Thursday, April 30, 2020

Confusing Contraries and Contradictories: How It Leads to Error

Let a people then, Catholic or not, be in ignorance of doctrine—let them be a practical busy people, full of their secular matters—let them have no keen analytical view of the principles which govern them, yet they will be spontaneously attracted by those principles, and irritated by their contraries so, as they can be attracted or irritated by no other. Their own principles or their contraries, when once sounded in their ears, thrill through them with a vibration, pleasant or painful, with sweet harmony or with grating discord; under which they cannot rest quiet; but relieve their feelings by gestures and cries, and startings to and fro, and expressions of sympathy or antipathy towards others, and at length by combination, and party, and vigorous action.

—John Henry Newman, Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church (London: Burns & Lambert, 1850), 49–50.

When one encounters Church teaching or discipline that goes against what an individual thinks should be so, it is easy for them to conclude that the thing they dislike is wrong, treating it as endorsing the polar opposite of their own position, asking “How can the Church support that?”. 

For example, it’s commonly believed that, in the 1832 encyclical Mirari Vos, Pope Gregory XVI condemned “freedom of conscience” and the freedom to publish. From that, he—and the Catholic Church—was portrayed as being an enemy of freedom

This is to confuse contraries and contradictories. A contrary would be the direct opposite of a statement. So, if you were to say “No men are named Johnson,” and I disagreed, you would be wrong to allege that I said “all men are named Johnson.” My disagreement would be a contradictory: Not all men are named Johnson. Contraries are “All vs. None.” Contradictories are “All vs. Not all.”

Understanding this, we can see what Gregory XVI was actually condemning was not all applications of freedom of conscience. He was speaking against an indifferentism that held that there can be no moral absolutes and the state should not insist on any absolutes. He was actually right, as the de-evolution of America shows us and our nation embraces things that would have seemed bizarre only 20 years ago. 

A similar error is made today. If someone dares to speak out and say that morals and values were better years ago, somebody will invariably bring up our nation’s shameful legacy of racism and segregation, claiming that the concern over morals is a rejection of all progress… which is why the non sequitur of “racism” gets thrown around when that was never the topic to begin with.

Unfortunately, the current critics of the Church and the Pope have fallen into this error. They have a certain conception of the Church. But, when the Pope tells them that their misunderstanding of the teaching is wrong, they assume that the Pope is saying that the teaching itself is wrong and he endorses the contrary. So, the Pope speaking out against the abuses in unfettered capitalism (as his predecessors had done since the time of Leo XIII) is transformed into support of the polar opposite of capitalism. Thus, we see risible claims that the Pope is a socialist.

Likewise, the Pope speaking out against the abuse of the Earth in Laudato Si, is transformed into a paganistic eco-extremism. His pointing out in Amoris Laetitia that confessors should make certain that all the conditions of mortal sin are present before denying communion to the divorced and remarried is transformed into “anybody can go and receive communion.”

But claiming that the Pope supports the contrary to their position is rash judgment at best, calumny at worst. His statements are contradictories to error. Against the claim that unfettered capitalism is good, he says that not everything about capitalism is good, and we must change that which is morally wrong. When speaking on the environment, he does not call the neo-pagan environmentalism good. He calls certain attitudes as incompatible with how we must treat the Earth. He doesn’t say that anybody who feels called should receive communion. He says that confessors should work to getting the divorced and remarried reconciled to the Church… which may include the sacraments if all the conditions of mortal sin are not present.

Once we understand this, we can see the web of falsehoods that ensnare the anti-Francis Catholics. They wrongly assume their interpretation is true, and the Pope’s correction means he supports the view they see as the antithesis of their own ideas. 

Until they recognize this error, they are liable to remain blind and persist in the false belief that he is teaching error and causing confusion. The danger is, they are—I assume unwittingly—reaching the same false conclusions that others did when they rejected and broke with the Church. If they do not change their attitude of rejection, they could very easily wind up separated from the Church while thinking it is the Church that fell into “error.”



(†) It’s commonly claimed he called freedom of conscience an “insanity,” but that seems to be a translation issue as no text I’ve ever seen uses it (or “madness”). 

(‡) We should be aware of the fact, however, that some of the values of the past were held more out of a sense of “we’ve always done that,” than out of a moral understanding why we should live that way. So, as societies rejected the past abuses, it also eliminated the past truths because they didn’t understand why X was wrong or Y was right. Any attempt to restore past values would have to understand and change that failing.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The “Guides” We Must Not Follow: Putting Personal Opinion Above Church Teaching

Today, on social media, I saw somebody had posted a link from an anti-Francis Catholic arguing that the SSPX was formed canonically. Apparently, the individual was trying to argue that it had been unlawfully suppressed by the bishop in question. I don’t think this link is particularly dangerous. It’s posted from someone I didn’t take too seriously even before the pontificate of Pope Francis. But things like this serve as a reminder that some people actually believe that their personal interpretations of Church teaching outrank the decrees of Popes and bishops.

Adding to the tragedy, these Catholics seem to take pleasure in trying to argue that the Catholic Church is becoming “Protestantunder Pope Francis. They use the term “Protestant” as an epithet, but seem unaware that the rejection of the teachings of Pope and bishops in favor of their own interpretation is the behavior of men like Luther and Calvin.

Luther and Calvin also insisted on their interpretations of Scripture, Church Fathers, and Councils to justify their own views, attacking everything that stood firmly against them as “unbiblical.” It’s a No True Scotsman fallacy where everything cited against their position is seen as “error.”

Once we recognize this, we have to choose: We either recognize that when the Pope intends to teach—even in the ordinary magisterium—we’re bound to obey, or we’re no different from any other dissenter, regardless of our motive. So, if we have a difficulty, we are bound to look at this and ask How did I go wrong, not declare The Church went wrong! But that’s precisely what the critics don’t do.

I think the modern Catholic critics who love to use the term “Protestant” as an epithet have drawn the wrong conclusions from Church History at that time. The main problem was not so much the novelties of those teachings by the founders of Protestantism (though they were wrong) as it was refusing to look to the Church for confirmation and correction.

“But wait,” the anti-Francis Catholic might say. “These aren’t my ideas. They’re the magisterial writings of the past!” To which I would respond, “No. They’re your interpretations of those past writings. The Pope and bishops determine whether or not your interpretation is accurate.*” Clergy and members of the laity can offer their insights of course. But in the end, the Pope is the one who determines if an interpretation is authentic.

The fact of the matter is, the concept of Protection from Error is not to be understood in a Pelagian concept where it depends on the character of the man who is Pope. It is the trust in God to protect His Church. God protects the Church from wicked men or clueless men who might occupy the See of Peter. If The man in the Papacy is morally or intellectually bad (I deny Pope Francis is either), this protection from error might be a negative act—preventing such a man from teaching at all. 

The difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary (aka ex cathedra) magisterium is not a measure of quality. Rather it defines the nature of the teaching: The former can be further developed depending on the needs and circumstances, while the latter is something that draws a line where the Church cannot cross. For example, the Immaculate Conception is an ex cathedra teaching that draws a line: Any attempt to argue that Mary was an ordinary sinful woman cannot ever hope to call their interpretation Catholic. However, in the ordinary magisterium, while wrong is wrong, it may be changed as we discover different things. For example, while contraception is always morally wrong, the Church may have to reach a decision on whether or not a new technique that regulates births is morally acceptable or not#.

That’s the difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium. Both must be obeyed, but the former can be further refined as time goes on. The change of discipline falls under the Ordinary Magisterium. Whether we use the vernacular or not; whether we ordain married men or not; whether we give the chalice to the laity or not, these are all disciplines that the Church can change if they think the change is necessary. If they should do so, we are obliged to give religious submission of intellect and will to the decision, not to obey or not as we choose.

The modern dissenters should consider this well: If they think that they are faithful Catholics, then let them remember that obedience to the teachings made by the Pope and bishops of this time are just as required as to past teachings. If one thinks there is a “break” in teaching where the Pope “errs,” the presumption of error is to be placed on the critic’s interpretation, not on the official teaching of a Pope.

Once we realize this, we can realize that there is no “confusion” caused by the Pope. But there is a lot of confusion caused by those who claim to know the Catholic faith better than the Pope.


(†) It is troubling that, for several anti-Francis Catholics, all roads seem to eventually lead to Ecône, even if that particular individual defended past Popes from the SSPX.

(‡) Actual Protestants I have encountered find the claim that Pope Francis, the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and Vatican II are “Protestant” to be risible.

(*) All the heresies and schisms in the history of the Church could have been avoided if the ones who fell into these things had listened to the Church instead of think that the Church had gone wrong.

(#) The 1960s discussion of the Birth Control Pill was never—in the eyes of the Church—about whether contraception could be made “good.” The question was whether the Pill (which did not use previous barrier methods) was contraception or not. Once it became clear that the pill was contraceptive, the Church had to reject its use.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

New Actors Playing an Old Part: The “Theology” Of Dissent

The Anti-Francis Catholic frequently identifies himself with orthodoxy within the Catholic Church. But he (or she) must reconcile that claim with the fact that they are choosing to reject the teaching of the current Pope as heretical, an opinion, or a prudential judgment. When faced with the challenge that the Pope must be obeyed when he teaches (Canon 752), the common attack is that this insistence to obedience is ultramontanism, and is an aberration compared to what was believed by the Church during the pontificate of his predecessors.

The problem is, they can’t reconcile their claims with the actual words of past Popes. In fact, during past pontificates, these anti-Francis Catholics cited the statements defending the authority of the Popes to bind and loose (cf. Matthew 16:19). No previous Pope would have considered his teachings optional. For example, St. John Paul II would write: 

This supreme authority of the papal Magisterium, to which the term apostolic has been traditionally reserved, even in its ordinary exercise derives from the institutional fact that the Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Peter in the mission of teaching, strengthening his brothers, and guaranteeing that the Church’s preaching conforms to the “deposit of faith” of the apostles and of Christ’s teaching. However, it also stems from the conviction, developed in Christian tradition, that the Bishop of Rome is also the heir to Peter in the charism of special assistance that Jesus promised him when he said: “I have prayed for you” (Lk 22:32). This signifies the Holy Spirit’s continual help in the whole exercise of the teaching mission, meant to explain revealed truth and its consequences in human life.

For this reason, the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope’s teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of his Magisterium with the manifest intention of declaring, recalling and confirming the doctrine of faith. It is a consequence of the institutional fact and spiritual inheritance that completes the dimensions of the succession to Peter. (Audience, March 17, 1993)

The Saint did not just invent this belief. He bases it on the consistent teaching about how the Church exercises her teaching authority. In fact, throughout history, you have to go to those who broke with the Church to find the same arguments that are made now. Whenever a Pope would rule against a person, the obstinate would argue that he could err or that his teaching was an “opinion.”

Understanding this, we begin to see the real issue with the attacks on Pope Francis. Whether the critics act out of defiance or out of ignorance, they do not like that his teachings differ from their interpretations, and think his words should match their views. This was a problem throughout history. It might be from a confusion of moral and doctrinal error. Many critics seem to think that the existence of morally bad Popes in history means that this Pope can teach doctrinal error. But that’s a non sequitur as the Pope can be protected from teaching error even if one acts wrongly in his personal behavior. So, the appeals to John XII and others are irrelevant in insisting on the possibility of a Pope teaching error.

Once we recognize this error among Papal critics, the justification for disobedience vanishes. St. Paul withstood St. Peter to his face (Galatians 2:14). But this was not because of any teaching error, but because withdrawing from the Gentiles to avoid conflict with Jewish Christians to avoid a conflict led some to think that Jewish practices were required—against St. Peter’s intent (Acts 15:7-11).

We need to realize that the critics who are claiming to defy the Pope out of a love of the Church are—at best—misled about the teaching authority of the Church. The teaching of the Pope is the teaching of the Church. Laudato Si and Amoris Lætitia are Church teachings and not opinions or “prudential judgments.”

It seems that one problem is that the critics are declaring themselves judge and jury. They claim to have the right interpretation of the Church teaching but refuse to hear the ones who are entrusted with that authority to clarify and deny the teachings. As long as they have that attitude, they will never consider correction of errors in their understanding. That’s dangerous because, while being innocently mistaken about what the Church teaches might be easily corrected, being obstinate against what the Church teaches is the definition of heresy (canon 751).

The tragedy of the modern critics is that they have invented a “theology” of dissent that claims that a Pope can be a formal heretic and teach error, and can be deposed by the Church—none of which is actually taught by the Church. Canon 1404 says, The First See is judged by no one and, during the history of the Church, only those in dissent tried to claim that they could.

There have been in the past and may be in the future morally bad Popes. I deny Pope Francis is one of those. But that fact has never meant that the past Popes have ever taught error. Yes, some disciplines may have been changed for the needs of the time, and some development of understanding have led to the prohibition of things once tolerated. But it was not a case of the Church once taught evil was all right but now it’s wrong ‡.

In this time when people are willing to justify disobedience in the name of the Church, we should remember that the new champions of the argument are just using the same old errors. As such, they cannot be considered “orthodox” when they argue that dissent is justified. It’s the same old error, but with new actors playing the part.


(†) For example, a thoroughly wicked Pope might be prevented by the Holy Spirit from teaching at all to prevent an erroneous teaching.

(‡) Sometimes Churchmen would support evils like torture or slavery. These are what we would call vicious customs. They were not invented by the Church. Rather, the local customs (often pre-Christian) were accepted as the norm. Slavery had been on the decline during the middle ages to the point that, when Europeans began taking slaves in the Canary Isles, Pope Eugene responded (1435) with an angry denunciation in Sicum Dudet. The worst one could say is that the some of those leading the Church stayed silent when it should have spoken. But that’s a moral failing on the part of the individual.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Chafing Under Confinement

As we continue the quarantine, we’re seeing a growing frustration with the confinement. Some protests are emerging against perceived heavy-handedness of the enforcement, combined with the need to get back to the proper balance of life. Even in the Church, we’re seeing some critics claim that the Church is “rolling over” for the state and should be allowing public mass. I’ve even seen a few—I pray they are merely trolls—say that they’re considering leaving the Church because some other denominations defy the state. Effectively, they say they’re considering leaving the Church for not providing sacraments and going to a Church that has no sacraments.

This attitude shows the chafing among the faithful. We want to be able to return to normal. I find the second reading for today’s Mass (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A if you happen across this later) to be useful to our times:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,

kept in heaven for you

who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,

to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while

you may have to suffer through various trials,

so that the genuineness of your faith,

more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,

may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor

at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Although you have not seen him you love him;

even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,

you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)


This is a trial, of course. Admittedly, not a trial like those who suffer persecution endure. But those who take their Faith seriously want to be able to return to the Mass and the Sacraments. The temptation is to look for someone to blame, either at a secular level (President, Congress, Governors) or the Church level (Pope, Bishops) for denying them something they need.

But we’ve been here before. During the 1918 Influenza pandemic, one of the priests, Father James E. Coyle† wrote in regards to the quarantine of the time:

You are for the first time in your lives deprived of the opportunity of hearing Mass on Sunday, and you will, I trust from this very circumstance, appreciate more thoroughly what Holy Mass is for the Catholics….

…Ah, brethren, let us today reflect on the meaning and the history of that great sacrifice at which we may not assist, a sacrifice that links us with the saints and sages of every age from Christ’s time till now, and let us beg God in his mercy to remove from us that sickness that keeps us deprived of the great sacrifice, so that soon we may again with glad, worshipful hearts, meet in our churches and assist in offering to the All High that clean oblation, seen by the prophet Malachy in vision, that sacrifice that is offered in every place from the rising to the set of sun.

I think that we can make use of the words of St. Peter and the words of Fr. Coyle to our advantage. This is a trial, and we have been deprived of the opportunity to go to Mass. Let us consider how we respond to it and appreciate what we have ordinarily but can take for granted so easily. Let us pray for deliverance from this pandemic so we might have the Mass restored to us.

In doing so, let us practice patience with the hardships we suffer and neither respond with blame nor acquiesce to injustice. If we believe that an injustice is being committed at the secular level, then let us respond in a manner fitting for Catholics, recognizing the legitimate authority where it is properly applied. If we have concerns with the spiritual needs and appeal to the Church under canon 212 §2 + 3, then let us remember that the canon requires that we present our petitions “with reverence toward their pastors.”

Pope Francis recognizes the need for the Sacraments, saying:

The Church, the Sacraments, the People of God are concrete. It’s true that at this moment we must have this familiarity with the Lord in this way, but we must come out of the tunnel, not stay there.

We need to be prudent, yes. But we also need the Sacraments. So, let us consider how we might increase access to the Sacraments prudently, letting our pastors know our suggestions, while complying with the quarantine and being respectful of our pastors. And let us pray for deliverance from the pandemic.

But while we are forced apart, let us consider the value of what we are separated from and resolve to never treat the Mass and the Sacraments lightly again. 



(†) He was murdered in 1921 by an Anglican minister for marrying a Puerto Rican man to his daughter. The murder seems to have been motivated by a combination of racism and anti-Catholicism.

(‡) I recommend reading his entire address which is presented in the link.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Reflection on “From the Depths of Our Hearts”

Back when there were all sorts of nonsense being spread against the Amazonian Synod, the Church was rocked by the news that Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah were publishing a book on the issue of priestly celibacy. Since the synod was considering whether or not we needed to considered ordaining married men, this was seen as a possible attack on the Pope. At the time that the news was announced, I wrote:

This book isn’t even out yet. We have a few excerpts coming from the French version and some claiming access to the galleys of the Ignatius Press translation. We have no sense of context. Secular media and Catholic media hostile to the Pope are portraying it as a rift. Other Catholics, supportive of the Pope, are portraying it as a betrayal. But right now, any speculation is exactly that. Speculation.

The book has been out for a while now and I thought it would be time to read it, apart from the controversies of the time that no doubt would have colored my interpretation of it if I read it in the middle of the chaos. 

It should be noted that, after the publication of Querida Amazonia, the book is largely a moot point. Pope Francis decided against proposals for a limited married priesthood (and based on his previous comments, it probably wasn’t even remotely a possibility).


Contrary to the controversy, this book doesn’t read like an anti-Francis attack. I think the book was aimed at a certain mindset within the Church that sought to hijack the synod for their own views. Unfortunately, anti-Francis Catholics hijacked the book, and some parts of the book itself were written in an unnecessarily abrasive tone that probably cost the two some goodwill among the defenders of Pope Francis.


I would describe the book as two articles with a preface and a prologue. Benedict XVI wrote a short chapter on the important meaning of celibacy. I think Archbishop Gaswein’s claim about Benedict’s intended role as a contributor, not a co-author, seems plausible. The piece is good but short. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been written before the synod was announced. Cardinal Sarah’s chapter is longer and deals directly with the synod. His chapter was clearly written while it was in progress.


Benedict XVI has a solid, logical article that would be good as an emphasis of the general importance of celibacy as a Latin Rite discipline as a total commitment to God. Published alone as an article, and making clear it was addressing the Latin Rite, there probably would have been no controversy about it. 


Unfortunately, Cardinal Sarah’s article would have been controversial regardless of how it was published. At his highest points, he makes good comments about the patronizing attitudes over “primitive” people being unable to grasp Catholic teaching. Unfortunately, much of his chapter involves a rather emotional argumentation that borders on the disrespectful to people with a different but legitimate view… sometimes reaching the level of the ad hominem attack. That’s too bad because the bad elements managed to bury the good points that could have effectively shown why we shouldn’t make changes without a very good reason. 


Cardinal Sarah does call celibacy a “doctrine#,” which causes some problems, unless it was a mistranslation. Personally, I can’t find any Church documents that call priestly celibacy a doctrine. The closest I can find is Pius XII, in Sacra Virginitas 31-32 where he refers to the superiority of the virginal state as a doctrine. (Rightly. Our Lord Himself said that it in Matthew 19:12)


He considers the married priesthood in the East as a late seventh century innovation, based on an Eastern mistranslation of a council. I find that interesting, because the Eastern Orthodox think the Catholics are the innovators. I don’t say this to promote a “truth is relative” view. I say that because this is an East-West divide that needs to continue being addressed by the Church officially.  Moreover, if celibacy is doctrine, did the Church err in permitting Eastern Rite Catholics to retain a married priesthood? And if it did, what does that say about the Church claim of being protected from teaching error? 


Even though I don’t personally support the ordination of married men without grave reason, I found his arguments disappointing. While Benedict XVI wrote a short but logical chapter, Cardinal Sarah’s turn struck me as making assumptions that were not so much refuting a view he disagreed with as he was merely being dismissive. For example, when he wrote: 


I am persuaded that the Christian communities of Amazonia themselves do not think along the lines of Eucharistic demands. I think, rather, that these topics are obsessions that stem from theological milieus at universities. We are dealing with ideologies developed by a few theologians, or rather sorcerer’s apprentices, who wish to utilize the distress of poor peoples as an experimental laboratory for their clever plans.

I don’t doubt that some of those suggesting the viri probati do so as a sort of trojan horse, and that needs to be opposed. But by speaking so broadly, he risks alienating the faithful who do recognize that the Church has called celibacy a discipline. A serious discipline that ought not to be changed without a serious reason, but not a doctrine.

It does seem that he is neglecting the fact of the limited nature of the proposal. He cites an interview with an Eastern Orthodox priest who talked about the decline of the married priesthood there. What he doesn’t discuss, however, is whether the problems of the married priesthood there is because of the absence of celibacy, or is because of the growth of materialism that keeps people away from a religious vocation—married or not. Unfortunately, society is changing for the worse.

As for the case of rare admissions of married men to the Latin Rite priesthood, he makes a case that—while it might work in rare and transitory circumstances—making it a general practice would be wrong. The problem is, the whole proposal of the viri probati is not a case of making a general practice. If it is ever implemented, it would address a need that we pray is transitory.

I was disappointed by the book overall. This is a subject that needs a tome to explore and establish. One can’t satisfactorily discuss concerns raised in a 152-page book (and I think a third of the Kindle version included an excerpt from another of the Cardinal’s books, footnotes and bibliography). It needs to be handled in a calm manner (Benedict XVI succeeded there), and not written in a manner that gave the impression to many Pope-bashers and Pope defenders that it was a “rebuke.” 

That leads us to ask what was the point of releasing the book at all? After all, since the synod ended with the Pope ruling that simply boosting the number of the ordained was the wrong way to approach the issue, the book was ultimately unnecessary. Of course, that’s easy to say in hindsight.

But even though the Pope emeritus and the Cardinal no doubt acted out of concern for the Church, the message of the book was hijacked despite their intentions. The results were that some Catholics became more disrespectful of the Pope, while others began to think of Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah as “the enemy.”

Regular readers of my blog will know that I defend the Pope. But you should know I don’t see the authors of this book as “enemies” of the Pope. Unfortunately, I think how the book was viewed was largely on account of how the individual viewed the Pope. That’s the problem that needs to be combatted at this time.

Maybe Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah could write a book on that? 




(†) It should be noticed that both authors were respectful to the Pope. I don’t think one could legitimately accuse them of supporting the calumny used by his detractors, even though those detractors miscite the Pope-emeritus and the cardinal as being on “their side.”

(#) The only sources I could find that call priestly celibacy a doctrine were anti-Catholic sources who try to tie this discipline to a misapplication of 1 Timothy 4:3.

(‡) The division between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is one of almost a thousand years. This division is not going to end soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Truth, Not Rumors: A Reflection on Our Willingness to Believe the Worst

One of the trends I notice, whether in religion, politics, or other topics, is the tendency to stick with the story one has first heard. From that initial report, we see people form their opinions. When another report comes across that show the original reports were false and we staked out an opinion based that is wrong, our tendency is to defend that opinion. 

For example, in the infamous case of the Covington students accused of racism, I believed the initial accounts that the students were involved in racist chants. Later, when the facts came out, my temptation was to deny any fault, and question the objectivity of the sources. Admitting on my blog Facebook page that I was wrong was one of the harder things I’ve had to do.

I relate that story because we need to seek out what is true, and not contribute to spreading falsehoods† that mislead others. That means we don’t run away with conclusions drawn from the initial reports we hear. We have an obligation to determine if the source is accurate, and that we have properly understood it.

As Catholics, we should especially remember the harm that sincerely believed falsehoods cause. Anti-Catholics believe the falsehoods that Luther and Calvin spread about the Catholic Church, repeating them as if they were indisputable facts. In fact, they will look at you with surprise if you suggest that Catholics don’t believe these things and think you’re lying or ignorant. They believe that the Catholic Church is capable of these things and therefore believe the stories are true.

When it comes to a politician we dislike, a member of the Church, news stories, etc., we should remember that we don’t get a free pass to repeat things that we think those we dislike are capable of. we all know this and get angry when something we have sympathy towards is attacked. But we tend to forget that anger when the attack is directed towards something we oppose. 

In other words, we don’t always practice the Golden RuleDo to others whatever you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12a). If we want others to speak justly about things, we must also speak justly. That rule is not negated when the “other side” doesn’t follow it.

We should be aware of this: Calumny and rash judgment are sins that are easy to commit. Calumny is spreading falsehood. Rash judgment is assuming that the faults we hear about are true, without basis to do so. It’s easy to go by what we see, hear or read, and assume that the conclusions we draw are the only ones to be drawn. But that isn’t the reasonable basis we’re required to have.

Because the issue is not over defending the indefensible. The issue is over whether the accusation is true. As the cases of Luther and Calvin show, as the people who invented the Pachamama crisis show, the accusations can be false. If they are false, we will need to answer for the wrong we cause by spreading them around, based on what we could have known if we bothered to check. Remember that It’s not my fault that X is unclear is an excuse, not a justification.

So, before we repeat the scandalous claims that we think our foes are capable of doing, let’s make sure that we do the required fact checking. Because the obligations to do good and avoid evil are not limited to those we agree with.



(†) A falsehood is not necessarily a lie. A person who honestly believes something that is untrue is spreading a falsehood by telling it to others.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Quarantine and Religious Freedom: A Reflection

I’m sure we have heard of the infamous case in Kentucky where the police took down license numbers of people attending religious services—with critics reporting that the people involved were sitting in their cars and not in their pews. Depending on what sources you read, it might indeed a heavy-handed response, especially considering how judges are treating the invented “right” to abortion supersedes the need to practice quarantine. Given that the freedom of religion is actually in the Constitution, there’s certainly reason to object to how justly the laws are enforced. However, there was more to the story. Some 50 people happened to be inside the Church, in addition to those inside their vehicles… a fact that critics did not mention.

Combined with selective reporting, we also need to consider the fact that there are some rather stupid conspiracy theories going around right now. I’ve seen sites imply that the restrictions on religion is a politically motivated attempt to eliminate the freedom of religion. I’ve seen arguments that try to equate the Kentucky action with the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The common phrase I’m seeing is “This is how it all begins.”

I would like to point out the existence of the Fallacy of False Analogy. This fallacy compares two events and draws a common conclusion between them when, in fact, the differences between the two events are greater than the similarities. So, the attempts to compare the Kentucky case with the Nazis overlooks a huge difference: That our quarantine is aimed at stopping the spread of a disease that has killed ~26,000 people in the United States (~127,000 worldwide) and spreads more widely and quickly than the flu, while the Nazis were looking to turn the population of Germany against a scapegoated minority. That is a huge difference in motivation, with the similarity of “government targets religious believers” being drastically different in tactics. The two are not similar, and it’s insulting to those actually suffering from persecution to suggest it is.

Of course, the freedom of religion is a Constitutional Right. But all rights must be practiced in prudence. In times when the close gathering of persons does harm, the state does have time to make certain that those who will not self-isolate will not harm others from their lack of prudence. But the state does not have the right to take unreasonable measures. Whether or not attending a parking-lot church service from within cars depends on how cautious the participants are.

If the state exceeds its authority (and I must say I don’t think highly of that action in Kentucky) then it must be opposed in a just way (i.e. not endangering others while doing so). The Catholic Church has policed itself with prudence in the past and strives to do so now. So, any attempts to protest the state must take this into account.

But let’s face it. Plagues are passing things. Eventually they do burn themselves out. The question is how many people die before a vaccine is discovered or it stops spreading? The interest in defending life requires us to avoid needless risks in catching it or spreading it to others. The Golden rule requires us to do unto others as we would have them do to us. Want to avoid having some idiot spreading the disease to you? Don’t act in a way that would risk exposing others if you unwittingly carry it. Since the fatality rate seems to currently be 4.25% of the number of cases (the flu has a death rate of less than 1%), and because people are contagious before they know they have it, prudence and prudent application of laws must take this into account. Even if we don’t catch a fatal case ourselves, we could pass it on to a stranger… or a loved one.

So, in dealing with the quarantine, let’s consider the consequences and how our own actions might affect others. You might think that’s obvious, but people do have a tendency to think that it can’t happen to them or that if it does, it will be minor. They have a tendency to think in terms of themselves and not others. Unfortunately, that’s the way of fallen human nature.

Catholics in their moral teaching considers the harm to others in the commandment, Thou shalt not kill. We don’t get to risk others just because we don’t happen to feel sick. But we’ll always have somebody who’s insensitive enough to think that they’re not sick enough to need to stay home. Or someone scrupulous enough that they’ll think that they’re not sick enough to justify staying home. When the Church teaches that people should stay home when sick, these people invariably show up when they shouldn’t. Then—when the Pope and bishops suspend the public celebration of the Mass—people complain when the Church makes staying home mandatory.

Real attacks on religious freedom do need to be addressed. But sometimes what we call attacks may turn out to be the government dealing with idiots. Let’s keep that in mind and not become martyrs in our own delusions, claiming we are persecuted if it turns out we are merely being cited for endangering others.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

What Did We Achieve This Lent? A Reflection

As I write this, it is Holy Saturday. Easter begins with tonight’s vigil. It’s certainly been a strange Lent. For the most part, Catholics have been unable to attend Mass or receive the Sacraments since the Second Week of Lent. It is a privation, even though it is not something unique in the history of the Church. But it is a privation that the virtue of prudence dictates. So, now that the 40 days of Lent draw to a close, we need to ask ourselves what we accomplished with this time in the Desert (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). Did we use our social isolation as a time of turning back to the Lord? (μετανοια—metanoia) or did we turn in ourselves out of boredom and self-pity?


I won’t detail how I did. I figure if I did better than you, I’ll sound like I’m boasting. If I did worse, it opens me up to derision. I’ll just say that I did some of the things I set out to do, but not all of them. It’s the kind of thing that is common among Christians because we are sinners, like everybody else. That’s not an excuse of course. But however we fell short should serve to remind us that we are constantly in need of God’s grace. And we should constantly strive to be faithful.


Understanding this, we should consider the parable of the Merciless Servant (Matthew 18:21-35). We look to God to forgive us our failings, and probably we haven’t handled our Coronavirus Lent as well as we would want. So, remembering what we want of Our Lord, we should remember to forgive others who fell short during Lent as well.


And of course we should remember that turning back to God isn’t something we only do at Lent. If we become aware of a sin after Lent is over, we should of course turn back to God once we are made aware of our failing. The Christian life is a constant turning back to God. If we think we’re saved because of what we do, or that we’re saved regardless of what we do, we’ve grossly missed the point of how we need to approach our life in God.


Someday, this quarantine will end. When it does, we’ll need to interact with this world directly, not over social media. After all of our complaining about isolation, how will we respond to this restoration? Will we respond with gratitude? Or will we take it for granted, returning to our same old bad behaviors of the past?


Let’s consider our own bad habits of the past in this regard, and pray for God to deliver us from our bad habits, while striving to cooperate with His Grace.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Take the First Choice: A Reflection

One thing that strikes me on facing the pandemic on Good Friday is how it gives us the opportunity to reflect on how powerless and dismayed the original followers of Christ  might have felt, seeing Our Lord captured, mistreated, unjustly judged, and executed. We might be tempted to think, things aren’t supposed to be this way! We might also reflect on Christians throughout history who faced privation, persecution, and other suffering. Again, we might be tempted to think, things aren’t supposed to be this way!


But, since things are this way, we have few options. We can recognize that following Christ is not a guarantee for a life free from suffering but continue to trust in Him, we can look for some sort of scapegoat, or we can fall into doubt that God is who the Church proclaim Him to be.


The Christian needs to take the first path. But we are weak, and are often tempted to take the second or third choice. Sometimes we think they are the reasonable choice. But both of those choices means we must deny some teaching of Our Lord.


The second choice—finding a scapegoat—falls into the temptation of saying we should have a strife free life as Christians, but somebody’s to blame when it happens. This kind of mindset ignores the fact that Our Lord warned us that persecutions and trials would come. In the most extreme examples, we have the vicious customs in Germanic countries where people looked for witches who “caused” the disaster. Unfortunately, while the barbaric treatment has ended, the thinking continues where people tell us: It’s the fault of X that we’re suffering.


The third choice—falling into doubt about what God is—was displayed by the disciples on the Road to Emmaus:


And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. (Luke 24:19-21)


Because Jesus had suffered and died, they doubted that He was able to do as He claimed. I was reminded of this when I watched the film Silence where the main character was forced to watch other Christians suffer, and allowed himself to think that the outcome he saw was because of God’s not caring or not being able to respond. He ended up apostasizing from the Faith.


As we face the future of quarantining for God alone knows how long, we might be tempted to fall into the second or third option in dealing with it. But as Christians, we must choose the first option, trusting in God that He is in control, despite what happens to us in this life. That doesn’t just mean “passively accept injustice” or “treat the physical as meaningless.” It means trust in God as in control of the universe and trust in His love to seek our ultimate good.


It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. But let’s just remember that something bad happening to us does not mean that somebody else must be to blame or that God is failing us.





(†) While some people think the Church invented “trials of ordeal” and “witch burning,” these customs began with the pre-Christian Germanic tribes. Unfortunately, these customs were not ended when those lands became Christian. They were not used where the Inquisition existed.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Once This is Over, Let Us Remember to be Thankful

No doubt this has been a strange Lent for us all this year. Most of us have not been able to attend Mass since the Second Sunday of Lent, and with the Social Isolation, receiving the Sacraments is difficult indeed. People want (as Cardinal Dolan noted) the Mass and the Sacraments. Some have been more belligerent about it than others, but. we all want to get back to Mass and the Sacraments.


That’s natural. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
While the reasons we cannot participate at this time are valid in the eyes of the Church, that passage states why we want this resolved and back to normal.


However, some of the people agitating the most for making them available as soon as possible were among those who consistently criticized the Mass over the form, the language, the pastor, the choir, the practices, the architecture, and many other things. In essence—prior to the pandemic—some Catholics could see nothing right with the Mass. But now they demand it.


This pandemic will end like every previous one, and I pray that it will end soon and without the great loss of life that happened in the past. But a year from now (in 2021, Easter is on April 4th) when we will presumably be back at Mass, receiving the Sacraments, will we receive them with gratitude and joy? Or will we be back to sniping about the homilies we dislike or the old woman in the choir singing off-key?


We’re all human, so it is easy to forget the inconveniences and sufferings once they are past. A year from now, I might forget the concern and the reluctance to step foot outside, grumbling like the rest. I pray we won’t. I pray we’ll remember what we were separated from this year and be grateful we have the Mass and the Sacraments in the future, and not revert to our old querulous ways.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Apart From The Sacraments, But Still A Part Of The Church

The other day I was told about one of my former RCIA candidates who had been brought into the Church a couple years back. He and his wife had a baby, and had hoped to have the Baptism on Easter Sunday. The pandemic threw off those plans. Obviously, I’m not going to play the “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” game. I have no idea about the conditions of their diocese, or how much time it had been since the baby was born. I don’t know if there was a prohibition of all sacraments, or whether they can still be celebrated in private without a crowd. Only a fool presumes to pass judgment on something like this without the facts… which I do not presume to do. So I will neither presume to judge them nor their diocese as failing to do what they should have.


While it might not be the ideal way to transition into the main thrust of this article, the above anecdote was in my mind when I received news of an “Open Letter” to the bishops. Called We Are An Easter People, the initiative calls on the bishops to increase access to the Sacraments at this time and petition the government to recognize religious services as “essential services.”


Now I’m all for finding ways to increase access to Sacraments that can be validly celebrated in a way that avoids spreading contagion, and making known to the people what methods they will be celebrated. But I have some concerns with this letter.


First of all, as polite as the language might be, I find that it treats the bishops as if they’ve been apathetic the whole time. I imagine the bishops are concerned with the good of the people, and are trying to get as much done as possible. In such cases, the suggestions in “open letters” like this might lead some bishops to think, “Gee, ya think? Brilliant strategy, Napoleon!


If the bishops are trying to do something already, insisting that they start doing something isn’t helping.


Another concern I have is that they seem to treat this as something where a uniform policy is feasible. The problem is, AmericaΩ is a nation with differing levels of population density spread out over 3.797 million mi². If you live in a rural area, the danger might seem slight (in my county, we have had seven cases and one death). In a dense urban environment, the danger is more immediate.


So we need to consider how many priests are available to do the work and how much each priest needs to do. In rural parishes, the number of people may be lower but the priest may have a huge area to cover. In urban areas, the needs and logistics might be more than we might imagine.


Finally, I have real issues with the attitude of “demanding” things. Yes, the bishops are servants in the sense of emulating Christ washing the feet of His disciples (cf. John 13:14-17). But whatever we do in making known our spiritual needs must be done with respect—something people forget when citing canon 212 §3 (which tends to get ignored when people cite §2):


CAN. 212 §1.† Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.


§2.† The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.


§3.† According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.(emphasis added)


Making demands that could sound like imperatives or sound like the bishops were just apathetically sitting around doing nothing to address these needs does not strike me as showing reverence, attention, and respect for dignity of persons. 


Does that mean I think everything is fine as is? That we should just “shut up and go along”? No. I do think we need the Sacraments as much as possible, and I dislike being unable to go to Mass. But we do need to ask ourselves what is possible at this time. We have to consider the resources and responsibilities of the bishops in being shepherds of their dioceses. Before we request—not demand—anything, we need to determine whether what we want is feasible in regards to the needs of safety. 


The sacraments are important for us. Mass is important for us. When they are available, we should avail ourselves of them as much as possible. But they will not always be available for us. The countries that suffered persecution throughout history come to mind as an obvious example. War and disease also cause major disruptions that make the sacraments uncertain.


I’m not saying, “We’re not suffering X, so we should just shut up about Y.” That would be the fallacy of relative privation. Our hardships are real, and something that is new to us in the West. We’re not wrong to want them resolved. But we can be wrong if we demand resolution in a way that cannot be reasonably granted under the conditions we are in.


We need to remember that even if we cannot receive the sacraments under the terms we have previously had, that does not cut us off from the Church. We are still the body of Christ, and we can still pray for each other, still interact with each other (albeit in different ways), still observe the Mass. Certainly it would be laudable for the faithful who have practical ideas of how to improve the sacramental life in the time of pandemic to step forwardΣ. We all should be praying for the Pope and bishops to be guided on how best to shepherd us at this time.


So, in expressing our wants and needs, let us keep these things in mind. We’re still Catholics even if we can’t receive the sacraments under these circumstances. So let us humbly accept what we must and change what we can (to paraphrase the oldSerenity prayer) but let us do so in The Lord.




(If you're wondering about the comic, the blue haired girl is "Iimi-tan," [“IIMI being the blog’s initials] who's become something of a mascot on my blog's Facebook page.)


(†) I generally dislike the concept of the “Open Letter.” It strikes me as a way of “politely” attacking someone. This general dislike might or might not affect my views of this letter.


(Ω) I write as an American dealing with an American Catholic action. My thoughts might or might not have relevance for Catholics elsewhere in the world, but different levels of governing and population density in different nations might make my thoughts irrelevant elsewhere.


(Σ) It would be infinitely superior to “the bishops should think of something to do…”