Showing posts with label factionalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label factionalism. Show all posts

Saturday, February 19, 2022

It’s Iimi! Knee-Jerk

Society has grown so fractured that it is impossible to have a civil discussion on anything. The assumption that anyone who disagrees must be supporting evil. No attempt is made to understand the other side. This does not mean that we let evil have its way. But it does mean that we have an obligation to ask whether our assumptions are true before accusing the other of bad will.


Iimi’s older sister gets dragged into a debate on the recent Maüs controversy. But the position she stakes out is, if we don’t try to understand, our reactions are merely Knee Jerk

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Ersatz Fidelity

Ersatz: adjective. Made or used as a (usually inferior) substitute for something else. German = compensation, replacement.

During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI it was easier to confuse conservatism with Catholicism because the greatest evils of the era condemned by the Catholic Church also happened to go against the conservative ideology. Under the pontificate of Pope Francis, it has become easier to confuse liberalism with Catholicism because the greatest evils condemned by the Catholic Church also happened to go against the liberal ideology. It would be false to say that the Catholic Church moved “left” or “right” during these pontificates. The Church still is teaching what she has always taught. But certain groups of Catholics have fallen into error either by assuming that their ideology is correct, or that an ideology they oppose is wrong.

I have seen some Catholics protest in response that they are not at all political. But that is to miss the point. Our fidelity to the Church, as established by Christ with His teaching authority, must come above our defense of party X or condemnation of party Y. If we make excuses for one group that we would not make for another or if we condemn one group more harshly for the sins we shrug off when the other party does it, then we are partisan despite our protests. If we argue that “the stakes are too high” to speak out against the party we think of as less of a threat, then we are partisan despite our protests.

Think about it. When the Church speaks out on an evil, do we get angry if the bishops did not speak out at the same time on another issue? We should be aware that the bishops have condemned all the evils present in our country. It is our own ignorance and bias that leads us to only notice it when the side we think is less evil is condemned while ignoring it when our opponents are condemned.

We also display this fault when we say that the Church “neglected” issues we favor under certain Popes and got “back on track” under certain Popes. That sort of behavior guarantees that whoever succeeds Pope Francis will be viewed on a Left-Right axis. If the successor tends to be more like St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it will be seen as a “rejection” of Pope Francis. But if his successor is more like himself, it will be seen as a “rejection” of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. That’s entirely the wrong approach to take.

All three Popes—like their predecessors—have taught on all the moral issues of the era. If you read Pope Francis on abortion and same sex “marriage,” you will see his views are like his predecessors. If you read St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI on economic justice§, immigration and the environment, you will see they sound like Pope Francis. The narrative that we have “fallen away” or “finally gotten on track” does not show problems with the Popes or the Church. It shows problems with us.

In a similar way, when we place our bishops in political categories because of how they view the loss of the sense of Sacred over the Eucharist, it does not show a problem with the bishops. It shows a problem with us. Yes, our bishops can make errors in judgment and even choose to sin through commission or omission. But we cannot use that fact to reject them when they teach us.

We need to realize that our problem is ersatz fidelity. When we consistently get angry at one side and consistently get angry with the Church when she does not target that side, that once again shows that the problem in the Church is us. We justify why we cannot act against what the side we think of as less evil while refusing to consider the same arguments used against us by those who think the other side is less evil.

The result is we believe that the Catholic Church rests with us and we cannot be in the wrong when we interpret Church documents, or the words of Popes. If the Pope and the bishops in communion with him should ever speak out on an issue we think is “less important,” we immediately think that the Church is in danger of—or already is—error. That is not faithfulness to the Church. That is imposing our template on whether we will obey and calling those conditions “fidelity.”

This also applies to how we approach those bodies that the Pope gives authority. Canon law points out:

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.

So, if we try to argue that a document of the CDF lacks legitimacy because it was not signed by the Pope, we are also guilty of ersatz fidelity. The documents and decrees cannot be promulgated without the approval of the Pope.

Yes, some conservative Catholics claim to be “truly faithful” while picking and choosing which teachings to follow. But so do the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” or “Pope Francis Catholics” (a term I loathe) who interpret Pope Francis in a way that justifies what they were going to do anyway. Members of both groups believe that Pope Francis supports sexually active same sex relationships—despite all his rejections of it—and only disagree over whether that “support” is good. When these factions fight over this to claim that they alone are the faithful ones, I can only shake my head, because both are wrong¥.

I believe that if we want to be truly faithful, we will need to change our thinking. If we encounter a Pope or bishop acting in a way that we cannot square with what we think the Church should be, we should first ask if we were the ones who have somehow gone wrong. Otherwise, our supposed fidelity is exposed as a sham: We are not faithful in learning from the Church that teaches with Christ’s authority. We are creating a cheap substitute that merely bears a similar appearance.



[†] Falling into the ideology trap is not merely endorsing one party. We can also do this by bearing a special hostility for one party to the point that we ignore the other evils from the side we think of as less at fault.

[‡] We should note that these Catholics do testify against any defense through ignorance when they bring out a Church condemnation of their opponents’ position to condemn their party.

[§] For example, look at St. John Paul II in his Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

[¥] Some of the readers might wonder if I am overlooking the possibility that I might be guilty of this myself, I can only say, “Of course I am… but I try not to be.” I will admit that even when writing this piece, I have found my thoughts flitting over to the behavior of others I wish would listen. But, when I catch myself doing that, I try to go back and see if I have been guilty of the same. Of course, I have preferences on what should be done. But I believe we should be willing to consider why it is if the Church decides on a different path.

Monday, June 21, 2021


In a past article, I discussed how the reaction of American Catholics to the USCCB voting to draft a document about the Eucharist showed a deep and dangerous situation that needs correction. I likened the backlash against disciplining public sinners to an iceberg. However, as the backlash grows, it has also revealed what a vocal portion of the non-Catholic United States population thinks about the Catholic Church: they hate us when we say that certain things are evil, and actions have consequences. They take advantage of this backlash to claim that the Catholics of the world agree with them and try to silence the Church. If we would just be silent on these evils and be a charitable NGO instead, the world would have no problem with us. 


The problem is, we cannot just be a philanthropic organization if we are to be faithful to Christ and His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). We are sent to instruct the world on what we need to do if we would be saved (cf. Acts 2:37-40). If we refuse to do that, we will be held accountable for those who fall into damnation from our silence (Ezekiel 3:17-21).


It is true that Pope Francis has stressed mercy and compassion in how the Church reaches out to sinners. There is nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, some people misinterpret Pope Francis and his calls for mercy and compassion by assuming that people can come to communion if they “feel called” without repentance or changing their behavior. That is not and never was any part of his call for mercy.


It is also true that, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis stressed that we cannot assume mortal sin without determining if all the conditions (grave matter, full knowledge, free consent) are present. And, in the context of divorce and remarriage, there are situations where the knowledge or consent might be lacking. But we are not talking about people who were badly instructed or coerced into a situation where they cannot escape an invalid marriage. We are talking about Catholic lawmakers who say they will not follow their Church’s teaching against legalizing and expanding abortion as a “right.” Since the Church has made clear that abortion is grave sin and politicians are obliged to oppose it, canon 916 requires those in grave sin to not “receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession” does apply. And those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion” (canon 915). So, the Church in America needs to address this issue. Those Catholic lawmakers who do work to protect and expand the evil of abortion must be corrected. 


Among the bishops, the disagreement is over how to handle this matter. Since we must not commit rash judgment, we must not impute bad will to the bishops we disagree with. That can be hard when one has passionate feelings on what we should or should not do, but sometimes being a Catholic is difficult because we must be willing to put God’s will above our own. American Catholics often resent and rebel against teachings we disagree with, praising or condemning the Popes and bishops depending on whether what they say line up with their views. Both sides downplay their own rebellion with special pleading, while being rigorous towards those they disagree with, even though they are guilty of the same thing.


So, while the bishops might legitimately have different views on how we should best approach those who know what the Church teaches and refuse to change, we cannot use that difference as an excuse to defend those we politically favor who do wrong. The Church in America needs—as the Ladaria Letter reminds us—to unite around the teachings of the Church and come to a common understanding on how to respond to those who refuse to follow these teachings.


Our part is to stop judging rashly. If someone calls the ~73% of the bishops who voted in favor of drafting a document “defying the Pope,” they have rashly judged. If someone accuses the ~24% who voted against drafting the document “pro-abortion” or “pro-Democrat” they have rashly judged.


The document has not been drafted yet and will not involve President Biden when it is drafted§. Acting against pro-abortion politicians in one’s own diocese is already permissible. The anger over national policy is months—possibly years—premature.


The iceberg of Catholic factionalism and dissent needs to be broken. Catholics need to relearn obedience to the Magisterium and charity towards those they disagree with.  If we can do that, we can break the iceberg that threatens the mission of the Church. If we will not, then we are merely part of the iceberg of rebellion.




(†) I have encountered people who deny they have factional leanings, but I can only ask, “Is that really true?” Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us are tempted to give one side a “pass” when we either fear the opponent more or favor our side. Justice forbids us to act that way, however.


(‡) Only 50%+1 is necessary to begin drafting such a document. However, approval for a national policy (which may or may not be included in the final draft submitted to Rome) either has to be unanimous or 2/3 and approved by Rome.


(§) Canon 1405 restricts judging a Catholic head of state to the Pope.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us: A Reflection on Factionalism

can. 750 §1.† A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

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.

There is a famous phrase that some attribute to cartoonist Walt Kelly of Pogo fame and others attribute to a 1970 ecology poster that goes, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It has become more popular than the original saying and is generally used to say that we are the cause of our own problem.

I bring this up as a general conclusion to the It’s Iimi! comics (HEREHERE) because I think the current fight over the USCCB meeting running from the 16th to the 18th is a symptom rather than a problem in itself. Regardless of what the bishops decide to do regarding their “coherence” section on the proposed document on the Eucharist, The lay Catholics have decided for themselves who are the “heroes” and “villains” of the Church. Based on this assumption, they have already concluded that the “other side” of the “battle” is acting against what the Church teaches.

I say that the reaction to the USCCB meeting is a symptom because we have been before. We are constantly seeing a factional group in the Church who argue that there is only one way to handle a situation. Whoever disagrees with that proposed solution is accused of being in the wrong… even if the accused are the Pope and bishops in communion with him issuing a formal teaching. 

Sometimes it is a case of dissident Catholics claiming that the Pope and bishops are failing to show love, as it happened with St. Paul VI issuing Humanae Vitae and the CDF under Pope Francis reaffirming that same-sex relationships cannot be blessed. At other times, it is a case of Catholics disagreeing on the best way to carry out a teaching. For example, the infamous “anti-abortion but not pro-life” comment was rooted in the assumption that one had to vote for certain social policies and rejected the possibility of other legitimate solutions.

I could go on—and these factions doubtless will—but these examples show what I think the problem is in all our disputes: We will only obey the Church when she teaches what we want. If the bishops speak out on an issue we do not want to hear about, we will cease to give the “religious submission of the intellect and will” (canon 752). We think we are justified in doing this and invent all sorts of complex theologies to proclaim our righteousness. At the same time, we refuse to consider whether those on what we consider the “other side” could legitimately reach their conclusions through a faithful study of the same documents we read. We refuse to consider the possibility that we can be in the wrong about those documents.

As I watch the different feuds, I am struck by how many determine orthodoxy by saying, “I can see no other way to interpret X than…” while ignoring the fact that their opponents say the same thing. But logically, both factions are making an argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because one “can see no other way” to interpret something does not mean there is “no other way to interpret” something.

Yes, if a group of bishops does issue statements in opposition to the Pope, they are devoid of authority. We saw that with the unfortunate statements by the dubia cardinals or Archbishop Vigano for example. An opinion is an opinion that must yield to the teaching of the Church. But sometimes what we see as a “conflict” is nothing more than a proposal that runs counter to our own.

The other side of that coin is the attempt to turn a binding teaching into an “opinion.” For example, the attempts to undermine the CDF statement on blessing same-sex relationships by implying they were issued as a topic of discussion instead of being promulgated by the Pope. This is also factionalism.

If we want to claim to be faithful Catholics and fight to defend the Pope, or the moral teaching of the Church, then let us remember that we must obey the Pope and the bishops in communion with him when they intend to teach, whether ex cathedra or the ordinary magisterium.

It is not wrong, of course, to have a preference on how the Church teaches or disciplines… provided that the preference is in keeping with the teaching of the Church. But if the Pope and the bishops in communion with him should decide on a way to handle things that is different than we would like, then we cannot sacrifice submission to our preferences.

We should not hide behind excuses. Political factionalism is not the only kind of factionalism. The other side’s actions are not automatically worse than our own. If we choose to condemn others for what we are guilty of, we will be judged as well (cf.Matthew 7:2). 

So, we need to constantly be on guard. We all have faults we are blind to, even though we clearly see that fault in others. We all are tempted to excuse our own wrongdoing, even though it is what we condemn in others. But we need to be willing to change when the Church says, “we will do it this way,” and this way is not ours.

If we will not do this, then let us be aware that the enemy in the Church is us. 





(†) It is a satire of the 1812 statement by Oliver Hazard Perry to William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” 

(‡) Contrary to some claims, what the bishops will be discussing is whether to write a document on restoring the lost belief in the Real Presence. It is will not be about excommunicating President Biden.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Look to Your Own Beam First

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Those involved in factional fighting might pretend to be acting for the “good of the Church,” but the reality is they are selectively quoting what the Church teaches to discredit their political opponents. Then, when challenged over the sins of their own side, they argue that “the stakes are too high” to worry about that at this time. The problem is this way of thinking will never find the “right time” to challenge their own faction. There will always be a perceived crisis that prevents us from looking to reform ourselves.

But we are called to change ourselves regardless of what others do. Our Lord tells us:

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.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Yes, teaching others to reject evil is part of the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). But if we will not do what we expect others to do, we will answer for it.

This gets worse as Catholics misidentify Church teaching and political preference. The result is accusing Catholics on the “other side” of wrongdoing, while never asking themselves about their own behavior.

10 I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. 12 I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Recently, the war between the Original Pro-Life Movement (hereafter OPLM) and the New Pro-Life Movement (hereafter NPLM) has flared up again. It is not a new conflict. It happens in America with every change of a Presidential party in power. One party thinks that abortion is a “human right.” The other recognizes it is not. Catholics, of course, can never licitly support abortion… even though some Catholics do.

The battle of the OPLM and the NPLM basically comes down to how abortion should be weighted when it comes to the moral obligations of voting. Both factions are caricatures of what the Right to Life means. The OPLM generally argues that abortion is the worst evil of our times, and we can never licitly vote for a candidate or party that supports legalized abortion. The NPLM tends to argue that since the other social justice issues are a part of the Seamless Garment of Life, we need to elevate them in the discussion. Unfortunately, the practical result of this factionalism is that the OPLM argues that “the stakes are too high” to hold candidates accountable for issues other than abortion, while the NPLM argues that “the stakes are too high” to worry about abortion. The OPLM Catholic tends to vote Republican regardless of that party’s failings and the NPLM Catholic tends to vote Democrat regardless of that party’s failings.

Both factions are quick to point out the failures of the other side. But, neither does more than pay lip service to their own side’s failures. The result is, hostility and self-righteousness grow apace.

The fact is, the Catholic Church does indeed teach that the Right to Life is the first right. However, her teaching shows that both factions have gone wrong:

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.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”. (Christifideles Laici 38)

So, on one hand, Catholics cannot limit the right to life to abortion. On the other hand, Catholics cannot reduce the importance of abortion… it is listed next to murder and genocide, after all. Moreover, certain rights are considered secondary to the right to life. So, while rights to housing and healthcare are important, we cannot sacrifice the obligation to oppose abortion to them.

I would say that contra the OPLM, we do have an obligation to speak out against more than abortion. But contra the NPLM, we also have an obligation to oppose abortion as the first assault on the right to life.

Therefore, I think the assaults on the bishops are unjust. The OPLM is wrong in saying that the bishops ignore abortion. They are not. But the NPLM is wrong in claiming that the bishops were obsessed with abortion and neglecting the other issues. Anybody paying attention to the USCCB releases showed they spoke about all the issues Americans were wrong over… but they were always attacked for not speaking about Y, when the focus of the debate was X.

Let us face the facts: when a Presidential administration is in line with Church teaching on X but wrong on Y, the bishops will tend to focus on Y. If the administration is in the wrong on abortion, the bishops will speak out on abortion. If the administration is in the wrong on immigration, the bishops will speak out on immigration. They are not behaving in a partisan manner. I would say that the person accusing them of being partisan is the one who is biased. 

We can see this OPLM v. NPLM factionalism in play with the USCCB expressing concern over Biden and abortion. Both factions will pick out their heroes and villains on how they face the fact of a pro-abortion Catholic President… the first in US history§.

And I think that is the key to the situation. America has had pro-abortion presidents before and Catholic pro-abortion politicians before. But this is the first time we have had a Catholic pro-abortion President in the United States. So, the US bishops are dealing with something entirely new#.

So, it does not help when the OPLM and NPLM are picking out heroes and villains from the bishops. Yes, the bishops are publicly divided over what should be done, and that should not be. Yes, we do need a solution on how to handle it. And yes, all of us (including me) have ideas on what that solution should be. But our response should be prayer for them to reach a wise decision, not accusing the bishops we disagree with of bad will. Because of this, I say that the OPLM and NPLM need to spend more time considering the beam in their own eyes and less on the splinter in the eye of their foes. It might help coming to a non-partisan response that helps the bishops instead of hindering them.


(†) Relatively speaking. Often, a political party will support an action that the Church teaches but do so with a different motive.

(‡) “Pro-Choice” is a propaganda term where the party tries to separate the claimed personal feelings of the politician from what he does, even though the claimed personal feelings have no impact on what he freely chooses to do. We should not use the term.

(§) Remember, when the first Catholic President was elected, Roe v. Wade was over ten years away, so it was not a factor.

(#) Canon 1405 does limit the judging of a chief executive of a country to the Pope. But that is beyond the scope of this article and will need to be addressed another time. Briefly, it can be used to interpret the meaning of the Ladaria letter as saying that the bishops need to be unified and talking to Biden privately before bringing it before the Pope. It does not mean that those bishops wanting to move beyond the status quo are wrong. Also, keep in mind this canon was not part of the revision of canon law.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

When Factionalism Masquerades as Piety

11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. 12 I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. 31 If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; 32 but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

The USCCB is planning to discuss the Eucharist and the deficiencies in proper understanding among American Catholics. This is reasonable. When a majority of the faithful do not realize that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or if they think everybody should be allowed to receive regardless of the state of their souls, that is a clear sign that we need remedial education. The bishops are—regrettably—divided over what the best response should be. As a result, Cardinal Ladaria has issued a statement urging the bishops to reach a unified approach.

This is understandable. The USCCB is not a mini-Vatican where a majority vote can impose policy on all dioceses. The individual bishop is responsible for teaching and enforcement in his own diocese. So, a USCCB resolution is only “binding” on the whole Church in America only if all the bishops implement it. But, at the same time, different levels of enforcement are causing a scandal among the faithful. When some, like Cardinals Gregory and Cupich, openly disagree with others, like Archbishops Gomez and Cordileone over how to handle Catholic politicians who openly work to expand abortion in this country, confusion will erupt, and factional Catholics will seize on this to push for their own agendas.

And the title of this article is aimed at these Catholics, not the bishops. I might prefer one approach over the other among the bishops, but I do not believe either approach intends to undercut the Church teaching. The same cannot be said about Catholics on the internet calling one group of bishops “heretical” or the other “legalistic.” They have picked a side, focusing on the sins of the other while ignoring those of their own side. These factions “cherry pick” what the Pope and his predecessors have taught in a way that justifies what they say while ignoring the full message.

As a result, we see some Catholics point to the words of St. John Paul II and contrast them with the words of Pope Francis. One will be portrayed as championing the true meaning of Catholicism. The other will be portrayed as causing harm to the real meaning. For example, in Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II pointed out that divorce and remarriage while the other spouse still lives is grave matter. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis points out that we cannot assume that all the conditions of mortal sin are present in that remarriage without the confessor investigating the case. When understood in context, neither Pope contradicts the other. But when partisan Catholics pick sides, we are presented with “heroes” and “villains” among the bishops that line up with our partisan views of what should be done. Bishops speaking out against sins we think are worse are praised. Those who speak out against sins we think merit less concern wind up attacked as heretics or legalists. Ironically, the same bishop can be attacked by both sides when he points out the Church teaching on two different issues where one is seen as “conservative” and one as “liberal.”

When we do this, we are guilty of the factionalism, even if we think this is piety. The Catholic who says, “I am for Francis” or “I am for John Paul II” and contrasts them as opposed is guilty of what St. Paul condemns. If we want to be for Christ, we need to be for Pope Francis… and Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II, and St. Paul VI, and St. John XXIII… all the way back to the beginning of the Church. Yes, some of the successors of St. Peter were unworthy of the office. But the teachings of the Popes remain true, although future Popes can make adjustments and clarifications to fit the needs of the current time.

If you are opposed to rigorism, remember laxity is also an evil. If you are opposed to laxity, remember rigorism is also an evil. The Church navigates between the two seeking to reflect both Our Lord’s mercy and justice. If we sacrifice one in favor of the other, we are not doing God’s will.

Bringing this back to the discussion of the Bishops, the Eucharist, and our response, we need to be aware that this is not a case of “good bishops vs. bad bishops.” Their discussion is about what is the proper response to the fact that so many Catholics have gone wrong about what the Eucharist means and what proper disposition to receive means. But, if we turn this into a fight where we say the bishops should focus on X instead of Y, we are not helping. We are part of the problem. We see this happen all the time when someone says the Church should stay out of politics and focus on saving souls… forgetting that our sins can involve political behavior and not just personal.

Let us not forget that during the 2020 elections, Catholics on both sides of the political divide placed the bishops on the other side of that divide, using the same arguments. Bishops of the various committees spoke about issues that fell under the purview of that committee. But critics criticized them for ignoring other issues… issues that were addressed by the bishops of the relevant committee.

If we want to escape this factionalism, we need to stop looking at it from a partisan perspective. We need to look at it from the perspective that the Church teaches. We have an obligation to live according to His commandments (see Matthew 7:21-23, John 14:15), and we can break His commandments in public ways as well as personal. No faction is free from guilt on this matter. So, yes. We must call out the intrinsic evil of abortion. We must call out the evil intent some promote in issues like immigration. We cannot ignore either one. But, if we are angry that a specific Church statement condemns one specific idea without mentioning the other, we have missed the point, because the Church does issue separate statements dealing with that issue as well.

We should be honest and acknowledge we prefer that the Church spend 100% of their time speaking on the sins of others and resent it when she speaks on sins our preferred faction is guilty of. But the Church does not only need to speak to them. She also needs to speak to us. If we will not do that, our piety is simply a masquerade for factionalism and we are harming the Church by dividing her.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Are We Making a Shipwreck of Our Faith?

I entrust this charge to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophetic words once spoken about you. Through them may you fight a good fight by having faith and a good conscience. Some, by rejecting conscience, have made a shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:18-19a)


I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2).


With the Presidential Election happening in two days, the most alarming thing is not that Candidate X (X being the candidate you dislike) might win. It’s that American Catholics are so entrenched in party politics that they think that only the other party is in the wrong vis a vis Catholic teaching and if the Bishops should dare speak out on an issue where their own party is in the wrong, it is seen as “proof” that they favor the other party. It is not unusual to see partisan Catholics of both factions in social media simultaneously accuse the bishops of being pro-Democrat and pro-Republican, while denouncing fellow Catholics for doing exactly what they do themselves: Excuse the evil in their own party as being less important than the evil in the other party.


You have probably heard the counter-slogans already. Those who intend to vote for Biden will stress racism and immigration. Those intending to vote for Trump will stress the issue of abortion. Both will act as if only the other side’s voting for a party supporting evil is intolerable while their own is a justifiable sacrifice. Some even go so far as to make excuses for their party and their personal failure to oppose the evils within. Both sides are confident that they stand on the side of Christ and equally confident that those they disagree with are deliberately, and with full knowledge, choosing evil. 


I say this makes a shipwreck of faith because all of us need to constantly ask ourselves where we have done wrong and work to turn back to God. We need to bring the world to Christ, not to our political party. If we call ourselves Catholic Christians but make excuses instead of work to change the evils within our own party, we are conforming to the world instead of transforming it… which is a perversion of our calling.


Yes, we can find both Catholic Democrats and Republicans alike who are morally concerned about our country. Yes, both belong to one party because they are appalled by the platform of the other. But it is never enough to stop at condemning the other side for doing something you personally are appalled by. If we are not also appalled by the evils within our own party, we are no better than those we condemn. 


Yes, some evils are worse than others. But that does not mean that the others are morally acceptable. Gaudium et Spes (#27) gives us a litany of evils that indicts both Democrats and Republicans for their silence on them:


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.


I do understand the temptation to fear the consequences of calling our own party out. I used to think that way. We fear that calling out our own party means weakening our party or even being forced to vote for the other party. But nowadays I think it we should think of it in a “You break it, you bought it” way. If you identify with a political party, then—win or lose—you “bought” the responsibility to work to change that party when it goes against Catholic teaching. If you vote for a candidate who is at odds with the Catholic teaching and he gets elected, you “bought” the responsibility to oppose him on those issues. You do not get to shirk responsibility for living out and making known Church teaching just because you voted a certain way. You do not get to be silent on, explain away, or downplay those evils that are inconvenient to your own party just because you think other evils are worse. That is called being corrupt, and the cost is greater than the gain.


Corruption is everywhere: for two pence many people sell their soul, sell their happiness, sell their life, sell everything. (Pope Francis, “Holy Mass Celebrated for the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State. Saturday, 3 October 2015)


For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world.… But for Wales! (Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition).


When the Church teaches against an evil that we have grown accustomed to, one that strikes at the human institutions we have put our trust in, we need to change how we think. We must stop thinking of that teaching as a “threat” or “capitulation” to the other side. If we feel fearful or resentful of the Pope or a bishop speaking out, we should ask ourselves why we are taking sides againstthose given the authority to interpret God’s teaching and guide us and bind us on what we must do or avoid if we hope to be saved.


If we are tempted to say that we are not the ones taking sides, but they are, we should ask ourselves why we are so sure of our own understanding of the Church teaching while the Pope and bishops consistently go “wrong.” It is easy for corrupt culture to blind us to the evil of their practices after all. It’s easy to be so accustomed to our vicious customs that we grow blind to the fact that something is evil, and we think the attempts to overturn it are themselves evil.


We should remember that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church with the intention to teach with His authority and with His protection. If we are so certain that we, not they, are in the right, that is a sure sign we are making a shipwreck of our faith.




(†) As always, I put candidates, ideologies, and parties in alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias.


(‡) I will not say how I voted. Yes, I think one party is worse than the other. But that does not make the other party “good.” All I will say is I looked at both parties and decided which I thought would do the most harm to living a Catholic life. From there I voted with an intention to block it. But, no matter who wins, I will oppose the evil they stand for. If the reader immediately assumes that I ignored the evils on “the other side,” it’s kind of proving the point of my article.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

If a Catholic is for a Faction, He is not Behaving Like a Catholic at All

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11–13).

Between the elections and disputes over what the Church should be doing in the world, Catholics—especially in the United States—have become fragmented, arguing that the sides they pick in a dispute are in the right while Catholics who disagree or even say “I’m not convinced that this either-or argument is correct” are deemed to be heretical or misled.

While I say this in rebuke, I am not saying “values are relative, and it is a matter of indifference who you vote for or what the Church does.” I have my own personal views on which political party is a worse evil and which behaviors in the Church are more harmful. However, I believe my own political views and preferences on the governance of the Church must take backseat to the authority of the Church. When the Church teaches that we must do or not do something, we are behaving shamefully if we try to explain away our obligation or argue that those tasked with leading the Church are not authentically Catholic.

As I see it, in determining whether a position is in keeping with the Catholic Church, we must first look to those who are tasked with shepherding the Church. Why do I say this, instead of appealing to the Bible or to past teachings of the Church? Because I believe that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church as the Church intended to teach the whole world. I believe that He promised to be with His Church always and to protect it from teaching error. I believe the visible head of this Church is the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops—when acting in communion with him, and never apart from him—are acting as the successors of the Apostles. When they teach, even if not teaching ex cathedra, their teaching requires religious submission of intellect and will. In this role, they determine whether certain interpretations of Scripture and past teachings of the Church by groups of Catholics, or their behaviors or claims are authentic or not. This authority exists despite the personal sins of those men who are tasked with being shepherds of the Church. Otherwise, we could not have any authority at all and our favorite teachings would have no more authority than the ones we dislike.

When we grasp that, one thing becomes clear: Any attempt to pit a political platform or the antics of an individual Churchman against that authority of the Church is to reject the authority of the Church, replacing it with an ersatz Catholicism that divinizes one’s preferences while denying that the Divine source of the Church’s authority applies in their circumstances. Essentially, it turns the Church teaching into “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is up for grabs,” because as soon as the individual dislikes being at odds with a teaching, he or she can just deny the authority of the teaching. We have seen that in the liberal dissent during the pontificates of St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. We are seeing it now in the current conservative dissent against Pope Francis.

This means, instead of looking to God’s Church as receiving the authority to bind and loose from Christ (see Matthew 16:19, 18:18), we look to ourselves to bind and loose the Church. In doing so, we make ourselves no different from the non-Catholics who reject the authority of the Church because it goes against their conception of the truth. But, while the non-Catholic might be invincibly ignorant about the fact that the Catholic Church was established by Christ and teaches with His authority, we Catholics do not have any such excuse. In fact, by arguing that the Pope and bishops are acting against the Church teachings, we acknowledge that we know the Church has this power.

And then we are back to the initial problem the factional Catholic must face. To be a faithful Catholic, one must accept the teaching authority of the Church… today just as much as in the past. The moment we reject that, we open any teaching a faction of Catholics dislikes to being labeled as “error” or “opinion.”

Therefore, I say: If a Catholic is for a Faction, he or she is not behaving like a Catholic at all. It is only if we remember that God’s protection of His Church applies in every age that we can be faithful… not by clinging to some teachings that we like while pretending the rest don’t count.



(†) While I try to keep my opinions off my blog because it is about Catholic teaching and not my views, I suspect anyone looking at my Facebook feed can determine what views trouble me more.

(‡) From the Code of Canon Law:

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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Opposing Evil Outside and Inside

There's battle lines being drawn

Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind


It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down


What a field-day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly say, hooray for our side


—Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth


Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a troubling trend. The anger over the George Floyd killing and the anger over the riots were pitted against each other, so that any expression of sympathy or concern was seen as an endorsement of the opposing evil. So, being angry at the killing was seen as an endorsement of the riots, while being angry over the rioting was seen as an endorsement of police racism. Any expression of opposing the extremes on both evils tends to be treated as a “both sides” moral equivalence.

The problem is, there are evils on both sides and each side must oppose the extremists on their own side if we are to see any real reforms. Those who are angered by the killing of Mr. Floyd need to make clear that rioting is not an appropriate response. Those who are angered by the rioting need to make clear that support for the police in general does not mean giving the police carte blanche when an officer does wrong or if a particular police department has an inherent injustice. 

The teaching of the Catholic Church applies to all factions here: “One may never do evil so that good may result from it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1789). That includes turning a blind eye to an evil because we believe in or otherwise benefit from the good. Prudence may dictate how we respond in opposing evil, but we can never ignore the valid concerns of others, even if we cannot accept their response.

The Catholic Church has openly condemned the killing and the racism it forces us to confront—that condemnation even coming from the Pope, who called opposing racism a pro-life issue. But I have seen some Catholics say that the Church should focus on “real” issues instead, while others say that the Church has not “done enough.” I think both of these subgroups are using the murder of Mr. Floyd as a proxy for their battle over ideology, wanting the Church to behave as they think. We should reject both of them as we seek to solve the evils in our country because both are (even if sincere and blind to their errors) focused on partisanship.

I’m not saying that the two evils cancel each other out here, or that the existence of an evil in one group negates the valid concerns that group has. I’m saying this: When we oppose an evil, we need to make sure we do not embrace or tolerate evils in our own group out of expedience or thinking “that’s not as important.” In opposing racism, we must make it clear we also reject evil means of opposing it. In opposing rioting, we must make it clear we also reject the evils that sparked the rioting.

If we won’t do that, we’re not working for justice, but partisanship. And nothing will change as long as we do that.



(†) For my non-American readers, America doesn’t have a national police force outside of the limited nature of the FBI and the US Marshals. Some of our states don’t even have state police, having only local city or county jurisdictions. So, any reform of “the system” actually means reforming many systems, some better than others, some worse. Problems with police brutality have come from both “Blue” and “Red” states, regardless of which party is in political power at the national level. (As usual, I put the terms in alphabetical order to avoid appearance of bias), so reforming this issue is not going to be simply a matter of “regime change.”

(‡) Please be aware that, by referring to these two subgroups, I am not saying that all people opposed to a certain evil are guilty. Please review THIS if you think that by saying “some,” that I mean all.