Thursday, December 27, 2018

On Confusing Style With Holiness

Preliminary Note: To pre-empt any accusation of this advocating “modern” or “minimalist” style, let me be clear. This article is not about what the style of churches should be. It’s about people missing the point by saying only a certain style of art is the sign of a holy Church.

Some of the internal criticism on the Church is to compare the glory and temporal influence of the Church at her height (usually in the high Middle Ages or the time of the Council of Trent), and contrast it with the rebellion and contempt against her today. The argument is that ever since X happened, the Church has been in decline. Some blame Vatican II or the Popes from 1958 onward. Others blame Popes after St. John XXIII for “betraying” the Council. But both are operating from the belief that:
  1. There was a time when we had a “golden age” in the Church.
  2. This ain’t it.
  3. We need to go back to what worked at that time.
The problem is, the glory and prestige is a byproduct of the mission of the Church that only exists in certain times. In most times, the Church has had to deal with indifference, hostility, and disrespect. Even in the times of the greatest earthly renown, the Church has needed to deal with hostile governments (some of them Catholics), corruption, dissent, and sin.

When people speak of the decline in respect and holiness, they usually confuse the architecture of churches, the talent of artists, and the solemnity of a High Mass in a certain era with the holiness of the Church. But the mission of the Church exists, regardless of the artistic talent of the times.

There’s a vast difference between the frescoes in the catacombs and the Renaissance art [§]. But the mission to be God’s way of bringing His salvation of the world to every person in every place and time continues regardless of the talent and piety of the individual Catholics. 

That’s not to say that art, architecture, and ceremony aimed glorifying God is meaningless. If not done to an excess that distracts, these things are good at elevating the heart and mind to thinking about God. But if the focus on these ever becomes a distraction away from serving God, then people have missed the point of the Church.

I am reminded of a video shared by a member of the SSPX that purported to show a modern altar that was ignored. Then (through time lapse photography), the altar was decorated (practically buried under cloth and statuary over crates) to look like a pre-Vatican II altar and people started showing it more respect. The point was supposed to be that respect was lost because of Vatican II.

“But,” I replied, “what was sacred was the altar itself, not the decoration on top of it. The fact that people were not being respectful of the altar before it was buried under trappings shows they were missing the point of what was sacred.” The altar should be reverenced because of the role it plays, not because it is adorned with beautiful things.

Of course, when possible, the altar should be dignified. We shouldn’t tear down the old without serious reasons [#]. But dignified is not the same as “ornate.” Music should be dignified, but dignified is not the same as “baroque.” Churches should glorify God, but glorifying is not a synonym for “flying buttresses.” To say that a church that is not ornate, baroque, or designed in a medieval style is not dignified is to miss the point.

Some may be called to create beautiful churches, beautiful decoration, and beautiful music. They should carry out that calling of course. But let’s not forget that this beauty is not the point of the Church. The mission of saving souls is. If our quarrels over beauty obscures that mission, we have missed the point of what the Church is.


[§] I’ll set aside the discussion of the general decline of art as we go forward in time. Much of the recent bad “Church art” seems to coincide with bad art in general.

[#] It was tragic when some Catholics carried out a mini iconoclasm in the misinterpretation of Vatican II. But this was not done at the instruction of Vatican II.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

No Exceptions: Reflections on Church Authority

(Ven. Fulton J Sheen, Treasure in Clay)

A major struggle in the Church today is the issue of contrasting being faithful to the Church as the bride of Christ with giving religious submission of intellect and will when the Pope teaches (canon 752), and accepting his authority to govern all areas of the Church (canon 331). The problem is that while the Church makes clear that these things are required of the faithful, a troubling number of Catholics are arguing that to be faithful they must disobey the Pope.

Not only has this argument never been taught by the Church, the reality is it has only been used by dissenters who want to reject an unpopular Church teaching. For example: those Catholics who attacked St. Paul VI and his successors used the same arguments about “erring” Popes in order to deny their authority that the Catholics who attack Pope Francis today use over teachings they oppose. 

The problem is, many of those Catholics who use these attacks against Pope Francis denounced the same attacks when used against his predecessors. This brings up the question: if the dissent against the previous Popes was wrong, then how is the dissent against the current Pope justified? The common defense in this case is that we haven’t had a heretic Pope before. But that’s the point they have to prove... and there’s a lot of theology that has to be ignored to “prove” it. 

The starting point is the promises and commands of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that He promised to build His Church on the rock of Peter, and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against her. (Matthew 16:18). We believe that Our Lord gave Peter the keys to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19) and promised to protect and guide Peter (Luke 22:31-32). We believe that He will be with His Church until the end (Matthew 28:18-20). We believe that Our Lord made clear that to love Our Lord is to obey Him (John 14:15, Matthew 7:21), and that to reject the Church is to reject God (Luke 10:16). 

But there are no exceptions to that obedience. Even in the case of sinful Popes, Our Lord drew a distinction between their authority to teach and govern and their behavior (Matthew 23:2-3). Yes, we have had morally bad Popes. Yes, we have some Popes who were suspected of dubious beliefs. But none of them ever taught error, and based on what Our Lord taught us, we know He will never permit them to teach error. 

The second point involves reason. If a Pope can teach error, then Our Lord’s promise was false. If His promise was false, He is not God. If He is not God, the Church has taught error in teaching He is God. In such a case, it would matter very little what Pope Francis said. If what a Pope teaches or governs is binding on the faithful, we sin if we disobey. We trust in God that He will never permit His Church under the Pope to teach error. A bad Pope might end up teaching nothing under this protection, but He will not teach error.

The third point to remember is that the authentic interpretation and application of past teaching is ultimately done by the Pope and bishops in communion with him. An individual Catholic cannot use his or her own reading of Scripture or past teaching to judge the orthodoxy of the Pope.

The arguments used to deny Papal authority ignore all of these points. They assume that the Pope can err, because they don’t like his teaching. But they ignore the fact that assuming him erring in teaching means ignoring the words of The Lord on protection and the obligation to obey. Let’s be clear: the idea that only ex cathedra teachings bind was condemned by Piux IX. The appeal to a council to judge the Pope was condemned as a heresy (conciliarism). The cardinals who elect the Pope cannot remove him from office.

Since there are no exceptions or escape clauses to the authority of the Church and of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, we must put our trust in God. God may afflict us with a bad Pope as a chastisement (and let me be clear: I deny that Pope Francis is a bad Pope) but He does not give us the exception clause to reject the legitimate authority of the Pope.

Once we recognize the protection from Our Lord is always with the Church, we can recognize that the claims that he teaches error are garbage. We must assume that the accusations of error against the Pope are to be disbelieved. The individual blogger, theologian, priest, bishop, or cardinal has no authority to teach in opposition to the Pope.

I think Ven. Fulton J. Sheen (in Treasure of Clay) recognized the need to remain in communion with the Pope:

Our Blessed Lord told His Apostles: “The devil had asked to sift you as wheat.” There is no indication that Our Blessed Lord denied that there would be a demonic trial or testing; there is even a suggestion that He permitted it. Though the other Apostles were there, He spoke only to Peter: “Peter, I have prayed for you.” Our Lord did not say: “I will pray for all of you.” He prayed for Peter that his faith fail not, and after he recovered from his fall that he confirm his brethren. I think bishops are strong only when they are united with the Holy Father. As we begin to separate from him, we are no longer under the prayer of Christ And if we are not under the prayer of Christ, we are no longer protected, nor are we strong guardians or angels of the churches.

We should remember this. If we seek to find exceptions so we don’t have to listen to the Pope, we are removing ourselves from the prayer and protection of Christ. And then we are like sheep lost and easy prey.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Foundations of Falsehood

When I do theological study, sometimes my research takes me into non-Catholic sources. In reading these sources I notice a common trend: When people attack the nature of the Church (as opposed to the individual behavior at odds with our teaching), there is always some sort of falsehood involved. For example, reading the appendixes of the Eastern Orthodox Bible: New Testament (EOB), I came across their explanation of Matthew 16:18-19. In trying to claim they were the true catholic (universal) Church despite their smaller numbers and being limited national churches compared to the Catholic Church, the people responsible made a curious statement. They alleged that the Catholic Church only considered “universal” to mean all people in communion on Earth at the present point in time while the Orthoox considered “universal” to be in communion with the Church past, present and future, and in communion with the saints in Heaven.

The problem is, we do not define universal in that matter. We consider ourselves in communion with the Sacred Tradition in the Past, and recognize that while all members of the Church on Earth today are members of the Church militant, we also consider ourselves in communion with the Church suffering (purgatory) and Church triumphant (Heaven). The statement of those writing this defense of the Eastern Orthodox churches by attacking the Catholic Church was a falsehood. It’s not for me to determine whether they knew this was false (a lie) or whether they wrongly thought a falsehood was true. That’s for God to decide. But whatever level of culpability, wrong was done.

This sort of thing goes on among anti-Catholic Protestants as well. People claim we worship statues, claim we sell forgiveness of sins, claim we think the Pope is God, claim we think we can earn salvation, claim we invented torture, and so on. All of these accusations are false. If the people knew they were false when repeating them, they would be guilty of a lie. But even if they sincerely believed these things were true, they have an obligation to investigate and not bear false witness.

Are you angry when you hear of this? Do you want God to provide punishment to those non-Catholics who speak falsely? Good. But now that you’re indignant about these injustices done against the Church by those outside of it, it’s time to reveal that once again this is a case of bait and switch. This point of this article is not to denounce non-Catholics for the falsehoods they believe. It’s to speak about the falsehoods we within the Church are willing to believe.

The basic layout of the falsehood is to focus on the evils within the Church at a certain time and claim they did not exist in the Church before this time. So a certain Pope or council is blamed for the evils within the Church. We’re told that this is the greatest danger the Church has ever been in on account of “heretical” Popes and bishops causing confusion and spreading error. The problem is, like the non-Catholics who speak falsely about the Church, these members of the Church also speak falsely, repeating misrepresentations of what they said or claiming that their words “contradict” past teaching—which is solely based on their individual interpretation. As I said above, It’s not for me to determine whether they knew this was false (a lie) or whether they wrongly thought a falsehood was true. That’s for God to decide. But whatever level of culpability, wrong was done.

Here’s what we should beware: Those outside the Church (and therefore do not recognize her authority) who speak falsely about the Church may have an excuse before God. They could sincerely believe that their teachers were honest men who did the research instead of merely passing on a falsehood from generation to generation. But those of us within the Church do not have that excuse. We profess to believe that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, established the Catholic Church and remains with her, protecting her from error. If we believe that, then we are without excuse when we accuse the legitimate teaching authority of that Church of falling into error while we do not. Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Henry Newman made a point [†] about why these dissenters break ranks:

Such a person, never accepting the infallibility of the Church, reasons that when they hear something they dislike, it is  the Pope and bishops who must err—because they cannot. But if we accept that the Church is infallible because of the protection God gives His Church, then when there is a conflict between individual interpretation and Church teaching [§], then we must accept the teaching and consider our own view to be error. St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, warns us of this attitude:

This means that when a site we follow, or a favorite theologian criticizes the teaching of the Church, saying the magisterium teaches error, that is the fruit by which we can know the tree. We cannot appeal to the site or the theologian against the Church. They may be sincere. They may be malicious. But if they speak falsely—and speaking against the teaching of the Pope and bishops as if it was an error is speaking falsely—then we are not excused by citing them.

So, we should keep this in mind: If God will punish those outside the Catholic Church for speaking falsely about the Church, what will He do with those inside the Church who speak falsely about her?


[†] While he was speaking about converts who left the Church again, I believe this also applies to “cradle Catholics” who reject a teaching they dislike.
[§] Which must be distinguished from an opinion at a Press conference, or a bishop or priest who breaks ranks with the Pope.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thrown Under the Bus: Pope Francis and the USCCB Conference

[Note—this article intends no disrespect to the bishops. Under Canon 212, I am expressing my concerns that the reaction at the November conference is being misused by the Pope’s critics to make it appear that he is to blame for this. I plead with them to consider the unjust resentment directed against him because of it.]

The aftermath of the USCCB bishops’ conference last month led to one undeniable conclusion: the secular and Catholic media are generally treating the Pope as if he were the one to blame for the state of the abuse crisis.

There were things leading up to it: for example, Vigano’s (unjust, in my opinion) accusations started the narrative that the Pope was part of the coverup conspiracy. There was also the Pope effectively telling the reporters to do their homework and investigate the claims themselves (which showed Vigano’s accusations had more holes than Swiss cheese riddled by a machine gun) which was wrongly portrayed as “no comment.” Using the “argument from silence” fallacy, the Pope’s critics argued that his refusal to play along with a stunt (that was obviously calculated to be released at a time that would cause the most damage), as “proof” that he was hiding the truth that would convict him (also a “shifting the burden of proof” fallacy).

This sets the background for the USCCB conference in November. The bishops planned to vote on some proposals involving oversight and sanctions against covering up bishops that were potentially in conflict with canon law. Then, on the opening day of the conference, it was announced that the Vatican had ordered that the bishops not vote on these issues, and wait instead for the meeting of all the leaders of bishops’ conferences scheduled for February. Cardinal DiNardo and others expressed “disappointment” at the decision, Catholics were outraged. The term, “swept under the carpet” was a common epithet.

Except it wasn’t. Cardinal Müller and others pointed out that these proposals were literally submitted at the last minute. There was no time to review them properly to make sure there were no conflicts [§]. In other words, the Vatican wasn’t covering up. Those responsible for submitting the proposals in a timely manner dropped the ball in an unforced error [@]. But bishops were saying they were disappointed instead of saying mea culpa. It was troublesome because it’s not like this requirement was unknown prior to November 2018.

In fact, the situation probably would have been worse if the Vatican had just allowed it to go for a vote. Canon law requires that decrees from such a meeting be reviewed and approved before they can take effect. Both the 1917 and 1983 Codes of canon law make this clear:

(1917 Code of Canon Law)

(1983 Code of Canon Law)

If these dubious proposals had been voted on and, after review, found to be in conflict with canon law, they would have to be rejected. But do you think people would recognize “oh, the bishops were corrected”? No. The Pope would be attacked as “blocking reform” and vilified by people either unaware of or uninterested in the fact that the Church is governed by the rule of law, not arbitrary decrees [&].

This is not a case of the Pope “having the right” but being unwise to use it (as someone told me). This is a case of the Pope being in the right. There may or may not be canonical problems with the proposals. But that must be determined before they can be promulgated. The USCCB (for whatever reason) failed to submit their proposals in a timely fashion then. The USCCB can submit their proposals to the February meeting where this can be determined now. Then we can determine their merits and whether they fit in with or contradict the nature of what the Church is.

But the use of language expressing “disappointment” over something that could not be otherwise is stirring up resentment against something that is not the fault of the appropriate Vatican Congregations (Congregations of Bishops and CDF), and to use it risks looking like “throwing the Pope under the bus for the failure of others.


[§] I find it curious that many Papal critics who rightly laughed at Pelosi’s “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy,” wanted the Vatican to accept exactly that.

[@] I don’t know if it was bad planning or deliberate. But it seems to me that to avoid rash judgment, we must not make an accusation of malfeasance without proof.

[&] Canon Law, like secular law, can be amended. But it can’t just be ignored when we desire it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Trolley Games and Other Forced Conclusions

[Edit: a reader pointed out that what I wrote about was never the original intention of the trolley problem. He’s correct. I should have been more clear that I was talking about the modern abuse on social media. Please keep that distinction in mind when reading.]

There’s a common concept on the internet that runs along these lines: A runaway trolley is heading towards X people tied to the track. If you pull the switch, the trolley will only hit Y people tied to another track. Do you pull the switch? The idea is to present a dilemma which claims to show what a person really believes, often to discredit a moral stance or play on sympathy to decide it’s better to do a lesser evil (defined by the person presenting the dilemma).

But it’s not merely done through memes. During the war on terror and the 2016 elections, we were fed constant hypotheticals by Catholics who should know better about whether one should torture a terrorist if it was the only way to discover a nuclear weapon set to detonate—the intention being to redefine an intrinsic evil as sometimes justified. The proponent of torture would sneeringly ask, “so, would you let millions of people die just so your hands wouldn’t get dirty?” [§]

In another example, a pro-abortion advocate offered a dilemma over whether a pro-lifer would choose to save a child or an embryo from a fire—the intention being to discredit the pro-life position by showing the person holding it to be insincere (if they save the child) or inhuman (if they save the embryo).

The problem is, these dilemmas are artificial. They don’t consider the possibility that if this were a real situation, people would be trying to do any number of things to save all the people. Like try to turn the switch part way to derail the trolley, trying to board it to jam on the brakes, trying to stop it in some way other than choosing to kill someone. The torture scenario overlooks the fact that by capturing the terrorist in the first place implies that law enforcement has a number of clues to go by. The child v. embryo scenario ignores too many factors on what we actually believe. If these things were real, our reaction would not be the smooth decision these hypothetical situations demand.

While there can be multiple choices besides the one that the questioner tries to force, there is one option that is forbidden us. We cannot do evil so good may come of it. If something is intrinsically evil (always wrong, regardless of circumstances). If it comes to choosing between suffering evil or inflicting it, we do moral wrong if we choose to inflict it.

We know this, generally. Think of all the shows on television where the villains tortures a supporting character while telling the main character that it is their fault for not revealing the information that causes greater evil. But when it’s our own dilemma, we tend to choose whatever favors us, regardless of the harm it causes others.

Whatever the moral dilemma, if we choose to directly do something we know is evil, then it is an evil and unjustified action. But if our action does not intend evil, the evil is less than the good, and we would avoid the evil if possible (this is called “double effect”), then we do not do evil.

Unfortunately, too many confuse the two (or feign ignorance). If a woman chooses to have an abortion (deliberately kill the unborn child), that is an indefensible evil. But if a woman needs an emergency hyrestectomy even though she is pregnant, that is not evil. The intention is to remove the damaged organ to save a life. If it were possible to deliver the baby, saving his or her life, the woman would take that option.

The trolley game and other false dilemmas are never about double effect. They are about choosing to hypothetically perform an evil act. In real life we always have the choice to suffer evil rather than do evil. But we do not have the moral right to choose to do evil.


[§] During election years, there’s a tendency to use those arguments to bully someone into voting a certain way. These people effectively use a trolley game to say “if you don’t vote for my [evil] candidate, you’ll be responsible for the evil the other person does!”

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Past Does Not Support Them Either: Thoughts on Modern Sadducees

Occasionally I have run into Catholics (possibly schismatic) who try to reject the authority of anything that contradicts them. The general assumption by some is that whatever they disagree with must have a heretical basis and, therefore, can be ignored. Others try to claim that the modern interpretation is an error. Either way, they claim that the past teachings must trump the later interpretation—a bizarre idea that denies the Church the authority to determine right and wrong as societies change and science and technology brings about new moral dilemmas.

In pondering this, I am reminded of Our Lord dealing with the Sadducees... a Jewish sect that rejected all parts of Scripture except for the five books (Penteteuch) of the Torah. Because their interpretation of the Torah did not see the Resurrection explicitly mentioned, they denied it. Attempting a reductio ad absurdum, they proposed a hypothetical situation where seven brothers each married the same woman (under the law of the Levirate) and died. The Sadducees saw this as proof that the Resurrection was absurd (who will she be married to?) and used it to challenge the idea.

Our Lord, after showing the flaw in their idea of the Resurrection, goes on to show their flawed reading of the Pentateuch. If God identifies Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is the God of the living, not the dead, then it follows that there must be a Resurrection. The Sadducees are wrong to limit what is authentic Scripture, but Our Lord demolishes them using the part of Scripture they do accept.

I think of this as we encounter Catholics who try to argue that the defense of Pope Francis and his authority to bind and loose is “ultramontanism” or “papolatry” and was not believed in the past. The problem is, past teachings do not support their claims. Let us consider the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law (translated by Dr. Edward Peters) on the authority of the Pope:

Note that the 1917 canons testify to the fact that the Pope has authority which predates and contradicts the anti-Francis Catholics label of “ultramontane.” One cannot even claim that this only applies to ex cathedra teaching. First of all, the 1917 canons rejects limitations the modern critics claim. Second, Pius IX, in his Syllabus of Errors (#22) condemns the notion. Third, Vatican I (which seems to be increasingly ignored by the critics) rejects their interpretation.

So the Catholic who tries to deny the authority of Pope Francis by arguing his defenders are giving authority never imagined in the past are in the same situation as the Sadducees arguing against the Resurrection. They are not only wrong in their assumptions, but the even the time period of Church teaching they appeal to does not support them.

Maybe it’s time to stop supporting their claims of authority against the Church.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Is it Time to Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room?

Over the past 30-odd years, there’s been chaos and rebellion in the Church. It didn’t start with Pope Francis, and it’s not limited to one faction. This confusion has been about like-minded Catholics confusing their ideology with the Catholic Faith and labeling whoever disagreed with the ideology as disagreeing with the Church.

The problem is that certain Church teachings superficially resemble political positions. So when a Pope stressed a teaching, it was easy to identify it with the political position that happened to superficially agree with. From there, the teaching is used to either promote the political view the Church “agrees” with or to blast the Church for becoming “political.”

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room—if a person objects to a teaching from a Pope, it’s not because that person is faithful to the “true” Church. Rather the person is a dissenter from the obedience required.

This problem was always present in the Church, but it was only obvious after Francis became our Pope. Up to that point, conservatives claimed to be defenders of the faith taught by the magisterium while liberals argued they were defending what Jesus intended the Church to be. When Pope Francis became Pope, the conservatives claimed they were defending what Jesus intended the Church to be while liberals claimed they were right all along.

Who was right? Neither one. Both factions merely agreed with the Church only as long as the Church taught what they already held. Should the Church emphasize a teaching contrary to their politics, the individual at odds with the teaching accuses the Church of “becoming political,” and invokes their obligation of conscience to reject the magisterium. But this is a misuse of what conscience is for. As the Church document Donum Veritatis (#38) teaches:

The properly formed conscience isn’t contrasted against the magisterium. It assumes following the magisterium. If one breaks this link between conscience and magisterium, they effectively break their link with Christ through the refusal of obedience.

This is where we get a chorus of “but what about...” But we know Our Lord made a distinction between the teaching authority and the personal behavior (cf. Matthew 23:1-3). The sins or failures of a Pope or bishop is neither permission to emulate nor permission to disobey. No doubt some bishops turned a blind eye to wrongdoing. No doubt the Pope was misled when he thought that the claims of abuse in Chile were calumny. But these things do not take away from the authority to teach in a binding manner.

When we recognize this, it becomes clear that “whataboutism” is an excuse, not a justification. It doesn’t permit us to withhold obedience. So those who cite these things as a reason to refuse submission are not showing a higher obedience. They’re showing disobedience.

In fact, they’re showing behavior similar to the rise of Protestantism. While it started with a desire to reform abuses, it presumed that different interpretations of Scripture and past teachings were proof that the Church had gone wrong but they had not. 

This leads us to the decision we must make:
  1. Either God protects His Church from teaching error, or
  2. God does not protect His Church from teaching error.
If God protects His Church from teaching error, then we must trust that even when an individual bishop errs or a Pope makes a bad judgment call, God prevents the Church under the governance of the current vicar of Christ from teaching error. But, if God doesn’t protect His Church from teaching error (which contradicts Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20) then we can never know whether the Church was right or wrong when a heresy or schism arose. The Arians might have been right. The Eastern Orthodox might have been right. Or Luther, etc. If the Church can err today, we can have no assurance that we didn’t err in the past.

It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Those who claim that the Church is in error are dissenting, believing that the Church—protected by Christ—is currently in error while they are not. That claim is incompatible with our faith in Christ and the belief that He intended to build a Church on the rock of Peter that would not fail.

Once we acknowledge the elephant, we can deal with it and perhaps overcome the problems facing the Church: within and without.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Catholicism vs. Illogic: The Either-Or Fallacy

There was a recent NBC News article which sought to highlight some Catholics who portray their opinions as showing the authentic Catholic teaching [§] taking a stand against movements promoting active homosexuality. Both the article itself and some responses by individual Catholics tried to turn it into a decision to be made over which group to side with. There was a depressing lack of comments saying “I reject both movements as incompatible with the Church.”

The logical syllogism of determining two choices runs:
  • Either X or Y.
  • Not Y.
  • Therefore X.
It’s a valid syllogism (called modus tollens). But using it validly in this case depends on there only being two choices where only one can be right and one must be chosen. If there are more than two choices, or if it is possible to reject both, then trying to argue “either-or” is a fallacy. And that’s what was wrong with the NBC article and the response to it.

When it comes to dealing with the evils facing the Church, people tend to fall into the trap of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They do this by determining who supports an evil incompatible with being a Christian. Then assume that whoever opposes this evil must be morally good. But that’s not always true. Factions exist that promote platforms which only superficially resemble Catholic belief while differing from them in substantial ways.

Pointing out that these groups have serious problems often leads to accusations that one is siding with the opposite faction. The violated Church teaching is treated as a lesser matter which should take second place to the preferred teaching.

But authentic Catholic teaching is not one of the extremes. Nor is it a compromise between two extremes (that’s the fallacy of compromise). Authentic Catholic teaching is one that follows the way of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. That means opposing sin while showing love for the sinner. We don’t choose one of the two options. We choose the option that does both. If that view doesn’t fit into the modern political climate, then we work to change that climate... it’s called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

When we run into two extremes arguing over what is authenticly Catholic, we must not rush to take a side based on what seems right. We must look to see if either side follows the magisterium. If one side not, that side is a perversion of the Catholic Faith. But that doesn’t mean that the other side is automatically correct.

People set aside listening to the magisterium and embrace whatever faction they sympathize with, downplaying inconvenient Church teaching along the way. Ultimately, that’s why I think the Catholic climate is so confused. It’s not the Pope “spreading confusion.” It’s the Catholics who choose sides between extremes where the Catholic Faith is not represented.


[§] We should never simply accept the say so of an individual Catholic (and I include myself and my blog here). The authenticity of what an individual Catholic claims must be determined by comparing their claims to the teaching of the Pope and bishops.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Dangers of Turning Preference into “Doctrine”

One major problem in the Church today underlies all the confusion in the Church. That problem is our tendency to elevate our preferences on how the Church should be run into dogma. When the magisterium takes an approach that runs contrary to our presence, our response is to suspect—or outright accuse—the Pope and bishops of “promoting error.” We create “heroes” and “villains” out of those clergy we agree or disagree with.

In this situation, the Catholic is tempted to think that their own view is the doctrine and the orthodoxy of everyone else who goes against their view—including the Pope and bishops—are “heretics” who disregard “Church teaching.” Because they deem this difference as “heresy,” they argue that what the Pope and bishops say are non-binding and, since they are not ex cathedra, they can be in error.

This view is not compatible with Church teaching. Pope Pius IX condemned the following view in his Syllabus of Errors:

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. 
— Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

These dissenters forget that the ex cathedra teaching is rare, normally used to define something as a last resort. Most Church teaching is done through the ordinary magisterium which requires the religious submission of intellect and will. Canon law tells us:

It points out that when Pope, bishop in communion with him, or Church document makes a teaching, the proper response is obedience, not scrambling for excuses not to obey. For example, take Laudato Si. Critics claim this is a mere opinion that they can ignore. But the Pope explicitly pointed out (#15, emphasis added) that the document was Church teaching:

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

Curiously, critics argue that Amoris Laetitia should not be binding because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation that “contradicts” Familiaris Consortio. (A claim I reject [§])But Familiaris Consortio itself is an Apostolic Exhortation. If it binds, so does Amoris Laetitia. If it doesn’t bind, then they have no cause to complain of a change.

When the Church teaches something, and the individual has trouble reconciling it with their interpretation, they should remember the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises:

His statement doesn’t mean that we “obey the Church when she errs.” It means that when we fear the Church is wrong, we trust that Our Lord protects her and conclude that the error lies with us.

I think our problem is we allow our politics to judge our Catholic Faith when it should be the other way around. This isn’t new. History shows there’s always been dispute between Church and State, and there’s always been Catholics who side with the State. The problem we have now is these Catholics claim to be faithful to the Church when they’re siding with the state. Liberal Catholics side with the state over the Church on issues like abortion and sexual morality. Conservative Catholics side with the state over the Church on issues like refugees and social justice. 

But, if the Church receives her authority from Jesus Christ, we obey Christ by obeying the Church (cf. Luke 10:16). Siding with other institutions against the Church is not virtuous. It’s rebellion.

That doesn’t mean every action from every churchman is morally right. The authority to bind and loose is independent from the moral character of the individual in the Church. So we do have predators, laxity, greed, corruption from individuals. But the immoral behavior of some doesn’t release us from the religious submission of intellect and will when the Church teaches.

In fact, Our Lord made this clear, contrasting the authority to teach with the behavior of the teachers. In Matthew 23, he said:

Matthew 23:1–3 (NABRE): Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.

We’re not bound to follow their scandalous behavior, but we don’t get a dispensation from obeying Church teaching. We work for reform (respectfully) but remain faithful. If that seems difficult, then perhaps we forgot that the Church is not a human organization, but the Body of Christ.

So it’s time to stop turning our preferences into “dogma.” When the Pope and bishops teach contrary to our expectations, it’s time to ask how we went wrong. Our Lord is not going to let His Church teach something we will be damned for obeying, so we have no justification for rejecting those tasked with leading the Church.


[§] The two don’t contradict. Rather the former points out the obligations of the divorced and remarried in general. The latter instructs bishops and confessors to investigate culpability in individual cases.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Rash Judgment Through the Error of Drawing a Universal Conclusion From a Limited Premise

In my last article  I discussed the illogic of Rash Judgment by pointing out that before you can allege something, you have to prove the point it depends on. I would like to discuss another illogical way that one can commit rash judgment. That way is through assuming that the behavior of some indicts the whole. There are only two logical ways you can prove a claim that includes or excludes everyone in a claim:

If I say:
  • All A is B
  • All B is C
  • The logical conclusion is All A is C
If I say 
  • All A is B
  • No B is C
  • The logical conclusion is No A is C
These are the only ways [§] you can draw a universal conclusion in an argument. Any other valid form of argument can only bring a limited conclusion (some A is C or some A is not C). 

What’s more, you have to establish the truth of a universal. If you don’t have an “All ___ is ___” or a “No ____ is ____” in your argument, you can prove nothing. For example:
  • Some A is B
  • Some B is C
  • Therefore... nothing. 
You can’t prove any relationship between A and C in this case because we don’t know if A is part of the B that is C or not.

Another thing to remember is this. The statements “All A is B” and “No A is B” don’t refute each other. Both can’t be right but both can be wrong. The way to refute a universal claim is to show that exceptions exist. So if somebody wants to tar an entire group for a crime, the refutation is to demonstrate that some members don’t do it. Then they either have to dial back their claim or continue in their illogic.

You might need to remind them of the differences between Some, All, and None though...

In light of our current scandal, people are saying “[ALL] priests are abusers” or “[ALL] bishops cover up.” They need to demonstrate there are no exceptions before claiming that. The first exception debunks the claim. But if a person can only say, [SOME] are X, we can say “and some are not.”

That doesn’t mean we wash our hands of the some who do wrong. We do our best to reform the Church when corruption by some is discovered. But it means we don’t condemn ALL for what SOME do by sins of commission or omission.

Applying this to the sin of rash judgment, one sins by saying “all (members of group) are guilty” or “no (members of group) are innocent,” when one doesn’t prove the universal claim. So, to condemn ALL of a group, you have to prove ALL are guilty of the sin.

To avoid the sin of rash judgment, we must assert no more than we know has been proven true and accuse no more than are actually guilty.


[§] If you look at the logical forms page on my blog, these are the AAA and AEE forms.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Illogic of Rash Judgment

The Church teaches that we must respect the reputation of persons. In speaking about the sins against this obligation, she condemns rash judgment. Reflecting on this teaching, I began recalling logic and valid forms of argument. These are used to establish the truth of an argument. If the premises are true and unambiguous while the logical form is valid, then the argument is considered proven. But if the premises are false or unproven, the conclusion cannot be considered proven.

So, in terms of logic, a rash judgment claims something unproven is true to the harm of the person accused. Let’s look at how this works.

In logic, one valid form of an argument (called modus ponensis:
  • If X is true then Y is true 
  • X is true 
  • Therefore Y is true 
Explaining this...

In order to claim Y is true, the person claiming it must prove X. Otherwise, they cannot claim that Y is proven. So, using recent examples, things like “if Kavanaugh committed sexual assault then he should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “if Vigano’s accusation is true, then the Pope did wrong” are examples of this form of argument. The X to be proven in these cases are “Kavanaugh committed sexual assault” and “Vigano’s accusation is true.” If they cannot be proven then the Y of these cases (“Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “the Pope did wrong”) cannot be assumed to be true.

The honest person, emulating Socrates, realizes that if they don’t know X is true, they don’t claim Y is true. They can of course investigate the claim of X and see if evidence supports it. That’s part of our obligations to speak what is true. This is where the Church teaching against rash judgment comes into play. It insists that we know X is true before we accuse a person of Y.

The Catechism says:

See how that lines up with logic. Rash judgment assumes that a person is guilty of Y without establishing that X is true. The Catechism tells us we must prove X, investigating and gathering evidence before accusing them of moral faults. Otherwise we sin against our neighbor.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

With Growing Concern

Preliminary Note: This article is written acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of the laity put forth in canon 212. No disrespect or rejection of the authority of bishops is intended. This is instead written to express my concern that some of the statements made by bishops at the USCCB conference might end up needlessly adding to the division in the Church today.

It is clear that since the release of the first Vigano letter, there has been a good deal of mistrust directed against the magisterium of the Church. Groups of the laity have openly accused Pope and bishops of corruption and even willful malfeasance. They declare that we cannot trust the clergy and we must have lay oversight over the bishops to ensure that justice is done.

I recognize that the mishandling of ex-cardinal McCarrick and his rise in the Church doesn’t inspire confidence. While the news of his being guilty of sexual abuse only came out this year, there were accounts of inappropriate behavior of seminarians. While I personally had not heard of those rumors prior to the sexual assault scandal breaking, apparently people in his diocese had heard about them. Such a man should not be in the position he was in, and if this behavior was known by his fellow bishops at the time but not reported to the proper authorities in Rome [§], that was a travesty.

Combining this with the fact that not all cases from the 1940s to 1980s (the vast majority of abuse cases in America) were revealed after the 2002 policy changes, it is understandable that a member of the laity might wonder about who else might be responsible for hiding things that should have been passed on. It is also understandable that, knowing some complaints were passed on to Rome at some level, that people want to know how far up this went before it was accidentally overlooked or deliberately hidden.

So let’s take it as a given that it’s not wrong for the laity to expect the Church to be governed justly and it’s not wrong to want reform where it was not. The problem is not in wanting reform. It’s in some of the reforms demanded. If a reform contradicts the nature of the Church as established by Christ, that reform must be rejected. If the lay oversight demanded interferes with the nature of the office of bishops as successors to the Apostles, we cannot implement it. If the office of Bishop is reduced to being an employee of the Church, we must reject it. If the clergy are reduced to vending machines of sacraments, we must reject it. Our Lord gave the authority/responsibility to govern the Church to the Apostles and their successors and they cannot abdicate that.

This means that, when the laity demand something that the Church cannot give, the bishops must defend the nature of the Church. That doesn’t mean we must passively accept corruption. But it does mean we must work within the nature of the Church in reforming it, giving the proper reverence and submission when due.

And that’s where I feel concerned regarding this meeting of the USCCB. They planned to vote on three measures regarding the scandal. However, the Vatican received those measures literally at the last minute, meaning there was no time to review them. Two of them are potentially at odds with Canon Law as it exists. So the Congregation of Bishops asked the USCCB not to vote on them and instead wait for the meeting of the heads of bishops conferences in Rome in February 2019. Keep in mind that this meeting was not just invented on the spot. The Pope announced it shortly after the scandal broke. Any national conference of bishops should see that as the place to reach decisions on policies.

But we actually saw a good deal of complaints about the decision by the Congregation of Bishops. We saw numerous articles about the bishops expressing disappointment. This struck me as providing soundbites that help animate the mob. The mob has been led by demagogues to believe that the Church under the Pope is “sweeping things under the rug.” Saying they are disappointed strikes me as passing the buck. The “Vatican” didn’t arbitrarily block a reasonable reform. The appropriate Congregation determined that the propositions being voted on needed more time to study than the time given between the USCCB sending the draft and the time of the vote. As the old saying goes, “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” In other words, the Church cannot rush into things—especially if the proposals might wind up contradicting canon law and potentially go against Church teaching. So it is not the fault of the Congregation of Bishops that the proposals were not delivered so they could be fully evaluated in a timely manner.

I believe that the USCCB has a responsibility to make the reasons known. It’s one thing to say, “we’re disappointed to see that we failed to deliver the proposals in a timely manner and missed the boat.” It’s quite another to say (or imply) “we’re disappointed that the Vatican wouldn’t let us vote on this.” The former admits the problem. The latter sounds like “it’s not our fault.” Let’s face it. Many Catholics don’t do nuance. They take (or make) soundbites from complex ideas. GK Chesterton described the phenomenon this way:

(All Things Considered, page 170)

What concerns me is that while the directive by the Congregation of Bishops doesn’t block productive work, a mob of Catholics are taking these quotes as “proof” of obstruction. Expressing “disappointment” in this climate feels close to yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater. I understand that the appearance of “doing nothing” is dangerous when people want justice. But so is haste. So is giving the impression that others are “covering up” when that is not the case.

Thus, my request—reverently given—is that the USCCB be careful and precise in expressing themselves to avoid inciting the mob of angry Catholics who misinterpret what they hear and then assume the worst from the Church. While I pray I am wrong, this situation reminds me of my studies of the anti-clericalism in the Church before the Protestant Reformation. Demagogues exploited this in rejecting the authority of the Church in the 16th century, resulting in the sundering of Christianity. Demagogues today could do the same thing.

Otherwise, we could wind up with another tragic schism where people wrongly believe untrue things and use those errors to reject the Church, winding up outside.


[§] If I understand it correctly, nobody knew of the sexual abuse of a minor until the victim came forward this year, and there was nothing about his beach house behavior that could be reported to law enforcement because it was not against the law in America.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Church is not an Ochlocracy

It used to be that when somebody said that they did not like something in the Church and directed hostility to the hierarchy over it, we used to say, “the Church is not a democracy.” This meant that we did not vote on teachings and we did not decide for ourselves what was and was not true. Nowadays, what we are seeing is not even organized enough to be called a democracy. Nowadays, the dissent seems more like an ochlocracy (government by the mob; mob rule). In opposition to the magisterium entrusted with the task of binding and loosing, we now have an anarchy which is divergent in what they want and only agreed in hostility to the Pope and bishops in communion with him.

These factions listen to whatever voice stirs their passions (a demagogue) while showing contempt to anyone who says these passions are misdirected. The danger of such a mob is it can irrationally turn against those it follows. The leader who seeks to appease the mob will eventually face their wrath. They may cheer Vigano now, but should the archbishop ever tell them they go too far, they will turn against him.

In this time in America, we are witnessing mobs of laity who widely disagree on what is right, but accuse the Pope and bishops of deliberate wrongdoing. When told that a policy is incompatible with the Catholic faith, they demand that the “rules” be changed to allow an emotional remedy. They cheer for bishops who seem to say something they like and vilify those who say, “slow down, think, work in communion with Rome.” The mobs don’t want anything that seems slow. They view it as evasion, coverup, etc.

I think the one of the most important things the USCCB can do right now is to say, “NO” to the mob. They must put doing right above satisfying the mob’s demand for scapegoats. Of course, per canon 212, the laity have a right to reverently express their concerns and the bishops would be wise to take those concerns into account. But the demands of a mob are not what canon 212 refers to.

So, the laity want oversight regarding abuse accusations. They want to throw out bishops they are appalled with. There may be a role for them. There may be a way to make the investigation of wrongdoing more just. But that cannot overturn the role of the magisterium (the successors to Peter and the Apostles) established by Christ. If the laity demand what the Church cannot grant without being unfaithful to Christ, the Pope and bishops must refuse.

We of the laity must strive to understand what the Church can and cannot do. We must strive to understand that the Pope doesn’t just do whatever he wants. The Church is not ruled by whim. Canon law exists to protect the innocent from arbitrary treatment. The Church doesn’t exist to punish sinners, but to redeem them. These truths mean that sometimes a solution takes time to ensure that there is neither a loophole nor an unjust punishment of the innocent. That time spent is not a coverup.

We know that some clergy are abusers and some bishops looked the other way. That was wrong. Catholics are not wrong for wanting justice. But the mob never provides justice. It is only temporarily assuaged before moving to another target.

So looking at the American Church today, we can choose to be with the universal Church, or we can choose to be with the mob. The former takes time and sometimes sinners within cause problems. But Our Lord promised to protect that Church (Matthew 16:18). The latter is fast, but always wrong and Our Lord never promised to protect the mob.

This means that, even with sinners in the Church (and if we want to find them, let’s start with the mirror), to stand with Christ is to stand with His Church (Luke 10:16) and to stand with the mob against the Church is to oppose Christ.

This is why I stand with the Church under the pontificate of Pope Francis, even though it is filled with sinners (including you and me). It may take time, but this Church, guided by Christ, will eventually reform itself. The mob will never reform the Church.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Becoming What They Oppose

(The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, p11)
While commonly claimed by anti-Catholics, the Church neither taught “buying salvation” (impossible) nor sold indulgences—though some corrupt individuals in the Church made it sound that way

Reviewing some accounts about the Protestant Reformation from the Protestant point of view, I notice there are some problems that pop up consistently. They are:
  1. Claiming that the Catholic Church taught things that it not only never taught, but actually rejected.
  2. Claiming that an abuse which the Church opposed was seen as morally acceptable.
  3. Claiming that whatever contradicts their view is proof of error.
These things were used to justify breaking away from the Catholic Church. The basic argument was that the Catholic Church couldn’t be the true Church if these things were found within. From that came the non sequitur that the Church was doctrinally in error and the leaders of the Protestant groups held the real Church. Countless [#] denominations couldn’t agree on what the truth was except that they believed the Church must be wrong.

This is relevant because these things are used—especially by anti-Catholics—to justify the split of Christianity by demonizing the Church. The problem is, if false claims are used—even if sincerely believed—they actually do harm, by leading people to go against what God wills while believing that they do good. Yes, abuses in the Church existed. But the Church never taught they were morally licit. Rather, they were given too much toleration, and embraced by some.

The false claims and misrepresentations were accepted as true by later generations and left unquestioned to the point that challenges were seen as irrational or willful blindness. So today we see people who literally believe Catholics think they can buy salvation, or that we worship statues, even though both are untrue.

However, before my Catholic readers go into a triumphalistic mode, or my non-Catholic readers become defensive, let me reveal my secret intentions. This article is not an anti-Protestant polemic [~]. Rather, I am using the existence of those past falsehoods to draw parallels to the current crisis in the Church.

The abuse scandal in the Church today is, of course, something that must be rooted out along with other corruptions. It is demoralizing to learn that, despite the 2002 policies, the coverup of past abusers from the 1940s [§] to 1980s continued. For whatever reason, things that should have been dealt with as they happened were swept under the rug and festered to the point that it will take major effort to repair.

But, similar to the falsehoods about teachings and misrepresentation of scandals spread against the Catholic Church by those seeking to justify breaking away in the 16th and 17th centuries, we are seeing Catholics using similar falsehood and misrepresentation to justify dissent from the teaching authority of the Church when the Church teaches differently than they want.

In these times, the attacks are made by those who oppose the Pope. Whatever they dislike going on within the Church or whatever teaching goes against their political views is considered to be “proof” of the Pope teaching error. Like the past attacks, these current accusations fall under the same categories. The Pope is accused of teaching something he actually rejects (like remarriages after divorce or same sex “marriage” for example [@]). He’s accused of covering up to “protect” active homosexuals among the clergy. He’s condemned for emphasizing Church teachings that go against the popular politics of a faction and his words are seen as “proof” that the Church needs to be reformed because it is becoming “political.”

Notice the parallels. The accusations against the Church today have different motivations than the past attacks, but the tactics are the same. Those who disagree with the Church rely on false attacks to claim that it lacks the authority to teach against them. 

Here’s the irony. Many of the people who make these attacks are also openly contemptuous of Protestants. You might think that the people who do this—claiming to defend the Church—would abhor anything that undermines the authority of the Church. But they emulate the tactics instead of avoiding them.

Hypocrisy is defined as “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.” If one claims to be faithful to the Church, they must offer submission of intellect and will (canon 752) to the teaching authority of the Church, trusting God to protect it from teaching error. If one behaves in a way that contradicts this claim of faithfulness, then the claim is hypocrisy.

The dissenting Catholic must consider this. The modern Protestant is not guilty of schism or dissent against a Church they never believed was authoritative (see the Catechism #818). But the Catholic who professes to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church is guilty if he or she refuses to obey the Church (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17).

If we want to save the Church from the corruption (and it exists) and sin, we must become like the saints who remained faithful and obedient when restoring the Church. If we think faithfulness to the Church requires disobedience to the living magisterium then what we do is not a reformation of the Church. It is breaking with the Church... something that contradicts our profession of faith.


[#] I’ll avoid the controversy over the claim of “20,000+ denominations.” It’s hotly disputed by Protestants and the exact number is irrelevant. Even the existence of two denominations claiming to be guided by the personal interpretation of Scripture while contradicting each other shows the problem of that theology.

[~] I am, of course a Catholic by conviction. I do believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church and do not accept what contradicts her teachings as put forth by the magisterium. Therefore I cannot accept that the Protestant Reformation was justified. However, I don’t bear ill will towards Protestants. As the Catechism teaches:

[§] I assume that investigations only go back to the 1940s because with crimes prior to that, most of the parties involved (victims, perpetrators) are dead.

[@] This accusation comes up before every synod. The fact that every post-synodal exhortation rejects it has not stopped the accusers.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Reforming the “Reform of the Reform”

There’s an old quote—misattributed [§] to Albert Einstein—that says: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The basic point is, if something always has a bad result, stop expecting it to have a good result next time and try something else.

I think of the saying as we once again see a “reforming” movement in the Church that considers the Pope and bishops to be threats that must be opposed to save and purify the Church. The problem is, Church history is full of”reformers” who—often in times of corruption within the Church—insisted that under the shepherds of the time, the Church had gone wrong and needed to follow their interpretation of Scripture or past disciplines to get back on track. Every one of those movements ended up in heresy and schism. Why should we expect this time to be any different?

The current movement hijacks the term “Reform of the Reform.” Initially, the term referred to the liturgy and correcting the abuses. Then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said (God and the World, page 415) spoke of it this way:

However, the meaning of the term has been changed. People are using it to say that the Church fell into error by attempting to reform things. Vatican II is usually the point of contention, with people saying it either went too far or not far enough. While these two views differ wildly on Church teachings, both insist that the hierarchy of the Church is at odds with what the Church should be.

We’ve been here before. The Waldensians, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Lollards, the Hussites, Lutherans, Zwinglians, Anabaptists, etc. etc. etc. [#] The movements did begin as reactions to corruption in the Church. Wanting reform was not wrong. But when the Church warned them about errors in their ideas, they refused correction, presuming that the Church must be wrong and not them. Some of these movements were excommunicated. Others broke away themselves. But they would not accept the authority of the Church when she warned them that their views were incompatible with the Faith handed down.

We would be wise to remember that the terms “heresy” and “schism” are not mere labeling of things we dislike. The Code of Canon Law is clear on what the terms mean:

When the Church teaches that something is incompatible with the Faith and we reject that judgment, it’s heresy. When we refuse submission to the Pope on the matter, that’s schism. Heresy and schism don’t have to be done out of malice. Those involved can be quite sincere in thinking they are right. Regardless of the sins of members of the hierarchy, that doesn’t change the fact that they have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).

In contrast to this attitude, we have the attitude of the reforming saints. They offered full submission to the magisterium—even in times when morals and discipline were lax. These saints led the Church to real reform, accepting the decisions of the Pope and bishops on what was permissible and what was not.

I think we must look at these two examples when it comes to the problems in the Church today. It’s not wrong to be appalled by the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. It’s not wrong to be troubled when a member of the hierarchy does something regrettable...

...but these things don’t change the authority of the magisterium to determine what is and isn’t an authentic interpretation of the Catholic Faith. We may want a specific solution to a scandal, but it’s the current Pope and bishops who determine if that solution is appropriate.

Catholics need to look at their attitude. Do we rail against “cowardly” bishops and a “heretic” Pope when they teach or act in a way different than we want? If so, we are in danger of schism. Do we think that a teaching or a council needs to be repealed? If so, we are in danger of heresy.

If we want to legitimately reform the Church, it must be done like every other legitimate reform: with the submission to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. But if we insist that the Church must repudiate a teaching or try to argue that Pope Francis’ teachings “aren’t really binding,” our reform is not a reform. It’s error that can become heresy or schism.

So let us reform our attitude towards reform of the Church by keeping submission to the Church as submission to Christ (Luke 10:16). Otherwise, we might discover that we are outside of the Church we try to save.

[§] Apparently it first appeared in a 1983 novel by Rita Mae Brown called Sudden Death.
[#] I don’t intend to bash the modern Protestants here. The Catechism points out (#818):

However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.… All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

Not Knowing We Don’t Know

Socrates, in his Apologia, discussed ignorance and wisdom. He was not a skeptic who believed we knew nothing (as some portray). Instead, he recognized that it was better to be aware that one was ignorant than to be ignorant and think one knew the truth about something. The former could be educated by seeking out the truth to learn what was ignorant about. The latter, thinking he knew something when he did not, would never search for the truth, instead remaining locked into his uninformed views.

This is not something limited to one faction or one area of knowledge. One can be conservative, liberal, or moderate. One can be ignorant on religion, philosophy, law, science, or any number of technical subjects. Both a theist and an atheist can be ignorant on a subject. But the wiser man knows his lack. The fool gets into arguments over things he knows nothing about.

Wisdom should not be confused with intelligence or education. A brilliant scientist who gets into arguments about a field he knows little about is still a fool next to a man with little education but enough wisdom to know what is beyond his knowledge.

I think of this as I watch the various religious and political disputes Americans go through today. We are tempted to think that what we don’t know is not worth knowing, and that we can interpret for ourselves what we read—even if we don’t know anything on the topic or the context of what is said. We fill in the blanks with unfounded suspicions and imagine vast conspiracies where people who don’t agree with us are conspiring to damage our Church or our nation. 

I should note that I don’t write this to demand a meritocracy where only those deemed the wisest be allowed to speak. Instead, I think we would be better off if we asked ourselves whether things really were as we thought them to be. Instead of arguing that a member of the Church should have known something, therefore he must be guilty of coverup (or plausible deniability). Instead of arguing about a coming “invasion” of refugees traveling through Mexico, we could ask ourselves how much we actually know about their motivations and intentions.

Being wise about not knowing something should require us to ask questions on a subject? How many people bashing Islam actually know the difference between teaching and culture, or how interpretation of the Quran varies from sect to sect and country to country? How many people realize that the “evils of Catholicism” they rail against were never taught by the Catholic Church? A wise man asks, “Is what I heard true? Or is it just a rumor?” If it is a rumor, then one has the obligation to determine if it is true. If it is not true, then we have an obligation to stop treating it as if it was true. That’s the minimum. It would be wiser to learn what is true about the topic and to share that truth.

I believe that’s part of Our Lord’s commandment in Matthew 7:1 on not judging. We cannot judge one’s moral guilt without knowing the circumstances behind an act. For example, Pope Francis, in Amoris Lætitia, pointed out that before we treat a divorced and remarried person as being in a state of mortal sin, we must ask ourselves whether that person met all the conditions of mortal sin. Nobody’s debating the grave matter. The question is whether the individual had the sufficient knowledge and consent required to make a sin mortal. Unfortunately, people who do not understand this misinterpret it as a “come if you feel called” opening of the Eucharist.

I also think this is relevant to our sexual abuse scandals. Many people are arguing whether the existence of a highly placed Churchman who did evil indicts everybody whom he happened to know. People assume that any complaint made is automatically forwarded to the Pope who knows everything about the incident. Nobody asks whether complaints get redirected, misplaced, or even quashed before it reaches the Pope. Nobody asks whether the information that arrives in Rome is enough to act on.

It’s one thing to say “If X happened, then Y should happen unless other information would make Y unjust.” It’s quite another thing to say “X happened, so unless Y happens, the Pope is evil!” Do we know X happened? Do we know the conditions of X? Do we know Y is a just response for the circumstances surrounding X? That’s where the wise man realizes he is ignorant and tries to learn about X and Y. Sometimes, finding out about X and Y will go beyond our abilities—especially if the information is not available. But in that case, the wise man does not make unfounded statements about X and Y. Instead he learns what he can and does not go further than his knowledge allows.

But if we don’t do that, we’re simply fools, rashly judging things we do not know, but think we do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Unfounded Suspicions Treated As Fact

A common problem in the Church today is unfounded speculation that leads one to draw a conclusion without any justification for it. We “fill in the blanks,” providing an explanation for something that makes no sense to us. Unfortunately, when we lack knowledge, or if we’re acting on preconceived notions, we are not reasoning but speculating. If we assume instead of learn, the conclusions we draw in these cases are not fact and the accusations we make based on them are rash judgment.

To illustrate, the comic to the left (Lucky Star) involves a speculation. To explain it, we need to understand the Japanese urban legend that massaging a woman’s breasts causes them to grow. The other women in the scene are assuming Minegishi is sexually active. Minegishi objects to their assumptions—based on a myth—that make her seem immoral. Minegishi may or may not be sexually active (the comic is about high school/college life, tends to be PG rated and doesn’t go into those topics), but her friends are making a judgment that can’t be justified by the facts they possess.

Members of the Church seem to be in the same place as Minegishi’s friends. They assume a cause-effect in regards to the existence of scandals in the Church without considering whether the reasoning has any merit to it.

For example, the sex abuse scandal in the Church. We know that a large portion of it comes from male abusers and is directed against male victims. It’s a serious problem that needs to be investigated in a way that identifies and roots out the base causes. Unfortunately, many Catholics fill in blanks based on assumptions.

For example, the “lavender mafia” or “gay lobby” claim. The term refers to a belief that there must be a group in the Church that exercises influence to legitimize homosexuality. While the term had originally been used to describe the entertainment industry, by 2007 it was being used to explain how predator priests could exist without being discovered and removed. It has evolved into an assumption that any bishop who failed to act or who ordained a predator priest must be a member; that any Pope who failed to take a desired outcome must have been placed by this “lavender mafia.”

The Church being led by human beings, not angels, will of course have sins to deal with... sometimes heinous ones. No doubt some of these sinners will reach high positions and cover for each other. In settings closed to outsiders, or afflicted by hubris, such people might abandon subtlety. But these facts do not justify a conclusion that there is a Church-wide cabal that encompasses all members of the clergy who act on a same-sex attraction.

Pope Francis made this point in 2013. When asked about the “gay lobby,” the Pope quite reasonably pointed out that there’s always a problem when people with a shared sin get together but the existence of an inclination in a person is not necessarily proof of conspiracy:

So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem.

Another speculation (one that’s been around at least as long as St. Paul VI is that the continued existence of error or dissent in the Church is because the Pope is “sympathetic” to it. Yes, we do have clergy and laity who take stands that are incompatible with the Catholic teaching. It’s not unreasonable to want scandal removed from the Church. But there is a problem with some methods of removing scandal. As long as I’ve been defending the Church, I’ve encountered people who say, “if this was a business, these people would be fired! Why doesn’t the Pope fire these bishops?”

The answer is that the Church is not a business and the bishops are not employees. Yes, there are causes which justify removing a bishop from office (though not as many as you might think). But the bishops are not appointees like in a presidential cabinet. They are successors to the apostles and removing them from their positions is done for grave reasons where the guilt is clear. The Church would rather have a repentant sinner who remains than an obstinate heretic driven out. When the Church finally does condemn a theologian for heresy (for example), it’s after years of dialogue aimed at converting him when it’s clear that he is obstinate. 

Of course, it’s possible to be too cautious. It’s possible to hesitate when decisive action is needed. When that happens, reform is needed. But it’s unfounded suspicion to assume that the Church doesn’t care about error. She does. But she has to show mercy to the repentant and not just give up on the seemingly unrepentant sinner.

Mercy of course is another area of unfounded suspicion. People who want a hard “DEUS VULT!” style Church where the wicked are cast out tend to view Pope Francis’ words on mercy as a moral laxness that was never found in the Church before 2013.

But it was. Benedict XVI stressed the same mercy that is the hallmark of his successor:

Homily, November 4, 2010.

The unfounded suspicion here is that mercy secretly means laxity or permissiveness. So the critics think that the Pope is advocating divorce and remarriage, contraception, and “same sex marriage” when he actually reaffirms Church teaching on the subject.

Thus we see the danger of the unfounded suspicion. If one assumes it to be true, they will believe any falsehood that uses the unfounded suspicion as a basis. Consider the anti-Catholics whose sole source of “information” are the Jack Chick tracts and 16th century propaganda. They never question whether there information is true. As a result, they are willing to believe lies that fit their suspicion. Lest we become arrogant with the anti-Catholics, let us not forget that there are Catholics who form unfounded suspicions about the Pope, the bishops, and councils they dislike. They build on these suspicions until they believe whatever allegations made against them. 

This is not a minor matter. One of the Ten Commandments forbids bearing false witness. This is not limited to lies. It also forbids speaking about what one does not know, assuming them to be true. The Catechism teaches:

Do we really think we can speak falsely or recklessly and not have to answer it at the final judgment? If we would avoid condemnation, we must make every effort to learn, speak, and live the truth. This means studying, and it means hearing our teacher, the Church. This means that when the Pope teaches, even under the ordinary magisterium, we must give religious submission of intellect and will. This means that when what the Church says something in opposition to what we think it means, we trust that the Church is right, not ourselves. As St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

This doesn’t mean we think that a lie is true because the Church says so. That means we trust that God will always protect His Church, under the headship of the Pope, from teaching error. If we would be faithful to God, we will give up our unfounded suspicions and follow Him by following His Church led by His current vicar, Pope Francis.