Showing posts with label Benedict XVI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Benedict XVI. Show all posts

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.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Continuity of Magisterium

There are, unfortunately, Catholics who think that defending Pope Francis involves tearing down his predecessors. What Pope Francis does is either portrayed as “finally correcting” bad practices of the past or trying to bury the good his predecessors did under the problems that became public at the time of their pontificates. It’s a problem because they fall into the same error as those who claim that Pope Francis is a “disaster” for the Church. Both factions falsely believe there is a “break” in continuity and merely disagree on whether that “break” is good or bad.

In doing so, both are forgetting about the nature of the Church as God’s chosen means to evangelize the world, protected from error in doing so. The individual needs of an era can require changes in discipline or emphasis, but the central truth remains. When we take both the changeable and unchangeable into account, arguing that a break has occurred is to either deny or be ignorant about God’s role in the Church.

It doesn’t matter which Pope you use as a yardstick. You will always find something that went wrong during his pontificate or at least something you might wish had been done differently. But that is an unavoidable part of God’s choice to make use of weak, finite, and sinful human beings. Without God’s protection, His Church would have collapsed right after Pentecost, if not the Last Supper.

Some things are not protected, of course. We might look at certain acts of governing the Papal States and Vatican City and wince. We might wish that the concordat with Nazi Germany or the agreement with China had been handled differently. We might wish that St. John Paul II had not kissed the Qur’an, that Benedict XVI had not given that interview in Light of the World§, or that Pope Francis didn’t give press conferences. Cringing in those cases is not being rejecting the magisterium*. Regretting how Popes handled the sexual abuse crisis is not against the magisterium. We can lament how some priests escaped or took refuge behind bad interpretations of canon law@. But, if somebody uses these non magisterial events to argue that a Pope is a heretic, and we can reject when a Pope does teach—that is dissent.

Pope Francis is not “a Marxist.” His warnings on the evils of Capitalism are no different from his predecessors. St. John Paul II was not “heartless” with Familiaris Consortio. Nor did Pope Francis contradict him. The two Popes wrote on two different aspects of communion after remarriage. St. John Paul II wrote on the fact that those not seeking to rectify their situation cannot be admitted to communion. Pope Francis wrote about evaluating every person to determine whether the conditions of mortal sin are present#, and helping those earnestly trying to get right with God and the Church. What Pope Francis said would not apply to the unrepentant. St. John Paul II denying communion would not apply to those trying (and occasionally failing) to live as brother and sister.

But if one assumes a break in teaching by a non magisterial act or a change in a discipline, it’s the same error whether one supports or opposes the “break.”

I would ask my fellow defenders of Pope Francis not to tear down his predecessors while defending him. From a worldly perspective, it might seem to be a break or change in teaching. But it’s actually only a change in approach to deal with where our society went wrong today.


(§) This was where Benedict XVI used the infamous example of “the male prostitute with AIDS” that many (wrongly) thought was opening the doors to using condoms.

(*) It might be sinful based on how one responds. We should always remember that the account we hear might not accurate.

(@) Reading the 1917 Code of Canon Law, it appears (to me anyway) that the canons did not consider that victims might be too ashamed to come forward, that abusive priests might not confess their sins, or that the canons seemed to block bishops from acting until the victim came forward.

(#) Unfortunately, some interpretations of FC assumed that mortal sin was present in all cases. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Catholics Out of Control

Benedict XVI’s spokesman, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, issued a statement at the request of the Pope emeritus asking that the book not identify him as a co-author. Cardinal Sarah later announced that he would respect Benedict XVI’s request and that Benedict XVI would not be listed as a co-author, but as a contributor.

Judging by the accounts out there, Benedict XVI had written a small piece on priestly celibacy and okayed it being used in Cardinal Sarah’s book. So there’s no question of the Cardinal “hijacking” the piece. My guess is that Benedict XVI was concerned that some Catholics and the secular media would use this to create a myth of a “counter-magisterium” and asked that his role in the book be clarified. Both he and Cardinal Sarah§ have reiterated their obedience to the Pope. 

You might think that this was simply resolved and whatever confusion existed between the two men was cleared up. You’d be wrong, because the Catholic Internet went berserk. Not just on one side either. Some Catholics—on both sides—are falling into rash judgment.

English language publisher Ignatius Press announced (in something that struck me as problematic reasoning) that they would not change the identification of Benedict XVI as co-author. Apparently their reading of the Chicago Manual of Style overrules Benedict XVI’s express wishes. Some opponents of the Pope also treated criticism of how publishers handled it as if they were accusations of disloyalty (unfortunately, some criticism did sink to this level. See below) and attempting to stir up attacks on those defending the faith. Those hostile to Pope Francis claimed that Archbishop Gänswein was lying about it, delivering a message contrary to what Benedict wanted—some claiming this was ordered by the Pope, implying it was at the orders of the Pope.

At the same time, some supporters of Pope Francis tried to portray Benedict and Cardinal Sarah as disloyal, even part of a cabal. The two stand accused of deliberately trying to preemptively undermine Pope Francis’ final decision on whether married priests would be allowed, trying to “rally support” against the Pope. They are accused of hostility to the Eastern Rites which do have married priests. There is no evidence for this of course. Just some excerpts that sound harsh, though we have no sense of context. Then, once Benedict XVI asked that his name be removed as co-author, some turned and started portraying Cardinal Sarah as dishonest, misrepresenting his book to the Pope emeritus.

Catholics should not be rushing to judgment. We might say that some of the excerpts seem to be harsh, while remembering we have no sense of context to claim certainty. There’s no basis to accuse Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah of disloyalty. There’s no basis to say Archbishop Gänswein issued a false statement or that the Pope was “furious.” While we may later find some of our suspicions may turn out to be true, we have no basis for those claims now.

We need to stop looking for heroes and villains in this story and start doing research unclouded by our personal likes and dislikes. Otherwise, we’re damaging the Church and causing scandal.


(§) Cardinal Sarah’s writings sometimes strike me as blunt to the point of being a bit over the top, but I have never read anything of his that struck me as disloyal to Pope Francis. I think this is simply a matter of his temperament. I don’t say this as a condemnation. All of us have things we need to deal with in our lives. Moreover, we certainly should not make any accusations before the book is published. Cardinal Sarah has stated his obedience and fidelity to the Pope. I will take him at his word unless credible evidence to the contrary emerges (none has yet).

Monday, January 13, 2020

Brief Reflection on the Hype over the New Book by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah

People are making a big to-do about the book coming out by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah. It’s being portrayed as these two men “opposing” the Pope. I have some brief thoughts about that.

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. 

Remember the fuss over the 2011 interview when people thought the excerpt of “a male prostitute with AIDS” using a condom meant a change in Church teaching? As it turned out, he was describing a person moving slowly turning towards thinking about consequences of actions. I suspect in this book, we’ll find out that the conflict was not a conflict at all.

Another thing to remember is that there is no counter-magisterium here. If I’m wrong and it turns out that what the Pope ultimately decides—and remember, he is opposed to ending celibacy—is different from the views presented in this book, what the Pope decides will be binding. 

But now is not the time to look for heroes and villains, nor battle to the death for the teachings we think must or must not be. It’s certainly not time to bewail disasters to the Church. We don’t know the context of the presented snippets, and once we do know, we know who has the authority to shepherd the Church.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

False Interpretations and Unspoken Assumptions

There’s no doubt that there is infighting in the Church. Without getting into who is right and who is wrong, Catholics are pitted against each other. This time, it is not just orthodox vs. heterodox. Added to that conflict is a civil war between Catholics professing to be faithful to the Church—indeed Catholics who strove to defend the Church during earlier pontificates—on whether one needs to oppose the current shepherds or whether that is wrong. One of the areas of contention is over the claim that we never had this level of confusion in the Church before (a claim I disagree with).

I have a few theories. One of them involves the growth of Social Media plus smart phones allowing us to be instantly misinformed about what is going on with the Church. One who wants to undermine the Church can now reach a global audience as opposed to xeroxed pamphlets shoved under people’s windshield wipers. But that’s only one part of the problem. It doesn’t explain how some stalwart defenders of previous Popes can now turn on the current one. To some critics of the current Pope, they don’t see how one can support him without rejecting his predecessors. Since they know his predecessors taught truly, they believe they have to oppose the Pope today.

Yes, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did explain boundaries of intrinsic evil. Nobody denies that. But what we forget is they also stressed reconciling the sinners to God, not expelling them from the Church, except for grave issues in hopes that would bring them back to their senses. Like it or not, they did have teachings against unrestrained capitalism and destruction of the environment (in earlier documents, they called it “ecology”). Like it or not, there were bishops who did regrettable things during their pontificates but remained in their positions. There were pro-abortion Catholics who were never excommunicated back then too. We tend to forget these things and that some Catholics bitterly condemned them.

It seems to me that Pope Francis takes his predecessors’ teaching on intrinsic evil as a given and has devoted his teaching to emphasize what we overlooked (but was always present) in his predecessors’ teachings—how to reach out to those Catholics estranged from the Church in the hopes of bringing them back. This is why I think some have missed the point of previous papal teaching: We were so concerned with blocking those people actively trying to corrupt Church teaching (and they existed), that we assumed all people who wound up afoul of Church teaching were part of this group. We didn’t consider that some of them might have been badly educated on what the Church taught and why, and might be brought back if we reached out to them. We assumed they made an irrevocable decision and any attempt to reach out to them meant compromising on truth.

Yes, some of the issues are muddled because some people do want to undermine Church teaching, whether knowingly or through being mistaken. But when one starts wth the assumption that the Pope’s position is the teaching of the Church (the quote ignored in favor of “Who am I to judge?”), we will see his teachings on mercy and forgiveness presuppose the works of his predecessors. It’s only if we assume he intends error to begin with that we’ll see error in his words. This is why Benedict XVI could talk of Pope Francis in an interview this way:

[Q] Some commentators have interpreted this exhortation as a break, particularly because of its call for the decentralization of the Church. Do you detect a break from your Papacy in this programmatic text?

[A] No. I, too, always wanted the local churches to be active in and of themselves, and not so dependent on extra help from Rome. So the strengthening of the local church is something very important. Although it is also always important that we all remain open to one another and to the Petrine Ministry – otherwise the Church becomes politicized, nationalized, culturally constricted. The exchange between the local and global church is extremely important. And I must say that, unfortunately, those very bishops who oppose decentralization are those who have been lacking in the kind of initiatives one might have expected of them. So we had to help them along again and again. Because the more fully and actively a local church itself truly lives from the centre of faith, the more it contributes to the larger whole.

It is not as though the whole Church were simply dictating to the local churches: what goes on in the local churches is decisive to the whole. When one member is diseased, says St Paul, all are. When, for example, Europe becomes poor in faith, then that is an illness for the others as well – and vice versa. If superstition or other things that should not occur there were to fall in upon another church, or even faithlessness, that would react upon the whole, inevitably. So an interplay is very important. We need the Petrine Ministry and the service of unity, and we need the responsibility of local churches.

[Q] So you do not see any kind of break with your pontificate?

[A] No. I mean, one can of course misinterpret in places, with the intention of saying that everything has been turned on its head now. If one isolates things, takes them out of context, one can construct opposites, but not if one looks at the whole. There may be a different emphasis, of course, but no opposition.

[Q] Now, after the present time in office of Pope Francis – are you content?

[A] Yes. There is a new freshness in the Church, a new joyfulness, a new charisma which speaks to people, and that is certainly something beautiful.

Benedict XVI, Pope (2016-11-14). Last Testament: In His Own Words (Kindle Locations 769-787). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This is the testimony of a Pope emeritus who believes the current Pope to be orthodox and consistent with his predecessors. But many Catholics who praise Benedict XVI seem like they would disagree with his assessment.

This is why I have misgivings about the things four cardinals, a group of philosophers, and a mob of Social media critics say—in various levels of politeness—the Pope should answer the dubia. Whether they intend it or not, what some of them really mean is, Answer it so we can see if you are orthodox or heterodox. When one looks at it this way, there is no confusion when the Pope and his supporters say things are already clear. He does intend them to be understood in the light of Church teaching.

I believe the way out of the confusion some complain about is not in the Pope speaking differently. Confusion ends when we start assuming the Pope is orthodox and we interpret what he says from that perspective. No Pope will look orthodox if people assume he is heretical. Remember, sede vacantists and the SSPX interpreted St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI as teaching error when these Popes went against their views.

The confusion is not about what Pope Francis said or did. The confusion is about individual Catholics on the internet being mistrustful of the Pope. They have interpreted Church teaching in a certain way and anything that does not match that interpretation must be in error. What they don’t ask is whether they misinterpreted the Pope or prior Church teaching. If a critic misinterprets one of these (they often misinterpret both), they will reach a false conclusion.

We should start questioning our own interpretations. If interpretations do not correspond to what a teaching is, they are false interpretations. We should look at our own assumptions. If they are wrong, we will be misled. The hard part is, self-deception is easy. Nobody likes realizing they’re wrong and we have ways of shifting the blame to excuse ourselves. But when this interferes with our obligation to seek out and follow truth, that can have dangerous consequences.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Papal Gaffes and Non-Magisterial Statements

One thing to always keep in mind is the extent of Papal authority. By this I mean we neither downplay an actual authoritative statement of the Pope or elevate something which is merely a private opinion of the Pope. Popes can speak about the issues of the world where they are not theologically binding and were never intended to be seen as a teaching in the first place. There are many examples of this in recent times. For example, St. John Paul II and his Crossing the Threshold of Hope, or the unfortunate kissing of the Qur’an. Or Benedict XVI and his Jesus of Nazareth, the (unfortunate) comment about the “male Prostitute with AIDS” in Light of the World and his misunderstood Regensburg Lecture. And yes, Pope Francis and his brilliant The Name of God is Mercy, and his controversial news conferences and interviews. I could go back further and discuss the laws of the old Papal States or the Vatican policies with different nations through history. Some of those laws and policies are embarrassing when viewed today. But they weren’t magisterial teaching and an error there does not make the Pope a fraud or heretic.

I say again, whether these things are properly understood or misunderstood, they are not any part of the teaching authority of the Church, and must not be used to judge a Pope's fidelity to the Catholic faith, even if a he should commit a gaffe or carry out an unwise policy.

This isn’t a modern occurrence. We had a controversy back in the Middle Ages where the Pope of the time—John XXII [*] (reigned 1316 to 1334)—spoke in sermons on a theme he had written on prior to his election concerning the beatific vision.

John XXII(Pope John XXII)

In these sermons (and pre-Papal writings), John XXII described the beatific vision (seeing God) as something which would not happen until the final judgment. Until that time, people’s souls slept. This issue had not been formally defined as of this time, but a majority of theologians at the time held that the souls of the departed did see God after death. So this was a concern. Was the Pope teaching that that what was commonly held by Catholics was actually false?

The answer was, no. John XXII said he had not had any intention to formally teach on the subject and actually called on theologians to study the issue. The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry on John XXII, describes the affair this way:

In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision

So, the Pope was offering his private opinion and, when given good reason to abandon his opinion as not being true, rejected his former view in favor of one which fit better with Scripture and Tradition. The only people who tried to tar him as being heretical were those groups who were rebuked [†] (such as the “Spiritual Franciscans” or Fraticelli who held to a rigorous interpretation of the Rule of St. Francis) and wanted to discredit him. He was not a heretic, but some who want to discredit modern Popes cite him as an example of a “heretical Pope."

I think there is a lesson there to be learned. The Pope can make a gaffe just like any other Catholic. He can even say something in a non-teaching which is theologically dubious. But that’s not heresy. Canon Law gives us a good definition here:

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.


 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.

The key words are obstinate and divine and Catholic faith. If the Pope commits a gaffe which might be interpreted by some as supporting error, the question is, does he obstinately hold to it? Or is he just being unclear and not intending what the people claim he means? It’s only when someone digs in their heels and refuses correction from the magisterium that he or she becomes a heretic.

So, why do I bring this up? Because some people are concerned about the current Pope and the fact that some of the things he says in his press conferences seem unclear without deeper study [§]. Some would actually accuse the Pope of being a heretic on account of that confusion (on the part of some) as to what he means. Other Catholics who want to be faithful feel unsure when presented with forceful arguments and begin to doubt.

That’s nothing new. The case of John XXII shows that gaffes do exist throughout history but those gaffes do not prove the existence of heretic popes. That’s not because every Pope was perfect or geniuses (they weren’t). It’s because we trust God to protect the Pope from teaching error in a matter involving our salvation. The Pope isn’t teaching in a binding manner in a press conference or a private book or the like and we should stop thinking that he is and stop accusing him of error.




[*] Not to be confused with St. John XXIII. The two popes lived reigned over 600 years apart.

[†] Does this sound familiar compared to today?

[§] Which few ever attempt. Most of his critics insist on what they call the “plain sense” of his words and label any deeper study as “attempting to explain away.” But keep in mind St. Peter warned the Church that St. Paul wrote on things not easy to understand which “the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16). So the “plain sense” is not always the true sense.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pride: The Danger of Judging of Popes

There is a troubling group of Catholics out there who, while a minority, are quite vocal out there. They are the Catholics who believe that Pope Francis is making a definite break in Catholic teaching, teaching error and needing to be resisted. If they were only a fringe group, we could just dismiss them with a shrug and a shake of the head. But it isn’t merely the lunatic fringe. It is people who equate the Pope with a political view that they don’t like, and don’t think the Church should be teaching on those subjects and that the Pope should focus on subjects they agree with.

The irony of it all is the fact that prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis, there were other Catholics who rejected the teachings of his predecessors, equating them with a political view they disliked and thought that the Church would be better off teaching on subjects they agreed with. Basically, the two groups are guilty of the same behavior but with a different bias. What’s most tragic about this is the fact that both groups seem to condemn the other for doing this, but both are blind to the fact that they are guilty of the very same thing: Having a selective view that is twisted to match political views that justifies themselves and vilifies the others at the expense of obedience to Church teaching.

What’s overlooked is that the predecessors of Pope Francis said pretty much the same thing on issues of social justice that he did, and that Pope Francis has said the same thing as his predecessors on the moral teachings of the Church. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II were not “right wingers” and Pope Francis is not “Left Wing."

So a large part of the judging of popes seems to be ignorance of or ignoring what the Popes have actually taught in favor of a caricature. The problem is, we can’t accurately assess something without knowledge of the facts—facts which the media stories do not supply. Now it may be forgivable for people ignorant of the Catholic faith to not realize that there is more to the story than the media reports. But we Catholics do not have that excuse. If we have faith in God to protect His Church from error when it comes to matters of salvation, there can neither be a case of the Church was right before but wrong now, nor a case of the Church was wrong before but right now. The Holy Spirit didn’t take a nap during Vatican II or the election of Pope Francis. Nor did the Holy Spirit take a nap until Vatican II. There is a continuity in the teaching. It’s just that the ways of expressing the teaching can be done in different ways by different Popes in different ages.

The point is, as the Church faces new circumstances, new attacks, new understandings, teaching develops—but never contradicts former teaching. We’ll never go from saying divorce and remarriage is wrong to saying it is OK. But over time, we have had to answer questions from different sources, and perhaps face situations that the Church in earlier times did not have to address (for example, the widespread rejection of the belief that a valid marriage is permanent that exists today). Pope Francis has to address the problem of a society that has no idea what marriage is really for. When people no longer understand what is the sin, the older methods of explaining the moral truths may be inadequate.

Ultimately, this judging of Popes is based on the idea that the Church should be what the individual wants it to be. When the individual puts himself or herself in opposition to the Church teaching, or when the Church teaches on something the would-be judge thinks is similar to a political view he or she dislikes, the objection is that “God doesn’t care about that,” or that “the Church should be focussing on serious issues.” That’s pride—the belief that *I* can’t be a sinner. If the Church says I am sinning or that  my political views are against what following Christ requires, then the Church must be in error.

Mind you, when it comes to being faithful to Church teaching, there are different ways to do it, and two faithful Catholics can have two different views on what the best way to carry it out. So, it’s not being faithless if one would prefer a different approach (in keeping with the teachings, mind you) on doing these things, so long as we recognize exactly who has the authority to decide on what the Church will officially do—whether that concerns the way to carry out a doctrine or what the discipline of the Church is going to be. If one refuses to accept the Church teaching, that makes them disobedient.

For example, take the disputes that have happened concerning the Mass as it exists today (the Ordinary Form), vs. the Mass in the form of the 1962 Missal (the Extraordinary Form). The preference for the Extraordinary Form is not sinful in itself. Some people prefer the Extraordinary Form. I prefer the Ordinary Form. One preference is not right while the other wrong. But it is the Pope who decides what is best for the Church, and if he decides on something that is different than we prefer, he has the authority from Christ to make that decision. Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II were not wrong in mandating the ordinary form. Nor was Pope emeritus Benedict XVI correcting error by expanding permission for the use of the extraordinary form. Those who defied Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II during their pontificates did wrong, and that fact was not changed by the decision of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. It merely meant that those who began to use the extraordinary form of the Mass according to the motu proprio, after permission was given, were not sinning in doing so. Yet a good deal of ink and bandwidth has been expended seeking to portray Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II as teaching error.

That’s what this judging of Popes does. It is an arrogant decision that the individual has the charism of infallibility while the Pope does not. If the Pope teaches differently than I would prefer, it means the Pope is in error. Such a view refuses to accept the possibility of being deceived by the devil through pride. And if we refuse to accept the possibility that we can be wrong, it blocks us from accepting Our Lord’s grace and salvation.

These aren’t minor matters. Those who presume to judge the teachings of the Pope are possibly (I will not judge their culpability) putting their souls in danger. So, when we encounter such people on the internet or in person, at least say a prayer for them that they might come to trust that God is watching over the Church.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do Not Be Afraid

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man". He alone knows it.  (Homily of Blessed John Paul II, Oct 22, 1978)

One of the things I see with some of my fellow Catholics is a sense of fear when it comes to the recent announcement from Pope Benedict XVI that he will retire effective February 28th at 8pm.  Since there has not been a Papal resignation in 600 years, it seems to be a shocking thing to us.

The important thing to remember is that Christ has promised to be with our Church always (See Matt 16:18 and Matt 28:20).  The successor of Benedict XVI will be a different person and will handle the Church in a different way to be sure.  But Benedict XVI handled the papacy differently than Blessed John Paul II.

We may like the changes or we may prefer things the older way.  But the important thing to remember is that when the new Pontiff is elected, he will be protected in the same way as the previous popes.

So come what may in the future, we can have faith in knowing that God will continue to watch over His Church.  Individuals may be persecuted and individuals may err.  But our Church is protected and the gates of hell will not prevail over her.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reflections on the Announced Retirement of Pope Benedict XVI

I was certainly caught by surprise at the announcement of the Pope that he will step down, effective February 28th.  I was introduced to his writings in the 1990s during a time when I was beginning to study what the faith I was brought up with meant.  I found his works wise and insightful.

As many crises arose in the Church, I was impressed at how he and Blessed John Paul II stood up for the truth in a sea of relativism.  Portrayed as a hateful old man by many, I saw in him a deep love and understanding of the obligations of seeking and doing what was right that binds us all.

At the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II, I thought he would be a good Pope, but I thought his age would keep him from being elected (Because of that assumption, I thought Cardinal Arinze would be a good man to be elected if we couldn't have Cardinal Ratzinger).  So when the news came of his election, I was elated.  His work after his election showed this elation was justified.

During his pontificate, he continued the work of making clear the teachings of the Church, showing a profound love of Christ in doing so.  His encyclicals showed the recognition of the fact that a desire for reform of the world could not simply be done by government decree, but had to have at its base a love for each person from the moment of conception to natural death.

Despite the attacks he suffered with the misrepresentation of his deeds and words, he showed he was a Pope deeply in love with Christ and seeking to lead people to seeking Christ.

Now, he has stated he must retire due to health reasons.  I find myself saddened at the news, but trust he is doing so because he believes it is best that he steps down before his health declines to the point he can no longer lead the Church.

I thank God for giving us Pope Benedict XVI at the time he was needed, and offer my prayers for the Pope and for his successor.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Reason for Calm Response

Source: In defense of L’Osservatore Romano | National Catholic Reporter

On Monday I posted an article about my misgivings on the lynch mob mentality towards the L'Osservatore Romano (henceforth abbreviated L'OR).  On Tuesday I posted an article on a Vatican Press Conference which seemed to negate one of the charges against L'OR.  Today, we seem to have an article which seems to negate another charge against L'OR.

John Allen, in a well balanced article, brings up what seems to be some mitigating factors in what appeared to be the most substantial charge: That L'OR violated the embargo. 

While it is true unlimited discussion was barred until 11/23, all papers had the right to discuss certain chapters (1, 6 and 17) on 11/21/10.  John Allen tells us:

L’Osservatore, because of its special status, was allowed to comb through the entire manuscript, and obviously made some journalistically sound judgments about which sections would be of widest public interest, including the lines on condoms (which come from chapter two). The paper waited until Sunday to run the extracts, though because L’Osservatore is always released the evening before its publication date, it actually came out Saturday night.

If this is true, this seems to destroy, at one stroke, most of the charges against L'OR.  If the Vatican Publishing House did give permission for L'OR to discuss more of the book than others on 11/21, and if the 11/21 edition went public on 11/20 due to simple standard procedure, then it seems the charges of violating the embargo cannot be applied to L'OR.  In such a case, either the Vatican Publishing House broke the embargo, or nobody did depending on whose authority the permission was granted.

If this article is true, it seems the only charges validly remaining is whether L'OR did the Vatican a disservice by translating the German word used for "basis" as "justification" and whether they were guilty of lack of context.

Still, while such decisions may indeed be poor judgment, they certainly seem less severe than the original charges, and may merit an action less severe than those who are calling for the head of Vian.

That's not to say there is nothing wrong with this article.  There are things in this article I disagree with. Regardless of Vian's actions on layout or color, these are irrelevant and the "hard hitting editorials" and focus on popular culture is only of value if it reflects a Catholic view.  Let's not forget the USCCB debacle over The Golden Compass for example, where the (removed) review kind of forgot to mention the atheistic message of the book/movie.  Some decisions by the L'OR editorial staff were decidedly uninformed, creating moral confusion.  So I don't think this is entirely an example of seeking payback as Allen seems to think.

However, I believe the points made concerning the level of culpability of the L'OR do require us to consider the grounds on which Vian is being called on to resign, and whether such a call is rational or not.  If it is for a cumulative set of complaints, this should be stated, and not seek a cumulative penalty for one charge.

However, as I said before, if Vian and his staff have done anything wrong, it falls to the Vatican to determine what should be done.  It might be more lenient or stricter than we would want, or it might match what we would want.  That's irrelevant.  The fact is, the Vatican has the authority to treat with this as they see fit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Interesting Clarification

In an article I wrote yesterday, I discussed my misgivings over the mob like mentality of the hostility directed at L'Osservatore Romano.  One of these issues I expressed some concern over was the issue of translation.  In that article, I wrote:

Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

I also said, in response to whether a mistranslation was deliberate (#1) or incompetent (#2):

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

It seems we do have some more authoritative sources on the intent of the Pope.  In the face of whether the German intended "male prostitute" while the Italian used the feminine form of prostitute, Father Federico Lombardi (the Pope's spokesman) went and asked the Pope.  The response Fr. Lombardi gave was as follows:

“I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations,” Father Lombardi said.

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person,” Father Lombardi said.

It's an interesting response.  Yes, the Italian translation was technically in error using a feminine form instead of a masculine form, but that the changing of the gender did not change the meaning of the point the Pope was trying to get across.  The Pope is not endorsing condoms, but is saying that such a person is at least starting to think of morality [even if the individual's response is still deficient].

This indicates one of the points which is used in denouncing L'Osservatore Romano is in fact not as serious as alleged.

This still leaves the issues of violating the embargo against discussing the book until today and the editorial decision to release the passage without context.  There is also the issue of the use of "justified" versus "basis."  I do not wish to make it seem that I would deny the other charges.

Still, we have at least one instance where the outrage against L'Osservatore Romano seems hasty.  Perhaps the other charges will stand or perhaps they will fall as well.  At this time we do not know.

Either way, it seems that seeking the facts before judging remains the way to handle this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Plea for Calm

39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:39-41)

Preliminary Note:

I fully expect someone to accuse me of accusing me of some sort of liberalism, modernism or other ad hominem simply because I advise discovering the truth and who has what level of responsibility before calling for anyone's termination from his position.  To those people I simply point to my weblog as proof I have always stood in support of the Pope and the Magisterium and have sought to obey the Church I believe to be established by Christ under the headship of Peter and his successors.

I do not write this article to exonerate Giovanni Maria Vian and L'Osservatore Romano.  If they have done wrong, then they should face the results proportionate to what they have done. 

Rather, I feel that the anger is beginning to head off in a destructive direction and must be reined in.  Whether Giovanni Maria Vian or another individual needs to be fired or reprimanded, I do not know.  However, I suspect most of the others do not know either.

I simply call for us to calm down and wait for facts, and not behave in a way to cause scandal to those outside watching us.


I figured it would happen somewhere though I didn't know who the target would be.  Some radical traditionalists have blamed it on Vatican II.  Some conservative Catholic bloggers have blamed the Pope for being "too egg-headed" or "academic." Others spoke about his assistants in general failing him.  I was half expecting someone to blame Peter Seewald but thankfully that didn't happen.

Now, however, we are seeing the blame go largely to L'Osservatore Romano.  Some of it seems justified.  Judging by reports, there seems to be some gross misconduct over their article (bad translation and breaking embargo), if the reports have it right. 

I believe that before calling for any action to be taken, we must determine what happened and who was responsible, and only then determine the proportionate penalty to the offense and apply it to the responsible.  This is not something determined by the blogging community, but by the proper authority in the Vatican.

An Article for the Prosecution

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, a blogger I respect introduces his case for strong action, and his article makes some good points here:

I want to ask a few questions about the occasion of this public relations fiasco, namely, the decision by L’Osservatore Romano to publish prematurely, out of context, and without commentary, the single most controversial paragraph of the pope’s book, Light of the World, in, if nothing else, apparent violation of the agreement in place between its various publishers concerning a coordinated release of the work.

Fair enough.  These are serious charges, though ultimately I believe it would be the Pope's call to do as he saw fit in response.

However, I am less convinced when he goes on to say:

Instantly, of course, the world formed exactly the wrong understanding of that paragraph that anyone could have predicted.

I have problems with this statement.  The reason this does not convince me is that it took more than just a bad editorial decision or even gross misconduct to create this debacle.  It took media and dissenters acting with misconduct to scream "Pope says Condoms OK!" to the world without seeking confirmation on this matter.

Now the problem is, at this time we have only secondhand reports of what the Italian says (at the time of this writing, the English edition is dated November 17 and does not have this story).  Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

Another thing which bothers me is the imputation of malicious intent which some are attributing to this action.

Philip Lawler is the editor for CWNews who calls for punitive action.  In his article, he says:

Why did L’Osservatore Romano violate journalistic norms, ignore obvious dangers, and print a potentially explosive statement out of its proper context? Was the editor hoping to stir up a ruckus, and push sales of Light of the World regardless of the pastoral cost? Was he hoping to stir up a new debate on condom use—something the Pope was quite obviously not seeking? Or was the editor blind to the dangers of publishing this excerpt? Whatever the answer might be, he has demonstrated that his editorial judgment cannot be trusted. As a necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican, Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano should be asked to resign.

This strikes me as problematic, and this attitude seems pandemic among certain Catholic blogs.  After certain bungles by certain individuals of the Pope's staff, people are saying they have had enough, and the editor should be fired.  I've had friends and family ask me why so-and-so is still working instead of being removed.  Some people want a clean slate in the Vatican and think people associated with certain problems should be fired.

In a Church Established by Christ, We Cannot Ignore Justice and Mercy

Why does this bother me?  Because ultimately the penalty should fit the crime.  So Giovanni Maria Vian should not be fired as a "necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican."  That's nothing more than scapegoating.

He should only be fired if his actions or negligence in editing the paper are actions worthy of being fired over.  By this I mean, either things he chose to do which he should not have, or not to do but was obligated to do, or by failure to offer oversight to people under him where it is reasonable to hold him responsible.  Only if this is worthy of termination, are calls for his firing just.

Rash Judgment

Might I remind my fellow Catholics of a couple of paragraphs within the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 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;279

- 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.280

I do not intend to say people like Peters and Lawler are acting under rash judgment.  Perhaps they have information we do not after all.  Rather I wish to point out that when malicious intent is being imputed, it must be proven and not assumed.

Not Defending Giovanni Maria Vian

Now don't accuse me of saying we should just ignore this incident.  If the accusations are true, something needs to be done.  However, Catholic teaching requires we find out what is true, before passing judgment, and recognizing that those with the proper authority and not the mob have this task of passing judgment.

Right now, we are justly angry at the distortion which the media has made of this case.  However, before calling for the head of Giovanni Maria Vian we need to ask if certain things are true:

  1. Did he knowingly make a mistranslation seeking to create an incident?  That is a strong charge and requires proof.  Does it exist?
  2. Did his staff incompetently translate the document?  If so, it requires correction, but does it require Giovanni Maria Vian to be fired?
  3. Did they violate the embargo? Since nobody who received an advance copy was supposed to discuss the book until 11/23 and the article was published on Saturday, this seems to be the case.  So who is responsible and what is the penalty?
  4. Did they know the media would take it out of context?  That's a hard case to make.  I read the quote from the AP article and it seemed immediately clear to me that the quote given did not justify the headline.  It became more clear when Ignatius Press released the pages in question that this is not what the Pope said.  So in this case, we have fault with the media.

Can We Claim We Know Enough to Judge?

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

Point #3 seems to be the main point of the outrage, and it seems to be valid.  Unless it turns out the Pope exempted them, it seems it is undeniable that they broke the agreement.  Let the penalty fit the offense in this case.

Point #4 is the main concern I have with the current anger.  Properly speaking, we must assess what the person who makes a statement means before we evaluate it.  We must make sure that we do not have a false understanding of what was said.

The media reports completely failed to do this.  They made a Todd Unctuous style report.   Nobody contacted the Vatican for a clarification.  Yes the blame is on the L'Osservatore Romano for releasing an excerpt contrary to the embargo is just. But insinuating malice as their motive or claiming they should have realized the media would misinterpret?  That's too hard for me to swallow without proof.


So ultimately I call on my fellow Catholics to avoid a rush to judgment of L'Osservatore Romano for what was done by the media of the world in response to this article.  Let L'Osservatore Romano be judged for what they have done or what they were negligent in not doing, and not assume malicious intent until we know such intent.

Ultimately any investigation will be handled by the proper departments of the Vatican.  We may see someone fired.  We may not see anything publically happen.  Whatever happens, we must recognize that the Holy Father has the ultimate authority.  Since I recognize the Holy Father as a man of great personal integrity who seeks to do what is best for the Church, I trust that whatever he will decide to do, he will do because he thinks it best.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Damien Thompson Thinks Catholics are Mad at Pope, Not False News

Source: Conservative Catholics blame media for condoms story – but are they secretly cross with the Pope? – Telegraph Blogs

Damien Thompson was one of the Telegraph columnists who falsely reported that the Pope was changing the Church teaching on condoms and AIDS.  In this column, he admits "So perhaps I was wrong to report yesterday that the Pope had 'modified the Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms.'"  However he still seems to be under the misunderstanding that the Pope is looking at condoms used by people suffering from AIDS as something which is morally acceptable.

Anyone who has read the full text in context would recognize that the statements made by the Pope do not permit the view that the Pope sees the use of condoms as moral.  Merely that the person infected with AIDS who uses a condom may be beginning to think of things in terms of moral obligations, but that a truly humane sexuality goes beyond this.  He points out:

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.

It is only in the context of the above that the taken out of context text can be evaluated when it says:

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

A telling point.  The Pope looks at the view of "using a condom" as a last resort is not a humane sexuality, but a self-centered need for sex.  The Pope's view recognizes the selfishness of the AIDS carrier who risks his spouse to satisfy sexual desires.  Use of a condom may be "less selfish" but not a good means in itself as has been misrepresented.

However, contrary to the words of the text, Thompson tells us:

Like it or not, the Holy Father made it clear that the use of condoms is sometimes permissible to stop the spread of the virus, even if – speaking in German – he didn’t use the words “permissable” or “justified”. What he didn’t say was “let’s go ahead and use condoms to fight against Aids,” which is what the third headline implies. 

There’s clearly a debate to be had about (a) the circumstances in which the Pope feels it’s permissable to use a condom and (b) the moral status of the act of using that condom. I don’t think the Holy Father’s comments settle these questions. But the plain, common sense reading of them is that he regards the use of a condom as a lesser evil than the transmission of the virus. Also, it doesn’t seem reasonable to extrapolate from the (apparent) reference to a male prostitute that this lesser-of-two-evils judgment doesn’t apply to sex between infected men and women.

The problem is, the Pope said absolutely nothing of the sort.

Indeed, Papal aide, Father Federico Lombardi. pointed out some clarifications which deny Thompson's interpretation, as reported in Zenit news:

At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be "a first act of responsibility," "a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality," rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.

A first step, not a moral act.  Because the Pope pointed out that "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," shows that the "condoms are ok to stop AIDS" claim is in no way a Church teaching, nor what Benedict XVI intended to get across.

Unfortunately, Thompson goes on to not only claim that the Pope is advocating the use of condoms when one person has AIDS, but to claim that those who have objected to the misrepresentation of the Pope are really mad at the Pope for making a change in teaching:

[A quoted blogger's] post certainly makes a good deal more sense than those of his fellow conservatives who claim that the Pope didn’t say what he obviously did say… and then emphasise that he was only speaking in an interview AND how dare L’Osservatore Romano release these quotes out of context. Hmm. There is a strong whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air. I hate to pick a fight with bloggers I admire, and I won’t mention any names, but I get the strong impression that certain conservatives are tying themselves in knots trying not to say what they really think.

Which is that they disagree with the Pope.

Thompson's comment is an ad hominem fallacy, attacking those who take him to task, implying they are holding contradictory views, without considering that the "interview isn't formal teaching" comments and the "L'Osservatore Romano took quotes out of context" comments are in fact addressing two separate issues which were falsely alleged (in the first case, that the Pope was making a new teaching in a third party book, in the second case, that because it came from L'Osservatore Romano, it must be a teaching.

When all is said and done, Thompson is making a false accusation.  Catholics who have come to clarify Church teaching are not angry at the Pope, for we do not believe he is saying what Thompson claims in the first place.  Rather we object to the distortion of words taken out of context to imply sexual acts with condoms for the prevention of AIDS is a morally acceptable act, when it is clear the Pope had no such intention to claim such a thing.

To be honest, the assumption that such a book could be cited to claim a justification for a position is ludicrous and demonstrates ignorance of how the Church releases teachings.  Ignorance… or willful misrepresentation.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing: Pope Misrepresented on Condoms and AIDS - Again

Update: Ignatius Press provides the pages in context HERE.  Note how the news reports took it out of context.

There seems to be several articles going around that the Pope is going to change the Church position on the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.  Originating from an AP story, and repeated on UK news sites and blogs is, in essence, the following:

Pope Benedict XVI says that condom use is acceptable "in certain cases", notably "to reduce the risk of infection" with HIV, in a book due out Tuesday, apparently softening his once hardline stance.

In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms."

"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution," the pope replies.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

The AP treats this as a change in teaching, claiming:

Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease.

Of course the Catholic News sites were in a flurry over the news… oh wait.  No they weren't.  In fact the articles show a gross misunderstanding on how the Church teaches.  The pope does not teach through interviews which are published by third parties.  The Pope issues formal statements: Encyclicals, Apostolic Letters, motu proprio, and others.

The media has made an error.  The Pope has not made a new teaching.  The book in question is an interview between the Pope and journalist Peter Seewald, entitled Light of the World.  This is in fact the third book in a series of interviews done between the Pope and Seewald.  The first one was Salt of the Earth, published in 1996 in Germany and in America in 1997 (Seewald had left the Church at this time of this interview).  The second was God and the World published in 2000 in Germany and 2002 in America.  The original intent was to interview the infamous Panzerkardinal and get his personal views on things.

What these books are, is in fact a series of interviews between now Pope Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald about the now Holy Father's personal thoughts on certain topics, and are not at all formal teachings of the Church.

The Pope described it as such in his introduction in God and the World:

In 1996, Peter Seewald suggested we gave a conversation about the questions that people today often put to the Church and are often for them an obstacle on the path of faith.

Ignatius Press, publisher of the American edition debunks the tabloid myth, with an Article by Janet E. Smith.

First she gives us the actual quote from Light of the World:

"To the charge that “It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms,” in the context of an extended answer on the help the Church is giving AIDs victims and the need to fight the banalization of sexuality, Pope Benedict replied:

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.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Doctor Smith makes a profound analysis on this statement:

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.  The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action.  We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.  In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms.  The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.


Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms?  No.  In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a “real or moral solution.” That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV.  As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity. 

The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a “first step” in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one’s sexual partner, who should be one’s beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.

In other words, the person who realizes that the use of the condom with AIDS is less harmful than unprotected sex is at least making a first step towards a more human and moral view.  However, it is not the ultimate end.  Sexual relations making use of a condom may reduce the threat of passing on a lethal disease, but the one who loves realizes that love does not put the beloved at risk of life.

Let us remember that this was the Pope who received massive denunciation from the world for his statements on AIDS and condoms.  (I commented on this back in April 2009)  In speaking on a "more human" way of viewing sexuality, he said in 2009:

If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behaviour], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.

To sum up.  There is no "new teaching" on condoms by Pope Benedict XVI.  The Pope is merely explaining his personal views on an issue which had been grossly distorted, showing a view which deepens the statements made in the 2009 interview en route to Africa.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommended: Article Rebutting Peggy Noonan

There is an interesting article where Peggy Noonan's WSJ articles on the Church and abuse are critiqued and shown to be in error, especially where she claims that the Church has done little and that only at the instigation of the media.

Given many people like to cite Noonan (using the fallacy of irrelevant authority) as a "Conservative Catholic" [arguing that she can't have an agenda]. I think the points made here should be considered.

You can see the article here.

A response to a conservative critic of Catholic Church | Spero News

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reflections on Obligation in the Church and Media

One of the main problems with the media coverage of the recent accusations against the Vatican is the unproven assumption that the Vatican not only knew of, but was indifferent to, the reports of abuse which they must have known of. This is a important error of assumption which needs to be examined.

Preliminary: The Difference Between ‘Ought’ and ‘Is’

So let’s start here as a preliminary. Media accusers seem to be making a profound error. This is the error over “ought” and “is.” Some of you may find discussions over linguistics to be dull. However, I think this needs to be stressed, as many of the attacks against the Church are based on the claim that the Vatican ought to have done X, but these attacks fail to consider what the actual events IS.

Ought can be defined as:

1      used to indicate duty or correctness.

†     used to indicate a desirable or expected state.

So one is correct in saying that Bishops ought to have reported abuse to the Curia and to the civil authorities. This is both the duty of the bishops and the expected state of affairs.

IS (the third person state of to be) can be defined as:

1. exist; be present

2. take place

3. having the specified state, nature, or role

So while ought indicates what is to be expected or required; IS indicates what has in fact happened. In order for OUGHT to equal IS, people must do what is required of them. I OUGHT to obey the laws on the speed limits. However, if I drive 70mph in a 55mph zone, what I ought to do is not what I actually do.

So how does this apply to the attacks on the Church? Quite simply, if the Bishop does what he ought in reporting abuse, then those he reports to are the ones to be held to blame if they do not do what they ought to do. However, if the bishop does not do what he ought (reporting the sinful priest), how can the Curia do what they ought to do? What the Bishop did (is) is different than what he ought to have done, and the expected state is hindered by the failure of the bishop.

This can work the other way. Prior to 2001, every accused priest (whose case was actually reported) was required to have an ecclesiastical trial. So the ought in this case is that the Church follows the rules it sets for fairness. Now the old rules did in fact need reforming, and they were reformed. However, one cannot change the rules in order to achieve a desired result. So when there were procedures which once took years to resolve, the Church was doing what it ought to have done in making sure the accusations were true, and making sure the penalty fit the action – provided that the bishops did their jobs in reporting it to them in the first place. If the Bishops did not do as they ought, how could the Curia do as it ought?

Analysis of the Media attacks

The media writes from the assumption that the Church willfully did not do as it ought to have done. This is the fallacy of equivocation in not defining what is meant by “the Church.” If one looks at the Church as a monolithic block, one looks at the Church wrongly. The Church is headed by the Pope in Rome, but the bishop is expected to be the episkopos (overseer or shepherd) of the diocese. He is expected to look after his people, looking after their spiritual well-being. This includes protecting them from the wicked among the ordained. Each diocese is made up of numerous parishes, with a pastor who is responsible for the well being of the people of the parish.

Understanding Subsidiarity

The Catholic Church, under the model of subsidiarity expects each part to handle things at their own level and the next level up intervenes only when there is a failure at the lower levels. Thus we see that the Pope does not deal with what liturgical music is used in a parish in California. Rather, his concern is over the whole Church. He could become involved in this hypothetical example if there was a significant crisis which affected the whole Church (say a popular hymn promoting a heretical teaching which needed to be stopped).

A chart of subsidiarity could look like this:

1. Pope (and the Curia) oversee the governing of the Church as a whole

2. Bishop oversees the governing of the Church in his diocese

3. Pastor oversees the governing of the Church in his parish.

If there is a failing in the parish, it is the task of the Bishop to correct it. If there is a failing in the diocese, it is the task of the Vatican to step in. Of course, there are different ways to handle a situation. Some are objectively better and some are objectively less good. Some of the individuals who are in the positions of authority are more competent and some are less competent.

An Analysis of Culpability

However, where condemnation is justified depends on the analysis of some things:

1. What was actually done in comparison to what one was obligated to do

2. What the person was obligated to know

3. What the motivation was for their acting

In other words the three things to be considered are, the act itself, the knowledge of the individual and the intent of the act. Each needs to be assessed. So let’s take a look at a hypothetical abuse case (I choose a hypothetical case instead of a real one because for purpose of analysis, we need to have a case where we know all the facts). Keep in mind that as a hypothetical case, I am not saying this is what happened in real life for any of the cases brought to our attention by the media. However, the principles I use here should be used to examine the media allegations. Only if the Vatican refuses to do its job can one say the “Vatican” did wrong. Of course this requires knowing what the Vatican is required to do compared to the Bishops and others.

Let us assume a case where a minor is sexually abused by a priest. The first step is to look at the bishop, right?


Obligations of the Victim

The first step is with the victim. If he or she does not report the abuse, then it is impossible for anyone who could take action to know this abuse takes place. So, if the individual stays silent instead of reporting it, we would have an act which was objectively wrong [failure to report makes it possible for a predator priest to continue victimizing others]. In such a case, we would have to look at the reasons for their actions.

Did they know they were obligated to report the abuse? If they did not know, and their lack of knowledge was reasonable [I would think this is a fair assumption. How many teenagers know what canon law is, let alone what it says], then their not reporting it due to ignorance could not be faulted.

Then there is the motivation for their inaction. Shame or fear or guilt are common tactics an abuser counts on to keep a victim silent. If the youth [wrongly] thinks it is somehow their fault, it is probable they will not recognize they are a victim, or even seek the help they need to recognize they were a victim.

On the other hand, if the victim stays silent because it seems too difficult to follow an obligation they know they have, this does hold some fault, as speaking out will protect others from being victimized. If a report is not made, the bishop cannot meet his own obligations on the matter.

Obligations of the Bishop

So let us assume that in the above case, when the victim does realize their obligation and does report it to the Bishop. Prior to 2001, the obligation to report it to the Vatican was limited to cases of solicitation in the confessional. After 2001, all cases were to be reported to the CDF.

Once the report is made to the bishop, he is obligated to investigate the claims and report it to the CDF if it is not immediately clear it is a false accusation. Now if the bishop does not report it (the act), the question is whether he knew of the duty. In this case, it seems unreasonable to assume the bishop would not know of the duty if he had been doing his job to begin with. So if a case was reported to him and if the case was credible, it seems a bishop could not claim invincible ignorance to his duties.

So when it comes to transferring a priest who was an abuser (which had tragically happened too often in the United States), we need to look at the motive. Did the bishop kick it under the carpet out of a motive such as careerism? Or did psychological experts of the time recommend that getting the priest away from the victim was the best solution? In these cases, the first obligation is wrong and condemnable. In the second, it would depend on whether or not the bishop acted in good faith. If the bishop at that time honestly and reasonably (for the time… we now know psychiatry erred on this) believed the psychiatrist was giving a professional medical verdict, his culpability might be considered lessened. If the bishop used the psychiatric evaluation as an excuse to transfer a predator priest to another diocese, knowing of recidivism culpability could be considered greater.

In other words, when considering the information the bishop had at the time he received the news was his actions, knowledge and intent in keeping with what was understood to be right?

In any case, the bishop always had authority to restrict or forbid a priest to practice their ministry for the good of the faithful. What he did or did not do would have to be assessed by the same standards.

Obligation of the Curia: Handling the Case

Let us assume that in this case, the obligations are met which require the case to be reported to the Curia and the bishop does so. What is the curia to do? Prior to 2001, it was the bishop who held the duty to handle the priest and report the results to the Vatican. After 2001, any reasonable charge had to be reported and the CDF would decide whether to take action itself or have the diocese take action. Prior to 2001, a trial was required. After 2001, a trial could be skipped if the evidence was overwhelming.

Now, ecclesiastical trials do take time, especially when one considers how small the Vatican curia are. For that matter, so do investigations of annulments sent to the Vatican. (See Morris West’s Shoes of the Fisherman for an example of how the pre-Vatican II Church was viewed on the subject). Evidence must be gathered, victims and accused must be interviewed, and a decision which is just must be made. Just for the accused and accuser alike. If it turns out the accused is innocent, he must not be punished. If he is guilty, the punishment must fit the crime.

For example: Was he a young priest who had a onetime fling with a 17 year old girl who was also interested in a sexual encounter with him? This is wrong of course, and even if the victim was willing, she would have been a minor and considered less able to make a decision. Or was he a predator, stalking youth and making many victims over a long period of time. Both are wrong of course. However the second case is far more serious than the first, and merits a harsher action… especially if in the first case the priest is deeply sorry for his act and in the second case the priest is unrepentant.

So before denouncing the Vatican for these things, we need to ask:

1. What were they made aware of?

2. What did they do in response?

3. How did that response match up to their obligation?

For cases where bishops did not report cases, the Vatican can hardly be blamed for this. In cases where they were notified, it requires us to know what was done to assess whether they did right or not.

This is where the media attacks on Pope Benedict XVI fall down. The review of the facts shows media attacks are based on the absence of information which is assumed to be indifference or squelching. Squelching a case (which the Pope has been accused of) is an action which requires evidence. Otherwise it is the argument from silence fallacy [We didn’t hear of anything, therefore nothing was done].

Before one can accuse the Vatican, the Pope or the CDF of blocking a case from moving forward, it must be proven. A case which took years prior to 2001 can move faster now. However, when it goes to trial (as I recall this was 20% of the cases), it can take time.

Obligation of the Church: Reforming Laws

Once it becomes clear that old laws are inadequate and have loopholes which the offenders can exploit, it becomes time to change those laws or rules. This is what happened in 2001 for example. It became clear that the old system allowed bishops to shift priests around without reporting it to the Vatican, so the new law made it mandatory to report the offender.

However, we must remember that just laws require time to draft. It is unfortunate that in a rush to punish the deserving we sometimes are tempted to skimp on justice in the name of “good.” However, in order to be good, a law must be just. This is why the Pope doesn’t just decree “OK, next person accused, send him to a monastery at the North Pole.” If a person is falsely accused, such a decree would be unjust.

The Catholic Church also has a mission of redeeming the sinner and calling them to repentance. If one seems truly repentant, the penalty necessarily differs from one who is unrepentant, and the Church, in her mission, must reflect the mercy and forgiveness Christ requires, without forsaking the justice Christ also requires.

Obligation of the Media: Accurately reporting

Peggy Noonan makes an error concerning the Catholic suspicion of the media. We are not angry that the media reported this at all.

We are justly angry over the attempts to smear the Pope by insinuating he willfully protected the guilty despite the evidence to the contrary. We are also justly angry over the fact that the media has portrayed the real cases of abuse and cover-ups as being more widely spread than the facts demonstrate.

This doesn’t mean the media has done no good whatsoever. In cases where certain bishops have been negligent, the media can do us a favor in bringing it to our attention. However, to be a real good, such media action requires a very different behavior from what has been shown so far. The media needs to understand what canon law teaches, and recognize that the Church governs itself with law, not arbitrariness. Getting a civil lawyer (often one who is suing the Church) to explain canon law is about as ridiculous as getting a Saudi Arabian lawyer to explain American Law.

The media is also obligated to report the facts without bias. Thus far, in media reporting of the abuse in 2002 and the recent attacks against the Pope, we tend to see agenda driven stories. Stories suggest the ending of celibacy or the admission of women priests as a required step for change. Calls for the “democratization” of the Church are common. The treating of dissenters from the Church as if they were objective commentators is also deceptive. Quite frankly, the media coverage of the Church displays a lack of interest or hostility to what the Church actually does. [This would be like asking one of these Tea parties to give an objective assessment of the Obama administration.]

The problem is the media cannot be objective if it approaches the story with an adversarial view. Being objective means reporting what is known. Being adversarial means challenging what one disagrees with or thinks is wrong. Now of course a reporter can disagree with the Church or think it ought to change. However, if the media brings these beliefs with it as an assumption behind the story, the story cannot be considered objective. The Church may have reasons why it cannot accept the personal beliefs of the reporter concerning important things. If the reporter does not consider this difference of view, his reporting will be flawed.


Ultimately the problem with the media coverage is not that they report that abuse happens, but that they draw unproven conclusions and present them as fact. As a result of media coverage, we are seeing polls where the majority seems to believe the Pope should be criminally tried, despite the fact that there is nothing more than unproven media allegations to base it on.

We Catholics are rightly angry at the jabs at the Church which claims to be objective reporting. One needs to be aware of their own biases when reporting. For example, I personally may not like Obama’s stand on Life and Moral issues, but this does not mean he can do nothing right. So when I write on moral issues concerning his administration, I do my best to keep my own political beliefs out of the analysis, hopefully succeeding and try to avoid writing on him when it does not involve issues which involve Catholic Moral Theology. [This is why I haven’t really commented on Tea parties and the like].

Ultimately, before writing the big exposé on the Church, the reporter and the media they work for needs to understand how the Church operates, reporting factually and not by misrepresenting the Church teaching or law.

If a priest or a bishop fails to do his duty towards what the Church requires, then yes report this and bring it to our attention. However, if the Church acts in a way different than the reporter would prefer based on his or her personal moral beliefs, to write a story without getting the facts straight is terribly unjust.