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

Monday, August 23, 2021

It’s Iimi! A Time To Heal…

After the turmoil following Paula’s coerced abortion, she’s returned to her original high school with the others. Krysta is integrated into the youth group, and Paula begins seeking healing from post-abortion feelings of guilt. Thea is concerned that if Nina doesn’t tell Paula about what is going on, Paula will probably wind up feeling even more hurt than if she has time to mentally prepare.

I’ll be returning to the apologetics format of earlier comics, but I did need to set up the new reality that the cast will be facing.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

It’s Iimi! Vile Evil (Part II)

What if you thought you had everything figured out and then you discovered your assumptions were wrong? Iimi-tan and Ms. Baculum both discover that some things aren’t as you thought and other things don’t have to be as you thought.

Part One can be found HERE.
Part Three can be found at

[†] It was actually published under the title Inside the Domestic Church.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Two Complementary Views of the Church—Often Held in Opposition to Each Other

There are two different views of the Church that people often place in opposition to each other, assuming that the existence of one denies the truth of the other. The first view is that Jesus Christ has established the Catholic Church, given it the authority to teach in His name, and having His protection from error. The second view is that the Catholic Church is an institution filled with sinful people, some of whom are higher up members who have committed sins or even crimes.

These two views are—unfortunately—often seen as an either-or situation. Some Catholics take the first view in a way that either denies or downplays that problems exist in the Church. It gets shrugged off as “there will always be Judases in the Church.” Very true, but not what those who suffered unjustly at the hands of one of those Judases need to hear. Other Catholics will take the second view in a way that denies or downplays the first. They argue that the sinful or criminal members of the Church negate or even disprove the authority of the Church. 

Both of these Either-Or interpretations are wrong. The fact that the Church is established and protected by Christ does not mean that sins within are non-existent or minor. But the fact that some very bad people have risen in the ranks of the Church does not mean that the authority and protection no longer exist, or never existed in the first place.

I suspect that both of these errors are excessively optimistic and pessimistic views over the recognition that the Church should beholy in both teaching and practice. But when some people encounter the evils within the Church, they tend to suppress or downplay the view that runs counter to their own outlook.

Both of these excessive views are a problem because it leads people to think any legitimate defense of the authority of the Church is “denial” of the problems, while any legitimate criticism of the problems within the Church is seen as refusal to accept the authority of the Church.

In the first case, the Catholics who defend the authority of the Church need to grasp that the anger against the wrongdoing members—especially if there seems to be no apparent consequence they can see—has reasons behind it that needs to be understood. Note I said “understood.” That doesn’t necessarily mean “accepted without question.”

I make this distinction because even if—as sometimes happens—the person who is upset or angry with the Church is wrong about the accusations made against the Church, it is a real pain that needs to be addressed. That might be done by solving the problem transparently (if it is a legitimate grievance and their request is just), or explaining (compassionately) why the Church can’t do what they want. In either response, we need to show concern for their issues and help them in a just way without looking upon them as a bother. Yes, some critics have wrongly put themselves in to literal or virtual schism. But we need to respond in compassion, whether the just response is reforming an evil or correcting one’s misconception about what is evil.

In the second case, critics need to recognize that just because they think that Priest A or Bishop B are behaving wrongly, this does not negate the authority of the Church to teach, nor of our own obligation to give assent to Church teachings. Yes, John XII (who is consistently mentioned) was a morally bad Pope (yes, that is an understatement) but that doesn’t remove the authority of Popes to teach in the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium (cf. canon 752). It doesn’t remove the authority the bishops have to govern their dioceses in communion with the Pope.

Catholics need to be aware of both views and accept them both without assuming the existence of one denies the reality of the other. The Church has Our Lord’s authority/protection, and the Church has sinners within. When we find ourselves denying one of the two as threatening our preferred view, it’s a sign that we need to reevaluate our own views of the Church.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reflections on Christian Obligation and Politics

Politics lately tends towards extremely polarized devotion to the party platform while proudly proclaiming that only they have the good of the country in mind. At the same time, they accuse their foes of openly acting to destroy everything that is good and just.

In this mindset, Christianity is cited when the teaching coincides the person’s political views but condemned when it takes a stand against something promoted by the faction. This is not limited to one faction. The Political Left denounces the Church for her stances on issues like sexual morality and abortion. The Political Right denounces the Church for her stances on treatment of immigrants and economic justice. Both factions accuse the Church of being on the “other side” and say that the Church should “stay out of politics” and should “focus on more important issues” (that is, become a religious endorsement of Party X).

Unfortunately, many Christians—including Catholics—are guilty of taking part in this behavior. They believe that the Church should promote their favored political views and condemn what they condemn, while being silent on the moral issues that are at odds with their political party. This cannot be our approach if we want to be faithful. 

If we want to be faithful, we must put fidelity to the Church teaching first and judge the political parties according to that teaching. Given the state of American politics today where both major parties have embraced fundamental evils, it’s not surprising that people of good will disagree over how to vote to reduce or at least slow down the evils. Unfortunately, even here the Christian dialogue that should take place is replaced by slogans. I’ve seen people claim that “the bishops got played” in standing up for laws defending life, that the bishops are “ignoring the Catechism” in standing up for the just treatment of illegal immigrants. I’ve seen proponents of one party say “voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil,” to condemn their opponents while ignoring the fact that they are doing the same thing.

I find that Archbishop Chaput’s views on the obligation of those who vote for a pro-abortion party fits for every voter facing the fact that their party supports an evil or rejects a good:

What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform—one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them. (Render Unto Caesar, p. 228)

Whatever the Church teaches is evil, we cannot support. If we vote for a party in spite of their evil positions, we had damn well better do our best to oppose and change that evil. If we choose party A over party B, we had better be certain what the Church teaches on these evils, and not redefine the meaning of the Church teaching to fit our politics. You might say that issues A+B+C+D outweigh the defense of life (for example), but St. John Paul II taught, in Christifideles Laici:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Christian’s role in politics is not to benefit a particular view. It is to promote the public good according to God’s commands. What God commands is good because He is good [§], and we cannot say that as long as we don’t commit the evils we weren’t going to do anyway, we’re “good enough.” When the Church warns us against X, it’s not a matter of control. It’s a matter of our salvation. If we find ourselves resisting the teaching of the Church in a certain area, perhaps we should ask if we are in danger over sins in that area.


[§] No doubt somebody will point to the darker portions of Old Testament where God exacted judgment on certain nations through the Israelites. While the issue is off topic, the accusations tend to treat those nations as if they behaved like 21st century “enlightened” Americans instead of barbaric nations practicing what we would consider Class A felonies. God’s earlier commands were aimed at moving the Israelites away from the barbarisms of their neighbors in preparation for the arrival of Christ. God’s laws to the Jews on warfare were restrictions on behavior, not a license to run wild.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reactions From the Outside, Inside

In my daily theological studies (there’s not much to do in a hospital, so better to be productive than watching TV all day), I have the displeasure to be reading the work Reformation For Armchair Theologians. It’s a book written from a Protestant perspective and naturally gets a lot about the nature and beliefs of the Catholic Church wrong. I don’t think the author has any malicious intent. I think it’s because he writes from outside the Church, assuming the allegations leveled against her must be true, and that the reasons for the Reformation are true. 

[EDIT: He has a Ph.D in Reformation history, so he has far fewer excuses for his errors than the average non-Catholic repeating what he was told, which was the focus of my point]

Of course it’s rash judgment and gossip to simply pass on the negative stories one has been told without verifying them. But one who is outside the Catholic Church [§] may be less culpable because many sincerely think they are repeating the “truth,” and it never occurred to them that they might be false (cf. Luke 12:47-48).

I mention this as a frame of reference for my main point: the fact that some Catholics emulate this outsider view, saying false things about the nature and beliefs of the Catholic Church in the present (usually negative) or past (usually positive). Their interpretation of Church history and the present events assume as true things that they have have to prove (begging the question fallacy). Such judgments can’t claim the reduced culpability that the non-Catholic might have because we profess to be in a Church established by Christ that teaches with His authority and has His protection from error. As Vatican II teaches (Lumen Gentium #14):

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

If we profess to believe what the Church teaches about her own nature, we have no excuses if we try to interpret events in a way that denies that teaching. Yet many do exactly that. They assume that they have properly and (probably subconsciously) inerrantly understood the nature and teaching of the Church. If anyone—even the magisterium—should teach at odds with this assumption, then that person or magisterium is presumed to be in error. Thus we see all sorts of fabricated theology that tries to limit when the teaching of the magisterium must be obeyed. These fabrications are based on the times when real bishops historically fell into error (separated from communion with the Pope), trying to apply those consequences to the rare occasions a Pope (Honorius I, John XXII) made private statements of dubious orthodoxy.

The problem is, those were private statements with no teaching authority. In contrast, these teachings they deny are public acts when actually “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” (canon 752). 

In other words, these critics are inside the Church [#], but giving an interpretation of the Church that one would associate with a non-Catholic view of one who doesn’t know what the Church really teaches. But, since we profess memberships in a Church that teaches that the Pope and bishops teach as the successors of Peter and the Apostles respectively, we do not have the ability to plead sincere ignorance. We know God protects His Church and we know that the Church teaches with binding authority. We know that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Luke 10:16). So, if we profess to be faithful members of this Church, we cannot justify our disobedience. Or, as Our Lord put it:

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:40–41)

If we profess to be faithful Catholics, we are saying “we see.” So if we reject the Church, assuming error on the part of the magisterium, when we disagree, we are acting against what we have no excuses for not knowing, and our sin remains.


[§] To avoid confusion, I am using the term “outside the Catholic Church” in the sense of “not formally being a member of the Catholic Church.” I am not using it in the sense of “not a Christian” or any other Feeneyite sense.

[#] Although some of them might be sede vacantists who claim we have no valid Pope in office.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Is the Road to Hell Paved With Bad Reasoning?

The Pope issued a statement today on the moral responsibility that capitalist systems must address. Predictably, defenders of capitalism and opponents of the Pope began pointing out the flaws of socialism, accusing him of championing it. This is bad reasoning. Speaking about the flaws of A does not mean a support of B (“either-or fallacy “). Pointing out the flaws of B does not debunk the arguments pointing out the flaws of A (“begging the question fallacy”). Reflecting on this, I was struck by the following: Is the road to hell paved with bad reasoning or the refusal to reason?

In saying this, I don’t mean invincible ignorance. Nor do I mean that one must be a logician to be saved. Rather, I mean there is a danger with seizing on whatever reasoning one can find to justify opposition to a disliked Church teaching without investigating the soundness of the argument. Since we have an obligation to form our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we cannot refuse to investigate whether we are in error. If we do, this is vincible ignorance, which is liable to judgment. As Gaudium et Spes taught (#16):

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

If one grasps onto sophistry to justify dissent, that person cares less for truth than for supporting an ideology. And we, who profess to be Catholic, would be wise to remember Our Lord’s words on the higher standard we are held to: 

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Luke 12:47–48).

As Catholics, we are the ones entrusted with more. With a Church established by Christ Himself, we are the ones who know our Master’s will. As Lumen Gentium #14 says (citing Luke 12:48), 

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

We should keep this in mind always. All the advantages we receive through the Church comes with a corrresponding obligation. We have a Church that teaches with Christ’s authority. If we refuse to keep the obligation, of hearing the Church, and forming our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we will not be saved.

I believe part of this obligation is the obligation to ask whether our “justified” disobedience is really a refusal to ask if we are in error. One can mistakenly reason without guilt if it were impossible to know otherwise. But if we “reason” ourselves into dissent, we should be aware that we do not have the charism of infallibility. The Church does. So our “reasoned” opposition must be spurious if we think we must be right and the Church wrong.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

On Confusing Style With Holiness

Preliminary Note: To pre-empt any accusation of this advocating “modern” or “minimalist” style, let me be clear. This article is not about what the style of churches should be. It’s about people missing the point by saying only a certain style of art is the sign of a holy Church.

Some of the internal criticism on the Church is to compare the glory and temporal influence of the Church at her height (usually in the high Middle Ages or the time of the Council of Trent), and contrast it with the rebellion and contempt against her today. The argument is that ever since X happened, the Church has been in decline. Some blame Vatican II or the Popes from 1958 onward. Others blame Popes after St. John XXIII for “betraying” the Council. But both are operating from the belief that:
  1. There was a time when we had a “golden age” in the Church.
  2. This ain’t it.
  3. We need to go back to what worked at that time.
The problem is, the glory and prestige is a byproduct of the mission of the Church that only exists in certain times. In most times, the Church has had to deal with indifference, hostility, and disrespect. Even in the times of the greatest earthly renown, the Church has needed to deal with hostile governments (some of them Catholics), corruption, dissent, and sin.

When people speak of the decline in respect and holiness, they usually confuse the architecture of churches, the talent of artists, and the solemnity of a High Mass in a certain era with the holiness of the Church. But the mission of the Church exists, regardless of the artistic talent of the times.

There’s a vast difference between the frescoes in the catacombs and the Renaissance art [§]. But the mission to be God’s way of bringing His salvation of the world to every person in every place and time continues regardless of the talent and piety of the individual Catholics. 

That’s not to say that art, architecture, and ceremony aimed glorifying God is meaningless. If not done to an excess that distracts, these things are good at elevating the heart and mind to thinking about God. But if the focus on these ever becomes a distraction away from serving God, then people have missed the point of the Church.

I am reminded of a video shared by a member of the SSPX that purported to show a modern altar that was ignored. Then (through time lapse photography), the altar was decorated (practically buried under cloth and statuary over crates) to look like a pre-Vatican II altar and people started showing it more respect. The point was supposed to be that respect was lost because of Vatican II.

“But,” I replied, “what was sacred was the altar itself, not the decoration on top of it. The fact that people were not being respectful of the altar before it was buried under trappings shows they were missing the point of what was sacred.” The altar should be reverenced because of the role it plays, not because it is adorned with beautiful things.

Of course, when possible, the altar should be dignified. We shouldn’t tear down the old without serious reasons [#]. But dignified is not the same as “ornate.” Music should be dignified, but dignified is not the same as “baroque.” Churches should glorify God, but glorifying is not a synonym for “flying buttresses.” To say that a church that is not ornate, baroque, or designed in a medieval style is not dignified is to miss the point.

Some may be called to create beautiful churches, beautiful decoration, and beautiful music. They should carry out that calling of course. But let’s not forget that this beauty is not the point of the Church. The mission of saving souls is. If our quarrels over beauty obscures that mission, we have missed the point of what the Church is.


[§] I’ll set aside the discussion of the general decline of art as we go forward in time. Much of the recent bad “Church art” seems to coincide with bad art in general.

[#] It was tragic when some Catholics carried out a mini iconoclasm in the misinterpretation of Vatican II. But this was not done at the instruction of Vatican II.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Is it Time to Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room?

Over the past 30-odd years, there’s been chaos and rebellion in the Church. It didn’t start with Pope Francis, and it’s not limited to one faction. This confusion has been about like-minded Catholics confusing their ideology with the Catholic Faith and labeling whoever disagreed with the ideology as disagreeing with the Church.

The problem is that certain Church teachings superficially resemble political positions. So when a Pope stressed a teaching, it was easy to identify it with the political position that happened to superficially agree with. From there, the teaching is used to either promote the political view the Church “agrees” with or to blast the Church for becoming “political.”

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room—if a person objects to a teaching from a Pope, it’s not because that person is faithful to the “true” Church. Rather the person is a dissenter from the obedience required.

This problem was always present in the Church, but it was only obvious after Francis became our Pope. Up to that point, conservatives claimed to be defenders of the faith taught by the magisterium while liberals argued they were defending what Jesus intended the Church to be. When Pope Francis became Pope, the conservatives claimed they were defending what Jesus intended the Church to be while liberals claimed they were right all along.

Who was right? Neither one. Both factions merely agreed with the Church only as long as the Church taught what they already held. Should the Church emphasize a teaching contrary to their politics, the individual at odds with the teaching accuses the Church of “becoming political,” and invokes their obligation of conscience to reject the magisterium. But this is a misuse of what conscience is for. As the Church document Donum Veritatis (#38) teaches:

The properly formed conscience isn’t contrasted against the magisterium. It assumes following the magisterium. If one breaks this link between conscience and magisterium, they effectively break their link with Christ through the refusal of obedience.

This is where we get a chorus of “but what about...” But we know Our Lord made a distinction between the teaching authority and the personal behavior (cf. Matthew 23:1-3). The sins or failures of a Pope or bishop is neither permission to emulate nor permission to disobey. No doubt some bishops turned a blind eye to wrongdoing. No doubt the Pope was misled when he thought that the claims of abuse in Chile were calumny. But these things do not take away from the authority to teach in a binding manner.

When we recognize this, it becomes clear that “whataboutism” is an excuse, not a justification. It doesn’t permit us to withhold obedience. So those who cite these things as a reason to refuse submission are not showing a higher obedience. They’re showing disobedience.

In fact, they’re showing behavior similar to the rise of Protestantism. While it started with a desire to reform abuses, it presumed that different interpretations of Scripture and past teachings were proof that the Church had gone wrong but they had not. 

This leads us to the decision we must make:
  1. Either God protects His Church from teaching error, or
  2. God does not protect His Church from teaching error.
If God protects His Church from teaching error, then we must trust that even when an individual bishop errs or a Pope makes a bad judgment call, God prevents the Church under the governance of the current vicar of Christ from teaching error. But, if God doesn’t protect His Church from teaching error (which contradicts Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20) then we can never know whether the Church was right or wrong when a heresy or schism arose. The Arians might have been right. The Eastern Orthodox might have been right. Or Luther, etc. If the Church can err today, we can have no assurance that we didn’t err in the past.

It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Those who claim that the Church is in error are dissenting, believing that the Church—protected by Christ—is currently in error while they are not. That claim is incompatible with our faith in Christ and the belief that He intended to build a Church on the rock of Peter that would not fail.

Once we acknowledge the elephant, we can deal with it and perhaps overcome the problems facing the Church: within and without.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fault Lines in Finding Fault

In geology, fault lines are where tectonic plates grind past each other. Sometimes they stick for awhile. When they finally slip, the result is an earthquake [§]. I find fault lines a good metaphor for the current strife in the Church. People pushing it in the direction they think best cause friction and conflict and, when a major scandal comes, this friction turns into a major jolt. While we can’t predict where slips—or scandals—will occur, the visible fault lines give us a sense on the general region the earthquake will be centered in. 

To (probably dubiously) apply this as a metaphor to the current strife, I think where we’re likely to cause friction can be found in where we have our previous leanings. The Church, despite the warnings of St. Paul or St. Clement I, is split into factions. Each one has its own ideas of the heroes or villains in the Church. Each one has ideas on what is right and wrong with the Church. So when a scandal arises, the general tendency is to say that the blame rests on the villains and things we see wrong with the Church. As a solution, we suggest that we turn it over to our heroes and do the things we think are right.

The problem is, we’re just as bad of sinners as those who have the responsibility to shepherd the Church and we lack the authority to do so. The result is, we often generate the friction by pushing in our preferred direction and when that friction becomes a theological earthquake, we blame the Church for the disaster, thinking that if only they had listened to us, the Church wouldn’t be in this mess. The problem is, we don’t have the whole picture. We can offer conjecture based on the facts we do have, but if we don’t have all the facts, our judgments will probably go wrong somewhere... we’ll be causing friction that leads to ruptures, possibly even schism.

I don’t say that we should just be passive and let the clergy do everything to avoid trouble. That’s clericalism and the Pope has warned against that. We of the laity have a role to play and, provided we do so reverently, we can make our needs and concerns known to those who shepherd (canon 212). But we have to know our limitations and not insist that what we know is all there is to know. It’s one thing to have a necessary conflict between good and evil. It’s another to coopt these conflicts as a proxy for our personal preferences. 

For many, this set of accusations against the Pope [†] is a proxy war for what people already thought about him. Those who dislike him tend to give credence to the claims of Archbishop Vigano. Those who like him tend to doubt the accusations. Hopefully, we don’t let our preconceived notions get in the way of seeking the truth. Unfortunately, many do. They either accuse the Pope or Vigano of “lying” because that sounds more serious than “mistaken recollection” or “saw the situation differently.” They say the Pope was guilty of a “coverup” because that supports their narrative of a bad Pope better than “the Pope was deceived by a charismatic individual who lied” or “Vigano was mistaken about the nature of what Benedict XVI intended to do with McCarrick.”

If we want to actually help the Church, we need to consider the possible reasons and eliminate the ones the evidence doesn’t support. For example, as more comes out on the backgrounds of the people involved in this scandal, I find it hard to believe that the Pope knowingly and willingly took part in a coverup. I don’t find it improbable that the Pope was mistaken about the true nature of some people and assumed he had the necessary facts to make changes [∞]. He strikes me as someone who strives to do what was right. So I believe that if he did reverse Benedict XVI’s decision (the point to be proven), he most likely believed he was doing what was right before God. A critic of the Pope would no doubt disagree with my assessment. But both of us would have to be open to seeking the truth and avoiding rash judgment—on the Pope, Vigano, Wuerl, Burke etc. etc. etc. If we don’t, we’re guilty of rash judgment against the one we hold in contempt.

We should remember Socrates and the lesson of knowing we do not know something. If we know we’re ignorant, we can learn. If we don’t know we are ignorant, we won’t even try to learn.

To do this, we need to catch ourselves when we think “There’s no good reason the Pope (or Vigano) would do this! He must be lying!” There can be a good reason that exonerates. Or there can be an earnest mistake that reduces or eliminates culpability. We need to be aware of the possibility and consider how the one we think wrong might have reached the conclusion sincerely.

If we can do that, we can help reduce the friction in the fault lines our factionalism causes and help reduce confusion and conflict in The Lord’s Church.


[§] Yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying. This is a theology blog, not a geology blog.
[†] If you’re joining me for the first time, let me just be up front about it: I think he’s innocent.
[∞] These, being juridical acts, not acts of teaching would still be authoritative, but not protected by infallibility. He could reverse his predecessor’s decision and his successor could reverse his decision with no contradiction of doctrine.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Ten Reflections on Combox Comments on Abuse in the Church

Preliminary Notes: It is not the intention of this article to pass judgment on or lecture to the victims of abuse or their family members. Regardless of what the Church does to solve the crisis, that will be little comfort to the victims who will rightly hold that the Church never should have let itself get into this situation in the first place. It won’t discuss specific cases of abuse either. I imagine that actual victims won’t want some blogger to use their personal suffering to make a point.


The revelation that there are credible charges sexual against someone who managed to become a cardinal and the discovery that some bishops concealed cases of sexual abuse instead of reporting them to the proper authority was shocking. Those bishops brought harm to individual victims and their families. Moreover, despite doing so to protect the “good name of the Church” they actually failed to achieve that: if the bishops had promptly done what they were morally obligated to, the brief embarrassment over the publicity of turning predators over to the proper authorities would have been outweighed in the long run by establishing the credibility of the Church as protecting the victims. Now that stain will last for decades, if not centuries.

However, despite the anger and disgust over this mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, we need to keep some facts in mind if we are to have a just response. None of these points should be seen as trying to “explain away” the evil done. Rather they are aimed at reflecting on things constantly repeated on social media and mentioning things that I think we should remember.

1) Sexual abuse is not exclusively a Catholic sin

The Catholic Church is singled out for the predator priests. But the percentage of priests who abuse is roughly the same as sexual abuse in non Catholic churches and non Christian institutions. Statistically speaking, the greatest source of abuse are the public schools. That’s understandable. Predators seek out positions of trust that give access to their victims. If that position is so respectable that people would immediately think the victims are lying, then they can do a lot of harm without being detected. Because nobody believes the victim, patterns that should have tipped off those in authority are ignored.

But we can’t say that if the Catholic Church didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have any abusers.

2) The fact that it’s not excusively Catholic doesn’t excuse us

A victim won’t feel comfort over the fact that it was just as likely to happen elsewhere. The fact is it shouldn’t have happened here at all. Yes the numbers are statistically small. But even one case in 2000 years would be shameful. Even if the the world ignores everybody but us, we still have an obligation to fix our part in it.

3) Statutes of Limitstions have mostly run out

Why aren’t McCarrick and the priests named in the Pennsylvania report facing criminal charges? Because there is a time limit on how long the state has to press charges. While the limitations vary by state, few crimes have no limits. Murder is one of them. Others vary widely depending on the state. So, crimes dating from the 1940s to the 1980s (probably later than that) can’t be prosecuted.

One thing that gets brought up is why don’t the bishops support extending the statute of limitations? The problem is, under criminal law, extending the statute of limitations violates the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws. Apparently the state can extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits. The problem is, the proposed laws excludes state run institutions. Public schools, the institutions with the highest rates of abuse, have been consistently been protected.

4) Vatican City can’t arrest and prosecute for crimes committed outside Vatican City

If McCarrick had committed his crimes in the Vatican, he could very well have been prosecuted there (like the Vatileaks). But they can’t prosecute him for crimes he committed elsewhere. All they can do is hold a canonical trial imposing Church sanctions. The problem is, if a person refuses to follow the sanctions, the Church can’t do anything except excommunicate him. If such a person doesn’t care about that penalty, the Church can only leave such a one to God.

5) Just because “everybody knows” something that doesn’t always mean the authorities know 

A few weeks ago I was listening to a NPR news story about sexual abuse from a school team doctor. The former student said that when he talked it over with fellow teammates, the general reaction was that this was something that the freshmen went through. It was treated like a big joke...but nobody reported it to authorities.

That came to mind when I heard the “everybody knew about it” regarding Catholic scandals. People may widely talk about it among themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they included the police among those they spoke to. It doesn’t mean that bishops were given usable information that they could act on.

I’m not saying this explains everything. There are reports of bishops who did knowingly try to hide the problem. Those bishops will need to have their actions addressed.

6) Not all bishops were involved in a deliberate coverup 

We know some bishops preferred to conceal the truth and move predator priests around. But not all did. Some seem to have thought that such behavior involved a fixation with a specific person and moving the priest away from the victim would end the crime. Some followed the advice of psychologists and had the priest treated, believing the experts when they said the problem priest was “cured.” Others became bishop after the problem was in place and were surprised to learn when a laicized priest under their authority made the news. Finally, we had the bishops who took action when they discovered problems.

Each of those cases involve different levels of culpability and how they are treated should reflect that.

7) One of the major problems seems to have been communication 

There are numerous stories going around about complaints being made that went nowhere. Whether they went to the right place but lacked actionable information, whether they got diverted en route, or whether there was another reason, it seems like problems in a country’s Church tended to be kept in country. In the Barrios case in Chile, the Pope seemed to sincerely believe that there was no credible evidence against him. Once he found out otherwise, he acted swiftly.

I’m of the view that, whatever reforms are made, we definitely need one that gets complaints to where they need to be with no possibility of being misdirected, concealed, or lost.

8) In some countries, there seems to have been mistrust over involving the state

In the 19th and 20th centuries, relations between Church and state were strained. There was mistrust against what the state might try to do if involved. The result was some bishops preferred to keep the state out. I have read that Ireland’s bishops decided not to report to the government because canon law did not require them to...something that needs to be corrected.

Yes, some governments exceed their rightful authority. Australia’s attempt to abolish the seal of confession is one example. Yes, the Church does have a right and responsibility to protect herself from that. But the Church does need to set out rules on cooperation with the state on reporting crimes that apply no matter what level of hostility the state has.

9) Real Reform takes time 

We live in a society that demands instant results. But often the instant results we demand turn out to be unjust once we have more information. We now know that certain procedures didn’t work and need to be reformed. But making good reforms without exploits will take time: time to investigate how things went wrong, time to investigate how to make them right, time to turn them into canon law. If we don’t do that, we’ll have to deal with more problems down the line.

10) The Church still must carry out the Great Commission and deal with other problems

When the Pope issues statements pertaining to issues other than the abuse scandal, some Catholics get angry. “He should focus on this and nothing else until it’s solved!” But that doesn’t work. The Church exists as Our Lord’s ordinary means of bringing salvation to the world. That means she must address other evils that endanger people’s salvation and teach us on things that we wrongly think are “unimportant” based on our ideology.

It means we must not drop important issues. For example, I think that archbishop Chaput is a good bishop for the most part. I found his Render unto Caesar very helpful in dealing with Church and state. But I disagree with his call to set aside the upcoming synod on youth and replacing it with a synod on bishops. Yes, we do need a synod on Bishops. But such synods take time—usually 2 years—to set up (see #9 above). In the meantime, the Pope realizes the need for a synod on youth, to keep them in the Church and out of the “nones” category. That’s a real issue that won’t go away while we work on the scandal.

Yes, people inside and outside the Church may accuse us of “ignoring” the abuse issue or “having no credibility now.” But the Church has to deal with these issues regardless of what scandals arise.


Nothing in what I write should be interpreted as supporting “business as usual” or not caring about the scandal. If someone believes I do, they have grossly missed my point.

But with all the anger out there, it seems that many on social media are not thinking things through. They assume the worst of the Church. Whoever does not say what the critics want them to say are “lying” or “stonewalling.” This article reflects my combox debates with angry people who seem to see only part of the issue.

Yes, let’s work for just reform according to the rights and responsibilities of canon 212.

But let us also be aware of things that the Church cannot ignore or neglect in carrying out reform.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Institution? Family? Thoughts on the Church

Venerable Fulton J Sheen, in his Your Life is Worth Living series, once said:

What do you think of when you first hear the word Church, an institution, an organization, a kind of an administrative body? It is the way we have too often presented the Church.

It’s a good point. Many people view the Church as as a means of organizing the Christian religion. A person who sees the Church as a positive thing thinks the organization cannot be questioned. A person who sees the Church as a negative thing thinks of the organization as interfering between the relationship between God and the individual or as an arbitrary rule maker.

Those views are understandable if a person sees the Church as a thing, then they will see that thing in either a positive or negative way, and everything that thing produces in the same way. The problem is, the Church is not a thing but a relationship: between God and man; between fellow men in relationship with God. If the Church is a relationship, a family, then the people within it are not overlords and minions but are members of a family.

As the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 1960, each one of us has a relationship with God only if we are part of His community:

In fact this word [“Our”] does have great importance, for only one man has the right to say “my Father” to God, and that is Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son. All other men must say “our Father”, for the Father is God for us only so long as we are part of the community of his children. For “me” he becomes a Father only through my being in the “we” of his children. The Christian prayer to the Father “is not the call of a soul that knows nothing outside God and itself”, but is bound to the community of brothers. Together with these brothers we make up the one Christ, in whom and through whom alone we are able to say “Father”, because only through Christ and in Christ are we his “children”.

(The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, page 51)

When we grasp that truth, Our Lord’s admonition to love our brother takes on deeper meaning. If we hate our brother, we are not in communion with him, and therefore not in communion with God. But, if we continue to love our brothers, even if they do not love us, we remain in communion with God and each other.

The difference is like night and day. If we think of the Church as an institution, those who shepherd as rulers, and teachings as edicts, then it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I will only listen if they act as I think good.” In those circumstances, we are deceived if we think we can serve God while rejecting an external institution. But if we see Church as a properly functioning family, then we can understand the authority of the Church like the authority of the family. Our parents do not cease to be our parents just because they make a decision we dislike. The parents can listen to our input, but the responsibility for seeking the good of the family and the final decision rests with them. So if we desire something harmful, the Church (acting in persona Christi) like the parents, must refuse. If we do not like our parents decision, that does not negate their authority. If we dislike a Church teaching, it does not negate Church authority.

Unfortunately, whenever the Church makes a decision we dislike, we immediately drop into “Church as institution” mode and seek an excuse that justifies disobedience. But when we remember Luke 10:16, rejecting the Church is rejecting Our Lord... it breaks the relationship with God and with a His community. So, though we may think we’re doing good in rebellion, we’re actually doing wrong.

Of course all analogies limp if taken too far. Yes, in literal families we have problems. Yes we can have dysfunctional families that cause harm. But we trust God that He will protect His family, the Church, from leading us astray. Yes, we will have heretics, incompetents, and predators that seek to misuse the Church for their own purposes. But we believe they will not prevail in leading the Church, under the visible headship of the Pope, astray.

This is why we must look at the Church as family and be concerned for our brethren in loving God. To look at it any other way damages the communion.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Apostolate of the Wrathful? A Reflection on Going Past Anger to Find Just Solutions

Preliminary Notes: In these times, it is easy to accuse those don’t jump on a bandwagon over what should be done of indifference, complacency, or even support of the evil done. I want to make clear that anyone who thinks this article advocates any of these things or is making excuses for wrongdoers has rashly judged me. I certainly don’t support a status quo. The point of this article is to sort out the difference between rightly directed anger and misdirected wrath that some pundits seem to be promoting.


The fallout from the recent McCarrick revelations and Latin America continues. There’s no doubt that wrongdoing exists. The problem that I see is that, among the legitimate shock and anger against wrongdoing, there are some Catholics who are publicly presuming that all of the bishops are guilty through negligence or deliberate coverup. That’s what needs to be investigated, not assumed to be true.
(This news broke during the writing of this article. It’s a reminder that
just because we don’t hear about something doesn’t mean nothing is being done)

While the case of McCarrick himself was handled until the canonical process is finished and more serious censures are handed down, we still have to deal with the arguments over who actually knew and were silent (as opposed to guilt by association).

In terms of logic, the contradiction of “all are guilty” is not “none are guilty.” The contradiction is “some are not guilty.” [§] Recognizing that, the task is to identify the ones who are actually guilty and the failures that allowed them to get away with it. This should be done with the intention of seeking justice for past and current wrongdoing while trying to prevent future wrongdoing. Doing this requires meticulous investigation to avoid punishing the innocent and preventing rushed policies that are either ineffective or do more harm than good.

The danger of that approach is that it can be stonewalled or can have the appearance of stonewalling if we don’t get immediate results. Of course working on stopping this evil cannot be done at a leisurely pace. The fact that these problems were revealed after we were assured that the problem was solved rightly inspires shock and anger.

Anger and Response 

The problem with anger, however, is that it can lead people to unreasonable and unjust responses. Think about the concept of “frontier justice” where an angry lynch mob would take the law into their own hands, assuming guilt and demanding their own standard of punishment. These mobs were often wrong about the guilt of the accused and always wrong in exacting their own punishment apart from the law.

While nobody is advocating literal “frontier justice” (though a few Catholics on social media are using reckless rhetoric that might eventually spark it) against the bishops, some are getting out of hand in their anger, assuming guilt where an investigation must happen first. Badly written articles and blog posts make accusations of widespread or even universal guilt without proof and people believe them without discernment, believing “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

The Church cannot rush to judgment, even when she must act swiftly. Letting the guilty go free is an injustice. But so is punishing the innocent. Being so lax that predators operate freely must be stopped. But being so strict that it hinders the mission of the Church is wrong too. In other words, the Church cannot be unjust in seeking justice.

Dealing with Delays 

And this frustrates people. Deliberations can be seen as stonewalling, and no doubt some would like to turn deliberations into stonewalling. Real harm was done and must be stopped. But while identifying the evil that must be stopped is relatively straightforward, finding the cause and solution is not necessarily so. After the rise of Protestantism, the Catholic Church began the Council of Trent to root out the abuses that led to it. But the Council of Trent ran from 1545 to 1563 (around 18 years!). Some of that length was due to slow moving (reading the early sessions, we see a lot of “let’s reconvene later” decrees). But some of the length was due to the need to identify the best possible response and decree how it must be done.

(There’s a lot of this in the earliest sessions)

Likewise, in dealing with the current crisis, we can get angry with unnecessary delays. There were problems with the 2002 policy that never thought to investigate allegations about those who rose high in the Church—problems that should not have happened. But in solving them, we must discern between unnecessary delays and unavoidable delays that come with seeking truth and just solutions.

The Apostolate of the Wrathful 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that among the rightly offended are what I call “the apostolate of the wrathful.”  I see this collection of factions as already being angry at the Church for one reason or another and seeing this scandal as justifying their previous anger. These factions (and I have no intention of pointing fingers at specific individuals) have carried out private wars against the Church and see their perceived enemy as the cause to this current crisis. Some allege celibacy, a male priesthood, or the Church teaching on homosexuality as the problem. Others see Vatican II, liberal clergy, or Pope Francis as a cause. There certainly seems to be a strong anti-clericalism present, assuming Church-wide corruption of the bishops and cardinals, fueling the claim that it’s impossible that they could be ignorant of the problem.

Distinguishing Mistakes From Malfeasance

While the Church receives her authority from God, she remains governed by finite human beings. All of them, like us, are in need of salvation and all of them can be mistaken (barring the areas where the Pope is protected from error). This means that even a good bishop can be deceived by a lie from someone they thought was trustworthy. It means that even a saintly bishop can make a decision that seems right to them but is actually flawed. Other bishops might do wrong out of cowardice or a desire not to “rock the boat.” Some, sadly, do participate knowingly in evil. That’s inevitable.

However, the fact that this happens in general is inevitable does not mean we can be apathetic about the specific wrongdoing in our time. For example, heresy will inevitably arise, but that doesn’t permit apathy or complacency to the rise of a specific heresy. Rather this means we will never achieve a state where no evil, cowardice, or mistakes occur within the Church, but we will have to deal with each case when it comes along to prevent loopholes or vicious customs from thriving.

Distinguishing the Authority of the Church from her Shameful Members

With that in mind, we have to remember that the Church herself, led by the magisterium continues to have the authority to bind and loose and we have the obligation to give religious submission of intellect and will when they teach (see canons 752-753). We cannot withdraw obedience from that authority when we are offended by the members of the magisterium. We still have the obligation to follow the precepts of the Church. So, when someone invokes a scandal as an excuse to ignore obedience, that remains wrong. Jesus binds in Heaven what is bound on earth (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).

So, when determining the proper response to scandal and corruption, disobedience is not an option. Dissent remains a sin. Catholics who advocate disobedience on account of the scandal are doing wrong, and we cannot do evil so good may come of it (CCC #1789). That can be hard to bear, but we must trust that God protects His Church in this case.

The Obligation of Mercy

Another thing we must remember. The Church is not a business that can simply fire an incompetent or wrongdoing employee. The Church exists to carry out the mission of bringing Our Lord’s salvation to the world, calling the wrongdoing sinners to be reconciled to God. No matter how heinous the sin, there is not one person whom we can “write off” as irredeemable. Wrath tends to sacrifice the mercy for notorious sinner in the name of punishment. It tends to presume guilt must be present and insists we move onto the punishment phase

Consider Genesis 18:22ff.

22 As the men turned and walked on toward Sodom, Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world do what is just?” 26 The Lord replied: If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

Abraham kept pleading down to ten just men, with God promising to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if they existed. As it turned out, they didn’t, so God spared Lot and his family. The problem is, unlike God, the Apostolate of the Wrathful seems willing to sacrifice the innocent so long as they get the guilty. They are willing to presume guilt and if a few innocent get swept away, they were probably guilty of something. If a bishop was an associate of a wrongdoer, that bishop is presumed to be complicit in the evil through association. But the Catholic Church cannot act that way. She cannot punish without proof of wrongdoing and she cannot arbitrarily change her rules to behave mercilessly. The Church must work to bring salvation even the most heinous sinner. The punishments issued must not drive the person into despair or defiance. Yes, a wrongdoer might be defiant anyway, but the Church herself must not drive them to that point or erect roadbloacks in the road to salvation while imposing penalties.

“But Everybody Knew That...”

Hearsay is not proof.

If a victim comes forward and provided credible and usable evidence, and a bishop refused to pass it on or attacked the victim for coming forward, that is wrongdoing that must be investigated. No excuses can be made for that. It is also true that the victims can be too ashamed or otherwise traumatized to come forward. That’s understandable. I would not blame the victim for being unable to come forward.

The problem is, some Catholic pundits are saying that these bishops and cardinals must have heard rumors and should have acted on them. The problem is, rumors themselves (what “everybody knows”) are not always true, and sometimes even false [†].  

Of course if a lot of rumors come from different sources in the same region, all saying the same thing, there should be an investigation to see if they are more than mere rumors and a failure to do so is a problem that must be corrected. But we need to remember that the existence of rumors in themselves are not proof. Bishops cannot build a case on hearsay. So hearing these things does not automatically mean that they have enough to act on. 

An investigation into what individual bishops knew and were silent on must determine who had the responsibility to act and whether they had the information necessary to act. It’s not enough to say, “everybody heard of this, so bishop X must be guilty.”

The Search for Truth, Justice, and Mercy

I don’t want anyone to think this is easy. But I also don’t want anyone to think this is impossible. The closer someone is to a victim, the harder it will be for them to deal with a wrongdoer getting away. I can’t even imagine what an actual victim must have gone through seeing Cardinal McCarick, Bishop Barrios or others being elevated despite wrongdoing. I can’t imagine their frustration if the case turns up unable to establish guilt. One can understand this anger is justified. But if we are going to truly find a solution to this problem, the Church needs to be clear on why this is happening, investigate how it can keep happening, and where the system we have is ineffective or unjust, we must make reforms. In other words: People understandably and justly want reform. But there’s a vast difference between calling for an undefined reform and making actual reforms.

We cannot make unjust reforms. We cannot have the Spanish Inquisition kind of injustice (I actually saw someone advocate this!) to be more efficient in punishing the accused. We must make sure that the accused is guilty before punishing and make sure the procedure does not let the guilty get away. We must make sure that the penalties are aimed at protecting the innocent from harm and inspire seeking repentance.


I think it should be clear that going from “something must be done!” to actually fixing the problem is going to take a lot of difficult work and difficult soul searching. For example, I get the impression that the reason there is a bishop sized hole in the protection of minors is because the bishops found it hard to believe someone reaching that level in the Church was capable of this evil without being caught before that point. Clearly that thinking was wrong, and it must be corrected as quickly as possible. 

But it also must be corrected justly. And that’s the difficulty. It’s easy to pass a law. But it’s harder to pass a just law. No doubt the bishops believed they established a just solution in 2002. We now know that belief was false. But we should keep that failure in mind. We do not want to rush through a solution that turns out to have numerous flaws in another 15 years or so. But neither do we want to be paralyzed into inaction.

That’s why it’s the wrong approach for pundits to just say “We must do X.” We must consider all the consequences of X and make sure we don’t do a rush job we will later regret. That means we need to pray for the Church to guide the magisterium to find the right solution. We must make known our concerns (a la canon 212 §3) respectfully. But we must not reduce the process to mob rule, committing injustice in our attempts to reform. Nor can we behave like rebels against the legitimate authority which the Church exercises.

On social media, I see a lot of anger and a lot of desire to accuse people of complicity. But unless we go beyond slogans and determine real culpability we’re not helping find a solution. We’re merely behaving like a mob and that will not solve the problem.


[§] This also applies to anger in the Catholic media towards this scandal. Only a fraction of them are doing what I am writing against and I have no intention of saying ALL are guilty.

[†] I suspect one of the reasons the original response was so slow was people believed the perpetrators could never do this because the reported perversion was so evil. Sadly, it turned out that some clergy could be that vile.

Monday, February 20, 2017

It Didn't Start With Francis

While I don’t particularly like the song, it’s practically mandatory 
to show this video in a post like this


One common trend in social media is a number of Catholics claiming that things were wonderful under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the opposition against Popes only arose in reaction to the things Pope Francis did. From their comments on social media, I can identify three groups:

  1. There are a lot of Catholics who were not aware of the controversy in those pre-Internet/Smartphone times
  2. There are a lot of recent converts out there who missed the attacks against previous Popes, and are encountering something they never were aware of.
  3. Some Catholics have conveniently “forgotten" their hostility to previous Popes

I will leave it to God to judge whether anyone is in category three, but I think the first two probably explains a lot of it.

Before the internet, the only way to get information was either to rely on the media, or order encyclicals from either Daughters of St. Paul or the publishing company of the American bishops (I can’t even recall what it was called back then). On one hand, Catholics had to wait until the document was published in the country. On the other hand, so did reporters, and they would usually call a local pastor to get commentary for their news articles. So things were slower back then. There were still attacks, of course.

We Forget How and Why the Rebellion Happened…

No, it didn’t start with Francis, and it didn’t start with Vatican II.

We forget that the priests and religious who caused problems after Vatican II were ordained before Vatican II. We forget some of them were highly respected. Fr. Schillebeeckx, for example, was a highly respected moral theologian, whose early manuals are still cited by orthodox Catholics because of their quality. We forget some of them were highly respected by the bishops who would later find them problematic. We forget that some who were later honored by St. John Paul II were viewed with suspicion by the Holy Office, (St. Padre Pio, Benedict XVI), and some of them were silenced.

We forget that a generation rose up and rejected authority, political and religious. Nations that were not Catholic, or even Christian, had unrest. We forget the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the mistrust of government, and the hostility to unjust laws (like segregation) influenced a generation. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at opposing injustice. A large portion of a generation began to think the state and the Church were to blame for these things by their very existence. When the state enforced the law, when the Church insisted some behaviors were morally evil, this was “fascism.” Never mind they were using this epithet against a generation that opposed fascism.

We also forget the dramatic change that came in 1968 (not 1965). Everybody was expecting the Catholic Church to “change her teaching” on contraception. Because they misunderstood how the Church worked, they assumed that because the majority report (going beyond their authority of investigating whether the Pill was contraception) urged a change in teaching, that it was a guaranteed thing. So when Blessed Paul VI reinforced the traditional Catholic teaching, many were angry. They irrationally felt betrayed over the Church “betraying” them in something she never promised and would never do.

Because we forget this, I think we are unable to understand the scope of what the Church faced, and what a monumental task it was to repair. Theologians were called to get back in line with the Church, and when they didn’t, several were suspended from teaching theology.

We Forget the Rebellion from the Right Happened at the Same Time

We also forget that certain Catholics, trying to remain faithful, became embittered with the inadequate response from the bishops. Committing a post hoc fallacy, they assumed that because the unrest followed Vatican II, the unrest was caused by Vatican II. So they began to agitate for reversing the Council. The SSPX rose at this time. When the bishops, and later the Pope, began to crack down on their abuses, they refused the obedience which was a keystone to the pre-conciliar teaching that they professed to support. Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended by Blessed Paul VI for illicitly ordaining priests against a direct order not to, and was excommunicated by St. John Paul II for consecrating bishops against a direct order not to.

What people forget is the SSPX and those who sympathized with them hated Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II for their actions taken. These people constantly gave their actions a negative twist, accusing them of heresy and modernism[†]. Even some who were not part of the SSPX blamed the Holy Father for not cracking down on the dissenters they disagreed with, while saying that the defeat of that faction should take priority[¶], but he was ignoring them to punish the SSPX and others.

Between Scylla and Charybdis with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI

This resulted in the Pope being hated by both sides, each accusing the Popes of favoring the other side. Cries of “Why don’t you punish them for X?” appeared in religious newspapers, magazines and others. It was assumed that the continued existence of a faction without a public censure was “proof” that the Pope identified with this side. When St. John Paul II wrote about social justice, he was accused of identifying with socialism. When he wrote on abortion, he was accused of being right wing.

Generally speaking, vocal factions in the Church argued that whatever he did against them was proof of being political or heresy[§], while what he did that they agreed with was “too little too late.” They certainly confused Catholics trying to be faithful. With so much smoke, people wondered if there was fire. Catholics trending towards liberalism began to believe the accusations that the Pope was cold hearted and insensitive. Those trending towards conservatism began to believe the accusations that he was weak on dissent and was sympathetic, uncaring, or ignorant of what was going on in the Church.

The Rise of the Internet and the Smartphone

We also forget that knowledge (or misinformation) of and criticism about Papal actions grew with technology. The Printing Press was invented in 1440. The Telegraph was invented in the 1830s. The Fax Machine was invented in 1846. The telephone was invented in 1876. The radio was invented in 1894 (Vatican Radio began in 1931). With each step, it was easier and faster to distribute news, and the Church was able to distribute her documents more widely and quickly. But everything still depended on hard copy (except for the relatively few items on microfilm and microfiche). If a copy was not available in bookstore or library, you had to either drive long distances or do without[Ω].

The media depended on experts to interpret what the Church said, and that depended on some ludicrous situations. When it was announced that the Pope was releasing a new encyclical, the media wondered if this meant the Church was finally changing her teaching on contraception, abortion, and women’s ordination[√]. Then they would call local pastors and bishops and be disabused of their notions.

The next phase of communications emerged when Internet was commercialized in 1995. Over the next 20 years, more information would get onto the internet, but so would misinformation. In addition, more people would be given an audience[ø]. This also meant the critics of the Pope would be able to increase their reach. Then in the late 2000s, the Smartphone combined the internet with instant access without having to be at a computer, allowing the individual to be instantly informed about things happening around the world.

Unfortunately, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and, when it comes to news on the Church, that weakest link was the media that believed that someday the Church would have to change her teaching. These reporters, with their religious illiteracy, did not understand the nuances of moral theology or how the Church taught. For example, when Benedict XVI gave a book length interview with Peter Seewald in 2010, he gave a hypothetical example of a gay prostitute with AIDS to illustrate how a person might begin to think about an issue in terms of morals. But the media thought the Church had finally changed!

It wasn’t the first time. In 2006, his lecture in Regensburg was wrongly portrayed as a denunciation of Islam, and his Caritas in Veritate (2009) was portrayed as a movement towards liberalism in terms of economic policy. Reporters and their editors thought that the world would eventually change the Church, and viewed each unfamiliar concept as a change towards their politics.

This led to a new situation. The Church would speak, the media would misrepresent, and Catholic critics would blame the Pope for the confusion. Never mind that the media never once stopped to confirm their information. Never mind that they’ve been consistently wrong, and the actual documents or transcripts show Popes did not say what they were alleged to say when taken in context.

Getting From There To Here

So, what we have here is a set of attitudes from different factions that contribute to confusion:

  1. A rebellion against the authority of the Church when it goes against a faction
  2. A belief that the Church has to change or revert to avoid error
  3. A belief or fear that this change is imminent
  4. A tendency to make hostile interpretations of actions as having sympathy or support for the other side (believed to be in error)
  5. A religiously illiterate media that does not understand the depth and nuance of Church teaching
  6. Blaming the Pope for those misinterpretations.
  7. Increasingly rapid communications from people responsible for the above problems
Put these factors together and we have instantaneous response to the actions of the Pope which are affected with the biases of the person responding. It’s the same actions, but it happens faster now than it did in previous pontificates and reaches a far larger audience.

And Now, Here We Are

This is why I must shake my head in sadness and disbelief when I encounter Catholics who say, “Things were never this way before Pope Francis.” They certainly did happen back then. But before the Smartphone (which only took off in the later years of the pontificate of Benedict XVI), before the Internet (which arrived only during the pontificate of St. John Paul II), things were much slower and some errors could be refuted before they spread too far. 

But now, with the internet and the smartphone, a wild rumor can spread around the world before the Vatican Press Office can respond[π]. If a reporter wrongly thinks the quote,“Who am I to judge?” means the Pope is going to change Church teaching on homosexuality, there’s not much the Church can do to stop the misinformation from happening. She can only offer a correction and encourage people to listen to what was made in context.

This is the situation Pope Francis inherited.

  1. A rebellion from day one when radical traditionalists called his election “a disaster.” 
  2. Some hoping and some fearing change to Church teaching.
  3. A belief that this change would happen.
  4. A hostile interpretation as heretical overshadowing everything he said or did
  5. A religiously illiterate media quoting out of context, and predicting he would change Church teaching on homosexuality, abortion, contraception, etc. and hostile factions believing it.
  6. Blaming the Pope for those out of context quotes. 
  7. An instantaneous communication misrepresenting what Pope Francis said and did. 
It is these factors that lead to confusion in the Church. It has been true since the rebellion of the 1960s, and continues today, aided by improved communications of error. We didn’t hear as much about this confusion from his predecessors because the internet and the smartphone came relatively late to the game. 
There will always be some incidents where a Pope doesn’t act as we think a Pope should act. Since, a Pope is a sinner in need of salvation like the rest of us, it is possible a Pope will do something regrettable. But this catastrophic view of the Church we have today shows a lack of knowledge of problems we’ve always had. Blessed John Henry Newman, for example, had to defend Pope Pius IX from those who received faulty understanding about what he said as reported by an ignorant media.

We need to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because someone is not aware of the controversies involving the predecessors of Pope Francis does not mean these controversies did not exist. They most certainly did—but they had a much more limited reach than today. We should keep this in mind, and not assume that because this is the first time we’re noticing it, that this is the first time it happened. Once we clear out this misinterpretation, we can see the real issues clearly and perhaps come to a better attitude in dealing with them.


[†] Prior to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they made the same attacks against him.
[¶] When these critics were questioned about the censures given, it was never enough. They believed the Holy Father should have excommunicated them, even though that was not the established penalty.
[§] For example, the picture of St. John Paul II kissing the Qur’an, and the Meeting in Assisi were portrayed as “proof” that he was a heretic.
[Ω] As a personal anecdote, in 1992, doing my senior thesis for my B.A degree, defending the Church against the charge of “sympathy to the Nazis,” I had no access to Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge or Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus which denounced the Nazis, and was unable to use them (I still got an A, even though my thesis advisor was overtly hostile to the position I took). Nowadays, anyone can do a Google search and get the full text
[√] These were the big three the media obsessed over during this era. They really seemed to believe that a change was possible, which should have served as a warning to how incompetently they would deal with Pope Francis. 
[ø] For example, without the internet, I am sure that I would not be able to reach the audience I have with my blog The expense of publishing would have made it literally impossible.  
[π] If the Vatican News Service would lock the reporters on the plane until the full transcript of a press conference was released to the public, I’d be all for it. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Don't Have to Listen to You! Thoughts on Rebellion Against the Ordinary Magisterium


20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me”; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. (Humani Generis)


Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1939–1958 (Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press, 1990), 178.


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.


Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247–248.

One error that afflicted modernist dissenters for generations, and is now spreading to critics of Pope Francis is the error that if the Pope does not teach ex cathedra, then what he says might be riddled with error and we don’t have to follow it. This position further claims that only the ex cathedra teachings of the Pope are binding, but we can ignore what the bishops. The problem is, since most of the teachings done by the Church don’t involve ex cathedra declarations, this error amounts to justifying disobedience to whatever teaching or Pope the person wants to ignore. 

What this error ignores is the fact that ex cathedra definitions start out as teachings from the Ordinary Magisterium. The infallible definition is only made when the ordinary teaching is denied and needs to be clarified. So the Church infallibly defined Transubstantiation in response to certain individuals rejecting the ordinary magisterium of the Church. So, if the ordinary magisterium of the Church was not binding, then a good number of Church teachings on doctrine and morality would not be binding, and (under this logic) people were “free” to reject these teachings before an Ecumenical Council or a Papal Bull said otherwise.

But the Church, in her wisdom, taught about what the faithful are bound to obey. People forget that the First Vatican Council not only defined the authority of an ex cathedra statement, but also defined that the Pope was to be obeyed under the ordinary magisterium as well:

Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation. (Pastor Æternus, Chapter III)


Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 40.

That’s actually a serious (and binding) teaching made in an Ecumenical Council presided over by Pope Pius IX. People who refuse submission to the Pope, acting as Pope, risk the loss of faith and salvation. There is nothing in Church teaching that allows the individual Catholic to withhold obedience from the teaching authority of the Pope. It is only when the Pope does not intend to teach, that one is not bound to follow. If the Pope roots for the Falcons, we’re not obliged to do the same. When Benedict XVI published Jesus of Nazareth, this was not teaching binding doctrine. But when Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, he did say that (#15), “It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.”

With this so clear, the only way the dissenter can try to evade it is by trying to impeach the authority of the Pope by accusing him of acting against Our Lord Himself (popular with those who want to accuse the Church of being “merciless” in terms of sexual moral teachings) or against the previous teachings of the Church (popular with those who dislike the Church changing disciplines). One popular tactic is to cite the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine [†] that, “a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church.” [Ω]

The problem is, we have never had a manifest (proven) heretic Pope. Even Cardinal Burke denies Pope Francis is in heresy. We’ve had two Popes accused of privately holding heresy (Liberius and Honorius), and one Pope (John XXII) who held a personal opinion that had hitherto never been defined but was later condemned by his successor. One could argue from St. Robert Bellarmine (in the forgotten part of his opinion) that this is a sign, “that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.” [§]  

So when critics of the Pope argue that they can ignore or reject the Pope if he teaches what they think is error, we see they have made an argument without authority which tries to claim the Pope or bishops who teach what they dislike can be rejected. But as we’ve shown above, the Church does not now nor ever accepted this as valid. To be blunt, these people are living in a fantasy world which can endanger their souls. They think their interpretations must be right and a Pope or bishop who says otherwise must be in error. But it is the Pope and bishops in communion with him who have the authority to interpret Scripture and Tradition and apply it to the problems of today. We trust that God protects His Church from teaching error in matters we are bound to obey. Otherwise we would be caught in a paradox—being forced to obey the Church (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17) in disobeying Our Lord by His own command. 

I find it far more reasonable to believe that God protects His Church, under the stewardship of the Pope, from teaching error than to believe that He reneged on His promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) and to protect it (Matthew 16:18-19) after Vatican II or after Pope Francis was elected Pope. That may involve the Holy Spirit dissuading a bad Pope from teaching at all.

But the rebellion against the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church when the Church intends to teach is dangerous. Whether it is based on ignorance or obstinacy, we will have to account for why we did not obey the Church and chose to trust in ourselves instead of Him when Our Lord Himself declared the Church necessary.



[†] For a more in depth analysis of St. Robert Bellarmine that I wrote, see HERE.

[Ω] Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) (p. 309). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. It should be noted that the term “true opinion” does not mean “fact.” It means an opinion reached through valid reasoning.

[§] Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) (p. 304). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. The saint goes on to say that the opinions that a Pope can be deposed for heresy can only be considered if this view is false. But he just said he considers this view probable and easily defended. So the rest is more of a theoretical exercise.