Saturday, January 31, 2015

Approaching the Sinner: Reaching Out in Love? Or in Judgment?

I can understand the reactions of the current rebellion in the Church—I don’t condone it, but I understand it. There is a dual reaction to anything that sounds funny. There is fear that those who are dissenters against Church teaching will get their way and change the teaching of the Church. There is also anger over the apparent inactivity of those responsible for leading the Church when it comes to these dissenters. When you think of it this way, it’s easy to start thinking of the Church in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” This is entirely natural.

However, even though it is natural, it is not what we are called to be as members of the Catholic Church. We’re called to take part in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19):

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

God does not rejoice in the death of the sinner (See Ezekiel 18:31-32 and Ezekiel 33:11), and wants their salvation. He also sends His Church to reach them. In different ages, the Church can use different means to reach them. While individually we may have a preference for a specific method, we need to recognize that ultimately the teaching authority of the Church sets the tone, and we need to avoid undermining their work.

What we always need to keep in mind is that our task is not to take part in the condemning of sinners to damnation, but to reach out to them in love, telling them of the need for salvation, but letting them know that they are loved. At times, we need to admonish and warn the sinner. But if we don’t show our love for the sinner, instead giving them a sense of “you sinners disgust me,” then we will not be effective in our ministry.

Pope Francis gets a lot of flack here. Some Catholics accuse him of being too soft, too lenient when it comes to dealing with the sinners. But I am reminded of a similar story about another man named Francis—St. Francis de Sales. Consider this from an 1887 book on saints speaking about St. Francis de Sales and his approach as bishop of Geneva.

At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn.” “Ah,” said the saint, “I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove, that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?”


[From: John Gilmary Shea, Pictorial Lives of the Saints (New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: Benziger Brothers, 1887), 67–68.] 

The concern for showing love for the sinner was not an example of “modernism,” or other errors. 

Unfortunately, some people fall into the other error. They believe that if we are called to love, we cannot say that what they do is wrong. That’s never been taught by the Church at all, and those who accuse (or praise) the Pope of saying so have missed the point. Our Lord Himself has spoken about the dangers of hell and the need to repent. In Matthew 7, (the chapter where He warns about judging—so often taken out of context), He warned:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.


21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’

But Jesus, even when warning of the reality of hell, never stopped loving the sinners. He loved the tax collector. He also loved the Pharisee.

So, this makes me think about how we are acting in the blogosphere and in the comboxes. What kind of witness are we leaving? Do we show that we love, and desire the salvation of, Obama or Pelosi? Or the person struggling with same sex attraction? Or the atheist? Or how about Fr. Hans Küng? Cardinal Kasper? Fr. Richard McBrien (who died recently) How that bishop or pastor you can’t stand? Do we pray for them? And by pray, I don’t mean “Oh Lord, please make Bishop So-and-so not be an idiot!” Do we show our love for these people in our prayers?

I don’t say this judgmentally. Lord knows I have been rude and sarcastic. I get pissed off with the Super Catholic who thinks they cannot err while the Pope can. So I certainly need to learn to practice what I am preaching here. Indeed, next week I might be back to being sarcastic and mocking of those I disagree with, and I certainly need your prayers.

I just ask that all of us who witness the Catholic faith, whether face to face, by blog, by Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else is popular out there)—let’s remember that how we act is a part of our witness as part of the Great Commission. And let’s pray for each other as well.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Rights vs. Freedom? That's a Distorted Argument!

I encountered a blog which raised an interesting point on the way the media is framing the concerns over religion and the demands to recognize same sex “marriage.” It’s an article worth reading, because it points out the propaganda used in this debate. While I doubt I will do as well as they have, I’ll do my best to offer my own thoughts on this, hoping that it serves a purpose as well.

The basic media argument is that the dispute is between “gay rights” and religious freedom.” It is asserted that rights must take precedence over freedoms. Therefore the religious freedoms have to accept the rights of others. You can replace “gay rights” with “reproductive rights” and it’s the same argument. Those people who believe their religion requires them to stand up and oppose something as morally wrong are portrayed as wanting special privileges and are opposed to equal rights for all. When argued in this way, it becomes easy to make a person think they must support the “rights” over the “beliefs,” even if they don’t like that particular “right."

The problem is, this is a “have you stopped beating your wife?” proposition (a complex question fallacy). The classification of rights and freedoms are done by those who are predisposed to a certain outcome, and people are falling for it. We have courts who are labeling a preferred position as a “right” and the opposing position as a “freedom” or an “opinion.” So if the media puts the issue in the concept of rights vs. freedoms or opinions, the Christian is going to come across looking cold hearted or bigoted.

What people who frame the issue this way forget is that religious freedom is an actual (as opposed to made up right—the right to conduct our lives as we believe we are morally obligated to live. That’s not the same thing as living our lives as we like to live. I may like the idea of not having laws about theft affect me when I’m short of cash, but that’s not a right. However, not being forced to do something I think is morally evil, that is a right—a right that people have gone to prison over rather than do what they think is morally wrong. 

The problem is, people tend to misunderstand the concept of what freedom of religion is—it’s one of a list of things the government cannot interfere with, according to the 1st Amendment:

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.

The First section of the 14th Amendment makes clear that the states cannot interfere with rights either (so you can’t argue that this only applies to Congress). So, in effect, the governments (national, state or local) cannot force a person to do what their religion teaches is evil, cannot silence them from speaking out on what they believe is wrong, publish openly on what they think is wrong, cannot prevent them from peaceably assembling to oppose things they believe to be morally wrong and to petition the government for redress. This isn’t a potpourri of various rights that lumps unrelated things together. It’s recognizing that people cannot be compelled by the state to participate in what they believe is evil, nor silence them from opposing injustice.

By seeking to portray religion as a “mere” freedom, the tactic allows people to deny a real Constitutional Right in favor of an invented one (“right to same sex marriage,” or the “right to reproductive freedom”). By that token, the freedom of speech is merely a freedom, as is the freedom of the press. If the government can set aside religious belief on the grounds that it is merely a “freedom,” then the government can set aside the freedom of speech as well.

So, recognizing this tactic, we need to stop letting people get away with using it. When the person tries to contrast their “rights” against our “freedoms” or “opinions,” we need to remind them that this is a false contrast and our concerns are protected by rights. While that may not convince the courts or legislative bodies or the Presidency, it will at least force people to recognize that the government is violating rights. Regardless of their opinions that get turned into law, we must stand up for what we believe God wants us to do, seeking to help others understand why this applies to all.

(Edited 1/31/15 to clarify a line which sounded like I thought these modern inventions were rights. Sorry for the vagueness)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Here Comes Hypocrisy (yet again...)

A tale of two cakes: Colorado's far-reaching religious freedom fight :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)


Remember the case where a baker was sued for refusing to provide a wedding cake for a ceremony involving a same sex “marriage” and it was considered a violation of civil rights? Well, a counter-case is going on where an individual targeted a bakery requesting a cake with anti-gay messages on it. The baker in this second case was willing to provide a cake, but not the messages on the case. The second baker was giving the same reason that the first baker gave—being forced to do something they believed was morally offensive.

However, while in the first case the baker was considered to be a bigot, in the second case, the baker was seen as defending his rights. I’m sure that in both cases the bakeries were set up for the purposes of creating lawsuits. But the treatment of the two cases are different.

In both cases the business owners want the right to not be forced to do something they find offensive. This leaves three options:

  1. They can recognize the fact that nobody can be compelled to do something which they find morally evil by the courts and lawmakers.
  2. They can force every belief to be scrutinized by the state for validity.
  3. They can behave in a partisan manner and support views they agree with, while ignoring those they dislike.

Option #1 is the just solution. Let businesses act in accordance with their moral values and don’t let the state force its way into becoming the arbiter of right and wrong. Unfortunately, this option would force governments (local, state, federal) to tolerate views they disagree with.  Option #2 would be worthy of a dictatorship, but not the USA. Option #3 would be sheer hypocrisy, injustice done for the sake of helping those one liked while using the law to silence those one disliked.

(If I were to bet however, my money would be that #3 is the ultimate result)

So here’s the thing. If you want to be just, those who make and enforce law have to let the Christian businesses have the right to refuse to do things they find offensive. Otherwise, this is behavior worthy of a dictatorship, not a free nation.

I’ve seen people argue that the two cases are not the same thing. That the Christian bakery is practicing intolerance, while the other bakery is opposing it. But this is an assertion which assumes what needs to be proven—that the Christian belief is based on the intolerance of a person instead of on the moral conviction that some behaviors are wrong. These two things are different, and before we are indicted of hatred, the charge needs to be proven that this is our motive, not that this motive be assumed.

I’ve seen people argue that the case of the Christian bakery was “only” remote cooperation with something deemed wrong and so it could be compelled, whole the secular bakery would be forced into direct cooperation, and so it could not be compelled. But that’s making the state the arbiter of what is and what isn’t legitimate religious and moral teaching. The Christian bakery believes that taking part in providing for a same sex “wedding” is wrong and would cause scandal by giving the impression that they supported this just as much as the secular bakery would believe this was wrong and scandalous.

I’ve also seen people argue that by the very fact of saying same sex acts are wrong, we are judging people, which is itself hateful. But by that token, claiming we are behaving wrongly by opposing same sex relationships is also judging people. By our saying certain actions are wrong, we are not contradicting our belief that we are still called to love the person who commits them. But the person who says “tolerate others you disagree with,” is contradicting their own beliefs when they refuse to tolerate us and our beliefs.

Christians aren’t being hypocritical in professing an act as being morally wrong, because they recognize the difference between the sin and the human being. The Catechism says:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

We’re not the Westboro Baptist Church. We don’t think that people with a same sex attraction are damned for that fact. But we do believe homosexual acts are morally wrong and must be avoided by people who would live in right relation with Christ. We do believe that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman as Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has said (Matthew 19:4-6):

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 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’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

We will do our best to witness to this truth, and show people why they need to heed this, and yes we will seek to pass laws which reflect true morality, as opposed to judicial diktat. But we’re not motivated by hate in doing so, and we’re not violating anyone’s rights in doing so.

The same cannot be said about those who would force a Christian bakery to do what it believed to be morally wrong.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Emotion and Reason (and, no, they're not necessarily in Opposition)

I had a strange experience this morning. In response to a comment I made on Facebook supporting the distinction the Pope made against the misinterpretations of his words concerning responsible parenting, a couple of people took offense thinking the Pope and I were condemning “unplanned” pregnancies. It gave me a little insight as to what it was like to be the Pope when people start accusing you of saying something you did not say and never intended people to take away from what was said. These people were angry and because of their anger they were incorrectly judging what was said. It is a common problem that we need to be made aware of.

I think the problem is, Western society has moved away from rationally looking to understand what was actually intended and instead treats the emotions that arise from a statement as an infallible interpretation over truth or error. In other words, we see a statement that evokes a passion, and automatically assume that how we emotionally perceive it as being what the speaker or writer meant. The problem is, passions aren’t infallible. On the contrary, they are very fallible and easy to manipulate—that’s the entire purpose of propaganda. 

That’s not to say that we need to be like the Vulcans of Star Trek. Emotion, by itself is not good or bad. What makes them good or bad is what we do as a result of our emotions. The Catechism speaks about emotions in this way:

1768 Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices.

So, anger (for example) that rouses us to act for what is right is good. anger which rouses us to hate, judge rashly or attack others is bad.

But sometimes, emotions can be misapplied. If a person misunderstands something, it is easy to think something is when it is not, or is not when it is. In such cases, emotion can be misapplied. That’s how people can believe that a dictator has people’s well being in mind and follow him to destruction. That’s also how people can believe that Church teaching is based on hatred.

In fact, there’s a logical fallacy which is known as the appeal to emotion. It involves the association of a feeling with a claim. X makes us feel good, so X must be true. Y makes us feel bad, so Y must be false. But a skilled speaker can lead people to think in a certain way. They can make people think that marriage is about emotional happiness, and whatever interferes with that happiness must be wrong. As a result, the Church teaching on divorce/remarriage or same sex relationships is portrayed as interfering with emotional happiness, and therefore must be called “against love,” evoking negative emotions against the Church teaching.

I also see it happen in cases of fear. Let’s face it. There is dissent from Catholics, including open defiance of Church teaching by politicians who then insist they are good Catholics. That dissent is wrong, and it is an appropriate emotion to be angered to defend the Church—provided we do it in a morally good way. But the appeal to emotion can also be used here. If one attempts to manipulate emotion to treat a different way of expressing truth as if it were dissent, then people can be led by their emotion of anger to oppose a legitimate teaching of the truth. The teachings of Vatican II and the words of Pope Francis have been the target of angry Catholics who have been led to think of this as error fomenting dissent.

We need to realize that while emotion is not wrong in itself, it cannot be used by itself to form our reactions to things. We also need reason to help us find out what is true. Reason can be defined as the ability to “think, understand, and form judgements logically.” The Catechism speaks of reason as an important part of determining right and wrong:

1704 The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection “in seeking and loving what is true and good.”7 (339; 30)

1705 By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image.”8 (1730)

1706 By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him “to do what is good and avoid what is evil.”9 Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbor. Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person. (1776)

So, in determining right and wrong, it’s not enough to have emotions about what we see or hear or read. We need to use reason to see whether we understand properly what is going on, and accurately form judgments on these events. When we properly understand, our emotions can be a driving force to right wrongs, or care for others, or other good things. But when we don’t properly understand what we see, hear or read, our emotions can be like an angry mob which acts destructively.

So, it is good to use our emotions and passions to contribute to a good action. But we need our reason to avoid having them contribute to an evil action. It’s something that we need to remember. Emotions can be manipulated and they can be wrongly applied. So we must, by an act of will, control our emotions and not give in to any impulse that comes along.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"This is a Rebellious People..."

For this is a rebellious people, 

deceitful children, 

Children who refuse 

to listen to the instruction of the Lord;

10 Who say to the seers, “Do not see”; 

to the prophets, “Do not prophesy truth for us; 

speak smooth things to us, see visions that deceive!

11 Turn aside from the way! Get out of the path! 

Let us hear no more 

of the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:9-11)

Things are really getting out of hand, and falling much faster than I would have expected, but to some extent, I have to say I am not totally surprised that they are getting out of hand. Just not this fast and this irrationally. What we are seeing is the Pope besieged on both sides now. Conservative Catholics have been opposed to him almost from the word “Go,” determined to establish he is a liberal—if not a heretic. Liberal Catholics are beginning to turn on him now that his words in the Philippines have demonstrated he is solidly a Catholic. Both sides firmly believe he is in the “other” camp.
Pope Misinterpreted(If you want to know where I stand, regarding the Pope, I stand right here)
He is blamed for how others have misinterpreted his words. The allegations are that if he spoke clearly, people would not have misinterpreted him. But that is false reasoning which overlooks that the vast majority of people do not get their words from Vatican Information Service or Zenit or the like, and especially not from transcripts. They get their news from the secular media, which has routinely reported soundbites, ignoring the concept the quote (or partial quote) has come from. Every single time we have looked at a soundbite in context, it has turned out that the secular media has gotten it wrong. For example...
The Pope did not say “Who am I to judge?” in the sense of saying he was in favor of same sex relationships. He was saying it in the sense of speaking about a priest with a notorious past who repented. He did not say “breed like rabbits” and speak against large families. He spoke about a specific problem—some people who say they will indiscriminately have children without considering the consequences because they “Trust in” the Lord, which is basically “putting the Lord to the Test” (see Deuteronomy 6:16, Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12). He did not call for recognizing same sex “marriage” and divorce and remarriage at the extraordinary synod of 2014. He called for finding ways of reaching out to people in these situations. He didn’t condemn capitalism as a system. He called for places where it was causing harm to reform.
I could go on and on, and I’m sure the media will...
In short, nothing that outraged Catholics was actually said as they interpreted the words to mean, but they still hold these statements against him. It’s even gotten to the point that when the Pope praised mothers and grandmothers for their role in passing on the faith, some people went so far as accusing him of ignoring or denigrating men!
But since these people are saying of something that is not so that it is so, we can say they do not speak the truth. The question is, do they know it is not the truth when they say it? Or do they just refuse to consider they could be misinterpreting him? Now, I am not God, so I cannot speak to these people and their intentions. But I can say that if they know they are speaking something that is not true, then that is lying—strongly condemned by the Catechism (CCC #2483-2487). But if they do not know whether what they are saying is true or not, then they are making a rash judgment—also condemned by the Catechism (CCC #2477-2478) and, given how these false accusations are damaging the reputation of the Holy Father, it can also be calumny (CCC #2479) if it is done with the hopes of discrediting him.
It's at the point where I think it is far more than just hostility to the misinterpreted words. I suspect that some people dislike the fact that the Holy Father is affirming Church teaching that is unpopular to their political views and seek to discredit him to justify their own disobedience. Some people out there point to the misrepresentations that make him seem indifferent to Church teaching or denigrating people or fomenting heresy, and say that the Pope can’t be trusted, and therefore his teachings can be ignored. Such people seem to be behaving as rebels. They don’t want to hear the unpopular Church teachings—I have heard some people say “Why doesn’t the Pope talk about this instead?” But the point is, if we accuse those Catholics who set aside the teachings on sexual morality as being “cafeteria Catholics,” then we must not be guilty of the same charge. Yes abortion, contraception and homosexual acts are sins. But they are not the only sins. If we choose to set aside teachings on other areas, then we are hypocrites.
So it’s important not to be a rebellious people. If we find ourselves challenged by a statement of the Pope, the first thing to do is to ask whether he actually said what was alleged. If it is not, we have to let go of any wrongly placed hurt and not blame him for misrepresentation. Second, we have to ask whether we are upset because his words are challenging us. If they are, then we should consider whether our problem is with God, rather than with the Vicar of Christ. When he teaches, we must listen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TFTD: It's Time For Catholics to Stop Rashly Judging the Pope

Facepalm Catholics

After the outrage and the Je suis un lapin Catholique (according to Google Translate, “I am a rabbit Catholic,” a supposed protest against what was actually a misquote of the Pope) posts, we have confirmation. Those who were offended at the Pope’s words got it wrong. In the article, "Pope Francis surprised by misunderstanding of his words on family :: Catholic News Agency (CNA),” we see that the Pope in no way meant to speak against large families.

Before I saw the actual transcripts, I was pretty sure I knew what it meant when I first saw what we now know was a media misquote. The transcripts confirm it. But that didn’t stop some Catholics from being angry at the Pope. Once again, people said that the Pope was to blame for speaking unclearly. Others believed the misquote was a condemnation of large families.

I have to say, I am tired of seeing this story repeated ever since his election to the Papacy. Every time there is a “shocking" story, it turns out that that the Pope was misquoted. The transcripts show that the media has taken their soundbites out of context, or misattributed what someone else said to him or misunderstood what he was even talking about. Yet every time I see some Catholics get up in arms and blame the Pope, disturbing the peace of those Catholics who want to trust but don’t know what to make of all the outrage. In some cases, this behavior could be considered Rash Judgment, condemned in the Catechism. The Catechism in paragraph 2478, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola, warns us:

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.

But in many comboxes and in blogs, we are seeing that some Catholics aren’t ready to give a favorable interpretation to the Pope’s words. They don’t seek to ask him how he understands his words. They assume he is wrong and even if that were true (it isn’t) then fail to correct in love. Instead we get people treating the Pope like some idiot uncle or a heretic out to change Church teaching.

It’s time for Catholics to treat the Pope with the love and respect he deserves as the Holy Father. It’s time for them to consider that the media got it wrong, not that the Pope. It’s time to get the facts first before blaming him. If we were to trust God more in His promise to protect the Church and put less trust in the media to report the Pope accurately, I think we would find we were less alarmed about the state of the Church.

Pope Francis faith in God

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TFTD: My Moment of Conversion on Abortion...and Other Things

Cvggo conv2

Way back in my early 20s, I was very ignorant about by faith. My morality was based on a very partisan hyper-patriotism instead of right and wrong (I even supported the concept of the ends justify the means—a concept I condemn today). It was the 1980s, and things like supporting a strong national defense, while opposing communism seemed important. Things like abortion seemed to be a small issue. Yeah, I had a vague sense it was wrong and I was never pro-abortion, but if you pressed me on it, I probably would have rather compromised on that than on the Strategic Defense Initiative. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I tell this to show what I changed from.

I recall my moment of conversion well. It was 1989. My habit in my undergraduate years was to spend a lot of time reading newspapers and magazines to see what the political trends were (while I have a Masters in theology, my BA was actually in International Relations). In reading one article in Time magazine, I came across a discussion on late term abortion and how some abortionists would kill the baby aborted alive through what the article euphemistically called “aggressive neglect."

That sickened me. As muddled as I was in my thinking on abortion, I could realize that once the baby was outside of the mother, that was murder. I believe that God used that moment to reach me, because I realized: If the baby was alive outside of the mother, it would have to be alive inside the mother before birth, (I was still thinking of the unborn baby as an it instead of a he/she) and abortion must be condemned as long as the fetus is alive.

That’s when I believe God asked me a question—How far back was the baby alive before being born? 

I realized I did not know, and because I did not know, I could not in good conscience tolerate abortion at any time. It was better to err on the side of caution and never support abortion than to risk murdering a human being.

The moment of conversion on abortion was a sort of mental Road to Damascus moment for me, showing me that what I thought was right and what was right were often two different things. It was the beginning in thinking of things as God was calling us to consider. It was a long road. In the 26 years since that day, I grew in understanding of the issues of life, recognizing that the Church teaching needed to be followed because what she taught was true. Life begins at the moment of conception, and the right to life was the fundamental right. In embracing the Church teaching on abortion, I was gradually able to learn about and reject my flawed concepts of morality and see the Church as mother and teacher. In short I learned to trust the Church over myself when I felt a conflict.

I reflect on this on the 42nd Annual March for Life. God was merciful to me to provide me with a moment of conversion. I pray that He may provide the same to others who are as muddled in their thinking as I was.

Thoughts on Catholics, Obedience and Pope Francis

Pope Francis faith in God

On this blog, I tend to write in blocs for a period depending on what seems to be most immediately an issue when it comes to opposition to the Church. This opposition can either come from outside the Church or inside the Church. It seems like lately, I have had to write about opposition coming from within the Church because it seems that certain Catholics today—especially ones who were noted for their defense of the Church in the past—have issues with Pope Francis.

It is a curious phenomenon. St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke about economic justice and social justice during their pontificates, they had issues with disobedient Catholics doing scandalous things, and they had gaffes. But for the most part, there was respect for their teachings and patience. We knew there were bad Catholics, whether clergy, religious or laity, but we recognized that their teachings did not represent the Church. Sure, people grumbled at times at a bishop’s troublesome decisions and felt that the Church was under siege. There was even criticism of the Popes handling of matters, but it was generally recognized that the Popes were faithful Catholics and were faithful to Church teaching.

This is why I find the attitude of certain Catholics to be troubling today. Pope Francis has not taught anything that his predecessors did not teach. Nor has he failed to teach on issues which his predecessors taught on. Yes, we still have misbehaving clergy, religious and laity and we still have some Papal gaffes. But now, the Pope is seen as suspect by a growing number of Catholics, and whenever a Catholic misbehaves, the Pope becomes the primary suspect.

It’s not a new sentiment. Writing back in 1974, theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote on the attitudes towards the papacy:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes [seat], which is indefectible, and the sedens [the one sitting], who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (Kindle Locations 1039-1043). Kindle Edition.

In the past, this was a problem with Catholics who were openly dissenting from the Church (certain liberals and traditionalist groups like the SSPX). They were denying that the Pope they did not like had authority to teach in a way they disliked. But now, some Catholics who have always recognized the authority of the sedes of the Papacy are beginning to question the sedens of the Pope.

I think there are some reasons for this problem in the West (it does not seem to affect Catholics as much outside of Europe and Asia), some manmade and some supernatural.

Manmade Problems

I think the manmade reasons for this problem comes from the fact that some Catholics have assumed that political conservatism was synonymous with Catholic orthodoxy. The right to life is indeed the fundamental right as St. John Paul II said. Communism was indeed an evil, as the Church taught. These issues were considered politically conservative, and to some extent, it was considered that conservatism as a whole was orthodox. In addition, in the West, we tend to use either-or thinking where it is not appropriate to do so. For example, unbridled capitalism or unbridled socialism. Conservatism vs. Liberalism. If a person does not stand for the preferred political position, it is assumed he or she stands for the opposite position.

Thus, when Pope Francis spoke about the abuses in some areas of the capitalistic system, it was assumed that he was promoting socialism. When he spoke out on trying to reach out to people with same sex attraction or couples who were divorced and invalidly remarried, it was assumed he was seeking to overturn the teaching of the Church. These things do not logically follow, but people do think this way.

Another manmade reason for this problem is that people tend to give too much credibility to the secular media when it comes to reporting on the Church. An accurate assessment of what the Church says and what the Popes say does require knowledge of how the Church works. Even a person of good will can be confused and make an error about what the Pope means if they don’t have a solid grip on Church teaching he is referring to. Regardless of whether a media report comes from a person of good will or not, if they don’t understand the context, they will not report accurately. They could, for example, miss the significance of a term and only partially quote. They could jump to conclusions based on the meaning the reporter gives to words compared to how the Church understands them. So when we see the media reporting that the Pope is saying that the Church teaching on abortion or marriage isn’t important, that is the fault of the report, not the words of the Pope.

[I should add, that as I prepare this article for publication, it seems that certain members of the media are recognizing that the Pope is not somebody who is going to change Church teaching, and are beginning to turn on him. It will be interesting to see if this change in reporting is widespread and if so, whether certain Catholics will stop accusing him of being heterodox.]

This can be enhanced by the existence of antics by Catholics publicly causing scandal. When such a person seems to get away with things that strike us as wrong, some wonder if perhaps the Church is being lenient out of sympathy for the dissent. This is actually the fallacy of affirming the consequent, arguing:

  • If the magisterium sympathizes, dissenters will be active.
  • Dissenters are active
  • Therefore the magisterium sympathizes.
But even if the major premise is true, the sole fact of the minor premise (Dissenters are active) does not mean the magisterium sympathizes. It could mean that the magisterium does not have the temporal power to bring them in line, or that they are trying to deal with the people in error in a private way. The point is, the existence of active error does not require papal sympathy as a cause. Throughout the history of the Church, dissent, heresy and schism has appeared and even when challenged by saints, it could take centuries for such an error to die. Arianism was first condemned in the First Council of Nicaea, but did not become extinct until the 7th century. We have ongoing separation with our fellow Christians from the Orthodox and Protestant churches. So, we need to remember that the existence of those who disagree with or reject the Church does not mean the Pope and bishops are supporting it.
Supernatural Problems

Of course, these manmade problems have their roots. People are being deceived into accepting these assumptions. That brings us to the supernatural. Supernaturally, I am inclined to believe that people who want to be faithful to the Church are undergoing spiritual warfare. The devil exists (something our Pope constantly reminds us of) and he wants to separate believers from Christ’s Church. The means to do this is different from the means used to keep those who reject Church teaching away. In this case, the devil seeks to cause people not to trust the Church by drawing suspicion on things that seem different. If the devil can tempt the individual Catholic into being suspicious about the people with the authority to teach within the Church, then the ultimate result is to undermine the individual’s faith in God to protect His Church. Such a person has lost the peace of mind which comes with trusting God.

Once this doubt creeps in, it becomes easy for the devil to tempt a person into questioning whether a Papal teaching he or she dislikes is binding. For example, the outcry against the Papal encyclical on the environment coming out months before the actual encyclical is due to be released. Because of the instigated doubt against the Pope’s orthodoxy and people forgetting God’s promise to protect His Church, people assume it is going to be a disaster long before it ever gets released.

Anticipating an Objection

To some readers, this all may sound like an argument insisting we tolerate whatever doctrinal or liturgical abuse that may come along. Or it may sound like I am saying there are no problems. These assumptions would be false. When the majority of a bishops conference announce their support for allowing the divorced and remarried to go to confession and then continuing to live as man and wife, that’s a serious problem (This happened in Germany). When a bishop announces that he believes the Church should recognize same sex relationships as good, that’s a serious problem (this one happened in Belgium). When a priest announces he is homosexual and urges his parishioners to vote for a referendum legalizing “same sex marriage,” and receives an ovation from the parish, that’s a serious problem (this one happened in Ireland).

But don’t turn these serious problems into the fallacy of composition. If a part of the Church falls into error, that does not mean the whole of the Church is infected. Don’t make the post hoc fallacy either. If the Pope speaks out to the Church, asking them ways to find ways to reach out to people whose lifestyles have estranged them from the Church and certain people with an agenda try to advocate things incompatible with the Church teaching, that advocacy was not caused by the Pope.

Dissent is not new to the Papacy with Pope Francis. Rejection of authority is not new to the Church with Vatican II (Ever hear of Martin Luther?) either. Sometimes individuals or groups take advantage of the Church in transition, trying to hijack a legitimate proposal to make their own errors seem to have support. When the Church calls for insights as to how to best accomplish her Great Commission among a new generation (Matthew 28:16-20), there will be people who try to push something incompatible. That doesn’t mean that the wrong interpretation is welcome, or that there is no right ideas to implement.

We also need to avoid the arguments from silence and ignorance. The fact that we do not hear a public denunciation by the Pope does not mean no action is being taken. The fact that an individual has not heard of the Pope responding to something wrong, does not mean the Pope did not respond. I have seen too many people in combox arguments ask “Why didn’t the Pope condemn ISIS?” "Why didn’t the Pope defend the Christian concept of marriage?” The answer is, “HE DID,” but too many people assume that because the secular media didn’t cover it, he said nothing.


The problem is, some Catholics are being misled into thinking that a problem existing in the Church must mean that the Pope is at fault. That isn’t necessarily so. There are many other possibilities that are not being considered. While there are some areas of the Church that don’t fall under the categories of doctrine and morals and thus are not infallible, we need to remember that our generations in the Church are not given a free pass to disagree with the lawful authority of the Church under the Pope. When the Pope teaches formally, even if not teaching ex cathedra, his teaching requires us to give assent (see CCC #892). When the Pope can teach in a manner that requires us to give our assent, there are two possibilities. Either:

  1. We can trust Our Lord to protect the Church from teaching error in a issue where we are required to obey, or…
  2. The Church can teach error, and we have no way of knowing whether the Church has ever erred in other teachings—such as the Trinity.

The second choice is asinine, and we need to put our trust in God that He will protect His Church. If we lose our trust that the Church can be protected from error by God,  we have no way of knowing whether we are doing what is right before God. Obedience is not always easy when the teaching of the Church goes against what our cultural values prefer. But we must obey God, rather than men, and sometimes our cherished political and cultural views do not match what our faith calls us to do. Then we have to choose between God and the world—and choosing God means following His Church under the living magisterium of a real Pope, not the hypothetical magisterium of a papacy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Let's Look at Things Differently...


If I had a dollar for every time a Catholic with a blog wrote that the Pope is to blame for speaking unclearly when he is misinterpreted or if a Catholic with a blog accused him of handling things badly, I probably wouldn’t need to worry about how my retirement accounts are faring. It’s a popular meme, and it seems to give people an escape route where they might otherwise have to outright accuse the Pope of error (and I’d rake in even more money if I included those blogs who do accuse the Pope of error). It’s kind of annoying actually. If it was that easy for any Pope to explain Church teaching in such a way that no person from any time or culture could misunderstand it, then there’d quite frankly be no need for us Catholics who work with apologetics.

What people seem to forget is all the differing experiences that make us look at things in different ways: Nationality, language, ethnicity, gender, education, social class, religion, political views, etc. Each one of these is a case where people can look at things differently than the speaker, and if we forget that these differences exist, then we will misunderstand the people we listen to.

In addition to these, we have the problems when people don’t want to hear the teaching of the Church. Some political liberals don’t want to hear the Church teaching on sexual morality. Some political conservatives don’t want to hear the Church teaching on social justice. The result is to bend the words of the Church to either make it appear the person is obeying when he or she is not OR to bend the words of the Church in such a way that the person can justify disobedience.

CH Own WordsCalvin’s misinterpretation is deliberate, and is not the teacher’s fault

Finally, we have the case where even people of good will do not have a proper knowledge of the topic being discussed and give the wrong meaning to terms that can have more than one meaning (we call these equivocal words—open to more than one interpretation).

So when you consider the differences of each individual, their knowledge of the topic and whether the individual has good will in interpreting the words of the Pope, you suddenly get any number of ways where the problem can be with the listener, and not the speaker.

Let’s look further now. Let’s look at the post hoc fallacy now. That’s the fallacy which asserts that because A happened and then B happened, A must have caused B. Thus we see the Pope getting blamed every time a Catholic wrongly cites the Pope’s “who am I to judge?” comment. If the Pope didn’t say that, then people wouldn’t be thinking the teaching needed to be changed. But that’s nonsense. It overlooks the possibility of such people already favoring a heterodox view on homosexuality. The same thing happened with the extraordinary synod on the family. When certain Catholics came out calling for a change in Church teaching on divorce and remarriage, the Pope and the synod was blamed, but nobody considered the possibility that the Catholics holding these positions were doing so before the synod even occurred.

Or how about the Affirming the Consequent fallacy. That works as follows:

  • If the Pope speaks unclearly, then people will misunderstand him. (If A then B)
  • People misunderstand him (B)
  • Therefore the Pope speaks unclearly (Therefore A).
The problem is, just because “If A then B” is true (and it isn’t always so), the existence of condition B does not mean that condition A exists. People could misunderstand him if he spoke clearly in Latin while the audience did not understand that language.

So, in addition to the cases of each individual, their knowledge of the topic and whether or not they are interpreting things with good will, we now have to consider the possibility of being misled by a logical error.

So the next time the Pope says something and the media decides to play with it, then let’s look at things differently. Let’s not assume any miscommunication must be the fault of the Pope or there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. There are any number of reasons this could be a false assertion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the Interpretation and Misinterpretation of the Pope's Words.

Interpretation of the Pope's Words

Here we go again… the Pope had a news conference (HERE’S the transcript) and once again people took a soundbite out of context, with people either praising or condemning him for something he did not say

Fact of the day: The Pope did not use the term "breeding like rabbits" like the secular media (and some Catholic media) have twisted the actual quote into. What he said was:

"That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is a an irresponsibility That woman might say 'no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.

Another curious thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too, but for them a child is a treasure. Some would say 'God knows how to help me' and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity, but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child."

In other words, one has to use prudence, which the Catechism defines as:

1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

The Church recognizes that, in certain circumstances, one may need to practice abstinence for the health of the mother, and not be presumptive that God will protect the individual mother from consequences. That makes sense when you think of it in the sense that things that are good by nature but can be misused when not discerned. For example, food is good but the person suffering from diabetes or obesity needs to determine when and what to eat. Such cases tend to be individualized. The person with a blood sugar reading of 120 does not need to take the same care as the person with the blood sugar level of 300, and we ought not to assume all circumstances are the same. The same applies to large families. Not all parents of large families are imprudent, and it would be wrong to interpret the words of the Pope as if that is what he was saying.

The Misinterpretation of the Pope’s Words

But that seems to be what people seem to be assuming.

The Pope, being so clear on his support for Blessed Paul VI and the encyclical Humanae Vitae, blocked the media from making his words sound as if he supported contraception. So instead, the distortion of his words is to make it seem as if the Pope supports small families. But in fact, the Pope did praise the parents of large families as generosity. So, such an interpretation cannot be supported.

Unfortunately, that misinterpretation is being applied to his words and some Catholics who have large families seem to be feeling hurt by the Pope as if he was responsible for this “small family” accusation. In other cases, I have heard of Catholic families being confronted by the (distorted) words of the Pope to accuse them of being imprudent—without any consideration as to whether the Pope’s actual words applied to their circumstances.

Because these are misinterpretations and not the Pope's point. He praised the generosity of large families in the same quote, so we know we can exclude any ZPG interpretations. But, at the same time, some people feel guilty if they have to practice periodic abstinence or undergo a hysterectomy out of medical necessity, and some societies favor large families without consideration of the health of the mother. Some families which need to make such considerations just do not consider consequences. 

As I see it, the Pope is speaking to these people, gently telling them that they have a right or, in some cases, an obligation to look to their health or financial situation. The point is, God is will not be judging couples on account of how many children they had in relation to how many children they potentially could have had. God will look at whether couples were open to life according to their circumstances. Some married couples will be able to be raise a large family in their circumstances. Others may be limited by factors of health or poverty. In doing so, the person is not permitted to use immoral means to achieve this end, for example contraception or abortion.

Finally, there seems to be a small group of Catholics who are criticizing the Pope because he did say that fertility at all costs is not the Catholic way. These are the ones who get alarmed by the fact that groups like the Muslims are having more children than Catholics and think the response is that every able bodied Catholic family needs to start cranking out eight or more kids and looks at anybody with fewer as suspected contracepting couples. This kind of mindset is to reduce the Catholic woman to an object in the way that feminist opponents (wrongly) accuse the Church herself of teaching. Yes, Catholic married couples are called to be open to life, and it is good to be generous if one can manage it. Yes, it is wrong that many Catholic couples do disobey Church teaching and use contraception and abortion. But these sinful acts do not take away from the fact that there can be legitimate reasons for a couple to practice periodic abstinence in their married life.


The misinterpretation of the Pope seems to be based on people’s conceptions of what their attitudes of large families are. Those who think small families are the norm are trying to portray the Pope’s words as being an indictment against large families. Those who favor (and/or have large families) feel as if the Pope is condemning them, and those who look at the success or failure of the Church through the raw numbers of Catholics feel the Pope is teaching error. But the key word here is misinterpretation.

The Pope is simply making clear that some people have the wrong idea on the Catholic concept of being open to life, forgetting that God doesn’t demand of us begetting children at all costs, and that some people do have a situation where the Church teaching does permit them to use periodic abstinence according to one of the approved methods to space births.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TFTD: Well Said Holy Father

Full transcript of Pope's interview in-flight to Manila :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

The Holy Father has spoken about the Charlie Hebdo murders in a way that makes a lot of sense, but will probably not win him support from those who believe there can be no restrictions on speech and press. He makes a two prong statement that addresses both issues:

  1. Using violence in the name of God can never be done.
  2. The freedom of speech is not an absolute that can justify saying anything offensive.

Basically, the Pope said that people have the right and obligation to speak the truth, but freedom is not absolute. One cannot be grossly offensive, especially when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. Even when people are grossly offensive, others don’t have the right to turn to violence in response. However, anger at having something important being attacked is not wrong in itself. (Which is a very useful point—too many try to twist Christians being offended by attacks as if it was “unchristian.”)

Unfortunately, some are beginning to accuse the Pope of supporting the terrorists—never mind the fact that he has continually condemned terrorism and clarified any possible ambiguities in what he said. They look at it as Either-Or, ignoring the fact that condemning both is a legitimate option.

But what he said makes perfect sense. Even if a non-Christian does not share our values, his words can be understood in terms of respect for others. When we make use of the freedom of speech or the press, we have to be respectful of others. When we speak about things we believe to be wrong, we do so with charity. If someone with a large audience does something grossly offensive and millions are offended, there will probably be a small group among them who would be willing to make an extreme response. It would be wrong of them to do so, but they may be motivated to act in spite of the their moral obligations not to murder.

Ultimately, that’s what happened with Charlie Hebdo. Millions of Muslims were angry, and they had a right to be angry by the offensive antics of this magazine. Tragically, some of these Muslims believed it was acceptable to murder. They were wrong to murder, regardless of what offensive garbage the magazine chose to publish. We believe that Charlie Hebdo did not have the right to be grossly offensive, regardless of their convictions.

So, as I see the Pope’s statement, he sees two wrongs: The wrong of people murdering those they disagree with and the wrong of being deliberately offensive. Both of these are condemnable. The Pope is not siding with the terrorists, but he is not Charlie either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TFTD: Fundamentally Missing the Point

What is the purpose of the Church? Is it a social organization? A charity organization? Or is it the Body of Christ, given the mission of bringing Jesus Christ to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20) and teaching with His authority (See John 20:21)? Anyone paying attention would know this. If you’re a member of the Church, properly informed, you know that the Church is the body of Christ, teaching with His authority where what is bound on Earth will be bound in Heaven (See Matthew 16:19). To deny this authority is to reject Christ who sent His Church (Luke 10:16).

So when I came across the article, "Fired Gay Catholic School Teacher Says He Is Quitting "Bigoted" Church - BuzzFeed News,” it filled me with sadness. Here is a man who is so out of sync with the Catholic faith that he would rather leave the Church which is warning Him that his actions are gravely sinful than to consider whether he is following a road to ruin. The fact is, the Church does not teach as she does on homosexuality and homosexual acts out of malice or bigotry. She teaches to warn people of things that are a danger to the soul. To hate the Church for her teaching is as irrational as hating a sign warning of a hazard ahead. (Once again, people should actually READ Pope Francis’ words “Who am I to judge” in context before acting on a soundbite taken out of context. He certainly did not mean them as Mr. Billard interpreted them).

Yes, Mr. Billard and his partner are free to walk away from the Church and attend an Episcopalian church, if that is what they want to do. The Catholic Church won’t use force to compel them to remain, though she will no doubt ask them to reconsider. Yet, if they walk away from the Church, and the Church is what she teaches that she is, then quite simply these two men are walking away from God.

This is the question that any person considering leaving the Church must consider. Is she what she claims to be? If she is, then one is being reckless to reject her teachings. If she is not, there’s no point in worrying about what she teaches. But in making that decision, one should remember what Vatican II said—the real Vatican II, not the phony “Spirit of Vatican II” that so many wrongly invoked—in Lumen Gentium #14:

Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism124 and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

This is not a decision to be made in a flash of anger. 

We need to pray for Mr. Lonnie Billard and his partner. We also need to pray for the people at the school and parish who are supporting them over the teaching of the Church. We need to pray that they return to the Church and recognize that her teaching is not intended to restrict us, but to show us how we must live if we would be faithful to Christ.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo, Freedoms of Speech, Press and Their Abuse

Preliminary Note: The terrorism case in France involves two separate elements—the murder of people who said things that others found offensive on one hand and the inconsistent outrage over the abuse of freedom of the press and speech on the other. To avoid any confusion in the article below, I want to make clear that I denounce these murders as evil. Even though I find the antics of the Charlie Hebdo magazine to be offensive, that offensive behavior does not justify murder as a response. Please keep this in mind that I do not seek to make any excuses for this act of terrorism.

The Situation

The attack in France against a satirical magazine is indeed a terrible thing, but reading the news reports and blogs about it, I can’t help but think that some people have missed the point as to why it was a terrible thing. The catalyst for the attack was the comics published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo which mocked the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Some extremists reacted to the offense by killing twelve people at the magazine offices. The Vatican was quick to respond with a condemnation, and had the right idea of what to condemn, saying it was a “double act of violence, abominable because it is both an attack against people as well as against freedom of the press”. That is the truth—the extremists decided they had the right to commit murder in response to people expressing a view which offended them. In response, we are seeing hashtags going around—#IamCharlieHebdo or #JeSuisCharlie aimed at showing solidarity with the murder victims as martyrs as freedom of speech and press.

Asterix jesuischarlie(The creator of the Asterix comics came out of retirement to publish a protest)

It’s right to be appalled at the use of terrorism as a response to something one finds offensive. But the question is, are we being properly appalled? Or are we merely being appalled in a partisan manner?

Thoughts on Murder as a Tactic vs. Legitimate Tactics in Opposing Evil

First of all, regardless of what is said, no matter how offensive it is, murder is never a justified response. There is a lot of anti-Christian mockery and blasphemy out there. But if some Catholic took it on himself to murder Bill Maher or one of the New Atheists, I would condemn it—not out of sympathy for their speech, but because one may never do evil so that good may come of it. As the Catechism says:

1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

Blasphemy is evil by its very nature, but I may not murder to stop it because murder is also wrong by its very nature. So even when people abuse the freedoms of speech and the press to deliberately be offensive, even when the West has a hypocritical double standard on what they will tolerate, no person may use an evil means to stop it. Before I move on to my reflections on the use and abuse of freedoms of expression, I want to make this clear. There are both evil and good ways to oppose something evil. When the way chosen is evil, it must be condemned. But when the way chosen is not evil, people are free to pursue it. For example, if these murderers had instead organized a peaceful protest or a non violent boycott of Charlie Hebdo, then there would have been nothing to condemn.

I make the above point because I want to make clear that nothing I say below on the use and abuse of freedoms of the press and speech should be seen as a justification of terrorism. If you think you see that as a reader, you’ve misunderstood my point.

Thoughts on Freedom of Speech and Press and Their Abuse

The freedom of speech and the press are very important rights. They protect us so we can speak the truth publicly without being silenced by people who don’t want to have that truth challenge their preferred way of living. Unfortunately, these rights are very precariously perched. It is extremely difficult to protect the legitimate rights of speaking the truth without enabling those who would abuse these rights to publish false or offensive material, and some governments have simply given up trying to find the proper balancing point between the freedom to speak the truth and the “freedom” to say whatever the hell you want.” Pornography, for example, has gone from being recognized as a crime to be considered free speech with very few boundaries (child pornography and necrophilia seem to be the only real barriers left—at least I pray they are still barriers).

Now the ideal of these freedoms would be to recognize that a person has the right to express the truth while excluding the abuse of such freedoms. But since governments have a bad habit of defining what they dislike as an abuse, it is generally recognized that it is better that the abuse be tolerated so as not to restrict the legitimate use of these freedoms. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t work that way in practice.

The fact is, when it comes to the abuse of these freedoms, we have people who slander/libel those they dislike, publicly insulting or harassing certain groups. So long as the targets treated this way are unpopular with the media or the government, the harassers will get away with it. The Double Standard is, a person or group publicizing something attacking a group which is favored by the media can expect either being ignored or being publicized for vilification. But a person or group publicizing something attacking a group which is opposed by the media will generally be supported (For example, Bill Maher’s career of insulting religion).

Thus we have a situation where people are actually behaving like hypocrites. It’s OK to mock or slander/libel Christianity and suffer no consequences. But speak out against something like same sex “marriage” an suddenly, you have no freedom. You can lose your job or be sued or prosecuted. Something is clearly not right here. Either one tolerates both or rejects both if he or she wants to be consistent. Yet we have people who say #IamCharlieHebdo in support of a magazine which openly attacks religion in an offensive way, who won’t stand up for the right of a Christian Fire Chief in Atlanta to express his right in print a book which says homosexual acts are evil. The head of Facebook announces he won’t let extremism silence freedom of speech on Facebook, but Facebook has a history of silencing articles it deems as “offensive.” In fact, it’s in the policy page:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Pretend it’s a joke and you can bash religion to your heart’s content (Facebook pages like “The Virgin Mary Should Have Aborted” are allowed even though it exists to attack religion). Post a serious article on why homosexuality is wrong and it can get blocked or removed.

Censorship 12(It took a lot of fighting on Facebook to get an article posted)

So, the question arises—if a person hashtags  #IamCharlie Hebdo, as a protest against the assault on freedom of speech and press, then why are they willing to accept other censorship? If the freedom of speech and press is an absolute, then the unpopular teachings of Christianity needs to be given the same rights to publish and be seen as those who bash Christianity already have.


It seems to me that the current outrage has missed the point. Yes, it is right to condemn these murders. Yes it is right to condemn the idea that a person or group can use violence to strike against those who say things that are offensive. But unless one is prepared to ask whether there is a double standard in play—such as tolerating hatred of groups one dislikes (like Christianity) and only getting outraged when it affects those one agrees with—it makes no sense to hashtag #IamCharlieHebdo. Why? Because such a protest is not a protest for justice. Rather it is a protest that an ally was attacked.

There is a civil way to oppose intolerance, but it requires us to remember truth and the obligation to treat the one we disagree with in a just manner, even when we believe we must oppose that person or group. That civil way is not really found in the West anymore. It is demanded that Christians give this civility, but it is not given to Christians.

So yes, be outraged that terrorists murdered over a dozen people on account of their being offended. But while doing that, why not ask if your own behavior is intolerant as well in what you accept being done to those you dislike?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reflections on The Growing Dissent Among American "Super Catholics"

Have you encountered the Catholic who appeared on the scene in the turbulent years after the Council? He was deeply concerned with the abuses and innovations which he saw entering into the Church, and he was deeply concerned with the bishops who seemed indifferent or sympathetic to the people causing it. He publicly voiced his concerns, but the Church took a position contrary to his. Eventually, he decided that the Pope and these innovations were responsible for these errors, and felt he had to oppose them in order to be faithful to the true practice of the faith.

Unfortunately for the Catholics today who may proudly think of themselves as doing the right thing for doing this, the Council was Lateran V (1512-1517), the Pope was Leo X and the Catholic was Martin Luther—a man who did not start out intending to break away from the Church, but grew so convinced that the Church was going in the wrong direction that he ended up in opposition and died outside of the Church.

Luther the trad

We are seeing Catholics today who are claiming to be more knowledgable about the faith than those entrusted with the teaching office of the Church, and claim to be free of error in their understanding of Church teaching while those entrusted with the teaching office of the Church. When there is a discrepancy between what the Church teaches and what the individual believes the Church teaching to be, there is a nasty habit of the individual automatically assuming that the Church today is teaching error, and they are right. I call them “super Catholics.” 

To put it bluntly, it really pisses me off because of the suffering they cause. I encounter Catholics who want to be faithful, but are having their faith assailed by these kinds of “super Catholics” (not intended as a flattering term) who portray themselves as knowledgable about the faith. These “super Catholics’ prey on the fears of the Catholic who wants to be faithful and is troubled by dissent in the Church—telling them that these antics are the fault of the post-Vatican II Church, and especially Pope Francis. By selectively quoting segments of old Church documents from the Council of Trent and Vatican I, and contrasting them with Vatican II and post Vatican II documents taken out of context, they give the impression that the Church now has fallen into error, and the only way to escape is to remake the Church in their own image.

Yes, the Church has had problems with disobedience and corruption and indifference to problems, but there has quite literally been the same problems since the beginning of the Church (for example, see Acts 6:1). So, while we do have to deal with these things when they show up, we need to be careful not to overreact or have unreasonable expectations as to what the Church can do in response. But even with this understanding, we also need to realize that there can be different ways of dealing with a situation—different ways which are not laxity or sympathy with error. You and I might like to see the Pope drop the hammer on a recalcitrant Catholic, but that is not the only way the Church can handle the situation, and we are guilty of rash judgment if we would dare say that only our preferences are the right way to handle this.

Another danger I am seeing is that the “super Catholics” seem perfectly willing to use the same tactics of the dissenters they condemned a few years back. The same sophistry used by Catholics to justify their disobedience of Church teaching on contraception, divorce/remarriage and abortion is being used by Catholics who want to justify disobedience of the Church teaching on social justice issues. The same emotional appeals, the same taking documents out of context—there’s less difference between Pelosi and the “super Catholic” than you might think when it comes to defiance of Church teaching. It’s just a matter of decree.

I think the problem is this: The most infamous dissent against the Church from the reign of Blessed Paul VI through the reign of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has come largely from the political rebellion rising in the 1960s where a false idea on freedom affected many, causing them to reject the Church teaching on life and sexual morality. But some Catholics have forgotten that while these issues are vitally important, they are not the only issues we must heed. They make use of the either-or fallacy and assume that if the Church is speaking about sins against social justice, it must mean the Church is tolerating the liberal dissent against moral teaching. But that’s totally irrational. The Church makes clear that faithfulness to God means following Him in all areas of our life, not just on ones we find politically acceptable.

But the error we are seeing is that because the Pope is not a conservative, he is assumed to be a liberal—as if these were the only two options on the table. In fact, the teachings of the Church are not held for the same motives as people hold political ideas. We hold political ideas because we think they are advantageous (hopefully in a moral way). But we hold to Church teaching because of our love of God, recognizing Him as giving us His commandments out of love for us.

Truth be told, the ”super Catholic” who decides he or she knows better than the magisterium, judging the Pope to be in error is no less a dissenter than the liberal dissenter who derides the teaching authority of “a bunch of celibate old men.” Both believe they know better than the Church who was given her authority by Christ. Both make use of emotional appeals to make their argument sound appealing. Ultimately, both say “I will not serve” when the Church teaching goes against what they want.

We should avoid such false teachers, and pray for them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Media and Our Conception of the Catholic Faith

An Example of People Ignoring Media Claims About the Church

It’s become common now for the media to make comments about different people and events in the Church that show how they do not understand what the Church teaches. Take for example the article "Woman claims role as Kansas City’s first female Catholic priest | The Kansas City Star.” According to Catholic teaching, only a male can be ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II has made it quite clear:

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful. (emphasis added)

So, when we read in articles about women claiming to be ordained and the media treating this as fact, a person who has been paying attention to Church teaching knows that the opposite has been taught by the Church. He or she knows that this is not some new sort of teaching. We recognize that the media is to blame for this, and people who try to promote this as an example of change for the Church are either grossly uninformed about the Church or else are pushing an agenda against Church teaching.

That much seems obvious. We don’t see the National Catholic Reporter or Rorate Cæli (to name the extremes) talking about how wonderful/terrible it is that the Church is “changing” her teaching. 

Too Many Instances of People Accepting Media Claims About the Church—When it Suits Them

So, I find it curious that so many Catholics seeking to be faithful are willing to treat media reports as true when they call Pope Francis a liberal and claim he is overturning Church teaching. Anyone who looks at what his predecessors have said on a topic will find no conflicts, but at most a different way of explaining the Church teaching. The theme of the Pope’s preaching is reaching out to sinners, seeking to bring them back to God. He has said absolutely nothing about changing the faith. He has only said that it’s not enough to stop with stating what is forbidden, and we need to think about how to bring those people in a sinful situation back to the Church. He has repeatedly said that when it comes to Church teaching, he is a faithful son of the Church—on precisely the issues he has been accused of favoring a change.

So it seems clear that anyone who is trying to allege the Pope is changing the Church teaching is either grossly uninformed on what he said and what the Church says probably relying on the MSM and the opinion sites (religious and secular) which are treating the MSM as accurate.

Now of course, we want to avoid the genetic fallacy rejecting any news solely because it comes from a certain source. But we do need to consider the accuracy of a source—how knowledgable it is—when it attempts to report "breaking news” on the Church (which usually comes across looking like THIS). We also want to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy where we think that because we haven’t heard about a response to a misleading story that it wasn’t responded to.

Instead of Looking to the Church, People Look to the Media Caricature to Confirm What They Already Decided

The antidote to such antics is to look for the Church accounts of things. There are some sites which do a good job of reporting what was actually said, even to the point of providing transcripts (such as Vatican Information Service or ZENIT). I have found that whenever the rapid reporting of the MSM pronounces that the Church under Pope Francis is “changing Church teaching,” it is disproven within a few days at the most. That is why we cannot accept the MSM reporting on the Church at face value. They are acting from lack of understanding and perhaps bias (hoping that the Church will change her views as if they were a political platform).

Basically, when we look for an explanation of the Church teaching, we should turn to the Church, not away from the Church for a reliable answer. That’s not what is being done anymore. When a political pundit defines the Church in terms of his or her own bias, that’s not a reliable answer, but people are using these things to confirm their own views and justify what they were going to do anyway. Whether it’s a political liberal who wants to see a Church transforming into what he or she wants it to be, or whether it’s a conservative who is looking for an excuse to legitimize their rejection of Pope Francis, we are experiencing a situation where instead of being faithful Catholics looking to the Church, we are seeing Catholics who are affirming the Church only when it suits them, and denying it when they run afoul of the teachings.


If liberals want to trumpet their support for Pope Francis, then let them heed his teachings as a “Son of the Church.” If conservatives want to portray themselves as faithful to the Church, then let them start giving assent to the teachings of the current successor of St. Peter, trusting that Our Lord will not fail in His promise to protect the Church under the successor of St. Peter.

If people decide to ignore these things and instead pick and choose what it means to be a Catholic, then that’s hypocrisy—and both liberal and conservative are guilty of the same disobedience, even if they dissent on different grounds. Cafeteria Catholicism is not only a behavior of one political faction.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thoughts on Religious Freedom in America For the New Year

Religious freedom americaNot the country I grew up in...


I think we’re now at the point where there are enough people out there who believe that whatever harms their enemy is good that we can expect to see popular support for whatever violation of religious freedom is directed at the Catholic Church—especially if this violation can be cast as defending the “rights” of a group portrayed as a victim. Let’s face it. When a Church affiliated institution (like a school or hospital) can establish a policy making clear that all potential employees are called to live publicly and privately in accordance with Church teaching, and the employee willingly signs said agreement and then is fired for violating it, and successfully sues the institution involved, we are seeing the establishment of rule of law being replaced by arbitrary judgment. When a business is established by a Christian who wants to run his or her business in accordance with Christian moral principles can be sued or prosecuted when the business refuses to do something against those principles, we’re seeing the rule of law being replaced by arbitrary judgment.

It’s kind of alarming seeing the comments of people online who have no problem with self-contradiction. Champions of freedom say that they just want the freedom to do what they want without interference, but when we try to claim the same rights for doing what we ought, suddenly freedom is nowhere to be found. No, we can’t say same sex “marriage” is wrong without risk of legal action. No, we can’t refuse to distribute contraceptives against our conscience without risk of legal action. No, we can’t hold people accountable for breaking a signed agreement without risk of legal action—even if they’re directly working for the Church.

It Will Be a Different From The Totalitarian Version

Now America prides itself as being a land of freedom, so I doubt we’ll directly see it move to overt persecution of Christianity of the type seen in Communist nations unless we fall much further into the rule by decree mindset. What I expect that we’ll see is government misusing the rule of law to portray Christian moral teaching as a violation of the rule of law. Then, by changing the meaning of things, the Church is suddenly portrayed as violating the law by standing by her fidelity to Christ. Marriage is redefined, and suddenly we’re accused of violating the civil rights of people with same sex attraction. Abortion and contraception are redefined from a crime to a right and suddenly we’re accused of violating the rights of women.

The Accusations Used To Justify It Are Not Rational

The usual tactic is to make use of the question begging analogy fallacy and point to the real racism of American history, alleging that the opposition to certain things as being sinful is based on intolerance, just as whites were intolerant of blacks in the past (and tragically, some still hold today). This attack tries to link two things with an alleged (but not proven) motive, failing twice as the comparison is not true and the alleged motive used to link the two is not proven. So opponents point to the real evil of racism, allege our motives for Christian moral teaching as being equally intolerant and declare that the government must oppose this “intolerance” just as they opposed the ethnic racism of American history.

But the problem is, there is no material advantage to being a Catholic, as opposed to being an atheist or a Protestant. Nor is one’s membership in a religion the same unchangeable thing as being a member of an ethnic group. People are not (and never were, contrary to popular belief) forcibly converted to Catholicism. One is free to join the Church if they accept what we believe is true. If they reject that what we believe is true, then it makes very little sense to want to join, remain in or work for the Church that says, if you would follow Christ, you are called to avoid sin to live rightly.

Because of this reality, it is unjust to attempt to legally harass us for being true to what we believe is part of following Christ. We do not seek to violate the laws of this nation (but we may be forced to choose between our faith and the state when the state tries to put itself above God), though we use our constitutional rights to try to change laws we believe are unjust. We don’t use the tactics of those who hate us because they strike us as unjust (Matt 7:12). Yes, some individuals among us may do evil, but they do evil against the teachings of the Church, not because of the teachings of the Church.

There are basically two issues in the debate on religious freedom. The first is making laws which reflect what is right and just. The second is insisting on the freedoms which others try to deny us while demanding it for themselves. Because there are two issues, we need to keep track of which one applies where. When we call for laws to be passed which have the proper understanding on the nature of humanity and what is good for it, we are making reference to the first issue. When we oppose attempts to restrict our freedoms to practice what we believe is right, we are making reference to the second issue.

Freedoms Now Applied Only to Favored Views Despite Claims of “Tolerance"


AnimalFarm1  Version 2

The response to these two issues makes me wonder what happened to the country I grew up in. The prevalent attitude by those cultural and media elites is that these freedoms are only applicable to certain types of freedoms—the freedoms they approve of. The beliefs of people they disagree with are not considered protected and what they would consider unjust if it were applied to them is considered perfectly acceptable when applied to those they dislike. That’s why it is considered perfectly acceptable to have a person forced out of his job for supporting a position such as traditional marriage (such as Brendan Eich), but intolerance if a person was forced from his job for supporting same sex “marriage."

See, the first issue is an issue of what is true and how we should behave on account of what is true. Yes, there will be conflicts in these beliefs of what is true. But if one person says “X is morally wrong,” and the other person says “X is not morally wrong,” the proper response is the seeking of truth. On what basis do you make your claim? The response of accusing people of homophobia or a “war on women," is not an exchange of ideas. That’s an attempt to bully, vilifying the person who dares disagree. If a Christian believes that the good of society means one has to protect the building block of society (the traditional family), he can do so peacefully, operating within the law, with the right to peacefully try to convince people willing to listen that this is worthy of a law.

The second issue is the issue of allowing a person to live as they believe their conscience commands them to do—which is quite different from the person who says they “don’t see anything wrong with it.” The person who believes contraception is morally acceptable is not having their rights imposed on if she works for an employer who refuses to pay for it out of moral obligation, but the person who believes contraception is morally wrong is having their rights imposed on if the courts decree he or she must pay for these contraceptives. In other words, the person whose conscience is lax enough to see contraception as morally OK is not being forced to do something evil when the employer says, “Fine, but I’m not paying for it.” But forcing people to pay for what they think is evil is a violation of conscience.

Counter-Accusations Do Not Actually Fit Our Behavior, Except in Extremists That We Disavow

So, this is why religious believers must be more and more active in defending what they believe, while seeking to reach out to others in showing them why Christian beliefs are true. We are being told both that we have no right to seek laws which make the society live in a way that is just and true and that our beliefs are not covered under the freedoms all citizens claim. Objectively, we must say that some things are always wrong, while still treating our opponents with human dignity. On the other hand, we must say that even if our opponents disagree with our claims to truth, that doesn’t mean that they have the right to strip us of our human dignity.

This is the issue that is being ignored. The elites are actually behaving in a corrupt way, where consideration of rights and right don’t figure into things. Self-Contradiction is apparently acceptable so long as it helps them and harms us. But if we insist that they apply the same standards to themselves as they apply to ourself, it’s suddenly unfair.

Now, it some people do accuse us of holding a double standard. Either they point to the infamous Christian groups which are a good bogeyman to unjustly tar all Christians with to make the Christian teaching look bad (most Christians who oppose same sex acts don’t support the unjust treatment for those with that inclination), or they accuse us of being motivated by hatred when we say, “Hey, practice what you preach.” Yes, unfortunately, you will find Christians who don’t practice what they preach. But they are not the majority of Christians, and most of us recognize that those who act in this way are doing wrong even if they agree with us that X is wrong. So, it’s unjust to blame us for the actions of people we repudiate and it is wrong to accuse us of bad will because we disagree the popular views.


But people tend to accept the accusations of “guilt by association” and bald assertions of intolerance that we deny. That’s basically why religious freedom and the ability to do right is looking bleaker for 2015. Is there a remedy? Sure. It requires men and women of good will to stand up against the governments, the courts and even in places of business and point out that what is being alleged of us is unjust. It requires people to distinguish between what is alleged about Christian belief and the motive for it and the truth of Christian belief and why we hold it. In other words, religious freedom is in danger so long as people are willing to tolerate (or approve of) attacks on other people.