Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On The Catholic Church and Sinners In Her Ranks

On occasion I get sent a link of some scandalous action done by some individual within the Church.  Some sister from an out of control order openly states heresy or holds an grossly inappropriate job in the secular world.  The question I get from the (rightly) scandalized person is "Why doesn't the Church do anything?"

I think such a question is a valid one of course.  What I think is invalid is when the scandalized person uses the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent.

The structure of such a fallacy is:

  1. If A then B
  2. B
  3. Therefore A

This can be put into the usual challenge of:

  1. If the Church approves of Sister Mary Heretic, they will not discipline her
  2. They are not disciplining her
  3. Therefore the Church approves of what she does

This is not a logical conclusion however.  It is like saying if Bill lives in Los Angeles he lives in California.  He lives in California.  Therefore he lives in Los Angeles.  Just because one condition is met does not mean all do.

So why does the Church not act in the cases of some public scandals?

There can be some reasons to explain this, and no, not all of them are flattering to the shepherd of the local Church.

First of all, we do need to remember some of the teachings of Jesus:

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt 13:47ff)

Also from Matt. 13:24-30

24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

We have in these parables, Jesus speaking of His Church.  There are good and bad fish in them, wheat and weeds.  Quite frankly we cannot expect to have a Church which is free of bad men, because Our Lord told us to expect it.

Ultimately we need to realize that those who do live in a way contrary to Christ will have to answer for it.

We also need to remember that not all bad actions are from malice.  One can delay from over cautiousness for example, or one misunderstanding the situation, or using bad judgment.  Or one can simply be a bad administrator, or deceived by underlings.  These are not things we want to see in a priest or a bishop of course, but these things do indeed happen, and these are things where wrong actions can be done without malice or intending to condone the wrongdoing.

This is not saying we must condone the acts of wrongdoing in the Church.  We do need to keep expressing our concerns, though we must do so in a charitable manner.  There are sinners in the Church and we do need to pray for them that they may have a change of heart.  There are some shepherds in the Church who are by action or inaction allowing some harm to the Church, and we do need to pray for them that they might be shepherds who follow the example of their masters.  That those who do not understand, might gain understanding; that those who are deceived might be shown the deception, that those who used bad judgment might gain wisdom and so on.

But let us not fall into a false despair that the Church is in danger of collapsing as a whole.  We know Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the world and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

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