Monday, April 30, 2018


For the entire history of the Church, we had an understanding that the Magisterium of the Church—the Pope and bishops in communion with him—are the ones who determine what is orthodox and what is not. They are also the ones to determine whether it is an appropriate time to change the discipline of the Church. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreement in the Church, or that all of those with authority exercised it in an unblemished manner. But the point is, when the Church taught, orthodox Catholics recognized the obligation to give assent. Those who refused to give assent were recognized as dissenters or possibly even schismatics and heretics.

But in these current times, stretching back to the end of Vatican II, we’ve seen the rise of a new way of thinking, one which claims that a person can be a “good Catholic” while rejecting portions of Church teaching they disliked. Initially, it seemed like this movement was politically “liberal.”  We had people arguing that Humanae Vitae was not binding, or that the teaching on abortion was in error. They appealed to either dissenting theologians like Charles Curran and Hans Küng, or to spurious interpretations of past saints and legitimate theological concepts like double effect. These people argued that anything which was not ex cathedra was not protected. Since it could not be protected, it could be in error. Because it could be in error, it could be rejected.

There was no basis for those claims. It depended on the interpretation of people with no authority to interpret and rejected the authority of those who did have that authority. But people fabricated their own theology to justify what they intended to do anyway. When the Popes and bishops rejected their views, they were seen as trying to “undo” the work of the Council. This movement was, of course, in error. Faithful Catholics flocked to the defense of the Church.

There was a problem though. Because the dissenters of that time tended to be politically liberal, it became easy to confuse the defense of the Church with political conservatism. Some defenders of the Church were actually defending conservative politics—which did not always line up with Catholic teaching. When this happened, it was easy to downplay the teaching that rejected conservative politics... but the fact remained that Church teaching did not line up with one political faction. [†]

St. John Paul II, September 16, 1987
St. John Paul II, September 16, 1987

Advancing to the time of the current pontificate, we see that the current dissenters are behaving just as wrongly as the dissenters of the past. They are again falsely citing the words of the saints and legitimate theological concepts. They are again rejecting those with the authority to teach while promoting those who either have no authority to teach, or are confusing their teaching office with their personal views. When the Pope says X, this countermagisterium argues that the Pope had no right to say X. Like the previous generation of dissent, the current faction is choosing to listen to the countermagisterium while treating the real magisterium as a false opinion.

One of the tragedies here is seeing members of the Church I hitherto respected taking a path I cannot follow if I want to be faithful to the Church. When the Church permits Eucharist in the hand and Mass orientem and a respected churchman is telling us this is diabolical, then I cannot follow that churchman in this matter. When a high ranking member of the Church openly questions the teaching of the Pope, a red flag goes up in my mind. When a theologian starts questioning the orthodoxy of the Pope, I start questioning the orthodoxy of said theologian—did he really understand the teaching of the Church? Or did he confuse orthodoxy with conservatism?

The reason I do this is not because I am a liberal dissenter who wants to undermine the Church [§]. Rather, I think they do not speak rightly about the Pope. While I will not judge their motives [¶], I believe they are reacting to a caricature of the Pope. Therefore when the Pope teaches X and the countermagisterium says the Pope is wrong, I believe that the Pope has the authority while his opponents offer opinions which they confuse with authority. 

For example, reading Amoris Lætitia, I believe that the accusation of “opening up Communion to the divorced and remarried” is a false charge. It is clear that the Pope is asking bishops to apply the determination of culpability to these cases instead of assuming all elements of mortal sin are present. It’s quite possible that the number of cases where culpability is reduced is ZERO. But we can’t presume that. Therefore when I read something that claims that the Pope is “opening up Communion,” I believe we have a false statement—even if sincerely believed to be true—on par with “Catholics worship Mary.”

Some critics reading this far may accuse me of trying to match my theological knowledge against men who served the Church faithfully for decades. That would be false. I don’t presume to challenge them. However, when one considers the words of Our Lord on authority (Matthew 16:19. 18:18, Luke 10:16), I am pitting the authority of the Pope against the opinions of these men. Put that way, I must be obedient to the Pope to be faithful to the Church. Therefore, if the countermagisterium opposes him, I cannot listen to them.


[†] There were warnings of course. The advent of groups like the SSPX were serious threats and the magisterium recognized that. But it was easy for them to be tolerated by conservatives who argued “liberals were greater threats.” In my opinion, the current problems in the Church has that mindset as at least part of the origin.

[§] I have also defended his predecessors from critics on both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals have accused me of being heartless. Conservatives have accused me of being ignorant of Church teaching.

[¶] This is important. The average person who misinterprets the Pope as teaching error can quite easily misinterpret the Priest, Bishop, or Cardinal who expresses concern. We would be wise not to judge them by those anti-Francis Catholics who cite them.

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