Saturday, March 16, 2019

Ending the Standoff


Anyone who has paid attention knows that Catholics [*] in the prolife movement in America are deeply divided these days to the point that some view discrediting the other as more important than defeating the culture of death. This division is largely over politics. Members of the factions disagree over how to vote: what issues are important and what issues can be sacrificed for a greater good. The factions like to accuse each other of betraying the defense of life in favor of politics. Unfortunately, both are blind to the fact that they share the same error and merely tolerate different evils in doing so. This error is that they have moved from fighting the gravest evil first to excusing the evils of the party they tend to agree with. 

What the Church Teaches

We should first consider the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, #27:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. 

It is clear that there are many issues that the Church considers intrinsically evil (can never be made “good” no matter what the circumstances). Catholics are forbidden to defend any of them. Unfortunately, two factions in the Catholic prolife movement do end up defending the indefensible. They are OPLM and the NPLM.

What’s Wrong With the OPLM?

The Old/Original Pro Life Movement (OPLM) tends to think that voting to oppose abortion is the only thing that matters and every other issue can be sacrificed to insure that laws are passed that restrict abortion and judges are appointed that will overturn legalized abortion as a “constitutional right.” The problem is, they forget that their obligation to evangelize the world can’t be set aside until abortion is banned and these other injustices must be opposed too. They also forget the danger of being so invested in that party that they begin to treat the whole political platform with the Christian Faith. They support politicians who have no problem with some of the issues on the list the Church condemns as infamies, and when bishops speak out, accuse the bishops of getting involved in politics. They forget what the Church says:

Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience. 

Apostolicam actuositatem 5

In other words, they cannot use the (very real) importance of the abortion issue to justify ignoring the other teachings of the Church or the candidates who go against them. The bishops who speak in the Public Square about these evils outside of abortion are not “being political.” They’re carrying out their task.

What’s Wrong With the NPLM?

On the other hand, the New Pro Life Movement (NPLM) focuses on the other issues to the point that opposing abortion is sometimes treated as unimportant. If enough social programs are set in place, women won’t need abortions. Therefore they claim that their vote for a pro-abortion candidate is justified because on the whole, this candidate is “more pro-life” while their opponents only care about life up to birth. They tend to forget that the Church insists that the right to life must include the opposition of legalized abortion. They also run the risk of confusing their party’s platform with the Christian Faith. They remember that the Church defines the right to life as more than just abortion, but err in inventing a moral calculus where issues A+B+C+D > abortion and therefore they vote for candidates who think abortion is a moral good(!) on the ground that they think they’re still defending life because these candidates do other things. They forget the teaching of St. John Paul II:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

Christifidelis Laici #38

In other words, many of the issues they cite to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate are not part of the right to life, even though important. They cannot be justify supporting a candidate who supports abortion.

What Needs To Be Done

People sometimes ask which faction is the right one to follow. I think that’s a mistake. Both are fatally flawed and must be rejected. Both downplay a vital part of the right to life. Of course, we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. We can’t hold out for the ideal candidate to the point that we’re rejecting qualified defenders of life because they’re wrong on some issues. But we can—and MUST—reject candidates who support intrinsic evil unless there is an evil that is so bad that we must fight it with all the strength that we would normally use to defend life.

And before you say, that your issue or issues outweigh the other abortion, remember that the Church has gone so far as to put abortion on the same level as murder, genocide, euthanasia and wilful self-destruction. So you can’t use a moral calculus to claim a bunch of smaller issues outweighs it in seriousness. But neither can you say that the other Church teachings can be sacrificed because of the weight of abortion. If you’re going to vote for a politician who supports an intrinsic evil, it had better be for a proportionate reason. As archbishop Chaput put it

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (p. 229)

Unfortunately, when I see one of these factions argue that they are following the Church in voting for their candidate, they never show that their justification is proportionate to the evil they are tolerating.

I think the first step in ending this standoff between two erring factions is to reject both of them. Neither one is the “good guy” here. They might be sincere, but both are willing to sacrifice what they have no grounds to concede. The second step is to understand that the Church teaching is not an opinion. When the Church condemns something, we cannot call it a political opinion that can be rejected. It’s binding.

Second, I think we need to stop abusing the term “prudential judgment.” Prudential judgments are not about whether to obey Church teaching. It is about how to best obey Church teaching. When the Church teaches that something is evil and must be opposed, our task is to decide how to apply it. If we’re trying to avoid the hard conclusions by claiming “prudential judgment” that actually ignores the teaching, that’s just disobedience.

Third, I think that we have to have the courage in our conviction to trust God when it feels hopeless. If we reach the point where we recognize that a candidate we favor is opposed to the teaching of the Church, and we recognize that a properly formed conscience is formed by the teachings of the Church, then we must trust in God if we fear that the candidate we loathe might get in. We cannot do evil so good might come of it, and violating our properly formed conscience is doing exactly that.


[*] There are more than just Catholics in the prolife movement. But since this is a Catholic blog and deals with the Catholic view, this is the group I will focus on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Fundamentally Missing the Point

In my morning newsfeed, I saw an article about a member of Congress proposing a “gotcha” bill that aims to create harassment for lawmakers that propose “heartbeat” abortion bans. This is supposed to be a bill saying “if you wanna regulate women’s bodies, we’ll regulate yours.”

The problem is, this is a fallacy of false analogy. The differences outweigh the similarities by a huge margin. Opposition to abortion exists because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother while this bill attempts to harass men over the natural function of their bodies.

As a Catholic, I’m not bothered by the banning of vasectomies, restrictions on pornography, and making irresponsible fathers responsible for helping support the woman they impregnated if they won’t do the right thing. So, in those cases, it could backfire on her.

However, no law opposing abortion interferes with the free sexual behavior between persons while this law does exactly that. Yes, sexual activity should be between husband and wife alone, but that’s impossible to enforce by criminal law. In contrast to this law, laws restricting abortion exist (once again) because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother. Once a human life is begun, both parents have responsibilities to him or her, whether that means raising the child themselves or putting the child up for adoption.

That’s why the bill only serve to show her ignorance. Erectile dysfunction medicine is not the male equivalent to the “right” to abortion. This medicine is aimed at helping a body to work as intended while abortion is intended disrupt the body from working as intended by killing another human being. That’s false analogy in the bill.

It’s also based on a straw man fallacy. She wants to ban vasectomies while making sex without a condom “aggravated assault” (self-contradictory, by the way) because she wants the bill to “control” men in the same way that she sees bills opposing abortion “controlling” women. But these bills are not about control. They exist (one more time) because of the fact that the fetus is a separate human being apart from the mother. The law must protect innocent human beings. The unborn child is an innocent human being. Therefore the law must protect the unborn child.

I doubt this bill will go to a floor vote. The author effectively admitted she’s trolling. Kendrick’s party would likely be unwilling to face the response [*]. But I think it is dangerous anyway. It shows that members of Congress have lost sight of truth and reason. By seeing abortion as a “cure” to a “medical problem,” it shows they have lost sight of the value of a human being. This is why St. John Paul II (in Christifidelis Laici #38) reminded us of the core truth of the right to life coming first:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Emphasis original)

The laws opposing abortion are part of that defense of the human person and nobody who refuses to defend the life of the unborn can be said to defend human rights. Yes, there is more to the defense of life than the opposition to abortion. But the defense of life can never downplay or exclude that opposition.

As long as reasoning like Kendrick’s exists, it shows we have a long way to go in teaching people about the importance of human life.


[*] It is possible that it could be brought to a vote with the intention of embarrassing Kendrick’s party, forcing them to either vote against it or face backlash.

Friday, March 8, 2019


Lately, in discussion of politics and Church teaching, we’re seeing a notable increase in what I call “deflection.” By this I mean:

1) A proposal is made to deal with issue X.
2) In response, someone points out issue Y is also an issue and demands it get equal billing.
3) People begin focusing on issue Y.
4) Attention is deflected from issue X while the proposal is hijacked to focus on Y.

In logic, two fallacies are in play: tu quoque and red herring. The tu quoque fallacy is an attempt at deflection of guilt by pointing out the wrongdoing of another. The red herring attempts to deflect discussion of the issue by bringing up a separate issue that may have merit in a different discussion but is a distraction from the current one.

An example of deflection comes up in the US every time the Church deals with a moral issue. There are three moral issues with political baggage attached: abortion, immigration, and the death penalty. When the Church speaks on one of these things, somebody (usually someone wanting to deflect from their political party which is guilty of supporting it) will invoke one of the other two issues (which the other party is seen as guilty of) and say that the Church should speak about that other issue. In fact the Church does, frequently. But by insisting that this specific condemnation be shifted or expanded, attention is deflected from the original purpose in order to bury that original issue which denounces their party and instead make those who oppose the deflection look like hypocrites or as defending the indefensible.

This is a dishonest tactic which we should reject. If we are talking about abortion, invoking the other issues are either tu quoque (If you try to make the original issue sound hypocritical) or red herring (If we’re trying to distract). In such cases, we need to make clear that at this time, we are talking about X, and discussion about Y should be brought up in its own time.

Otherwise, we risk losing focus as politically minded Catholics deflect the issue, hiding it or discrediting it. This hinders the obligation we have to make known how people are to live.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Blind Guides


I had a discussion the other day. The topic involved a site that issued an anti-Francis article, arguing that advocated rejecting him as Pope because he “taught error” and St. Robert Bellarmine “taught” that meant he was automatically deposed (I wrote about this misinterpretation HERE in 2016). The person wanted to know how to respond.

Afterwards, I began reflecting on the nature of these attacks on the Pope. The key problem with these sites is their hubris to claim that they—not the successors to the Apostles—had the authority to determine what was and was not authentic teaching. They set themselves up as guides, but they are blind to the nature of the Church they claim to be experts over. 

The Accusations from Blind Guides

We should recall what Our Lord warned: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39). Before getting swept up in the arguments of these blind guides, we need to be aware of some things. First of all, the Pope and bishops do not have to prove their innocence. The accusers have to prove their guilt. They have to prove that a heretical interpretation of the Pope’s words was what he intended in the first place. 

Canon Law (#751) defines heresy as the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith. So, they have the obligation to prove that the Pope is obstinately rejecting some truth of the Catholic Faith as opposed to their own committing the fallacies of accent or equivocation as well as begging the question when leveling accusations.

The Fallacy of Accent

The fallacy of accent is putting a different emphasis on words than the author/speaker intends, changing the meaning. One famous example is the following sentence:

I never said you took my money.

Now read the sentence aloud seven times, each time emphasizing a different word. Notice how the meaning changes—some of them sounding like veiled accusations. If you put emphasis on a different part of the sentence than I intended (I put the emphasis on “never”) then your interpretation of my words is false.

Applying this to the accusations against the Pope and bishops, the accusers have to show that they accented the words of the Pope or bishops in the same way that was intended.

The Fallacy of Equivocation

Certain words are equivocal if they can have more than one meaning. I am reminded of a news story from 2002 when Japan hosted the World Cup and was concerned with hooliganism. So the government sought to advise businesses to avoid things that could lead to an excuse to riot. One of these suggestions was over the term nomihoudai (飲み放題) which has a sense of “all you can drink” for a set period of time. The common translation was “free drinking.” The Japanese government was concerned that the British hooligans would interpret “free” as no charge instead of “unlimited,” and warned bars from using that translation to avoid the risk of angry drunks smashing the place after being presented with the bill.

In the Church, there is a tendency by some Catholics to interpret “mercy” as “laxity” and “God’s will” as God’s absolute approval of something as good [*]. But, if this is not the intended meaning, it is wrong to accuse the Pope of promoting these things. 

Begging the Question

When a person treats something as proof when they actually need to prove their point, they commit the “begging the question” fallacy. For example, “he must be guilty or he wouldn’t have ran from the police” is begging the question. It assumes that guilt is the only motive for running—which is the point to be proven in the first place.

So, if someone argues that the Pope is a heretic, he has to provide evidence. But if the “evidence” is nothing more than a statement which depends on the interpretation of the accuser, his “proof” is no evidence because it depends on the accusation being true in the first place

The Obligation to Seek Out the Truth

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Church teaches that rash judgment is a sin. We are forbidden to assume evil without basis, and we must seek to understand the true meaning of one’s words and actions before trying a charitable correction. But this is precisely what is not done. The Pope is assumed by his critics to be a heretic and everything he does is interpreted under that assumption. There is no attempt to give a favorable interpretation nor an attempt to understand how the Pope understands it. When a critic acts this way, he or she cannot be trusted as a guide.

Blinded Against What the Church Is

These critics make these accusations because they have become blind to what the Church is. The Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ as the ordinary means of bringing His salvation to the world. As such, God protects her from teaching error and gives His authority to her. That protection and authority is not limited to ex cathedra statements, but is applied to teaching of the ordinary Magisterium (canon 752).

Because the Church has this authority from Christ, it is the Pope and bishops in communion with him that have the authority to determine what is compatible with the timeless teachings of the past and what disciplines can be legitimately changed for the benefit of the faithful.

Against this truth, we have people who claim that the Pope and bishops are teaching heresy—contradicting the teaching of the Church. Since Our Lord made clear that rejecting the apostles and their successors was rejecting Him (Luke 10:16), those people who reject the Pope and bishops are rejecting the Church and therefore Christ.

These people, no matter how sincere they might be, are in error. Following them is to follow a blind guide. As Our Lord warned, you will end up in the ditch.

Think about that. Yes, every person in the Church, except Our Lord and His Mother, is a sinner. But the sins and mistakes of the Pope and bishops do not negate their authority and God’s protection in shepherding the Church. You’d be wise to reject any “guides” who say otherwise.


[*] God absolutely wills that humanity has free will. That doesn’t mean He calls the abuse of it good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

On Concern for the Church: The Crucial Difference Between Medieval and Modern

I try to read from Church writings in different eras when I study. In the medieval period, I’m currently reading On Consideration by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Letters 31-60 by St. Peter Damien [§]. Both works have material written to the Popes of their times expressing great concern for moral corruption that existed at the time. I contrast this with the modern material directed to Pope Francis: The Vigano letters, the “correction,” the dubia, and the number of “open letters” out there. When I do, I see a vast difference between the eras.

In the medieval times, these saints—like the modern critics—had strong views on what needed to be done. They brought up cases where the teaching of the Church had been cast aside and urged change. BUT, there was always respect and love for the Pope being addressed, regardless of what they thought of the specific Pope at the time. These appeals were along the line of, “These evils exist contrary to Church teaching. Please take action against them.” In contrast, the tone of modern material tends to be, “You’re an idiot and/or a heretic. These problems are your fault. Resign!” It’s the antithesis to the attitude of the saints [*].

I think the difference between these times and the past is Catholics have lost sight of what the Church is and what the Pope is. The medieval saints could recognize that the individual man serving in the office of Pope was a sinner while recognizing that, in his office of Pope, he was to be loved and respected as the successor of Peter and the visible head of the Church. The modern critics only see that the Pope is a sinner, and do not show love and respect to the office unless the Pope uses it in the way they want. If they want condemnation of enemies and the Pope shows mercy, it’s a “proof “ of error. When the Pope rebukes pharisaical attitudes in the Church, it’s “proof” he’s a hypocrite... since the Pope is denouncing their attitudes.

So, what are we to do? I think we need to recover the distinction that the medieval saints knew: that the man who is Pope is always a sinner in need of salvation, but he is also carrying out the office Christ gave to Peter and his successors. We love the former as a fellow Christian. We love and honor the latter as our way of loving and serving Christ in His Church. This was a point Ven. Fulton J Sheen made in his autobiography, A Treasure in Clay:

Another year when granted an audience, I seated myself in an outer room very near the Holy Fathers private office. During a wait of about fifteen minutes, I made a quick re-view of my life, asking: “Have I really served the Church as well as I should? Have I used the many talents the Lord has given me? Have I cast fire upon the earth as the Lord asked His bishops to do?” I finally came to a negative conclusion. I had done little. At that moment the door was opened; I was ushered before His Holiness. I said: “Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be.” “Oh,” he said, “tell me, I would like to know.” “While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obeisance to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression.” He said: “Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord.” [Emphasis original]

He recognized what the saints recognized in times worse than this one. We would be wise to recognize it too, rejecting the criticism that fails to show that love and respect they did.


[§] I’ve previously read similar works like St. Catherine of Sienna—who was much more respectful to the Pope than popular accounts today claim.

[*] It’s not different from the attitude of medieval critics that the Pope rebuked for error. For example, most of the “Pope is a heretic” attacks directed against Pope John XXII were from heretical groups like the “Spiritual Franciscans” who were disciplined by the Pope.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bizarro World is Here: Reflections on Catholics Deforming the Defense of Life

Imagine a world where Catholics who are devoted to the right to life saying that the US Bishops who condemned the failure in Congress to pass a law against infanticide were “played” by people with political agenda, while those members of Congress who want to expand abortion are praised as being “really pro-life.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the humorous “Bizarro World” from DC Comics where what we consider good is wrong and what we consider bad is right. This is the real world of Earth, 2019 where this is happening right now.

In case you somehow missed it, the Governor of Virginia made a statement that if a child was aborted alive, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” In response, Senator Sasse submitted a bill (text HERE) that declared in part, “If an abortion results in the live birth of an infant, the infant is a legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States, and entitled to all the protections of such laws.” 

It’s a bill that people should recognize as obvious truth. Regardless of the legal status of abortion, once the child is born alive, you don’t have the right to kill it, even if the intention was to abort it. But 44 Senators filibustered the bill to prevent it from becoming law. The chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities responded saying:

There should be no bill easier for the Senate to pass than one that makes clear that killing newborn babies is wrong and should not be tolerated. That even one senator, let alone 44 senators voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, is an injustice that should horrify and anger the American people and commit us to decisive political action. A vote against this bill is a vote to extend Roe v. Wade’s license for killing unborn children to killing newborn babies. The American people, the vast majority of whom support this bill, must demand justice for innocent children.

It is comprehensible that people who are dogmatically in favor of abortion will refuse to allow anything that might threaten it to interfere—no matter how humane the bill might be. But how is it possible that a group of Catholics who claim to be “truly” Prolife responded by saying that the bishops were deceived by politicians with an agenda? Especially when they cited these same bishops’ teachings on other issues, denouncing their opponents for disobedience.

To understand this, we have to understand that in the movements defending life there is something of a schism with multiple factions. Among these factions, there are two prominent ones. One side that says abortion is so important of an issue, that any other issue can and must be sacrificed in order to ensure that the party seen as opposing it will get elected. Another faction says that the defense of life involves more than just abortion, and that a politician who supports abortion rights is actually more prolife than the politician who only opposes abortion. These two factions are known as the OPLM [*] and the NPLM [§] respectively.

The OPLM operates under the assumption that because one party supports abortion, a necessary part in fighting abortion is voting for the other party, even if that party’s platform is also at odds with Catholic teaching. The NPLM operates under a broader understanding of what the defense of life involves. But it also involves a moral calculus that decides issues implementing A+B+C+D has greater importance in defending life than the ending of legalized abortion. Therefore they tend to defend the party that supports A+B+C+D even though that party supports abortion. The defense of A+B+C+D is seen as “more” important in being prolife.

I believe both are perversions of the Catholic teaching, reducing it to opposing the political party they demonize most. The OPLM errs in thinking the other issues don’t matter until abortion is ended. The NPLM errs in thinking abortion is only one issue among many...often becoming the only issue they will compromise on. Both are wrong when they hold a position at odds with what the Church teaches.

The Church holds that the right to life is the fundamental right that all others depend on. Whatever violates that right—from conception to natural death—is to be condemned. Both factions ignore aspects of the defense of life that coincidentally work against their political views. The OPLM tends to have more “conservative” views politically. The NPLM tends to have more “liberal” views. The problem is, both tend to equate their political views with Catholic teaching. Thus, the teachings in line with the political views are emphasized. The teachings that go against their views are downplayed or written off as proof of political “biases” of the bishops.

Before anyone think this article was written in support of one of these factions, let me say this: The Bizarro World of the infanticide bill shows one example of wrongdoing. But it’s not the only one. It can be traced back to a bigger one: Bizarro World Catholics saying they are faithful Catholics because of their rejection of the Pope or bishops establishing what is authentic against them. If the bishop opposes them, it must be because the bishop is biased, not us.

Life issues, social justice, war and peace, sexual morality, etc. The Church teaching involves what we must do to be in right relationship with God. If we won’t listen to the Church, we are not listening to God (Luke 10:16). So let’s not use this failure by this faction to say, “those people are reprehensible.” Let’s use it as a teaching moment: if we know that they are wrong to do X, and we do X in support our own politics, then not only have we done the same wrong, but we have done what we condemn in others, adding hypocrisy to our guilt.

So, if we know they do wrong in explaining away the Magisterium when they don’t like their teachings, how will God judge us when we condemn them and then do the same things ourselves?

[*] “Original/Old Pro Life Movement”
[§] “New Pro Life Movement.”