Showing posts with label controversy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label controversy. Show all posts

Monday, January 13, 2020

Brief Reflection on the Hype over the New Book by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah

People are making a big to-do about the book coming out by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah. It’s being portrayed as these two men “opposing” the Pope. I have some brief thoughts about that.

This book isn’t even out yet. We have a few excerpts coming from the French version and some claiming access to the galleys of the Ignatius Press translation. We have no sense of context. Secular media and Catholic media hostile to the Pope are portraying it as a rift. Other Catholics, supportive of the Pope, are portraying it as a betrayal. But right now, any speculation is exactly that. Speculation. 

Remember the fuss over the 2011 interview when people thought the excerpt of “a male prostitute with AIDS” using a condom meant a change in Church teaching? As it turned out, he was describing a person moving slowly turning towards thinking about consequences of actions. I suspect in this book, we’ll find out that the conflict was not a conflict at all.

Another thing to remember is that there is no counter-magisterium here. If I’m wrong and it turns out that what the Pope ultimately decides—and remember, he is opposed to ending celibacy—is different from the views presented in this book, what the Pope decides will be binding. 

But now is not the time to look for heroes and villains, nor battle to the death for the teachings we think must or must not be. It’s certainly not time to bewail disasters to the Church. We don’t know the context of the presented snippets, and once we do know, we know who has the authority to shepherd the Church.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thoughts on the Errors of Combox Warriors


There seems to be a slew of errors going around on social media which feed on a misrepresenting of the interviews with Cardinal Burke over the dubia. Like always, I’m not accusing him of supporting those actions done invoking his name [†]. I’m opposing errors from those I call “Combox Warriors” (Catholic battling in social media over Church matters, viciously attacking those who disagree). These errors stem from the refusal to consider they might have gotten something wrong in comparing what they think follows from what they think the Pope says with what they think previous Church teaching means. In other words, the attacks on the Pope depend on the ipse dixit claims of his critics who need to prove what they assume is true.

So let’s look at some of the problems with their claims.

How is it that X Isn’t a Teaching, but Y is, When Both are Taught at the Same Level?

One of the claims used to deny the teaching authority of Amoris Lætitia is to say it isn’t a teaching because it is only an Apostolic Exhortation. The problem is, these critics also insist that this Exhortation is wrong because it “contradicts” (a point to be proven, not assumed) Familiaris Consortio. But there is the problem. Familiaris Consortio is also an Apostolic Exhortation. So, if Amoris Lætitia is not a teaching because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation, then logically one must concede that Familiaris Consortio is not a teaching either.

In other words, you can either accept the authority of both or reject the authority of both. But to accept one and reject the other on these grounds is irrational.

There’s No Facility for Removing a Pope from Office

Another problem comes from Combox warriors quoting St. Robert Bellarmine out of context (we’ll talk more about that below).  The argument is that when a Pope is a manifest heretic, he is no longer the Pope. It is claimed that the Pope’s teachings “prove” he is a heretic (or will be soon). Therefore, it is argued that he’s not the Pope. So, who determines whether the Pope has crossed that line? Cardinal Burke thinks it can be done but “It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.” The problem is, there is no competent tribunal to judge him. No valid council has ever deposed a sitting Pope. In fact, the Code of Canon Law (#1404) tells us, “The First See is judged by no one.”

Indeed, the cause of the Great Western Schism came about because a majority of cardinals deserted Pope Urban VI and elected an antipope (Robert of Geneva, aka Clement VII) in his place. Later, to try to correct the confusion, cardinals called a council at Pisa [*] and tried to depose both the Pope and the antipope and “declared” a new person Pope (antipope Alexander V). In all of this, the Church regards the true Pope to have been Urban VI and his successors.

The Council of Constance declared that a Council had the authority to depose a Pope (the Haec Sancta Synodus decree), but this decree was never approved by Gregory XII (the legitimate Pope of the time) nor his successor Martin V, so it is not considered a magisterial teaching. Therefore, it cannot be invoked against Pope Francis. The point is, despite whether one, four, or even all 121 of the cardinals under the age of 80 want to depose the Pope, there is no valid means they can use to do so.

Before a Pope could be removed from office because he was a “manifest heretic,” we would need one of two things to happen:

  1. The Pope would have to issue a decree defining how a Pope could be removed.
  2. A Council called by a Pope would have to decree on how a Pope could be removed—and the Pope at the time of the Council would have to approve that declaration. 
In other words, the Church has no ability to force a Pope from his office, and will not get one unless a Pope enacts such an ability through his authority. So long as there is no such authority granted, we can trust in God to remove such a Pope—and I deny any Pope past or present fits the condition of manifest heretic.

Let’s Talk About St. Robert Bellarmine’s Opinion [§]

Earlier, I mentioned the passage of St. Robert Bellarmine that critics of the Pope cite to say a Pope can be removed. The arguments I have seen run along the lines of pointing out that he is a Doctor of the Church and therefore his writings are official teachings of the Church. This is not true. The text in question actually discusses 5 opinions. What’s not normally quoted is the fact that the first view rejects that the Pope can be a heretic in the first place:

The first is of Albert Pighius, who contends that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: 806 [Hierarchiae Ecclesiasticae, bk 4, ch. 8.] such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.

However, he says that because “the common opinion is to the contrary, it will be worthwhile to see what the response should be if the Pope could be a heretic.” Note that phrase, “if the Pope could.” He’s not assuming it happens. He’s making a speculative, “What if that’s wrong?” Of those four opinions He rejects three of them:

  1. That the Pope can be deposed the instant he falls into even personal heresy.
  2. That the Pope can’t even be deposed for manifest heresy.
  3. [St. Cajetan’s opinion] That if the Pope falls into manifest heresy, he can and should be deposed by the Church.

After analyzing and rejecting these, he supports the following:

Now the fifth true opinion, is that a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics soon lose all jurisdiction, and namely St. Cyprian who speaks on Novation, who was a Pope in schism with Cornelius: “He cannot hold the Episcopacy, although he was a bishop first, he fell from the body of his fellow bishops and from the unity of the Church.” 819 [Bk 4, epist. 2]. There he means that Novation, even if he was a true and legitimate Pope; still would have fallen from the pontificate by himself, if he separated himself from the Church.

Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff. (De Controversiis Book 1) (pp. 309-310). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. 

Unfortunately, the term “true opinion” is misunderstood today. It’s a philosophical term which refers to an opinion which is held for reasons that are true, as opposed to arbitrary preference, but many wrongly think it means “fact.” So, this isn’t Church doctrine, and St. Robert Bellarmine doesn’t think it is either.

I would sum up this chapter as follows: While not defined, it is probable to believe that the Pope can’t be a manifest heretic, and therefore can’t be deposed. But, if he could be a manifest heretic (which is debated), members of the Church don’t depose him—he’d merely stop being Pope because he’d stop being Christian. (Many of Pope Francis’ critics who cite the Saint’s opinion actually seem to misinterpret it as #1 and #3 which he actually rejects.)

That being said, St. Robert Bellarmine’s treatise was never turned into the official teaching of the Church. As pointed out above, the Church has no defined way to remove a Pope, so this cannot be used by cardinals or councils to depose a Pope.

Popes Honorius I and John XXII

Two Popes who have been mentioned as “proof” of Popes being heretics are Honorius I and John XXII. The problem is, neither Pope proves anything in the case at hand, and it is unjust to claim Pope Francis is in the same situation.

Honorius I was condemned at the Third Council of Constantinople, 42 years after his death, because, in a letter to Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, he seemed to privately hold the heresy of monothelitism. But there is a dispute as to whether he disagreed with Our Lord having two wills (heterodox) or disagreed with the idea of Our Lord having two wills in conflict. Regardless of which was true, he is considered as having failed to carry out his duty by evading the issue instead of confronting it.

If it was true he privately held heresy, his case does not show a Pope can be deposed for heresy. He died in office and a later Pope confirmed the sentence of the Council. Nor can his evasion be equated with Pope Francis refusing to answer the dubia. Honorius I sought to evade an answer. Pope Francis insists the teaching is clear, but some people want excessive clarification. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Pope, there is no evidence that he is seeking to evade a debate.

Pope John XXII is (wrongly) portrayed as a Pope who taught heresy. That is not an accurate accusation. The issue was whether those who die see the Beatific vision immediately or not until the Final Judgment. At this time, the issue was not decided. What John XXII did was give homilies (which are not an occasion for infallibility) holding the former position. The controversy is over whether he was defining doctrine. He was not formally corrected, but was persuaded to change his opinion on the subject.

The accusations of heresy came from a group called the Spiritual Franciscans whom the Pope ruled against. The issue was over whether his condemnation of the idea that, “Christ and his apostles had no possessions whatever.” Seeking to discredit the Pope, they accused him of teaching heresy. However, this was not a defined doctrine and the Pope was not teaching. It was not until his successor, Benedict XII, that the issue was defined. Since 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” and John XXII did not deny anything, let alone obstinately, we don’t consider him a heretic. 


It’s not my place to judge the intentions of the cardinals who are troubled by the Pope, and I won’t accuse them of bad will.  Cardinal Burke did explicitly say Pope Francis was not a heretic, so it would be unjust to put those words in his mouth.

Unfortunately, some Catholics on social media are using his words to justify their attacks on the Pope. These attacks have long been based on their own readings of what they think the Pope says, contrasted to what they think the Church said previously. In doing so, they have two prove two things:

  1. That they have interpreted the Pope according to his intention.
  2. That they have interpreted previous Church teaching according to the understanding of the magisterium today.
In fact, these “combox warriors" show they understand neither correctly. Quotes from both are lifted out of context to show they are “contradictory.” These are the same tactics used by the critics of Vatican II and every Pope from St. John XXIII forward. I won’t lump all these critics together (there are variations), but we have to realize that some of the most abusive attacks come from people who have long seated grudges against the Church and refuse to consider the possibility that they could have gotten it wrong.
It’s my hope that by discussing some of the more common claims, this article might show that the arguments of such “combox warriors” are flawed and leading people astray by deceiving them into thinking the Church is in a state of error. It is only by recognizing the possibility of our own error when disagreeing with the magisterium that we can avoid spreading dissent while thinking we are in the right.



[†] One wishes the combox warriors would give the Pope the same consideration.

[*] This gathering was condemned in the Lateran V Council.

[§] Permissions to quote sections of the recent translation of this work was given by Mediatrix Press. The volume in question can be found HERE. (To get to the relevant chapter, go to Book II, Chapter XXX) I’ve copied the footnotes to the text in brackets after the number for readers who want to make sure nothing is overlooked. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quick Quips—Our Perceptions and God's

Once again, it’s time for Quick Quips where I offer short reflections that I can’t really drag out into a full blog entry.

Does “Everybody” Know Anything at All?


  • Everybody knows that the Church is turning Protestant—except the actual Protestants…
  • Everybody knows that the Church is turning Liberal—except the actual Liberals…
  • Everybody knows that the Church is turning Conservative—except the actual Conservatives…
  • Everybody knows that the Church is turning Modernist—except the actual Modernists…
  • Everybody knows that the Church is turning Traditionalist—except the actual Traditionalists…

Basically everybody attributes to the Church a position that they associate with their foes, but those foes disagree with the accusation that the Church has embraced their own views. So maybe instead of assuming that the Church is siding with their foes, maybe everybody should consider the possibility that the Church is not changing for the worse—but rather is just calling for each one of us to change and turn to Our Lord...

Reflections on Psalm 95

Psalm 95 is the Psalm used most often in the opening (Invitatory) of the Liturgy of the Hours. It basically puts us in our place before God. It can be easy to sometimes pray it on autopilot if you have it memorized. At other times, things catch my attention. Today, what caught my attention was:

Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works.

Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways.
”So I swore in my anger,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”

I thought about how they challenged and provoked God even though they had seen His works—they did so by finding alternate solutions. They wanted a golden calf, they wanted to go back to Egypt, they wanted a new leader. They wanted the most gain at the least cost. So when God called on them to follow His commands, they were looking for alternate solutions that let them put the most comfort or the least pain compared to what God was guiding them to.

It makes me wonder. Are we perhaps acting like the Hebrews when we complain about the direction of the Church? Why can’t we compromise? Why can’t we go back to the way things were? Why can’t we have a different leader? If we are, perhaps we need to think about what God does with those who grumble. Now God loves us unconditionally, irrevocably as the Pope said in a beautiful homily today, but sometimes He has cause to act sternly with us.


There are always problems with individuals in the Church and, if we’re wise, we’ll realize we’re among the individuals causing problems. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as the role models that the Church should follow if it wants to be right and start thinking about how we stand before Him, and whether we are really any better than the Hebrews in the Exodus or the Pharisees confronting Our Lord. Let us not grow stubborn. Let us not convince ourselves that our preferences are better than God’s call.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Reflections on Firearm Controversies and the Church

(See: To gun violence, Archbishop Cupich says 'Enough!' - Chicago Tribune, USCCB Testimony before Congress 2013and Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action)

The Second Amendment is one of these things that people tend to fall into the either-or fallacy. Either one supports their perspective or one supports all sorts of horrible things. For the person who believes more legislation is needed to prevent gun massacres, people who oppose them are seen as callously disregarding suffering in the name of politics. For the person who believes that there are legitimate reasons to own firearms, the calls for legislation and restrictions are seen as a confiscation which punishes the legitimate gun owner. There is no middle ground in this rhetoric.

But what I don’t see in this dualistic debate is taking people on each side and asking them, “What do you think needs to be done to change this?” There is no dialogue to try to find a solution that both sides can work with that protects the innocent and keeps lethal weapons out of the hands of those likely to misuse them. In saying this, I am not saying “Can’t we all get along?” The problem is, neither side strikes me as wanting to compromise. To the person who thinks personal ownership of firearms is the cause of the problem, it appears that they will not be happy with anything less than a model for gun ownership along the lines of European limits. To the person who believes that personal ownership of firearms is necessary for defense against criminals or a government turned dictatorial, they will not hear any proposal for limits.

This is why I do not blame the Obama administration or the NRA—I actually blame both of them for contributing to the problem, demonizing the other side and not willing to achieve a compromise. Indeed, any possibility of compromise is seen as ignoring what one side holds important.

So, people continue to die from violence. Statistically, that number probably will never be reduced to zero, regardless of whether we outlaw every firearm in America or arm every individual in America with firearms. So we need to avoid two types of thinking:

  1. Thinking that if only we eliminate all firearms, everybody will be safe.
  2. Thinking that defending the Second Amendment means we can’t have any restrictions.

It is this mindset that the Church has to face when it weighs in on the issue. The American bishops recognize that some restrictions are necessary, but they also speak on how there needs to be more than only restrictions. Now, there is not any official document which teaches “Catholics must support X on pain of sin.” I don’t expect there ever will be either. The Church rarely speaks by saying “support this bit of legislation!” Rather the USCCB sets forth what she sees as important considerations and encourages lawmakers to apply them to their work.

Now, the USCCB does actually make some good points in talking about the culture of violence—it demonstrates that firearms by themselves do not cause the situation we have been in since the 1990s, and that we need to address these core issues. Again, this is not an either-or issue. It’s not a matter of either addressing core issues OR restricting guns. It’s a both-and situation. We need to both address the culture of violence and keep firearms out of the hands of people most likely to use these firearms to harm innocents. I think the weakness with the current approach is that the bishops sometimes are not precise enough in their language, allowing partisans on both sides to either make it sound like the Church endorses their position or to vilify the Church.

For example Archbishop Cupich, wrote today in the Chicago Tribune. He rightly speaks about the issue of the Second Amendment, saying, "Surely there is a middle ground between the original intent of the amendment and the carnage we see today.” That’s very true, and I applaud this. But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. He speaks about needing “reasonable legislation” and “better gun controls.” But what does that mean? This can span the range from “keep them out of the hands of crazies” to “ban them outright.” That uncertainty leads people assuming things based on their own political beliefs.

The whole problem, as I see it, is the polarized society we have cannot come to an agreement on what is “reasonable” or “better.” As a result we see people acting offended or self-righteous over the Archbishop’s words.

Now, the right of self defense is recognized by the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catechism says:

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor.… The one is intended, the other is not.” (1737)

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: (2196)

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.… Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

So the question is, how does one reconcile the Catholic recognition of self defense as legitimate, the Second Amendment and calls for firearm restrictions? I think we Catholics in America do need to have our own discussion on the issue, guided by the bishops. That means we need to set aside our own political preferences and set aside demonizing people who think differently on the issue. I mean Archbishop Cupich takes a position (but not using his teaching authority as bishop in doing so) that might be more politically “liberal” than what I am comfortable with, but what he has to say is not to be written off as “partisan” and rejected out of hand. He is certainly not heretical or holding a position inimical to Catholic teaching. 

Ultimately, I think the problem in America is we have become so polarized that we no longer trust anyone who does not share our position. The result is we no longer have any way of finding a compromise that protects the innocents while keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of those who are dangerous. I think ultimately, we need to understand the scope of our responsibilities in order to stake out an informed position. I think the bishops can indeed help us understand how to do so. They have a lot to say which is worth studying. But to do so more effectively, I think it would help for them to avoid vague terms that can be misinterpreted.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"This is a Rebellious People..."

For this is a rebellious people, 

deceitful children, 

Children who refuse 

to listen to the instruction of the Lord;

10 Who say to the seers, “Do not see”; 

to the prophets, “Do not prophesy truth for us; 

speak smooth things to us, see visions that deceive!

11 Turn aside from the way! Get out of the path! 

Let us hear no more 

of the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:9-11)

Things are really getting out of hand, and falling much faster than I would have expected, but to some extent, I have to say I am not totally surprised that they are getting out of hand. Just not this fast and this irrationally. What we are seeing is the Pope besieged on both sides now. Conservative Catholics have been opposed to him almost from the word “Go,” determined to establish he is a liberal—if not a heretic. Liberal Catholics are beginning to turn on him now that his words in the Philippines have demonstrated he is solidly a Catholic. Both sides firmly believe he is in the “other” camp.
Pope Misinterpreted(If you want to know where I stand, regarding the Pope, I stand right here)
He is blamed for how others have misinterpreted his words. The allegations are that if he spoke clearly, people would not have misinterpreted him. But that is false reasoning which overlooks that the vast majority of people do not get their words from Vatican Information Service or Zenit or the like, and especially not from transcripts. They get their news from the secular media, which has routinely reported soundbites, ignoring the concept the quote (or partial quote) has come from. Every single time we have looked at a soundbite in context, it has turned out that the secular media has gotten it wrong. For example...
The Pope did not say “Who am I to judge?” in the sense of saying he was in favor of same sex relationships. He was saying it in the sense of speaking about a priest with a notorious past who repented. He did not say “breed like rabbits” and speak against large families. He spoke about a specific problem—some people who say they will indiscriminately have children without considering the consequences because they “Trust in” the Lord, which is basically “putting the Lord to the Test” (see Deuteronomy 6:16, Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12). He did not call for recognizing same sex “marriage” and divorce and remarriage at the extraordinary synod of 2014. He called for finding ways of reaching out to people in these situations. He didn’t condemn capitalism as a system. He called for places where it was causing harm to reform.
I could go on and on, and I’m sure the media will...
In short, nothing that outraged Catholics was actually said as they interpreted the words to mean, but they still hold these statements against him. It’s even gotten to the point that when the Pope praised mothers and grandmothers for their role in passing on the faith, some people went so far as accusing him of ignoring or denigrating men!
But since these people are saying of something that is not so that it is so, we can say they do not speak the truth. The question is, do they know it is not the truth when they say it? Or do they just refuse to consider they could be misinterpreting him? Now, I am not God, so I cannot speak to these people and their intentions. But I can say that if they know they are speaking something that is not true, then that is lying—strongly condemned by the Catechism (CCC #2483-2487). But if they do not know whether what they are saying is true or not, then they are making a rash judgment—also condemned by the Catechism (CCC #2477-2478) and, given how these false accusations are damaging the reputation of the Holy Father, it can also be calumny (CCC #2479) if it is done with the hopes of discrediting him.
It's at the point where I think it is far more than just hostility to the misinterpreted words. I suspect that some people dislike the fact that the Holy Father is affirming Church teaching that is unpopular to their political views and seek to discredit him to justify their own disobedience. Some people out there point to the misrepresentations that make him seem indifferent to Church teaching or denigrating people or fomenting heresy, and say that the Pope can’t be trusted, and therefore his teachings can be ignored. Such people seem to be behaving as rebels. They don’t want to hear the unpopular Church teachings—I have heard some people say “Why doesn’t the Pope talk about this instead?” But the point is, if we accuse those Catholics who set aside the teachings on sexual morality as being “cafeteria Catholics,” then we must not be guilty of the same charge. Yes abortion, contraception and homosexual acts are sins. But they are not the only sins. If we choose to set aside teachings on other areas, then we are hypocrites.
So it’s important not to be a rebellious people. If we find ourselves challenged by a statement of the Pope, the first thing to do is to ask whether he actually said what was alleged. If it is not, we have to let go of any wrongly placed hurt and not blame him for misrepresentation. Second, we have to ask whether we are upset because his words are challenging us. If they are, then we should consider whether our problem is with God, rather than with the Vicar of Christ. When he teaches, we must listen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Dangers For the Conservative Catholic Grows

There is a danger that seems to be growing more apparent, and it seems to be targeting the conservative Catholics. That danger seems to be the pushing the view that Pope Francis is teaching error and not to be trusted. Since his election in 2013, every major act he has done has been given a negative spin by conservative Catholics. Whether it’s accusing him of holding error or supporting Marxist views, the conservative Catholic press has always chosen to emphasize a negative interpretation for his actions and imply bad will for his teachings.

That’s shameful.

But the problem it isn’t with Pope Francis. He hasn’t taught anything that hasn’t been taught by his predecessors.

The only difference from his predecessors is that his style is different.. There was nothing wrong with St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI of course. They taught things that needed to be taught. The objections basically amount to Pope Francis teaching things with a different style—and that teaching is coming uncomfortably close to home for some Catholics who always prided themselves as being faithful. Why? Because he is reminding us that it’s not only the pro-abortion politicians and the same sex “marriage” advocates that need to repent—it’s us too.

Now this is not some “vast right wing conspiracy.” I believe most of the people who object to Pope Francis are sincere in their belief when they hear the accusations against him. But it strikes me that they are believing it because they are giving too much credit to the people who are making these accusations, not asking if they are true, but just accepting the unproven word of the accusers, and becoming enraged on cue—never asking whether they are being manipulated.

That’s a trap for Catholics. The devil doesn’t have to make a person leave the Church to entrap him or her. All he has to do is to convince the person that the teaching authority is not to be trusted and therefore the person cannot take a chance of obedience out of fear that the teaching authority is in error. The person is deceived into thinking he or she is a good Catholic, but in fact the devil is encouraging them to put their own will in front of the Church and if the Church does what the person does like, it “proves" the Church has gone astray.

That’s a real danger. It prevents conversion because if a person is blind to this, they cannot repent of their sin. They’re deceived so as to exalt themselves instead of humbling themselves.

What needs to happen was described by Fulton J. Sheen when he met the Pope:

Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be."

"Oh," he said, "tell me, I would like to know."

"While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obedience to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression."

He said: "Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord."

If we can remember that loving Christ means loving His body, in the presence of the Pope, it means we must love the Church under Pope Francis.

In addition to what Bishop Sheen has said, I think we need to realize that Christ loves His bride, the Church and will not permit her to fall away into error. So fearing that the Church under Pope Francis will fall into error shows a profound lack of trust in God.

So, we need to remember this: When the Pope acts in a way that is different than we think it should, we should be asking ourselves questions. How sure am I that the error is not with me? Do I even have all the facts to judge the right and wrong of the situation? Am I assuming the Pope is wrong just because he is challenging me? There are others to ask. 

For example, the latest blowup is over Pope Francis transferring Cardinal Burke from the head of the Roman Rota to the head of the Knights of Malta—which is considered a ceremonial post. Some have called it a demotion which is a term that claims to have facts about the situation when it does not. From that word “demoted” (which needs to be proven, by the way) people begin to fill in blanks that they have no right to fill in: “unjustly demoted” or “demoted because of his views.” These are statements made without proof, all holding the view that the Pope has wronged the Cardinal.

But maybe the Pope hasn’t. Maybe he wants to prevent keeping one person in one place for too long. Or maybe he plans to have Cardinal Burke fill a different role when the space becomes available. Or maybe there’s a problem with the cardinal. Or maybe not. The point is, we don’t know the facts, and as long as we don’t know the facts, we have no right to start decreeing people as heroes and villains in the story. We have no right to assume the Pope is doing this for the purpose of change in Church teaching. Even if the Pope made an error in judgment in replacing Burke (which again, would be rash to judge), that does not mean he is promoting error, and it does not mean that the Church is irreparably damaged. 

So, that is the danger I am seeing. That people mistrust the teaching authority of the Church and second guess everything that is done out of fear that he will ruin the Church out of malice or incompetence . . . things I must say I disagree with.

I strongly doubt that we will see any cardinals fall into schism. Cardinal Burke himself seems to have a sense of loyalty and obedience on the whole affair. I certainly don’t mistrust him. But if people are led to think they know the facts of the case when they do not, then there is a real danger of them being deceived into trusting in themselves when they should be trusting in God to guide the Pope.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thoughts on German Bishops and the Church Tax

Article: For German Bishops, Sacramental Mercy Has a Price

The Problem

Certain Catholic news sources have been talking about a new story—that isn’t really new. I personally wrote about it in 2012. What’s different about it is it’s no longer just the liberal Catholics. Now conservative Catholics are speaking about the story—and using bad logic in doing so.

The situation is uniquely German. Since the 1870s, Germany has deducted taxes from every citizen according to their religious belief—Protestant, Catholic or Jewish—and given it to the religious denominations. It’s not something I think should be done, but the churches have nothing to do with it. It’s going to happen no matter what the churches say. The problem is this: Some Catholics, in order to avoid paying the taxes, have legally declared themselves as belonging to no religion. The Church in Germany has responded by denying these people the sacraments, except for emergency situations.

The Assessment of Fallacies

The problem is, I do not think the accusations are just when it comes to the sense that the bishops should take no action. Rather, it seems to me that certain Catholics are using the unpopularity of the German bishops to make their own behavior look better . . . using rhetoric that plays off of emotions instead of the facts of the case. But in justly assessing something, that is exactly what we must not be led by.

The article starts out by mentioning Cardinal Kasper, saying:

As Cardinal Walter Kasper prepares to receive an award and give a speech at The Catholic University of America later today, some are accusing him and his episcopal colleagues of Germany of hypocrisy.

The critics point out that while Cardinal Kasper and most of his fellow German bishops have been leading the charge to allow those in “irregular” marital situations — those who are divorced and remarried — to receive Communion, they have simultaneously denied the sacraments, including even Confession, to those who opt out of paying Germany’s “church tax.”

Invoking Kasper is a good way to slant the article right off the bat. Hes unpopular with conservative Catholics, and invoking him is a good way to turn them against the situation being described. So introducing the article with the Cardinal is the Red Herring fallacy. Citing him is gratuitous. The article could be written without him. Moreover, invoking the German position on divorce and remarriage is an example of the tu quoque fallacy. Whether or not the sins of divorced and remarried Catholics are dealt with is irrelevant as to whether or not the bishops deal with the people who renounce their faith legally to avoid paying the Church tax.

In other words, just because the German Bishops were wrong on their views on divorce and remarriage, doesn’t mean they’re wrong on the issue of people who claim they’re not Catholic to avoid taxes.

Using slogans like “Pay to Pray” is an appeal to emotion and a straw man. That is simply not what this is about. The affair is over Catholics believing they can renounce the faith legally and not face the consequences. These are not innocent people being “picked on.” They did make a legal act renouncing their faith, and the question is to ask what is the appropriate response. If sanctions are justified, they have no cause to object.

The Church Teaching Says This Is Not The Same As Apostasy

Now, it is true that separation from the Church for legal purposes was decreed as not being the same thing as real apostasy. The exact quote is: 

2.  The substance of the act of the will must be the rupture of those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church. This means that the formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: it supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.

3.  The juridical-administrative act of abandoning the Church does not per se constitute a formal act of defection as understood in the Code, given that there could still be the will to remain in the communion of the faith.

That’s fair enough. Unless a person intends to break with the Church in fact, he can’t be charged with apostasy or a formal act of defection. But there’s a problem. There’s nothing in the document that says that the people do this suffer no penalty. It just says they do not fall under the category of choosing to leave the faith.

So, this document means we don’t call such Catholics apostates and don’t punish them like apostates. But that doesn’t mean they are free of penalty.

My Personal Opinion On the Subject

Personally, I am inclined to think (always recognizing the Pope as the one who makes the final decision, willing to submit if he decides in a manner different than this opinion) that even though this is not an act of apostasy, it is an act of scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as:

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense. (2847)

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing. (1903)

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. (1887; 2498)

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger,89 or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”

In terms of this incident, possible scandal is caused by giving the impression that they really are rejecting the faith in fact, not just as a legal fiction. That can cause doubt among the faithful and give the unbelievers something to point fingers at.

In Church history, even giving the appearance of renouncing the Catholic faith is a serious issue, even if it is done insincerely. For example, during the Roman Empire, Christians were given a choice of sacrificing to idols or death. Many Christians died for their faith. Some apostatized. But a third group (called libellatici) thought they could be clever. They managed to get certificates claiming they had sacrificed when they really did not. They thought they had been faithful . . . but the Church did not see it this way. This was a matter of scandal because, to anybody who saw it, it looked like the person was denying his or her faith. The Church required penance before they could be returned to the faith.

Even today, in the face of ISIS, we see people who are given a choice of death, paying the jizya tax or converting. Catholics have witnessed for their faith by choosing hardship and exile.

So I don’t think that the people who do this in Germany are doing right. Are the bishops being too harsh? Maybe. I would support an investigation into what should be done in these cases. I also think a friend of mine had the right idea. He offered the opinion that the Church in Germany should refuse the tax funds to prevent government intrusion into the life of the Church.

But the bishops do have the right to determine how to apply Catholic moral teaching and the Canon Law insofar as this determination does not go against Catholic teaching. So that’s the point of investigation: Is the bishops action in keeping or not in keeping with the Church teaching?

Of course, Pope Francis and his calls for finding a way to reconcile people to the Church is fitting here as well as with people in irregular marriage situations. Obviously the unrepentant can’t be treated like the repentant, but finding the best way to bring each individual back to the Church applies to the tax-cheat as well as the divorced and remarried. The sin has to be rejected, but the Church is called to find out how to help them do so.


But rhetoric seeking to add more dislike to the German bishops after their stand during the extraordinary synod is not just. The issue would be present regardless of what position the German bishops took on divorce and remarriage. We can’t assume, “They were wrong on marriage, therefore they are wrong on tax-dodging.” So let’s not judge them rashly here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Speech, Interpretation and the Pope

Preliminary Note

The trick in writing an article like this is to avoid coming across like "Just think like me and you'll be fine" as if I were wise man with all the answers and the reader is an idiot if he or she disagrees. If I come across like that, then I failed in achieving what I hoped in this article.

What I hope to do is to discuss what I have learned over the years in dealing with troublesome news reported about the Church—even before Francis became Pope—as explanation for why I am not troubled by our Pope and why I do not think we are headed towards the dangers many of my fellow Catholics fear we are headed for.

So below is my attempts at explaining why I believe what I do and why I do not think that Pope Francis is causing harm to the Church by what he says. I hope it helps those facing those questions and concerns I once struggled with.


A friend of mine (who always asks challenging questions and forces me to explore my faith more deeply) writes:

I think that your article addresses one group - those who think that Francis is making statements which are at odds with Church teaching. But there is another group who rather think that Francis speaks in a way which is too easily misunderstood or mischaracterized. I think that this second group believes in his orthodoxy but wishes for greater clarity.

I think that this second group is of the belief that we Catholics should not need to spend a great deal of time explaining "what the Pope really meant". And they feel frustrated when the Pope's words are misused.

It is true that my previous article did explicitly intend to discuss that first group. However, it's a fair point to consider when the Pope speaks and people who are not dissenting Catholics find themselves troubled by what they hear.. 

The Pope speaks. Misinterpretations happen. Is this a case of cause and effect where the Pope speaks imprecisely and this causes to misinterpretation? Or would that be a post hoc fallacy where there are two events and one mistakenly draws a link between the two where it does not exist? I would ask the reader to consider these two possibilities.

When it comes to seeking a reply to this concern, the person should ask, "Why am I concerned/offended?" How you answer the question can help approach the issue. From what I can see, the concerns tend to fall into three areas:

  1. Fear that people will misunderstand the Pope with disastrous consequences.
  2. Fear that the Pope is giving his support to an -ism that they disagree with.
  3. Fear that the Pope will change Church teaching to something that contradicts current teaching.

There's a lot of subsets in the three groups. I won't discuss every issue that the people have fears over, but I do believe that the people who fear what he has to say are covered by these categories.

Let's try to look at these categories.

Fear that people will misunderstand the Pope with disastrous consequences

I think we need to be aware that wanting the Pope to speak "more clearly" is a very vague concept that will mean different things to different people.

The reason I say this is that it is not possible to speak so clearly that no mistake is possible. The differences between the speaker and the listener in terms of things like education, areas of knowledge, background, intellect, political outlook, philosophical outlook, preconceptions, etc., are going to be barriers if the speaker and the listener differ on these areas. Words can be ambiguous based on the meaning a perspective gives them.

Think of it this way. As Christians, we recognize the inerrancy of Scripture. God willed that the human authors only include the material He wanted in it... no more, no less. Yet those Christians who rely on their personal interpretation of the Bible routinely come up with contrary interpretations as to what certain parts mean. Do we say that the Scriptures communicate poorly? Or do we recognize that we are not all infallible interpreters of the Scripture?

Now that's with Scripture. Now imagine when we are dealing with human beings, all speaking different languages, so we have to rely on translations of what is said--where nuance may be missed depending on the skill of the translator and the complexity of the language. Now that doesn't mean every speaker is flawless and the fault is always be with the listener. But I think it does show that the idea that Pope Francis is expressing himself badly is not necessarily established as fact.

One may believe that the Pope should perhaps be more cautious when he does his so-called "Off the cuff" or "off script" moments. Certainly we had some odd moments in the first year of his pontificate where things were reported and some Catholics had WTF moments. But even here, we do need to ask whether the problem was with what he said or whether it was a problem of how it got back to us and how we interpreted it.

For example, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, there was the embarrassing moment where he kissed a Qur'an.  Knowing of his fidelity to the Church, the idea of him being an apostate is ludicrous. The more probable meaning was that of him thinking that he was showing the local means of respect for a gift. So objectively, things would have been better if he did not kiss the book. But because he did, we are obligated to look into the meaning of this before presuming something like deliberate rejection of part of the Catholic faith.

That is why seeing or hearing something that seems odd does not justify Rash Judgment (I've cited this so often, some of you ought to know it by heart):

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


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.

This means that when we encounter a fellow Christian who does or says something that strikes us as odd, we are not to presume bad will on the part of the person acting. Only when it becomes apparent that no other interpretation is possible that we can move on with a gentle fraternal correction.

And let's not forget Pope Benedict XVI with his book length interview Light of the World where he used the example of a male prostitute with AIDS deciding to use condoms as an example to illustrate his point of a person beginning to consider the moral consequences of his actions. Many people believed he was advocating a changed teaching. Then that he had spoken badly. If you can remember back to those days, there was conservative Catholic media saying people in the Vatican should be fired for what happened. But ultimately, it was apparent that the problem was with the media wanting to report a change, not the Vatican making an error. (Are you beginning to remember that misunderstanding wasn't a problem exclusive to Pope Francis?)

What happens in cases like these is we have a problem that the news media (and some Catholics who think the magisterium is in the wrong) immediately jumps on things it thinks is new without considering how it fits in with other Catholic teaching. The Pope mentioned condoms and AIDS sufferers! He's saying it's OK to use condoms! He's changing the teaching!

Um... no. What we actually had was a media ignorant of what we believe reporting what they thought they heard, and a reaction by some Catholics blaming the confusion on the Church. That is vastly different. But, because we have been conditioned to expect that the media reports accurately about the facts, nobody actually thought to question whether the media did report the facts accurately.

The thing is, many people interpret the news from the Church by their preconceptions. That cannot be considered the fault of the Church. If a person's only tool is a hammer, every problem is approached as if it were a nail—which is a bad idea if the problem is installing a new pane of glass or swapping out a hard drive.

That's basically the problem with the media. For the most part, news services don't have a qualified religion reporter. Reporters assigned to stories treat Church news on moral issues as if they were political or economic issues. The result is they report the Church news as if it was political or moral news.

Imagine it this way. If I have no medical knowledge and I read a medical journal, how reliably do you think I will be able to assess the information within and explain it to others? Moreover, if I am considered a source of reliable news and I report on what I understood the medical journal to say, how accurate do you think the news report will be?

It's the same principle with the Church teachings. If one does not understand the nature of the Church and how she understands things, how can such a person avoid making mistakes in reporting?

Now I don't want to be misunderstood as saying "You need a Masters in Theology to understand the Pope." What I want the reader to be aware of is summed up by Dirty Harry in Magnum Force: "A man has got to know his limitations."

If a person knows his or her knowledge on a subject is limited, he or she can know that it is possible that when something doesn't seem to make sense that perhaps they have misunderstood the words and what gets repeated to others on that subject may be a distortion of what was really said. If a person doesn't know his or knowledge is limited, it means that he or she will probably go pass something along that is false thinking it was true. That's unfair to the person who did not say what the person who misunderstood him thinks that the original speaker did say.

Here's an example. I use computers but don't know much about the technical information about them. Since I'm researching a new computer (the current machine on my desk has been a faithful companion since the time of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm but needs replacing). So I occasionally ask a friend of mine questions on articles I read. Often he has to ask me a lot of questions or to provide a link to the article so he can wade through the mess of what I thought was said and find out what was actually said so he can answer my questions. The problem was not with the person who wrote the article, but was with me (PEBKAC, I believe they call it).

This is what one has to consider when the news reports something on the Pope. If the news reporter does not understand the Church he or she reports on, the result is something less than accurate.

The trick is to make sure that the problem is not at the level of the person doing the interpreting before worrying the Pope is expressing himself wrongly and causing confusion.

Fear that the Pope is giving his support to an -ism that they disagree with

The above was the framework that leads to the problems of fear and mistrust. When one assumes the media accurately reports the words of the Pope in context and they don't, the result is people thinking the Pope is saying something he had no intention of saying.

But even when people miss that first step, there are still ways to investigate things that seem strange.

I think we need to be aware of two types of meaning: univocal and equivocal. In the first, we have words where only one meaning is possible. In the second, more than one meaning is possible.

One problem is that people tend to assume that the meaning of a phrase is univocal. If the Pope uses a certain term, people tend to assume it has one meaning. Thus, when St. John Paul II spoke about feminism, certain Traditionalists presumed he was speaking in favor of radical feminism--something NOW and Planned Parenthood would find laughable, and was quite far from his intent.

But once one realizes that words and phrases can be equivocal, the possibility that the intention of the Pope is different than the meaning the reader/listener associates with the term must be considered.

We also have to consider the possibility of the either-or fallacy. The idea that there are only two options, when there are more than two. We have a tendency to think either conservative or liberal, either capitalism or socialism etc.

Thus when the Pope speaks about the problems in Capitalism (as he did in Evangelii Gaudium), people fear he is supporting socialism. But condemning flaws in one is not necessarily approving the other. Nor is it condemning the whole of capitalism.

There is another thing to consider. If the Pope speaking on the Catholic approach to an issue sounds like the supporting of an -ism, perhaps one should ask whether they have an -ism of their own which stands in the way of understanding the Pope properly. For example, the radical feminist who sees nothing but "patriarchal oppression" in Church teaching because she sees everything in terms of feminism.

Fear that the Pope will change Church teaching to something that contradicts current teaching

Finally, there is the fear that the Pope will make a heretical change to Church teaching. I think this is caused by certain traditionalist Catholics who claim that the Church has been in the wrong since the reign of St. John XXIII and every seeming difference between their interpretation of Church teaching and what the magisterium says today is "evidence" of this divide. The Catholic who tries to be faithful can't help but see the badly behaving Catholics and is deceived into thinking that the fault lies with the Magisterium.

But, if we have faith in Jesus Christ and believe He established this Church, gave it His authority and protects it, that's a wrong conclusion to make. That's not elevating Pope Francis to the level of demigod. That's putting your faith in the fact that even if parts of the Church fall into error, remaining faithful to the Church under the headship of the successor of St. Peter is the only safe path to be on.

So when it comes to being concerned that we'll see the Pope permitting abortion or "gay marriage," we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is not on a coffee break while the the Pope makes up whatever the hell he wants. The Holy Spirit is just as much with Pope Francis as with his predecessors.

But this is the "lowest common denominator" kind of protection to protect us from bad and corrupt popes—something that Pope Francis is not. When one reads his writings as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, one can see that he has a deep love of Jesus and for the Church. He has a record for opposing governments legitimizing evil as if it were good. For example, he opposed the recognition of "gay marriage" in Argentina, putting himself at odds with the government. I mention this because so many people seem to think that his words "Who am I to judge?" means he intends to change Church teaching, not realizing that he was taken out of context.

So to sum up on this issue, As a Pope we know he will be protected from teaching error by changing Church doctrine. As a person who is a faithful son of the Church we know he has no desire to make any such changes to Church doctrine.


I think that when it comes to these concerns, we need to be aware of certain things.

When it comes to the fear that the Pope will be misunderstood and lead people astray, the things to remember are that it is impossible to speak in such a way that no person can be misunderstood, that people have the obligation to seek out the proper understanding of the Pope's words and that some people misreport the words of the Pope out of their own misunderstanding of Catholic teaching or out of opposition to the teaching of the Church. We must recognize the possibility of our own misunderstanding and consider it before automatically assuming that the Pope spoke badly.

When it comes to the fear that the Pope is promoting some -ism, we need to remember that Pope Francis only supports one -ism, and that is Catholicism. What he is doing is speaking on issues of Catholic teaching that tend to be overlooked, and for the person who has their own -ism as a lens, they tend to see everything through the lens of that -ism and evaluate the Pope's words politically when it is actually a matter of moral behavior.

When it comes to the fear that the Church will change doctrine under Pope Francis, we need to remember both the fact that he has a deep love for Christ and His Church and that the Holy Spirit protects him from teaching error in matters of faith and morals which are binding on the faithful.

What I think we can draw from this is the fact that the problem is not with what Pope Francis says, but with the fact that people who are ignorant of the Church teaching are reporting on the Pope based on their ignorance and people are uncritically accepting what they say as if it were accurate. A one sentence or one paragraph quote of the Pope is insufficient. We need to find out what was said in context.

This isn't the easiest thing to do. If we rely on the mainstream media and political commentary we agree with, we will only see reported with the emphasis they see as important.

But other sources exist. The Vatican has its own news service (VIS), its own website ( and sponsors several apps for Android and iPad that allows you to see what was said in full. There are reliable Catholic news sources in America as well which report the news without the editorials that make it sound like the Pope is a heretic. We can find the news in context and see how the Church understands it, if we are willing to look.

And that is the ultimate thing we must do when faced with these concerns. We must actually consider the possibility of our source of news being wrong, and there being a different meaning than the modern ideology sees it. The Church has been around since Pentecost in AD 33. She continues to use words in their full sense that many people have forgotten. She does not think in terms of "Democrat vs. Republican." She thinks in terms of carrying out the mission of salvation—salvation which may require warning both liberals and conservatives of the errors of their ways.

So we must explain the Catholic faith to those who hear the Pope and misunderstand him. Yes, it would be nice if everyone understood what he meant without our need to explain. But since people can misinterpret based on how they understand (or don't understand) we do have to explain what is really meant.

It's part of the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.