Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

It’s Iimi! Of Course I’m Still With Him!

A few months ago, when I stepped up my writing on abortion, someone asked what changed my mind. Recently, with my defending the USCCB voting to write a draft document on the Eucharist, others wondered if I was disillusioned with Pope Francis. My answer to both is, that I haven’t changed my views and, of course, I’m still with the Pope. I simply reject the false interpretations around him and trust that God will continue to protect His Church.

For those interested in the “behind the scenes” of the comic, in designing Fr. Gabe, this program doesn’t have clerical dress. So what he wears is actually a black variant of a uniform that male students might wear in Japanese schools.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us: A Reflection on Factionalism

can. 750 §1.† A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

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

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

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

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

There is a famous phrase that some attribute to cartoonist Walt Kelly of Pogo fame and others attribute to a 1970 ecology poster that goes, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It has become more popular than the original saying and is generally used to say that we are the cause of our own problem.

I bring this up as a general conclusion to the It’s Iimi! comics (HEREHERE) because I think the current fight over the USCCB meeting running from the 16th to the 18th is a symptom rather than a problem in itself. Regardless of what the bishops decide to do regarding their “coherence” section on the proposed document on the Eucharist, The lay Catholics have decided for themselves who are the “heroes” and “villains” of the Church. Based on this assumption, they have already concluded that the “other side” of the “battle” is acting against what the Church teaches.

I say that the reaction to the USCCB meeting is a symptom because we have been before. We are constantly seeing a factional group in the Church who argue that there is only one way to handle a situation. Whoever disagrees with that proposed solution is accused of being in the wrong… even if the accused are the Pope and bishops in communion with him issuing a formal teaching. 

Sometimes it is a case of dissident Catholics claiming that the Pope and bishops are failing to show love, as it happened with St. Paul VI issuing Humanae Vitae and the CDF under Pope Francis reaffirming that same-sex relationships cannot be blessed. At other times, it is a case of Catholics disagreeing on the best way to carry out a teaching. For example, the infamous “anti-abortion but not pro-life” comment was rooted in the assumption that one had to vote for certain social policies and rejected the possibility of other legitimate solutions.

I could go on—and these factions doubtless will—but these examples show what I think the problem is in all our disputes: We will only obey the Church when she teaches what we want. If the bishops speak out on an issue we do not want to hear about, we will cease to give the “religious submission of the intellect and will” (canon 752). We think we are justified in doing this and invent all sorts of complex theologies to proclaim our righteousness. At the same time, we refuse to consider whether those on what we consider the “other side” could legitimately reach their conclusions through a faithful study of the same documents we read. We refuse to consider the possibility that we can be in the wrong about those documents.

As I watch the different feuds, I am struck by how many determine orthodoxy by saying, “I can see no other way to interpret X than…” while ignoring the fact that their opponents say the same thing. But logically, both factions are making an argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because one “can see no other way” to interpret something does not mean there is “no other way to interpret” something.

Yes, if a group of bishops does issue statements in opposition to the Pope, they are devoid of authority. We saw that with the unfortunate statements by the dubia cardinals or Archbishop Vigano for example. An opinion is an opinion that must yield to the teaching of the Church. But sometimes what we see as a “conflict” is nothing more than a proposal that runs counter to our own.

The other side of that coin is the attempt to turn a binding teaching into an “opinion.” For example, the attempts to undermine the CDF statement on blessing same-sex relationships by implying they were issued as a topic of discussion instead of being promulgated by the Pope. This is also factionalism.

If we want to claim to be faithful Catholics and fight to defend the Pope, or the moral teaching of the Church, then let us remember that we must obey the Pope and the bishops in communion with him when they intend to teach, whether ex cathedra or the ordinary magisterium.

It is not wrong, of course, to have a preference on how the Church teaches or disciplines… provided that the preference is in keeping with the teaching of the Church. But if the Pope and the bishops in communion with him should decide on a way to handle things that is different than we would like, then we cannot sacrifice submission to our preferences.

We should not hide behind excuses. Political factionalism is not the only kind of factionalism. The other side’s actions are not automatically worse than our own. If we choose to condemn others for what we are guilty of, we will be judged as well (cf.Matthew 7:2). 

So, we need to constantly be on guard. We all have faults we are blind to, even though we clearly see that fault in others. We all are tempted to excuse our own wrongdoing, even though it is what we condemn in others. But we need to be willing to change when the Church says, “we will do it this way,” and this way is not ours.

If we will not do this, then let us be aware that the enemy in the Church is us. 





(†) It is a satire of the 1812 statement by Oliver Hazard Perry to William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” 

(‡) Contrary to some claims, what the bishops will be discussing is whether to write a document on restoring the lost belief in the Real Presence. It is will not be about excommunicating President Biden.

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Else Could You Possibly Expect?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Our Skewed Perspective is not Our Target’s Fault

One of the more annoying things out there is a variant of when people contrast their perspective on what should be with what actually is “working as intended.” Because the former ≠ the latter, they assume that what they dislike as an unwanted side effect of the latter is in fact a willful disregard for what is right. One can look at things like “cancel culture” that assume malicious (sexist, racist) intent if anybody questions what the cultural elites call good or bad. Or we can look at conspiracy theories about the recent elections where somebody “got to” the judges who threw out cases for lack of evidence.


In these cases, we often see the begging the question fallacy where an accusation which needs to be proven is treated as true. Combined with this, we have the shifting of the burden of proof fallacy (demanding that their claims be disproven instead proving their own point) and the moving the goalposts fallacy (changing the demand for proof once it has been met). The result is the critic never considers himself debunked, no matter how clear the refutation is. Their interpretation, when investigated, will invariably show bias and agenda… even if done sincerely.


Of course, this is nothing new. People have always had agendas to subvert and skewed perspectives to justify rejecting what they dislike. But the fact that it is nothing new does not mean it is “all right.” No matter how certain one is of their agenda that does not make it right. No matter how sincere a person is in thinking their skewed perspective is true, if it’s false then everything they campaign for is worthless at best, harmful at worst.


And when it happens in the Church—where the agendas and skewed perspectives are used to undermine the legitimate exercise of authority by the magisterium—the harm is great indeed. People with agendas “helpfully” offer solutions that come with the cost of rejecting what the Church teaches. People with skewed perspectives think that whatever goes wrong in the Church must be directly caused by what they dislike and—in the name of “defending” the Church—cause damage and disruption to their faith and that of others.


Look at those who so “helpfully” call for reforms—ostensibly to end a scandal—but have a track record of wanting to overturn what the Church cannot change. For example, the supporters of “women’s ordination” or the abolition of celibacy* that sell their agendas as a way to “help” the Church with things like the abuse scandal. The problem is, if you look at their history, you will see that they simply seized onto the scandals in an attempt to add weight to the positions that they held before the scandals came out. Agendas like this are a Trojan Horse, and we would be wise to look inside before accepting it at face value.


We can also look at the skewed perspectives of Catholics when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines. Rumors abound about their content, and the Bishops have navigated the issues of remote cooperation and the public good in using them from the Catholic beliefs on doing good and avoiding evil. But, Catholics with a skewed perspective: those who think bishops are heretics, those ignorant about the long-standing teachings on culpability, those who are anti-vaxxers in general, these groups see the Pope and bishops of the Church teaching a “change” that must be resisted.


Catholics who fall into the agenda and skewed perspective camps look for champions to use as a counter-magisterium against the whole of the Church. A priest who makes agreeable statements, a bishop who contradicts the rest… Catholics look to them as infallible while rejecting those who say differently… even if the one they reject happens to be the Pope.


I want to make clear that people in these groups are not necessarily malicious in what they do. They might simply be blind to the possibility that things are different than they think, or that their agenda has a fatal flaw in it. Anybody can be sincerely mistaken about Church teaching. And, it is quite possible that people who were hurt or betrayed by someone in the Church will find it very hard to trust those who lead it. It is not for me to judge how difficult their struggle is. I cannot say I would have handed it better if I was in their place. Perhaps my faith might have entirely shattered where theirs simply weakened or damaged. But if we want to be faithful to God, we are required to constantly reassess what we think… especially when we think that God’s Church is wrong when it contradicts us. So, when we discover that that we are wrong, we need to change, abandoning our agendas and our skewed perspectives.


This is because, our skewed perspectives about what goes on in the Church are not the fault of those in the Church we denounce. We cannot hide behind the excuse of Well, they should have been more clear when we discover we are wrong. If we make no effort to see if and how we went wrong in our dissent, we are guilty of vincible ignorance and are without excuse. That means we cannot excuse ourselves because a religiously illiterate media or a Catholic with an anti-magisterial bent spoke falsely and we believed it. We who profess to be faithful Catholics need to recognize that the teaching authority is binding, even when those who exercise it might make bad decisions or be guilty of bad behavior outside of that authority.


As Catholics, we are without the excuses of those outside of the Church if we fail to live up to her teachings and accept God’s grace (see Lumen Gentium #14). And we need to remember that falling is possible. Earnest Catholics like Tertullian and Luther wound up breaking with the Church because they were absolutely convinced that the Church was wrong.


If we do not let the Church be the measure of our preferences and perspectives, we risk winding up like them… outside of the Church and obstinately refusing to consider the possibility of error.





(*) Keep in mind that, in the schools, Boy Scouts, and non-Catholic denominations, sexual abuse by non-celibates… and in the case of schools, female predators are not rare.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

(‡) From the Code of Canon Law:

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2020

What Are You Here For?

When GK Chesterton once remarked, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong,” he was certainly correct about what we need and should want from the Catholic Church. But what we are seeing more and more is Catholics demanding a Church that confirms that they are right and their enemies are wrong. When the Church points out that they themselves have missed the point of being a Catholic, they become outraged. They see it as “proof” that the Church is erring. 

That is a dangerous attitude to take because it means that we no longer want a Church to teach us. We want a Church to praise usand punish them. We think that our pointing out the sins of the world and wanting chastisement is good. But actually, when James and John wanted to do this (Luke 9:54), Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). He came to save the sinners… and those sinners include us.

It’s not wrong, of course, to want the Church to remove corruption and scandal from her midst. But we also have to remember that Our Lord used a parable about the weeds and the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). In it, the Master forbids pulling up the weeds for fear of pulling up the wheat too. As I understand it, while they are ripening, the two were virtually identical. I imagine that imagery is apt. How many of us, if we had been targeted for wrath earlier on in our lives, would have been seen as weeds? If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us will have to admit to resembling one.

With this in mind, we may need to ask whether that hypocritical person near us in the pews might be in the same situation now that we were then. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses… as we forgive those who trespass against us! Our Lord does warn:  If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14–15)

Logically, if we come to God for forgiveness, we must forgive others and desire their salvation, not their punishment. No doubt, some will refuse to repent when the opportunity for Grace comes. But it’s not for us to judge when it comes and whether our foes received it. As members of the Church, we do need to make known what people are required to do in to be faithful to God, and that does not permit acting passively in the face of sins and scandal to be sure. Yes, we do need to sometimes admonish the sinners. But “admonish the sinners” is not synonymous with “act like an arrogant jerk towards sinners.” 

So, when we’re annoyed by the Church failing to act in a way we think best, we need to ask what we are expecting of the Church. If we’re expecting the Church to act like a stereotyped version of the Spanish Inquisition, we’re seeking the wrong thing. But if we’re seeking salvation for our own sins, then let us keep in mind that forgiveness is given to the merciful, not the self-righteous (cf. Luke 5:32). We should keep in mind that, while we might never be tempted to commit the abominable sins that others do, we do need the Grace of God to deliver us from other sins… because the deadliest sin for each of us is the one we make excuses for instead of repent over.

So, when we’re annoyed with the Church for failing to deal with others as we see fit, while focusing on things that tend to denounce our political favorites, let’s ask ourselves why we’re here being Catholics instead of “nones.” It seems to me that if we’re here to celebrate our own values and wanting others to be rebuked, we’re acting like Pharisees (cf. Luke 18:9-14) and are here for the wrong reasons. But if we’re here because we first know we are sinners in need of salvation, and approach the correction of sinners from the perspective of gratitude to God and wanting to share and help those in a similar situation, then we’re here for the right reasons. It’s something to think about.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Have We Forgotten Our First Love?

Reading Scripture this morning, I came across this passage from Revelation 2:1-5 (NABRE).

The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands says this: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The reason this stood out for me this time through the New Testament was how it might tie in to the infighting going on in the Church at this time. With all the focus on the policies of the Church and which faction they benefit, it seems to me that we are in danger of losing our first love of Christ that should be our motivation in dealing with others. Our Lord didn’t give us a church. He gave us The Church under the headship of Peter and his successors. In defending the Church, some treat it as an institution that we either favor if we agree with it, or get angry with if we disagree with it.

But if the Church is God’s gift to us to be the visible means of carrying out His mission, then reducing our participation to fighting over what we want the Church to be is forgetting our first love of God. That doesn’t mean we keep silent when there is a problem in the Church. But it does mean we need to handle these problems in light of our love for God and His for us.

Do we believe that God established what we know of as Christianity? Then let us live it out of love for Him, not as a collection of bylaws for membership. Do we believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ created and continues to protect? Then let us handle our affairs in the Church out of love for The Lord who built it on the rock of Peter, giving all due obedience out of love, not out of reluctance or legalism. If we make known our needs (see canon 212 §3), then let us do so out of love of God and each other as the Greatest Commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) was formulated, and not “The Pope/Cardinal/Bishop/Priest is a jerk and a moron!”

It’s unfortunate that the different factions in the Church seem to think the Greatest Commandments is suspended when dealing with those we think are wrong. For example, I’m unhappy with the anti-Francis attitude in the Church. But I have to constantly remind myself that my dislike for their behavior does not merit treating them contemptuously. Those who dislike the Pope, or those who dislike the “dubia cardinals” and other critics (along with all other factions out there) should remember that treating these people as enemies goes against the One who must be our first love.

Yes, sin is wrong and must be opposed. But we cannot treat sinners as those to be despised. That was the attitude of the Pharisee that our Lord condemned. Jesus taught, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2). We need to remember that if we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments (cf. John 14:15). That means we must look at ourselves and see how we have transgressed. But love and mercy (even when correcting) is part of His commandments. 

No, loving the sinner does not mean calling the sin good. But too many think it does. Both the “conservative” and “liberal” Catholics think the Church calling for moral laxity when it calls for mercy. They merely differ over whether they think it is good or not. But both are wrong. The sins we tolerate—disguising our partisanship as mercy for the sinner—are wrong just as wrong in the eyes of God as the ones we abhor (and show no mercy for the sinner).

So, to regain our First Love that we have lost like the Ephesians, we need to start acting out of love for God and our neighbor and not limiting our compassion to our allies and treating our enemies with evil. 



(†) One year for Lent, I gave up using sarcasm in my replies on social media. You might think that’s ridiculous (and maybe it is), but it definitely left me thinking about the charity and tone of what I said. It also changed my views of them. The further I go back in my blog history, the more cringeworthy some of my comments seem. So, what I write in this post has a particular relevance to my personal life.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Subalterns and Church Teaching

In logic, there is a term called subaltern. The concept behind it is, if a universal is true, then the partial is also true by default. So, if the premise, “All dogs are white” is true, then the subaltern premise “some dogs are white” must also be true. However, the reverse is not always true. So, we cannot draw from the fact that “some dogs are white” the conclusion that “all dogs are white.” In other words, if the universal is true, the specific must also be true. But just because the specific is true, doesn’t mean the universal is true.

Unfortunately, some in the Church confuse universal and specific premises. Some think that a universal teaching is merely a localized one. Others think that a localized evil is proof of a universal corruption. For example, some Catholics seem perfectly willing to treat the universal obligation to oppose abortion as a merely limited one and justify voting for pro-abortion politicians as a result. Or we could look at the Catholics who deny the authority of Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si while claiming to follow the binding authority of the truth: They’re ignoring the fact that if the universal (the Church must be obeyed when she teaches) is true, then the subaltern (a specific teaching of the Church) must also be obeyed.

Other Catholics assume that the fact of some corruption in the Church is proof of a universal corruption. The latter case is the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition errs in assuming that what is true in a part is true of the whole. An obvious and ridiculous illustration would be: Each brick in this wall weighs 2 lbs. Therefore, the wall weighs 2 lbs. But a less obvious error might be: Every element of this software works. Therefore, the software works. Maybe, but just because the parts work, doesn’t mean the combined product will work as an integrated whole. So, in terms of the Church, the fact that some Churchmen embrace corruption does not mean the Church—as a whole—embraces corruption.

What the concept of subalterns means is we need to be clear on what level the truth is on, and drawing the conclusion based on that level, neither denying the conclusions nor exaggerating them. If the truth is a universal the specific applications of the truth are also true. If the truth is a specific, then the conclusions drawn are also on the specific level.

Or, to give an example, if we are bound to obey the Pope when he teaches (and we are: canon 752) then we are bound to obey his specific teaching. But just because there is a problem at a local level cannot be used to indict the whole of actively participating in and supporting the problem.


(†) The counterpart, the fallacy of division, is a misapplication of the subaltern. It assumes that a universal proposition also follows in the parts (as a subaltern premise does do). But it confuses concrete objects with concepts. So, for example, it might argue that because a sports team is the best in the league, each individual member must also be the best in the league. But it might mean that some members are permanently on the bench, or that the team is better coordinated than other teams who might have better scorers but think “There may be no I in team, but there is a ME.”

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Confusing Contraries and Contradictories: How It Leads to Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, April 3, 2020

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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