have done, God desires our salvation, and calls on the Church to be His ordinary means to bring His salvation to the world. While we cannot force others at odds with the Church to accept that salvation, we must never tire of trying to be God’s coworkers for the truth (cf. 3 John 1:8), no matter what we think of the actions that have put them at odds with God and His Church… even if they should think that their wrong is “right.”

Yes, I hate how certain Catholics misrepresent the Pope through ignorance or malice. I also deplore how certain people misrepresent his words to lobby for “changes” that are incompatible with Church teaching. But I can’t treat them hatefully, even if I should speak against them forcefully.  Wherever I have failed in this, I must reconsider my attitude.

This isn’t a matter of factions. This is about making certain we do not fall into rash judgment or mercilessness in dealing with those at odds with the Church. We are called to be merciful to each other, forgiving seventy times seven because God is merciful to us, and if we will not be merciful, we cannot expect it from God (cf. Matthew 18:21-35).

Pope Francis warns against a Pelagian mindset in dealing with others. In Gaudete et Exsultate, he says:

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.”

 And in the footnotes, he points to Evangelii Gaudium #94 where he writes:

A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

This is something that happens across the factions within the Church. Catholics in America frequently classify what is reallyCatholic according to their personal preferences, to the point that you can identify the political views of the Catholic doing the judging. But we cannot write people off because their positions err. The task is to help them understand why their position is in error and help them to find the truth taught by the Church—not to compel them to embrace the political contrary of their position.

If we forget our role as individual Catholics and as members of the Catholic Church as a whole, we’ll be missing the point of our calling. We’re not called to play “goalies” keeping undesirables away from the Church. We’re called to play medics in a field hospital, bringing them to know Christ and why it is important to change our ways to follow Him. People tend to do a poor job detecting their own hypocrisy, but do a good job seeing it in others. So, if there is hypocrisy in our own behavior, rest assured others will see it and recognize that we’re not doing unto others what we would have them do to us or those we sympathize with.

This is why Benedict XVI’s words should be heeded. There are some people who hold things we abhor. We might want them to leave—or be thrown out of—the Church, and we might be scandalized when the Pope reaches out to them. But he’s doing what he must as the Vicar of Christ, and if we condemn him for doing so, we’re merely displaying our hatred of our foes, not our fidelity to the Church’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

 

(†) The reader will have to decide how well or how badly I have done on this.

(‡) The disputes between the so-called “Original Pro-Life Movement” and the “New Pro-Life Movement” sometimes tends to say more about the party affiliation that the members subscribe to than their knowledge of the moral obligations which they often downplay when it’s inconvenient.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Government is not God: Wanting the State to Do What Only God Can Do

When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone for me to cure him of leprosy? (1 Kings 5:7a)

More: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it? (Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons)

Everybody wants the quarantine to be over. As it drags on, more people are getting more forceful in insisting the government end it. Others seem perfectly willing to declare that if only the Government had done X or if we had elected Y, we wouldn’t be in this state. Both of these groups seem to be forgetting that governments do not have power over disease. The best a government can do is implement policies in response that justly protect the common good.

The people protesting the quarantine seem to be forgetting is that the necessity of the quarantine depends on the reality behind the coronavirus. Both sides partially grasp this: If the threat remains high, ending the quarantine does not serve the common good. But if the threat is low, strict quarantines do not serve the common good.

Likewise, the arguments over what the government should have done in preparation, or what candidate should have been elected does not serve the public good. Regardless of what should have been done to reduce the impact, it’s clear that governments by themselves could not have spared us from the existence of the pandemic. Countries with both more and less government than the United States have been impacted by the coronavirus, and—regardless of what role you might think government should play in health care—countries with one form of government or economic system were not spared the pandemic compared to another.

That’s because governments are made up of human beings and human beings are finite in both knowledge and power. Even when served by competent people of good will, it is not guaranteed that they will be able to respond as needed. 

Government is not God. It cannot perform miracles. It can only respond to the crises as they emerge, trying to limit the threat as they become aware of it. We can pray to God to deliver us and to provide insight to scientists and leaders so they might find cures and more ways to mitigate the harm. But the debates over when to end the quarantine or who would have prevented the pandemic from beginning is to confuse Government with God.

Until we remember that fact, there will continue to be a lot of wasted debate over things that are actually uncontrollable. 

__________


(†) Personally, I have no way of knowing whether the COVID-19 virus will be curable or not. I certainly pray that it is.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Subalterns and Church Teaching

In logic, there is a term called subaltern. The concept behind it is, if a universal is true, then the partial is also true by default. So, if the premise, “All dogs are white” is true, then the subaltern premise “some dogs are white” must also be true. However, the reverse is not always true. So, we cannot draw from the fact that “some dogs are white” the conclusion that “all dogs are white.” In other words, if the universal is true, the specific must also be true. But just because the specific is true, doesn’t mean the universal is true.

Unfortunately, some in the Church confuse universal and specific premises. Some think that a universal teaching is merely a localized one. Others think that a localized evil is proof of a universal corruption. For example, some Catholics seem perfectly willing to treat the universal obligation to oppose abortion as a merely limited one and justify voting for pro-abortion politicians as a result. Or we could look at the Catholics who deny the authority of Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si while claiming to follow the binding authority of the truth: They’re ignoring the fact that if the universal (the Church must be obeyed when she teaches) is true, then the subaltern (a specific teaching of the Church) must also be obeyed.

Other Catholics assume that the fact of some corruption in the Church is proof of a universal corruption. The latter case is the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition errs in assuming that what is true in a part is true of the whole. An obvious and ridiculous illustration would be: Each brick in this wall weighs 2 lbs. Therefore, the wall weighs 2 lbs. But a less obvious error might be: Every element of this software works. Therefore, the software works. Maybe, but just because the parts work, doesn’t mean the combined product will work as an integrated whole. So, in terms of the Church, the fact that some Churchmen embrace corruption does not mean the Church—as a whole—embraces corruption.

What the concept of subalterns means is we need to be clear on what level the truth is on, and drawing the conclusion based on that level, neither denying the conclusions nor exaggerating them. If the truth is a universal the specific applications of the truth are also true. If the truth is a specific, then the conclusions drawn are also on the specific level.

Or, to give an example, if we are bound to obey the Pope when he teaches (and we are: canon 752) then we are bound to obey his specific teaching. But just because there is a problem at a local level cannot be used to indict the whole of actively participating in and supporting the problem.

___________________

(†) The counterpart, the fallacy of division, is a misapplication of the subaltern. It assumes that a universal proposition also follows in the parts (as a subaltern premise does do). But it confuses concrete objects with concepts. So, for example, it might argue that because a sports team is the best in the league, each individual member must also be the best in the league. But it might mean that some members are permanently on the bench, or that the team is better coordinated than other teams who might have better scorers but think “There may be no I in team, but there is a ME.”

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Confusing Contraries and Contradictories: How It Leads to Error

Let a people then, Catholic or not, be in ignorance of doctrine—let them be a practical busy people, full of their secular matters—let them have no keen analytical view of the principles which govern them, yet they will be spontaneously attracted by those principles, and irritated by their contraries so, as they can be attracted or irritated by no other. Their own principles or their contraries, when once sounded in their ears, thrill through them with a vibration, pleasant or painful, with sweet harmony or with grating discord; under which they cannot rest quiet; but relieve their feelings by gestures and cries, and startings to and fro, and expressions of sympathy or antipathy towards others, and at length by combination, and party, and vigorous action.

—John Henry Newman, Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church (London: Burns & Lambert, 1850), 49–50.

When one encounters Church teaching or discipline that goes against what an individual thinks should be so, it is easy for them to conclude that the thing they dislike is wrong, treating it as endorsing the polar opposite of their own position, asking “How can the Church support that?”. 

For example, it’s commonly believed that, in the 1832 encyclical Mirari Vos, Pope Gregory XVI condemned “freedom of conscience” and the freedom to publish. From that, he—and the Catholic Church—was portrayed as being an enemy of freedom

This is to confuse contraries and contradictories. A contrary would be the direct opposite of a statement. So, if you were to say “No men are named Johnson,” and I disagreed, you would be wrong to allege that I said “all men are named Johnson.” My disagreement would be a contradictory: Not all men are named Johnson. Contraries are “All vs. None.” Contradictories are “All vs. Not all.”


Understanding this, we can see what Gregory XVI was actually condemning was not all applications of freedom of conscience. He was speaking against an indifferentism that held that there can be no moral absolutes and the state should not insist on any absolutes. He was actually right, as the de-evolution of America shows us and our nation embraces things that would have seemed bizarre only 20 years ago. 

A similar error is made today. If someone dares to speak out and say that morals and values were better years ago, somebody will invariably bring up our nation’s shameful legacy of racism and segregation, claiming that the concern over morals is a rejection of all progress… which is why the non sequitur of “racism” gets thrown around when that was never the topic to begin with.

Unfortunately, the current critics of the Church and the Pope have fallen into this error. They have a certain conception of the Church. But, when the Pope tells them that their misunderstanding of the teaching is wrong, they assume that the Pope is saying that the teaching itself is wrong and he endorses the contrary. So, the Pope speaking out against the abuses in unfettered capitalism (as his predecessors had done since the time of Leo XIII) is transformed into support of the polar opposite of capitalism. Thus, we see risible claims that the Pope is a socialist.

Likewise, the Pope speaking out against the abuse of the Earth in Laudato Si, is transformed into a paganistic eco-extremism. His pointing out in Amoris Laetitia that confessors should make certain that all the conditions of mortal sin are present before denying communion to the divorced and remarried is transformed into “anybody can go and receive communion.”

But claiming that the Pope supports the contrary to their position is rash judgment at best, calumny at worst. His statements are contradictories to error. Against the claim that unfettered capitalism is good, he says that not everything about capitalism is good, and we must change that which is morally wrong. When speaking on the environment, he does not call the neo-pagan environmentalism good. He calls certain attitudes as incompatible with how we must treat the Earth. He doesn’t say that anybody who feels called should receive communion. He says that confessors should work to getting the divorced and remarried reconciled to the Church… which may include the sacraments if all the conditions of mortal sin are not present.

Once we understand this, we can see the web of falsehoods that ensnare the anti-Francis Catholics. They wrongly assume their interpretation is true, and the Pope’s correction means he supports the view they see as the antithesis of their own ideas. 

Until they recognize this error, they are liable to remain blind and persist in the false belief that he is teaching error and causing confusion. The danger is, they are—I assume unwittingly—reaching the same false conclusions that others did when they rejected and broke with the Church. If they do not change their attitude of rejection, they could very easily wind up separated from the Church while thinking it is the Church that fell into “error.”

_______________ 

 

(†) It’s commonly claimed he called freedom of conscience an “insanity,” but that seems to be a translation issue as no text I’ve ever seen uses it (or “madness”). 

(‡) We should be aware of the fact, however, that some of the values of the past were held more out of a sense of “we’ve always done that,” than out of a moral understanding why we should live that way. So, as societies rejected the past abuses, it also eliminated the past truths because they didn’t understand why X was wrong or Y was right. Any attempt to restore past values would have to understand and change that failing.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The “Guides” We Must Not Follow: Putting Personal Opinion Above Church Teaching

Today, on social media, I saw somebody had posted a link from an anti-Francis Catholic arguing that the SSPX was formed canonically. Apparently, the individual was trying to argue that it had been unlawfully suppressed by the bishop in question. I don’t think this link is particularly dangerous. It’s posted from someone I didn’t take too seriously even before the pontificate of Pope Francis. But things like this serve as a reminder that some people actually believe that their personal interpretations of Church teaching outrank the decrees of Popes and bishops.

Adding to the tragedy, these Catholics seem to take pleasure in trying to argue that the Catholic Church is becoming “Protestantunder Pope Francis. They use the term “Protestant” as an epithet, but seem unaware that the rejection of the teachings of Pope and bishops in favor of their own interpretation is the behavior of men like Luther and Calvin.

Luther and Calvin also insisted on their interpretations of Scripture, Church Fathers, and Councils to justify their own views, attacking everything that stood firmly against them as “unbiblical.” It’s a No True Scotsman fallacy where everything cited against their position is seen as “error.”

Once we recognize this, we have to choose: We either recognize that when the Pope intends to teach—even in the ordinary magisterium—we’re bound to obey, or we’re no different from any other dissenter, regardless of our motive. So, if we have a difficulty, we are bound to look at this and ask How did I go wrong, not declare The Church went wrong! But that’s precisely what the critics don’t do.

I think the modern Catholic critics who love to use the term “Protestant” as an epithet have drawn the wrong conclusions from Church History at that time. The main problem was not so much the novelties of those teachings by the founders of Protestantism (though they were wrong) as it was refusing to look to the Church for confirmation and correction.

“But wait,” the anti-Francis Catholic might say. “These aren’t my ideas. They’re the magisterial writings of the past!” To which I would respond, “No. They’re your interpretations of those past writings. The Pope and bishops determine whether or not your interpretation is accurate.*” Clergy and members of the laity can offer their insights of course. But in the end, the Pope is the one who determines if an interpretation is authentic.

The fact of the matter is, the concept of Protection from Error is not to be understood in a Pelagian concept where it depends on the character of the man who is Pope. It is the trust in God to protect His Church. God protects the Church from wicked men or clueless men who might occupy the See of Peter. If The man in the Papacy is morally or intellectually bad (I deny Pope Francis is either), this protection from error might be a negative act—preventing such a man from teaching at all. 

The difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary (aka ex cathedra) magisterium is not a measure of quality. Rather it defines the nature of the teaching: The former can be further developed depending on the needs and circumstances, while the latter is something that draws a line where the Church cannot cross. For example, the Immaculate Conception is an ex cathedra teaching that draws a line: Any attempt to argue that Mary was an ordinary sinful woman cannot ever hope to call their interpretation Catholic. However, in the ordinary magisterium, while wrong is wrong, it may be changed as we discover different things. For example, while contraception is always morally wrong, the Church may have to reach a decision on whether or not a new technique that regulates births is morally acceptable or not#.

That’s the difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium. Both must be obeyed, but the former can be further refined as time goes on. The change of discipline falls under the Ordinary Magisterium. Whether we use the vernacular or not; whether we ordain married men or not; whether we give the chalice to the laity or not, these are all disciplines that the Church can change if they think the change is necessary. If they should do so, we are obliged to give religious submission of intellect and will to the decision, not to obey or not as we choose.

The modern dissenters should consider this well: If they think that they are faithful Catholics, then let them remember that obedience to the teachings made by the Pope and bishops of this time are just as required as to past teachings. If one thinks there is a “break” in teaching where the Pope “errs,” the presumption of error is to be placed on the critic’s interpretation, not on the official teaching of a Pope.

Once we realize this, we can realize that there is no “confusion” caused by the Pope. But there is a lot of confusion caused by those who claim to know the Catholic faith better than the Pope.

____________

(†) It is troubling that, for several anti-Francis Catholics, all roads seem to eventually lead to EcĂ´ne, even if that particular individual defended past Popes from the SSPX.

(‡) Actual Protestants I have encountered find the claim that Pope Francis, the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and Vatican II are “Protestant” to be risible.

(*) All the heresies and schisms in the history of the Church could have been avoided if the ones who fell into these things had listened to the Church instead of think that the Church had gone wrong.

(#) The 1960s discussion of the Birth Control Pill was never—in the eyes of the Church—about whether contraception could be made “good.” The question was whether the Pill (which did not use previous barrier methods) was contraception or not. Once it became clear that the pill was contraceptive, the Church had to reject its use.