Showing posts with label culpability. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culpability. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

It’s Iimi! …Than To Arrive?

Having gotten over the initial shock of her mother’s news, Paula deals with anger, grief, guilt, and other emotions. With this hanging over her head, how will she face the future? Was it easier to travel hopefully than to arrive? (Part 2 of a 2 Part Story).

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

It’s Iimi! On Grave Matter and Other Things

Daryl asks if people who leave the Church are damned to hell. Iimi-tan points out that it is grave matter, but we also need to remember the issues of full knowledge and free consent. Doing a grave sin is never “okay,” and we need to work to help  those at odds with the Church to return to right relationship, even if the conditions of mortal sin are not present. It is important to remember that just because the Church might say that a specific person lacks the conditions of mortal sin does not ever mean that the Church gives permission to sin.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Are We Blind or Do We See? Thoughts on Dissent and Culpability

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (Gaudium et Spes #16)


They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. 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. (Lumen Gentium #14)


The bishops issued a condemnation regarding the resumption of the death penalty in the United States. Given that the Pope made use of his legitimate authority to teach in the ordinary magisterium (canon 752) when he made amendments to how the death penalty is applied (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2267), and the bishops are teaching in communion with him (canon 753), rejection of this teaching cannot be considered a “prudential judgment” or the act of a faithful Catholic.

But, when confronted with that fact, certain# Catholics among those who still support the death penalty instead say that the bishops should speak on other issues instead. They then usually cite the usual falsehoods spread against the Pope. But this argument is not only a tu quoque, but actually a sign of ignorance: The Pope and bishops do speak on these topics and have been vilified by the same political factions that the bishops are now accused of supporting.

During the pontificates of St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, these Catholics would have labeled those arguing for the right to dissent “heretics.” But now, under Pope Francis, they call the Pope “heretic” and use the same arguments they once condemned. That isn’t rhetoric. In the 1980 to 2013, defenders of the Church recognized that this was dissent. Now, they call it “being faithful.” †

So, here’s the question we need to consider. Given that the Church has consistently taught from the beginning that the Church teaches with Christ’s authority and is protected from error, can we call the Catholic who refuses to obey when the Pope or the bishops in communion with him teach—in the ordinary or extraordinary manner—faithful?

I believe the answer is no, though they think they are and the level of culpability might be different. One might only be materiallyin error, thinking he or she is doing the right thing while in reality is fuzzy on Church teaching. One might be formally in error, knowing the teaching and that he or she is in defiance, but thinking that as long as the Church “errs,” that dissent is justified. Assessing their guilt is for God to judge, not me. But they are in wrong nonetheless and we cannot let error have free rein*

And that is the problem. Since those of us who claim§ to be properly taught and faithful Catholics must look to the Church to discern whether we have properly formed our consciences or not, we cannot plead invincible ignorance in rejecting what we aretaught. 

Yes, a Pope can be willfully sinful like John XII. No, I don’t think that Pope Francis comes anywhere near that. But even if he did, that would not change his binding authority to teach or God’s protection from him teaching error.

Once one understands this truth, there can be no justification for disobedience. Whatever a religiously illiterate media reports, that does not change our responsibility to investigate whether these claims are true and whether we are committing the fallacies of equivocation or accent in our reading of what the Pope (or the documents we cite against him) actually said. Regardless of whether one thinks the Pope speaks clearly, the obligation to determine whether we understand him correctly remains. If we cannot find an answer, the Church teaching against rash judgment forbids us to assume that what we don’t understand is “error.” According to the Catechism that’s rash judgment:

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.

Of course, for those of us who encounter—especially if we try to correct—this attitude on the internet, we also have to keep the risk of rash judgment in mind. We can’t assume a deliberately schismatic attitude without proof, any more than they can assume heresy. Yes, I’ve encountered some who were diehard SSPXers. But I’ve also encountered those who were simply deceived by malicious sites, or did not realize that the news sites they used were inaccurate (there’s the whole religious illiteracy in the media thing again). We should try to be charitable in our exchanges. Even if those we debate behave badly, we still need to bear Christian witness to the people of good will who don’t understand… but want to and can’t see how to reconcile the difference between their understanding and the Church teaching. 

However, we view the state of the Church, we must remember that not only must we consider the blindness of others, we must also consider our own blindness and pray to be delivered from it.


(#) I say “certain” because we always need to beware the fallacy of composition. The fact that some Catholics in a faction behave badly does not mean all Catholics in that faction do.

(†) Both then and now, these factions try to contrast obedience to Christ against obedience to His Church. Both cite documents—using their own interpretation—against how the Pope and bishops interpret it against the conditions of the times.

(*) That doesn’t mean—contra those who say “error has no rights” as an excuse—that we can mistreat those in error. God desires compassion and conversion, after all.

(§) As our Lord points out in John 9:41, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” If we claim to be faithful Catholics, we have less excuse than the unchurched for acting in a way the Church condemns.

(‡) Unfortunately, I don’t always succeed either. There’s always the temptation to “teach that jerk a lesson.” I’ve always regretted it when I respond that way. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reactions From the Outside, Inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem is, those were private statements with no teaching authority. In contrast, these teachings they deny are public acts when actually “a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act” (canon 752). 

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Foundations of Falsehood

When I do theological study, sometimes my research takes me into non-Catholic sources. In reading these sources I notice a common trend: When people attack the nature of the Church (as opposed to the individual behavior at odds with our teaching), there is always some sort of falsehood involved. For example, reading the appendixes of the Eastern Orthodox Bible: New Testament (EOB), I came across their explanation of Matthew 16:18-19. In trying to claim they were the true catholic (universal) Church despite their smaller numbers and being limited national churches compared to the Catholic Church, the people responsible made a curious statement. They alleged that the Catholic Church only considered “universal” to mean all people in communion on Earth at the present point in time while the Orthoox considered “universal” to be in communion with the Church past, present and future, and in communion with the saints in Heaven.

The problem is, we do not define universal in that matter. We consider ourselves in communion with the Sacred Tradition in the Past, and recognize that while all members of the Church on Earth today are members of the Church militant, we also consider ourselves in communion with the Church suffering (purgatory) and Church triumphant (Heaven). The statement of those writing this defense of the Eastern Orthodox churches by attacking the Catholic Church was a falsehood. It’s not for me to determine whether they knew this was false (a lie) or whether they wrongly thought a falsehood was true. That’s for God to decide. But whatever level of culpability, wrong was done.

This sort of thing goes on among anti-Catholic Protestants as well. People claim we worship statues, claim we sell forgiveness of sins, claim we think the Pope is God, claim we think we can earn salvation, claim we invented torture, and so on. All of these accusations are false. If the people knew they were false when repeating them, they would be guilty of a lie. But even if they sincerely believed these things were true, they have an obligation to investigate and not bear false witness.

Are you angry when you hear of this? Do you want God to provide punishment to those non-Catholics who speak falsely? Good. But now that you’re indignant about these injustices done against the Church by those outside of it, it’s time to reveal that once again this is a case of bait and switch. This point of this article is not to denounce non-Catholics for the falsehoods they believe. It’s to speak about the falsehoods we within the Church are willing to believe.

The basic layout of the falsehood is to focus on the evils within the Church at a certain time and claim they did not exist in the Church before this time. So a certain Pope or council is blamed for the evils within the Church. We’re told that this is the greatest danger the Church has ever been in on account of “heretical” Popes and bishops causing confusion and spreading error. The problem is, like the non-Catholics who speak falsely about the Church, these members of the Church also speak falsely, repeating misrepresentations of what they said or claiming that their words “contradict” past teaching—which is solely based on their individual interpretation. As I said above, It’s not for me to determine whether they knew this was false (a lie) or whether they wrongly thought a falsehood was true. That’s for God to decide. But whatever level of culpability, wrong was done.

Here’s what we should beware: Those outside the Church (and therefore do not recognize her authority) who speak falsely about the Church may have an excuse before God. They could sincerely believe that their teachers were honest men who did the research instead of merely passing on a falsehood from generation to generation. But those of us within the Church do not have that excuse. We profess to believe that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, established the Catholic Church and remains with her, protecting her from error. If we believe that, then we are without excuse when we accuse the legitimate teaching authority of that Church of falling into error while we do not. Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Henry Newman made a point [†] about why these dissenters break ranks:

Such a person, never accepting the infallibility of the Church, reasons that when they hear something they dislike, it is  the Pope and bishops who must err—because they cannot. But if we accept that the Church is infallible because of the protection God gives His Church, then when there is a conflict between individual interpretation and Church teaching [§], then we must accept the teaching and consider our own view to be error. St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, warns us of this attitude:

This means that when a site we follow, or a favorite theologian criticizes the teaching of the Church, saying the magisterium teaches error, that is the fruit by which we can know the tree. We cannot appeal to the site or the theologian against the Church. They may be sincere. They may be malicious. But if they speak falsely—and speaking against the teaching of the Pope and bishops as if it was an error is speaking falsely—then we are not excused by citing them.

So, we should keep this in mind: If God will punish those outside the Catholic Church for speaking falsely about the Church, what will He do with those inside the Church who speak falsely about her?


[†] While he was speaking about converts who left the Church again, I believe this also applies to “cradle Catholics” who reject a teaching they dislike.
[§] Which must be distinguished from an opinion at a Press conference, or a bishop or priest who breaks ranks with the Pope.