Showing posts with label faction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faction. Show all posts

Sunday, December 29, 2019

They Say “Things are Too Urgent to Deal With THAT”

As the silly season (AKA the Presidential Elections) approaches, some American Catholics seem to be celebrate by throwing aside the timeless teachings of the Church for the ephemeral values of politics. “Yes,” we’re told, “these teachings are important. But we have to be realistic.”

“Being realistic,” apparently means sacrificing certain Church teachings that go against our preferred candidate because these individuals are outraged when the bishops speak out on the moral teachings that go against their party§. Oh, they say they accept those teachings. But they’re angry when these moral issues get mentioned. At the same time, when Catholics on the other side of the political divide get angry, these Catholics point to it as “proof” that the other side are bad Catholics because they refuse to listen to the Church.

The problem with that is: if one cites the authority of the bishops when it suits them, then they have no excuse to refuse obedience when it suits them because they have shown that they recognize that the authority exists.

It is true that both major political parties are in the wrong on some major issues if one recognizes that the Catholic Church teaches with God’s authority. It’s also true that—barring an unforeseen seismic shift in political views—one of the two major parties will gain control of the White House. That means one of the two parties will be able to implement evil policies and the other will be temporarily hindered. One of the parties will control the appointment of judges who will green light or block the policies of the party in charge; will sign bills into laws (or veto them). So, obviously it will matter which one gets in… even if both are at odds with Church teaching in different ways. So, how do we choose?

First, against the bullies who argue you must vote for Party X or you’re guilty of sin#, I would remind them of Archbishop Chaput’s wise words in a 2016 column:

It’s absurd—in fact, it’s blasphemous—to assume that God prefers any political party in any election year.  But God, by his nature, is always concerned with good and evil and the choices we make between the two.  For Catholics, no political or social issue stands in isolation.

That doesn’t mean “vote however you feel.” All of us will need to answer to God over how well we seek to form our conscience in accordance with the Church teachings and whether we follow it. Now there are certain evils that we must oppose without equivocation. If the issue involves an intrinsic evil, we had better have a justification proportionate to the evil enabled if we choose to vote for somebody who favors it. We had better be prepared to fight the “lesser” evil we endured to block the greater one. But if we stay silent out of fear of hindering “our” candidate’s chances, we become complicit in this evil.

It’s undeniable that the Catholic teaching on defending life is the key issue in America. Indeed, in Christifidelis Laici, St. John Paul II taught:

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.

We can’t pretend that the sum of other issues can outweigh the right to life. But some Catholics believe that as long as they vote for the candidate who claims to oppose abortion, they’ve done their duty. Others think that if they support a candidate who (often superficially) seems to agree with them on issues A+B+C, they are okay with the fact that the candidate openly supports abortion and euthanasia as good. But these Catholics of both sides fail to act on the fact that the Church defines the Right to Life far more broadly than they obey.

The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (#27) tells us:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

Pope Francis reminds us of these things in Gaudete et Exsultate when he writes:

100. I regret that ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors. On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and many others. For these great saints, mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbors; quite the opposite. 

101. The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ,” with a gesture of veneration; the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude.”

103. A similar approach is found in the Old Testament: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33–34). This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to follow the path of spiritual wisdom proposed by the prophet Isaiah to show what is pleasing to God. “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (Is 58:7–8).

Tragically, factional Catholics seem to fall into one error or the other that he describes. Either they reduce the Church to a lobbying organization for certain laws and policies, or they reduce the important issues to what suits them. I can hardly think of a politicized Catholic who, while insisting, “you must vote for Party X”  even begins to acknowledge those issues of life their own party is at odds with. Instead I see sneering comments accusing the other side of hypocrisy, while being equally hypocritical themselves. Too many say that the issues their party fails at are “lesser” and say that this election is “too important” to sacrifice by holding their party accountable for them.

But while we can choose to live that way, we can’t pretend it’s authentically Catholic to do so. In the same letter I cited above, Archbishop Chaput wrote:

God created us with good brains.  It follows that he will hold us accountable to think deeply and clearly, rightly ordering the factors that guide us, before we act politically.  And yet modern American life, from its pervasive social media that too often resemble a mobocracy, to the relentless catechesis of consumption on our TVs, seems designed to do the opposite.  It seems bent on turning us into opinionated and distracted cattle unable to gain mastery over our own appetites and thoughts.  Thinking and praying require silence, and the only way we can get silence is by deciding to step back and unplug.

This year, a lot of good people will skip voting for president but vote for the “down ticket” names on their party’s ballot; or vote for a third party presidential candidate; or not vote at all; or find some mysterious calculus that will allow them to vote for one or the other of the major candidates.  I don’t yet know which course I’ll personally choose.  It’s a matter properly reserved for every citizen’s informed conscience.

So the question is: Will we think about what we must do, with God as our judge, to rightly form our conscience—to the best of our ability*—according to Church teaching? Will we determinedly oppose the evils that are unwillingly enabled by our vote? Or will we shout slogans and ignore the evils we enabled?

However we do vote, we need to remember that God will be our judge. We cannot deceive Him. He will know our sincerity or lack thereof.

I am merely a member of the laity. I have no authority to order you to vote a certain way. So I won’t even try to persuade you to do so. All I can do is point to the Church as the authority to follow, whether you agree with my own views or not. In doing so, I also urge you to beware of those who do try to pressure people (with no authority to do so) into accepting their political preference as Church teaching 

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(§) During the 2008 and 2012 elections, the US bishops were condemned as “the Republican Party at prayer.” In 2016, they were accused of being “obviously” pro-Democrat. Their teachings had not changed in that period.

(#) Sadly, I’ve seen Catholic partisans of both sides try to strong-arm other Catholics into voting for their side regardless of any concerns of conscience.

(*) God does not hold us accountable for what is impossible for us to do. We’re all fallible human beings and can err without intending to break God’s law. But if we don’t make that effort, we can’t make that excuse.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fault Lines in Finding Fault


In geology, fault lines are where tectonic plates grind past each other. Sometimes they stick for awhile. When they finally slip, the result is an earthquake [§]. I find fault lines a good metaphor for the current strife in the Church. People pushing it in the direction they think best cause friction and conflict and, when a major scandal comes, this friction turns into a major jolt. While we can’t predict where slips—or scandals—will occur, the visible fault lines give us a sense on the general region the earthquake will be centered in. 

To (probably dubiously) apply this as a metaphor to the current strife, I think where we’re likely to cause friction can be found in where we have our previous leanings. The Church, despite the warnings of St. Paul or St. Clement I, is split into factions. Each one has its own ideas of the heroes or villains in the Church. Each one has ideas on what is right and wrong with the Church. So when a scandal arises, the general tendency is to say that the blame rests on the villains and things we see wrong with the Church. As a solution, we suggest that we turn it over to our heroes and do the things we think are right.

The problem is, we’re just as bad of sinners as those who have the responsibility to shepherd the Church and we lack the authority to do so. The result is, we often generate the friction by pushing in our preferred direction and when that friction becomes a theological earthquake, we blame the Church for the disaster, thinking that if only they had listened to us, the Church wouldn’t be in this mess. The problem is, we don’t have the whole picture. We can offer conjecture based on the facts we do have, but if we don’t have all the facts, our judgments will probably go wrong somewhere... we’ll be causing friction that leads to ruptures, possibly even schism.

I don’t say that we should just be passive and let the clergy do everything to avoid trouble. That’s clericalism and the Pope has warned against that. We of the laity have a role to play and, provided we do so reverently, we can make our needs and concerns known to those who shepherd (canon 212). But we have to know our limitations and not insist that what we know is all there is to know. It’s one thing to have a necessary conflict between good and evil. It’s another to coopt these conflicts as a proxy for our personal preferences. 

For many, this set of accusations against the Pope [†] is a proxy war for what people already thought about him. Those who dislike him tend to give credence to the claims of Archbishop Vigano. Those who like him tend to doubt the accusations. Hopefully, we don’t let our preconceived notions get in the way of seeking the truth. Unfortunately, many do. They either accuse the Pope or Vigano of “lying” because that sounds more serious than “mistaken recollection” or “saw the situation differently.” They say the Pope was guilty of a “coverup” because that supports their narrative of a bad Pope better than “the Pope was deceived by a charismatic individual who lied” or “Vigano was mistaken about the nature of what Benedict XVI intended to do with McCarrick.”

If we want to actually help the Church, we need to consider the possible reasons and eliminate the ones the evidence doesn’t support. For example, as more comes out on the backgrounds of the people involved in this scandal, I find it hard to believe that the Pope knowingly and willingly took part in a coverup. I don’t find it improbable that the Pope was mistaken about the true nature of some people and assumed he had the necessary facts to make changes [∞]. He strikes me as someone who strives to do what was right. So I believe that if he did reverse Benedict XVI’s decision (the point to be proven), he most likely believed he was doing what was right before God. A critic of the Pope would no doubt disagree with my assessment. But both of us would have to be open to seeking the truth and avoiding rash judgment—on the Pope, Vigano, Wuerl, Burke etc. etc. etc. If we don’t, we’re guilty of rash judgment against the one we hold in contempt.

We should remember Socrates and the lesson of knowing we do not know something. If we know we’re ignorant, we can learn. If we don’t know we are ignorant, we won’t even try to learn.


To do this, we need to catch ourselves when we think “There’s no good reason the Pope (or Vigano) would do this! He must be lying!” There can be a good reason that exonerates. Or there can be an earnest mistake that reduces or eliminates culpability. We need to be aware of the possibility and consider how the one we think wrong might have reached the conclusion sincerely.

If we can do that, we can help reduce the friction in the fault lines our factionalism causes and help reduce confusion and conflict in The Lord’s Church.



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[§] Yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying. This is a theology blog, not a geology blog.
[†] If you’re joining me for the first time, let me just be up front about it: I think he’s innocent.
[∞] These, being juridical acts, not acts of teaching would still be authoritative, but not protected by infallibility. He could reverse his predecessor’s decision and his successor could reverse his decision with no contradiction of doctrine.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Grammar of Dissent: Reflection on Modern Rebellion in the Church



From An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assemt (page 240). 
I believe it also applies to “cradle Catholic” dissenters.

The current dissent within the Church today is scandalous. Catholics who were once diehard defenders of the Papacy are now undermining the current Pope, inventing a theology of dissent while pretending to be faithful. At the same time, certain Catholics who rejected previous Popes are now misapplying what Pope Francis says to portray their long-running dissent as being justified.

The only way I can think to explain it: one faction of Catholics merely happened to agree with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and mistook that agreement for obedience. Now that we have Pope Francis, they don’t agree and justify disobedience because they never learned the obedience the Church has always required. Another faction rejected Church teaching under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI and just happen to agree with what they think (inaccurately, in my view) Pope Francis is saying. 

Some confused conservatism with Catholicism. They assumed that because some teachings lined up with their labels, Church teaching was “conservative.” They praised or condemned it based on their ideology. Others confuse Pope Francis’ Catholicism with liberalism. Both factions downplay or attack Catholic teaching that doesn’t match their ideology. None of them consider the possibility that they’re wrong; that they, not the Pope, cause the confusion in the Church by pushing an ideology and calling it “Catholic.”

We must remember we still have the same Church which teaches with the same authority. Discipline has changed in different eras of the Church but it still revolves around gathering people in so they might learn what they must do to be saved (Acts 2:37). An act that is intrinsically evil (always wrong, regardless of circumstances) remains wrong. But how the Church reaches out to the sinners who commit these acts can change depending on the needs of the time.

So, both insistence on changing what the Church cannot change and insisting that the Church remain attached to the discipline, customs, or practices of a certain age are to replace the virtue of obedience with following the Church only to the extent that it supports what we were going to do in the first place. That’s not obedience. That’s just membership in a group.

One of the radical ideas of Catholicism is that Jesus Christ established a Church which He intends to teach with His authority. He made clear that rejection of this Church was a rejection of Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). If this is true, then we must obey the Church when she intends to teach. If it is not true, then there is no real reason to be a Catholic in the first place.

I think we’ve lost this sense today. We think that we are the ones who “know” the truth and we are “cursed” with a Church steeped in “error.” But we forget that in past ages, when we really did have Popes of dubious character, the saints still insisted on obedience, that we trust and obey the Church even if it ran counter to our own perception.

From The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

Note that St. Ignatius does not create exceptions for Popes we dislike. He does not limit this obedience to ex cathedra statements. He affirms that when there is a conflict between ourselves and the Church, we must obey the Church because of we believe God protects and guides her. If we do not believe this then, again, there is no reason to be a Catholic to begin with. If we believe that God can protect the Church from a Benedict IX, John XII, Liberius, or Honorius I, why do we believe that He stopped protecting the Church in 1958 (the beginning of St. John XXIII’s pontificate), 1962 (the beginning of Vatican II), 1970 (the implementation of the Ordinary Form of the Mass), or 2013 (the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate)?

Either we trust the Church because we trust God to protect her, or we lie when we say we have faith in God. The authority of the Church is not in the holiness of her members (we would have been debunked millennia ago if that were the case) but from God. Sometimes, this authority of the Church shocks—remember that members of the Church were shocked when St. Peter baptized the first gentiles (Acts 11:1-3)—but we believe that teaching is binding.

The problem is people confuse things that are not universally binding with teaching. When the Pope has a private conversation or a press conference, this is not teaching. When a Pope promulgates a law for Vatican City (or previously, the Papal States), this is not teaching. But when the Pope published Laudato Si and Amoris Lætitia, he was teaching [†]. For example, he explicitly identified the authority of Laudato Si saying:


We cannot call this an “opinion.” The Code of Canon Law makes clear that when the Pope teaches, we must give our submission—even if the teaching is not ex cathedra.


So, regardless of the faction one comes from, there is no basis for the rejecting the teaching authority of the Pope and there is no basis for trying to deny that a teaching is a teaching. Accepting the authority of the Church comes from putting faith in God protecting His Church. If we won’t do that, we are NOT faithful Catholics. We’re merely dissenting about different things.

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[†] It is downright bizarre that critics of Pope Francis reject Amoris Lætitia because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation and appeal to Familiaris Consortio—which is also an Apostolic Exhortation.