Showing posts with label calumny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label calumny. Show all posts

Thursday, January 20, 2022

It’s Iimi! “Because X. Therefore, You’re Scum!”

We've reached a state where we've become so polarized that we believe anyone who reaches a conclusion that is different from ours must be done from willful malice. Sometimes, that can be

true. But not always. We can't forget that some can be mistaken about the facts. Some can have a different but valid view that goes against ours.


If we would avoid rash judgment or calumny, we need to ask whether our views are true before we say that our opponents are guilty of knowingly siding with evil. Otherwise, we are to blame for the mutual hatred that divides us. Above all, we must reject the bulverism that claims one holds their position BECAUSE X. THEREFORE, YOU’RE SCUM.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Truth, Not Rumors: A Reflection on Our Willingness to Believe the Worst

One of the trends I notice, whether in religion, politics, or other topics, is the tendency to stick with the story one has first heard. From that initial report, we see people form their opinions. When another report comes across that show the original reports were false and we staked out an opinion based that is wrong, our tendency is to defend that opinion. 

For example, in the infamous case of the Covington students accused of racism, I believed the initial accounts that the students were involved in racist chants. Later, when the facts came out, my temptation was to deny any fault, and question the objectivity of the sources. Admitting on my blog Facebook page that I was wrong was one of the harder things I’ve had to do.

I relate that story because we need to seek out what is true, and not contribute to spreading falsehoods† that mislead others. That means we don’t run away with conclusions drawn from the initial reports we hear. We have an obligation to determine if the source is accurate, and that we have properly understood it.

As Catholics, we should especially remember the harm that sincerely believed falsehoods cause. Anti-Catholics believe the falsehoods that Luther and Calvin spread about the Catholic Church, repeating them as if they were indisputable facts. In fact, they will look at you with surprise if you suggest that Catholics don’t believe these things and think you’re lying or ignorant. They believe that the Catholic Church is capable of these things and therefore believe the stories are true.

When it comes to a politician we dislike, a member of the Church, news stories, etc., we should remember that we don’t get a free pass to repeat things that we think those we dislike are capable of. we all know this and get angry when something we have sympathy towards is attacked. But we tend to forget that anger when the attack is directed towards something we oppose. 

In other words, we don’t always practice the Golden RuleDo to others whatever you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12a). If we want others to speak justly about things, we must also speak justly. That rule is not negated when the “other side” doesn’t follow it.

We should be aware of this: Calumny and rash judgment are sins that are easy to commit. Calumny is spreading falsehood. Rash judgment is assuming that the faults we hear about are true, without basis to do so. It’s easy to go by what we see, hear or read, and assume that the conclusions we draw are the only ones to be drawn. But that isn’t the reasonable basis we’re required to have.

Because the issue is not over defending the indefensible. The issue is over whether the accusation is true. As the cases of Luther and Calvin show, as the people who invented the Pachamama crisis show, the accusations can be false. If they are false, we will need to answer for the wrong we cause by spreading them around, based on what we could have known if we bothered to check. Remember that It’s not my fault that X is unclear is an excuse, not a justification.

So, before we repeat the scandalous claims that we think our foes are capable of doing, let’s make sure that we do the required fact checking. Because the obligations to do good and avoid evil are not limited to those we agree with.



(†) A falsehood is not necessarily a lie. A person who honestly believes something that is untrue is spreading a falsehood by telling it to others.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Beware: What You Personally Interpret Might Not Be What is True

Throughout the history of Christianity there have always been people who read Scripture, Patristics, Magisterial documents and other things and used the conclusions they drew to argue that the Church—whether through the teachings of Pope or Council—had gone wrong and, to get back in the right, needed to adopt their own interpretation of these things.

This goes back as far as the Gnostic heresies of the First Century AD and continues throughout history to the present day, sometimes it is heresy; sometimes it is schism; sometimes it is dissent. But it always involves the individual or group forgetting two things: 1) The Church, under the magisterium of the Pope and those bishops acting in communion with him, is protected from error when she teaches. 2) Those of us not in or not acting with that authority do not have that protection.

Once we figure out those two points, it becomes easy to identify who we should listen to when an individual or group attacks the Pope. Unfortunately, in the United States and Western Europe, a growing number of Catholics have lost sight of—or never understood—the two points and accuse him of heresy or (to avoid a schismatic act) of “causing confusion.”

Don’t be fooled. The confusion in the Church is not caused by the Pope but by those who rely on their own interpretation of what the Pope said and don’t check to see if they interpreted him—or the past teachings they put in contradistinction to the Pope—correctly. Such people either never had authority in the first place (your typical Pope-bashing site or religiously ignorant mainstream media) or they are offering their personal non-magisterial opinions (the Priest, Bishop, or Cardinal who disagrees with the Pope and is not acting in communion with him, but as a private individual).

There is nothing new here. Arius, Nestorius, Calvin, Luther, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Donatists, the Novatians, the SSPX, the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics, etc., etc., etc. have caused the confusion in the Church by pointing to the personal interpretation of what the successor of Peter said, contrasted with their personal interpretation of other documents. But the personal interpretation§ has no authority against the interpretation by the Pope. 

To blame the Pope for the depressingly increasing number of false interpretations is like blaming the Popes in the 16th century because Calvin and Luther contrasted Church teaching on our personal obligations to avoid sin with their own faulty interpretation of Scripture and St. Augustine to argue that the Church was guilty of Pelagianism. But the Church never taught what this duo accused her of. The Church never contradicted herself or fell into error. Rather, people grossly mistaken about what the Church taught, believed that the Church either was previously or is currently in error.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Much of this could be avoided if we would remember that rash judgment and calumny are sins. As the Catechism tells us:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

But those who automatically assume that the Pope must err because they do not ask whether they properly understand him or the teachings they think contradict him before accusing him. Where are the attempts to assume a favorable interpretation? Where are the attempts to ask for clarification?* The critics have went straight to “it must be error.” That’s rash judgment.

Calumny comes in to play when falsehoods are leveled against the Pope or the Church. Whether they know it is false or not, those who accuse the Pope of saying, doing, or intending things he did not say, do, or intend. Whether they believed it or not, Calvin and Luther committed calumny when they accused the Church of inventing doctrines to justify their desire for money or power#. When critics accuse the Pope of wanting to promote divorce and remarriage or homosexual “marriage,” these are calumnies, whether those who made these accusations knew they were false or were in gross error.

We need to remember that what we think must be intended might be error. It is only by using the Church as our guide to proper understanding that we can avoid falling into error. But as soon as we respond to the teaching of the Pope by saying that the Church errs but we do not, we fall away from “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) which is the Church.


(§) Not even mine. If something I write turns out contrary to what the Church teaches under the leadership of the Pope (such a thing would be unintentional), you should of course listen to the Pope.

(*) The problems I have with the “dubia cardinals” is not that they had a question about interpretation. Dubia have been used for centuries to understand things properly, after all. My problem is that the text of their questions gave me the impression of the “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” complex question fallacy that assumed a heterodox intention by the Pope. They might not have intended it (to avoid rash judgment myself, I try to avoid attributing intention and motives to them). But it comes across disrespectfully.

(#) The false claims of the late Jack Chick can actually be traced back to the false claims from foundational writings of the men who established Protestantism.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dealing With the Madness over the So-Called “Pachamama”

time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.” 
—St. Anthony, Abbot

One of my pet peeves is when people who, for whatever reason, when disagreeing with the stance I take in defending the Pope and the Church tell me to “open my eyes.” (It reminds me of St. Anthony’s quote above). While the people who use it probably thinks they’re clever, it’s merely an ad hominem attack that tells the target that if he doesn’t see things the way the accuser does, it means that the person must be at fault for refusing to “look at the facts.” The problem is, that attack doesn’t refute anything, and it serves as a distraction from the fact that their claims are refutable. 

In fact, the more I study the claims (I’ve seen the video, I’ve researched the accusations) of those who attack the Pope and the Synod, the more I am convinced they are falsehoods on par with those spread by Luther in the 16th century when he grossly misrepresented the Church to push his own agenda. 

It’s a tale that grows more ridiculous, more exaggerated as it spreads across social media. In the beginning, the speculation was that the Pope didn’t read his speech because he was “furious.” Now his critics make him into an apostate. It seems to me that these people are being led astray as the devil turns them into “useful idiots” who do his will while thinking they serve God. 

Please note: I’m not defending idolatry or syncretism. I’m rejecting those accusations as false. I think people should remember this: anti-Catholics routinely accuse us of worshiping statues based on our postures and their falsely labeling statues as “idols.” Catholic critics would be wise to consider the possibility that they are at risk of behaving in the same way. They should ask themselves whether Catholics In Amazonia behave differently than Catholics in the United States or Western Europe.

The Vatican didn’t “admit” it was an idol, let alone Pachamama. The image was a carving that was brought to the synod was chosen as a symbol of life made by an indigenous carver. Different people attribute it to being Our Lady of the Amazon or Pachamama. Meanwhile the statement of the Vatican reflects what those who brought the image intended. If one wants to argue that it is “Pachamama,” or that the rites are “pagan,” they need to prove that these images are used as idols and worshipped in this manner. They need to prove that the people involved were in fact pagan.

But this is exactly what they don’t do. They assume bad will on the part of the Pope and the synod and everything that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to them, they assume has a bad cause behind it. But where is the research? Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the investigations into the people that they accuse of worshiping idols to determine it is as they think?

There are none. There are only hostile interpretations and rumors building on those interpretations. At the least, this is rash judgment, if not outright calumny. Both are sins against the prohibition on bearing false witness.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

To Speak the Truth

Throughout Church history, different factions have challenged the authority of the Church, arguing that she has gone wrong in some manner. Were it only a case of arguing whether the interpretation of a passage in Scripture should be A or B, or whether a discipline should be changed, it would be much simpler to discern the truth about claims.

But these challenger factions—secular or religious—don’t limit themselves to assertions about what they think should be. They have to accuse the Church of making declarations or taking actions with a malicious purpose, usually a purpose that targets whoever the demagogues want support from. 

Some of these accusations are based on misrepresenting real scandals that some in the Church did commit. Some are based on fears of what might follow from the implementation of a teaching. In either case, these are generally portrayed as if the whole magisterium intended, decreed, and knowingly gave its blessing to the evils done by some. 

For example, Hippolytus, to justify his schism, argued that Pope Callixtus was enabling contraception and abortion by lifting prohibitions against slaves and free women marrying. The abuse was possible, yes. But no faithful Catholic would have made use of it. Those who would do this probably would have done it without the change. Martin Luther began with the corruption that did exist in Rome and appealed to the resentment of the German nobility towards the political power of the Pope, as a means of attacking the Pope’s religious authority.

Other claims are simply falsehoods in which those who began them either grossly misunderstood Church teaching or were willing to speak falsely in order to promote opposition towards the Church. Either they said that the Church said or did something she did not, or accused her of failing to do something that she did. 

An example of this would be John Calvin falsely claiming that the Church taught we were saved by our own efforts, not by God’s grace. He spent a lot of time “refuting” challenges to his denial of free will by equating Church teaching as Pelagianism...which was never taught by the Church in the first place. Or we can point to the modern attacks against Church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexual acts. The common attacks are that the Church is hostile to women and people with same sex attraction... things far from our actual reasons for the teaching.

This is why I think Aristotle’s definition of truth is so important. If we believe that we must do X and oppose Y, we must speak truthfully in defending X and refuting Y. Otherwise we are using falsehoods. Here, I think I should make a distinction. A lie is a deliberate act of speaking falsely, but a lie is not the only way of speaking falsely. One can sincerely believe that a falsehood is true (the anti-Catholics often seem to sincerely repeat propaganda dating from the 16th century). One can assume that their personal interpretation of the writings of—or more likely, an excerpt from—an antagonist are correct (as many anti-Catholics and anti-Francis Catholics do, using a small quote without reading it in context) and establish a false “they believe...” accusation.

But sincerely believing an error about somebody’s alleged wrongdoing is not the same thing as invincible ignorance. If I say all of Group X supports an evil, I have an obligation to investigate to see whether what I believe is true. Am I correct that they understand a passage the way I think they do? Am I getting my information from primary sources, or hearsay? Have I interpreted a passage in a way Group X never intended? So long as learning the truth is possible, we can’t settle for what we think we know when an accusation could be rash judgment or calumny.

And, if we must make sure we speak truly in those cases, how much more is the wrongdoing to use evil means to achieve what we think is a good end? If we want to “embellish” the truth to convince people to join our cause because we think it will benefit them, we are doing what God forbids (cf. Romans 3:8).

Ultimately, when we want to point out a wrongdoing as proof of a universal statement or accuse someone of teaching error, we have an obligation to investigate whether what we think is actually true. We must say of what is  that it is and we must say of what is not that it is not. If we’re not sure, we must not accuse until we are sure. Otherwise, we bear false witness.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

They Who Speak Falsely

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.

—Fulton J. Sheen in Preface, Radio Replies, volume 1

Reading Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I find more evidence of something I’ve long noticed: the modern anti-Catholics of today are merely repeating the false statements that the Reformers of the 16th century taught about the Catholic Church as if they were fact. Take this sample, for example:

In fact, the distinction between latria and dulia, as they called them, was invented in order that divine honors might seem to be transferred with impunity to angels and the dead. For it is obvious that the honor the papists give to the saints really does not differ from the honoring of God. Indeed, they worship both God and the saints indiscriminately, except that, when they are pressed, they wriggle out with the excuse that they keep unimpaired for God what is due him because they leave latria to him.

—Book I, Chapter XII, #2

Notice that Calvin isn’t just saying that some Catholics fell into an error of “worshipping” saints and angels (a charge we absolutely deny). He accuses the Church of inventing an excuse to justify worshiping them. That is a serious charge, requiring evidence—first that we do these things, second evidence of the “invention.” He provided none. Instead, he piled up false statements, committing the fallacy of equivocation on Latin and Greek terms [§] and cited Scripture to “prove” we were wrong to do things we never did in the first place.

This is a serious matter. What Calvin said was FALSE. He either knew what he said was false (which is calumny) or he assumed Catholics must have believed that without determining that his assumption was true (which is rash judgment). Whichever one it was, it was bearing false witness against Catholics, and that evil has spread for over 400 years (there were multiple versions of Institutes spread out over 30-odd years). Anti-Catholics believe and repeat these  (and many other) falsehoods, and Calvin bears responsibility for their attacks. He either lied or he failed to determine if his accusations were true before presenting them as true.

I bring up Calvin, not to bash Protestants or invite others to do so. Rather I do so to bring up a modern parallel showing up in the Church today: The problem of certain Catholics who are alienated by the Church, falsely claim she is teaching error—whether through calumny or rash judgment—and quote Scripture or past Church teaching [#] to prove the Pope is guilty of teaching something he never said. Whether they failed to determine whether their accusations were true before spreading them or whether they knew it was false, they spread falsehoods about the Church.

In other words, they—who think of themselves as the defenders of the true Faith—commit the same errors as Calvin (who thought he was defending the true faith) did in attacking the Church, and do the same damage, leading people to believe falsehoods and hate the Church for not being the fictional image they think it was.

This faction of Catholics (which has a strong antipathy towards Protestantism in general and the Reformers especially—to the point of using “Protestant” as an epithet against Catholics they disagree with) are guilty of the same things. If Calvin was wrong, so are they. If Calvin caused harm, so do they. Considering the imprecations they hurl against men like Calvin and Luther... well they might want to consider Matthew 7:2. “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” We don’t know how God will judge Calvin or his level of culpability. We do know that the Church (Lumen Gentium #14) warns us:

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should think about that seriously when we are tempted to condemn the shepherds of the Church as teaching “error” simply because their approach is different than our preference.


[§] In one particularly risible example, to “prove” his point, he translates Galatians 4:8 as “they exhibited dulia toward beings that by nature were no gods.” The actual translation was “you became slaves to things that by nature are not gods”. The man apparently either confused doula (in the form of [ἐδουλεύσατε] edouleusate) meaning “to be a slave” with a form of dulia (which is sometimes spelled doulia) which means to honor, or else based his falsehood on a bad copy of the Greek. Sometimes an iota (“i”) of difference is substantial. (I consulted the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament 28th edition for reference)

[#] Often relying on their own bad translation of Latin documents with results similar to Calvin’s error described in the endnote above this one.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Signal to Noise Ratio and the Catholic Social Media

In science and engineering, the Signal:Noise ratio is described as “the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. SNR is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.”

It strikes me as a good analogy for the situation of Catholics on social media. As part of our Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), the Catholic witness should be a strong signal, clear to all. But if you scroll through the self-righteous posts and partisan comments, we see the noise of the worldly views held by Catholics drown it out.

This is understandable. All of us are afflicted by original sin and are tempted to embrace views that suit us. But while it is understandable, it is not justifiable. We are called to be the light of the world, the city on a hill, where our witness should be clear to all. But instead it’s drowned out by political and social opinions. Pro- or anti-Trump; Pro- or anti-Democrat; pro- or anti-Republican... these views are the noise that drown out the legitimate message.

I see bloggers [§] of pro- and anti- positions who angrily point out the hypocrisy of their opponents positions, rightly pointing out that their opponents support things incompatible with the Catholic Faith. But, tragically, they are blind to where they too compromise and ignore the moral faults in their own politics. The beams of Matthew 7:3-4 are equally distributed across the Catholic Social Media... probably I have one as well, mea culpa.

The problem is not only the danger to our own souls. When we play the hypocrite, the people we are pointing to recognize that hypocrisy and reject any part of the signal that gets through as part of the noise. Thus we see some Catholics downplay or even reject the Catholic teaching on sex and abortion, calling it “right wing.” Other Catholics downplay or even reject the Catholic teaching on social justice, calling it “left wing.”

Yes, some of that rejection is the fault of the listener who refuses to listen to truth. But some of it is because of our own bad behavior and self-righteousness. We’re more interested in condemning than converting, using insults and rash judgments. (And before invoking St. Paul against St. Peter, consider the words of St. Francis de Sales that I’ve reprinted HERE). If God will punish the listener for ignoring the truth, what will He do to the speaker who buries the signal of Christian truth with the noise of personal partisanship?

We should consider our behavior and the words we write... how will God view them? Perhaps we should be more concerned than we are.


[§] If you’re thinking, “I know who he’s talking about,” you should be aware that I have in mind many people across the political spectrum who do this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Unfounded Suspicions Treated As Fact

A common problem in the Church today is unfounded speculation that leads one to draw a conclusion without any justification for it. We “fill in the blanks,” providing an explanation for something that makes no sense to us. Unfortunately, when we lack knowledge, or if we’re acting on preconceived notions, we are not reasoning but speculating. If we assume instead of learn, the conclusions we draw in these cases are not fact and the accusations we make based on them are rash judgment.

To illustrate, the comic to the left (Lucky Star) involves a speculation. To explain it, we need to understand the Japanese urban legend that massaging a woman’s breasts causes them to grow. The other women in the scene are assuming Minegishi is sexually active. Minegishi objects to their assumptions—based on a myth—that make her seem immoral. Minegishi may or may not be sexually active (the comic is about high school/college life, tends to be PG rated and doesn’t go into those topics), but her friends are making a judgment that can’t be justified by the facts they possess.

Members of the Church seem to be in the same place as Minegishi’s friends. They assume a cause-effect in regards to the existence of scandals in the Church without considering whether the reasoning has any merit to it.

For example, the sex abuse scandal in the Church. We know that a large portion of it comes from male abusers and is directed against male victims. It’s a serious problem that needs to be investigated in a way that identifies and roots out the base causes. Unfortunately, many Catholics fill in blanks based on assumptions.

For example, the “lavender mafia” or “gay lobby” claim. The term refers to a belief that there must be a group in the Church that exercises influence to legitimize homosexuality. While the term had originally been used to describe the entertainment industry, by 2007 it was being used to explain how predator priests could exist without being discovered and removed. It has evolved into an assumption that any bishop who failed to act or who ordained a predator priest must be a member; that any Pope who failed to take a desired outcome must have been placed by this “lavender mafia.”

The Church being led by human beings, not angels, will of course have sins to deal with... sometimes heinous ones. No doubt some of these sinners will reach high positions and cover for each other. In settings closed to outsiders, or afflicted by hubris, such people might abandon subtlety. But these facts do not justify a conclusion that there is a Church-wide cabal that encompasses all members of the clergy who act on a same-sex attraction.

Pope Francis made this point in 2013. When asked about the “gay lobby,” the Pope quite reasonably pointed out that there’s always a problem when people with a shared sin get together but the existence of an inclination in a person is not necessarily proof of conspiracy:

So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem.

Another speculation (one that’s been around at least as long as St. Paul VI is that the continued existence of error or dissent in the Church is because the Pope is “sympathetic” to it. Yes, we do have clergy and laity who take stands that are incompatible with the Catholic teaching. It’s not unreasonable to want scandal removed from the Church. But there is a problem with some methods of removing scandal. As long as I’ve been defending the Church, I’ve encountered people who say, “if this was a business, these people would be fired! Why doesn’t the Pope fire these bishops?”

The answer is that the Church is not a business and the bishops are not employees. Yes, there are causes which justify removing a bishop from office (though not as many as you might think). But the bishops are not appointees like in a presidential cabinet. They are successors to the apostles and removing them from their positions is done for grave reasons where the guilt is clear. The Church would rather have a repentant sinner who remains than an obstinate heretic driven out. When the Church finally does condemn a theologian for heresy (for example), it’s after years of dialogue aimed at converting him when it’s clear that he is obstinate. 

Of course, it’s possible to be too cautious. It’s possible to hesitate when decisive action is needed. When that happens, reform is needed. But it’s unfounded suspicion to assume that the Church doesn’t care about error. She does. But she has to show mercy to the repentant and not just give up on the seemingly unrepentant sinner.

Mercy of course is another area of unfounded suspicion. People who want a hard “DEUS VULT!” style Church where the wicked are cast out tend to view Pope Francis’ words on mercy as a moral laxness that was never found in the Church before 2013.

But it was. Benedict XVI stressed the same mercy that is the hallmark of his successor:

Homily, November 4, 2010.

The unfounded suspicion here is that mercy secretly means laxity or permissiveness. So the critics think that the Pope is advocating divorce and remarriage, contraception, and “same sex marriage” when he actually reaffirms Church teaching on the subject.

Thus we see the danger of the unfounded suspicion. If one assumes it to be true, they will believe any falsehood that uses the unfounded suspicion as a basis. Consider the anti-Catholics whose sole source of “information” are the Jack Chick tracts and 16th century propaganda. They never question whether there information is true. As a result, they are willing to believe lies that fit their suspicion. Lest we become arrogant with the anti-Catholics, let us not forget that there are Catholics who form unfounded suspicions about the Pope, the bishops, and councils they dislike. They build on these suspicions until they believe whatever allegations made against them. 

This is not a minor matter. One of the Ten Commandments forbids bearing false witness. This is not limited to lies. It also forbids speaking about what one does not know, assuming them to be true. The Catechism teaches:

Do we really think we can speak falsely or recklessly and not have to answer it at the final judgment? If we would avoid condemnation, we must make every effort to learn, speak, and live the truth. This means studying, and it means hearing our teacher, the Church. This means that when the Pope teaches, even under the ordinary magisterium, we must give religious submission of intellect and will. This means that when what the Church says something in opposition to what we think it means, we trust that the Church is right, not ourselves. As St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

This doesn’t mean we think that a lie is true because the Church says so. That means we trust that God will always protect His Church, under the headship of the Pope, from teaching error. If we would be faithful to God, we will give up our unfounded suspicions and follow Him by following His Church led by His current vicar, Pope Francis.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Pope in the Dock: Reflections on an Unproven Accusation

While I am not complacent with the scandals afflicting the Church, neither do I think this is the worst crisis in the history of the Church. I am concerned, however, by the actions of the anti-Francis Catholics who are using this scandal to press what they see as an advantage in  their five year attack on the Pope. In their attempts to target the Pope and bishops which they dislike, they are making proposals which will do lasting damage to the Church carrying out her mission.

As I see it, we ought to treat any accusations against the Pope like we would treat an accusation against a close family member. If someone accused your spouse or child of a crime, you’d say: Buddy, you better make damn sure you have incontrovertible proof of your claims before you go any further. We don’t demand our family members to prove their innocence. We insist that the accusers to prove guilt. Right now, the critics have no proof, incontrovertible or otherwise. Vigano turns out to have gotten his story from Lantheaume (who has refused to talk further on the topic). The National Catholic Register turns out not to have gotten “confirmation” from Benedict XVI, but from an unidentified source. If there were sanctions against McCarrick, they were so secret that nobody seems to know they existed—including Pope Francis.

And that seems to be the problem with the attack on the Holy Father. The allegation is that Benedict XVI imposed sanctions preventing McCarrick from exercising public ministry “in 2009 or 2010.” Pope Francis is then accused of lifting those sanctions against McCarrick and, therefore, stands guilty of coverup. But if anybody can corroborate the story Lantheaume told Vigano, they have not come forward so far. Meanwhile, it seems that—fair or not—Vigano had damaged his reputation as trustworthy in the eyes of the Vatican to the point that, even if there was anything to the sanctions claim, Pope Francis might have found him to be a dubious source of information.

The Vigano letter seems to be conjecture. He thinks he sees cause and effect in the interactions of the Vatican that shows a coverup. But what he calls evidence seems to depend on his assumption that the Pope is guilty of knowingly covering up. But if the Pope didn’t cover up, then his examples are not proof. In logic, we call this begging the question. 

Keeping this in mind, the calls for the Pope to resign are premature. Before we can even discuss this, we have to ask whether the Pope even did what he was accused of. If he did not, then any demands for resignation are not only useless, but harmful to the Church. Only if it is proved that he did this, can we move on to looking at the reasons for his actions and see whether they were an actual coverup or whether it was an error in judgment. Remember that infallibility does not mean that administrative or judicial actions will be free of problems. A Pope can make what he thinks is the best decision on administrating the Church and make a bad decision.

If that’s grounds for demanding a Pope resign, we might as well all jump ship to one of the Eastern Orthodox churches because you will not find a single Pope who was free of sin or mistaken judgment.

So, what if we look further and hypothetically do find malfeasance? (which I DO NOT believe will happen). That will be tragic, but will have no bearing on his authority. Only God can remove a sitting Pope and we still have the obligation to give religious submission of intellect and will when a Pope teaches. In such a case, we can only pray for God to guide the Pope to do the right thing.

But, since the opponents can’t verify Vigano’s claims, we can’t even begin to assume that the Pope is guilty without committing rash judgment. We should pay attention to the Catechism on this:

Where is the attempt to give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope said and did? Where is the attempt to ask his account? Who has given us any more than hearsay and ipse dixit when it comes to determining fault? There are no such attempts. That leaves us rash judgment or, if any accusers speak falsely, calumny.

We must also remember that the Pope is not a criminal in the dock and we are not judges. He is the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter. We don’t get the right to refuse to give him obedience or respect because he has been accused.

Pope Francis asked reporters, “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.” At this point, my own judgment is there’s no evidence to support the accusations, but there are reasons to question them. In saying that, I don’t make rash judgments of my own. I will leave the assessment of the Pope’s accusers and their motives to God and to those with the authority within the Church.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Prudential Judgment? Misunderstanding? Partisanship? Willful Rejection? A Reflection

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes. (Psalm 50:20–21).

Four Forms of Disagreement

When people disagree on Facebook or other social media, they seem to do so in one of four ways: 

  1. Prudential Judgment recognizes that two Catholics, who both strive follow Catholic teaching, might reach different conclusions on how to best carry out that teaching while living in the world. Provided that neither of these Catholics are seeking to evade Church teaching to justify what they want to do anyway, we have no right accusing one of error. There are different ways of engaging the world, including political approaches, after all. 
  2. A person can be mistaken but in good faith about what Church teaching involves. Such people need to be corrected of course, but they need to be corrected gently (Proverbs 15:1). People recognize when they are being treated unjustly, and resent it. In resenting it, they might turn away from the truth, thinking our bad behavior is a sign of our being in the wrong. That would be false, but many in the world do reason this way. 
  3. There is also the attitude of partisanship, where we treat a disagreement with our political views as if we were rejecting Church teaching on a subject. Under this attitude, a person who votes for X, or disagrees with voting for Y, is considered to be openly rejecting the Catholic faith. But in reality, this person is simply disagreeing with our political views, but not the Church teaching, and we are in the wrong for judging them. 
  4. Finally, we have a case a person rejects the Church teaching in favor of a political teaching, saying if the Church disagrees with them the Church is wrong. In this case, the person is doing wrong, for whatever reason. The Church does have the authority to speak out on matters of faith and morals, and this includes when a nation or a political movement goes wrong. For a person to reject Church teaching as “intruding into politics” would be to give to Caesar what is God’s (cf. Matthew 22:21). 
Or, in short, we can describe these situations as: Neither is wrong, the other is wrong but in good faith, we are wrong, our opponent is wrong.

Discerning Between These Forms to do the Right Thing

Unfortunately, combox warriors have a bad habit of assuming the first three things are actually the fourth. Disagreement must be rejection of Church teaching, because we can’t possibly be wrong. The problem is, this is the kind of judgment our Lord condemned in Matthew 7:1. We’re assuming that any disagreement with how we see the world is rejecting truth itself, and assuming that rejection is done willfully. But in only one of these four cases is this true. That means in three of these cases, we are judging rashly, and committing calumny if we accuse them.

To avoid these sins, we have an obligation to discern what they intend to say, and what the Church herself teaches on the subject. Discernment, in this case, does not mean our personal reading of these things, and judging others in light of our interpretation. It means we make sure we understand what troubles us, and make certain it ought to trouble us before taking action. Then we have to make certain our reaction is just and chartable. As St. Francis de Sales as says:

Although S. Paul calls the Galatians “foolish,” and withstood S. Peter “to the face,” is that any reason why we should sit in judgment on nations, censure and abuse our superiors? We are not so many S. Pauls! But bitter, sharp, hasty men not unfrequently give way to their own tempers and dislikes under the cloak of zeal, and are consumed of their own fire, falsely calling it from heaven. On one side an ambitious man would fain have us believe that he only seeks the mitre out of zeal for souls; on the other a harsh censor bids us accept his slanders and backbiting as the utterance of a zealous mind.


Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God, trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 351.

This is a reasonable warning. The fact that St. Paul could rebuke the Galatians or offer correction to St. Peter is not permission for us to behave rudely to those we think are doing wrong. More often than not there is a risk of responding in sinful anger, confusing it with virtue. So, we have three obligations:

  1. To make sure we understand the person who offends us
  2. To make sure we understand the teaching we think he/she goes against
  3. To make sure any response we make is compatible with Our Lord’s commandments to show love and mercy

If we fail in any of these obligations, we behave unjustly, quite possibly causing harm. If we’re wrong about what a person holds, or wrong about what the Church holds, or wrong about confusing our ideology with the Catholic obligations, we condemn the other unjustly. If we are right, but react without love or mercy, we have done wrong, and quite possibly driven a person away from accepting grace.


As always, it is not my intent to point fingers at any individual, nor to insinuate their guilt. Rather I hope to point out a dangerous attitude showing up in disputes between Catholics on how we should behave. Yes, we need to correct the sinner. But it seems that lately we are assuming guilt, rather than asking whether our assumptions are correct. Even when we are correct, there is a growing habit to behave in a vicious way. We need to stop falsely judging those who have not done wrong, and when we correct those who do wrong, we must correct in charity. Otherwise, people might be driven away from the Catholic faith because of our own behavior, not that of the person we disagree with.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When Catholics Judge Each Other With Anti-Catholic Mindsets

A good analysis of what leads anti-Catholics to believe and repeat bizarre and false rumors about the Catholic Church described it as a combination of ignorance about what the Catholic Church actually teaches and did throughout history, and a willingness to believe the Catholic Church was capable and willing to do these terrible things. So long as they have these two traits, they are willing to spread the most vile falsehoods about us.

Unfortunately, that mindset seems present among many Catholics infighting today. It’s not limited to one faction, but it seems to affect Catholics across the spectrum. The mindset leads them to view other Catholics who seek to follow the faith as openly supporting evil because they are ignorant about what Catholics they dislike hold, and believe them capable of supporting terrible things.

So we see radical traditionalists willing to believe the Pope supports heresy when he calls for mercy. We see “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics willing to believe that Catholics who insist on the moral teachings of the Church are merciless. We see anti-Trump Catholics willing to believe that Catholics who voted for him supports his actions that are at odds with the Catholic faith. We see Catholics who voted for Trump assume those who couldn’t vote for him in good conscience must support evils contrary to the teaching of the Church. I could go on with these dualistic examples, but that would get boring—and long.

The point is, in each of these cases, the Catholic infighting involves ignorance of what those they disagree with actually hold, and a belief those they disagree with are willing to support these things. Meanwhile the accused resents the accusation. In many cases they do not support the evils, but instead are either following a Church teaching but have a different view of how to apply it, or are mistaken about what the Church holds and do wrong while thinking it is right.

Yes, people can be in error about what the Church teaches, and need to be corrected. Yes, some Catholics might unfortunately support things contrary to the Catholic faith, and need to be corrected. But if the person who decides to correct does so with the assumption that those who disagree with our prudential judgment or are in error do so out of malice will not bring them out of error. It won’t evangelize them, but we’ll probably lead them to think we’re the one in error

And if they’re not supporting an evil, our accusing them of doing so is rash judgment, or maybe even calumny.

So we have an obligation. We have to understand what they actually hold, to make sure they need correction before we act. If they do, we have to do so in charity and mercy, not harshness. But if they don’t, then we’re just being factional and judgmental, and we will have to answer for that and the harm it caused in the final judgment.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lest Factionalism Blind: Reflections on Divisions

Catholics are called to be the light of the world and the city on a hill—in other words a visible beacon that shows others the way. Yet, increasingly, Catholics seem willing to adopt the tactics of the world to promote their position and savage their enemies. If something makes their enemy look bad, it gets repeated, even if they have not made certain it is true, or worse, they know it is false. The problem is, we are forbidden to do this. We are called to speak truthfully and with charity. This means we must investigate the claims alleged before we repeat them online. If we find them to be false, or doubtful, we must not spread them as if they were true.

It doesn’t even have to be malicious calumny. All too often, people nowadays are willing to believe the worst about those who hold a different view about how to best be faithful to God and His Church, or about someone with a different political ideology. From that point of departure, they are willing to spread the accusations they hear without checking if they are true.

A growing number of Catholics are willing to believe that the Pope is teaching error because of the false accusations that have been formed by people misrepresenting his teaching. Never mind the fact that transcripts and interviews show he did not say what the headline quotes scream. These Catholics still believe the Pope intends to change Church teaching, despite the numerous times he has said exactly the opposite of what they accuse him of. What I find notable is the fact that people have been constantly been playing this game with politicians, making all sorts of accusations without basis—and that’s the problem. 

When the Pope teaches, or when the bishops teach in communion with the Pope, we are required to give assent. This isn’t a political opinion or a party plank. It is a matter of the successors to the apostles binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). But if we treat the Pope like a politician, especially if we treat him like a politician we despise, we are rejecting God when we reject the Church (Luke 10:16). This is something the Church has taught long before the current system of nation-states, and it will be taught long after they fade away. Since the Catholic faith requires us to accept that God protects His Church from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, we can either accept it as true, or we can deny that the Catholic Church teaches truly. But if we deny it, our relationship with God and His Church is damaged (Matthew 18:17).

If we want to escape the trap of being alienated from God and His Church, we need to investigate whether things are as we think they are—both in the matter of whether a Pope or bishop actually said what foes accuse them of saying, and in the matter of whether we have properly understood Church teaching. I’m not talking about comparing what we think the Pope said with what we think a past writing of the Church said to determine whether he is “orthodox” or not. I’m talking about investigating what the Pope said, and how it was intended on one hand, and whether we actually understand the Church teaching we think he is at odds with. Once more, if we accept God’s promise on protecting the Church from teaching error, then we must accept that He protects the Church just as much today as in any other era of the Church.

So, we cannot treat the Church teaching and Church teachers like politics and politicians. But if we just stop there, we’re still doing wrong. Why? Because the obligation to speak the truth in charity does not stop at the level of the Church. You might think one party or politician is wonderful, while another is a wrong. But you cannot treat the despised politician or party as if God’s commandments on truth were set aside. Even when they do wrong, our obligation to do right continues. That means we cannot commit rash judgment or calumny against them, even if the false story generates enough outrage that we can replace a hated politician with a preferred one. We may not do evil so good may come from it.

I would say that our problem is threefold. First, that we treat those we oppose as enemies, rather than children of God, who also need salvation. Second, that we have sinned against charity and truth by spreading hurtful stories against those we see as enemies without determining if they are true or, worse, spreading them knowing they are false. Third, that we treat the magisterium of the Church as enemies. 

Lest factionalism blind us to our sins, we need to undo this threefold problem. We must stop thinking of those we oppose as enemies. Yes, some people may have bad ideas, even harmful ideas. But God does not desire the death of the sinner (Ezekiel 18:23), but that they turn from their wickedness. That means correcting them with charity, lest our bad behavior leads them to think we are the evil ones. It means we cannot adopt the tactic that the ends justify the means in the hope we can drive those we oppose from power. Finally it means that when the Pope and bishops in communion teach, we cannot treat this teaching—even in the ordinary magisterium (Canon 752-754)—as if it were a party platform held by an enemy.

If we can keep these things in our heart, and practice them, we can be God’s instruments in reaching out to those who are in error. If we refuse to change our behavior, we are part of the problem, and at the final judgment, we will have to answer for it.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Are We Really Trying to Do?

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15).


Such words are “liberality,” “progress,” “light,” “civilization;” such are “justification by faith only,” “vital religion,” “private judgment,” “the Bible and nothing but the Bible.” Such again are “Rationalism,” “Gallicanism,” “Jesuitism,” “Ultramontanism”—all of which, in the mouths of conscientious thinkers, have a definite meaning, but are used by the multitude as war-cries, nicknames, and shibboleths, with scarcely enough of the scantiest grammatical apprehension of them to allow of their being considered really more than assertions.


 John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 41–42.

We must do all by love, and nothing by force.

We must love obedience rather than fear disobedience.

[Written to St. Jane Frances de Chantal]


Francis de Sales, Letters to Persons in the World, trans. Henry Benedict Mackey and John Cuthbert Hedley, Second Edition, Library of Francis de Sales (London; New York; Cincinnatti; Chicago: Burns and Oates; Benziger Brothers, 1894), 160.

Some people I know quit Facebook, disgusted over the tone. I can understand the disgust. It seems that most of what crosses my feed involves people who are posting stories giving the worst interpretations possible to the actions of those they dislike, politics and religion alike. The problem I have with this is: giving the worst possible interpretations to an action is not seeking the truth. Instead, the critic has tried the target in abstentia and declared them guilty of openly supporting what the critic fears from him.

It leads me to ask, what are we really trying to do here? Are we trying to inform people about the truth of the matter? Or are we trying to vilify the person, encouraging others to hate the person like we do? I admit this can be a fine line. If we think a person or an idea is dangerous, we want to warn others about the danger. But when we reach the point of repeating whatever makes a person sound evil, often showing no interest in understanding what a person is actually trying to do, I think we’ve stopped warning and started propagandizing.

For example, politically, supporters of the President are called “Fascist.” His enemies are called “Communist.” Both labels assume that the other side is not only wrong but actively trying to overthrow the good. But when pressed, the reasons I’m given for the opposition can be summed up as only their political position is right and there can be no good reason for opposing it.

The same thing happens in terms of religion, people who defend the authority of the Pope are called “ultramontane,” “modernist,” or “liberal.” Again, when one delves into the accusations and rhetoric, the basic assumption is that only the accuser’s interpretation on the application of Church teaching is correct, and there can be no good reason for taking a different view.

If we were serious about warning people about the truth of the matter, we’d start by learning the truth about what a thing is supposed to be and how the person we warn against is violating it. But instead of showing this knowledge, people use these labels aimed at demonizing the person opposed and conditioning the target audience to believe the attack.

Words do have proper meaning, and words can be misused or abused. When we abuse words to invoke a certain emotion, we’re not trying to get to the truth. We’re trying to get others to irrationally accept what we say. For those of us who profess to be Christian, this attempt to replace truth with emotional appeals to buzzwords goes against the great commission, where we are told to teach people. We need to teach people what we must do and why we must do it so they understand. We must submit our opinions to the teaching authority of the Church to be sure we have not deceived ourselves and do not mislead others.

When we’re tempted to use the labels instead of the teaching the truth, we need to ask what we are really trying to do. Are we really trying to help people do right? Or are we looking for recruits to bolster the size of our faction? If we’re trying to help people do right, we’ll stop with the propaganda, the labels, and the ad hominem attacks. Instead we’ll seek to lovingly show what the truth is so they accept it freely. But if we’re focussing on recruiting for a faction, Our Lord warned us harshly against it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Socrates, Pope Francis, and Politicians

“I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” (Apologia 21d)


 Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

So, today we saw another misrepresentation of Pope Francis. He spoke about investigating the role of the ancient position of deaconesses and clarifying what role they might play in the Church today. This suddenly became “Pope to investigate ordaining female deacons.” This resulted in both the radical traditionalist looking for “proof” that the Pope is a heretic, and the misguided Catholic who thinks the Church can ordain women jumping to the inaccurate opinion that the Pope justified their views. Once again we had people commit eisegesis, letting their preconceptions interfere with an accurate understanding. Debunking this was pretty easy compared to other incidents.

But after finishing this debunking, I had a thought. We’re quick in investigating false claims when it challenges what we find important. But we seem willing to take the same sources at their word if it supports our friend or harms our foe. This is more noticeable in an election year. We want our candidate to get elected and whatever harms the opponents of the candidate is good enough. So we end up sharing links which achieve this on social media without considering their accuracy.

The problem is, as Christians, we’re not supposed to do this. We’re supposed to speak the truth and live it. This obligation holds firm regardless of whether we talk about the Pope or about controversial politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Paul Ryan (to pick out four controversial names this election cycle from the headlines). We have to avoid rash judgment and calumny in what we say or what we repost. The Catechism tells us:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594–595.

Before a person makes a negative interpretation about the character of someone, he has the obligation to discover (to the best of their ability) whether the charge is true or whether it comes from a partisan interpretation of the facts. If it is the latter, we need to ask ourselves if this interpretation is the only one possible or if there are other justified interpretations that do not prove the moral badness of the target. In other words, we need to make sure we are not playing the hypocrite. If we object to people misrepresenting or defaming what we hold important, we must not do the same thing when it comes to people we dislike.

For that matter, if someone we like actually does wrong, we can’t pretend that it doesn’t matter and kick it under the rug either. So, for example, if we denounce corruption in one candidate, we cannot be silent if a candidate we like is also corrupt.

Discerning the right thing to do can be a fine line to walk. But it is about not letting our prejudices lead us to act unjustly through action or omission. If someone does wrong, we can’t condone it. But we do have to make sure it is wrongdoing and not disagreement over the best way to do things or a misunderstanding over what happened. 

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m the wise Socrates from the quote in the beginning of this article and everyone else is the person who thinks he knows and does not. I had to catch myself in the act of doing this before realizing I was playing a double standard. I noticed that I just took the word of the mainstream media when it came to public figures I disliked and investigated it when it involved people I approved of. But when I looked more closely at what the articles alleged, I saw other reasonable interpretations than moral badness. Because of this, I had to ask myself, “What sort of witness am I leaving to support my promotion of Catholic moral teaching."

I didn’t like the answer I gave myself.

Since, as Christians, we’re called to be the light of the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13-16), we have to consider what sort of beacon we give to the world compared to the beacon we’re supposed to give. That means we have to do what is right, speaking the truth, even when we think the person involved seems entirely wrong.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Unfounded Attacks: They're Tragically Fallacious


What’s most tiresome about the attacks against the Holy Father is that they essentially make an unsubstantiated accusation of the Pope seeking to change Church teaching to embrace error. What this boils down to, however, is that the critics are claiming that they have a proper understanding of the faith while that of the Pope or, in many cases, the whole Church is in error and must be opposed. In other words, if the Pope does not behave in the way his critics want him to behave he is considered to be heretical and working to destroy the Catholic faith—though whether he does so through incompetence or malice, the critics have not come to an agreement on.

When challenged on this by defenders, these critics then misrepresent any attempt to disprove their claims as “explaining away” what was said or “claiming infallibility” for every little thing the Pope says or does. I once, not too long ago, had critics accuse me of being blind because, I always defended him and disagreed with their interpretations of the Pope’s words and actions. I find that to be rather alarming: The anti-Francis mindset has reached the point where the accusations are assumed to be true by default, and these critics refuse to consider the possibility that they misinterpreted what the Pope actually said.

The Begging the Question Fallacy and Attacks on the Pope

It’s gotten to the point that the person who defends the Pope is assumed to be sympathetic to the things the Pope is falsely accused of. The claim that the Pope is a bad Catholic is considered to be true, even though the accuser has provided no evidence to justify the claim (just unsubstantiated accusations) based on their begging the question interpretation. And begging the question is the fallacy here. They have to prove that:

  • Their understanding of the Pope’s words is correct.
  • Their understanding of the Pope’s intentions are correct.
  • Their understanding of prior Church teaching is correct when contrasting it with what the Pope says and does.

But these accusations are not proven. They are merely assumed. The Pope is assumed to be guilty and no matter what he may say or do that defends the faith, this will be ignored while whatever sounds strange to them is assumed to be proof that the Pope is a menace to the Church that must be opposed. The problem is, the so-called “evidence” is only evidence if the accusation is true—which has to be proven, not assumed. As Aristotle once put it:

This is what those persons do who suppose [5] that they are constructing parallel straight lines: for they fail to see that they are assuming facts which it is impossible to demonstrate unless the parallels exist. So it turns out that those who reason thus merely say a particular thing is, if it is: in this way everything will be self-evident. But that is impossible. (Pr. and Post. Anal. 65.1.1–9)


Aristotle, “ANALYTICA PRIORA,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).

This is a real problem when it comes to Catholics on the Internet today It is simply assumed that the individual interpretation of the Pope’s words and the words of his predecessors are correct and it is simply assumed that differences perceived between these interpretations is proof that the Pope intends to change the teaching of the Church. These assumptions are held as true when the individual interprets the words and actions of Pope Francis are heretical—but if the assumption is false, these are not proofs. 

That, in a nutshell, is the “Emperor has no clothes” moment of the accusation.

Who Are We to Believe? Ipse Dixit claims, not Facts, are the Source of the Accusations

Once we see these attacks are based on the perception of the critics, we can ask ourselves: What gives them the right to make this determination to judge the Pope a heretic and those who defend him of also being heretics or dupes? We can make this challenge because the attacks on the Pope are based on the personal interpretation of the Church documents—but the personal interpretation of these documents are not an authoritative interpretation. In challenging their citation of St. Pius V or the Council of Trent, we are not rejecting the authority of that Pope or that Council. We are rejecting the authority of the person who claims that their individual interpretation of these documents is more accurate than the interpretation by the current magisterium.

Such allegations that the Pope is heretical are ipse dixit (Latin: 'he himself said it’) allegations. That is to say, a “dogmatic and unproven statement” (COED) or “an assertion made but not proved” (Merriam-Webster) made by an individual. The critic of the Pope asserts that the Pope has taught contrary to one of his predecessors. The question is, “according to whose interpretation?” Who has the authority to determine whether the cited text means what the accuser says it means in determining whether heresy has been committed?

Inigo ipse dixit

The answer is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. They are the ones who determine the application of the teachings of the past and how they apply to the problems of the present. They are the ones who distinguish the doctrines which cannot be changed from the disciplines which can be changed, as well as how and when/if they can be changed. As canon law puts it:

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.


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

Now it may be argued that I am not practicing what I preach, citing a Church document without the authority to do so. I would deny this charge. I cite the canon law to show who the Church decrees has authority to teach in her name, while recognizing that I do not have the authority to anathematize those who disagree with me or to demand that the Pope or bishops apply their authority in a specific way.

Ultimately, ipse dixit is a misapplication of who has authority to make a decree. One may have the authority in a limited sphere to decide questions relevant to the situation. For example, it is the judge, not the lawyer, who has the authority to rule whether a legal argument has the force of law. However, outside of the judge’s sphere of authority, any decree made by the judge lacks authority.

Misunderstanding and Misrepresentations: Attacking a Teaching That Was Never Made in the First Place

Of course, that brings us to another problem. Someone may try to poke a hole in my analogy of the judge by pointing to the terrible abuses of judicial authority taking place in America today. They may point out that infamous Supreme Court rulings like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Obergefell and say that the Supreme Court had no authority to make such rulings (and in doing so, they would be correct) and then claim that the Pope is trying to make similar decrees.

But when dealing with this argument, one has to compare what the Pope has said with what was alleged. If what is alleged does not equal what was said, then we have a misrepresentation. But since the misrepresentation does not equal what was said, attacking the misrepresentation does not refute the argument. This is the Straw Man argument: “a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.” In other words, a misrepresentation of what was really said.

The pontificate of Pope Francis has constantly been beset by straw man arguments. The most infamous of these misrepresentations is the quote of “Who am I to judge.” Both liberal promoters of “same sex marriage” and conservative critics of the Pope interpreted that statement as if he was sympathetic to treating homosexuality as being no different than heterosexuality. Liberals were encouraged by this “change.” Conservatives were outraged. But there was no “change.” The Pope was not making a moral statement about a sinful act. He was making a statement about a priest who was rumored to have a notorious past (but had since repented) and answering a question over whether he was to be fired over these reports.

What Pope Really Said

In other words, a truly Catholic view of sin and repentance was misrepresented as a change of Church teaching. To attempt to attack the Pope on the grounds of his saying “Who am I to judge,” is to attack a straw man. His words did not mean what they were portrayed to mean. Yet, that did not prevent his foes from spending his entire pontificate so far in accusing him of wanting to change Church teaching.

Do We Really Know a Man By the Company He Keeps? Not Always: The Guilt by Association Fallacy

The opponents of the Pope insist they have not misinterpreted him. They point to the scandalous statements made by Cardinal emeritus Kasper and Cardinal Daneels on divorce/remarriage and on “same sex marriage” and how they invoke mercy. They then point out that the Pope, too, has emphasized mercy in how to deal with people in a situation of divorce/remarriage or with same sex attraction. Therefore, it is assumed that the Pope shares the scandalous views of Kasper and Daneels and wants to change Church teaching.

However, the fact that the Pope speaks of mercy and Cardinals Kasper and Daneels invoke mercy does not mean they invoke mercy with the same end in mind. This is the Guilt by Association fallacy. This fallacy judges an idea by the bad character of an individual supporting it. For example, Jozef Stalin supporting a strong police does not mean all who support a strong police want to do so in order to enable a police state. Even the most vile people in history have happened to agree with ideas that happen to be true, and to recognize that truth does not mean endorsing abuses one attempts to justify in its name.

So to try to link Pope Francis to the ideas of Kasper and Daneels because of the invocation of mercy does not prove the point that they are linked. The attempts to do so are actually an attempt to smear the Pope because Kasper and Daneels hold problematic ideas that uses similar rhetoric.

When We Do Not Know if a Thing is Happening, That is not Proof of the Opposite: The Arguments from Silence and Ignorance

Another attack involves the idea that if I am unaware of something, the opposite is true. This one can be illustrated by a Facebook debate I once had. When the Pope issued a statement on social justice, a critic replied, “Well, why doesn’t he say something about the suffering Christians in the Middle East?” I replied that he had and I provided a link to the statement. This woman was startled, having no idea that he had spoken out. She had assumed that because she had heard no reports of the Pope’s pleas for assisting the suffering Christians, that the Pope did not say anything about it.

That is the Argument from Ignorance fallacy. Assuming that one’s lack of knowledge about an event means that the event did not happen. It is false because we are not omniscient beings. There can be things we do not know.

Another fallacy is similar: The argument from silence. This argument assumes that because there was no refutation to what was alleged or no known evidence to refute the allegation, the allegation must be true. This often happens when people assume that the lack of public action against a public sinner means that there was no action taken at all against the sinner or even that this is proof of the Pope’s sympathy for the sinner’s views. But that does not follow. The Pope can interact with a person behind the scenes, and we might never hear of it. So the lack of a public action ≠ no action taken. Nor does it mean “sympathy for the malefactor."

In other words, a lack of evidence is simply that—a lack of evidence. Not evidence in favor of the opposite. Only evidence in favor of the opposite is evidence in favor of the of opposite.


I could have come up with many more examples of logical fallacies present in the attacks on the Pope. Indeed, I keep wanting to squeeze in more like No True Scotsman and Non Sequitur. As well as the formal fallacies like Affirming the Consequent and Denying the Antecedent. When it comes down to it, the Appeal to Antiquity is very common in radical traditionalist circles. But eventually that leads to having a book length treatise instead of a blog article.

But regardless of how many fallacies I discuss, the point boils down to this. The attacks challenging the orthodoxy of the Pope have no basis in fact and they have no basis in reason. The reasoning they use cannot support the allegations made. The result of this fact means that the allegation against the Pope cannot be proven and therefore must cease to be repeated as if it were proven.

Proof of an accusation requires a clear demonstration that a fact is true and that it is relevant to the charge at hand. When we cannot make these demonstrations, we cannot claim they are proven. But when it comes to the Pope and his detractors, those who dislike him cannot demonstrate that the charges of heresy are true and they cannot demonstrate that the facts they cite are relevant to the accusations they make.

Catholics need to be aware of the fact that these attacks have no basis of truth to them, because when a point is claimed over and over, some people begin to believe that they must be true, because they hear it “everywhere.” Others become demoralized because they are tired of hearing the same claims over and over and wonder whether it is worth fighting anymore. We need to remember that logically fallacious arguments cannot demonstrate the proof of their claims, and that the attacks against the orthodoxy of the Pope, without exception, are logically fallacious.