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.”