Tuesday, February 2, 2021


As we settle into a new year and a new presidential administration, one thing does not change: Attempting to deflect a legitimate concern by raising an irrelevant issue or attacking the person making a legitimate concern. Some of these attempts are clearly dishonest, aimed at twisting the issue to promote their own agenda and embarrass opponents. Others are good intentioned, sincerely thinking the objection raised is valid, but show a lack of understanding about the issue.

The intention determines whether any guilt is present in the person. But either way we have a problem: a distraction from the issue at hand. When that issue is the teaching of the Church, the deflection from what is right and wrong causes harm.

When the bishops speak out against an evil present in our nation, attempts to portray them as political or attempts to focus on other issues instead as “more important” deflect from the main point: That the bishops are warning us of an evil we must not turn our backs on. Do we think that another issue is equally urgent or even more important? That is not automatically wrong. But attacking the bishops for speaking out on that issue, or not speaking out on another issue—and they do cover all the issues—is a deflection from the points the bishops wish to teach on now.

Another deflection is to argue that when a bishop acts in a way contrary to our expectations, he is acting in opposition to the Catholic faith. We need to remember we are all human with human limitations. We cannot know everything. So, when a bishop does not act as we expect, we are tempted get agitated over it. But we must not assume that we have all the facts nor assume that any actions that go differently than ours must be done with malicious intent or negligence.

For example: while I do not like the fact that Biden can receive the Eucharist in the face of his actions (if canon 915 does not apply here, when does it apply?), I recognize that Cardinal Gregory is the one with the final say over whether to apply canon 915. While I hope he and the USCCB will offer a statement explaining why things are as they are so we can understand it, I recognize that the Cardinal is not obligated to do so, and I try to avoid rash judgment.

A third kind of deflection is a convenient silence on an issue. When the action is undeniably wrong, a common tactic is for certain Catholic publications tend to stay silent on that potentially inconvenient topic until they can present something that allows them to deflect away from the fact that their preferred ideology was called out. Both sides do this. With conservative publications, this happened during the Trump years. With liberal publications, this is happening with the Biden administration. Both sides consistently point out the failures of coverage in the other side and equally consistently fail to cover what they dislike until the spin is ready. 

Finally, we have the tu quoque responses. When the bishops speak out on something being morally wrong, some joker will inevitably trot out the Inquisition or the Sexual Abuse scandal. It is true that the abuses in the former and the existence of the latter are black marks. But these things do not negate the truth of the Catholic teachings that the bishops warn about. The fact that abortion is a sin—for example—is not negated by the fact that a priest sexually abused children any more than the fact that “2 + 2 = 4” is negated by the fact that a math teacher sexually abused children. In both cases, what is true is independent of the associated sinner in the group that asserts the truth.

If we genuinely want to work for truth and righteousness, we need to stop using deflection against the teachings of the Church that go against our preferred worldview. Nobody is free of sin, but that does not excuse the sins we commit. Nor does it negate the teaching of the Church. Whatever we do to deflect our own wrongs onto somebody else and undermine those given the authority and responsibility of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) are working against Christ (Luke 10:16).


(†) If I understand it rightly, the Vatican could overrule him. But, under the principle of subsidiarity, they try not to micromanage the decisions of the bishops in these matters. So, there would probably have to be a flagrant mismanagement on his part before they would overrule him… and I am not sure we can make such a case. 

(‡) Remember, “certain” does not mean “all.” And some smaller staffed organizations do not provide instantaneous commentary.

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