Thursday, October 29, 2020

It’s Iimi! Standing Alone Against the Hordes

With each challenger having their own concerns and agenda, Iimi faces a four on one battle about the myth that Pope Francis “changed Church teaching.” 

[ADDENDUM 11/2/20] Iimi (and this blog) was vindicated.
The follow up comic can be found HERE

Monday, October 26, 2020

What Will You Do When Things Don’t Change?

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! (Ecclesiastes 1:9)


Talking with another Catholic blogger/meme creator, I was asked, “What will the Pope’s critics do if his successor teaches the same things that the Holy Father currently does?” It is a good question. After all, what Pope Francis has been teaching was taught by his predecessors, and the problems he faces were faced by his predecessors. The only difference is that technology means misinformation spreads faster.


What we tend to forget is, what his predecessors taught on unpopular issues have been quietly ignored in favor of the soundbites that said what critics want to focus on. So, these critics will gleefully point out that Leo XIII condemned socialism and Pius XI condemned communism. They label Pope Francis’ teachings as “socialist” and argue a contradiction exists.


The problem is, critics forget the fact that his predecessors also condemned the abuses within capitalism that made those systems seem appealing… because those abuses that run counter to the teachings of Christ. So, critics might invoke St. John Paul II in opposing Russian communism and contrast him with Pope Francis but at the time, they ignored—or derided as naïve—the saint’s encyclicals on social justice, using the same arguments. St. John Paul II was derided as being economically naive because he came from Communist Poland and didn’t understand capitalism. Similar arguments are used about Pope Francis coming from Argentina.


Another thing to remember is the argument that we never had confusion about what the Church meant before Pope Francis, so the confusion must be his fault. I don’t intend to be sarcastic, but when I hear that I am left wondering if they slept from the 1960s rebellion through through the present.


Prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis, we had the confusion caused by those who misinterpreted or misrepresented the teachings of Vatican II and the counter protest of radical traditionalism, both claiming that the Church had gone wrong and only their way could set it right.


Confusing gestures? There’s nothing that can compare to the Pachamama, right? Wrong. Remember St. John Paul II kissing the Quran? He thought it was merely being respectful (a human error). In comparison, the so-called Pachamama wasn’t even a pagan idol, let alone that particular being... “Pachamama” being worshipped in the Andes, not the Amazon.


Praising someone who turned out to be a heretic or a morally bad person? When they complain about bishops appointed today, the critics seem to to forget when they raged against Cardinal Mahoney and Archbishop Niederauer, when they used to use “2011” as a mantra… 2011 being the year that the problematic bishops of that era turned 75 and needed to submit their resignations. And it isn’t even a Vatican II phenomenon. I’ve personally read letters from St. Leo the Great and St. Augustine where that happened.


Even if they concede that the media got it wrong, they claim that since this never happened before, Pope Francis must be the cause of it. But even that doesn’t work. What gets forgotten is that, prior to Benedict XVI, Popes did even not give interviews. Prior to St. Paul VI# they didn’t even give weekly audiences. But people did misinterpret or misrepresent what Popes said. We have centuries of anti-Catholicism which bear witness to that.


I would say that the meteoric rise of misinformation came with the internet age, especially with the smartphone. A large portion of the West had instant access to information, and media rushed to be first with whatever they thought was “breaking.” The problem was, the reporters were religiously illiterate and did not know what the Church taught in the first place. So, when they heard something that didn’t square with what they thought Catholicism was, they thought it was a “change,” rather than an opinion or a new way of formulating a teaching. Beginning in 2010*, we saw Benedict XVI constantly portrayed as “changing” Church teaching. The most infamous was the claim that the Pope was allowing condoms to be used in the face of AIDS. But there were others. They thought Benedict XVI’s words about unions in Caritas in Veritate was a change based on the assumption that the condemnation of radical 19th century unions still held force against 21st century unions that weren’t radical.


So, what is the point of all this? My point is, whoever succeeds Pope Francis will teach on the same matters he did, and be taken out of context when he speaks because the Catholic teaching will not go away depending on whether the future Pope is considered “conservative” or “liberal.” Nor will future Popes cease to have personal opinions. I doubt they will stop having Wednesday audiences or giving speeches that will be misconstrued (remember Benedict XVI at Regensburg?), and might continue to see interviews and press conferences.


The reader might be tempted to look at the pontificate of Pope Francis and agree with this sentiment§:


“Rome, Rome, where are you? What has happened to your voice that gave courage and woke the slumbering? Today all they will say is ‘Give in’. Pray, pray for the Church! Surely she will not perish! But why must we remind ourselves of this so often and so bitterly?”


But you should be aware that the person who wrote it (Lamennais, in 1828) died estranged from the Church. If we focus solely on what we dislike within the Church, we risk winding up like him. But if we remember that God is in charge despite the flaws of His shepherds, our faith in His Church will not be shaken by the problems that will come.


So every Catholic needs to ask themselves what they will do when things don’t change under the Pope’s successor. Authentic Social teaching will continue to sound like “socialism” to those who don’t know Christian obligation. Insistence on some sins being always evil will continue to sound “heartless” or “out of touch” to the person who thinks it should not be a sin. And in both cases, love of sinners will continue to look like one agrees with the sin, even though Christ Himself set the example.


It is possible we might see guidelines—taken from what we have learned about media reporting—established in the future that gives the Vatican more control over what the Press can report. But the problems we face here neither began with Pope Francis and will not end with him either. Besides the fact that Popes are finite men, we will still see religiously illiterate reporters passing on much of the news, and so the problems that critics think are the fault of Pope Francis will continue in the pontificates of his successors.


If we expect the next Pope to be perfect, we will be disappointed. But, if we recognize that the next Pope will be a sinful man in need of salvation like the rest of us, then let us give Pope Francis the same consideration. Otherwise, we might find that we separated ourselves from the Church while believing only we are true to it.




(†) Crossing the Threshold of Hope, by St. John Paul II was based on a planned televised interview that fell through. The Pope answered the provided questions anyway, and it was published as a book.


(#) On his first audience (September 6th, 1978),  John Paul I said


Just a month ago, Paul VI died at Castelgandolfo. In fifteen years he rendered enormous services to the Church. The effects are partly seen now already, but I think that they will be seen especially in the future. Every Wednesday he came here and spoke to the people. At the 1977 Synod several bishops said:


“Pope Paul’s Wednesday addresses are a real catechesis adapted to the modern world”. I will try to imitate him, in the hope that I, too, will be able, somehow, to help people to become better.


St. John Paul II initially referred to them as continuing the unfinished audiences of John Paul I. Now they’re an institution.


(*) It’s easy to forget about the problems of past pontificates. Even I—a bona fide theology nerd—can forget about the past scandals until I come across something that reminds me. So I’m not surprised that people forgot about the criticism St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI faced. But we should at least remember there is nothing new under the sun.


(§) Quote taken from von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, p. 109


Friday, October 23, 2020

We Have Apparently Learned Nothing in the Last Ten Years

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

—Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000)

Did you hear the one about the media reporting on the Pope saying something that was contrary to Church teaching? No, I am not talking about Pope Francis in 2020. I am talking about Benedict XVI back in 2010 who was reported as “changing” Church teaching to allow people with AIDS to use condoms. One example of that time can be found HERE.

Of course, what Benedict XVI said was entirely different than reported:

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being. 

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

(Pope Benedict XVI. Light Of The World (p. 112). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

Things have not changed in the media in those ten years between then and now. This is not the first time I brought this up of course. I discussed the distortion around Benedict XVI back in 2010 and every time since. We should know by now that even when people had access to the true statement, those guilty of misrepresentation denied that they had done anything wrong and the misrepresentation continued.

But despite the ten years of experience we have had in the media getting nuance flat out wrong, once again, the media took a quote from the Holy Father out of context. And, once again, Catholics used that misrepresentation as an excuse to push their own agenda—whether trying to change Church teaching or bash the Pope—and once again people are saying that the Pope is to blame for “not speaking clearly.” I do not see a need to go over why the stories were wrong. There are several good ones worth reading that have already been written.

This debunking has been effective enough that even the secular media now widely acknowledges that the director of the movie Francesco spliced quotes together and the line of civil unions came from a different part of a 2019 interview in Mexico than the rest of the segment that has people outraged. Nobody knows the context of the line yet. But that has not stopped people from inventing a “new teaching” or blaming the Pope for this unethical editing… as if anyone would come across well if someone with an agenda took our quotes apart and resequenced them.

So, let me be clear. Catholics like myself who defend the Pope, do not do so because we support a “change in teaching.” Rather, we reject those claims that he intends to change teaching as being false.

This leads to the question which another round of false claims should lead Catholics to ask: Why do we never learn from past repetitions of our same damned error? Every single time the Pope is accused of promoting error or going against past teaching, and every single time it involves the eisegesis that is put into his words by people who either want to promote a teaching or want to undermine the Pope. 

I am inclined to think this is typical of certain “anti” groups. Whether anti-Francis Catholics, anti-Catholics, anti-Semites, anti-Muslims etc., we see two factors. First, ignorance about what the target believes. Second, a false belief that the person or group is capable of whatever the accusation is. The most repugnant version of this behavior is the “ritual sacrifice” calumnies against the Jews. But we see all sorts of bizarre lies told about others too.  In this case, like the others, we see people who are ignorant of what Pope Francis has said but believe him—in a positive or negative sense—to be willing and capable of doing what he is accused of doing.

When such ignorance§ is in play, questioning the allegation as seen as “explaining away” or “denial.” But the fact remains: People are assuming things based on what they want to believe, accepting only those accounts that confirm what they think. Then, as those accounts they follow exaggerate further, people become absolutely convinced that this deformation is revealing more “truth” about the ignorant assumptions they assume are true.

But we do not do this in other areas. If Candidate A says something false about Candidate B, Candidate B’s partisans will not rest until the lie is exposed. But Candidate B’s partisans will not do this about the Pope if the false narrative is what they want to believe. The problem is our knowledge of “fake news” and other unethical reporting when it harms what we favor, shows that we are aware that this tactic exists. And since we are aware, we have an obligation to determine whether a claim is true before repeating it, regardless of whether it is about our ally or our enemy. But where is the attempt “to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it”? Where is the attempt to “ask how the other understands it”? The Catholic teaching demands that we do this before accusing the Pope of error. But everybody jumps right to assuming what they hear is true.

And then, when debunked, those who rashly judged or calumniated blame the Pope for their own failure. They say he should have spoken more clearly, when in fact, these people chose to believe what they wanted to hear and explain away* every correction as “spin.”

We should be aware of this: The virtually faster than light spread of error arose with the smartphone#. Reporters with no grasp of the nuances in theology report the shocking and try to get it out first. The refutation takes longer and is not widely covered. But that does not make the Pope to blame. But, since we do know that this kind of behavior exists, our ignorance is vincible if we repeat what we cannot confirm.

And if our ignorance is vincible, we will have to answer for it at the Final Judgment. Let us remember what the Church has taught in Gaudium et Spes #16:

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

We cannot hide our rash judgment behind an appeal that we did not know when we have the obligation not to speak unless we do know the truth. We should have learned that over the last ten years. If we have not, then let us start now before it is too late!



(†) As a note of interest, back in 2010, certain Catholics accused me of being “right wing” and “in denial” about this so-called “change in teaching” when I debunked it.

(‡) Let me make clear that I do not try to equate the consequences of the calumnies against Jews with the calumnies against Pope Francis or the Church. Of course, Catholics have not suffered for lies about them the way the Jews suffered for the lies told about them. I merely cite the “blood libel” as an example of how lies can be widely believed for centuries.

(§) I do not use the term “ignorance” pejoratively. Properly understood, “ignorance” means “lacking knowledge or awareness in general, or (often ignorant of) uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact” according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. The Catholic Church uses the terms “invincible ignorance” or “vincible ignorance” to determine whether it was impossible to know something or whether the person who did not know was negligent in failing to learn.

(*) The irony is, they claim that debunking of their errors is the “explaining away.”

(#) Reporters were ignorant before the Smartphone too. During the pontificate of St. John Paul II, reporters were scouring every document in the hopes of finding a “change” in Church teaching. But since everything was printed back then, reporters could not get access before the documents were released… which meant the priests and bishops had them too. Back then, reporters would contact parishes and dioceses for context and comments. That no longer happens today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

If a Catholic is for a Faction, He is not Behaving Like a Catholic at All

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11–13).

Between the elections and disputes over what the Church should be doing in the world, Catholics—especially in the United States—have become fragmented, arguing that the sides they pick in a dispute are in the right while Catholics who disagree or even say “I’m not convinced that this either-or argument is correct” are deemed to be heretical or misled.

While I say this in rebuke, I am not saying “values are relative, and it is a matter of indifference who you vote for or what the Church does.” I have my own personal views on which political party is a worse evil and which behaviors in the Church are more harmful. However, I believe my own political views and preferences on the governance of the Church must take backseat to the authority of the Church. When the Church teaches that we must do or not do something, we are behaving shamefully if we try to explain away our obligation or argue that those tasked with leading the Church are not authentically Catholic.

As I see it, in determining whether a position is in keeping with the Catholic Church, we must first look to those who are tasked with shepherding the Church. Why do I say this, instead of appealing to the Bible or to past teachings of the Church? Because I believe that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church as the Church intended to teach the whole world. I believe that He promised to be with His Church always and to protect it from teaching error. I believe the visible head of this Church is the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops—when acting in communion with him, and never apart from him—are acting as the successors of the Apostles. When they teach, even if not teaching ex cathedra, their teaching requires religious submission of intellect and will. In this role, they determine whether certain interpretations of Scripture and past teachings of the Church by groups of Catholics, or their behaviors or claims are authentic or not. This authority exists despite the personal sins of those men who are tasked with being shepherds of the Church. Otherwise, we could not have any authority at all and our favorite teachings would have no more authority than the ones we dislike.

When we grasp that, one thing becomes clear: Any attempt to pit a political platform or the antics of an individual Churchman against that authority of the Church is to reject the authority of the Church, replacing it with an ersatz Catholicism that divinizes one’s preferences while denying that the Divine source of the Church’s authority applies in their circumstances. Essentially, it turns the Church teaching into “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is up for grabs,” because as soon as the individual dislikes being at odds with a teaching, he or she can just deny the authority of the teaching. We have seen that in the liberal dissent during the pontificates of St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. We are seeing it now in the current conservative dissent against Pope Francis.

This means, instead of looking to God’s Church as receiving the authority to bind and loose from Christ (see Matthew 16:19, 18:18), we look to ourselves to bind and loose the Church. In doing so, we make ourselves no different from the non-Catholics who reject the authority of the Church because it goes against their conception of the truth. But, while the non-Catholic might be invincibly ignorant about the fact that the Catholic Church was established by Christ and teaches with His authority, we Catholics do not have any such excuse. In fact, by arguing that the Pope and bishops are acting against the Church teachings, we acknowledge that we know the Church has this power.

And then we are back to the initial problem the factional Catholic must face. To be a faithful Catholic, one must accept the teaching authority of the Church… today just as much as in the past. The moment we reject that, we open any teaching a faction of Catholics dislikes to being labeled as “error” or “opinion.”

Therefore, I say: If a Catholic is for a Faction, he or she is not behaving like a Catholic at all. It is only if we remember that God’s protection of His Church applies in every age that we can be faithful… not by clinging to some teachings that we like while pretending the rest don’t count.



(†) While I try to keep my opinions off my blog because it is about Catholic teaching and not my views, I suspect anyone looking at my Facebook feed can determine what views trouble me more.

(‡) From the Code of Canon Law:

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

CAN. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Rebellion of False Prophets

When the priest Zephaniah read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Send to all the exiles: Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah, the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah prophesies to you, although I did not send him, and has led you to rely on a lie, therefore thus says the LORD, I will punish Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, and his descendants. None of them shall dwell among this people to see the good I will do for this people—oracle of the LORD—because he preached rebellion against the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:29-32)

As I continue working through the Book of Jeremiah, I’m struck by the emergence of the false prophets who either say what they think and attribute it to God, or say what they think others want to hear. Both are treated as leading people in a lie and as preaching rebellion against God who had something different in mind for the people of Israel as they faced exile in Babylon.

The concept of preaching rebellion struck me as something relevant for our times. Back then, God sent certain prophets who spoke His message to the people while false prophets tried to undermine his message. In this time, we have the Church which was established by Christ to preach and to teach while people who do not agree with what the Church is doing argue that it has gone astray, and God wills something different.

It seems to me that both are examples of the false prophets. In both cases we have those who were given authority by God to teach in His name and people who do not like what is taught and try to undermine it. I suspect that both cases are not so much about deliberate malice as it is not believing the authority of the ones God has sent. The false prophets might sincerely think they understand the situation better. But it is rebellion against God nonetheless because the prophet or the Church which they oppose is teaching with God’s authority.

Things are as bad as they have always been. In 1974, writing about the hostility towards the pontificate of St. Paul VI, Hans Urs Von Balthasar could write about a rebellion that fits the same problems today, 46 years after it was originally written:

To use, for once, the nonsensical division of humanity into a “left” and a “right”, we can say that the “left” is closed to the monarchic, aristocratic, bureaucratic and any other “cratic” claims of the central “apparatus”, while the “right” is split: there is a small segment in which “papolatry” still prevails, but the majority is plagued by a growing fear that the Pope might be captured by the “progressives”, if he himself is not a “leftist” who, at the expense of the “silent Church”, spins questionable diplomatic threads to Moscow and Peking. [Paul VI is meant. The original text was published in 1974—Ed.]

Of course, there is—and always has been among Catholics—a healthy popular sentiment that is faithful to Rome without being blind to the faults and human failings of the curia and even of the pope. Ordinary common sense is able to handle this as a matter of course and without embarrassment. But this sentiment (sound, from the Catholic point of view) is steadily undermined by the mass media, the press and the numerous publications that demonstrate their Christian “adulthood” by an arrogant and even venomous superiority toward all that comes from Rome, happens in Rome or goes to Rome.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, trans. Andrée Emery, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 25–26. Bracketed editor notes from the original text.

These parallels between the false prophets in the time of Jeremiah and the critics of the Church today should lead us to consider whether our tendency to downplay the Church when she teaches what we do not want to hear—claiming that her teaching is false—might be seen by God in the same way that he saw Shemaiah, the Nehelamite… as being in rebellion against Him and leading people into a lie. We as Catholics believe that Jesus left us with the Church which teaches with His authority. So, if we follow a false prophet who teaches that this Church is in error, we are following the rebel against God and are without excuse.

We are constantly told that the Church is promoting all sorts of errors. But when we look at what the Church teaches, we see that the false prophets making these accusations are confusing their political and cultural preferences with God’s will. The result is they lead rebellion against God by saying that the Church is being hijacked by “the left” or “the right,” when in fact it is their preferences that are trying to hijack the Church.



(†) The original title of this work translates as “The Anti-Roman Attitude.”

Monday, October 12, 2020

Dealing With the “In the Real World” Brush-Off

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.  (Ezekiel 33: 7-9)

* * *

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The other day, I wound up involved in a combox argument with a woman who was using all the old arguments certain Catholics use to downplay abortion when they want to vote for the candidate who is pro-abortion and do not want to delve into whether that choice is compatible with the Catholic teaching. As the dialogue devolved, I heard the typical “the pro-abortion candidate is more pro-life” and “personally opposed but I can’t impose my beliefs on others.” When I pointed out that the Catholic obligation to go out the world to teach the nations about what they need to do to be saved (John 14:15 figures in prominently there), she came up with an even older argument, that ran, “That might be the ideal, but the Church needs to consider the real world.” That is nothing more than a repackaged version of “the Church needs to get with the times.”

This is not an advocacy article trying to tell you how to vote, however. Rather I see this attitude as a warning sign that we have work to do in evangelizing the world… starting with ourselves.

The fact that some Catholics continue to fall back on those arguments shows that they either do not grasp or do not care to follow the Church teaching on areas that would go against their preferences. But, before we get cocky, we should remember that this sort of thinking also exists on the other side of the political factionalism. Consider how many times we hear that the Pope grew up in a socialist country so he does not understand how economics work in the real world (currently this is directed against Pope Francis, but this argument was also used against St. John Paul II)  and it is unreasonable to follow his uninformed opinions. How many times do we hear Catholics say that the Church is out of touch in condemning torture because these times are more dangerous than they realize?

This is the same argument as the first, only applied to a different disobedience. Regardless of faction, this argument effectively denies that the Church can teach in a binding manner if we dislike that teaching. Their personal political preferences come first and if they dissent against a teaching or fear their political preferences will be harmed by a teaching against them, they define the Church teaching as out of touch with the real world.

The problem is, we cannot pretend this is compatible with the Catholic Faith. The Great Commission makes clear that we have a mission. We must let the people of the world know about the need for salvation and the need to reject what goes against that salvation. The fact that people will continue to try to do evil things and be harmed if they are blocked if those things are barred by law is not an excuse for us to avoid saying what is right and explaining why it is vital to follow these teachings.

“The Real World” that everyone appeals to against the Church is not the reality of what is right. “The Real World” is identified in Scripture as “the flesh,” “the world,” “the carnal,” etc. It is the attitude that puts self-gratification first and reacts hostilely to anything that threatens it directly or indirectly. While it would be wrong to interpret it in a gnostic sense—that matter is evil—Our Lord did warn us, The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify to it that its works are evil (John 7:7).

We are called, as part of the Great Commission to let people know they need salvation and what they need to do to be saved. Peter Kreeft described it this way:

Christianity is the “good news” indeed, but this good news makes no sense unless you believe the bad news first. The good news is like the offer of a free heart transplant operation from God; but if you don’t think your heart is desperately diseased, you won’t see that offer as good news at all. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). He said this to the Pharisees, the self-righteous fools who thought they were just good people who didn’t need to repent of sin. The good news of forgiveness is really good news only because the bad news of sin is really bad news. The greater the problem, the greater the solution. The deeper the valley, the higher the mountain. (Peter J. Kreeft, Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer.Ignatius Press, 2008, 209).

Those who say the Church teaching does not work in the real world are like those Pharisees who thought they did not need to repent. We do need to realize we need to repent and turn away from the values of “the real world” and teach others to do the same. Otherwise, we should remember the words of God to Ezekiel warning him of what should happen if we stay silent.



(†) One of the bizarre behaviors of the critics is, the same Catholics who say that the Pope’s words about the abuse of capitalism are more applicable to socialism also say we must oppose him because he is a socialist. Well, which is it?

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Into Exile?

Thus says the Lord: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victims from the hand of their oppressors. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. If you carry out these commands, kings who succeed to the throne of David will continue to enter the gates of this house, riding in chariots or mounted on horses, with their ministers, and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, I swear by myself—oracle of the Lord: this house shall become rubble. (Jeremiah 22:3–5)

When I do my morning readings and study, sometimes the different books line up and discuss one theme in different ways. When that happens, it gives an interesting perspective on that theme. Lately, the theme coming up has been the times of Jeremiah and his warnings of coming disaster for the Jews. The Jews of the time thought of their problems as an external threat arbitrarily imposed on them for the wrongdoing of others. One of the kings even asked Jeremiah to intervene with God to prevent disaster… an attitude that showed that he did not even grasp the cause.

Jeremiah made clear that the disaster was unavoidable and the fault of the Jews themselves, not others, or other segments of the population. Everyone had fallen into corruption and had earned the coming wrath. Superficially keeping the law would not save them when their attitude was what kept them far from God.

I think of this as I watch Catholics in this country respond to the disasters afflicting us. Regardless of what side one falls under on the political divide, we sense that dark times are imminent, but we think that it is the fault of others. Whether the “others” are from a different political faction, a different country, a different religion, or whatever you prefer, we assume that our current woes are on account if them, and if they would only act as we see best, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The prophets were clear that this was not the case. Ezekiel 18:1-4, for example, had this prophecy about that assumption:

The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb you recite in the land of Israel: 

“Parents eat sour grapes, 
but the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 

As I live—oracle of the Lord GOD: I swear that none of you will ever repeat this proverb in Israel. For all life is mine: the life of the parent is like the life of the child, both are mine. Only the one who sins shall die! 

In other words, if we are undergoing a national crisis, the wrong attitude to take is “It’s somebody else’s fault.”

We need to flash forward to the year 2020. We are a nation laid low by a plague, and we are facing an election that feels like it was described in Isaiah 3:4-5. All of us—Catholics included—are acting as if we are immaculate and whatever fault exists for our trials belong elsewhere, even as we act unjustly in our own way.

We have excuses of course. We say that “Yes, the Church teaching on X is important but, in these times, we must focus on Y instead.” The problem is, we all too often have no intention of doing anything to correct the injustice of X, even if we feel perturbed by it. We decide we do not want to risk what we have by doing anything that might cause harm to it. So, we hypocritically condemn others for their failures to follow Catholic teaching and explain away our own failures. Both factions are quite proud of the fact that they follow the rules better than the other side. But let us remember the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner.

If we turn a blind eye to the sins our faction is guilty of committing or tolerating, while condemning the other side for violating God’s law, we are hypocrites and earn condemnation ourselves. So, before we point fingers at the other side for their evils and congratulate ourselves for our “virtues,” let us ask ourselves if we too are guilty in the eyes of God. I say that because, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also warns us:

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. (Emphasis added).

We who are Catholics should also remember the teaching of Vatican II. Because we belong to the Church established by Christ and possessing the fullness of His teachings; because we can avail ourselves of the graces He provides through it, we are without excuses if we live against or turn our back on these teachings.

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should keep that in mind. While our fellow Catholics might be sinning differently than us, that does not negate our own sins against God and our fellow man. I think this is where Our Lord’s teaching on judgment really applies:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)

If, in 2020, we condemn the other side while “being comfortable” with our own vote* or political platform, then we have a log in our eye. The failure of the major factions to fix the evils they are complicit in means we should not call our preferred faction “good.” At best we can call it “less evil,” and need to reform it even as we oppose the evils of the other side.

Otherwise, we share in the evil and will answer for it… quite possibly facing the equivalent of the exile that the prophets warned the ancient Israelites about.



(*) as one “personally opposed but…” voter told me when trying to justify her opposition to ending legalized abortion..

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Once Again, The Blind Try to Lead the Blind: Reflection on the Rejection of Fratelli Tutti

St. Augustine, in his prologue to the work Christian Instruction describes a situation that very much sounds like what Pope Francis is going through… being criticized by people who do not understand either the teaching or the basis behind it:

Some will censure my work because they have failed to comprehend those principles of which I shall treat. Others, when they have desired to employ the principles which they have learned and have endeavored to explain the Sacred Scriptures according to these principles, but have failed to disclose and elucidate what they want, will think that I have labored uselessly; and, because they themselves have not been aided by this work, will think that no one could profit from it. The third category of critics comprises those who either actually interpret Scripture well, or seem to in their own estimation. These observe, or think they observe, that they have gained the ability to explain sacred writings, although they have studied none of the regulations of the sort that I have now determined to recommend. Accordingly, they will protest that those principles are essential to no one, but that whatever is convincingly revealed about the obscurities of those writings could be achieved more effectively by divine assistance alone.

—St. Augustine (Christian Instruction)

 Another Papal document, another round of dissent from certain Catholics alleging it is rank heresy. If ever there was an example of the adage, a little knowledge is dangerous, this is it.

The Holy Father’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is a document that reminds us of our obligations under the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment. While written as an appeal to all people of good will, it is just as binding on us Catholics as any other Papal teaching. But those Catholics who want to reject the Pope (schism) or do not like his teaching (dissent) have twisted certain points in it to allege he is openly promoting heresy. In doing so, they are not only behaving dishonestly (whether deliberately or through vincible ignorance), but they show that they do not even understand the Catholic teachings they accuse the Pope of violating.

I plan to discuss the two most widely repeated claims that these anti-Francis Catholics make against the Pope and his encyclical. First, that he has denied the right to private property. Second, that he has rejected the Church teaching on just war. Both claims are false.

Fratelli Tutti and Private Property

The first claim—widely repeated in the secular media—is that the Pope has denied the right to private property. The problem is, this is not even an close as a paraphrase of what he said.

Pope Francis discusses this in three paragraphs (118-120):

118. The world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity. Differences of colour, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.

119. In the first Christian centuries, a number of thinkers developed a universal vision in their reflections on the common destination of created goods. This led them to realize that if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it. Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it in this way: “Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well”.[92] In the words of Saint Gregory the Great, “When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us”.

120. Once more, I would like to echo a statement of Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”. For my part, I would observe that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”. The principle of the common use of created goods is the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order”; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others.[97] All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – “in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation”. The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant.

Critics seized on one line “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural rightderived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods” and interpreted it as denying the right to private property. But they failed to recognize that this line is not a Marxist principle, but a Catholic teaching. We do have a right to private property. But we must make use of it for our brothers and sisters in the sense that the Good Samaritan made use of his property for the good of others in need. St. John Paul II made this point in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (#42):

It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a “social mortgage,” which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods. Likewise, in this concern for the poor, one must not overlook that special form of poverty which consists in being deprived of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to religious freedom and also the right to freedom of economic initiative.

Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us the same thing:

2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (307)

2405 Goods of production—material or immaterial—such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good. (1903)

As we can see, this was not a new teaching by Pope Francis. Catholics who think this is an endorsement of “Marxism” urgently need to revisit the teachings about our obligations to others.

Has Fratelli Tutti Cancelled the Just War Doctrine?

The next issue to consider is the issue of Just War. Critics seem to rely on their own interpretation—or more likely a favored media source—of #258, where it reads:

258. War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy”[239] have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.[240] At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”.[241] We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war![242]

Following the same playbook they used when criticizing Amoris Lætia, they take a footnote (242) and turn it into a doctrine while ignoring the section the footnote references. The footnote reads, “Saint Augustine, who forged a concept of “just war” that we no longer uphold in our own day, also said that ‘it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war’ (Epistola 229, 2: PL 33, 1020).” Critics take the first phrase in that sentence and act as if was rejecting the past teaching on War. But what the critics do not consider is how both warfare and the justification of it has changed. Modern warfare is indiscriminately destructive of the innocent and leaves them in bad conditions after victory is declared. Consider the case of Christians in Iraq for example. So, do we no longer follow St. Augustine? That should be obvious. The teaching has been further developed since then. So, we cannot appeal to his version against that further development.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists conditions of Just War:

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: (2243; 1897)

— the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

— all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

— there must be serious prospects of success;

— the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Critics tend to emphasize the first and third conditions while neglecting the second and fourth. In modern times, the decision is made to go to war, and we strike at the most advantageous moment, while the disorders produced are treated as unavoidable and therefore irrelevant. But unless we meet all of these conditions, what we have is not a just war.

Let us be aware: we no longer see governments leaving war until a last resort. Now we do preemptive strikes and launch cruise missiles at our enemies to strike them by surprise, which some Catholics defend. And, of course, on the anniversaries of the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, we will invariably see some Catholic defend their usage even though the Church itself has always opposed it.

What the critics do not understand is, The Pope hasn’t abandoned past teaching on Just War. He is deploring the fact that we no longer follow it, even though we label every war we favor “just.”


This is just a brief overview of the problems with the objections. It is more in depth than the manga version I created earlier, but critiquing the critics can be done in greater depth still and cover more issues. 

But the ultimate thing to remember when faced with the attacks on Fratelli Tutti is this: Not only are the critics of the Pope wrong about what he said, they’re wrong about what they think the teaching is supposed to be. 

We have a Pope and bishops—successors to the Apostles—to whom Jesus Christ given the authority to teach in a binding manner, even if it is not done ex cathedra. When they do teach the entire Church (and an encyclical is such a teaching), we are bound to obey§ such teachings. Those critics who say that the Pope and bishops in communion with him teach error do not have such authority to teach in opposition, even if they are bishops or cardinals themselves*

As a result, we need to be aware that these critics who claim to be more Catholic than the Pope are nothing more than blind guides. Following them will lead to ruin. We have an obligation to learn what the Pope intends to teach, not insert (eisegesis) our own preconceived notions over that actual teaching.


(†) Critics have done this for years over the Church teaching on social justice, appealing to an earlier version that does not mention a later abuse against a later version that does. Like critics today, they think that a development is a contradiction.

(‡) If you do not have the internet, you would not be able to read this anyway.

(§) Canon 752-753:

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

(*) In such a case a bishop or cardinal would only be giving his own opinion, not a binding Church teaching.