Showing posts with label difficult issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label difficult issues. Show all posts

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reasonable and Unreasonable Petitions

As the abuse summit moves forward, we will see many people calling for different solutions. Some of them will be reasonable. Others will not. The difference is ultimately one of whether the demand recognizes what the Church can legitimately do. The Church cannot change her doctrine. The Church cannot do evil so good may come of it. Any demands along this line are doomed to failure. The Church cannot remove evil from her midst by decree. If she could, St. Peter probably would have done that the day after Pentecost in AD 33. The weeds will remain among the wheat (see Matthew 13:24-30) [§].

And that’s why the Church cannot forget her obligation to be God’s chosen means to bring salvation into the world. As much as the actions of men like McCarrick disgust us, we are not freed from our obligations to seek their salvation. This is difficult and painful. I can’t claim to know what victims and their family members went through. I certainly can’t say, “Well, I would have handled it better.” For all I know, I might have responded to it much worse if I had been in their place.

There are also reasonable petitions. The victims and their family members have a right to make their needs known, provided it is done in a respectful manner. Canon 212 reads:


This means that we the faithful can certainly make known our needs. But we must respect the shepherds of the Church in doing so. We must respect the teachings on faith and morals in doing so. If our petitions do not heed these requirements, then the Church must refuse them. That doesn’t mean that the Church is “doing nothing.”

In my opinion, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Church establish policies that handle bishops who abuse or are culpably silent. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the Church take complaints of abuse seriously. But if our preferred ways of doing this go against what the Church can or must do, we will be disappointed. We must obey God’s teachings.

God remains in control of His Church, even when some of those who shepherd us fail, or even do evil. Cleaning out this vile evil may take years, or even decades after the summit ends—those who did or willingly turned a blind eye to evil will no doubt try to hide the fact, making it as difficult as possible to discover—but it will be done.

In the meantime, we should be praying for the victims, that they find healing and justice. We should also be pray for the Summit that they find a way to justly reform the Church from evil that has gone on too long. But, when we seek justice, our position before The Lord must be like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42. We must say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 


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[§] That doesn’t mean being passive in the face of injustice. The fact that we can’t violently uproot the suspected weeds (exact God’s Judgment for Him) does not mean we must let evil go unchecked.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Uninformed Rebellion Against the Holy Father

The Holy Father confirmed that his words—on bishops and confessors needing to evaluate each case of the divorced and remarried person to determine whether all elements of mortal sin are present instead of assuming they exist—are not an opinion but teaching of the ordinary magisterium. According to Canon Law 752 [∞], we are bound to follow that teaching, and not act against it.

While the secular media has ignored this story so far, it is stirring up dissent among a certain set of Catholics who argue that this contradicts previous teaching and, therefore must be ignored. Some have gone so far as to argue that Catholics are bound to not follow the Pope on this matter because it is a “heresy.” These critics are under a delusion that the Pope can be corrected by the bishops—some even going so far as to think he can be removed from office.

The fact of the matter is there is no such provision in Church teaching. Canon Law #1404 tells us that the Pope is judged by no one [†]. Canons 1372 and 1373 [§] tell us that the person who is tries to appeal to a council of bishops or try to stir up opposition to the Pope are to face the proper sanctions. In other words, the Church teaching doesn’t support them—it indicts them.

These critics falsely assume that grave matter is mortal sin, instead of being one part of it. Nobody denies that remarriage after divorce is grave matter—that is, no circumstances can make it a good act. But we need to remember that the Church has always taught that a mortal sin involves grave matter, full knowledge that it is evil and sufficient consent to that act. As Pope Francis points out in Amoris Lætitia:

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”  In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved. On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases.”

This is not about letting people come to Communion if they feel called. Nor is it about accepting remarriage. This is about determining cases of reduced culpability. The person who has been properly taught and freely chooses to perform that act anyway does commit a mortal sin. But if the conditions interfere with knowledge or consent, the sin is not mortal even though it is still serious.

That doesn’t mean we let the person continue in their sin. For example, the alcoholic or the sexual compulsive may have reduced culpability, but the confessor works with them to get them in right relationship with God and His Church. Such people might be encouraged to receive the Eucharist, but no confessor would tell him his actions are morally acceptable. This is the situation for some of the divorced and remarried. In some cases that may mean helping the person get an annulment. In others it may involve helping them accept living as brother and sister instead of as husband and wife. If some of them have diminished culpability (that is, so the sin is not mortal in their case), they might be able to receive the Eucharist. 

If the person is unrepentant, and has no intention to change, and somehow deceives their confessor, they will face judgment—God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7).

The problem is, the critics assume that any abuse that might arise from a negligent confessor or a lying penitent is willed by the Pope. No doubt there are priests out there who say, “that doesn’t matter.” But that is incompatible with the Pope’s call for repentance. The whole point of his Year of Mercy was to get people reconciled. If he just wanted moral laxity, he wouldn’t be telling priests to be available in confession and urging people to go.

This rebellion is born out of the assumption that the Pope must be a heretic. Under this begging the question, whatever he does is interpreted through that assumption and used as evidence—even though the interpretation itself needs to be proven.

But these critics show they are mistaken about what the Pope is doing and what the Church teaches on culpability. Since they are wrong, their conclusions cannot be accepted as true.


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[∞] 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. 1404† The First See is judged by no one.

[§] can. 1372† A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

can. 1373† A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

On Toxic Rhetoric and Self-Imposed Lines

Over the past four years, we’ve had a relentless drumbeat from the anti-Francis Catholics, telling us that this Pope is a “disaster” and that people who disagree are either ignorant or heretics themselves. Unfortunately, this group has gone from a small body of radical traditionalists to even absorbing some orthodox Catholics who were determined to be faithful to the Church at all costs. Those who made the switch will no doubt say that they don’t accept the radical traditionalist ideology—and I believe them. But I think these hitherto orthodox Catholics have been poisoned by the toxic rhetoric spewing forth from the beginning, so that while they are not radical traditionalists themselves, they have been taken in by the same error of assuming that what they don’t like is also contrary to the Catholic faith.

I think the built in error is a self-imposed line that the individual Catholic thinks cannot be crossed without the Church betraying God. That’s not to say there are not lines we cannot cross. Rather that the lines causing trouble are self-imposed. They generally involve disciplines that the Church can change, but the individual treats them as doctrines. Thus they feel betrayed when the Church crosses one of their self-imposed lines.

The problem is, we are constantly bombarded on social media with the claim that the Pope is the worst ever, and intends to water down the faith until nothing is left. While we probably won’t accept their claims until our own self-imposed line is crossed, these things do start to get under our skin. The Pope gets misquoted and everyone assume it is true. The Pope makes a small reform which sparks an angry response. When we’re barraged by a constant anti-Francis message, these things start to bother us. So once our own self-imposed line gets crossed, we start to believe the accusations. We start to resent the Pope and blame him for the unrest caused by others.

Then we forget the other side of all this. There are some misled Catholics (like the Spirit of Vatican II Catholics) who believe the Church is in error and will remain in error until she changes her teachings. That is their self-imposed line. But both they and the critics of the Pope make the same error—their self-imposed lines are a judgment on the Church, promising or withholding obedience depending on whether the Church does what they like.

The way to avoid this is to stop making self-imposed lines that actually judge the Church. We need to realize our own limitations. The Church will never go from saying “X is a sin” to saying “X is permitted.”[*] However, the Church can make changes on how to best apply her teachings, or how to perform them. For example, the Church has decided to respond to the divorced and remarried now in an individual investigation, rather than a blanket assumption. But a change in approach is not a change of doctrine. For example, 40 years ago, Blessed Paul VI reversed the discipline that the divorced/remarried were automatically excommunicated. Such rulings do not give the divorced/remarried sanction to sin, though some probably thought that was a line in the sand.

People have established a number of self-imposed lines over the years. They think the Church will never change the form of the Mass, never allow reception of the Eucharist in the hand, allow the laity reception of the chalice, never allow female altar servers, etc. When the Church makes the change they assumed would never be made, they assume the Church is “faithless” rather than consider the possibility of their own error. Likewise the Catholic who thinks the Church must change her moral teachings, they will not consider the possibility of their own error.

As a final point, please keep in mind I am speaking of the Church in her teaching role. We’re not talking about the pastor, sister or DRE who abuse their position to implement whatever they please. The parish that permitted female altar servers before the Church permitted it did wrong. The lay parish director who said it was ok for the divorced/remarried to receive the Eucharist on their own say so did wrong. Their disobedience was not changed to good when the Church announced a change. Rather we are talking about the fact that when the Church binds, we have no authority to loose. When the Church looses, we have no authority to bind. 

It’s only when we recognize this that we’ll perhaps inoculate ourselves from the toxic rhetoric that leads people into believing the Church can and does err when she acts against what we would desire the Church to be.

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[*] Some might argue the Church changed her position on usury. That’s not the case. Pope Benedict XIV, in the 18th century, called for the Church to investigate whether there was a difference between charging interest to people in need and investing in a venture, expecting a return. Usury is still a sin, but investing is not charging interest to those in need. 

Others might point to the fact that eating meat on Fridays used to be a sin, but now is not. What they overlook is that meat itself is not evil. Rather the Church imposed a uniform Friday penance for all to follow. The sin was in refusing to follow the teaching of the Church. When the Church made a change to allow for other penances (how much of a penance is it to go meatless if you’re a vegan?), this was not a change of doctrine or morals.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts on Difficulties and Doubt

Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of religion; I am as sensitive as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines, or to their compatibility with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and borne in upon our minds with most power.

 

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 264–265.

Introduction

Let’s begin with a personal anecdote: Sometimes I come across difficulties with parts of Scripture and theology. I ask myself How does THAT work? Whether it’s some harsh passages of the Old Testament, or when a Pope or a Saint says something that seems different from my understanding of how things fit together, it can be jarring. Then there’s always the example of Catholics behaving badly throughout history, I have an ideal on what the Church should be, and I compare that to the real life example if actual Catholics, and find that even heroic Catholics have done troubling things.

But while I have difficulties at times, I have never had any doubt about the authority of Church teaching or Our Lord’s protecting the Church from error. So I submit to the teaching of the Church, trusting  that however God might judge an issue, it will be done in a way that reflects His justice and mercy both. I would certainly resent any accusations that I denied or doubted the teaching of the Church because of my difficulties on comprehending how a teaching works. Why? Because I do not reject the teaching as I try to understand it better.

I believe that if I were to doubt the mercy of God or the teaching of the Church on a matter, I would soon find myself at odds with both God and His Church. I would be making myself the arbiter of what should be where I presume to pass judgment on things I have no right to do so. I think those paying attention to what goes on in our faith are aware of the factionalism arising in the Church. We’ve been seeing the anti-Francis attacks since the day he became Pope which assumes what he does differently is “heretical.” Sadly, we’re seeing an emerging position that declares all persons who oppose the Pope must be “schismatic.” I think both of these movements confuse difficulty and doubt, either in their own minds or in the behavior of others, and we need to discern the real difference to avoid the twin dangers of losing faith by harboring doubts, and the rash judgment of assuming another’s difficulty is a doubt.

Doubt from Ourself

I think we harbor doubt when what we see something we do not understand and assume something must be wrong with it because we’re not comfortable with how it sounds. If we’ve invested in a certain opinion or school of thought, then a shift of emphasis sounds like “error” instead of a legitimate change of how we approach something. If we take this difficulty and assume the Church must have gone wrong, we are harboring a doubt in the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error. In a similar way, when we try to find reasons to deny that a teaching we dislike is actually a teaching, we are harboring doubts about the authority of the Church to bind and loose.

These and similar attitudes to these lead to doubting that what the Church teaches is done with God’s authority and with His assurance that He will not permit the Church to teach us error. Once we embrace this doubt, we will replace trust in God with trust in ourselves, thinking that if the Church does not act as we see fit, she must be in error.

Assuming Doubt in Others

On the other hand, some assume that a difficulty with a teaching automatically equals a rejection of that teaching. A person who voices their concern with how people might misinterpret a Church teaching (while accept the validity of that teaching) is not doubting. Yes, we want to avoid legalism in following Church teaching, but one can wrestle with understanding what the teaching means and one’s limited capacity to understand (and by being human, we do have a limited capacity).

One example I see with this, is in the recent attacks on Cardinal Burke in Social media comments. I have seen some Catholics treat him with the same abusiveness that anti-Francis Catholics direct at the Pope. But, regardless of what thinks about how he’s handled things or how his supporters have used/misused his words, much of what he says and does seems based on difficulties in reconciling the teaching authority of the Pope with his understanding on the Church teaching on marriage—but he does not doubt either one. While I don’t approve of how he handled the issue of the dubia, he denies the Pope is in heresy, and should not be treated as a schismatic that rejects the authority of the Pope along the lines of Canon 751.

Conclusion

I think we need to remember our limitations. The fact that we have difficulties reconciling two teachings of the Church does not mean one must be false. But, if we try to downplay one in the name of defending our conception of the Church, that is a warning that we are harboring a doubt. At the same time, when we see people expressing a misgiving, we should be certain they are actually harboring a doubt before accusing them of doing so. They just might be trying to accept the truth but are having trouble in understanding how to do so. We must be careful in not being the stumbling block that turns their difficulty to doubt.

So let us avoid turning difficulty to doubt by remembering that while our own knowledge and power are finite, God’s knowledge and power are not—and He can and will protect His Church. And let us avoid accusing a fellow Christian of doubting if all he is doing is working his way through a difficulty. If such a one submits to the authority of the Church while struggling to understand, we should help them, not attack them.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Catholic America: Civil War

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.  (Ps 50:20–21).

My policy on this blog and the attached Facebook page is I won’t write articles promoting my personal political preferences. I have this policy because I don’t want people to think I am portraying my personal preferences as official Church Teaching. Sure, maybe I’ll get careless and someone will deduce my political positions from the evidence I let slip by. But the point is, I believe that a blog aimed at promoting the Catholic perspective should not pervert that perspective with personal political preferences.  Other Catholics who blog may have a different focus, and will advocate their political positions. That’s their call, and I won’t say they do wrong, so long as they make clear that these are opinions, not Church teaching.

But there is a civil war going on between two factions of Catholics I find on the internet. One favors voting for Donald Trump as the least evil choice for 2016. The other believes one can only justify a third party vote. (See HERE for my pre-primary evaluation of the pitfalls of major party vs. third party). Both groups agree that the Democrats running for office openly embrace intrinsic evil and they cannot support such a candidate. But where they disagree is over whether Trump is equally as bad.

These two groups are battling on Facebook, forums and blogs, accusing each other of bad will, even to the point of denying the other is “really” Catholic. That is harmful and usurps the teaching authority of the Church. I say harmful because both groups are seeking the best way to be Catholic. I say “usurps” because such people make a declaration which the Church has not made. The end result is turning Catholics against each other when they should instead be uncovering the truths we must consider to make a good Catholic decision. When you see one faction accusing pro-life organizations “selling their souls to Trump” on one hand and another faction accuse people who can’t support Trump in good conscience as “really being pro-Hillary,” you know Catholic factions have replaced being "co-workers in the truth” (3 John 1:8) with savaging each other.  

I believe before these factions continue to bash each other, we should consider something Archbishop Chaput wrote in 2008 when Catholics were making their decisions on that election:

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 230-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Between now and November, Catholics will be trying to decide what is the best choice they can make. In doing so, we need to remember that the Church clearly teaches that we cannot sacrifice a graver issue for a lesser one. As St. John Paul II wrote:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

If two Catholics with this proper understanding of Catholic teaching, in good faith discern two different decisions on the best way to apply Catholic teaching on voting, one cannot say the other is doing evil in such a case. Each Catholic might be sincere in thinking their way is the best way, but there is a point where we have no perfect choice and we have to make a decision which is one of several possible in being faithful to Church teaching. When that happens, we have no right to question the other’s fidelity.

Let us keep this in mind for the coming months that our actions and our reasoning may be just and charitable, avoiding treating each others as heretics over political opinions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do We Heed the Call to Mercy?

To avoid accusations of harboring sympathies, I’ll start off by saying that the recent antics of certain radical traditionalists openly rejecting Pope Francis and disavowing Cardinal Burke over Amoris Lætitia was wrong. Effectively it was an elevation of oneself over the authority God gave His Church. I’ll also say that the politically liberal Catholics who support and promote things directly condemned by the Catholic Church are wrong for the same reason. Neither group practices the Catholic faith properly because both groups reject something crucial—the fact that the Church teaches with the authority given by Christ.

Now that I made clear that I have no sympathy for rebellion against the Church (in this day and age, people forget it quickly), I want to cover something we might be doing wrong in responding with these people. That response is one of ridicule and contempt shown for those at odds with Church teaching. The other day, I posted this meme in different pages on Facebook:

The decision we must make

I received some responses that missed the point. Some said it was an “easy dilemma” and that most people, even those who trust in themselves would quickly choose one of the buttons without hesitating. I think some would find it easy. But that wasn’t the point. What we must consider is the case of a person who long believed the Church was from God but suddenly find themselves at odds with her. They feel trapped in an impossible situation: The Church teaches something they believe they cannot accept. Their reason and emotions battle for control of their will—to choose whether to admit “I am wrong” or to refuse to bend, deciding “the Church is wrong."

Personally, I have never been in that situation, and pray that I never am. But we should all remember the words of St. Paul: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). If we have struggled in the past, let us remember how hard it was. If we have not struggled, let us not think it is easy.

I don’t say we must accept their errors. What I say is to look at what Pope Francis said in Amoris Lætitia:

The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of God who goes out to everyone without exception”.  She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine. He loves them all. On the basis of this realization, it will become possible for “the balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst”. [¶309]

He was writing about those who were in irregular marriages needing outreach and compassion. But I believe this applies to other sinners as well. The radical traditionalist and the Catholic who calls evil “good.” Our Lord warned us, in the parable of the merciless servant:

32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. 35  So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

 

 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 18:32–35.

Admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. But if we are harsh and harden sinners in their views or drive them to despair, we have not shown mercy, no matter how eloquent we are (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

So this is my thought. When we view the scandals of the radical traditionalist or the “pro-choice” Catholic, are we seeing them as lost sheep in need of rescue? Or are we seeing them as mortal enemies? I believe God calls us to choose the first action. I don’t say this will be easy. I’ve had to block some individuals on Facebook because their abusiveness was spiritually harmful and I think I was justified in doing it. But sometimes we mock these people instead of pray for them. That’s not in keeping with how we should behave.

Some people may be abusive, offering us slander for our attempts to make Our Lord’s way known. We cannot change how others treat us, but we can change how we treat others. It’s hard. I get satisfaction over vanquishing abusive attackers with devastating witticisms. But do I act as a missionary for God when I behave this way? I doubt it.

I don’t intend to judge any individual here. Lord knows I’m guilty here too. I didn’t have any bloggers or Facebook pages in mind when I wrote this. I just write this because I felt we need to look at what we say and do and how others might receive those words and actions. Even if those we dialogue with reject us, there may be others hearing or reading the exchanges. How we behave might be the only witness to what a Christian is called to be—or it might be a false witness that turns people away from the truth, thinking it is of no value.

I’m just saying we should consider the witness we bear in our behavior and choice of words.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faithful Catholics Divided on the Election. Reflections on a Passage by Archbishop Charles Chaput

There is no doubt that this election is going to be a difficult one for people who are appalled by the statements made by our major candidates. They are asking questions along the lines of “who can I vote for in a good conscience?” Unfortunately, these people are often being accused of bad faith to the point of not caring about the issues the accuser finds important. Confusing the issue is the fact that some people are supporting candidates for reasons contrary to Catholic teaching or are supporting a candidate for reasons which seem superficial and flippant. It is easy to confuse people in the first category with people in the second. Another problem is that some confuse questioning one candidate with supporting another. This results in many people feeling on the defensive over having their orthodoxy challenged while also believing that people with different views are not orthodox Catholics. It’s a vicious circle.

I think that a passage from a book written by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in 2008 is especially relevant here. 

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I think his insight here is wise and worth heeding even though he makes clear he is not exercising his episcopal authority in this book. He makes clear that to support, without a reason that outweighs the evil, a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil is to sin. But, if the Catholic finds both candidates support the intrinsic evil, he must still make a choice. That decision might be different for each person, but if it is reached by being faithful to the Church teaching, another Catholic cannot condemn him just because they reached a different conclusion than the first.

What has to be avoided is legalism, paying lip service to Church teaching as an excuse to justify a vote one was going to make regardless of what the Church said. One has to seriously consider the evils of both sides and what consequences follow from one’s vote. Are we sure that the reason we vote for one candidate over the other really outweigh the evil that candidate will do?

It’s understandable to be skeptical. In previous elections, we have had people argue that voting for a pro-abortion candidate was actually the more “pro-life” activity because of their stands on other social justice issues. But, in refutation, St. John Paul II made clear that support for those “other issues” was meaningless if the candidate was pro-abortion:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici #38 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we see that a Catholic can’t say “well, he’s sorta pro-life even though he supports the right to kill unborn children."

The problem we have in 2016 is that on one side we have candidates who actively call good what the Church calls intrinsically evil while, on the other side; we have candidates who support other issues the Church calls evil due to the motives and circumstances. There are also reasons to question the sincerity of some candidates. If a candidate has a reputation of oscillating back and forth on the issues, how do we know that the commitment will remain? It’s like the play A Man For All Seasons where Sir Thomas More says:

Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate— Lutheran. We must just pray, that when your head’s finished turning your face is to the front again.

Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 580-582). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

It’s not wrong to ask which way a candidate is going to wind up if they should get elected. But we do need to remember that there are faithful Catholics who have different views on which way things will wind up and, provided they follow the Church teaching sincerely in doing so, they are not choosing to endorse evil if their discernment turns out to be wrong.

But that is the key people are forgetting. Yes, there are Catholics who support a candidate for unworthy reasons. Yes, there are times when we do have a clear choice as to who is better. But if it turns out that neither situation applies, then we have to recognize that one faithful Catholic may feel that only choice A is acceptable while another may feel that only choice B is acceptable. In this case, I believe our task as Catholics is to reach out to those voting because they support an evil position or have a insufficient reason for voting for the one who supports evil. We do have the Church teaching to point to.

But, when the decision is not clear, Catholics can try to explain why they think their own position is better, but they cannot elevate that opinion to Church position to give that opinion authority it does not have (the reason why I do not offer my political opinions on my blog is to make sure nobody thinks I am usurping the authority of the Church to justify my own position).

So there’s our task. We seek to correct people (charitably) who hold views contrary to the Catholic teaching. We can seek to persuade people to do what we think is a better position when there is room for different opinions and we must pray that we are open to the truth and do not deceive ourselves or misjudge others.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Compassion, Misdirected: The Dangers of Losing Sight of What is True

Ted Olson, a conservative, is known because he changed his views from supporting traditional marriage to favoring so called “same sex marriage.” In the article, "Ted Olson: 'Point of no return' on gay marriage passed,” he tells us that his position is one of compassion and motivated by the hardships it would cause. Unfortunately, his position is logically flawed and based on a desire to help those in a way that cannot be justified.

Compassion, Misdirected

Ted Olson said:

"I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed," he said in an interview on Capital Download. "To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered."

The article also cites him as saying:

Waiting for the process in lower courts to open the door to gay marriage in all 50 states "would not be good enough because it's not now," Olson said on USA TODAY's weekly video newsmaker series. "When will that happen? And how much misery and how much suffering do individuals in this country have to experience before that happens?"

I find his argument rather dubious to say the least. It starts with begging the question, that it was right for these judges to suddenly decide that it was a violation of civil rights to limit marriage between one man and one woman . . . in all this time, there has never been an argument that doesn’t start from assuming that opposition is rooted in intolerance (which is the point to be proven). 

Moreover, to argue that,

  1. judicial decrees that same-sex relationships can be called marriage are invoked, and
  2. reversing the decisions by the Supreme Court would cause “suffering”, therefore,
  3. The Supreme Court needs to back these rulings to decree same-sex relationships can be called “marriage”
is also to argue in a circle that begins and ends with judicial decrees that assume, but do not prove, that same-sex relationships can be called marriage.

There is another problem here: when judicial activism which makes a bad decision, people will of course be affected when they rush to take advantage of the change and then find out that the judge was wrong. But that is not the issue to be considered. Invoking the “suffering” caused if the Supreme Court were to reverse the decision is to employ the Red Herring fallacy. Assessing the laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman needs to be based on the nature of marriage and whether a judge has the right to change it, not irrelevant appeals to who is affected—slave owners were affected by the abolition of slavery, but nobody would think that fact was relevant to the question of whether people should own slaves in the first place. 

Finally, that Red Herring also uses the appeal to pity fallacy in his argument. The fact that the overturning of judicial abuse might cause pain to people given false hope is not a valid reason to allow a judicial ruling to stand if it is an abuse of power. If the issue is whether or not a judge did wrong, the fact that some benefitted by the judge’s wrongdoing is not a good reason for letting the wrongdoing stand.

Justice Depends on Truth

The solution, however, is not to reach a false conclusion on account of having compassion for those who are suffering and wanting to prevent it. I’m sure Olson is sincere. But his sincerity needs to be based on the truth of the matter, and that truth is to be found in recognizing what is the nature of marriage, and not allowing people to redefine marriage in such a way which goes against the truth of what marriage is.

So those who want to argue that marriage should be redefined have to establish a definition explaining their position and answering the objections—and calling those who object “homophobes” is not an explanation of their position. It’s an ad hominem.

We have to keep the truth in mind when showing compassion—that’s not always easy, but it is important. There’s no doubt that people with same sex attraction feel the same need for love that people with heterosexual attraction have. But the problem is, not all desires for love and not all sexual impulses are proper expressions of love. Most people, for example, realize that sexual affection between an adult and a child is always wrong, and no matter what the feelings the people involved may have, we cannot sanction such relationships that are wrong. So, we have to find solutions which address what is true, and provide guidance for those living in falsehood. In this example, the truth will not permit a sexual relationship between an adult and a child, and this example serves to show why we cannot redefine marriage just because some people are affected by this line that cannot be crossed.

I believe that’s what Pope Francis is really looking for with the extraordinary synod just past and the upcoming ordinary synod of next year. How do we reach out with compassion to those in conflict with what is right? He’s been on record in pointing out that what the modern world calls marriage is not marriage (the media can’t spin this one so this gets ignored). He certainly wants to help people in relationships which are contrary to what God wants, but recognizing that the truth requires people to live as God wants, he cannot redefine marriage and tell them that a lie is true.

Conclusion

Olson’s arguments are not addressing the truth of the matter. They are focussing on how unhappy some will be if the laws redefining same sex marriage are overturned. But truth comes first. Man cannot live a lie. Trying to make a lie into the truth to protect people from being unhappy is compassion misdirected.

 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Voting 'None of the Above' the Least Evil Choice for 2012?

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
Since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause
.

—Bertolt Brecht

Introduction

In my last article I wrote about my revised maxim of voting based on what seems to reasonably follow from Church teaching.  My conclusion was that we needed to discern which was the least evil before deciding to vote for the opposition party vs. not voting or voting for a Third Party.  That article was more of a general principle to consider.  This time, especially in light of recent evidence of hostility to the Church, I think it is time to ask whether it is true that voting for a third party/no party is in fact the least evil.

I started off with this controversial poem because I believe it does illustrate the issue which must be considered when choosing how to vote in 2012.  I am not saying that whoever votes for a third party or declines to vote is guilty of refusing to fight.  Rather, I am saying we must consider whether such a vote will result in a greater evil.

Catholics always need to remember that a mindset of always voting for Party [X] is not a proper attitude.  Party views change over time and must always be reevaluated in light of the unchanging truths given to us by Christ.

Caveat

This kind of article runs the risk of being perceived as being motivated by partisanship because it will judge the reality of the Political Parties.  Nowadays, labels of conservative or liberal are slapped on everything as a substitute to thinking.  However, this article is an attempt to work philosophically using the reality of the political situation and the teachings of the Church in search of an answer.

I am NOT trying to claim that the conclusion I reach is one which is binding under the pain of sin however.  Rather it is a case of, "Given what we know, what seems to be the least evil?"

Also, please keep in mind I am primarily thinking of the Presidential election.  Some Congressional and local elections may have the same considerations.  Others may have candidates who differ from the norm of each political party (There are Pro-Life Democrats out there and Pro-Abortion Republicans for example).

Depending on who the Republicans nominate (it seems a foregone conclusion that Obama will again be the Democratic nominee), the situation may change from what I am exploring in 2011, as there will be a specific candidate to evaluate.

Ultimately this article will conclude with a statement that I do not know what is the least evil (so that will save you some time wading through it) but it is my hope that when it comes to making such a decision, this article will give the person some things to consider.

And, as always, this blog should never be interpreted in a way that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  The reader who wants to use this article to refute Bishop X uses this article wrongly.

Four Voting Choices for 2012

For Catholics in 2012, we essentially have four options for the Presidential elections.  These are:

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Hopefully we shall add some clarity as to how we should consider them as options.

The Reality of the Two Party System

The United States is effectively a two-party system.  Yes we do have minor parties, and yes we did have a situation where one political party became extinct and was replaced by another once.  However, barring a major upheaval, the person elected to the presidency in 2012 will either be a Democrat or a Republican.  Not a member of the Reform Party, Green Party, American Independent Party or a Libertarian.  This is because far too few American voters will vote for a third party.

Therefore a vote for a minor party or not voting will not change the outcome without massive dissatisfaction with the system which does not appear to be present at this time.

However, a third party vote can play a "spoiler" role.  In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader running on the Green party ticket split the Democratic party vote.  If those 97,488 Green Party votes in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead of to Ralph Nader, Al Gore would have been elected regardless of issues with hanging chads and butterfly ballots (Gore lost Florida by 537 votes).

What we can learn from this is that so long as we have a two-party system, a liberal voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Republicans and a conservative voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Democrats.  An undecided voting for a third party or not voting will merely reduce the voting pool by 1.

So, to sum up:

  1. The US is essentially a two party system
  2. We will continue to be a two party system unless there is such a wide level of disgust against both parties that a third party seems to be a good alternative.
  3. Voting for a third party or not voting will not change the fact that, unless there is a (currently non existent) wide level of disgust with both parties, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected to the presidency in 2012.

The Lesser of TWO Evils

We can see from this that the statement "lesser of two evils" is still true even if one should vote for a third party.  We need then to look at the positions of the two parties in relation to Church teaching.  It seems to me there are four basic positions a party can have.  This list is done from the perspective of best to worst.

  1. The party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.
  2. The party agrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but not lesser issues.
  3. The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on lesser issues.
  4. The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.

Now there can be differing degrees of agreement (from lukewarm to fervent) and disagreement (from indifference to hostility).  So if both parties were in category #1, a fervent support would be superior to a lukewarm support and if both were in category #4, indifference would be a lesser evil than outright hostility.

Now, I think we can agree that neither party falls into category #1 (party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  Nor does either party fall into category #4 (The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  So it seems that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will either fall into category #2 or #3.  Category #2 is superior to #3 – not because the "lesser" issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that to fail to be with the Church is disastrous for the nation.

What are the Intrinsic Issues?

The Church teaches the following are vital, and cannot be denied without dehumanizing people and creating an evil society (evil meaning a severe lack moving away from the good):

  1. The fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.
  2. The recognition of the heterosexual family as the building block of society.
  3. The freedom to practice one's faith free from government coercion.

To deny #1 would be to claim that one person has the right to arbitrarily end the right to life of another person and that some lives are worth less than others.  To deny #2 is to weaken the basic building block on which society is based.  To deny #3 is to claim that the government has the right to coerce a person to act against what they believe is right.

So, in practical terms, a party which supported abortion on demand, euthanasia and the like would be violating #1.  A party which sought to give the same standing to homosexual "marriage" and other non-family sexual relationships as to the traditional family would be violating #2.  The party which sought to interfere with institutions run by a religious group or to institute policies which force a person to choose between his beliefs and his livelihood would be violating #3.

With this in mind, we can look at the two big political parties and see where each party falls.

This is Where the Risk of Being Accused of Being Partisan Comes into Play

(Again, I want to make this clear: It is not that other issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that they cannot be ignored or made out to seem less important than, say, immigration or health care reform).

I think this is where a person who dislikes what I have to say will find an excuse to accuse me of partisanship, so let me again clarify that I am not writing with the perspective that disagreeing with me is sinful.  I am writing from the position that based on Church teaching, while there is not a good and a bad, there is a worst and a less bad when it comes to the positions of the two parties, and we need to acknowledge this to make an informed decision on how we should vote.

I think it is obvious that the Obama administration is not only opposed to the Church on these intrinsic issues, but is actually hostile to the Church on these issues.  In the four categories I mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party, so far as national office goes, seems to be defined as #3: The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on some lesser issues.

So how does the Republican Party fare on the issues?  They generally seem to be anywhere from lukewarm to moderate in favor of the Church position on these issues.  Yes, their support is far less than it should be, and they seem to be half-hearted about defending these issues.  In some states (New York for example), the party is actually in opposition to the Church on these issues.  However, we can be sure that the Republicans will not introduce new legislation which increases these evils.

The Republican candidates do seem to be in opposition of varied levels to some of the social teachings of the Church.  I was certainly appalled watching the Republican debate hearing the major candidates seeming to take positions which were against the Church understanding on justice.  However, on the intrinsic issues, the Republican Party at least gives them token support in contrast to the hostility of the Democratic Party.  So, we would most probably put them right on the edge of group #2.  Their support is not so low as to claim they are opposed to the Church teaching on intrinsic issues, but they are not fervent supporters.

This leaves us with this assessment of the two parties:

  • The Democratic Party is strongly hostile towards the teaching of the Catholic Church on intrinsic issue and agrees with the Church on some lesser issues.
  • The Republican Party gives lukewarm support for the Catholic teaching on intrinsic issues and tends to disagree on some lesser issues.

Lukewarm support is better than active hostility, so it seems that of the two parties, the Democratic Party is the greatest evil in the 2012 Presidential elections at least.

Therefore one choice is eliminated as being acceptable for Catholic voters. 

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Now we must ask about the remaining three choices.

Is the Third Party or Not Voting An Acceptable Choice?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

—Attributed to Edmund Burke

Again, like it was with the Bertolt Brecht poem, I am not saying that the Third Party vote or declining to vote is the equivalent of good men doing nothing.  Rather I am saying all must consider the consequences of their vote and form their conscience with the teaching of the Church.

So if we recognize that a party which is expressly hostile to the Catholic Church on these issues is the greater evil, and if we recognize that the third party or non-vote will not change the fact that the 2012 elections will either put a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it seems that the Catholic pondering such a vote must consider whether his vote will promote the least evil or whether it will help enable the greater evil to be elected.

Now of course, the person does not intend the bad end of allowing the greater end of allowing the worst candidate to be elected.  If they did will such an end, that would be sinful indeed.

But to be honest, it truly is a hard call in making a decision for 2012.  The American political scene is truly wretched for Catholics.  There is no "good" party to vote for.  Rather we merely have the choice of which is the least offensive choice – which is the least harmful to the state of souls in America.

As a personal opinion, I believe the option to decline to vote is not acceptable to Catholics.  That is essentially a state of good men doing nothing.  This would leave us with either the option of voting for a third party or voting for the lesser of two evils.  This eliminates another choice and leaves us with two.

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Some Considerations in Voting for a Third Party (Personal Opinions to follow)

One argued reason to vote for a third party, in light of the fact that it tends to benefit the opposition seems to be to send a warning to the party that it must change its ways or lose support.  I think (again, personal opinion here) that such a response is valid on those occasions when a candidate adopts a position which is in opposition to Church teaching (in California, we've had elections where both parties were pro-abortion and I've felt obligated to vote for a third party).  When this is not the case I think (personal opinion) we need to be very cautious in taking this route.

It's long been a dream of mine that for one election, all Catholics refuse to vote for the two main parties to send them a warning that our vote counts.  However a priest I once knew gave a response which reflects the sad truth of American Catholics.  To paraphrase, he said Catholics aren't a bloc.  They're as divided as the rest of the country so this could never happen.

Sadly, I think he was right.  So the idea of sending a message to a party will likely never be effective barring an unforeseen upheaval in this nation.

So ultimately, I believe there is only one valid reason to vote for a third party in 2012, and that is the reason of conscience.  For some people, conscience simply forbids them to vote for the Republicans.  If an individual's conscience convicts them that they would do evil in voting for either party, then they must follow their conscience rather than do what they think is evil… but they must be sure their conscience is formed in harmony with Church teaching (this last part is not personal opinion).

The Catholic Task is Not Done on November 6th 2012

However, whether one chooses the Republican Party as the least evil choice or whether one feels they cannot vote for either major party in good conscience, our task is not over on November 6th 2012 (Election Day).  Whichever party wins in 2012, we are obligated to stand and speak out about what the nation must do and must reject.  If the victorious party goes the wrong way on an issue, we are obligated to voice our objections and not merely say, "Hey I voted, that's enough."