Showing posts with label Outrage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Outrage. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Deafening Our Conscience Through Outrage

Everyone notices the wrongdoing done by other people. We see something that seems unjust and we are outraged. We demand instantaneous retraction and until that is done, the one we see as guilty loses all rights to being treated as a human person. If that person is a member of the clergy, he is treated as if he forfeits all rights to the respect and submission due his office.

Meanwhile, more often than not, people refuse to consider their own wrongdoing as anything worth considering. Refusing obedience to the Church because their teachings and actions do not mesh with one’s own beliefs is not recognized as disobedience. Instead it’s treated as “standing up against evil,” where everyone imagines they are a miniature St. Paul, withstanding an erring Peter to his face.

The problem is, we are not like St. Paul. We’re more like the Pharisee who treats the sinner—or the one we think is sinning—as beneath contempt while thinking we’re superior because we don’t sin... or, if we do, at least we don’t sin as badly as them.

That’s a dangerous attitude. It shows we’ve forgotten or ignored our own guilt. As long as we aren’t as bad (in our own eyes) as them, we’re the good ones, the wise ones. That’s a dangerous attitude because it shows we we have become deaf to our conscience. As Benedict XVI put it:

“The Pharisee is no longer aware that he too is guilty. He is perfectly at ease with his own conscience. But this silence of his conscience makes it impossible for God and men to penetrate his carapace—whereas the cry of conscience that torments the tax collector opens him to receive truth and love. Jesus can work effectively among sinners because they have not become inaccessible behind the screen of an erring conscience, which would put them out of reach of the changes that God awaits from them—and from us. Jesus cannot work effectively among the righteous because they sense no need for forgiveness and repentance; their conscience no longer accuses them but only justifies them.”

Values in a Time of Upheaval, p. 82

When we are deaf to conscience, we justify the evil we do, saying it’s not as bad as the evil they do, therefore it’s unimportant. We protest, asking “Why does the Church focus on us when those people are doing worse? What we forget is that the deadliest sin for an individual is the one that sends that individual to hell. 

So you don’t support abortion? Congratulations. You’ve none nothing more than demanded of you. But if you’re committing other sins while refusing to acknowledge and repent of them, you might be no better off in the eyes of God—even if the magnitude of your sins are objectively less.

Our Lord shocked the Pharisees when He said, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” [Matthew 21:31 (NABRE)]. If He wanted to shock us equally today, He might say, “the pro-abortion politicians and cowardly bishops” (to name two popular targets of revulsion). If they repent but we do not, then they are in the same situation as the tax collectors [§] while we are in the same situation as the Pharisees. This doesn’t mean, “treat sins as unimportant.” It means “don’t exalt yourself just because you haven’t done that.” 

Or, as St. John Chrysostom, (Homily III on 2 Timothy), discusses on our focus on the great sins of others:

“Let each therefore, with an upright conscience, entering into a review of what he has done, and bringing his whole life before him, consider, whether he is not deserving of chastisements and punishments without number? And when he is indignant that some one, who has been guilty of many bad actions, escapes with impunity; let him consider his own faults, and his indignation will cease. For those crimes appear great, because they are in great and notorious matters; but if he will enquire into his own, he will perhaps find them more numerous.”

So, when we see sin in the Church—especially when it seems to go unnoticed—it’s not wrong to want justice and reform. But it is wrong to play the Pharisee, using the sins of others to justify ourselves. We might be risking our souls by using another’s sins as an excuse to ignore our own wrongdoing.


[§] To put it in historical context: Tax collectors (publicani) of the Roman Empire were not the equivalent of the modern IRS. Their greed and corruption ruined and destabilized entire provinces. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thoughts on Controversy and the Church

One trend I come across in social media is the claim that, before Pope Francis or before Vatican II, the Church and the Popes taught clearly, but now everything is ambiguous and needs clarification. This is an error, but it’s an easy one to make. The error revolves around the fact that the further away we are from a controversy, the less we hear about the things which led up to a formal definition by the Church. We remember that Nicaea I condemned Arianism. We don’t remember the disputes about the interpretations of Scripture and the meaning of equivocal words. We think of the old maxim, Rome has spoken, the cause is finished, and wonder why people should still fighting except that the Pope isn’t clear. But we forget that when St. Augustine said this, he was actually speaking about the repeated disobedience despite the teaching of the Holy See:

For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed.


Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 504.

When we dig into the history of the Church we see that, when the Pope or a Council teaches on a subject, error doesn’t vanish. The decree just establishes the dividing line where one has to choose—either to accept the authority of the Church or to reject it. Error, however, doesn’t say, “Yep, I’m wrong but I don’t care.” Error rarely says, “I’m going to leave and start my own church!” What normally happens is Error denies that it is in opposition to Church teaching. Rather it either pretends to be faithful anyway or else it claims that the magisterium is wrong, and would have taught differently if they were really following Our Lord, or The Bible, or other Church teachings.

For example, when St. Pius X condemned modernism, many real modernists denied they held the positions condemned in Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentibili Sane. They would simply modify their positions slightly, claiming obedience to the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the teachings. If we were to apply the logic of the critics of Pope Francis or Vatican II, we would have to say St. Pius X was to blame for the continued disobedience. But in fact the disobedience came from those who chose to misrepresent what the Pope said. We can also point to the fact that Catholics and Protestants alike have pointed to St. Augustine to justify their contradicting positions on grace and actions. Did St. Augustine teach confusion? Or did one side cite him wrongly? I think we can recognize that St. Augustine did not teach contradiction or error.

What these examples show is that confusion and dissent existed before Vatican II. We forget about it because, if we read about these things at all, we only read about the final results, and not the path that led to that point. We don’t see the discussion that evaluated each claim and argued over the merits and problems. We wonder why the Pope hasn’t issued a decree, excommunicated a politician or answered a dubia. We forget how Blessed John Henry Newman explained, over 150 years ago, why dispute and confusion existed in the process:

And then again all through Church history from the first, how slow is authority in interfering! Perhaps a local teacher, or a doctor in some local school, hazards a proposition, and a controversy ensues. It smoulders or burns in one place, no one interposing; Rome simply lets it alone. Then it comes before a Bishop; or some priest, or some professor in some other seat of learning takes it up; and then there is a second stage of it. Then it comes before a University, and it may be condemned by the theological faculty. So the controversy proceeds year after year, and Rome is still silent. An appeal, perhaps, is next made to a seat of authority inferior to Rome; and then at last after a long while it comes before the supreme power. Meanwhile, the question has been ventilated and turned over and over again, and viewed on every side of it, and authority is called upon to pronounce a decision, which has already been arrived at by reason. But even then, perhaps the supreme authority hesitates to do so, and nothing is determined on the point for years; or so generally and vaguely, that the whole controversy has to be gone through again, before it is ultimately determined. It is manifest how a mode of proceeding, such as this, tends not only to the liberty, but to the courage, of the individual theologian or contraversialist. Many a man has ideas, which he hopes are true, and useful for his day, but he wishes to have them discussed. He is willing or rather would be thankful to give them up, if they can be proved to be erroneous or dangerous, and by means of controversy he obtains his end. He is answered, and he yields; or he finds that he is considered safe. He would not dare to do this, if he knew an authority, which was supreme and final, was watching every word he said, and made signs of assent or dissent to each sentence, as he uttered it. Then, indeed, he would be fighting, as the Persian soldiers, under the lash, and the freedom of his intellect might truly be said to be beaten out of him. But this has not been so:—I do not mean to say that, when controversies run high, in schools or even in small portions of the Church, an interposition may not rightly take place; and again, questions may be of that urgent nature, that an appeal must, as a matter of duty, be made at once to the highest authority in the Church; but, if we look into the history of controversy, we shall find, I think, the general run of things to be such as I have represented it. Zosimus treated Pelagius and C┼ôlestius with extreme forbearance; St. Gregory VII. was equally indulgent with Berengarius; by reason of the very power of the Popes they have commonly been slow and moderate in their use of it.


John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 289–290.

One can also read the CDF documents where a theologian’s works were ultimately condemned. In them, there is a process of dialogue in which the Church determines whether the person understood his ideas went against the Church, and if so, entered a discussion on how to make things right. It took years from the time the case was taken up until an obstinate theologian’s work was condemned. It takes years because the Church wants to make sure they do not wrongly judge someone who has merely stated the truth in a new way.

The modern critics however do not take years—whether in studying the Catholic faith or studying the person alleged to be a heretic. They match what they think they know about the faith and compare it with what they think they know about the person they dislike. The problem is often these Catholics treat their reading of Church documents in the same way that the Biblical literalist interprets the Bible—without regard to context or nuances in translation, and without regard for one’s limitations.

That’s not to say that only people with a PhD have anything to say about Scripture or Sacred Tradition or Church documents. What it means is we ought to realize we can go wrong, and we can avoid error by making sure our reading does not contradict the magisterium. Just because one person thinks the Pope contradicts a document does not, in fact, mean the Pope contradicts that document. The critic forgets to consider the possibility of his own error. 

This seems to fit in with the Pope recently expressing his concern about “restorationist” (a belief we need to “go back” to an earlier time) attitudes, saying, “they seem to offer security but instead give only rigidity.” Expecting that the only response to a problem in the Church is strict response is to reject any response of compassion. Rigidity (wrongly) views the Pope’s words on mercy as moral laxity and condemn him with a growing demonic hatred. But many of those Catholics I have tangled with cannot get beyond a binary thinking of “either rigid or heretical.” But if there is a third option, a none of the above, then the binary thinking is right.

Now the epithet of “Pharisee” gets overused (and, yeah, I know I’m guilty of using it at times, too) but rigidity was one of the problems with the pharisees. They wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), they were scandalized that He dined with tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-13), and that he allowed the sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). Our Lord was not lax in these cases, but he was merciful, and this is what the Pope is calling us to emulate—don’t treat the sinner with harshness, but with love.

I think the ultimate problem with controversy in the Church is that Catholics (whether ordained, religious, or laity) presume they know all the facts about Church teaching and about the situation of the sinner and reject the approach the Church takes if it does not match the individual’s flawed understanding. And that’s where we have to change. We have to stop thinking we are the ones who pass judgment on the Church when the Church does not match our preferences, and let the teaching of the Church pass judgment on our preferences.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

CSI: Catholic "Scandal" Instigation

While it has been most obvious during the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Church has had a problem for awhile. That problem is certain Catholics taking incidents and blowing them up into scandals to promote their own agendas. Whether that agenda is one of a liberal advocacy of changing Church teaching or whether it is a conservative advocacy of reverting practices to the way they were before Vatican II, the tactic is to take an event involving a member of the Church and changing that member into a hero or a villain and claim that if only we had changed/not changed things in the Church, things would be better.

In other words, one faction cannot put the blame only on the other faction. Both are trying to use news reports to promote their agenda. Nobody ever seems to ask how the Church can be dominated by liberals (the conservative allegation) and conservatives (the liberal allegation) at the same time. But this is the world of CSI—Catholic “Scandal” Instigation.

YH11 1

The most common form works in reaction to the major news coverage. The media reports on something happening in the Church with only superficial interpretation at best (usually, it’s completely uninformed speculation). We get a soundbite quote from someone in the Church which is aimed at either promoting a futile hope in the Church changing her teaching or at casting a member of the Church or Church teaching in a negative light. Members of the CSI immediately jump on the story assuming it is true as written. The Church is attacked for being either terribly heartless or terribly lenient. Bishops and even the Pope gets attacked if the story gives the CSI member a negative feeling.

We can consider the first year of Pope Francis. The media was taking soundbites from interviews or Church documents with no reference to why the Pope said or wrote such things. Unlike previous pontificates where such soundbites were used to show the Popes in a negative light, these were used to make it seem like the Pope was willing to change Church teaching from “X is forbidden” to “X is allowed.” Those who wanted to believe it rejoiced. Those who didn’t want to believe it, but did so anyway, reacted with horror. The internet spilled over with some Catholics denouncing the Pope as a heretic while others, long dissenting, portrayed themselves as being right all the time while the Church "finally caught up with the times” while the bishops were “in opposition” to the Pope.

The problem was, nobody actually asked the question of “Did the Pope actually say that in the first place?” Once a full transcript or the actual Papal document was released, it turned out that while the line existed, it was in the middle of a paragraph that was demonstrating fully orthodox Catholic teaching. Of course, once the correct context was released, the people who supported the alleged new teaching ignored this context and continued to repeat the original out of context story, while those who opposed it either pretended the whole affair never happened or else made it seem as if their overreaction was the Pope’s fault (Two common retorts: “Every time the Pope speaks, the Vatican has to do damage control!” and “The Pope needs to speak more clearly!”).

Another way is to take a negative story about the Church and make it sound like the bishop is guilty of supporting something monstrous. Two examples recently were:

  1. To take an incident in San Francisco and make it seem like Archbishop Cordileone was directly responsible for deliberately turning water on the homeless (the accusation of it being deliberate based solely on the claim of an anonymous report), never considering the possibility that auxiliary bishop William Justice (who made the decision) was telling the truth and had installed an ineffective system for washing hazardous waste out from corners and doorways.
  2. To take a case in New Jersey was put on paid leave while an investigation took place over a public statement made on Facebook that could have been seen as misrepresenting Church teaching and make it seem as if Bishop Paul Bootkowski was firing because of her defending the Christian understanding of marriage while ignoring the fact that the first half of her statement was problematic and ignoring the fact that she wasn’t fired. (In fact, she’s been reinstated).

In both cases, the bishops were essentially slandered/libeled and both were accused of bad will and acting against the teaching of the Church. In neither case does evidence exist for the accusations. But the attacks live on and the Church is undermined.

In this, I was struck by something written by Fr. Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints concerning Pope Leo the Great:

St. Leo laid down this important maxim for the rule of his conduct, never to give any decision, especially to the prejudice of another, before he had examined into the affair with great caution and exactness, and most carefully taken all informations possible.


[Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 2 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 66.]

It makes me wonder why people continue to do this. When it comes to making a decision about doing right and wrong, why do we continue to assume we have all the facts before assuming the worst? We have seen often enough that the media, for whatever reason (ignorance or malice), constantly gets the reports wrong that we ought to beware of trusting the media in reporting on the Church at all. But people keep falling for it.

CB Football11

It seems to me that the problem is that people are willing to believe the worst about those they dislike or distrust. Conservatives mistrust the Pope and many bishops as sympathizing with liberalism, willing to undermine the Church. Liberals dislike the Church teachings on sexual morality and believe those who support it must be cold hearted and capable of cruelty (It should be noted that there seems to be a growing recognition that the Pope is not going to change doctrine and a gradual disillusionment with him). Both seem willing to undermine those in the Church who seem openly against their views.

We need to beware of the danger of jumping rashly on a news report. Nowadays, it’s all about being the first to report a breaking story. Reporters with little to no knowledge about the teachings of the Church can easily misinterpret the nuances of a Papal statement and report something wildly inaccurate. But we who are Catholic do not have the excuse of not knowing. We know that the Church teaching requires our assent. We trust that the Church is protected by God. Yet we continue to trust uninformed sources and let them form our opinions on the Church.

That has to stop. We have an obligation to think and assess before speaking. We’re not doing it. That failure is undermining of trust in the Church. Our first task is to give a favorable interpretation if possible. If not possible, we are to ask the one we are scandalized by for how they understand their own statement. Only then does correction take place—but even then with humility and love.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TFTD: Well Said Holy Father

Full transcript of Pope's interview in-flight to Manila :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

The Holy Father has spoken about the Charlie Hebdo murders in a way that makes a lot of sense, but will probably not win him support from those who believe there can be no restrictions on speech and press. He makes a two prong statement that addresses both issues:

  1. Using violence in the name of God can never be done.
  2. The freedom of speech is not an absolute that can justify saying anything offensive.

Basically, the Pope said that people have the right and obligation to speak the truth, but freedom is not absolute. One cannot be grossly offensive, especially when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. Even when people are grossly offensive, others don’t have the right to turn to violence in response. However, anger at having something important being attacked is not wrong in itself. (Which is a very useful point—too many try to twist Christians being offended by attacks as if it was “unchristian.”)

Unfortunately, some are beginning to accuse the Pope of supporting the terrorists—never mind the fact that he has continually condemned terrorism and clarified any possible ambiguities in what he said. They look at it as Either-Or, ignoring the fact that condemning both is a legitimate option.

But what he said makes perfect sense. Even if a non-Christian does not share our values, his words can be understood in terms of respect for others. When we make use of the freedom of speech or the press, we have to be respectful of others. When we speak about things we believe to be wrong, we do so with charity. If someone with a large audience does something grossly offensive and millions are offended, there will probably be a small group among them who would be willing to make an extreme response. It would be wrong of them to do so, but they may be motivated to act in spite of the their moral obligations not to murder.

Ultimately, that’s what happened with Charlie Hebdo. Millions of Muslims were angry, and they had a right to be angry by the offensive antics of this magazine. Tragically, some of these Muslims believed it was acceptable to murder. They were wrong to murder, regardless of what offensive garbage the magazine chose to publish. We believe that Charlie Hebdo did not have the right to be grossly offensive, regardless of their convictions.

So, as I see the Pope’s statement, he sees two wrongs: The wrong of people murdering those they disagree with and the wrong of being deliberately offensive. Both of these are condemnable. The Pope is not siding with the terrorists, but he is not Charlie either.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TFTD: The Facts Do NOT Justify This Reaction!

The reaction to Cardinal Burke’s assignment among certain Catholics is simply not justified, and is not supported by the facts of the case. The sequence of events do not support the view that the Pope “demoted” Cardinal Burke for any reason—let alone for his actions at the synod.

See, Cardinal Burke’s five year term as head of the Roman Rota expired in December 2013. The Pope had previously made it clear that he was opposed to the mindset of “careerism” in the Church, so it stands to reason he might not want to renew the cardinal’s term of office. Do a google search for “Pope Francis reappoints” and you will see that there are zero hits for the curia and only a few entries for non curia positions. He has shuffled some people from one position to another but he has not reappointed anyone to the same position in the curia thus far.

So, one cannot complain that the Pope did not make a special exception for Cardinal Burke.

So one might ask why the Pope didn’t appoint him to another position. Well, that requires there to be another position to which Cardinal Burke is qualified for that is open. Was there one? If not, the Pope would have to remove someone else from their position. That seldom happens without serious cause.

So, the expectation that he be appointed to a position of equal status is not reasonable if there was no assignment for him available. The Pope may or may not consider Cardinal Burke for a position that opens up further down the road—but the Pope does not owe him a position.

Perhaps instead of screaming that the Pope is trying to destroy the Church, we can follow the Cardinal’s example and remain faithful to the Pope.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Mob Turns on Richard Dawkins

Reports are coming in of a dispute on  The history seems to be Dawkins has written a note claiming his blog forum will be more tightly moderated in light of abusive comments.  Ironically, the tight moderation will be enacted sooner than the 30 days stated because of the vitriol he received in response to his policy.

Christian bloggers of course have been on the receiving end of such vitriol for some time.  Trolls, flames, personal attacks and all the rest have been directed us for quite awhile now.  Of course I don't take part in the Schadenfreude which seems to be going around some sites, which seems to be amused by this.  These people are often the ones making insults against Christians.  Personally I'd rather the Internet be filled with a good deal more civility regardless of the topic on a forum than to see Dawkins get what he deserves.

Dawkins says in his post:

Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

I believe the answer to this is: Richard Dawkins rose to fame by appealing to the mob, and now the mob has turned on him.  In his books and public statements, he has made attacks on religion which do not appeal to the intellectuals, but the mob mentality, using rhetorical flourishes to sneak past arguments which aren't valid.

The mob tends to love displays of violence and mockery.  They were the ones who flocked to the arenas during the Roman Empire, they were the ones who took part in lynching individuals, they were the ones who eventually took over French Revolution, turning on the founders.

This is the danger in the appeal to the mob.  One can encourage it to support you, but one can never fully control it.  One generally has to keep upping the ante for satiating the mob, because they become jaded.

The New Atheism has gained its appeal through pandering to the mob.  The attacks we have seen from them are that Christians are "stupid" and "irrational" and call for actions to put Christians "in their place."  The mob liked this, because of those Christians who insist that there are limits to what is acceptable behavior… limits which are unpopular in a hedonistic culture.

For long periods of time, we have seen the foul language, the insults used against the Christians.  So long as it was directed against the Christians, such things were tolerated.

However, once the mob grew angry at Dawkins and his attempts to control his site, the situation changed.  It wasn't Christians saying "You shouldn't do this."  It was Dawkins saying it.  The mob merely took their hostility to the next group "restricting" them.

So now they turned on him, using the vitriol long used against Christians against him.  The preferences of the mob have shifted further than Dawkins wishes to go, but the mob must be sated.  So once Dawkins tried to stop the mob, he paid the price.

He writes:

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

However, he played a role in his own savaging.  By tolerating the vile attacks so long as it was directed against Christians, it becomes somewhat hypocritical for him to object when he falls out of favor and becomes the target.

Perhaps Dawkins will learn now that there is an objective standard for behavior, and that what is wrong to direct towards him is also wrong to direct against others… even Christians.