Showing posts with label authority. Show all posts
Showing posts with label authority. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

It’s Iimi! A Question of Authority

Once more, Kismetta has questions for Iimi. But they’re not so much aimed at “debunking” Christianity as it is asking to learn about Christianity. Iimi needs to tread carefully because how she replies could permanently affect how Kismetta accepts the Church’s answer to… A Question of Authority.





















Post Comic notes:

 

For those curious about the dialogue Sumeja is hearing on the other end, this is the Google Translation of Page 2, panel 1:

Voice (Zara): من هذا عزيزي؟  (min hadh eazizi?)

(Who is this, dear?)

 

Bahrudin: أنا أتحدث إلى سوميجا ، الزوجة الأولى ، عزيزتي  ('ana 'atahadath 'iilaa Sumija, alzawjat al'uwlaa , eazizati)

 (I am speaking to Sumeja, the first wife, dear)

 

Zara:  لماذا اتصلت متأخرا جدا؟  أليس بعد اثنتي عشرة ساعة هناك؟  (limadha atasalat muta'akhiran jidana? 'alays baed aithnatay eashrat saeatan hunaka?)

(Why is she calling so late? isn’t it twelve hours later there?)

 

I wrote in English and translated into Arabic. I’m sure a speaker of Arabic would find all sorts of problems with the translation.

Monday, July 19, 2021

It’s Iimi! Is the Pope Committing “Mass” Murder?

What are we to make of the claims that Pope Francis is eliminating the Missal of 1962 as reported by fans of the Extraordinary Rite and the media?

Iimi and Daryl discuss the recent Motu Proprio, Traditionis Custodes and why Pope Francis saw the need to give the bishops the authority and responsibility for those who want to use the Extraordinary Form. Mrs. Garza, one of the parish senior citizens, speaks about the myth of a golden age in the Church .






[To Clarify (thanks to a reader's question), "overrode" does not mean "invalidate." Of course, the Extraordinary Form is valid. Iimi uses it in the sense of "to have precedence or superiority over" (SOED). My apologies for those who found the equivocal nature of the word misleading.]







Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Rebellion of False Prophets

When the priest Zephaniah read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Send to all the exiles: Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah, the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah prophesies to you, although I did not send him, and has led you to rely on a lie, therefore thus says the LORD, I will punish Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, and his descendants. None of them shall dwell among this people to see the good I will do for this people—oracle of the LORD—because he preached rebellion against the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:29-32)

As I continue working through the Book of Jeremiah, I’m struck by the emergence of the false prophets who either say what they think and attribute it to God, or say what they think others want to hear. Both are treated as leading people in a lie and as preaching rebellion against God who had something different in mind for the people of Israel as they faced exile in Babylon.

The concept of preaching rebellion struck me as something relevant for our times. Back then, God sent certain prophets who spoke His message to the people while false prophets tried to undermine his message. In this time, we have the Church which was established by Christ to preach and to teach while people who do not agree with what the Church is doing argue that it has gone astray, and God wills something different.

It seems to me that both are examples of the false prophets. In both cases we have those who were given authority by God to teach in His name and people who do not like what is taught and try to undermine it. I suspect that both cases are not so much about deliberate malice as it is not believing the authority of the ones God has sent. The false prophets might sincerely think they understand the situation better. But it is rebellion against God nonetheless because the prophet or the Church which they oppose is teaching with God’s authority.

Things are as bad as they have always been. In 1974, writing about the hostility towards the pontificate of St. Paul VI, Hans Urs Von Balthasar could write about a rebellion that fits the same problems today, 46 years after it was originally written:

To use, for once, the nonsensical division of humanity into a “left” and a “right”, we can say that the “left” is closed to the monarchic, aristocratic, bureaucratic and any other “cratic” claims of the central “apparatus”, while the “right” is split: there is a small segment in which “papolatry” still prevails, but the majority is plagued by a growing fear that the Pope might be captured by the “progressives”, if he himself is not a “leftist” who, at the expense of the “silent Church”, spins questionable diplomatic threads to Moscow and Peking. [Paul VI is meant. The original text was published in 1974—Ed.]

Of course, there is—and always has been among Catholics—a healthy popular sentiment that is faithful to Rome without being blind to the faults and human failings of the curia and even of the pope. Ordinary common sense is able to handle this as a matter of course and without embarrassment. But this sentiment (sound, from the Catholic point of view) is steadily undermined by the mass media, the press and the numerous publications that demonstrate their Christian “adulthood” by an arrogant and even venomous superiority toward all that comes from Rome, happens in Rome or goes to Rome.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, trans. Andrée Emery, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 25–26. Bracketed editor notes from the original text.

These parallels between the false prophets in the time of Jeremiah and the critics of the Church today should lead us to consider whether our tendency to downplay the Church when she teaches what we do not want to hear—claiming that her teaching is false—might be seen by God in the same way that he saw Shemaiah, the Nehelamite… as being in rebellion against Him and leading people into a lie. We as Catholics believe that Jesus left us with the Church which teaches with His authority. So, if we follow a false prophet who teaches that this Church is in error, we are following the rebel against God and are without excuse.

We are constantly told that the Church is promoting all sorts of errors. But when we look at what the Church teaches, we see that the false prophets making these accusations are confusing their political and cultural preferences with God’s will. The result is they lead rebellion against God by saying that the Church is being hijacked by “the left” or “the right,” when in fact it is their preferences that are trying to hijack the Church.

 

______________________

(†) The original title of this work translates as “The Anti-Roman Attitude.”

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What Happens When Catholic Voters Are Dishonest?

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

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

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

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

Over the past two weeks, the USCCB have issued statements on different moral teachings… abortion, the death penalty, the treatment of migrants, religious freedom and the like. Right on the heels of the Democratic and Republic Conventions, these statements seem aimed at reminding American Catholics about what the Church requires of them.

And, right on schedule, American Catholics come out of the woodwork to denounce those statements, claiming they are ignoring (often they accuse of the Bishops of deliberately ignoring) other issues that these critics think is more important. When the bishops condemn abortion, those Catholics planning to vote for a pro-abortion candidate accuse them of ignoring the other teachings. When they condemn the death penalty, those Catholics who plan to vote for a candidate who supports it accuse the bishops of ignoring abortion… which they just spoke about the day previously.

When this happens, it is hard to avoid wondering if a portion of these Catholic voters are either culpably ignorant or outright dishonest§. By saying this, I don’t mean dishonest in the sense of “not believing in God.” Rather I mean dishonest in the sense of not honestly seeking to examine one’s conscience and see if their behavior is against what Catholics are called to be.

I have seen some Catholics proclaim to be faithful while refusing to give assent to the Pope (that’s dissent at best, if not de facto schism). I’ve seen others proclaim to be “Pope Francis Catholics” while being openly contemptuous of the bishops who repeat his teachings. More often than not, you can tell which of them plan to vote Democrat and which plan to vote Republican while claiming to be the only Catholics to follow the Church correctly. Catholics of these factional views try to claim their political views are doctrine, while doctrine their party is afoul of is “opinion” or “prudential judgement.

We need to remember that Jesus Christ has established the Catholic Church under the visible head of St. Peter and his successors—up to and including the current Pope—and the bishops in communion with him. If an individual bishop or a group of bishops act against that communion, they do not act with any authority. But when a bishop teaches, we are bound to give “to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops” (Canon 753).

This is where we run into the dishonesty test. If a Catholic who, upon being instructed by the Pope or his bishop on a certain matter, immediately searches for reasons not to obey… such a Catholic is not being honest. He is guilty of what Our Lord condemned in the attitude of the Pharisees, looking for legalistic excuses not to follow God’s teachings and there are consequences for that attitude (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Whether the Pope or bishop speaks out on an intrinsic evil like abortion, or a morally neutral act carried out with evil intention or consequence, we don’t get to decide whether to obey or not. Either we obey or we are not faithful Catholics… no matter how hard we politically fight those we see as enemies of the Church.

It should be noted that such prohibitions are not limited to matters of dogma. The Church can also bind in matters of discipline and governance. For example, there was never anything evil about eating meat. But the Church decreed for centuries that we must not eat meat on Fridays as an act of penance. Those Catholics who did eat meat on Fridays were not guilty of sin simply because they ate meat, but because they refused to accept the penitential discipline laid down. These acts of governance can be changed as needed. But we don’t get to pass judgment on those acts of governance and decide whether or not we will follow them.

This is where every Catholic needs to look at their behavior. If the response to the authoritative act of Pope or bishops is to look for ways to evade that obligation, we are being dishonest. If we point out the sins of others who we politically oppose while doing the same thing, we are being dishonest.

And if we are dishonest, we are not giving the obligatory assent. Once we start down that road, we will end up facing judgment for it. If we are unrepentant in our disobedience, we do risk hell. That is the end result of being dishonest with ourselves. And if (God forbid!) we face that judgment for not keeping God’s commands, the things we did do will be of no avail. As Our Lord, Jesus Christ said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21–23).

…and we will have no honest excuse if we do not give the obedience God commands us to give to His Church.

___________

(§) This is of course something for God to judge and the individual Catholic’s confessor to assess. I will not “name names” or accuse individuals of being guilty. All I hope to do is get people to think about it.

(†) I hate this term. Not because of any hostility to the Pope, but because virtually all of the Catholics I have encountered who use it hijack it to cover their political views which are actually in opposition to what the Pope has said.

(‡) I’ve discussed that HERE.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

It’s Iimi! A Semi-Socratic Dialogue on Authority and Missionary Dating

As a preliminary note, I want to make clear that not all Protestants are anti-Catholic, and not all anti-Catholics are a Protestant. But the attitudes described in this comic are real. They’ve just been adapted to fit the personalities of the characters I’ve designed.





































Monday, July 27, 2020

Identifying With a Thing Doesn’t Make It Good per se. Opposing it Doesn’t Make it Bad

One thing I encounter among Catholics on social media is the assumption that: because I identify with a thing, it must be good or because I oppose it, it must be bad. The problem with this view is it confuses what makes an act good or evil objectively with one’s feelings about an act. Since people don’t like to think of themselves as being wrong, this assumption frequently results in accusing the Church of error for affirming a teaching in the face of popular sentiment.

These attacks—like so many others—are not limited to one region or faction. Conservative or liberal; Democrat or Republican; these and many other factions across the public square find fault with the Church where the Church cannot do anything else but teach this way.

To understand why the Church holds that a thing must be a certain way, we need to grasp that there are three things needed to make an act morally good. The action itself must be good (e.g. you can never say an act of rape or genocide is good), the results must be good (a do-gooder who sparks a riot through lack of prudence doesn’t perform a good act even if the action itself is good), and the intention must be good (If I donate money to charity in order to impress and seduce my neighbor’s wife, that is an evil intention). If even one of these three conditions are absent, you don’t have a good act. Let’s look at some illustrations.

Things like abortion are examples of an intrinsically bad act. It arbitrarily chooses to end an innocent human life for the perceived benefit of another human life. Even if the person who commits it thinks that the good outweighed the evil, or meant well in doing so, you can’t call it a good act. How one feels about it doesn’t change that fact. This is why the Church cannot do anything other than condemn it. Reducing the amount of abortion cannot be an end in itself. It can only be a step on the way to abolition.

Other acts can be neutral or good in themselves, but the consequence is bad. For example, the Church does teach that a nation can regulate immigration if doing so is necessary. This is something critics of the Pope and bishops love to point out. But there is a difference between “our country is in the midst of a disaster and we are having trouble dealing with it right now” and “Criminals among THOSE people are dangerous and we don’t want them here, so let’s keep everyone out!” The US bishops are pointing out that America is not in that first situation, and the second situation is a morally bad consequence—refusing to help those in need out of a fear of who might get in.

And, of course, a good or neutral act can be made bad if done for a bad intention. Being thrifty is a good thing. But, if one is frugal for a bad reason (like Judas dipping into the common purse [John 12:5-6]), it’s not a morally good act. If a government cuts expenses with the intent of targeting certain groups or raising taxes in the name of social services, but defines the term to fund immoral policies, then the bad intention corrupts the good or neutral base act.

In these cases, no matter how much one identifies with the cause, if it’s defective in one of these three parts, you can’t call it a good act.

On the other side, the fact that the Church as a whole, the Pope, or an individual bishop acts in a way we disagree with does notmake it a morally bad act. The Church needs to act with an eye towards saving souls. That might be a soft merciful approach, as when Our Lord dined with sinners. It might be a strong rebuke, as when Our Lord rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees. But the point of their action is supposed to be bringing the sinner back to reconciliation. Since the Church is made up of sinners with finite knowledge, we will invariably encounter situations handled badly. But we will also encounter situations we think are handled badly due to our own lack of knowledge… either about the situation or about the teaching behind the Church’s action. 

Every election year, for example, we hear from certain Catholics on how the bishops are failing by not excommunicating politicians for supporting abortion. This is based on a misunderstanding of canon law. Canon law points out that those directly taking part in a specific act of abortion (abortionist, their staff, woman having an abortion, etc.) are automatically excommunicated. But those working to protect abortion as a “right” are doing something gravely sinful and, under canon 916, should refrain from Communion. Canon 915 involves those publicly involved in grave sin. Some bishops have invoked it in refusing communion to politicians in their dioceses. Others don’t seem to have acted in this way. 

But what we don’t know is why they have not acted publicly. It could be laxity or sympathy… the two common charges from those who demand public action. Are there situations we don’t know about? Are the bishops in personal dialogue with these Catholic politicians? Have they privately told these politicians not to receive? Do they want to avoid conflict? I don’t know… but neither do the critics. We should certainly pray for our bishops to shepherd rightly. But we should also keep in mind that—in connecting the dots—we may not have seen all the dots that we need to connect.

This should not be interpreted as a “be passive in the face of injustice.” What it means is, we should not be so confident in our interpretation of events that we think only the conclusion we draw is true. Church history is full of people who thought they knew better and caused all sorts of chaos, endangering their own souls and the souls of others. Because conditions change, the Church will have to decide how to best apply timeless truths to the current times. Sometimes, the attitudes of a society can lead Catholics to tolerate—or even commit—injustice. Sometimes those Catholics are higher up in the Church. But we must not assume that this is the case when the Church must teach in a way we do not like.

 

_______

(†) Of course, we must do more to help people than just end abortion. We need to help people in situations where they think it is the only choice. But only focusing on those parts while leaving it legal is not a Catholic position.

(‡) Provided, of course, the Bishop is acting in communion with the Pope and fellow bishops. The actions of a Lefebvre or a Milingo (for example) cannot be defended on these grounds.

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.

Friday, April 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________

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

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

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

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


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Replacing the Quest For Truth With the Rejections of What We Dislike

In this age of the smartphone, we get reports of events quickly. That might be a good thing except for one problem: Many things reported are not reported accurately but people tend to believe the first accounts that they hear… especially if it goes along with what they want to hear. An inaccurate news source that fits a preferred narrative is believed and a truthful challenge to it is considered false.

I see this happening in reports about the Pope. The false narrative is that “the Pope is a liberal.” Both Catholics that want him to be a liberal because they erroneously think that the Church should change, and Catholics that want him to be a liberal because they are hostile to his changes in discipline and want an excuse to deny his authority. Both factions accept false reports about what the Pope says if it fits their needs but not true reports that don’t fit.

We tend to approach politics in a similar manner. We’re willing to believe the worst possible reports about a politicians and parties we dislike and consider the negative stories about a politician we like as lies. If a news source from “the other side” criticizes one of their own, we treat it as “proof” that our platform is 100% right.

This is not a call to uncritically accept everything from all sources. We need to be aware of biases and harmful ideologies in what we read. The problem is, we tend to only apply scrutiny to sources that say something we dislike. We only give a source credibility when it suits us and reject what that source says when it doesn’t. We seldom apply it to the sources that always say what we want to hear. 

Since Christianity involves loving God and doing what is right in His sight while rejecting evil, thinking in that way is extremely dangerous. Why? Because we become like the Pharisees who were convinced of their own righteousness, blind to the fact that they too needed to change. 

As Catholics, we recognize that Christ is God, and He gave the Church the authority to teach in His name. But once we do recognize it, we are without excuse if we refuse to obey, or look for excuses to argue that the Church lacks authority in areas we dislike. The Church is quite clear on this. As the Code of Canon Law tells us:
can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

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

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

can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.
This is not merely on the say-so of the Church. We believe it on the say-so of Christ. He established His Church (Matthew 16:18), gave it binding authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18, 28:18-20, John 20:23) and made clear that there were consequences for rejecting His Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Treating an act of teaching by the magisterium as if it were opinion or error is a dangerous action. Because we are rejecting Christ in our disobedience.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Misrepresentation of Binding Authority

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us two important paragraphs on the binding authority of the Pope, but only one of those two get cited. The result of this selective citation is a misrepresentation: that unless the Pope teaches ex cathedra he might err and we can “withhold obedience” if he does. Of course, for those who do disagree with a Church teaching, it’s easy for them to find what they think is a “contradiction” and claim that their infidelity is “being faithful.”

We witnessed this during the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI when those who wanted a change to Church teaching claimed that the Papal teachings on contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, etc., were never made ex cathedra. Therefore, one could reject them “for a good reason.” That “good reason” was never submitted to the Church, of course. In fact, if the Church rejected their interpretation, it was seen as “proof” that the Pope was in error.

We witness it now with the opponents of Pope Francis. Because the individual interpretation of what he teaches does not line up with their interpretation of past teachings, the critics argue that his teaching is not binding because it is not ex cathedra and, can therefore “err.”

Both examples are variants of the No True Scotsman fallacy. It attempts to deny the authenticity of any authoritative act that refutes their claim by saying it is not “truly” authoritative. Since the individual who sets himself/herself at odds with the magisterium is the one who judges, the Church will never be in the right in their mind. But the No True Scotsman is a fallacy. It assumes that one’s own conception of a thing is what a thing actually is, refusing to accept anything that disproves their own view as valid. 

We do not interpret for ourselves what a definition is. Rather, the validity of our interpretation depends on whether it squares with what a thing is (the truth). If it does not, we speak falsely if we insist on our definition against the truth.

In this case, the critics of both above examples speak falsely when they limit the authority of what a Pope says to his ex cathedra statements because the Church does not limit her authority to the ex cathedra statements. Divine assistance is still given in the ordinary teaching of the Church and obedience is still required. The difference is not whether an ordinary teaching can err. It’s whether the teaching can be modified for different conditions.

The ex cathedra statements are statements that can never be modified based on new conditions of a time. For example, when we say that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that teaching will never be retracted based on new discoveries of science or how society changes. The Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady will never be retracted.

The ordinary magisterium, on the other hand, involves true teachings that cannot be changed, but the understanding on how to best apply them can change based on the changes in society without denying the unchanging teachings. For example, the condemnation of contraception will never change. But science will invariably discover new methods of regulating births. The Church must therefore evaluate the new methods and either accept them (like Natural Family Planning replacing the older calendar or rhythm method) or reject them (the Pill worked differently than the previous methods of contraception, but in the end turned out to be a contraceptive). 

To confuse the discipline rooted in time with the timeless teaching is to wind up accusing the Church of error when there is none. A change of discipline in the ordinary magisterium is not the same as denying the unchanging truth. Sometimes society changes so drastically that older disciplines cannot be applied: for example, the past teachings on just government in an absolute monarchy do not fit the conditions of a world where such governments do not exist. Teachings on social justice in a feudal society do not fit a society where modern capitalism has replaced it. The teachings on religious freedom in a time when other religions when people and governments recognized that Christianity was true do not fit into a time where people and governments are apathetic—if not hostile—to religion in general. 

Unfortunately, Catholics on both side of the factional divide make this error. The Catholic who believes that a teaching is wrong often points to a change in discipline as if it were a change in doctrine and uses it as “proof” to argue that unchanging truths can and should be changed. The Catholic who prefers an older discipline argues that the change is a change in doctrine and uses this as “proof” that the Church today is in error. But both are wrong.

Adding to the confusion are things like acts of governance. How the Pope administers the See of Rome as bishop, or how he governs the Vatican City (or, before that, the Papal States) are not acts of teaching at all, and not considered as having Divine Assistance. We don’t have to defend the Concordat with Nazi Germany (or Communist China, for that matter) or the case of  Edgardo Mortara*. Meeting with heads of state is not a teaching. But even in cases where we feel dubious about such an act, we have the obligation to fully understand the actions and respond in charity rather than assume the worst. Calumny and Rash Judgment remain sins.

But, when the Pope does teach—ex cathedra or ordinary magisterium—he is given Divine Assistance, and we are bound to obey, and we are trust that God will not permit him to teach error.
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(*) In all of these cases, I believe that the Popes involved tried to make the best decision they could in a bad situation, but since these decisions did not involve teaching, they were not protected from being wrong. Any wrong that might have occurred is not “proof” of heresy or evil will on the part of the Popes involved.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Pressing Forward, Blindly

Certain Catholics who oppose the decisions and teachings of Pope Francis (or other recent popes) proudly announce their “orthodoxy” by citing certain Scripture and Church documents—the latter frequently from the time of St. Pius X—in order to argue that the more recent statements they dislike must be heretical. Their behavior is very much like that of those Protestant Christians who claim to rely solely on the authority of the Bible.

The reason I say that the two are similar is because they make the same error, even though both would disagree with the other’s theoretical understanding of the Church. That error is confusing their own interpretation with what is actually taught. Because they rely on their own interpretation instead of on the Church established by Christ to bind and loose, they assume that they have not erred in their interpretation and—as a result—will not heed anyone who warns them that their interpretation went wrong. If the Church should warn them, that correction is assumed to be proof of error on the part of the Church.

Ultimately, what they seem to do is (perhaps unwittingly) assume that their conviction over the meaning is a sign that they are right and, as a consequence, the Church must be wrong. But conviction is not proof of error. Numerous heretics were convinced that Arius or Nestorius was right. Many Christians today are convinced that God, being love, didn’t really mean that God condemned certain acts as evil—even though it is literally in the Bible. Many are convinced that despite Our Lord founding a visible Church and giving it His authority to teach, that they can freely ignore the Church or accuse it of error when it teaches contrary to their interpretation. The question that they need to answer is: what gives them the authority to interpret contrary to the Church?

Such questions usually are answered with a begging the question fallacy. The one rejecting the Church authority assumes that the “errors” of the Church—based on their interpretation—mean that Scripture on false teachers and Church teachings on heretics must apply. Social media discussion usually turns into something like this:

Why do you say that the Pope/Church is in error?
Because the Bible/Church teaching contradicts them.
But how do we know that you interpret correctly? 
Because that’s what it says. 
But what about others who interpret it differently and say you’re in error?
They’re in error.
Why are they in error?
Because the Bible/Church teaching contradicts them*.

But it’s precisely their own interpretation that they have to prove is correct, and that is precisely what they don’t answer. The fact is, when someone tries to argue their own interpretation, we have to see if it squares with what the Church teaches—under the leadership of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him—before we accept it.

This has always been the criterion for discerning what is authentic vs. what is counterfeit. When the Church teaches, whether ex cathedra or from the ordinary magisterium, we are bound to accept it. If one will not, they should remember that refusing obedience is a schismatic act (see canon 751).

The mentioning of bad Popes and heretical bishops throughout history are a fallacy of false analogy. Those bishops who fell into heresy or schism acted in opposition to the Popes, not in concert. We have never had a Pope who was a manifest heretic. The history of the Papacy gives us three categories of bad Popes: 
  1. Those who were morally or intellectually bad but did not teach#.
  2. Those who were suspected of privately holding error but did not teach@.
  3. Those who were derelict or incompetent in their administration, but did not teach§.
But, when it comes to the current attacks on Popes and Councils, the accusations are about teaching, not private behavior, private error, or failure to act. Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia are Papal teachings. Vatican II is an Ecumenical Council. They, not individuals (even clergy), make binding interpretation.

This has always been understood: even when there were Saints who challenged the moral or administrative faults of Popes, they were always respectful of the teachings of the Popes, giving obedience when he taught. But now, we see people claiming to be faithful Catholics but refusing obedience out of the belief that the Pope and bishops in communion with him are the ones spreading error or causing confusion. That is the accusation made by every heretical and schismatic group that emerged throughout Church history.

They might sincerely think that their rebellion is faithful. But they are blind in doing so. They are pressing forward blindly, confusing their interpretation for what actually is true. If one would follow them, that person would be the blind being led by the blind.

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(With thanks to Mike Lewis for suggested edits)

(*) This is also what reading Luther or Calvin feels like.
(#) We would include Popes like Benedict IX and John XII here.
(@) We might put John XXII here.
(§) We might include Honorius I here. He was not condemned (posthumously) for holding error—scholars disagree on that. He was condemned for failing to take actions against it. It should be noted that the Pope at the time of the Council’s condemnation rejected that canon, so it seems to have no validity.
(€) The criticism by St. Catherine of Sienna was about the Pope not being in Rome and the moral decay in a Rome that came from that fact.



Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Context and Intent Matter

There’s an old joke that runs as follows: A Catholic Priest and a Protestant Minister were debating. The Minister said, “You are an idolater, for you worship statues! You kneel before them and pray!” “No,” the Priest said, “because it is not our intention to worship an object.” “Who cares about your intention?” the Minister sneered. “You kneel down before statues, therefore you worship them.” The priest replied “You too are an idolator. You kneel down before a wooden bedpost every night and pray to it.” “No,” the Minister said. “That is not my intention.” The priest responded, “Who cares about your intention? You kneel down before it, therefore you worship it.”

One behavior I see when looking at the critics of the Pope, the Papacy in general, or the whole Church, is the assumption that the action they see is to be condemned. The problem is that the context and intention is left out of it or forgotten. But with many acts, the context and intention is the difference between a good act and an evil act.

For example, if we choose to condemn anyone who wields a sharpened blade to cut a person without considering the context, we would have to treat the surgeon in the same way we do an ax murderer. Likewise, if we were to consider the sexual act without context, we would be unable to make a distinction between marital intercourse, fornication, adultery, and rape. They all involve the sexual act. But with context, the first can be morally good, while the others are morally evil. Yet another example: Abortion is always an evil act. But not all acts leading to the removal of the unborn child from the mother is abortion. Hysterectomies and the removal of an ectopic pregnancy are not abortions because the direct destruction of the child is not intended—in fact, if it were possible to save the child, they would. People sometimes call annulments “Catholic divorce,” but annulments and divorce are two entirely different things that superficially seem the same. People call Natural Family Planning “contraception,” even though NFP is abstinence and not frustrating the completion of the sexual act. In all of these, context and intent matter in distinguishing between a morally good or neutral act and a morally evil act.

These examples might seem obvious, but people sometimes forget the concept when it comes to attacks on the Pope. Consider the recent case of the so-called “idol” at the Amazon Synod. There was an object, and people did bow down by it. The critics combined the fact that it was an image and people did bow down. But, the act of bowing, kneeling, etc., is not always an act of latria to something in front of the one bowing.

When we consider an act, we need to consider context and intent. If a person bows or kneels before an something, we need to understand whether it is an idol, a symbol of a different sort of reverence, or not the focus of the action at all. To judge whether an action is good or evil, we need to understand the context and intent.

So, with the so-called “Pachamama,” we need to ask several questions. Yes, we saw people bow. But to what purpose? Was it created as an idol? Apparently not. It was purchased from a vendor at a craft fair several years before the Synod. But if it was, did the missionaries who bought it know that? Did they use it as an object of worship when they used it as a tool in the missions? Did they intend to worship it as “Pachamama” when they performed the tree planting ceremony? Does bowing mean the same thing to those coming from the Amazon as it did to the Western European/American accusers? 

These are all questions that the accusers need to address before they can say, “An act of idol worship was committed in the Vatican Gardens and an idol was placed in the Church!” But the critics have not answered any of them with direct evidence. Instead, they rely on hearsay that claims it must be an idol and the ceremony was an act of pagan worship. From the action—without discovering the context and intent—the image was given a name and the act was called “worship. They cling to their unproven “fact” so tightly that anybody who says, “I do not believe your accusations,” is treated with derision… even though the burden of proof is on the accuser and the Pope’s defenders have pointed out the flaws in their claims.

In a similar way, critics take chapter 8§ of Amoris Laetitia and, taking the words out of all context and without considering the intention of the Pope in writing it, they accuse him of “changing Church teaching” because they believe it “contradicts” Familiaris Consortio #84.

The context they miss, however, is that St. John Paul II was speaking about those who wanted to allow reception of the Sacraments without repenting, and Pope Francis was speaking about getting people who were at odds with God and His Church back into right relationship. The Sacraments would be for those lacking all three required conditions for mortal sin and were striving to get back into right relationship with God. With the context, Amoris Laetitia can be understood as saying access to the sacraments in these cases were for those not in mortal sin due to insufficient knowledge or consent. This access is not a permission for the divorced/remarried to receive indiscriminately.

These examples demonstrate how critics of the Church go wrong when they rely on their own interpretation of text or events stripped of the context and intent needed to understand them. One section of the Church has become convinced that the successor of Peter is either openly “teaching error” or at least enabling it. But understanding context and intent is necessary if we are to be faithful to the actual teaching of the Church and not some unholy parody of our own creation. When one reads Calvin, reads Luther, reads the Patristic heresiarchs, etc., we can see that their understanding of the Scriptures and Church documents shows a failure to properly understand what they mean.

The modern critics need to look at these past errors and be wary. They might not cause a spectacular schism as those men did. But they will nevertheless cause harm to the Body of Christ by insisting that the Pope must err, never considering that they might have failed to understand. 

Context and intent do matter. If we ignore it, we will wind up believing that whatever the Church does that goes contrary to our context-free interpretation is “error.” History shows that is the path of heresy and schism. God only knows if the modern critics will go that far. But, as for me, defending the Church against these errors is essential for heading off—or at least reducing the numbers of the faithful involved in—heresy and schism before they happen.


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(§) To be honest, I rather doubt that many of the combox critics read any more than Chapter 8 from the document (some seem to have read only parts of that chapter). They thus missed the context of what the Church needs to do to build healthy marriages. It’s only by understanding this context that we can understand what Chapter 8 sets out to do.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Forgotten Truth: Unity With Peter

I would like to remind everyone about Jesus’ words to Saint Peter. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). We have the assurance that this saying of Jesus is realized in what we call the infallibility of the Church. The spouse of Christ, headed by the successor of Peter, can live through crises and storms. Her members may sin and err. But if we remain united to Peter, we will never be able to separate ourselves from Christ profoundly or lastingly. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. Where Peter is, there is the Church.

—Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Now Far Spent

I believe bishops are strong on two conditions. First of all is reliance on Peter and his successors. Our Blessed Lord told His Apostles: “The devil had asked to sift you as wheat.” There is no indication that Our Blessed Lord denied that there would be a demonic trial or testing; there is even a suggestion that He permitted it. Though the other Apostles were there, He spoke only to Peter: “Peter, I have prayed for you.” Our Lord did not say: “I will pray for all of you.” He prayed for Peter that his faith fail not, and after he recovered from his fall that he confirm his brethren. I think bishops are strong only when they are united with the Holy Father. As we begin to separate from him, we are no longer under the prayer of Christ And if we are not under the prayer of Christ, we are no longer protected, nor are we strong guardians or angels of the churches.

—Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, A Treasure In Clay

In these times, certain Catholics have forgotten a critical truth about the Catholic Church: that unity with the successor is essential to unity with Christ. This is not because of any special holiness of Karol Wojtyla, Joseph Ratzinger, or Jorge Bergoglio. It is because God protects His Church under the leadership of St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. If we want to remain united to Christ, we cannot pretend that we can oppose the Pope when he teaches.

Some of the Pope’s critics argue that they are not refusing union. They’re just defending the faith against the Pope speaking in error. The problem with that defense is that every schismatic group in Church history has used it: The Pope can go astray if he doesn’t teach infallibly! We must oppose him if he teaches error in the ordinary magisterium! Then whatever they dislike is portrayed as error. 

The problem is: the Church mostly teaches in the ordinary magisterium. The Church only issues infallible definitions when they need to clarify the ordinary teaching. For example, the Church has always believed in Transubstantiation. But she did not see a need to infallibly define it until Berengarius denied the teaching. But it was always obligatory to obey when the Pope taught.

This is an important thing to remember. If one claims that only binding teachings are ex cathedra#, then we have nothing to say to the dissenters who reject the teachings not yet defined infallibly§. But the Latin extraordinarius has the sense of  “out of the common order,” not “of higher quality.” When the Church teaches in an extraordinary manner, it is because she is dealing with an out of the ordinary situation. But, whether the situation is ordinary or extraordinary, the Church is to be obeyed when she teaches. When one teacher (priest, bishop, cardinal) contradicts another, we cannot use “confusion” as a reason to choose our own way: Unity with Peter determines who is right and who is not*.

Unfortunately, many people have misunderstood this. Because the Church stressed the infallibility of the ex cathedra definition, some think that the ordinary teaching can err. But the ordinary magisterium is also protected. The difference between the two is that the extraordinary is set out in a way that settles a definition once and for all. The ordinary is able to be refined and adapted to the conditions at hand. We must be careful not to confuse the two: refining how a teaching is applied is not a rejection of the past teaching. Addressing new circumstances is not “getting political.”

For example, the Pope addressing the possibility that some divorced and remarried Catholics might not meet all three criteria of mortal sin—nobody is denying grave matter—is not changing the Church teaching denying those in a state of mortal sin from receiving the Eucharist. Instead, it is addressing the fact that some Catholics have been badly catechized or are forced into a situation they cannot escape@. This doesn’t mean that a former sin is now allowed. It means that the Church is dealing with the new situation of Catholics who don’t know how to distinguish their right hand from their left (cf. Jonah 4:11) and are in need of help to escape their situation.

Now some have argued with me, saying that this means that the Pope could contradict past teaching and we’d have to obey. Such Catholics have forgotten that Jesus Christ protects His Church from teaching error. The Popes—even the most wicked—have never taught errors. They might have been tempted to. They might have personally been in error. But a Pope has never taught errors. This is not (as also mentioned above) because of personal holiness: human being (except Our Lady, by a special grace) are all sinners in need of salvation. It is because without protection from error by God, we could never know when to obey or disobey a Church teaching. Since God made the Church necessary (see Lumen Gentium #14), and made obedience to the Church obligatory (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), it follows that He must protect the Church when the successor of Peter teaches if The Church is going to be the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

So, as Cardinal Sarah and the Ven. Fulton J. Sheen have warned us: if we want to be united with Christ, we must be united with the successor of Peter. If we forget this truth, we have wandered far from Our Lord, Jesus Christ, no matter how holy we might be.


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(#) A view condemned by the Church. See Pius IX, A Syllabus of Errors; Pius XII, Humani Generis; Lumen Gentium #25; Canon 752; CCC #892.

(§) Some critics, remembering my past article on John XXII, might argue that I’m contradicting myself. But in the case of John XXII, there was not even an ordinary teaching. That doesn’t mean that the Church could have gone either way. God protects His Church—and did so here.

(*) Yes, some dissenters misuse the words of the Pope. That’s why it’s important to listen to what the Pope actually says, not what others (even me) say about him.

(@) See the 1997 document Vademecum for Confessors which makes a similar distinction for confessors over contraception.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

On Anti-Francis Catholics, Calvin, and the False Case Against John XXII

Some people have reacted with hostility or mockery to my articles about the Pope Bashers behaving like Luther or Calvin. Presumably they think I mean they share the same errors on theology. Since they know they don’t, they think I’m making wild claims. But that misses the point. My point is that, whether or not they realize it, they show the same contempt for the Church that teaches against them and corrects them as the founders of Protestantism did. Both groups use the same arguments to deny the authority of the Pope while insisting that they are the true Christians for rejecting him

To give an example, let’s look at how the two groups point to the example of Pope John XXII.

To give a brief description, John XXII was a reforming Pope who ruled against the abuses of a certain religious order—the Spiritual Franciscans. This resented the restrictions he placed on their religious practices and, because they thought their ways were legitimate, responded by constantly accusing him of heresy. The main issue came about when, during some private homilies, he expressed the opinion that those who die do not experience the Beatific Vision until the Final Judgment. Certain French theologians expressed concerns. And they convinced John XXII that their understanding was correct. So he changed his personal opinion. Remember, that’s what his private homilies were: opinion. He gave no formal teaching on the subject. What’s important to remember here is that the Church had not yet defined the issue but some Catholics thought he was changing Church teaching. It’s similar to how some Catholics misinterpreted Benedict XVI when he used an example of “a male prostitute with AIDS” and thought he was relaxing the teaching on contraception. The Spiritual Franciscans portrayed this as “The Pope teaches heresy, therefore he has no right to condemn us!”

On the matter of when people experience the Beatific Vision, it was not defined until after his death. His successor, Benedict XII issued the decree after ordering both sides to present their case#. If a Catholic were to insist on John XXII’s position now, such a one would be a heretic because they would be obstinately holding a position against the teaching of the Church. Likewise, we regard St. Thomas Aquinas as a saint despite the fact that he did not believe that Mary was immaculately conceived. The topic had not yet been defined either by ordinary or extraordinary magisterium§. But if a person today were to deny it, that person would be a heretic.

With this background, let’s look at this section from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, chapter 7, section 28). Where he misapplied the case to justify rejecting the authority of Popes:

28. Apostasy of John XXII

But let us imagine that the impiety of the pontiffs whom I mentioned is hidden, because they have neither published it by preaching nor by writings, but have betrayed it only in table, in bedchamber, or at least within walls. However, if they wish this privilege (which they allege) to hold good, let them expunge from the list of the popes John XXII, who openly asserted that souls are mortal and die along with bodies until the day of resurrection. And that you may mark that the whole see with its chief props was then utterly fallen, none of the cardinals opposed this great madness, but the School of Paris impelled the king of France to force him to recant. The king forbade his subjects to communicate with John unless he should promptly repent, and published this by herald in the usual way. Compelled by this necessity, the pope abjured his error, as Jean Gerson, who was then living, testifies. This example relieves me from having to dispute with my opponents any longer over their statement that the Roman see and its pontiffs cannot err in faith, because it was said to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” [Luke 22:32]. Surely with such a foul kind of fall did John XXII fall from the true faith that here is a notable proof to posterity that not all are Peters who succeed Peter in the bishop’s office. Yet of itself this claim is also so childish it needs no answer. For if they wish to apply to Peter’s successors everything that was said to Peter, it will follow that they are all Satans, since the Lord also said this to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” [Matt. 16:23]. Indeed, it will be as easy for us to turn back this latter saying upon them as for them to cast the other against us.

Under Calvin’s reasoning, because the Pope privately believed something that was not yet defined differently  from what we profess now, it was “proof” that Popes could formally “teach error.” Therefore the Catholic Church could not be the true Church.

The current crowd of Pope bashers don’t want to go that far. They only want to argue that the Popes they dislike can teach error and, therefore, be ignored. Meanwhile, the Popes they like are to be obeyed. But there are problems with that. Logically:

1. All Popes are human beings.
2. All human beings are sinners*.
3. Therefore all Popes are sinners.

So, you will always be able to find embarrassing things in the actions of any Pope that any critic who wants to use that argument can use to refuse obedience. When one faction argues that they don’t have to obey Pope Francis because of his “errors,” while another argues that they don’t have to obey St. John Paul II because of his “errors,” who decides whether the claims have merit? If the critics can make that decision, then no Pope can ever be trusted to teach and we might as well accept Calvin’s reasoning—or that of the sede vacantists

But, even though these critics accuse the Pope of “Protestantizing” the Church, they make the same error that Calvin did: they treat a personal error on an undefined matter (or, in the case of Pope Francis of thinking the Pope made an “error”) into a “proof” of heresy and use it to reject the Church when they disagree. Calvin goes further in his rejection, taking it to the “logical” conclusion that comes with denying that God protects the Pope in any case at all, but it’s still the same flaw that leads them to reject the legitimate use of papal authority.

These critics should be cautious. Rejecting obedience to a Pope is a schismatic act (canon 752), and performing a schismatic act while professing to be the true faithful shows a failure to understand Scripture or Tradition. As St. John Paul II (Ecclesia Dei #4) put it:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.

If the modern Catholic critics resent being compared to the founders of Protestantism, they should tale pains to avoid the forms of schism and not think they can’t be guilty because they don’t share the form of Calvin’s schism.

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(#) This doesn’t mean that the Church could have just as easily defined it the other way. God protects His Church from teaching error.

(§) Yes, the ordinary magisterium is binding. Berengarius was condemned for denying the Real Presence. It wasn’t infallibly defined until 1215, but had been consistently taught before then. 

(*) Obviously, we are not denying the Immaculate Conception here. I do confess that Our Lady received, from the moment of conception, a special grace that kept her sinless. But the rest of humanity does fall under that premise.