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.

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