Showing posts with label dispute. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dispute. Show all posts

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.

_______________________

[*] 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, March 10, 2017

Everybody is Sure They Are Right, Even If They're Not

Introduction

One of the stranger items I have in my Verbum library is the address of a Presbyterian minister made during the Civil War. In it, he urges young men to take up arms against a threat, saying:

In the first place we must shake off all apathy, and become fully alive to the magnitude of the crisis. We must look the danger in the face, and comprehend the real grandeur of the issue. We shall not exert ourselves until we are sensible of the need of effort. As long as we cherish a vague hope that help may come from abroad, or that there is something in our past history, or the genins of our institutions, to protect us from overthrow, we are hugging a fatal delusion to our bosoms.

 

James Henley Thornwell, Our Danger and Our Duty (Columbia, SC: Southern Guardian, 1862), 5–6.

The words he used could have been used today speaking about a crisis in the Church or about the state of our nation. But no, Thornwell was a clergyman who believed slavery was justified and was writing to encourage people to fight for the Confederate States. What we have is a case of a Christian minister who was entirely convinced his cause was just and needing to be defended, but in retrospect, we know that his cause was unjust and needing to be opposed. In other words, Thornwell’s perception was not reality, no matter how sincere he might have been.

The Problem May Be Closer Than We Think…

Nobody wants to be compared with an apologist for slavery of course, and such a comparison is not my intent. But there do seem to be similar attitudes of self-assured assessments of situations. Lately everyone seems to know what is wrong with the Church—that which goes against how the critic thinks the Church should be acting and teaching. However, those tasked with leading the Church never get consulted on if this perception is actually correct. Everybody assumes Our Lord agrees with them, but when the Pope or the bishops in communion with him object to a view, or propose a different way of handling a situation, people assume these shepherds are acting “contrary” to Church teaching or even God Himself. So liberal Catholics accuse St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI of “betraying the Council” or Jesus’ teachings on love and judgment. Meanwhile, conservative Catholics accuse Pope Francis of “betraying past councils” or Jesus’ teachings on obedience.

What they don’t ask is whether their division against the Pope and bishops is a sign of their own error. They appeal to the “true Church,” but that Church is nothing more than their own interpretations and preferences. They give obedience to the actual Church only to the point that they happen to agree. When they don’t, the Pope or the bishop is “betraying” Our Lord and the Church.

Personal Sin and Bad Decisions are not Signs of Teaching Error…

That’s not to say that the Pope and bishops are impeccable (a common straw man fallacy). They are human beings like the rest of us. They can sin and make bad decisions like the rest of us. But the difference between them and us is that they, as successors to the apostles, are tasked with leading the Church: The Pope as the visible head of the entire Church; the bishop (when in communion with the Pope) as the head of the diocese. When the Pope teaches, or when the bishop teaches in line with the Pope, we are required to give assent.

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

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

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

 

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

That’s pretty cut and dried. If God requires us to obey the Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), then we have to choose. Neither Scripture nor Church teaching allow us to disobey the Pope when he binds or looses. So, we can either trust God to protect His Church from teaching error, or we can hold the absurdity that God requires us to obey error and disregard truth if the Pope decrees it.

The Common Challenges Don’t Work… 

Critics try to evade this by pointing to some of our less illustrious popes, Liberius, Honorius I, and John XXII. The problem with citing them is they made no attempt to teach error as Pope. They certainly made no demand that the Church embrace their views. Historians dispute over whether Liberius and Honorius even privately held heresy, or whether this was the propaganda of their enemies. In the case of John XXII, the matter under discussion was not yet defined.

To put the case of John XXII in context, a hypothetical example would be if the Pope preached one way or the other on whether Our Lady died before she was assumed into Heaven, and then some members of the Church discussed it with him and convinced him the other way was better. Since whether Our Lady died before her Assumption has not been defined one way or the other, the Pope in this example would not be in error—even if a later Pope should define it differently [†].

But, unlike the above Popes, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis did teach. Even if they did not teach ex cathedra, their teachings are binding (see canon 752 above). So these comparisons are false analogies. If his critics are right (Pro tip—they’re not), then we have a contradiction. We must give assent to these teachings, but, according to his critics, he can teach error in these things we have to give assent to! It’s absurd, but that’s what logically follows from trying to reconcile authentic Church teaching with the claims of anti-Francis Catholics!

To Be On God’s Side, We Have to Be in Accord With the Magisterium

Both Scripture and Church teaching have consistently taught that, while we do not emulate the bad behavior of some Popes or bishops, we do have to give assent when they teach. There’s never been a case where a member of the Church has been right in rejecting the magisterium. Rejecting that authority is not something new in Church history, but in the past we called it what it was—heresy and schism. Now, certain Catholics use the special pleading fallacy to refuse applying this teaching to themselves. When those they disagree with dissent from the Church, they accuse them of faithlessness. But when it comes to their own dissent, they justify it as behaving rightly—ignoring the fact that those they condemn also justify themselves.

Not all of the magisterial issues involve faith and morals. Nor is our obedience limited to those areas. As the Vatican I document Pastor Æternus points out:

[Chapter III] Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation. 

 

Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 40.

So when a Pope decides certain changes need to be made for the discipline and governance of the Church, the Pope does have the authority to make these decisions, and we do not have the right to reject them. Do we have the right to make our concerns known? Yes, but respectfully (Canon 212 §3). I would argue that today’s behavior is anything but respectful. 

not Bend the Magisterium to Our Preferences

In addition, we have to beware selective citation of Scripture and Church teaching to condemn those we dislike while ignoring those parts which indict us. Regardless of the topic, some Catholics cite only those parts of Scripture to support themselves and discredit those who take a different view. The problem is, people often confuse either-or with both-and. 

It’s like this: There are some areas where the Church teaches, “X is a grave sin.” In such cases, no faithful Catholic can say, “X is not a sin,” or, “X doesn’t matter.” So the Catholic who supports abortion rights or the use of torture goes against Catholic teaching. However, not all issues involve contradictions. There is the possibility of two Catholics accepting Catholic teaching but preferring different ways of carrying it out—especially when society is so dismal that the probable options are both deeply flawed. Provided that they are not feigning obedience, it is possible for them to reach different conclusions on how to best be faithful, and in that case it is unjust for one to accuse the other of being faithless. However, ultimately it is the Pope or bishop who has the final say as to whether one or both of the conclusions are false.

Conclusion

In each of the examples above, people refused to consider whether they might be wrong, or whether they misunderstood the teaching which led them to error. While I certainly pray no Catholic would be as wrong as James Henley Thornwell was about his defense of slavery and the Confederate States, each one of us does have to constantly ask whether we are in error—especially when we find ourselves at odds with the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with Him.

Our faith is that God protects His Church from error. Yet nowadays, people from all factions assume the magisterium must be wrong when there is a conflict, arguing that these shepherds must be in error. That is a practice contrary to our professed faith. If we would avoid the “loss of faith and of salvation” (as the First Vatican Council put it), we must start considering whether it is more plausible that we err when we dissent. We must ask whether we really know, or only think we know.

After all, if we only think we know, and never bother to learn, that is vincible ignorance—which is not an excuse for doing wrong.

 

_____________________

[†] People forget that St. Thomas Aquinas held some opinions on unresolved issues (such as on the Immaculate Conception) which the Church later defined differently after his death. We do not consider him a heretic because of those views, because he did not take an obstinate stance against the Church. He merely offered his opinion on something yet undefined.

Monday, February 20, 2017

It Didn't Start With Francis


While I don’t particularly like the song, it’s practically mandatory 
to show this video in a post like this

Introduction

One common trend in social media is a number of Catholics claiming that things were wonderful under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the opposition against Popes only arose in reaction to the things Pope Francis did. From their comments on social media, I can identify three groups:

  1. There are a lot of Catholics who were not aware of the controversy in those pre-Internet/Smartphone times
  2. There are a lot of recent converts out there who missed the attacks against previous Popes, and are encountering something they never were aware of.
  3. Some Catholics have conveniently “forgotten" their hostility to previous Popes

I will leave it to God to judge whether anyone is in category three, but I think the first two probably explains a lot of it.

Before the internet, the only way to get information was either to rely on the media, or order encyclicals from either Daughters of St. Paul or the publishing company of the American bishops (I can’t even recall what it was called back then). On one hand, Catholics had to wait until the document was published in the country. On the other hand, so did reporters, and they would usually call a local pastor to get commentary for their news articles. So things were slower back then. There were still attacks, of course.

We Forget How and Why the Rebellion Happened…

No, it didn’t start with Francis, and it didn’t start with Vatican II.

We forget that the priests and religious who caused problems after Vatican II were ordained before Vatican II. We forget some of them were highly respected. Fr. Schillebeeckx, for example, was a highly respected moral theologian, whose early manuals are still cited by orthodox Catholics because of their quality. We forget some of them were highly respected by the bishops who would later find them problematic. We forget that some who were later honored by St. John Paul II were viewed with suspicion by the Holy Office, (St. Padre Pio, Benedict XVI), and some of them were silenced.

We forget that a generation rose up and rejected authority, political and religious. Nations that were not Catholic, or even Christian, had unrest. We forget the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the mistrust of government, and the hostility to unjust laws (like segregation) influenced a generation. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at opposing injustice. A large portion of a generation began to think the state and the Church were to blame for these things by their very existence. When the state enforced the law, when the Church insisted some behaviors were morally evil, this was “fascism.” Never mind they were using this epithet against a generation that opposed fascism.

We also forget the dramatic change that came in 1968 (not 1965). Everybody was expecting the Catholic Church to “change her teaching” on contraception. Because they misunderstood how the Church worked, they assumed that because the majority report (going beyond their authority of investigating whether the Pill was contraception) urged a change in teaching, that it was a guaranteed thing. So when Blessed Paul VI reinforced the traditional Catholic teaching, many were angry. They irrationally felt betrayed over the Church “betraying” them in something she never promised and would never do.

Because we forget this, I think we are unable to understand the scope of what the Church faced, and what a monumental task it was to repair. Theologians were called to get back in line with the Church, and when they didn’t, several were suspended from teaching theology.

We Forget the Rebellion from the Right Happened at the Same Time

We also forget that certain Catholics, trying to remain faithful, became embittered with the inadequate response from the bishops. Committing a post hoc fallacy, they assumed that because the unrest followed Vatican II, the unrest was caused by Vatican II. So they began to agitate for reversing the Council. The SSPX rose at this time. When the bishops, and later the Pope, began to crack down on their abuses, they refused the obedience which was a keystone to the pre-conciliar teaching that they professed to support. Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended by Blessed Paul VI for illicitly ordaining priests against a direct order not to, and was excommunicated by St. John Paul II for consecrating bishops against a direct order not to.

What people forget is the SSPX and those who sympathized with them hated Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II for their actions taken. These people constantly gave their actions a negative twist, accusing them of heresy and modernism[†]. Even some who were not part of the SSPX blamed the Holy Father for not cracking down on the dissenters they disagreed with, while saying that the defeat of that faction should take priority[¶], but he was ignoring them to punish the SSPX and others.

Between Scylla and Charybdis with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI

This resulted in the Pope being hated by both sides, each accusing the Popes of favoring the other side. Cries of “Why don’t you punish them for X?” appeared in religious newspapers, magazines and others. It was assumed that the continued existence of a faction without a public censure was “proof” that the Pope identified with this side. When St. John Paul II wrote about social justice, he was accused of identifying with socialism. When he wrote on abortion, he was accused of being right wing.

Generally speaking, vocal factions in the Church argued that whatever he did against them was proof of being political or heresy[§], while what he did that they agreed with was “too little too late.” They certainly confused Catholics trying to be faithful. With so much smoke, people wondered if there was fire. Catholics trending towards liberalism began to believe the accusations that the Pope was cold hearted and insensitive. Those trending towards conservatism began to believe the accusations that he was weak on dissent and was sympathetic, uncaring, or ignorant of what was going on in the Church.

The Rise of the Internet and the Smartphone

We also forget that knowledge (or misinformation) of and criticism about Papal actions grew with technology. The Printing Press was invented in 1440. The Telegraph was invented in the 1830s. The Fax Machine was invented in 1846. The telephone was invented in 1876. The radio was invented in 1894 (Vatican Radio began in 1931). With each step, it was easier and faster to distribute news, and the Church was able to distribute her documents more widely and quickly. But everything still depended on hard copy (except for the relatively few items on microfilm and microfiche). If a copy was not available in bookstore or library, you had to either drive long distances or do without[Ω].

The media depended on experts to interpret what the Church said, and that depended on some ludicrous situations. When it was announced that the Pope was releasing a new encyclical, the media wondered if this meant the Church was finally changing her teaching on contraception, abortion, and women’s ordination[√]. Then they would call local pastors and bishops and be disabused of their notions.

The next phase of communications emerged when Internet was commercialized in 1995. Over the next 20 years, more information would get onto the internet, but so would misinformation. In addition, more people would be given an audience[ø]. This also meant the critics of the Pope would be able to increase their reach. Then in the late 2000s, the Smartphone combined the internet with instant access without having to be at a computer, allowing the individual to be instantly informed about things happening around the world.

Unfortunately, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and, when it comes to news on the Church, that weakest link was the media that believed that someday the Church would have to change her teaching. These reporters, with their religious illiteracy, did not understand the nuances of moral theology or how the Church taught. For example, when Benedict XVI gave a book length interview with Peter Seewald in 2010, he gave a hypothetical example of a gay prostitute with AIDS to illustrate how a person might begin to think about an issue in terms of morals. But the media thought the Church had finally changed!

It wasn’t the first time. In 2006, his lecture in Regensburg was wrongly portrayed as a denunciation of Islam, and his Caritas in Veritate (2009) was portrayed as a movement towards liberalism in terms of economic policy. Reporters and their editors thought that the world would eventually change the Church, and viewed each unfamiliar concept as a change towards their politics.

This led to a new situation. The Church would speak, the media would misrepresent, and Catholic critics would blame the Pope for the confusion. Never mind that the media never once stopped to confirm their information. Never mind that they’ve been consistently wrong, and the actual documents or transcripts show Popes did not say what they were alleged to say when taken in context.

Getting From There To Here

So, what we have here is a set of attitudes from different factions that contribute to confusion:

  1. A rebellion against the authority of the Church when it goes against a faction
  2. A belief that the Church has to change or revert to avoid error
  3. A belief or fear that this change is imminent
  4. A tendency to make hostile interpretations of actions as having sympathy or support for the other side (believed to be in error)
  5. A religiously illiterate media that does not understand the depth and nuance of Church teaching
  6. Blaming the Pope for those misinterpretations.
  7. Increasingly rapid communications from people responsible for the above problems
Put these factors together and we have instantaneous response to the actions of the Pope which are affected with the biases of the person responding. It’s the same actions, but it happens faster now than it did in previous pontificates and reaches a far larger audience.

And Now, Here We Are

This is why I must shake my head in sadness and disbelief when I encounter Catholics who say, “Things were never this way before Pope Francis.” They certainly did happen back then. But before the Smartphone (which only took off in the later years of the pontificate of Benedict XVI), before the Internet (which arrived only during the pontificate of St. John Paul II), things were much slower and some errors could be refuted before they spread too far. 

But now, with the internet and the smartphone, a wild rumor can spread around the world before the Vatican Press Office can respond[π]. If a reporter wrongly thinks the quote,“Who am I to judge?” means the Pope is going to change Church teaching on homosexuality, there’s not much the Church can do to stop the misinformation from happening. She can only offer a correction and encourage people to listen to what was made in context.

This is the situation Pope Francis inherited.

  1. A rebellion from day one when radical traditionalists called his election “a disaster.” 
  2. Some hoping and some fearing change to Church teaching.
  3. A belief that this change would happen.
  4. A hostile interpretation as heretical overshadowing everything he said or did
  5. A religiously illiterate media quoting out of context, and predicting he would change Church teaching on homosexuality, abortion, contraception, etc. and hostile factions believing it.
  6. Blaming the Pope for those out of context quotes. 
  7. An instantaneous communication misrepresenting what Pope Francis said and did. 
It is these factors that lead to confusion in the Church. It has been true since the rebellion of the 1960s, and continues today, aided by improved communications of error. We didn’t hear as much about this confusion from his predecessors because the internet and the smartphone came relatively late to the game. 
 
Conclusion
 
There will always be some incidents where a Pope doesn’t act as we think a Pope should act. Since, a Pope is a sinner in need of salvation like the rest of us, it is possible a Pope will do something regrettable. But this catastrophic view of the Church we have today shows a lack of knowledge of problems we’ve always had. Blessed John Henry Newman, for example, had to defend Pope Pius IX from those who received faulty understanding about what he said as reported by an ignorant media.

We need to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because someone is not aware of the controversies involving the predecessors of Pope Francis does not mean these controversies did not exist. They most certainly did—but they had a much more limited reach than today. We should keep this in mind, and not assume that because this is the first time we’re noticing it, that this is the first time it happened. Once we clear out this misinterpretation, we can see the real issues clearly and perhaps come to a better attitude in dealing with them.

_________________________

[†] Prior to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they made the same attacks against him.
[¶] When these critics were questioned about the censures given, it was never enough. They believed the Holy Father should have excommunicated them, even though that was not the established penalty.
[§] For example, the picture of St. John Paul II kissing the Qur’an, and the Meeting in Assisi were portrayed as “proof” that he was a heretic.
[Ω] As a personal anecdote, in 1992, doing my senior thesis for my B.A degree, defending the Church against the charge of “sympathy to the Nazis,” I had no access to Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge or Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus which denounced the Nazis, and was unable to use them (I still got an A, even though my thesis advisor was overtly hostile to the position I took). Nowadays, anyone can do a Google search and get the full text
[√] These were the big three the media obsessed over during this era. They really seemed to believe that a change was possible, which should have served as a warning to how incompetently they would deal with Pope Francis. 
[ø] For example, without the internet, I am sure that I would not be able to reach the audience I have with my blog The expense of publishing would have made it literally impossible.  
[π] If the Vatican News Service would lock the reporters on the plane until the full transcript of a press conference was released to the public, I’d be all for it. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Which is Manmade? The Church or Your Movement?

Introduction: The Context of the Question

In 1850, Blessed John Henry Newman gave a series of lectures to Anglicans of the Oxford Movement who wanted the Established (Anglican) Church to adopt pre-Reformation beliefs and practices. In one of these addresses, he pointed out that the Establishment hostility to this movement meant they had to make a choice:

But, first, there is a point to be cleared up. Either the movement is not from God, or the Establishment is not: we must abjure our principles, or abandon our communion. If we abandon our communion, we do so as denying that it is from God; if we continue in it, we do so as not denying it. 

 

 John Henry Newman, Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church (London: Burns & Lambert, 1850), 139.

This point wast they needed to make a choice between fidelity to one or the other because they couldn’t have it both ways. If they thought the Anglican Church was manmade, they needed to go where this Apostolic Church of God existed (Rome). But if they thought the Anglican Church was from God, it meant they had to abandon their movement because the Anglicans rejected their movement. They couldn’t have it both ways. His point was, if they wanted to follow God, they had to embrace the Catholic faith and not try to pretend Anglicanism was a third branch alongside Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

The Application: Do We Declare the Church Manmade to Defend Our Movements?

Church struggle

His dilemma is relevant today for the movements tempted to dissent from the Catholic Church. Whether it is a case of radical traditionalists claiming they can disobey the post-Vatican II Church in favor of their movement, or whether it is a Catholic conformed to the world who wants the Church to change her moral teaching where it is inconvenient, we have to ask, what is manmade? The Catholic Church? Or one of these movements claiming she went the wrong way?

Blessed Cardinal Newman asked this to encourage people to go to the true Church. I repeat it to encourage people to stay in the true Church. 

If the Catholic Church comes from God, then obedience to God means obedience to the Church. She has the authority to address new situations or change disciplines on how to best serve God and guide the faithful to Him. In that case there are no breaks when the Church intends to teach. Individual (or groups of) bishops, priests, religious and laity can fall into error. But if we stay in communion with the successor of Peter, we stay in communion with the Church God promised to protect. In such a case, movements rejecting the authority of the Church must be manmade and are rebellious against God, not faithful to Him. 

On the other hand, if the Catholic Church is manmade then it only has the authority we choose to give it. If we don’t like something, we’re free to reject it. The problem is, there’s no reason for anyone else to accept what you accept. The radical traditionalist who likes the period between the Council of Trent and 1958 only has a preference. There’s no reason it’s any more valid than the parts they reject. Likewise, the dissenting Catholic who objects to certain teachings and invokes a “higher” belief taught by the Church has no basis for invoking that “higher belief.” If the Church is only manmade then the truth of her teaching depends on the human wisdom of the teacher. And, like every other human teacher, people often disagree about their value and relevance.

So, if the Church is manmade, she has no more standing than a political party or a think tank. Some of her ideas may be right, but we’re free to disagree about what those right ideas are. The Extraordinary form of the Mass is no more or less valid than a Clown Mass and dissenting with the Church on abortion is no more wrong than dissenting from the Church on social justice.

But if God founded the Catholic Church, then it matters a great deal whether we obey or disobey, whether we trust her evaluations in modern times or reject them.

The Conclusion: Claiming the Church Broke From Your Movement is Absurd and an Excuse for Dissent

To avoid the consequences, the person who rejects a certain part of Church teaching when it goes against his preference usually tries to claim the Church broke away from what God intended when the Church taught what they didn’t like. The radical traditionalist argues that the Church went wrong somewhere between 1958 (the election of St. John XXIII and 1970 (when the Missal changed). The secularized Catholic claims the Church went wrong in teaching “X is a sin” usually tries to argue that God intended the Church to be democratic and when Church teaching is against them, it’s “breaking” with what Jesus intended.

But if the Church can break and fall into error, then it undermines the authority of the teachings dissenters want to invoke. How does one know the Church didn’t break earlier? After all, that is what the non-Catholics argue. 

Trying to support a particular movement changing what the Church should be and trying to justify it by saying the Church itself fell into error at a certain moment in time (when it disagreed with you) is to declare the Church a manmade institution that can break and err. The Church has always claimed her teaching has been unbroken. The teaching has developed, but it has never contradicted itself. Moreover, the teaching authority of the Church has remained unbroken. Again, if one wants to argue that it has broken under Pope Francis, one has to acknowledge it could break under a previous Pope. But if God protected the Church from breaking and teaching error in the past, we can trust Him to protect it now and in the future.

This brings us to the modern version of Blessed John Henry Newman’s dilemma. 

  • If the Church is from God and rejects these dissenting movements, then we too must reject them if we would be faithful to God.
  • if the Church is not from God, then our favored dissenting movements have no more authority than any other dissenting movement we might despise.

The only rational choice is to stick to our belief that Church came from God, not man, and trust Him to protect the Church from teaching error, especially where souls are at stake. Otherwise, we are lost, never knowing which one of many competing interpretations of what God teaches is correct.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Problem With the Church is not the Pope. It's Us

19 You give your mouth free rein for evil; 

you yoke your tongue to deceit. 

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes. (Psalm 50:19-21)

So I started to see some Catholic blogs publish articles that take a different slant about the Pope. Now, instead of accusing the Pope of being heterodox, this tactic takes the truth that not everything the Pope says is an authoritative teaching and uses it to attack people defending the Pope as if they argued everything authoritative. They say that it’s OK to be upset by certain comments the Pope makes, and apologists shouldn’t be defending the Pope in those circumstances.

However, that is not the problem. The problem is that some authors use controversial phrases from press conferences to imply (or state outright) that the Pope is heterodox. Some do it subtly. Others come right out and say they think the Pope is not Catholic. But either way, they argue that the Church is worse off because Pope Francis is Pope. That’s different from saying “I like St. John Paul II better.” We’re not talking about a person who prefers the style of one Pope over another. We’re talking about a person who thinks Pope Francis is a menace and needs to be opposed.

That’s an important distinction. One can wish the Pope did not say or do a certain thing because of the confusion it caused without being a bad Catholic. For example, I recall two incidents during the pontificate of St. John Paul II which I find regrettable: the 1986 Assisi conference and the kissing of the Qur’an. I recall being unhappy with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his lifting the excommunications on the bishops of the SSPX and his ill-advised example of the “Gay male prostitute with AIDS” in the book interview Light of the World. These things caused scandal. But these things did not mean that these two Popes were heterodox. When foes of these Popes tried to accuse them of heresy, [1] that’s when those foes were in the wrong. These were simply examples of Popes being human and making mistakes in judgment that did not involve the teaching authority of the Church.

Likewise with Pope Francis. We’ve had cases where he said things that sounded confusing in soundbites, but turned out to be legitimate when read in context. We’ve also had a few instances where he confused Catholics who couldn’t figure out what point he was trying to make. Those things are unhelpful for the life of the faithful. Nobody denies that. What we do deny is the claim that these instances “prove” the Pope is heterodox.

I think the problem is that we have forgotten that the media was also scrutinizing the words and writings of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, constantly asking if an unfamiliar phrase meant a change in teaching. We have forgotten that these two pontiffs have also spoken about social justice, immigration and the environment (back then, they called it ecology), and spoke against the excesses of capitalism just as much as they spoke against communism.

Back then, it was easier to overlook the Papal statements on issues outside of the right to life and sexual morality. From an American perspective, we saw the statements  on these issues mostly as an indictment against our political opponents. Since the Popes spoke on the right to life and about sexual morality, we could point to the Papal statements in order to condemn our opponents—especially if those opponents were also Catholic (like Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro back in the 1980s). The problem was, we overlooked the fact that the Popes warned against other injustices as well. (For example, from what I recall, the encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis was dismissed as being out of touch or even anti-American).

In other words, we approved of the Popes when they said what we wanted to hear and we ignored or dismissed the Popes when we didn’t like what they had to say. Also, at this time, the media took the attitude of trying to portray the Popes as being “neanderthal” in their stand against “choice.” They seldom covered the other topics that the Popes taught on except to ask whether the Church was beginning to “liberalize.” Then midway through the pontificate of Benedict XVI, tactics began to change. The media began to report on Papal addresses and encyclicals by picking out the elements that seemed to mesh well with the desired political slant. His writings began to be promoted as anti-capitalistic and in favor of more government intervention. This tactic was solidly in place when Pope Francis was elected Pope. Even though his actual words did not support it, the media invented an image of a “liberal Pope” who was “overturning Tradition.” And many Catholics bought into the lie.

Another factor was the access to information. We forget that what we take for granted now was not as wide reaching during the reign of Benedict XVI and absent for much of the reign of St. John Paul II. Without the instant access to smartphones and the like with access almost anywhere, we did not have instant access to all the misinformation that now gets transmitted across the globe by a reporter who wants to be first with breaking news about the Pope “changing teaching.” A reporter had to get a copy and actually read the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (or get someone to read it for him) to report on it. Media reports on the documents were quickly followed by in depth Catholic analysis. Information didn’t move as swiftly, so there was more time to respond.

Now, instead of looking to theologians to help explain to people what could be misunderstood, now people think that they can read unofficial translations of quotes—often devoid of context—and understand the “plain sense” of the words. When someone tells them that the context does not justify this, the response is to charge the person of “explaining away” the words. In other words, people don’t want to be told they made a mistake about interpreting the words of the Pope or that they are doing wrong in how they apply them.

So I’d ask the reader to consider this. With all these factors in play, do you really think we can justly claim that the Pope is to blame? Or is it more likely that our own antics in speaking against him are creating far more chaos than anything he said? I’ll be honest. I think the answer is the second one.

_______________________

Notes

[1] People today seem to forget that St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were bashed as being “modernists” when they took a stand that these critics disliked. It only changed for Benedict XVI after he issued the motu proprio about the extraordinary form of the Mass.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is This Really the Hill You Want to Die On?

There is a rhetorical question out there, derived from the military, which goes: Is this the hill you want to die on? The meaning of the question was “Is this objective worth the cost?” (i.e. is this objective worth dying over?). The question has a wider usage now, but the basic meaning is the same: Is this fight worth the effort? It’s certainly a question we need to ask ourselves, keeping in mind the ultimate goals of our life on Earth. It’s especially worth asking ourselves as we seek to understand whether a task is a part of our life as a Christian or a distraction from it.

The world is full of disputes, and the Christian has to determine whether a dispute is one about his Christian values or about one’s preferences over how they would like things to be. When it comes to the former, the Christian of course needs to take a stand for his beliefs. But if it does not concern the Christian values dieectfy or actually reflects a worldly or aesthetic concern, then the Christian needs to consider well the importance—or lack thereof—when it comes to making a dispute over it. They especially need to consider this well when they are willing to indict those who disagree with their views.

Now, this is not to say that we should be indifferent about real problems. When The Faith is being attacked, we need to respond (though in a manner which is moral and compatible with our faith), and when we have been wronged in a secular matter, we have the right to seek redress. But sometimes the situations we get worked up about is neither an attack on the faith or a redress of grievances. Rather, we want people to acknowledge our ideas as authentic, and attack people who disagree with our opinions.

Consider Social Justice. We as Catholics cannot ignore our obligations in this matter. But some conservatives equate the term with “Socialism” and reject the teaching that is at odds with their political preferences. On the other hand, some liberals think that Social Justice means the embracing of liberal policies on government regulation or taxation. Both end up attacking people who disagree with them as not behaving in a Christian manner. The Pope is labeled a Marxist, and bishops are accused of going against the teaching of Christ. But in reality, they are picking a battle that is senseless to fight. Catholic Social Teaching does not bind us to one political platform. It tells us what sort of things we must acknowledge and avoid, calling us to work together to find a solution that actually helps people.

Or consider the issue of gun violence in America. Of course it is deplorable, especially when it comes to the issue of mass shootings. The Church condemns such things. However, the issue of gun ownership in relationship to gun violence is not as cut and dried as some would lead you to believe. The Church allows for self-defense (see the Catechism ¶ 2263-2264). However, it also recognizes that the state has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the citizens, which may prevent a laissez faire approach to firearms. The people who invoke the authority of the Church to say total banning of firearms is required or to say that infringing on the right to own a bazooka is required are both staking out a position that is not defensible in the name of the Church. A Google search on the subject finds many opinion pieces on the subject (pro- and anti-gun). But the actual statements made by those in authority within the Church do not stake out either position. Consider the 2012 USCCB statement on the subject. It does not demand the total disarmament some Catholic bloggers are calling for. It calls for reasonable restrictions aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who would abuse them. Yes, it is not well defined, allowing people to have disputes on what a “reasonable” restriction is. Also of interest is a Vatican statement [*] on small arms trafficking:

Unfortunately, howeverit is impossible to ban all kinds of small arms and light weapons. "In a world marked by evil ... the right of legitimate defence by means of arms exists. This right can become a serious duty for those who are responsible for the lives of others, for the common good of the family or of the civil community. This right alone can justify the possession or transfer of arms". (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, "The International Arms Trade: an Ethical Reflection" in Origins 8 (24), 7 July 1994, p. 144).

This is not an absolute right, since there are specific conditions placed on the licitness of the production, possession and acquisition of arms. Nonetheless, in our meeting today the topic is fairly limited. Here we are discussing illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. This is, in a manner of speaking, a negative statement of the fundamental question of the legitimacy of the international arms trade.

In other words, there can be a legitimate use of small arms for self defense, but not an absolute right. Like the discussion of Social Justice, the Church does not say that one political position is endorsed. Rather she calls on people to work together to find a solution using the teaching of the Church as a basis.

I could mention many other issues of political and economic concern that people stake out as a hill to die on, and I’m sure that in each case the person who supports a certain position would label me as being unchristian and a tool for the other side for not supporting their position. But, that would miss the point. I don’t write this to endorse a specific position (liberal or conservative) on Social Justice or Gun ownership. Rather I write this to point out that the hill to die on is the Church position, and we should be working together to find a good solution.

The “hill to die on,” the things we fight about to defend should be the actual Catholic teaching. In such a case, defending that “hill” done according to Our Lord’s commands may lead people to hate us (see John 15:18-21), but we cannot yield here. However, the things where we can have legitimate differences of opinion as Catholics should not be that hill where we leave people hating us because of our own behavior (see 1 Peter 2:19-20).

So keep this in mind as we discuss issues in blogs or on Facebook. Defend the faith with charity, but don’t fight flame wars over things where there are legitimate grounds for difference of opinion.

___________________________

[*] Being an address to the United Nations, this document is of course not a magisterial document. But it does raise a point on how the Church views self defense and firearms.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Apples and Oranges: Ross Douthat and Discussion vs. Bad Behavior on the Internet

(See: Ross Douthat and the Catholic Academy | Aleteia.org and To the editor of the New York Times… | Daily Theology)

So, after certain Catholic academics protested to the New York Times that Mr. Douthat wasn’t qualified to talk about theology and indicating that the NYT should dump him, Bishop Robert Barron wrote a thoughtful response. The main thesis was that while there was a lot to object to in what Mr. Douthat said, his writings were not against the rules of being a political commentator for the Times. He pointed out that the critics should try to refute him, not try to silence him—that we shouldn’t try to silence views that make us uncomfortable. That’s certainly well said in this day and age of modern censorship against what one dislikes hearing—The Catholic Church seems to be a constant target of this.

Unfortunately, after the Bishop’s essay was published, certain Catholics began referring to it in the same out of context way as “same sex marriage” advocates began referring to the Pope’s words “Who am I to judge?” out of context. Blog sites and Facebook pages began to see this cited when the moderators continued to enforce their policies against abusive language and calumny against the Church.

This is the nuance people are missing. Ross Douthat is offensive in my eyes, but he is not showing up on people’s Facebook pages and posting abusive comments about the Pope and the Church against the policy of the Facebook page or blog. He is a paid writer for the NYT who wants to have a conservative editorial writer on board. That he is controversial is probably a good thing in the eyes of the staff.

Wonka Douthat

Now personally, I seldom have had to block anybody on my blog (I’m not all that well known), but I do have policies which are not the same as the New York Times. I am fine with people disagreeing with the Church, but I do insist on people being respectful of the Church, the Pope and bishops, and of myself personally even when they disagree. In enforcing this policy, I don’t believe I am censoring anybody. In other words, you’re free to state in your comment that you disagree with the Church or with me, and in such a case, I’ll do my best to explain why I hold the position I do. But you’re not free to be abusive in doing so.

With this in mind, I think some people have missed the point of Bishop Barron’s article. He’s not giving a sanction to saying whatever the hell you want. Ross Douthat did not violate the policies of the NYT in his articles. So trying to appeal to the paper to fire him is an attempt to silence without refutation, and that’s not good. I’m of the opinion that Douthat should be refuted (I did so a year ago, HERE). But the blogger or the person who administrates a Facebook page can decide they don’t see any good in allowing a person to hijack their platform to promote something they find offensive, and that’s not censorship.

However, Mr. Douthat may find that his bishop may have something to say about his antics, and that’s not censorship either! Just because he has not violated the rules of being an opinion writer doesn’t mean he has not violated the rules of being a Catholic. People do have the right (provided it is done respectfully) to appeal to their bishop to address needs, and if they think Douthat is causing a scandal, they can take it up with his bishop. But in doing so, we have to recognize that the bishop may decide on a different way to handle things.

I think we need to make this distinction: We individuals can and should refute people promoting error. We shouldn’t use underhanded means of eliminating things we don’t want to hear. But, if we think something is morally a scandal, we can bring it to the attention of the bishop so long as we recognize his authority to decide how to handle it, and that is not censorship. We also have to realize that our freedom to say whatever we want does not trump the rules of the site we choose to comment on or share posts on. If we exceed the rules of the site, we can face consequences and those consequences are not censorship.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Catholic Bloggers Behaving Badly

In these times, the most problematic issues involve the open advocating of disobedience to the magisterium. That needs to be opposed of course because it can lead Catholics into denying the authority of the Church and lose faith in the promises of Our Lord. So it is natural for Catholic bloggers to focus on this, standing up to say “This behavior is not ‘good’ Catholicism. It is schismatic."

But that being said, it is possible for a Catholic to do harm in other ways, even if they practice the faith without dissenting. In other words, how one presents the message can actually alienate people away from seeking the truth. For example, the Church makes clear that we have moral obligations to aid the poor and the refugees. A Catholic who chooses to reject the teaching does wrong. However, when Catholics disagree on the ways and means of carrying out Church teaching, it is certainly wrong to accuse them of being bad Catholics for thinking another strategy is better than the popular one.

In other words, two faithful Catholics can have different ideas on how to implement social justice but, provided that they accept the authority of the Church and strive to obey her teachings, can have different ideas on how to carry out that teaching. So when a blogger should happen to label people as being indifferent to suffering or racist because they have a different idea on how to deal with illegal immigration, that accusation is unjust if the other person agrees with the Church teaching and is trying to follow it. Likewise, when it comes to an issue like gun violence, there can be legitimate differences of opinions on how to solve it. But to label the person who disagrees with banning all guns as lying or being indifferent to suffering, that does not help spread the Catholic faith—it merely causes scandal by leading someone who agrees with the Church position to think he or she has no place in the Church.

So we have to discern. If two people support the Church teaching on X, but disagree on how to best follow teaching X, neither person is a heretic. But on the other hand, if one person supports the Church teaching on X while a second rejects that teaching on X, the second person cannot pretend to be a good Catholic so long as they reject the Church teaching.

This problem is compounded when abusive language is added to the mix. When we defend Pope Francis and his method of teaching, we certainly would be wise in emulating his example. When people are running afoul of Church teaching, the Pope reaches out with mercy and compassion. We should go and do likewise. That doesn’t mean tolerate bad actions as if they were good. That means we show the sinner how to change their ways without acting like a jerk over it. But if the person agrees with the Church teaching but has a different take on what approach to use, to be abusive is to behave shamefully. There can be many different ministries with the same end.

So in addition to defending the faith, we must defend it rightly and charitably. If blogger A presents the Church teaching rightly, but acts like a jerk about how he does so, then he causes harm, alienating our fellow believers and driving them away from their own mission. That’s damaging and more likely to drive the believers from the Church than to serve Our Lord’s will.

But on the other hand, we cannot confuse our political beliefs with our faith. Do our politics reflect our faith? Or do our politics shape our belief? If we choose option #2, we are choosing wrong, making an idol out of our politics.

But let’s be reasonable. Seeking a just and merciful solution to illegal immigration does not mean supporting a blanket amnesty. Opposing gun violence does not mean that only supporting a ban on all firearms is compatible with the Catholic faith. Standing up for the Church teaching on the death penalty or just war does not mean there will be perfect agreement on whether a particular instance of the death penalty is just or a particular war is just.

So let’s stop with the sarcastic remarks about “the thing that used to be conservatism” or accusing people who question the value of welfare as it is currently being implemented as being “not truly pro-life.” There is a difference between The Church Teaching and what I think needs to be done to carry it out. The former is not up for debate. The latter sometimes is.

If we make this mistake, we will have to answer for corrupting the message of the Church and for those we alienate for no good reason. Let us remember the words of the Church on Rash Judgment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Approaching the Sinner: Reaching Out in Love? Or in Judgment?

I can understand the reactions of the current rebellion in the Church—I don’t condone it, but I understand it. There is a dual reaction to anything that sounds funny. There is fear that those who are dissenters against Church teaching will get their way and change the teaching of the Church. There is also anger over the apparent inactivity of those responsible for leading the Church when it comes to these dissenters. When you think of it this way, it’s easy to start thinking of the Church in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” This is entirely natural.

However, even though it is natural, it is not what we are called to be as members of the Catholic Church. We’re called to take part in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19):

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

God does not rejoice in the death of the sinner (See Ezekiel 18:31-32 and Ezekiel 33:11), and wants their salvation. He also sends His Church to reach them. In different ages, the Church can use different means to reach them. While individually we may have a preference for a specific method, we need to recognize that ultimately the teaching authority of the Church sets the tone, and we need to avoid undermining their work.

What we always need to keep in mind is that our task is not to take part in the condemning of sinners to damnation, but to reach out to them in love, telling them of the need for salvation, but letting them know that they are loved. At times, we need to admonish and warn the sinner. But if we don’t show our love for the sinner, instead giving them a sense of “you sinners disgust me,” then we will not be effective in our ministry.

Pope Francis gets a lot of flack here. Some Catholics accuse him of being too soft, too lenient when it comes to dealing with the sinners. But I am reminded of a similar story about another man named Francis—St. Francis de Sales. Consider this from an 1887 book on saints speaking about St. Francis de Sales and his approach as bishop of Geneva.

At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn.” “Ah,” said the saint, “I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove, that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?”

 

[From: John Gilmary Shea, Pictorial Lives of the Saints (New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: Benziger Brothers, 1887), 67–68.] 

The concern for showing love for the sinner was not an example of “modernism,” or other errors. 

Unfortunately, some people fall into the other error. They believe that if we are called to love, we cannot say that what they do is wrong. That’s never been taught by the Church at all, and those who accuse (or praise) the Pope of saying so have missed the point. Our Lord Himself has spoken about the dangers of hell and the need to repent. In Matthew 7, (the chapter where He warns about judging—so often taken out of context), He warned:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

and:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’

But Jesus, even when warning of the reality of hell, never stopped loving the sinners. He loved the tax collector. He also loved the Pharisee.

So, this makes me think about how we are acting in the blogosphere and in the comboxes. What kind of witness are we leaving? Do we show that we love, and desire the salvation of, Obama or Pelosi? Or the person struggling with same sex attraction? Or the atheist? Or how about Fr. Hans Küng? Cardinal Kasper? Fr. Richard McBrien (who died recently) How that bishop or pastor you can’t stand? Do we pray for them? And by pray, I don’t mean “Oh Lord, please make Bishop So-and-so not be an idiot!” Do we show our love for these people in our prayers?

I don’t say this judgmentally. Lord knows I have been rude and sarcastic. I get pissed off with the Super Catholic who thinks they cannot err while the Pope can. So I certainly need to learn to practice what I am preaching here. Indeed, next week I might be back to being sarcastic and mocking of those I disagree with, and I certainly need your prayers.

I just ask that all of us who witness the Catholic faith, whether face to face, by blog, by Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else is popular out there)—let’s remember that how we act is a part of our witness as part of the Great Commission. And let’s pray for each other as well.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on (Lack of) Separation of Church and State in Modern America

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Introduction

One of the more bizarre behaviors of people who say they support a total separation of Church and State is that they seem either ignorant or indifferent to the fact that it is a perversion of both the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers at the time.

Then, the concern was to prevent the state from encroaching on the churches the way it had been done in Europe and the early days of the 13 Colonies, where the government could pass laws to hinder religions (often Catholics) and compel people to support religions they did not believe were right. For example, Catholics could be fined for refusing to attend the Anglican Church, and in England it was a death sentence to be a Catholic Priest. In some of the colonies, priests were banned. At that time, religions favored by the colonies, like England, were supported by taxes, where refusal to pay would result in legal sanctions.

So, when looking at that context, it becomes clear as to why the Constitution defines religious freedom as one of the freedoms of expression in the First Amendment—one which lists areas the government is forbidden to interfere with. The churches were to be free to do what they believed they were morally obligated to do, with no coercion by tax or by government law.

But, by the fact that it is listed with the rest of the Freedoms (Speech, Press, assembly, petition over grievances), it shows that this amendment was never intended to be interpreted as restricting religion from having a role in the public life of the citizens. People who speak, write, assemble and petition the government have values based on their religious beliefs, and there is no reason for thinking they cannot do these things with a religious motive.

The Modern Government View is a Perversion

But the way government operates today, what we have is a perversion of the original intent. The government is imposing laws and taxes that demand that schools and hospitals affiliated with a religious denomination fund things that they find offensive. The contraception mandate was a major red flag. Now the current attack is in defining same-sex relationships as “marriage” and, with increasing aggression, is insisting that these institutions affiliated with churches accept them as marriages as well—even though they run afoul of what the churches think they must do.

At the same time, the state increasingly legislates in matters long held to be issues of morality, and when the churches assert their rights to teach on these issues, they are accused of violating the “wall of Church and State.” Ultimately what this means is the churches will have a diminishing range of things it can talk about, while the state will have an increasing range of things it can legislate in regards to religion.

Just imagine if the government approached the rest of the First Amendment freedoms in this way. What if they said that while individuals had freedom of speech, groups did not? Think that’s ridiculous? Think again. In term of religion, the government is trying to argue that the business run by a person does not have “religious freedom” so, even though the owner thinks X is a sin, the state can decree that the business must support X.

Basically, the courts and the current administration is assuming that no laws based on religious values can be binding in law. The practical result of this is that the only values which laws can be based on are secular values. But that’s preferential treatment for a certain philosophy which is often hostile to religion. In insisting on laws being based de facto on making a law respecting an establishment of religion (or, the philosophy which denies a place to religion), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (by preventing individuals with religious beliefs from living all aspects of their life free of government diktat.

Now compare this to what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786 in the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

The man who coined the term “wall of separation” expected that the freedom of religion would prevent any person from having their civil capabilities impaired—which includes running a business.

The Catholic Concept of Religious Freedom

Now, compare the current mess America is in with what the Catholic Church said in the Vatican II Document Dignitatis humanae:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

 

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

 

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

This is a very reasonable stance to take. It prevents coercion from individuals and groups, public or private with the intent of forcing a person to act in a manner contrary to their belief. That means the government can’t force individuals or groups to do what is contrary to their beliefs—and neither can mobs of public opinion (as they did with Brendan Eich—his religious freedom was violated and the government failed in protecting it).

The main difference between the Church view of religious freedom and the American distortion is that the Church recognizes that the freedom of religion comes with the responsibility to seek out and follow the truth (DH #3):

3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.

 

Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.

 

Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

This is also crucial. We have to be free to speak the truth if people are going to be able to live in accordance with it. It recognizes that people have to accept the truth personally, and not have someone else discover it and then force you to do what you think is wrong.

But, when the government rules that God’s law may not be taught in places where anyone objects to hearing something they might disagree with, and that laws proposed by shared religious belief are labeled unconstitutional, we have a government which is claiming it knows the truth and is compelling people with religious beliefs to deny what they believe is true and give assent to the government decision.

Opposing a Lobotomized or Double Standard View on the “Separation of Church and State"

That’s why the modern version of the “wall of separation” is asinine. In claiming laws, which are formed from people with a shared religious understanding of right and wrong, are unconstitutional, they deny people the right to exercise their civil capacities to promote what is right, while at the same time, people with a non-religious or anti-religious view have no similar handicap. That’s a de facto intrusion by the government in saying they have the authority to determine what is right or wrong—and they have decided that religion is wrong.

 

So here’s something to consider. If a person believes in a strict separation of Church and State, why do they permit the State to violate that wall? Why is it OK for the state to say, “you must do this in spite of your religious teaching,” when no Founding Father ever intended the 1st Amendment to be understood this way? Surely a person who holds this with the intent of keeping the Church from having any influence on the State must recognize that it cuts both ways, and see that the State can have no influence on the Church either . . . which creates a lobotomized country.

But both the concept of the lobotomized country and the concept of the wall of separation going one way create a country unable to seek out the truth. All a government has to do to silence something it dislikes is to label it “religious.” Just keep in mind that many of those opposing slavery and segregation did so out of “religious motives.” If the government thought then like it does today, they could have negated laws outlawing both on the grounds they were “religious” and therefore a violation of the “establishment clause."

The only sane way for religious freedom to work is to recognize that all people (including politicians) have the obligation to seek out and follow the truth, and the churches do have the authority and obligation to speak out on what is right. A majority of voters can use their religious beliefs as a motivation in voting for laws—while being careful to respect the rights of religious minorities who disagree. At the same time, the state has the responsibility to promote the public good. As DH #7 puts it:

7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

 

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

 

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.

An Example on How Freedom of Religion Can Work

Some try to offer up the challenge of, “But if what if people want to impose sharia law?” Given such an imposition would have no respect for the people who do not believe Islam is true or for Muslims who choose to leave their faith, such an imposition would be contrary to religious freedom and thus be part of the state’s responsibility to defend against abuses. 

But, even though we recognize that sharia is contrary to religious freedom, that doesn’t permit the government to crack down on Islamic practices that don’t violate the freedom of religion. For those Muslims who choose to follow their beliefs without coercion, they should be free to follow the beliefs that they believe to be right. Likewise Catholic or Jewish beliefs. If believers can convince enough people that their view on what should be a law is a good one, people can vote for it, ensuring that it doesn’t force others to do that which they think is evil.

Conclusion

When one looks at the Catholic beliefs—actual beliefs, not what people wrongly think they are—one can see that they are not forcing their views on others who are unwilling to follow them. When she teaches on the fact that the unborn fetus is a living person, and convinces people that this is truth, the laws that result are not forcing people to do what they think is evil. When the Church teaches that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman and convinces people that this is the truth, they are not violating people’s rights when laws are passed on the basis of this truth. (See Here and Here for an analysis on why the “civil rights” arguments are false).

But, when the state tries to force a business run by a Catholic or an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church to do something that goes against Catholic teaching, that is violating their religious rights not to something they think is evil.

The truth of the matter is this: What we have in America today is a perversion of the concept of freedom. So long as the government continues to think this way, it will continue to be violating our constitutional rights.

 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Pope vs. Pharisaism?

Pharisees

Why did Christ come to this world? Was it to praise the people who followed the rules and condemn those who didn’t? Or was it to save the lost? It’s pretty clear to anyone who reads the Bible that it was the second choice. But when Jesus did so, the Pharisees objected to his close association with sinners—they assumed that associating with sinners meant he was either ignorant of their sins or didn’t care what they did.

Sometimes it seems we’ve learned nothing from this. Pope Francis sets out following the lead of his Master, to bring the lost sheep back to Christ. But some Catholics are offended that he reaches out to sinners instead of condemning them.

I don’t believe it is a case of Pope Francis teaching differently than St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. I think it is a case of some Catholics having lost sight of Christ’s mission and thinking it is enough to speak out against sin. What’s they’re not considering is what the Pope is considering . . . asking, “How do we reach out to these sinners and lead them to salvation?"

I also don’t believe that the actions and teachings of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI are different than those of Pope Francis. I think that rather Pope Francis scandalizes because he does the modern equivalent of eating with the sinners, and we have forgotten that Jesus scandalized in the same way. We need to remember that all three popes called on us to act on the teachings of the Church.

One of the problems I saw with the synod was the reaction to Cardinal Kasper. A lot of ink/pixels were spilled over his ideas—ideas I believe are incompatible with the teaching of the Church. The problem some people made was this: Just because Cardinal Kasper had a wrong idea on what to do with those people in same sex relationships or invalid marriages does not mean there is no right solution. But we have to be clear on what the right solution to the problem is.

Cardinal Kasper’s problem was that he saw the solution as admitting a certain number of divorced and invalidly remarried Catholics to the Eucharist even though they did not end that relationship. One can’t have absolution without a firm purpose of amendment. But some others at the synod, in my opinion, lost sight of the issue as well because they they didn’t provide a suggestion at all. They assumed the solution was to restate the fact that certain things are sinful and can never be accepted by the Church.

That’s very true. But while Cardinal Kasper’s ideas fall into error by wanting to do something the Church cannot do, others seem to fall into the problem of forgetting that it’s not enough to say “X” is a sin. We also need to decide what to do about the people who fell into sin.

That was the whole point of why Pope Francis called the synod in the first place. He wanted to explore how the Church could help bring these people to salvation while being true to Christ. But Christ never compromised on the truth, and neither did the Pope.

So we should not attack the Pope for following the example of Christ. We should be supportive in finding ways to do this in keeping with our Catholic faith. Otherwise, we’re not working with Christ, we’re acting like Pharisees.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The SSPX Problem in a Nutshell

Pope Benedict XVI has been seeking to return the SSPX to full communion with the Church.  The problem is not with the Pope or the Bishops.  It falls squarely on the SSPX.

Illicit bishop Fellay has made a statement which is quite alarming when one considers the implication:

The key problem in our discussions with Rome was really the Magisterium, the teaching of the Church. Because they say, "we are the pope, we are the Holy See" – and we say, yes. And so they say, "we have the supreme power," and we say, yes. They say, "we are the last instance in teaching and we are necessary" – Rome is necessary for us to have the Faith, and we say, yes. And then they say, "then, obey." And we say, no.

He goes on in a self-serving way making personal attacks and assuming as proven what needs to be proven true, but we have a real problem here.

For the record, the SSPX, according to Fellay, recognizes that…

  1. The See of Rome is the See of the Pope
  2. That the Pope has supreme power
  3. That the Pope is the last authority (no appeal beyond) and necessary.
  4. Rome is necessary for us to have the Faith

BUT…

…They STILL refuse to obey.

If they accept the above points, they cannot claim that Rome is "Modernist."  If Rome is "modernist" then quite frankly Christ failed His promise to be with the Church always and the problem is not over the teaching of ecumenism, but the claim that Christ is God.  If Christ failed to protect His Church then He either lacked power to protect it or lied… either would make the Catholic claim about God false.

It takes a special kind of blindness to take that attitude.

Indeed, Christ had something to say about this kind of attitude.

Matthew 18:17

"If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector."

Luke 10:16

"Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The SSPX certainly needs our prayers, but they cannot in any way be considered faithful if they share Fellay's attitude.