Monday, March 30, 2015

Logical Fallacies in the Anti-Religious Freedom Movement


There are a number of businesses, organizations and celebrities that are either threatening, carrying out or calling for boycotts of Indiana on account of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They call it names like the “Freedom To Discriminate” act (George Takei) and call such laws “dangerous” (Tim Cook). But, as I read the anger spilling out over the internet, I see that the opposition is not based on any fact but rather on logical fallacies

The end result of these fallacies is the fact that there is an allegation of intolerance made against the Christian moral teachings, but no proof to justify the claim. Without proof, one cannot say that the accusation is proven true.

Let’s look at them.

The Begging the Question Fallacy

The begging the question fallacy is committed by acting as if something that has to be proven to be true is true. So, if the point of my argument is that “X is bad,” the premises of my argument have to be aimed at proving X is bad. If the premises of my argument are based on the assumption that “X is bad” then I am begging the question. This is commonly done in the assumption that opposition to “same sex marriage” is based on intolerance? Why are they intolerant? Because they oppose “same sex marriage”! That doesn’t answer the question “How do we know it is intolerant?” It merely repeats the (unproven) allegation.

These arguments don’t actually demonstrate that intolerance is the only possible motive for this opposition. It is simply assumed that the no good person would oppose it. So, as a result we say these arguments are unproven—you can’t prove the conclusion by this argument. If we think of an argument as a trial, then we could think of this argument as a prosecutor who alleged the accused was guilty but provided no proof of guilt for it. Any jury deciding the accused was guilty would be causing a miscarriage of justice.

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

The slippery slope fallacy seems similar to showing cause and effect (showing a link between A and B), but in actuality it argues against something simply under the fear of what it might do. In other words, “If we let A happen, B is going to happen,” again assuming but not proving. In this case, the popular example is to portray this law as the modern equivalent of the old “Whites Only” signs in the Segregated South. People ask “What about a restaurant owner refusing to serve a same sex couple?” and go on from there giving all sorts of horror stories of what could happen. Could being the operative word—what might happen does not equal “will happen,” and “what will happen” is what has to be determined before we can condemn something.

To continue the analogy of argument of a trial, this argument is like a prosecutor who tries to argue that "if we don’t convict the defendant, he will go on to commit all sorts of monstrous crimes.” But we don’t convict a person on what they might do, but on what they did do. You don’t know that a person will do this, and it is possible to take just precautions to ensure a crime does not happen without violating civil rights.

The Appeal to Emotion Fallacy

The appeal to emotion fallacy works on the premise that a good emotion associated with a claim leads one to think of it as true, while a negative emotion associated with a claim leads one the claim as false. So to appeal to “the need to let two people in love marry regardless of their gender” awakens a positive idea that same sex “marriage” is good because “love” is good, while awakening hostility towards those who oppose it as being “cold hearted.” But emotion can be exploited. Leaders exploit emotions in propaganda to move people to support their country and oppose another country. The emotions don’t mean that the claims are true.

Using the analogy of a trial once more, the appeal to emotion is like a lawyer not talking about whether the charges are true or not, but instead tries to play on your feelings to give a verdict that he wants.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

The ad hominem does not seek to prove or disprove anything. Instead, it tries to attack the person making an argument and convince a person that because he or she has negative traits (true or not), we can ignore anything said by that person. An example of this fallacy would be if I said, "Tim Cook could not be trusted to give an accurate account of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because he was a liberal and a homosexual." Those claims have no bearing on whether or not what he says is true. (A person being a liberal or having a same sex attraction have nothing to do with whether or not a person is speaking the truth).

Likewise, the accusations that the Church is intolerant, homophobic, bureaucratic and heartless (and we deny all of them) have nothing to do with whether the Church teaching on homosexuality is true or not. These are just terms of abuse used to give a negative impression on the listener and turn them away from listening to the argument and considering if it was true.

The Poisoning the Well Fallacy

The poisoning the well fallacy seeks to make a smear attack on the target so that no matter what the targeted person says, the smear remains in the mind of the listener. This is another way where opponents of the Religious Freedom laws attack to prevent people from considering the argument. The attacker alleges that the supporter of this law is bigoted and has a hatred for people with same sex attraction. The result of poisoning the well is that the listener assumes that a defense of the law is simply defending bigotry and hatred.

The Overall Effect

The overall effect of these tactics is to give the listener the impression that the Christian that refuses to participate in a “same sex wedding” does so out of bigotry. Since bigotry is bad, a good person is led to believe that the right thing to do is to oppose Christian belief. 

The Catholic Teaching is NOT What It is Misrepresented to Be

But the problem is not a single one of these accusations are true. The Christian teaching is not motivated by hatred—indeed the Catholic Church condemns hatred. 

When one looks at the definition of hate in a dictionary it tells us the meaning is intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, ill-will, an extreme dislike or antipathy. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether the Church teaching is motivated by hatred.So we ask: Does the Church have intense hostility and antipathy for the woman who had an abortion or the person with same sex attraction, wishing them harm? That is what has to be proven. It has to actually be established that they despise such a person and wants them to come to harm—like perhaps hoping they go to hell?

So, we would need to look at what the Church taught about the sinner and see if there is such a desire in their treatment of sinners.

But the opposite is true: the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between our treatment of persons and treatment of behaviors, saying:

1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy. (2303)


2303 Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (2094; 1933)

Some people (often derisively) refer to this as “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But while that is true, it is inadequate.

The person who hates a sinner wishes a defiant sinner harm or other misfortune. Such a person is doing what the Church says is wrong. But the person who says “this act is sinful and must be stopped” is not acting out of hatred any more than a doctor who says “Smoking is harmful and must be stopped.” He or she is expressing this information in the hopes that the individual committing it will stop doing it—for their own good.

So, like it or not, the Church is explicitly saying that hatred of a sinner is forbidden and even a grave sin. For the non-Catholic, a grave sin involves serious matter where a person who commits it with full knowledge of its gravity and with full consent to do it anyway would be committing a mortal sin—which is a sin that would damn one to hell if unrepented.

So, in other words, if we hate the woman who has an abortion or the man with same sex attraction, we can go to hell for wishing such a person grave harm. Does that really make any sense to accuse the Church for holding their teaching out of hatred when they say it is evil to hold hatred for a person? Talk about self defeating! The Church does not hate people. However she does have hostility to the actions that are chosen that turn humanity away from God. 

Individuals Who Disobey the Church Exist, But the Church Can’t Be Blamed For Their Actions

Now of course, you can find extremists who actually do hate people instead of the sin committed—people who actually wish evil to afflict sinners. Up until their leader died, the media loved to provide us with stories of the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of Christianity hating people with same sex attraction. It was effective as one could find people pointing to their antics and accusing the Catholic Church of committing them. But in actuality, the Catholic Church teaching is in complete opposition to their antics. As the Catechism says:

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.

Treatment with respect, compassion and sensitivity is incompatible with hatred, so again we have shown that, contrary to accusations, Catholic teaching is not rooted in hatred.

Modern Society Falsely Thinks that Saying Actions Are Wrong Means Hatred of the Person Doing Them

The problem is the modern society takes a love me, love my dog attitude to the extreme. It’s not just a case of demanding that we accept a person with flaws and all—rather it is a demand that we accept those flaws as a good and deny there is anything wrong with them. A refusal to accept those flaws as good is turned into an accusation of hating the person. But, as we have shown above, hatred of a self-destructive behavior (which all sin is) does not mean hating the person suffering from it. It can mean hating a problem which keeps the person from being what they should be.

But once a person demands we accept their sin as if it were good, they see the attempt to help a person as if it were an attempt to harm them. It’s as if a person carrying a heavy load fell into quicksand and the load was dragging them down. We throw them a rope, but the weight of the load prevents them from climbing out to safety and actually threatens to break the rope. We tell them they need to let go of their load and grab the rope, but they refuse, saying that we need to get them out with their load as well. When we tell them it is impossible, they get angry at us and accuse us of wanting them to die. It is untrue. The fact is, in a life or death situation, no possession is worth your life. 

Likewise, in the reality of our having an eternal soul which can be dragged down to hell if we refuse to cooperate with salvation, no vice, no compulsion is worth losing our soul over and no human declaration can make good what God has called evil. Therefore when it comes to the choice of man declaring a thing “good” and God calling that thing “evil,” what we have is a choice between accepting and rejecting God.


The fact is, we deny that Christian moral teaching is based on hatred of people with same sex attraction. It is more like a wife who loves her husband with alcoholism. That alcoholism is destroying his life and his relationship with her. The wife hates this alcoholism because she can see what it is doing to her husband and wants it to be cured so he will stop harming himself and have a better life. The hatred of the harmful act is not done out of hatred for the person.

In such a case, we would recognize the husband’s accusation that his wife hated him because she hated his alcoholism to be wrong. Being an alcoholic is not a part of the man’s nature. It is a flaw which must be overcome, whether by being cured or by avoiding behavior that feeds it.

Now the person may think that their inclination is good. They may cling to it like a heavy load. But the harmful inclination can never be enabled. That is why the Church will never change her teaching on same sex “marriage” or abortion or contraception. We know they are wrong, and we cannot take part in what we know is wrong, even if someone thinks it is morally acceptable.

I think I will close this article with a quote from the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz that I have cited before. 

In it we have a situation where there has been a nuclear war, and people are suffering from radiation sickness.  The government wants to establish facilities to decide who has received enough radiation to be fatal to recommend euthanizing.  The abbot of the monastery where they want to establish the facility tells them he will refuse cooperation unless the doctor promises not to advise people to euthanize themselves.  The doctor says it is not right to do this with non-Catholic patients and accuses the abbot of imposing his views on others and the abbot has no right to make this condition, and demands the abbot explain why he insists on this stance for non-Catholics as well as Catholics.  The abbot responds:

Because if a man is ignorant of the fact something is wrong and acts in ignorance, he incurs no guilt, provided natural reason was not enough to show him that it was wrong.  But while ignorance may excuse the man, it does not excuse the act, which is wrong in itself.  If I permitted the act simply because the man is ignorant that it is wrong, then I would incur guilt, because I do know it to be wrong.  It is really that painfully simple. (A Canticle for Leibowitz. page 296 in my EOS edition)

The doctor responds by accuse the abbot of being merciless and out of touch, which is no refutation of the facts stated by the abbot. Likewise, the accusation that we are bigoted and out of touch is no refutation of our argument.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

TFTD: Self-Contradiction by Opponents to Christianity

So, the backlash against Indiana’s Religious Freedom law continues to grow, and one wonders whether things will spill over into violence soon against Christians. The media, with backing from some politicians and some businesses are treating the entire affair as being intended to allow free discrimination against people with same sex attraction—never mind that they are merely making a circular argument that assumes discrimination instead of proving it intends discrimination.

But as I read the news articles and the comments, I am seeing what is amounting to several huge self-contradictions that, when explored, makes these protestors out to be huge hypocrites. Here’s the problem.

  1. If nobody should be allowed to force their views on others, then nobody should be allowed to force their views of same sex “marriage” on Christian business owners.
  2. If it is acceptable for the law to make demands based on moral beliefs (by banning “anti-gay” discrimination), then it is acceptable for Christians to make law based on the demands of their moral belief.

See the problem here? If relativists try to define the issue the first way (“forcing views on others”) then they are obligated to avoid forcing their views on others, and they cannot try to compel Christian business owners to cooperate with their view that “same sex marriage” is morally acceptable. But if they try the other tactic and claim that they have the right to pass laws that say Christians must cooperate with their beliefs of right and wrong, then logically Christians have the right to pass laws based on their own beliefs of right and wrong.

No matter which universal they stake claim to, Christians can point out they are being hypocritical in their enforcement of it because it is being applied in such a way as to exclude those the protestors disagree with (the Christians), whereas, if opponents of Christianity applied those principles across the board, they could not condemn Christians for behaving as they do without condemning themselves as well.

However, Christians can’t be accused of approaching these two concepts with the same self-contradiction simply because we don’t hold them in the first place. The Christian view is not based on the idea of freedom to behave as one wants, but the freedom to behave as one ought. Anything that blocks a person from doing what is right or forces them to do what is wrong is a violation of that freedom. Because the concept of family as husband, wife and children passing on the values needed for the society to continue from one generation to the next is a building block of the society, the law can be justified in defending it. Things that harm that building block of society by tearing down the things that make it possible to continue society to the next generation need to be prevented and the law is reasonable in using just means to prevent them from destroying it.

So (simplifying greatly), I would say that the Christian moral teaching would hold this principle with no self contradiction:

  1. No law should prevent a person from doing what they believe they are morally obliged to do unless that belief causes actual harm to others or the breakdown of the common good (taking another life arbitrarily comes to mind here, as does attacks on the traditional family, committing violence against others without just cause).
  2. No law should force a person to do what they believe is morally wrong to do.
  3. Laws should promote the common good and protect the family and individuals from those who would actively seek to harm others.

Such a concept on law would not only protect the Christian, but the non-Christian from being forced to do wrong, it would protect society from individuals or groups who claim they have the moral obligation to murder or steal etc. It recognizes that real right and wrong do exist and seeks to make laws that makes it easier to do what is right, and put restrictions on wrongdoing that disrupts society.

No contradiction, no injustice. That’s the difference between the consistent Christian view and the self-contradiction of the inconsistent view of modern Christianophobia that pretends to be in favor of “rights” of all—except Christians.

The Snares of the Devil

The Snares of the Devil

Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Lord Warned Us and It's Here. Let Us Pray and Prepare

If you look in the comments on news sites and on Facebook concerning the Religious Freedom law in Indiana, it is clear that the reactions seem to stem from a hatred of Christian moral teaching and a willingness to bully anyone who stands up for their faith and refuse to take part in something which their beliefs tell them is wrong. If we would just abandon our beliefs that certain actions are wrong, the world would not hate us.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Our Lord warned us that the world hated Him and it would hate us too for being faithful to Him:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you,* ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken* to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

None of us expected it to be here so soon. Hatred and persecution is something people tend to think of as happening in distant lands, the distant past or the distant future. Sometimes the persecution is milder—legal harassment. Sometimes it is harsh, imprisonment and death for the faith. The people doing the persecution always think they are doing a good thing.

In this case, in America, we have a vocal portion of this nation led by the political and media elites who are determined to portray our insistence not to do evil as a hatred of the people who do these acts. We have a choice. We can either remain faithful to God, praying for Him to strengthen us in the face of this hatred or we can abandon those beliefs which the world finds offensive and become harmless Christians who have no impact on the world.

We know that the second option is not an option if we are going to be faithful to God. So we need to pray for the strength to face whatever form persecution takes for us individually. Some of us may only have to endure hostile words. Others of us may have to endure legal harassment or prosecution. Our task is to bring our Catholic faith to the world, even when we are hated for doing so, even when we are hated for saying, “You must not do this thing!” Even when the branches of our government refuse to face their obligation to protect us from our enemies.

So each of us needs to pray, for ourselves and each other. So when the persecution comes to each one of us, we may do God’s will.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughts on the Good and Bad of Catholic Blogging

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way… (A Tale of Two Cities)


Nowadays, the Church is of interest to the media. Unfortunately, they are generally uninformed about our Catholic Faith, and as a result when the Church fathers meet to discuss how the Church should approach an issue, the standard approach is to break it down into “good guys” who support what they approve and “bad guys” who oppose it. (The Rhine Flows into the Tiber shows how that sort of thing happened). Because they generally are religiously illiterate, and approach a council or synod as if it was a political debate, their attempts at research tends towards looking up what individual Catholics are writing or saying and use them as representatives of the whole Catholic thinking.

The problem with communications as they advance is it becomes easier and easier for anybody to spread their opinions wide and influence people. In 2007, I began a blog which has reached more people during the past seven years than I could have hoped to reach by writing, say, twenty years before. I hope that was a good thing, not a bad thing. But the point is, the individual Catholic can write about the faith as they see it and influence others for better or worse.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I would say this is for good when Catholics use this medium to help people understand the faith and live better in accord with it, to be aware of what is going on in the world and how the Church understands it. During my years I have seen many praiseworthy blogs, dedicated to apologetics or family life—helping people seek to live their lives closer to what God has called them (for example, blogs about Catholic parenting) or is calling them to be (such as blogs promoting the religious life or the married vocation). Such blogs can let us know of things to pray about or work for/against in order to spread the faith. They can help us respond to challenges to our faith, and even convince us to abandon views incompatible with our faith.

But (and you knew there was going to be a “but” here), Catholic blogging can be a very bad thing when it turns the Catholic faith or a teaching of the Catholic faith into a platform for a rant, or into a partisan dispute where people who disagree with one’s preferences become villains, and there is no sign of Christian charity for the person who disagrees. Even the priest, bishop or Pope is not safe from their judgment, if they do not handle things in the way that the partisan blogger would like. Under such a viewpoint, the Church is broken into heroes and knaves based entirely on how they see the Church in relation to what they think should be done. There’s no room for considering whether there is another way of handling things that is still in keeping with the Catholic faith.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

What makes this kind of behavior worse is that so much of it is uninformed. The reaction is not merely uncharitable, but sometimes it relies on a personal interpretation of Church documents from a past age, with no consideration as to how the Church teaching has developed between the time of the document referred to and the Papal statement they object to. So, for example, they contrast St. Cyprian’s “no salvation outside of the Church” with the Vatican II statements on non-Catholics or non-Christians, alleging that this is proof of heresy—but ignore Pope Pius IX or Pope Pius XII explicitly rejecting the concept that a person not a formal member of the Catholic Church is going to hell.

Another aspect of this is the assumption that because the reaction by the Magisterium is not public, the magisterium is doing nothing. In logic, that’s the argument from silence fallacy. If a Pope or Bishop or Pastor chooses to deal privately with a Catholic behaving badly, rather than publicly denounce them, that is a pastoral issue. Sure, it is a legitimate problem when an issue is ignored. But often the Church spends time dialoguing with people in error, with the aim of bringing them back into the Church, rather than have them harden their hearts in dissent.

For example, when it comes to concern that “the bishops aren’t doing anything,” how many people know that Canon Law actually stipulates when public action can take place:

can. 1341† An ordinary is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.

Now I have no doubt that a bishop can be too lenient, just as he can be too harsh. But when you see this, it becomes clear that we cannot assume from a lack of visible action that a bishop has no intention to act at all.

Love and Respect is Required

Even if someone in authority is wrong, that does not give a blogger to just tear into him. Charity is required and charity is all too often lacking. St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica (II-II Q33. A4) about how one may correct a superior. He utterly rejects the idea of public challenges and rudeness in doing so. I offer this for consideration:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.


Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii.), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.


Reply Obj. 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.


Reply Obj. 2. To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defence of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry. It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. 2:11, Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.


Reply Obj. 3. To presume oneself to be simply better than one’s prelate, would seem to savour of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger, as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.

Indeed, in Article 7 of the same question, he also writes “Therefore it is evident that the precept requires a secret admonition to precede public denunciation.” How often does this happen? Not often—and I fear that the Catholic blogosphere can be one of the biggest transgressors here. Moreover, when we assume our superiority to the bishop being “corrected,” and act like we have the right to criticize him, we are usurpers. We don’t have that right to behave with public rudeness—even if he should turn out to do wrong.

Presumption of Superiority and Lack of Love

St. Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, and it is a good thing to consider:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I believe that when we start from a position of believing we are superior to the priest, bishop or Pope in our knowledge and holiness, we are starting from a position of arrogance and have no love for the person we believe should be corrected. We simply look at such a case as if we were vanquishing an infidel or as if we thought we were the only ones defended by the Holy Spirit from error.

The other side of the coin to the presumption of our own superiority is the presumption of the other person’s inferiority. When we assume we know more than the bishop or the Pope, we are assuming that they are inferior to us in holiness about the knowledge of the faith. Such behavior can reach the level of rash judgment where a person refuses to consider good intentions on the part of the person judged.

We can only avoid this sin by remembering that we are to love those tasked with shepherding us, even if they sometimes act in a way that doesn’t make them particularly likable.

I think this can only be done if we remember to pray for the person we are concerned with—not pray for in the sense of “Oh Lord, please make this bishop stop being an idiot,” but in the sense of “Lord, bless him and guide him that he may shepherd his diocese well and lead us as he is called to do.” Asking for his good, not for his deposition, will transform us as well as him.

Conclusion: Without Love Our Blogs Are A Clashing Cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1)

I think this is why I am so ultimately troubled by the Catholic blogosphere—the lack of love for those we disagree with or those we believe to be behaving wrongly. People are going to look at our blogs, and they are probably going to judge the Church by their antics. If they don’t see the love in our actions, if they instead see us tearing each other to pieces, they’ll look at us as yet one more conservative or liberal group (depending on their outlook) to be written off. I think the problem we have to face is that we have sometimes gotten so focussed on looking on those who act differently as an enemy instead of someone to be reached out to in love that we think of our mission as “vanquishing the foe,” instead of “winning over our brother” (Matthew 18:15).

Every person who reads this must consider for themselves whether they need to change and, if so, to what extent. That includes me of course. There needs to be a constant evaluation of conscience by each blogger, eliminating what we perceive to be against what God calls us to be.

Ultimately, I think this is a matter of learning to let go, love those we fear are doing wrong, and trust that God is looking after His Church and will not allow it to fall it in ruin. As Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said in The Ratzinger Report, we need to remember that it is God’s Church, not ours. If we can have faith in God, we can learn to trust that what happens to the Church will not lead to her ruin and it may make us more open to hear what God calls us to do.

I would like to conclude by asking us to reflect on St. Francis of Assisi. He was called by God in a time when the Church was in need of reform. St. Francis answered that call—but he did so with love for the Church, and obedience to the Pope and the Bishop. Let us seek to emulate him—especially if one believes the Church is falling into ruin.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts on Same Sex Attraction, Diabetes and Rejecting the Physician

Preliminary Note

All Analogies limp if you take them further than they are intended to go. It’s easy to look at them overly critically instead of evaluate the point they are trying to make. I ask you to keep that in mind, and avoid trying to read more into my own analogy than I intend to be there.


One of the first things we need to understand is that, in the eyes of the Church, having an inclination is not the same thing as an act. The fact that a person has an inclination that attracts them to behavior that is called sinful is not their fault, and the Church does not condemn a person for having an inclination. However, what a person chooses to do with that inclination can be assessed as doing good or evil. In other words, it is not the attraction that is sinful, but how one chooses to act in response to that attraction.

Comparisons and Those Offended By Them

Trying to create an example to illustrate how this works can be different. Whenever someone tries to use an example of an attraction that everyone recognizes as wrong, someone will invariably make the wrong connection and think this example is being used to say that “same sex attraction is just as bad as X.” But that’s to miss the point of such analogies. The point isn’t to fix same sex attraction on a chart to say it is the moral equivalent of something. The point is to demonstrate that just because someone has an inclination to certain behavior, doesn’t mean it is allowable to act on that inclination.

It’s a crucial point, but it is usually misunderstood. The real point to be understood is this: When a person has an inclination towards a behavior that has been condemned by God as being against His will, the obligation of the person with this inclination is to resist the inclination and avoid behaviors which put us in opposition to God. That’s not always an easy thing to do of course, and it is possible for a person with a compulsive behavior to lack the full free will to resist a sinful act, and thus not be totally responsible for the act they commit. That is something for the confessor to determine. However, even if a compulsion means that the individual who commits a sinful act is not fully in control of themselves (and therefore not guilty of a mortal sin), that does not mean that no wrong was done. The act is still wrong and still needs to be resisted.

That’s why we can say that the Catholic Church does not hate people with a same sex attraction. She is compassionate for them and wishes to help them live in a way compatible with what God calls us to be.

The Analogy of Diabetes

Think of it like a condition like diabetes. There are different types. Some are genetic (Type I), and some are brought on by living in ways that are not the best (Type II). Either way, you go to the doctor and ask him if it’s fatal. “No,” he replies. “But" (and you knew that was coming), “you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle and not give into the cravings you have for certain things.” (I’m sure some will get offended here, saying “OMG! He’s comparing same sex attraction to a disease!” But that is to miss the point of this comparison).

In such a case, it makes no sense to get angry with the doctor. Sure, you could storm out of his/her office and refuse to listen to his opinions—but the fact is, if you live in a way which meets your desires, the result is going to be harmful to you, and perhaps eventually fatal. So to live and stay healthy, we have to make some changes and avoid things that are harmful to us.

A disordered attraction is like that. People can’t gratify certain desires that come from this attraction because those desires are harmful for our spiritual health and can turn out to be fatal to our soul. Some people have said, “I didn’t ask to be gay.” I’m sure that’s true. And I didn’t ask to be diabetic. But since we have these things, we have to make changes to our lives that prevent us from doing some things that others can do—in my case, no super triple hot fudge sundaes (because of my body desires something harmful for me), in the case of a person with a same sex attraction, no sexual activity (because it involves acts with a person of the same gender—which is harmful for the moral life). Sure, we can choose to engage in behaviors which are harmful to us, but in my case, the result is going to be an elevated blood sugar level, and in the case of the person with same sex attraction, the result is going to be sin that alienates us from God.

Don’t Blame the Physician for the Diagnosis

In such cases, it is foolish to deny the problem and insist that things be changed for us. The government can coerce the FDA to declare that triple chocolate ice cream is OK for diabetics and the government can coerce businesses, and perhaps eventually churches, to say same sex “marriage” is a right. But in both cases, such government decrees would have no authority to change reality, and a person who believed them over the ones qualified to make the decision would wind up in bad shape very quickly.

Is it hard? Of course. And it’s much harder for the person with a same sex attraction (who knows they can never have a married life the way their inclination leads them to desire) than it is for me (who has to cut back on the carbs and the sugar). But this isn’t a violation of our “civil rights.” It’s a case of our having to live differently so we don’t do physical or moral harm to ourselves.

The doctor tells me “No.” The Church tells the person with the same sex attraction “No.” If we ignore these instructions, we will do ourselves harm—perhaps fatally.

So, it makes no sense to blame the Church for teaching that same sex genital activity is gravely disordered. All the Church does in any of her moral teachings is to be the physician, and try to let us know what is harmful. Just like the doctor who desires our physical health, the Church desires our spiritual and moral health, and the warnings are not out of hatred or personal opinion. They’re out of love for us and the desire for us to be spiritually well, spending our eternity with God..

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thoughts on Cheap Grace and Presumption

Modern Christianity seems to have many problems that boil down to one fact—that we have convinced ourselves we don’t personally need to change. Others may need to change—if their behaviors go against what we dislike—but not us and not those who think like we do. All we have to do is convince ourselves that we’re not as bad as those people who we deem worse than us and convince ourselves that because God loves us He won’t send us to Hell, and we can just rest comfortably with no need to change ourselves. Anybody who says we must change, or that there are things that are always wrong, are obviously judgmental bigots who can be safely ignored. Any Scriptures that tell us that God condemns the things we do as evil are labeled the products of an "unenlightened time” and can also be safely ignored.

The problem with this view is it has nothing to do with what God the Father has taught, and nothing to do what His Son has taught. What has been taught is the call to repent and turn back to God. We are called to take up our cross and follow Him. We are told to obey His commandments. We are not told that we can go back to behaving like we did before we were called.

The problem is, we have been deceived by what is known as cheap grace. I’ll share with you a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who defines the concept quite well:

Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways. “Our action is in vain.” The world remains world and we remain sinners “even in the best of lives.” Thus, the Christian should live the same way the world does. In all things the Christian should go along with the world and not venture (like sixteenth-century enthusiasts) to live a different life under grace from that under sin! The Christian better not rage against grace or defile that glorious cheap grace by proclaiming anew a servitude to the letter of the Bible in an attempt to live an obedient life under the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world is justified by grace, therefore—because this grace is so serious! because this irreplaceable grace should not be opposed—the Christian should live just like the rest of the world! Of course, a Christian would like to do something exceptional! Undoubtedly, it must be the most difficult renunciation not to do so and to live like the world. But the Christian has to do it, has to practice such self-denial so that there is no difference between Christian life and worldly life. The Christian has to let grace truly be grace enough so that the world does not lose faith in this cheap grace. In being worldly, however, in this necessary renunciation required for the sake of the world—no, for the sake of grace!—the Christian can be comforted and secure (securus) in possession of that grace which takes care of everything by itself. So the Christian need not follow Christ, since the Christian is comforted by grace! That is cheap grace as justification of sin, but not justification of the contrite sinner who turns away from sin and repents. It is not forgiveness of sin which separates those who sinned from sin. Cheap grace is that grace which we bestow on ourselves.


Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.


Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people go and sell with joy everything they have. It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has;[6] it is Christ’s sovereignty, for the sake of which you tear out an eye if it causes you to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him.[8]


Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock.


It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.


[Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 43–45.]

Cheap Grace is how there can be Christians who live like pagans, where it seems that the only verses they know of the Bible are Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not”) and 1 John 4:8  (“God is love”) but never seek to know the context of what these verses mean nor realize that Our Lord also spoke of repentance and judgment.

The Catholic Church has another term for this topic. The term is Presumption. The Catechism defines it this way:

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of presumption as an opposition to God’s justice, refusing to accept the call to change:

Now presumption is an appetitive movement, since it denotes an inordinate hope. Moreover it is conformed to a false intellect, just as despair is: for just as it is false that God does not pardon the repentant, or that He does not turn sinners to repentance, so is it false that He grants forgiveness to those who persevere in their sins, and that He gives glory to those who cease from good works: and it is to this estimate that the movement of presumption is conformed. (Summa Theologica, II-II q.21 a.2 resp.)

Basically put, the modern concept of a God who does not punish those who refuse to repent and seek out His will is nothing more than a perversion of what God has actually revealed Himself to be. Either we think we are good and don’t need salvation or we think it doesn’t matter if our life includes wrongdoing because God loves us anyway.

It can be fascinating talking to the proponents of presumption/cheap grace and see the mental gymnastics they are willing to do in order to keep their belief. I recall talking to one woman who was a proponent of “Once saved, always saved” (which is held by some Protestants), asking her if one could be a Christian porn star. Her answer was, "Yes but such a person would not be an effective Christian.” Yes, she thought such a person shouldn’t do this. But she couldn’t come out and say such a person could be damned if he/she would not repent after accepting Christ.

This woman was trying to be a sincere Christian, but her views blinded her to the fact that some things can be contrary to the word of God and that a person who refuses to change himself or herself from behaviors that God forbade will have to face God’s justice.

The same mindset (albeit held for different reasons) can be found with the people who try to say “God doesn’t care about X!” They have no basis for such a claim—especially when the Scriptures have quite strong statements about it. Rather, they don’t want to consider their obligation to change, resenting anyone who tells them otherwise.

Ultimately, it makes one ask what they think the purpose of Our Lord’s death on the cross was about. Saving us from sin was obviously so important, that Our Lord suffered death on a cross to accomplish it. But if we don’t respond to the loving act, then for us He died in vain.

In a sense, it seems that a lot of the culture war involves the issue of cheap grace and the sin of presumption. Those who think they do not have to change as a condition for following Christ have taken a leading role in changing anything in Christianity that calls for change of mind and heart (μετανοια—metanoia) towards following Christ and rejecting the things that go against Him. Metanoia is a concept that rejects cheap grace and presumption. It recognizes that grace is costly and that regret and repentance for our past are part of the response. But presumption assumes that either one has done nothing that needs repenting over or that repenting is unnecessary—because God will forgive anyone anyway.

So the Church, in preaching Metanoia, is labeled as being intolerant. It is alleged that her opposition to certain behaviors is not due to calling people to the right path, but due to the “fact” that she hates people who live in certain ways. The Church is accused of ignoring Christ when she says “X must never be done.” But when one reflects on it, the Church teaching does not hate, but invites people to undertake a change of heart and mind. The person who refuses to undertake that change, but instead denies that it is necessary, and thus makes a mockery of the crucifixion of Our Lord.

Cheap Grace causes a person to cling to a counterfeit Christ. Until such a person let’s go of this counterfeit and turns to follow the true Christ, they are endangering themselves. Insulting the Church for making this warning is just another sign of this blindness. All of us need to consider our own lives and see if we cling to such a counterfeit in any way, and if we find it to be true, we need to call out to the Lord for the grace to let go of the counterfeit and cling to Christ instead.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spare Us, O Lord, From Those More Catholic Than the Pope

Another papal statement, another cry of outrage from a certain portion of the Catholic laity. It saddens me because, from what I can see, whenever there is dissent, those who are disobedient declare that they know more about God’s will and the real meaning of Church documents than those who have been given the authority and responsibility to teach and protect the Word of God.

Many excuses are offered of course. The primary one offered is that the teaching of the Pope is only binding in extremely limited circumstances. The problem with that argument is that it is usually the person who is opposed to what the Pope has said that is the one defining those circumstances. I believe these people are missing the point and are quite possibly endangering their souls (God being the one to judge, of course) depending on their individual responsibility for their actions.

I’m going to give a long quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church here because I think it is overlooked and, without it, it becomes easy to overlook how far God has entrusted the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles with His binding authority:

2032 The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” “has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.” “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.”75 (2246; 2420)

2033 The Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church in moral matters is ordinarily exercised in catechesis and preaching, with the help of the works of theologians and spiritual authors. Thus from generation to generation, under the aegis and vigilance of the pastors, the “deposit” of Christian moral teaching has been handed on, a deposit composed of a characteristic body of rules, commandments, and virtues proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. Alongside the Creed and the Our Father, the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men. (84)

2034 The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.” The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.

2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.

2036 The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God. (1960)

2037 The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. (2041)

So, it is not just the ex cathedra pronunciations that bind. The Church has the right to announce moral principles and make judgments on human affairs—even if they involve disciplinary matters. This binding authority is primarily passed on in catechesis and teaching. It is not limited to the extraordinary magisterium. When we see this, we have to make a decision when it comes to a teaching by Pope Francis that makes us uncomfortable—Just how far do we trust God to protect the Church from teaching error in a matter we are obliged to give assent and docility?

I think the problem is people have been accustomed to thinking of the Church as only having binding teaching when it comes to rare pronunciations. But that is not the case. Humanae Vitae was not a document which was declared ex cathedra, but it is considered binding. The Catechism is not an ex cathedra document, but it is a binding document, with St. John Paul II writing, “I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” (Fidei Depositum 4). That means that the teaching of the Church on the issues contained within are authentically Catholic—which includes the teachings on sexual morality and social justice (the issues that the Left and the Right dislike respectively).

The problem in the Church is not that Pope Francis is some sort of “loose cannon.” The problem is we have forgotten the docility (readiness to accept instruction) we are bound to observe the teachings of the Church with. You can’t appeal to someone not a part of the magisterium to counter the magisterium—something that happens when some Catholics point to some very 13th century language by St. Thomas Aquinas to counter the Pope’s understanding of the needed rarity of the death penalty in the 21st century. As Canon Law puts it (CIC 1404), "The First See is judged by no one.” CIC 331 tells us, the Pope "is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely."

In other words, there is quite literally no person on earth who can loose what the Pope binds or bind what the Pope looses (Matthew 16:19, and Isaiah 22:22).

Such a concept must be frightening to some. If the Pope is not protected from teaching error, then a madman Pope can teach whatever the hell he likes and none of us can do anything about it—if we think the Pope is wrong, then we have no choice but schism… something that some have sadly accepted as the only choice available because they cannot reconcile the teaching of the Pope with what they want the Church teaching to be.

It is only if we have faith in God that He will not permit His Vicar to bind error or loose truth, that we can put any trust in what the Church teaches. Otherwise we could never know whether the Pope was in his right mind or whether the Church properly interpreted the Scriptures properly when professing the belief in the Trinity. It’s quite literally the case that without the assurance of God’s protection, we would never know if the faith we professed was true or whether it got to the point of embracing the most bizarre things.

Some might object here, saying that we have our faith and our reason, so we could tell the difference between the authoritative teaching of the Church and the virtual apostasy of some other denominations. But I would say that Church history is full of members who were so certain that they had the proper understanding of the real meaning of the Scriptures and Tradition, that they wound up outside of the Church, labelled heretics and/or schismatics.

No, Christ built His Church on Peter and his successors. He promised to be with the Church always (Matthew 28:20). It has always been Rome that has been free from heresy—even with the worst Popes in our history, the strongest accusation that could be leveled against them is that they failed to teach when they should have spoken out. But the successors to Peter, when teaching as Pope, have never taught error.

That’s not to say everything the Pope says is going to come across as a masterpiece of eloquence with no ambiguity. There have always been phrases that were vague or words that have multiple meanings. But we believe that the Pope is protected from error in Church teaching, not from social flaws, sins, or from making bad civil laws where he rules. So there always will be some uncomfortable moments—but that’s not just modern Popes. That’s all the way back to Peter, denying Christ three times and eating apart from the Gentiles in Galatia (Galatians 2:11-14)

So, this leaves us with some hard choices. We can...

  1. Put our faith in God, that He will protect His Church by protecting her from teaching error.
  2. Deny that the Church teaches with God’s authority, leave, and find a new place to follow God (to which I remind the reader of John 6:68)
  3. Remain in the Church, being disloyal and undermining the people’s faith (to which I remind the reader of Mark 9:42)

My faith tells me that only the first choice is valid, while the others lead to ruin. And that is where I must stand, believing that rejecting the authority of our current Pope is to reject the authority of Our Lord. It’s not because I think the Pope is flawless (far from it). It’s because I trust in God to protect His Church so the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the San Francisco Homeless Scandal and Rash Response to News Reports


Yesterday, a scandal was alleged in terms of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The issue is the existence of a sprinkler system that was installed two years ago. The allegation made is that the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption was attempting to drive away the homeless by installing a sprinkler system near doorways, that were scheduled to go off at night. The story has an extremely wide reach—I’ve seen reports in British news sites for example. Unfortunately, the general assumption is that the Church did deliberately set out to harass the homeless, and that assumption has been adopted uncritically by some Catholic news sites and even some Catholic bloggers who should know better.

Preliminary Considerations

Before we begin, I would like to lay out a few principles of consideration. First of all, the idea that harassing the homeless is a good idea is not compatible with the Catholic teaching on concern for the poor. So, if the intent was to harass, then the intent can be judged morally wrong. However, before the intent can be called morally wrong, it needs to be established that this was the motive.

Knowing and Not Knowing

The problem is the secular stories are based on a nameless "cathedral staff member” who is quoted as saying, that the sprinkler system had been installed “to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral’s doorways.” Is it true? Does this member have an axe to grind? Is he/she highly placed enough to know? We don’t know, and not knowing makes it difficult to know how much weight to give the testimony.

But we do know that auxiliary Bishop William Justice has described the intent of the system as, “The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the cathedral, which are protected and safer.” He tells us that the archdiocese informed the people dwelling there that the system was being installed and “The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the cathedral, which are protected and safer.” The described purpose of the system was to deal with needles and feces being left in the cathedral’s hidden doorways (they are considered high risk sources of blood borne pathogens). We are told that his predecessor was told by the SFPD that installation was recommended.

We are also told that it turned out to be ineffective, and was installed without the proper permits. Bishop Justice said the system would be removed by the end of the day.

The Issues of Concern

The issue of concern here is the question of rash judgment. The Church is accused of intending this system to drive away the homeless. Bishop Justice explicitly denies that this was the intent of the archdiocese. So the question is over whether the allegation is true or not.

As is often the case, I think Aristotle’s definition of truth fits here: To say of what is that it is and to say of what is not that it is not. So the question is, whether what is alleged happens to be true or not. Is there any evidence for it? Is there any reason that the veracity of Bishop Justice is to be doubted? Are there other explanations that fit the facts other than “bad will” that fit the facts?

That is where the Catechism’s discussion of Rash Judgment is important:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

I also find St. Thomas Aquinas to have some very valuable distinctions on the topic:

I answer that, Judgment is lawful in so far as it is an act of justice. Now it follows from what has been stated above (A. 1, ad 1, 3) that three conditions are requisite for a judgment to be an act of justice: first, that it proceed from the inclination of justice; secondly, that it come from one who is in authority; thirdly, that it be pronounced according to the right ruling of prudence. If any one of these be lacking, the judgment will be faulty and unlawful. First, when it is contrary to the rectitude of justice, and then it is called perverted or unjust: secondly, when a man judges about matters wherein he has no authority, and this is called judgment by usurpation: thirdly, when the reason lacks certainty, as when a man, without any solid motive, forms a judgment on some doubtful or hidden matter, and then it is called judgment by suspicion or rash judgment.


Reply Obj. 1. In these words Our Lord forbids rash judgment which is about the inward intention, or other uncertain things, as Augustine states (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii. 18). Or else He forbids judgment about Divine things, which we ought not to judge, but simply believe, since they are above us, as Hilary declares in his commentary on Matth. 5. Or again according to Chrysostom* He forbids the judgment which proceeds not from benevolence but from bitterness of heart. (Summa Theologica, II-II q.60 a.2 resp.–ad 1)

So, to have a just act of judgment it must proceed from an inclination of judgment, be made by on who is in authority (which in this case can mean, someone who knows what they are talking about) and is based on a prudent judgment of the facts. If it lacks these things, it is an unjust judgment. So, if the judgment does not have a solid motive, or is formed based on things we don’t or can’t know, then the judgment is rash, and thus condemnable.

Assessing the Charges

Looking at the news articles and blog allegations, it seems to me that the condemnation of the Archdiocese is based on something that is merely alleged and not proven, where a just judgment presumes knowledge of the inward intention. Could Bishop Justice be lying? It’s technically possible, but the onus of proof is on the accuser. The account of the bishop is that the system was installed with good faith but was done badly. To say his account is untrue is to claim knowledge of his inward intention—something that would require a reliable and trustworthy witness who knows his intention was otherwise. A person who tries to argue that the intention must have been bad because of the bad effect is assuming something as true that has to be proven true.

My question to the scandalized Catholic is this: Where is your readiness to give a favorable interpretation rather than a condemnation? If you could not find a favorable interpretation, did you ask how the archdiocese understood it before judging? These things are required before one can correct—with love.

I can only speak for myself, of course. But my conscience forbids me to take part in the bashing of the archdiocese. As I see it, to do so is to require information impossible for us to have.

Conclusion—The Need for Prudence

We need to distinguish between the concept of willing to do evil and having a good will, but having something unintentionally cause harm. The fact that some homeless were soaked was not good. But, if it was the latter (good will), then the accusation that it was intended to harass the homeless is unjust. One can certainly ask for a change in policy to better serve the homeless. But in doing so we need to be both respectful and prudent.

I say respectful because if we take the attitude that “Bishop So-and-so is a jerk because he didn’t do what I wanted,” we’re being judges of the Church, not “laborers in the Lord’s vineyard."

I say prudent because it’s easy to come up with a wonderful theory that helps every person in the world. But whatever we propose to do must be within the capacity of a group to achieve. If we don’t have the funds or the manpower to carry out a wonderful theory, it will come to nothing (see Luke 14:28-30). We need to trust God of course. But prudence is about asking how do we best do what God wants us to do. As the Catechism says:

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.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. 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.

Prudence keeps us from being either too reckless or too timid in our serving God. It’s easy to promise the moon and then fall short. It’s also easy to be overwhelmed by the seeming obstacles in our path.

So here’s my thought as I read this. It’s clear that the Archdiocese does a lot in helping the people in need in San Francisco. But there is always need for more workers and more donations. So people who look at these news stories about the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption and feel their sense of justice tell them that something needs to be done have the right sense of course. The question is, what are these people going to do about it? Tomorrow the sprinkler system will be gone. The homeless and the health hazards will still be there, and the archdiocese has a finite set of resources.

Many may feel compelled to speak out against the wrongs done. But fewer actually do more than that. It’s like the political humorist PJ O’Rourke once said, “Everybody wants to save the world but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes.”

Just something to consider.

Some Sources to Consider as a Counterpart to the Secular Reports: