Friday, October 31, 2014

TFTD: Wasn't this supposed to be a PARODY originally?

Two years ago, The Onion published the article "Supreme Court Overturns 'Right v. Wrong’.” It was supposed to be a parody of bad judicial decisions. But with recent rulings and what it lets stand in the lower courts, it seems that the Supreme Court has rejected the concept of the obligation to do what is right with the concept that restrictions on behavior are bad.

What we have seems to be that the person who feels obligated to do what is right can be fired, sued or prosecuted by people who equate doing what is right with violating the rights of people who think that is a hindrance to their behavior.

Also, as a side note, it’s curious how the justices listed in the article as defending “right” turned out the ones who seem to be defending “wrong” currently.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Talk on Schism

The drumbeat of media commentators talking about the danger of schism within the Catholic Church seems to be a popular theme. The latest comes from The Guardian writer, Andrew Brown. His article, "A Catholic church schism under Pope Francis isn’t out of the question,” takes the theme of Ross Douthat and expands on the idea of a conservative schism. He writes:

Until this weekend, I had largely believed in the liberal narrative which holds that Pope Francis’s reforms of the Catholic church are unstoppable. But the conservative backlash has been so fierce and so far-reaching that for the first time a split looks a real, if distant, possibility.

One leading conservative, the Australian Cardinal George Pell, published over the weekend a homily he had prepared for the traditional Latin mass at which he started ruminating on papal authority. Pope Francis, he said, was the 266th pope, “and history has seen 37 false or antipopes”.

Why mention them, except to raise the possibility that Francis might turn out to be the 38th false pope, rather than the 266th real one?

This is a fascinating nudge in the direction of an established strain of conservative fringe belief: that liberalising popes are not in fact real popes, but imposters, sent by the devil. The explanation has an attractively deranged logic: if the pope is always right, as traditionalists would like to believe, and if this particular pope is clearly wrong, as traditionalists also believe, then obviously this pope is not the real pope. Splinter groups have held this view ever since the liberalising papacy of Pope John XXIII at the start of the 1960s. I don’t think that’s what Pell meant, but it was odd and threatening to bring the subject up at all.

The other warning of schism, though veiled in regret, came from the conservative American journalist Ross Douthat, who wrote on Sunday that “[Conservative Catholics] might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.”

I believe Brown has a faulty understanding on the workings of the Church—his misunderstanding of what an antipope is leads to a misinterpretation of Cardinal Pell’s words. If one reads the full text of Cardinal Pell’s words, it is clear that the cardinal is not speaking of questioning the legitimacy of Pope Francis. It is a homily on the papacy and how it survived many controversies. Cardinal Pell doesn’t question the legitimacy of the Pope. Rather, he is assuring the faithful who are deeply troubled by the media coverage of the synod that the Church has never fallen into error and never will..

(An antipope, by the way, is a person established as pope in opposition to one canonically chosen. So, Pope Francis couldn’t be an antipope because he was canonically chosen. The idea of labeling a Pope an antipope nowadays is a way to seek giving legitimacy to conservative dissent among the fringes).

But, let’s talk about the dangers of schism. That’s not the same as having a political dispute. That’s a denial that the truth is found in the Church, and a belief that the faction of the Church knows better than those that Our Lord gave His authority to.

Think about it. We Catholics profess our belief that Jesus is God, and that He gave the Church authority to teach in His name. He gave her the power to bind and loose. He promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. He promised that He would be with the Church always until the end of the age. With these promises, we can take one of three positions:

  1. We can have faith that the Church will not teach error in matters of salvation because we have faith in Jesus (The Catholic position).
  2. We can deny that the Church properly interpreted those promises (This would be the position of the Protestants and Orthodox).
  3. We can deny that Jesus had the power/will to keep those promises (The position of non-Christians).

The problem is, positions #2 and #3 are not Catholic positions, and to hold either of them is to deny an element of the Catholic Faith. So, why should we look at a Catholic who publicly denies the first position as an example of being a faithful Catholic? After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that among the sins against faith are:

2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

So when people are claiming that the Church is going to fall into error and that the Pope is teaching dangerous things, it is a serious matter indeed. But people are playing with fire here. Taking the premise that the Church is going to change Church teaching as true, people are deceived into thinking that their own private judgments are closer to the truth than that of the Pope when he teaches.

Usually, when I encounter this online, I ask the person which council declared him or her infallible—because that is effectively what they are claiming for themselves. I think any reader who thinks this way should also ask themselves this question. The point is, you are not and I am not infallible. We can fall into error of misinterpreting the teaching of the Church. In fact, the point is we are supposed to look to the magisterium of the Church for guidance. It’s hard to do that when we’re making ourselves the judge of the Church teaching and teachers.

Historically, schism has come when a group of Catholics have decided that the Church under the leadership of the Pope no longer (or never did) possesses binding authority. The history of the Church is full of schismatics who thought the Pope was too “lenient” on Church teaching. The Church had antipopes because some people decided they didn’t like the results about the Pope who was chosen, and thought they had the authority to name a different one.

Those two are the extremes of course. But the devil doesn’t need to use extremes to lead people to hell. All he needs to do is to get people to put their will first, and follow the Church only if it agrees with what they wish to believe. They can remain within the Church of course. But once they think of themselves as the judges of the Church, they become too proud to be taught. Anything they hear that is contrary to what they decide is right immediately becomes suspect. 

If the devil can get people to do that, it doesn’t matter whether they formally break in schism—they’ve already denied Christ’s promises.

Faith in Christ doesn’t mean that we accept everything the hippy-dip promoter of the Spirit of Vatican II people proclaim. But it means that when the Pope teaches on a matter involving salvation, it means he is not going to teach error.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Conservative Op-Ed Writer and the Precipice

I came across a rather bizarre article in the New York Times about the Church. That in itself is not too unusual for that paper. What made it even stranger was the advocacy of disobedience by conservative Catholics. In "The Pope and the Precipice,” we see conservative columnist Ross Douthat opine that the Pope is supporting change on the Church teaching on sexuality and the votes on the final relatio was intended as a rebuke of the Pope . . . and perhaps it should be.

He writes the following:

Francis is charismatic, popular, widely beloved. He has, until this point, faced strong criticism only from the church’s traditionalist fringe, and managed to unite most Catholics in admiration for his ministry. There are ways that he can shape the church without calling doctrine into question, and avenues he can explore (annulment reform, in particular) that would bring more people back to the sacraments without a crisis. He can be, as he clearly wishes to be, a progressive pope, a pope of social justice — and he does not have to break the church to do it.

But if he seems to be choosing the more dangerous path — if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy, if he seems to be stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change — then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.

They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.

Mr. Douthat would have us believe that the Pope really believes the Church teaching must change:

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.


Yes, Francis has taken no formal position on the issues currently in play. But all his moves point in a pro-change direction — and it simply defies belief that men appointed by the pope would have proposed departures on controversial issues without a sense that Francis would approve.

 He believes that the Pope can err unless opposed, and he fears a schism can occur if the Pope changes the teaching (see HERE)

I think his understanding of God’s role in all of this seems to be a defective one. If the Pope changes a teaching in such a way that it says that a sin is not a sin, or that public sinners may receive the Eucharist, this is a matter involving salvation—if the Pope teaches wrongly in this matter, it is something that will endanger the souls of many. If the Pope could do that, we could never trust a teaching of the Church. We could never know when the Church taught error and could never be sure we could trust a teaching.

But if this be true, then either the Catholic Church has misunderstood the meaning of Christ’s promises or it means Christ could not keep His promises. Either way, the Church teaching on same sex attraction would be the least of our worries because it means the Church already has taught gravely serious error.

So this is the precipice Mr. Douthat is standing in front of. He’s convinced that the Pope will choose wrongly unless he is challenged. Once you take that step it’s a long way down, because it makes you the arbiter of right and wrong and the judge of the Church. That way lies the dissension, rebellion and schism that he fears. Basically it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on from wanting to avoid it.

But I believe Mr. Douthat grossly misreads the intent of Pope Francis. He is not a “hippy-dip” liberal. He has a record of writings and actions which show he has spent his time defending the Church teaching.

If you read what he has to say, in context, we see that he has always defended the Church teaching from those who would change things. Consider four years ago, (three years before he became Pope), then Cardinal Bergoglio took a stand leading the Church in Argentina against the attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. The article cites him as saying:

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

These are not the words of a man who supports a change in Church teaching.

Mr. Douthat’s problem is not that he’s a false Catholic. I won’t accuse him of being a heretic or a schismatic. He seems very sincere in his faith, wanting to be obedient to the Church. The problem is that he sees things in one possible way, and that way is the belief that Pope Francis is what the liberals claim him to be.

As for myself, I don’t fear the catastrophes he does, and this is for two reasons:

  1. I believe that Jesus Christ is still watching over His Church (which is found in communion with the successor of St. Peter) and will not permit her to teach error.
  2. I believe Pope Francis loves God and loves the Church and is determined to be a good servant of Christ.

Because of that, I cannot accept his thesis. There may be a schism if certain Catholics are deceived into trusting their own wisdom over Christ’s and believe that the Church will teach error. But this won’t be the Pope’s fault. This will be the fault of those who lost their faith in Christ, and see the Church as a battleground of factions.

So, I keep praying for the Pope every day, and trust in God to give him the needed grace to serve faithfully.

Forget the role of Our Lord and Savior, and you put yourself on a precipice . . . the only way to avoid a fall is to get off the ledge.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Compassion, Misdirected: The Dangers of Losing Sight of What is True

Ted Olson, a conservative, is known because he changed his views from supporting traditional marriage to favoring so called “same sex marriage.” In the article, "Ted Olson: 'Point of no return' on gay marriage passed,” he tells us that his position is one of compassion and motivated by the hardships it would cause. Unfortunately, his position is logically flawed and based on a desire to help those in a way that cannot be justified.

Compassion, Misdirected

Ted Olson said:

"I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed," he said in an interview on Capital Download. "To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered."

The article also cites him as saying:

Waiting for the process in lower courts to open the door to gay marriage in all 50 states "would not be good enough because it's not now," Olson said on USA TODAY's weekly video newsmaker series. "When will that happen? And how much misery and how much suffering do individuals in this country have to experience before that happens?"

I find his argument rather dubious to say the least. It starts with begging the question, that it was right for these judges to suddenly decide that it was a violation of civil rights to limit marriage between one man and one woman . . . in all this time, there has never been an argument that doesn’t start from assuming that opposition is rooted in intolerance (which is the point to be proven). 

Moreover, to argue that,

  1. judicial decrees that same-sex relationships can be called marriage are invoked, and
  2. reversing the decisions by the Supreme Court would cause “suffering”, therefore,
  3. The Supreme Court needs to back these rulings to decree same-sex relationships can be called “marriage”
is also to argue in a circle that begins and ends with judicial decrees that assume, but do not prove, that same-sex relationships can be called marriage.

There is another problem here: when judicial activism which makes a bad decision, people will of course be affected when they rush to take advantage of the change and then find out that the judge was wrong. But that is not the issue to be considered. Invoking the “suffering” caused if the Supreme Court were to reverse the decision is to employ the Red Herring fallacy. Assessing the laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman needs to be based on the nature of marriage and whether a judge has the right to change it, not irrelevant appeals to who is affected—slave owners were affected by the abolition of slavery, but nobody would think that fact was relevant to the question of whether people should own slaves in the first place. 

Finally, that Red Herring also uses the appeal to pity fallacy in his argument. The fact that the overturning of judicial abuse might cause pain to people given false hope is not a valid reason to allow a judicial ruling to stand if it is an abuse of power. If the issue is whether or not a judge did wrong, the fact that some benefitted by the judge’s wrongdoing is not a good reason for letting the wrongdoing stand.

Justice Depends on Truth

The solution, however, is not to reach a false conclusion on account of having compassion for those who are suffering and wanting to prevent it. I’m sure Olson is sincere. But his sincerity needs to be based on the truth of the matter, and that truth is to be found in recognizing what is the nature of marriage, and not allowing people to redefine marriage in such a way which goes against the truth of what marriage is.

So those who want to argue that marriage should be redefined have to establish a definition explaining their position and answering the objections—and calling those who object “homophobes” is not an explanation of their position. It’s an ad hominem.

We have to keep the truth in mind when showing compassion—that’s not always easy, but it is important. There’s no doubt that people with same sex attraction feel the same need for love that people with heterosexual attraction have. But the problem is, not all desires for love and not all sexual impulses are proper expressions of love. Most people, for example, realize that sexual affection between an adult and a child is always wrong, and no matter what the feelings the people involved may have, we cannot sanction such relationships that are wrong. So, we have to find solutions which address what is true, and provide guidance for those living in falsehood. In this example, the truth will not permit a sexual relationship between an adult and a child, and this example serves to show why we cannot redefine marriage just because some people are affected by this line that cannot be crossed.

I believe that’s what Pope Francis is really looking for with the extraordinary synod just past and the upcoming ordinary synod of next year. How do we reach out with compassion to those in conflict with what is right? He’s been on record in pointing out that what the modern world calls marriage is not marriage (the media can’t spin this one so this gets ignored). He certainly wants to help people in relationships which are contrary to what God wants, but recognizing that the truth requires people to live as God wants, he cannot redefine marriage and tell them that a lie is true.


Olson’s arguments are not addressing the truth of the matter. They are focussing on how unhappy some will be if the laws redefining same sex marriage are overturned. But truth comes first. Man cannot live a lie. Trying to make a lie into the truth to protect people from being unhappy is compassion misdirected.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

TFTD: Don't Judge People You Judgmental @#$%&*#!!!


Reading the comments in response to Facebook articles, I came across one raging individual who was launching a tirade against the Church in response to an address given by Pope Francis on the topic of marriage. I found it rather sad, in a pitiful way. She was raging about how God didn’t care about same sex relationships and the Church had no right to judge people choosing to take part in such acts. Besides, the Bible had more to say about different topics besides that! (So which is it? God doesn’t care? Or that He just has higher priorities?)

I find that curious. This person has basically put herself in a no-win situation.

  1. If God exists (which seems to be a given since the woman said He didn’t care and caring depends on existing), and has made known how He wants us to live, then it stands to reason that someone so concerned about what He thinks would follow His teaching, after discerning what He taught.
  2. If God exists, and has not made known how He wants us to live, then how in the hell do you know He doesn’t care?

So, for this woman to prove her point, she has to assume that God has made known how He wants us to live, and has indicated He doesn’t care about sexual preferences. No such statement from God exists, though we do have many condemnations of same sex behavior in both the Old and New Testament. Jesus Himself defined marriage as being between a woman and a man:

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matt 19:4–6).

So, this woman has to deny the authority of Scripture when it comes to the verses she dislikes.

But I suspect the woman was probably given a false idea of Jesus as a Santa Claus who just loves people in a warm fuzzy way and never asks them to change their ways because sin is only what other people do. Also, I suspect that she equates “judge” with “say something is wrong.” But the judging Jesus is speaking of is the final judgment. God has the sole authority to determine how each person has sought to learn what is right and then carry it out to the best of his or her knowledge and ability

The second point of interest is that the teaching of Jesus, in the Bible, tells us that He intends to build a Church which He gives His authority and to reject the Church is to reject Him. If this is true, then the Church certainly does have the authority to determine what acts are compatible with being a Christian and which ones are not. That brings us back to the no-win situation above. If God makes His will known, then she needs to either accept the words of Christ as they appear in the Bible or provide an authoritative source as to why it is wrong. If He doesn’t, how in the hell does she know?

Again, the Santa Claus image of Jesus makes her think that God couldn’t say that what she does is wrong.

Really, this kind of mindset is a form of pride. It says "other people are sinners but *I* am not!” But Jesus came to save us because we are sinners and we are called to repent. If we refuse to repent, we refuse His sacrifice on the Cross. So the person who denies their sinfulness and refuses to ask whether they do wrong won’t be able to repent.

So the Church isn’t being judgmental. She’s more like the person with the sign saying, “Danger! Bridge Out Ahead!” Ignore the warning, and it won’t go well with you. Not because the Church is “mean.” But because God is loving and just. Justice requires that people who choose to do what they know is wrong answer for it.

Thoughts on (Lack of) Separation of Church and State in Modern America



One of the more bizarre behaviors of people who say they support a total separation of Church and State is that they seem either ignorant or indifferent to the fact that it is a perversion of both the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers at the time.

Then, the concern was to prevent the state from encroaching on the churches the way it had been done in Europe and the early days of the 13 Colonies, where the government could pass laws to hinder religions (often Catholics) and compel people to support religions they did not believe were right. For example, Catholics could be fined for refusing to attend the Anglican Church, and in England it was a death sentence to be a Catholic Priest. In some of the colonies, priests were banned. At that time, religions favored by the colonies, like England, were supported by taxes, where refusal to pay would result in legal sanctions.

So, when looking at that context, it becomes clear as to why the Constitution defines religious freedom as one of the freedoms of expression in the First Amendment—one which lists areas the government is forbidden to interfere with. The churches were to be free to do what they believed they were morally obligated to do, with no coercion by tax or by government law.

But, by the fact that it is listed with the rest of the Freedoms (Speech, Press, assembly, petition over grievances), it shows that this amendment was never intended to be interpreted as restricting religion from having a role in the public life of the citizens. People who speak, write, assemble and petition the government have values based on their religious beliefs, and there is no reason for thinking they cannot do these things with a religious motive.

The Modern Government View is a Perversion

But the way government operates today, what we have is a perversion of the original intent. The government is imposing laws and taxes that demand that schools and hospitals affiliated with a religious denomination fund things that they find offensive. The contraception mandate was a major red flag. Now the current attack is in defining same-sex relationships as “marriage” and, with increasing aggression, is insisting that these institutions affiliated with churches accept them as marriages as well—even though they run afoul of what the churches think they must do.

At the same time, the state increasingly legislates in matters long held to be issues of morality, and when the churches assert their rights to teach on these issues, they are accused of violating the “wall of Church and State.” Ultimately what this means is the churches will have a diminishing range of things it can talk about, while the state will have an increasing range of things it can legislate in regards to religion.

Just imagine if the government approached the rest of the First Amendment freedoms in this way. What if they said that while individuals had freedom of speech, groups did not? Think that’s ridiculous? Think again. In term of religion, the government is trying to argue that the business run by a person does not have “religious freedom” so, even though the owner thinks X is a sin, the state can decree that the business must support X.

Basically, the courts and the current administration is assuming that no laws based on religious values can be binding in law. The practical result of this is that the only values which laws can be based on are secular values. But that’s preferential treatment for a certain philosophy which is often hostile to religion. In insisting on laws being based de facto on making a law respecting an establishment of religion (or, the philosophy which denies a place to religion), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (by preventing individuals with religious beliefs from living all aspects of their life free of government diktat.

Now compare this to what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786 in the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

The man who coined the term “wall of separation” expected that the freedom of religion would prevent any person from having their civil capabilities impaired—which includes running a business.

The Catholic Concept of Religious Freedom

Now, compare the current mess America is in with what the Catholic Church said in the Vatican II Document Dignitatis humanae:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.


The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.


It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

This is a very reasonable stance to take. It prevents coercion from individuals and groups, public or private with the intent of forcing a person to act in a manner contrary to their belief. That means the government can’t force individuals or groups to do what is contrary to their beliefs—and neither can mobs of public opinion (as they did with Brendan Eich—his religious freedom was violated and the government failed in protecting it).

The main difference between the Church view of religious freedom and the American distortion is that the Church recognizes that the freedom of religion comes with the responsibility to seek out and follow the truth (DH #3):

3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.


Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.


Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

This is also crucial. We have to be free to speak the truth if people are going to be able to live in accordance with it. It recognizes that people have to accept the truth personally, and not have someone else discover it and then force you to do what you think is wrong.

But, when the government rules that God’s law may not be taught in places where anyone objects to hearing something they might disagree with, and that laws proposed by shared religious belief are labeled unconstitutional, we have a government which is claiming it knows the truth and is compelling people with religious beliefs to deny what they believe is true and give assent to the government decision.

Opposing a Lobotomized or Double Standard View on the “Separation of Church and State"

That’s why the modern version of the “wall of separation” is asinine. In claiming laws, which are formed from people with a shared religious understanding of right and wrong, are unconstitutional, they deny people the right to exercise their civil capacities to promote what is right, while at the same time, people with a non-religious or anti-religious view have no similar handicap. That’s a de facto intrusion by the government in saying they have the authority to determine what is right or wrong—and they have decided that religion is wrong.


So here’s something to consider. If a person believes in a strict separation of Church and State, why do they permit the State to violate that wall? Why is it OK for the state to say, “you must do this in spite of your religious teaching,” when no Founding Father ever intended the 1st Amendment to be understood this way? Surely a person who holds this with the intent of keeping the Church from having any influence on the State must recognize that it cuts both ways, and see that the State can have no influence on the Church either . . . which creates a lobotomized country.

But both the concept of the lobotomized country and the concept of the wall of separation going one way create a country unable to seek out the truth. All a government has to do to silence something it dislikes is to label it “religious.” Just keep in mind that many of those opposing slavery and segregation did so out of “religious motives.” If the government thought then like it does today, they could have negated laws outlawing both on the grounds they were “religious” and therefore a violation of the “establishment clause."

The only sane way for religious freedom to work is to recognize that all people (including politicians) have the obligation to seek out and follow the truth, and the churches do have the authority and obligation to speak out on what is right. A majority of voters can use their religious beliefs as a motivation in voting for laws—while being careful to respect the rights of religious minorities who disagree. At the same time, the state has the responsibility to promote the public good. As DH #7 puts it:

7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.


Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.


These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.

An Example on How Freedom of Religion Can Work

Some try to offer up the challenge of, “But if what if people want to impose sharia law?” Given such an imposition would have no respect for the people who do not believe Islam is true or for Muslims who choose to leave their faith, such an imposition would be contrary to religious freedom and thus be part of the state’s responsibility to defend against abuses. 

But, even though we recognize that sharia is contrary to religious freedom, that doesn’t permit the government to crack down on Islamic practices that don’t violate the freedom of religion. For those Muslims who choose to follow their beliefs without coercion, they should be free to follow the beliefs that they believe to be right. Likewise Catholic or Jewish beliefs. If believers can convince enough people that their view on what should be a law is a good one, people can vote for it, ensuring that it doesn’t force others to do that which they think is evil.


When one looks at the Catholic beliefs—actual beliefs, not what people wrongly think they are—one can see that they are not forcing their views on others who are unwilling to follow them. When she teaches on the fact that the unborn fetus is a living person, and convinces people that this is truth, the laws that result are not forcing people to do what they think is evil. When the Church teaches that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman and convinces people that this is the truth, they are not violating people’s rights when laws are passed on the basis of this truth. (See Here and Here for an analysis on why the “civil rights” arguments are false).

But, when the state tries to force a business run by a Catholic or an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church to do something that goes against Catholic teaching, that is violating their religious rights not to something they think is evil.

The truth of the matter is this: What we have in America today is a perversion of the concept of freedom. So long as the government continues to think this way, it will continue to be violating our constitutional rights.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

TFTD: Funny How They Want it Both Ways...

In the article, "Apology for student who says teacher questioned his refusal to stand during pledge,” we see an interesting thing. An eleven year old atheist refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance because of the phrase “Under God.” In addition, news stories report that a banner in the classroom which read, “Prayer Changes Things,” is going to be removed. It is acknowledged that he doesn’t have to stand because the pledge is a violation of his beliefs.

But isn’t it funny that when an atheist encounters something he or she does not want to do, everyone has to respect his or her rights, but when a Christian encounters something he or she finds offensive, there is no right to opt out (which is the religious oppression by the Obama administration in a nutshell).

Basically, this is a mindset that says atheism and non-Christian beliefs have the right to refuse having anything to do with Christian beliefs, but the reverse is not true. That’s the whole reason for the current kulturkampf in America. People can tell Christianity it has to change to accommodate non-Christians, but you can’t tell non-Christians that they have to accommodate the Christians. When the non-Christians demand equal time with Christians, that’s considered OK, but when the Christians demand equal time with the non-Christians, that’s a violation of the establishment clause.

I’m not particularly offended by the antics of an 11 year old atheist. He’s young and one prays he finds the truth later in life. But let’s cut the crap on saying it’s being neutral when the country says we have to accommodate a non-believer and when the country refuses to accommodate a believer. There is a difference between believers practicing their faith in public and giving into demands of non-believers to put up countering professions as a means of saying, “We reject this!” I don’t object when a non-Christian group wants to publicly commemorate their beliefs in public, and I won’t interfere or demand that a Christian display be set up right next to it. But treat us the same way.

Otherwise, what you have isn’t justice . . . it’s arbitrariness.

Friday, October 24, 2014

TFTD: The Silly Season

I had an article passed on to me: "Catholic university launches pagan student club.” It’s got some Catholics upset—or more precisely, some Catholics who have stumbled across this obscure article. Basically, some students applied to have a recognized student club for paganism at a Catholic college. Called the Indigenous Faith Religions Alliance (it was called the Loyola Pagan Student Alliance until the college objected), it describes itself as seeking:

to unify Pagan, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!

. . . and Wiccans, apparently . . .

Now I don’t feel so much offended by the fact that non-Christian religions can get a support group on campus—Catholics in non-Catholic universities have the Newman Center for example. What strikes me as annoying about it is this isn’t so much a club where members of a non-Christian religion can find like minded people to hang out with. It’s the fact that these people don’t seem to have anything in common except being dabblers in esoteric groups. It sounds more like your typical middle class kids wanting to be different and dabbling in what they think sounds exotic.

Personally, I wonder what actual practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, etc. actually think about people who want to play at being mystics without actually embracing the whole of the belief. Are serious members of these religions willing to embrace the idea of ABC (Anything But Christianity)? The article doesn’t go into details as to what sort of people join this kind of group, and aside from the one article, there’s not a whole lot to go by.

Of course Loyola doesn’t help matters by how they respond. Yes, dialogue with non-Christian religions is better than inter religious strife. But when a college representative says things like:

“At Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education,” he told The College Fix. “We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.”

Student organizations are not required to identify with the religious views of the university, he added.

It’s going to cause confusion. I suspect it isn’t intended this way, but the statement comes across like “one religion is as good as another.” I mean, in a Catholic university, we recognize that education is a means to a goal—finding and living according to the truth. If Catholicism is true, those things which contradict it are logically false. Failing to recognize this is to miss the point.

It’s not a scandal that non-Christians want a club that recognizes their own beliefs. But the college shouldn’t pat itself on the back and present it as if it were a great thing in itself. As the old saying goes, “don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Just present it as an element of the Church teaching on tolerating non-Christian religions and be done with it. 

Personally, I tend to agree with one of the comments on the article which speculated that it was disgruntled 20-somethings disgruntled by their parents’ practice of Christianity and using the time in college to rebel.

I figure it’s not a “The Sky is Falling!” moment. It’s just an opportunity to pray that such people, whether dabblers or sincere, be brought to know the truth of Christ.

The Tactics of Redefinition Leads to the Abuse of Law

A few months ago, people were arguing that a religious  freedom was for individuals, not for businesses. Now, definitions have changed again, and a couple who run a marriage chapel according to their religious beliefs are being told to perform same-sex “weddings” or face penalties of 180 days in jail and $1000 in fines for each day they refuse to perform these services. (For refusing to perform one service for one year, that’s 180 years and being fined $365,000 . . . murderers don’t face those penalties).

The argument is that this chapel is not a church but is "considered a place of [public?] accommodation” and therefore subject to the ordinance.

Now a place of accommodation is considered to include:

A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the ADA's title III requirements for public accommodations.

So, basically this is assuming that because a wedding chapel, which approaches marriage from a Christian perspective, serves the public, it cannot refuse performing same-sex ceremonies. This is essentially a use of redefining in order to change the meaning of the law to the benefit of one group and the detriment of another group.

That’s the common practice in America today. When it comes to religious freedom, the government practice is to define the law or court ruling in such a way that they can exclude as many as possible from the exercising of these rights if the exercise of religious freedom goes against the preference of the lawmaker or the judge.

Religious freedom belongs to the Bill of Rights as something the individual possesses independently of what the government bestows—the government simply has no right to infringe on them. The First Amendment essentially enables the freedom to do what one feels morally obligated to do. It’s not a laundry list of separate and unrelated rights. It’s a case of of forbidding the government from coercing people to do that which they believe is immoral to do. The amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So according to this, the State cannot:

  1. Restrict one’s right of peacefully living in accord with one’s religious beliefs.
  2. Restrict one’s right to peacefully speak or write to promote what one believes is good and oppose what is evil—openly.
  3. Restrict one’s right to peacefully assemble with people who share one’s beliefs.
  4. Restrict one’s right to peacefully change the government through legal means when we believe it is going in the wrong direction.

But the government and groups allied with it have been restricting these rights by trying to limit the influence of religion in the following ways:

  1. Denying the freedom of religion from applying to all aspects of the life of the person who adheres to it.
  2. Bullying people from speaking out on what is right.
  3. Limiting what kind of groups that assemble can practice religious freedom—for example, denying places of businesses can be run according to religious beliefs of the owners.
  4. Negating laws supported by a majority of citizens on the grounds that it has a “religious motivation.”

These tactics pervert the First Amendment by making the government the judge of which religious values are legitimate concerns, when the whole point of the First Amendment was to prevent the government from behaving in this way. The government being able to restrict whether a person or group may be free to hold to a belief others may dislike is a dangerous one. The Nazi and Communist regimes are obvious examples of a government forbidding anything deemed to be against their interests. But other restrictions by less extreme regimes differ only by degree because the government is still demanding authority over the religion one believes to be right.

Thus the government declares that a university or hospital affiliated with a Church may not refuse to supply coverage of contraception and abortifacient drugs even though the Church believes the use of these things is wrong. It decrees that a wedding chapel, run by Christians according to religious values, may not refuse to officiate over a relationship the owners believe cannot even be a marriage. It says laws passed by a majority of citizens affirming that marriage is a relationship that only can exist between one man and one woman, or laws acknowledging that the unborn child is a human being are not valid because the shared beliefs of the voters is deemed “religious.” (Genetic Fallacy).

The defense currently popular with the government and its allies is to equate these things with historical “discrimination.” For example, laws against contraception and abortion are considered “discriminating” against women. Laws defining marriage as existing only between one man and one woman are labelled as discriminating against people with same sex attraction. The assumption is supposed to be proven, but the fact is people assume it is proof. (Begging the Question Fallacy).

Ultimately, what the government does is to constantly redefine things in order to place something they dislike under the categories of “discrimination,” “establishment clause,” or “equal protection clause” in order to prevent them from being enforced.

What was once recognized as freedom under the First Amendment is now called “discrimination.” This is not because we have become more enlightened (begging the question again), but because it is a convenient way to negate a law the government dislikes without using the legal process to change a law.

Another tactic is the slippery slope fallacy. It is alleged that without the government and the courts overseeing religion, we’re opening the doors for the rise of sharia law or human sacrifice. But that’s asinine. The American concept of the freedom of religion has never recognized the right of a religion to actively harm another person. Nor have the advocates of religious freedom ever advocated such a thing. Catholic bishops condemn abortion—but they also condemn the murder of the abortionist.

Scare tactics like that make no sense. It’s wrong for Person A from Religion B to murder another person, so it’s wrong for person A to oppose contraception and abortion?

If anything, it’s government that is behaving in a coercive way. Imposing support for anti-Christian values against the will of the Christian citizen is merely a bloodless version of something like ISIS is doing in the Middle East. Go along or be targeted—by law or by bullying in our case. I don’t use this image insensitive of the suffering of the Middle East. Rather I am pointing out that, regardless of whether one uses law or terror to impose a position, one is actively forcing believers to do what they believe is wrong (which is quite different from forcing everybody to do what a religion wants). It is a violation of religious freedom

So ultimately, we have to beware the government because the government changes the meaning of words (fallacy of redefining). When it changes the definitions of words and legal terms, such as “religious freedom” and “marriage,” it does so to vilify the opponent or to promote its own agenda. The danger is, when we allow the government to do such things, it can easily change anything it wants. The only defense is to hold it to the true definition every time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TFTD: Have We Lost the Will To Fight?


As the shouting fades out on the Catholic blogs, I look at the complaints against the Pope and the synod and find myself wondering—when did we stop being members of the Church Militant and start becoming members of the Church Whining? I mean we have had saints who have had to fight real heresies, real laxness, real abuses—all of which had lasted longer than the life of the saint. Sometimes they had to pay for them with their lives. But they always had to work hard without ceasing in combating error and promoting the truth.

But today? A leaked unofficial document from a small group of the synod, the media misrepresentation of said document, and people are complaining that the Church will never be able to undo the damage, that Pope Francis has lost his chance to win over conservatives, that he will no longer be able to lead the Church effectively.

So, are we going to just throw in the towel? Concede the battleground to the enemy? Blame the Pope?

If our forefathers in the faith had behaved this way, there would be nothing but heresy out there today.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of lies told about the Church that never go away. The concept of the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition . . . and let’s not forget the modern falsehoods: The so-called “Silence of Pius XII” or the sexual abuse scandal etc. Does that mean we should blame the Pope and bishops for the ignorance of others? Should we complain because we’re undergoing hostility?

To behave like this is to abandon the fight, leaving the Magisterium isolated.

If we’re going to be like our forefathers in faith, we have to realize there will always be an “all hands on deck” situation where we are called to be the witness to the Church where we are in the world.

Maybe we should consider the possibility that the reason error seems to be running so rampant is not because the Pope dropped the ball, but rather that we have dropped that ball. That we’re expecting a perfect world without the toil.

That’s not reasonable. Christ gave all of us a mission to spread the good news. That’s not just the people off in Darkest Africa. That’s also the de-christianized here as well. The “Nones” and the “not practicing” are the fastest growing group in the country. Why are we blaming the bishops when it may be our job to reach out to them?

Instead of bewailing the media distorting the teaching of the synod and blaming the Pope and bishops, why not consider helping them out?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Law and Reality: The Problems With Trying to Redefine Marriage.

Obama’s recent statement that he believes making same sex relationships into marriage in all 50 states is a troubling one. Such a statement assumes that reality can be changed by decree. This mindset doesn’t look at the reality of what marriage is and attempt to demonstrate that a same sex relationship can fit in with the reality of what marriage is. Instead, it seeks to redefine marriage to such an extent that same sex relationships can be fit into this distorted definition.

In logic, we call that the redefinition fallacy.  It’s unethical to change the understanding of what a thing is in order to make your position look better or an opponent’s position worse (the term “homophobia” is another example of this—changing the definition of the defense of traditional marriage to make it sound like bigotry).

The problem with the approach is this: Seeking to redefine marriage to suit one’s convenience does not change the reality of what marriage is. If the law does not reflect reality, it is nothing more than the vision of one who is out of touch with reality and imposed by force. We’ve seen that all too often in the ideological dictatorships of the 20th century.

One example of this can be found in the attempt to link the defense of traditional marriage with the racial segregation laws in America. It argues that segregation forbade interracial marriage and traditional marriage forbids same sex “marriage.” Therefore the defense of marriage = segregation.

But the truth is just the opposite. Laws saying one ethnicity is inferior to another is an imposition by force of something that does not correspond to reality. The nature of a human person is not greater or lesser because of the color of his or her skin.

But, the meaning of marriage is altered by trying to redefine it to deny that the complementarity of genders is essential to marriage. So trying to equate the defense of marriage with segregation is a weak analogy fallacy. The meaning of marriage is not changed by the marriage of a black man and a white woman (or vice versa), but it is changed by the attempts to redefine it as existing between two men, two women, multiple partners, etc.

Colored drinking fountain

Likewise, there are no “Straight” and “Gay” drinking fountains. States are not attempting to prevent people with same sex attraction from voting or moving into certain neighborhoods. People with same sex attraction do not have to sit at the back of the bus or have to deal with “Straights only” restaurants. The only restriction that exists has nothing to do with thinking others are inferior and have to be kept separate. The laws defending marriage are simply saying:

“Marriage is possible only between one man and one woman in a mutually entered life long relationship which is open to the possibility of children. Any other combination is simply not a marriage no matter what you try to call it.

That’s why Obama’s invoking the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment is an irrelevant appeal. The defense of marriage is not the restriction of anybody's rights.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Pope vs. Pharisaism?


Why did Christ come to this world? Was it to praise the people who followed the rules and condemn those who didn’t? Or was it to save the lost? It’s pretty clear to anyone who reads the Bible that it was the second choice. But when Jesus did so, the Pharisees objected to his close association with sinners—they assumed that associating with sinners meant he was either ignorant of their sins or didn’t care what they did.

Sometimes it seems we’ve learned nothing from this. Pope Francis sets out following the lead of his Master, to bring the lost sheep back to Christ. But some Catholics are offended that he reaches out to sinners instead of condemning them.

I don’t believe it is a case of Pope Francis teaching differently than St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. I think it is a case of some Catholics having lost sight of Christ’s mission and thinking it is enough to speak out against sin. What’s they’re not considering is what the Pope is considering . . . asking, “How do we reach out to these sinners and lead them to salvation?"

I also don’t believe that the actions and teachings of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI are different than those of Pope Francis. I think that rather Pope Francis scandalizes because he does the modern equivalent of eating with the sinners, and we have forgotten that Jesus scandalized in the same way. We need to remember that all three popes called on us to act on the teachings of the Church.

One of the problems I saw with the synod was the reaction to Cardinal Kasper. A lot of ink/pixels were spilled over his ideas—ideas I believe are incompatible with the teaching of the Church. The problem some people made was this: Just because Cardinal Kasper had a wrong idea on what to do with those people in same sex relationships or invalid marriages does not mean there is no right solution. But we have to be clear on what the right solution to the problem is.

Cardinal Kasper’s problem was that he saw the solution as admitting a certain number of divorced and invalidly remarried Catholics to the Eucharist even though they did not end that relationship. One can’t have absolution without a firm purpose of amendment. But some others at the synod, in my opinion, lost sight of the issue as well because they they didn’t provide a suggestion at all. They assumed the solution was to restate the fact that certain things are sinful and can never be accepted by the Church.

That’s very true. But while Cardinal Kasper’s ideas fall into error by wanting to do something the Church cannot do, others seem to fall into the problem of forgetting that it’s not enough to say “X” is a sin. We also need to decide what to do about the people who fell into sin.

That was the whole point of why Pope Francis called the synod in the first place. He wanted to explore how the Church could help bring these people to salvation while being true to Christ. But Christ never compromised on the truth, and neither did the Pope.

So we should not attack the Pope for following the example of Christ. We should be supportive in finding ways to do this in keeping with our Catholic faith. Otherwise, we’re not working with Christ, we’re acting like Pharisees.

Monday, October 20, 2014

TFTD: The President's Problem


In the New York Times article, President Obama Evolves on Gay Marriage, Again, Obama is quoted as saying, “Ultimately, I think the Equal Protection Clause does guarantee same-sex marriage in all fifty states."

The Equal Protection Clause is found in the 14th Amendment, and reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There are two problems with his thinking.

The first is, the traditional view of marriage is not something implemented like the “Jim Crow” laws of the South with the intention of preventing people with same sex attraction from exercising their rights under the law. It was recognized, even in societies that did not disapprove of homosexual acts, the understanding of marriage was that of one man and one woman in a relationship intended for the raising of a family. Laws passed to defend that understanding of marriage were not depriving people of a right to marry. It merely insisted on defining the common understanding of marriage in the face of judicial activism.

So these laws defending the traditional marriage are not restricting. They’re merely defining the law in the face of the argument from silence fallacy used by judges (the law doesn’t specifically say between a man and a woman so it must be OK!) in abuse of logic and law—clarifying what was originally meant from a lawyer or judge who abuses the system.

The second problem is, we can apply a reductio ad absurdum to his argument. If forbidding a certain type of sexuality from being practiced with public sanction is a violation of equal protection, then any other law which forbids other sexualities from being practiced also violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. That means that the State can have no say in passing laws forbidding incest between consenting partners, polygamy, bestiality (we don’t require people to get permission to get milk, meat or wool from farm animals, so why require them to get permission for sexual activity?), necrophilia (if an unborn child doesn’t have rights, neither do dead people) or pedophilia (hey, it was practiced in ancient Greece).

All of those sexual behaviors are considered offensive, so I’ll cut off the list here. Curiously, if one mentions these, activists for same sex couples get outraged that people are “equating” these behaviors with same sex relationships. But that’s the point. These advocates recognize there is a line they will not go beyond. So the question remains, why draw the line here and not there

The thing is, once you remove family from the equation of what marriage means, you no longer have any lines to draw. Someone who tolerates more than you will want the law to permit something you do not think it should.

So the President has a flawed view of things. He thinks a law is discriminatory if it defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and he thinks that it is not discriminatory if it forbids other things. Basically he’s saying that, in his opinion, there’s nothing with calling same sex relationships, “marriage."

But he has no logical or rational justification for doing so. He can only use the law like a club to force acceptance . . . which is another fallacy.

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

The mood one sets in a conversation or a piece of writing can affect the mindset of others, even if they don’t agree with the argument made. I can understand that. After a string of articles being published on the general theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy for that kind of negativism to affect others. I’ve seen it happen that some people I encountered look at the synod as, “We have to pray so that the errors proposed don’t become a change of teaching."

On the other hand, it can also impact people who think Pope Francis is doing a good job. After reading a large number of articles on the theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy to begin looking at the complaints as if the Church is full of malcontents who are leading many astray. For example, with the realization that much of what I predicted a month ago did actually happen, my response was to write a very bitter and negative article about those who blogged in such a way. (Don’t worry. I killed it and it won’t see the light of day).

What this personal experience, of becoming what I hated, did was it brought to my mind the dangers of negative approaches to things. Obviously, we should never downplay problems in the Church. But we shouldn’t be so overwhelmed with the negative side so that we see nothing but doom and despair. I have seen that a lot in my years on Catholic forums and blogging. There are a lot of people out there who take in all these negative reports and actually believe that the Church has never been in a worse spot than now when it comes to fighting error. (Try taking that up with 2000 years of Christians who encountered far worse)

The thing is, Pope Francis is not a bad Pope. The synod didn’t recommend error. We are not in the worst situation in Catholic history. But if a person believes it, it is likely that this person is going to look at the words of the Pope or the bishops in a negative light and assume they are the ones who are responsible for the dissent among some Catholics. We can get ourselves worked into such a frenzy that anyone who says otherwise is considered naive.

I would ask the bloggers out there (as if any of them actually heard of this blog) to consider their attitudes and words when it comes to writing and speaking out. We’re supposed to be bringing the good news to everyone . . . and we’re supposed to help those in error to the truth. If the media is leading people to think, “The Church is changing her teaching,” then our job is to disabuse them of that notion. Let’s not be dismayed when people missed the point and keep repeating these things. How many times have we had to deal with gross misrepresentations of the Church? How many times have we run into the same error made by different people? Yeah, it’s frustrating, and we sometimes wish that we didn’t have to deal with explaining the Crusades or the Inquisitions again and again and AGAIN. But instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. We need to explain the truth in response to a falsehood, even when we get weary of it.

Certainly we need to stop thinking that if only the Pope and bishops taught better, we wouldn’t be having these problems. If that were true, then that means the saints who combatted Arianism must have been even more incompetent than the current batch of clergy. That heresy lasted hundreds of years and was believed by a majority of Christians. The saints didn’t bitch about things and how bad the Church was. They rolled up their sleeves and combatted the heresy in communion with the Pope—not in judgment of him.

Yes, there are Catholics who promote bad ideas out there, and yes they need to be opposed. But let’s not exaggerate the situation and act as if our defeat is assured because we can’t see any other possibilities.


Remember the character of Denethor in the Lord of the Rings books (or, if you must, the movies). Based on what he saw (through a corrupted palantir) and what he thought he knew, he assumed all was lost. He thought Gandalf was a fool for counseling otherwise. But he was wrong about what he saw, and could not be persuaded against suicide (the movie completely botched the incident).

Remembering this, we should consider the limits of our own knowledge, the source of the knowledge, and whether or not what we see is actually accurate or whether we have been overwhelmed by a negative interpretation that actually distorts reality. We should also consider whether our own negative attitudes might affect others who look up to us as knowledgable.

Remember too the fact that the Church is not a society like a secular government. We believe we have God protecting the Church from error. Individuals might fall into error over what the Church teaches, but the Church herself will never teach error.

So let’s not be the nattering nabobs of negativism preaching woe when there is no woe. Let’s have faith in God to protect His Church and let us continue to refute the distortions . . . they will never go away (like the distortions of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the sex abuse scandals etc. never went away despite years and even centuries of refuting these distortions).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflection on Interpretation and Misinterpretation

One common gripe against the Pope and against Church documents is that they are not as clear as they should be. They use language which can have more than one interpretation. Some Catholics are worried over the people who will choose (deliberately or not) the wrong interpretation. Others outright accuse the Pope of holding the negative interpretation.

The problem is, these actions put the entire burden on the speaker to speak so clearly that there can be no possible misinterpretation. They ignore the responsibility of the reader to seek out the proper understanding before responding to it. If the person who reads gets it wrong, the critique will also be wrong. Such a critique can be of no value if they misunderstand the intention of the speaker/writer...

That’s a silly example of course (and humor works because the meaning can be hidden by wordplay), but real examples happen all the time.

Just think of the Biblical Literalism which comes from the fundamentalist groups. We’ve seen some pretty ludicrous ideas that comes from interpreting the Bible according to a meaning the reader gives to it as opposed to what the author of the book intended by it. We also see it with anti-Catholicism, where the critic interprets the teaching of the Church according to what he or she thinks the Church document is saying as opposed to what the Church is saying actually saying.

Those real life examples show that there can be a difference between what the speaker intends and what the listener thinks is meant.

I find it ironic that there are some Catholics who would automatically reject these misinterpretations from fundamentalists or anti-Catholics who make the same error when it comes to their own interpretation of the Pope or Church documents. Whether by accident or by choice, they assume they have interpreted correctly and thus feel justified in rejecting the Pope’s words or the Church documents because they assume they cannot have chosen the right interpretation.

Currently, we see this happening with Pope Francis, and the assumption is that either he speaks unclearly or else is teaching error. But, what is forgotten is the fact that these same accusers made the same accessions about St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Yes, that’s right. Both of Pope Francis’ predecessors were accused of promoting error on issues like social justice. People were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Caritas in Veritate just as much as they were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Evangelii Gaudium. But those who were scandalized assumed a meaning in these works which were never intended.

That brings us back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its teaching on Rash Judgment:

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

So, when it comes to the words of the Pope, the steps are:

  1. Give a favorable interpretation to his words.
  2. If the person can’t, seek out how the Pope intends it (in other words, do the research).
  3. Only then does correction come into play.

Unfortunately, most people tend to start with #3, assuming the Pope is wrong and needs to be opposed. But every time I’ve looked in on an alleged scandal, the trail never went further than #2, because either there was a favorable interpretation to be given or else new data came forward which changed the perspective.

I find that most misinterpretations come about because of what words mean to the listener, not to the speaker. For example, some traditionalists were outraged with St. John Paul II spoke about women and “feminism.” The problem was, they interpreted it as the Western radical feminism and assumed he was speaking in favor of some pretty reprehensible ideas. Also, many people interpret Pope Francis’ ideas about the problems with capitalism as if it were a condemnation of capitalism as an intrinsic evil. This was an assumption that ignored the fact that he was speaking of specific evils that every nation must work to either reform or prevent as the case might be.

One common retort seems to be, “Well if he didn’t mean it that way, why didn’t he say it differently?” But that’s unjust. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, representing each nation and language, with communication levels from "word of mouth in the bush” to instantaneous internet. They have knowledge of the faith from “religiously illiterate” to highly educated. Now add in the non-Catholics with the same limitations.

Is it reasonable to think a Pope can express himself in such a way that everybody, regardless of the limits of their nation, language, communications and knowledge about the faith an understand? That’s impossible. I might miss the nuances of language that someone more educated than I recognize, while I might recognize nuances that someone less educated than I might miss.

So, obviously the only way to effectively communicate is to understand the meaning of the speaker, and not make an unrealistic demand that the speaker anticipate every possible meaning that a listener might draw from it. Remember, it might be a problem with the listener . . . so one always has to make an effort to learn what was meant before critiquing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reflection on Factions "More Catholic Than the Pope."

24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts15:24–26).

(Preliminary Note. It’s easy to assume “Either A or B.” So I expect some readers might be tempted to think that I write this because I emphasize with “the other side.” That would be a mistake. I seek to be a faithful son of the Church and I believe that God will protect her from teaching error. I write about this sort of faction because it seems to be a greater threat to Catholics who seek to do what is right than the factions who falsely claim Church teaching can be disobeyed without sin. Please keep this in mind when reading.)

The Catholic blogosphere has been going berserk during the extraordinary synod, as I mentioned in past articles, but I think this is only a symptom of a larger problem afflicting the Catholics trying to be faithful. The problem is that a certain faction of these Catholics have confused the essence of the Church with the accidents (in the sense of a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature) of the Church. The assumption is this: This faction assumes that its preferences are part of the doctrine of the Church. When the preferences of this faction are changed by the Church, it is assumed that the Church is changing doctrine. 

This is a dangerous attitude to take however. It assumes that the Church can err, while this faction cannot err, when it comes to determining truth. It’s as if everything Our Lord had to say about the authority of the Church and the role of Peter was meaningless, or became void at a certain point in history (usually presumed to be Vatican II). They tend to be vague on exactly when, and or to what extent error exists—perhaps because if they were specific, they would reveal their own denial of Catholic doctrine.

If this faction kept to itself like a sect, they would only be a menace to itself. But the truth is, they give the appearance of being knowledgable, orthodox Catholics and there are many Catholics out there who want to live faithfully, but do not feel confident in their knowledge on how to live as a faithful Catholic. These Catholics look to this faction as a guide on how to practice the Catholic faith. The result is these seeking Catholics are deceived into thinking that the guidance from this faction is authentic Catholicism, when in fact it is Catholic belief mixed in with the preferences of their mentors.

They succeed because there are people out there who do distort doctrine and try to change teaching. There are people who are public sinners and seem to suffer no ill effects from the Church. It’s pretty easy to insinuate that the reason they don’t seem to suffer consequences because there must be “sympathy” for their position. Essentially the real dissent is used as a “guilt by association."

When you have such a distorted teaching, things tend to snowball. Every time the Church changes one of the practices, she is accused of being unfaithful to the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Before too long, you have a case where the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops is seen as suspect and every time they make a decision, it is scrutinized for potential errors.

This is essentially the problem I am seeing with the conservative Catholics in the English speaking regions of the world. The magisterium is being judged by a faction that is politically conservative and tends to equate political conservatism with Catholic teaching. When the Church teaching seems to “deviate” from the politically conservative, she is accused of betraying Sacred Tradition.

The problem is, the Church has not changed her teaching, and has never betrayed the Scriptures nor Sacred Tradition. The Pope and bishops in communion with her have the authority to assess the Church teaching, making sure the teaching of Christ can be understood by each generation. So the authority and the responsibility falls on the magisterium. But, if the magisterium has the authority and responsibility, we have to trust that God has a role in preventing the Church from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation. Otherwise, we could never know when the Church was teaching accurately and when she was not. For example, if Vatican II is considered suspect on whether it teaches error, we have no way of knowing that Vatican I or Trent was free of error.

Once you understand this, the reaction to Pope Francis becomes obvious. We had gotten used to two European Popes who were academics. They were very similar in style, and were very effective on teaching the what we were called to do and why. They were succeeded by a Pope from a different continent and experience. Pope Francis did not teach differently than St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He merely shifted the emphasis to acting . . . taking the teachings of his predecessors as a given.

3 popes one teachng

There’s nothing in Pope Francis’ documents on social justice that wasn’t found in the writings of his predecessors. It’s just that he has a different style of presentation.

Unfortunately, some people believe there is a break. In comparison to the public perception of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is considered to be undignified. Because of course St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI never did anything undignified . . . 


Pope sombrero marc 2177327k

The difference between Pope Francis and his predecessors is really . . . nothing more than the fact that his style is slightly more blunt.

So, this is the issue with these factions. They are angry with the Church because they believe that the Church should behave differently than it does. They confuse their preferences with doctrine and end up suspecting the Pope of being a secret Marxist or a secret Modernist. They go out with no mandate from the Church and teach their preferences and suspicions as truth, and their error spreads to those who think they are correctly teaching the faith.

The thing to remember is, Christ has had strong warnings for those who do these things. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’  Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.  Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!  

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. (Matt 23:13–28)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on a Statement by Cardinal Marx

In the article Amid criticism, Cardinal Marx supports synod's midterm report :: Catholic News Agency (CNA), we get this comment from Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich, on same sex relationships:

“homosexuals who have been faithful, one to the other, for 30-35 years, and they take care the one of the other until the very last moment of life. But they live in irregular situation for the Church… as a Church, can I say that all of this has no value because we are speaking about a homosexual relation?”

“I cannot say: it’s all black, it’s all white,” Cardinal Marx stated. “And we cannot stand behind the logic of ‘everything or nothing.’”

I must say, with all due respect to his office, I am perplexed by Cardinal Marx and his statement. If we recognize that participating in homosexual acts are condemned by God, then we have to say that a same-sex relationship can never go beyond the level of platonic friendship. If a relationship goes beyond this, then the Church cannot accept it, and must seek to guide such a relationship towards a place that is right in the eyes of God.

More clarification would be helpful, but as it stands, this appears to be a fallacy of the middle ground. There is no middle ground between contradictory positions. When one party says “homosexual acts are sinful” and the other says “homosexual acts are not sinful,” there is no middle ground. This is a situation where one position must be true and one must be false.

I think we also have the appeal to pity fallacy. If the hypothetical couple mentioned has been together for 30-35 years and have affection for each other, this is still not a justification for finding some sort of compromise on calling it a sin. There simply are relationships which can never be recognized as valid. For example, consider polygamy and the convert who comes to the Catholic Church from such a culture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

2387 The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However polygamy is not in accord with the moral law. “[Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive.” The Christian who has previously lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the obligations contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.

Despite years of living together polygamy is behavior which cannot be considered compatible with the teaching of the Church. I believe the same obligation follows for same sex couples, cohabiting couples and couples who were divorced and invalidly remarried. As the Catechism points out (#1789):

One may never do evil so that good may result from it.

Now the Church can, and should, develop ways of helping the people who have made decisions which place them in opposition to what God has made known to us. But these ways can never compromise Our Lord’s teaching. They have to be aimed at bringing these people back to follow Christ, and recognizing that He must be first in our lives. This isn’t some bureaucratic rule from the Church. This is what Jesus Christ Himself said in Luke 14:26-27.

26 “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:29-30,

29 *If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

Even though it can cause us some pain in this life, we do have to recognize that following Christ obliges us to reject certain behaviors and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

If Cardinal Marx can find a better way to help people in these situations change their ways, that is good. But at the moment, I just can’t see how his words can be reconciled with Christ’s.