Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Do We Understand the Purpose of the Church?

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world. (G. K. Chesterton)


Lately, I have been seeing Catholics objecting to the Church saying, “We cannot do this,” when it comes the question of whether people who are willingly estranged from the Church can receive things like blessings and the Eucharist. The strawman argument they use is that this treats sacraments and sacramentals like “rewards” for good behavior or “weaponizing” against bad behavior. Some go so far as to claim the Church is engaging in Pelagianism or works based salvation by barring sinners from communion when we are all sinners in need of salvation.


Regardless of the intention of the individuals making the argument, they do seem to have a misconception about the purpose of the Church and the spiritual blessings she provides through God. The Catholic Church was established by Christ to bring His salvation and His Grace to the world. This involves both strengthening the faithful and bringing those outside of that body into communion. All of us are sinners of course. We need the grace and guidance to constantly turn back to God. 


But if we have no interest in turning back to God, or if we refuse to give up what puts us out of right relationship with God, there is a problem. I am not talking about the person who wants to abandon some sin but keeps falling into it. I am talking about the person who demands that the Church change her teaching so that the sin of X is declared is not a sin, claiming the teaching is “legalism” in opposition to “love.” 


If we desire to participate in the Sacraments and sacramentals of the Church, we do need to ask ourselves something: What are we prepared to surrender if we think it is so important to receive them? One answer—in fact the first answer—to that question is “to give up the grave sins we commit.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1472) tells us:


Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin.


While insufficient knowledge and a lack of free consent might reduce the sin from the category of mortal, nobody can willingly be involved in grave sin and consider themselves in right relationship with God. Since the Sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary for us to get back in right relationship with God and receive the graces these provide, the demand for access to the Sacraments while living in grave sin shows a fundamental error on the part of the person who demands them.


Yes, Pope Francis did speak of accompaniment for those who are not in right relationship with God and His Church. He is right in doing so. But accompaniment is not a case of changing the rules about whether an act is a sin. It is helping them as they struggle to give up what is wrong. If those in the Church should fail to even attempt to guide the faithful away from sin, they would be betraying their mission. 


Obviously, without God’s grace, it is impossible for anybody to be saved, and God gives the individual free will to respond to it. Since we cannot know if the person has obstinately refused grace or has not received it yet, we cannot write anybody off as reprobate. For as long as they live, we cannot give up on them… no matter how many times they reject us. But neither can we tell them “what you do doesn’t matter.”


Because of this, sometimes the Church does have to simply say, “No” in response to a request for the Sacraments or sacramentals. If we start accusing the Church of unjustly excluding people in these cases, we have missed the point of the Church. She is not a vending machine that gives us cheap grace on demand. Her task is what Jesus commissioned her to do:


Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18–20)


Jesus has made clear (cf. Matthew 7:21, 18:17, Luke 10:16, John 14:15) that if we profess to follow Christ, we are obligated to live as He taught, and the Church is who He has entrusted (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18, John 20:22-23) to teach in His name and with His authority. 


If we are ever tempted to claim that the Church has gone wrong, we should ask ourselves whether it is possible that we are the ones who have gone wrong.




(†) As there are many people who do this, it seems imprudent to make a one size fits all kind of judgment about them.


(‡) I leave this to the confessor to determine in the case of each individual.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Schönborn Controversy: How We Can and Cannot Respond

Canon 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.


Cardinal Schönborn issued a public statement (an unofficial translation can be found HERE) the other day that gives the appearance of contradicting the CDF response and commentary on the dubia concerning the blessing of homosexual unions. Given the good relationship between Pope and Cardinal up to this point, many people were startled. Given the fact that certain German bishops are displaying open antipathy for the statements, it is easy to draw the conclusion that this is more of the same.


The circumstances are not identical, however. Cardinal Schönborn was not making an official statement of dissent or schism. He was answering a question from the father of a homosexual son, concerned that the Church was rejecting him. The Cardinal’s response seems aimed at trying to reassure the father. The problem is—barring a clarification or proof of a mistranslation in the various quotes provided—his response does seem to conflict with the CDF statement regardless of his intention.


That is a crucial distinction here. We are forbidden to commit rash judgment or calumny. So, we cannot accuse him of malicious intent over this statement. But, given what the CDF response and commentary have said, we cannot claim that his statement is compatible with them either.


The issue at hand begins with the Cardinal expressing disappointment with the CDF:


I was not happy about this statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the simple reason that the message that came across in the media throughout the world was only a ‘no.’ And that is a ‘no’ to the blessing; and that is something that hurts many people deeply, like they would feel and say: ‘Mother, don’t you have a blessing for me? I am your child too, after all,'


He goes on to say,


If the request for a blessing is honest and not a show, i.e., not a kind of public stunt—if it really is the request of God’s blessing for a life that two people, in whatever situation, are attempting to share—then they should not be refused this blessing.


Even though I as priest or bishop must tell them, “You have not realized the full ideal. But it is important that you continue on the path of human virtue, without which there cannot be a good/successful partnership.” And that deserves a blessing. If a liturgical celebration of a blessing is the proper way to do this—that needs careful consideration.


This understanding is at odds with what the CDF said in their response:


The answer to the proposed dubium does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching. Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such. In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God, in the sense mentioned above, but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.


This is reinforced in the Commentary:


For the above reasons “the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit”. This statement in no way detracts from the human and Christian consideration in which the Church holds each person. So much so that the response to the dubium “does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching”.


The language used assumes that the individual person with same sex attraction who is seeking the blessing intends to live in fidelity to the revealed plan of God... which a couple (heterosexual or homosexual) in a sexual relationship outside of marriage does not do.


Therefore, we have at least the appearance of public conflict that causes scandal. The faithful can charitably express concern over this… charitably being the key word. Terms like “heretic” and “schismatic” have specific meanings that need to be proven:


Canon 751: Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.


These terms should not be casually thrown about.


One thing we should remember: We will not see the Vatican issue a thundering denunciation of the Cardinal. Even in cases where the CDF does eventually issue a formal condemnation, this comes after years of dialogue and attempts at correction when the person involved refuses correction. There is no evidence that Cardinal Schönborn’s problematic statement was issued in willful and obstinate rejection of the Church.


So, yes, we can and should be troubled by what was said. But no, we cannot make accusations of willful malice against him.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Appeal to Emotion (argumentum ad passiones)

As the rebellion continues against the Catholic Church reaffirming the teaching of marriage, one logical fallacy gets repeated over and over… the argumentum ad passiones or the appeal to emotion. This fallacy exploits emotions—frequently of pity or guilt—irrelevant to the situation to sway people towards a desired position. If a person loses track of what is relevant, it is easy to lose track of why some things cannot be done.


When the Church has to say No on an issue, people who don’t like that answer will come up with all sorts of appeals as to why that refusal should be reversed. The general tactic will be to portray the Church as unfeeling or out of touch making “unreasonable” and “arbitrary” rules that are “manmade” and should be changed. Attempts to explain why the teaching must be followed is portrayed as “legalism.” When the Church states that it is impossible to alter the teaching, it is then labeled “betrayal.” We are then given lectures about how we are “going against Jesus” for saying it is a sin.


We need to remember slogans like “love is love” do not refute the Church teaching. Accusing the Church of “betrayal” is meaningless when the Church never had any intention to change her teachings and in fact made clear that she could never change this teaching. But these catchphrases do succeed in stirring up feelings of sympathy for the “victim” and hostility against the Church. Because “God is love” (taken from 1 John 4:8, 16) is misinterpreted to mean “God does not condemn what I do,” whoever repeats the Church teaching that something is a sin is accused of “hating,” which is considered unforgivable and worthy of that hostility in these times.


But these emotionally changed terms have no bearing on the fact that not all behavior can be reconciled with loving God and doing His will. People can and do fixate on things they cannot have if they want to follow Christ (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). The Church can (and does) help these people in the hardships that sometimes come from the pain of doing the right thing over what we desire. And we must do so, even if nobody else will (cf. Revelation 22:11). But, if a person insists that the only acceptable solution is the one the Church says goes against God’s ways, then the person who insists on going against the Church or invents a phony theology that misleads others is the one causing the pain that he blames the Church for.


The common topics of dissent: abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage, same sex “marriage,” etc... these violate the commandments set down by God. Yes, we can find appeals to emotion that claim that hardship is the only result and the greater good requires changing the teaching. But these appeals to emotion refuse to address why the Church teaches they are wrong. Instead, we are told that it is  just an “arbitrary rule imposed by celibate old men.” If Catholics accept that dishonest reframing (it is an ad hominem by the way), they can easily use that as an excuse to reject anything they dislike about the Church.


If one wishes to follow Christ, and professes to be a Catholic, then it follows we must believe that the Church is empowered by Christ to bind and loose (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18). That does not mean that the Church can bind us to commit sin or free us from doing right. It means we trust that when the Church teaches, she does so with God’s authority and protection from error.


This is true even though hypocrites and sinners exist in the Church. I am one of them. You, the reader, are another. In past centuries, we have had knaves and scoundrels among the princes of the Church and even Popes. But we believe that God has protected His Church from teaching error. So, pointing to the notorious sinners within the Church to bolster our outrage and justify dissent is merely a lame excuse. Our Lord had something to say about the authority of hypocritical religious leaders: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” (Cf. Matthew 23:2-3). Do religious leaders cause scandal by living in a way contrary to teaching a scandal? Yes. Does it justify disobedience to teaching? No. Bringing these things up may raise disgust or contempt, but do not refute the truth of the teaching they hate.


The faithful need to be aware of this if they should be tempted to waver. Yes, we do need to show compassion to people we believe are doing wrong. Yes, we should be careful not to use slurs and hateful language about those we believe are doing wrong. But the terms “sin” and “sinner” are not hateful language.


Let us face the facts. If we truly hated these people, we would not be warning them of the consequences… we would simply let them go to hell without a word. That would be going against what Christ commanded: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) §. And the seeking and saving is what the Church is doing in speaking out.





(†) Which raises the question: If to say “X is wrong” is to be guilty of hate, what does that make those who claim that the Catholic Church is wrong about her teachings?


(§) The whole story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), like that of the Woman taken in Adultery (John 8:1-11) shows Jesus giving forgiveness to the repentant. Not to the unrepentant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Foolish Rebellion

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)


In response to the CDF response about whether a same-sex relationship can be blessed, we have—tragically—seen a group of priests and—shamefully—even some bishops denounce it or state that they will defy the Church over this. In doing so, they have rejected the teaching authority of the Church. It is indefensible§


The outrage over the so-called “intolerance” within the Church is nonsense. The Catholic teaching has always recognized that the only legitimate exercise of the sexual act is between one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship open to accepting whatever children God may send. Anything that violates that design must be rejected as contrary to what God has taught.


Moreover, the moral obligations taught by the Church are not about power. They are about how me must live if we want to keep God’s commandments (cf. Matthew 28:20), obedience to which are required of us if we profess to love God (John 14:15). Indeed, Jesus Christ explicitly declared that doing God’s will is mandatory (Matthew 7:21-23). He also made clear that (Luke 10:16) “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”


The people who think they are justified in opposing the Church over a teaching they dislike are taking part in a foolish rebellion. If they know that the Church teaches with God’s authority then they are rebelling against God. But if they do not know or believe that the Church teaches with God’s authority, then what do they think they are they doing? As Pope Francis said (10/23/13):


In this, the Church is like Mary: the Church is not a shop, she is not a humanitarian agency, the Church is not an NGO. The Church is sent to bring Christ and his Gospel to all. She does not bring herself—whether small or great, strong or weak, the Church carries Jesus and should be like Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth. What did Mary take to her? Jesus. The Church brings Jesus: this is the centre of the Church, to carry Jesus! If, as a hypothesis, the Church were not to bring Jesus, she would be a dead Church. The Church must bring Jesus, the love of Jesus, the charity of Jesus.


Unfortunately, too many people make the error of assuming that Christ’s love is permissive… and if the Church says that some actions are morally wrong, they claim the Church is acting against Christ. But they forget that Christ told the woman caught in adultery to, “Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11). God forgives us when we repent after sinning. But if we do not repent and expect a “free pass” for the sins we do not feel sorry for, we make a mockery of what Jesus went through for us.


None of this permits us to treat other sinners with contempt or cruelty. We need to reach out to them and show compassion as we help them return to God’s love. But the adage is still true about loving the sinner but hating the sin. If we believe Jesus Christ is God, then we need to realize that He does not contradict Himself between the Old and New Testament. Yes, God gradually moved the Israelites away from the harsh punishments of the region, but He never said that evil was now good.


People may invent arguments claiming that things condemned in the Bible are about unrelated topics, but these are fabrications. It is not only the intention behind an act that makes it wrong. It also includes acts that are wrong by themselves. Temple Prostitution is wrong when used for idolatry, yes. But it is also wrong when used for purposes other than idolatry.


So, this foolish rebellion will accomplish nothing in the eyes of God. A blessing for a sin will not be a valid blessing. It will merely be a blasphemous act that puts their souls at risk and misleads those who think that there is no sin. These men will only cause harm, no matter how sincere they are about their actions.


Such actions will only lead themselves and others to ruin. 




(§) I do not know whether the CDF will publicly or act behind the scenes against these clergy. But regardless of how they approach it, we can be sure that they did wrong.


(†) Some try to point to the Jewish dietary or cultic laws to argue that as we do not follow those, we ought not to be bound by the laws concerning sexual morality either. But this shows religious illiteracy. Those of us who are gentiles are not bound to keep the dietary and cultic laws of the Jews… that is a major part of Acts 15:1-35 after all. But we are obliged to avoid evil acts (cf. Acts 15:20).


(‡) Some dishonest examples include saying that the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a sin of “inhospitality” and other condemnations of sexual immorality was merely a condemnation of “temple prostitution.” 

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Else Could You Possibly Expect?

The CDF published a response to a dubia about whether the Church could bless homosexual unions and a commentary explaining why the Church could not give anything other than a negative answer. While I did not know that an answer was in the works, I knew it was an issue that had to be addressed when certain German bishops seemed determined to go their own way.


I was not surprised by the answer. I knew that the Church could not answer in any other way than she did. The Church teaching was not a matter of discipline that could be changed to fit the needs of Catholics in these times. Sure, the Church can explain a teaching using language that is clear for the current times, but she cannot turn “X is a sin” into “X is morally good/neutral.”


Yet, not only the religiously illiterate media (which spoke of “setbacks” and “disappointment”), but some Catholics did seem surprised by this response. One faction expressed surprised disappointment. Another expressed surprised relief. These reactions are two sides of the same coin: The false assumption that the Pope intended to change this teaching. It shows that too many people relied on the secular media’s coverage of the Pope… which involved nothing more than sound bites wrenched out of context. The difference between the two sides was whether or not they approved of what they falsely believed to be the Pope’s views.


But the dismay and the relief show that these factions have failed to grasp what the Church is and the protections God provides that go along with the authority to teach in His name. Yes, the Church was established by Jesus Christ to teach in His name and bring people to His salvation. Those who know this are without excuse when they rebel against the Church teachings that they dislike. When the Pope intends to teach in a binding manner, we are not free to dismiss it as an “opinion” or an “error.” Nor are we allowed to dismiss the ordinary magisterium, the teaching of our bishop when teaching in communion with the Pope, or the Congregations that teach under the direction of the Pope. That’s laid out in canon law:


can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.


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.


These canons are derived from our belief of the relationship between God and His Church, and Luke 10:16. While people are not physically compelled to accept them, the person who does not accept the authority of the Church cannot pretend to be a faithful Catholic.


Yet, ignoring this, both factions have instead invented a counterfeit “teaching” that claims we are free to ignore any teaching from the Church that “errs,” which really means “does not go along with their personal preference of what should be.” Claiming that the Church is in error is nothing new. But obedience to the Church is what separates a reforming saint from a schismatic. Keep in mind Martin Luther argued that the Church had stopped following what she originally believed, and used that as an excuse to refuse obedience.


We have seen the dissenters from one side claim  St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were wrong about their teachings on sexual morality. They are no different from the dissenters who call Pope Francis’ teaching on social justice “error.” Both will portray a change of discipline—or bad personal behavior in past centuries—as either “proof” that the Church can issue contradictory teachings without error or “proof” that the Church can err… but neither faction asks whether they are in error about what they see as the Church “contradicting” herself.


Critics must ask themselves if the Church is established by The Lord to teach in His name while protected from error or not. If they profess this is so, then they must submit to the Church teaching on matters of faith and morals as taught by the Pope and bishops in communion with him as continuing the authority Christ gave His Apostles.


But if they will not profess this, then it means nothing when they do agree with a teaching. They give the Church no authority. They can only say that the Church was right for once. But such a conception of the Church is worthless to follow because it could not bring Christ’s salvation to us… because such a Church could never correct us when we were wrong.


This is what we need to ponder when we think that the Church is wrong. If the Church is what she professes to be, then we cannot expect the Church to teach error. If we think something sounds wrong, we should consider that we have misunderstood what was reported or the teaching itself… or both. God will not abandon His Church. So, when the Church teaches, what else could you possibly expect but the truth?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

It’s Iimi! Problematic Assumptions? (Part III)

What are we to think about the concept of “cancel culture” that there is so much debate over? Thea Iscra and Anne Baculum discuss the concept and the the real danger behind it. The problem is not in trying to prevent the literal extremists from causing harm. The problem is using the existence of extremists to target those who stand up for their unpopular but non-extremist beliefs about moral beliefs.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

It’s Iimi! Problematic Assumptions (Part II)

Paula wants to continue the discussion from the Symposium. Her concerns cover a number of different approaches. But Iimi-tan points out that the assumptions of malice used against the Church are false. Dialogue to understand what the other side really believes is important to make the truth known.

Part III of this series can be found HERE

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

It’s Iimi! Problematic Assumptions?

Iimi-tan is involved in a symposium discussing whether the opposition to same-sex “marriage” and transgenderism by the Catholic Church is motivated by bigotry or hatred. She shows the assumptions used to make that claim are fatally flawed.

This is part one of a series.
Part II can be found HERE.
Part III can be found HERE.

The symposium is a new format for the comics. Instead of two people debating, we have multiple people with different perspectives coming to the discussion.