Showing posts with label factions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label factions. Show all posts

Monday, January 16, 2023

It’s Iimi! Plots… and Machen—ations

As Irene prepares to return to school, a masked intruder recklessly leaks a compromising email to benefit her. A lost syllabus comes to light. Will this set things right? Or will it turn out into an escalating series of… Plots and Machen-ations
















































Post-Comic notes:

We learn something about Della’s temperament and past. I was laying some clues about it during the 2021-22 seasons, and we’ll see more in the future. It’s not a “pro-vigilante” comic. In Catholic morality, we can’t do evil, so good might come from it. Della did indeed force the issue. But the morality and results are very much in question… and she knows. And, at the end of the story, we can see it might not have even helped.

 

In practical terms, I started 2023 with the arc of Iimi’s collapse because I felt the characters needed to develop. For example, I didn’t like the rest of the cast becoming side characters in a Socratic dialogue: “Yes, Socrates… you are so wise, Socrates.” So, I began laying clues of Iimi burning out and her friends realizing she couldn’t do it alone. While I never had a breakdown like Iimi (Issue 148), the experiences and feelings are things I’ve known.


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

It’s Iimi! Walking the Talk

In living the Christian life, it's easy to corrupt it into doing good to our friends while showing antipathy to those who hate us. But Jesus spoke against that attitude. As He pointed out, even pagans and tax collectors do that! (Matthew 5:46-47). Ignoring injustice done to those who hate us is not compatible with our Christian calling.

 

Even if we were foolish enough to ignore what our Lord taught us, it doesn't even make sense pragmatically to behave that way. Injustice done to others can be done to us as well. And if we don't oppose an evil when it first emerges, we may learn that nobody will be left to help us when evildoers turn on us. It's not enough to be "Talking the talk," merely saying the things that sound right. We need to be walking the talk, even when it costs us.


Content Alert:

(The reader should be aware that some of the characters use slurs in referring to others. I do not do this with approval of that language, but rather I do it to point out attitudes we cannot  hold as Christians, but some tragically do.)
























Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Factional Nonsense: A Problem Plaguing American Catholicism

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. 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 1:10-13)

There’s been a story going around (soon to be a released documentary) about the late Norma McCorvey—the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade—that she was first the face of pro-abortion and then pro-life because of money. I don’t know if this is true or a matter of convenient editing in response to the fear that abortion might lose its protected status. Indeed, we have contradictory accounts from people who were alleged to have been paying her. If it’s false, she’s not around to defend herself. If it’s true, that might be the origin of the movie Citizen Ruth. But I noticed that the usual suspects in Catholic America swooped in to use this as one more opportunity to demonize their opponents. 

And that’s a problem. Too many American Catholics are seeing this as just one more battleground to advance their political views while pretending they are defending the real meaning of Catholic teaching. I don’t doubt that both of these factions have members who are sincere about the people who they try to help by their cause. But I’m seeing a disturbing number of American Catholics who seem to show more schadenfreude over whatever makes their opponents look bad than concern about people.

American Factional Catholicism tends to be split into two groups: conservatives who think that things they don’t like in the Church are liberal, and liberals who think the things they don’t like in the Church are conservative… often to the point of trying to insist that the Church embrace their politics if they want to be truly in step with God. And they sneer when they do so. We’ll hear that the bishops belong to the other side of the political divide and are partisan in doing so when they speak against the preferred faction. We’ll see accusations that the Catholics from faction A are not truly Catholic because they maliciously support the evil in their faction.

Both of these factions ought to be rejected. The Catholic teaching is not factional, and both of our American factions are at odds with the Church in serious ways. But all too often we see Catholics from these factions think that only the “other side” is political.

It’s time for us to stop putting up with factional nonsense. If we’re inclined to lean towards one faction in determining who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy,” we need to rethink our understanding of the Church. We’re called to evangelize the whole world and reform our own lives in the process. That means being aware of the log in our own eye before we look down on others for the splinter in the eyes of other people. If we’re willing to make excuses for our own faction while condemning Catholics from another faction for doing the same, we are no better than they are. If we demand that everyone obey the Church where we agree and refuse to do so where we disagree, we are no better than they are. And, since we ought to know our obligations, what do we call it if we refuse to do it?

But if we look to overcome the evils in the factions we think are more beneficial and respond in charity to those who belong to factions we oppose, we might find ourselves doing God’s work instead of behaving like factions that pretend to be serving God when they’re really serving themselves.

And if we’re tempted to think that this is a problem only with the “other side,” then we need to start with ourselves.

_______________


(†) The premise of the movie is a satire about pro- and anti-abortion activists battling to use the title character as a symbol for their causes, and using money to bribe Ruth (a grossly irresponsible drug addict of a character), forgetting her humanity. When it came out it was roundly condemned by both sides for playing up the stereotypes of their own side.

(‡) And (as an aside for the non-American reader), unfortunately, in America it is a both. We’re very dualistic, politically.

(∑) To avoid appearances of political bias, I try to sort Conservative-Liberal and Democrat-Republican dichotomies in alphabetical order. I also try to capitalize or leave the compared terms as lowercase consistently as well. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hatred as a Response to Mercy

At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them—in this case the Pope—he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint. (Benedict XVI. Letter of March 10, 2009)

Benedict XVI wrote these words in response to the backlash over the lifting of excommunication of the four illicit bishops of the SSPX and a call to reconcile them back into the Church. I recall the controversy of the time. In the now defunct Xanga version of my blog, I had written that while I personally had misgivings over the decision, I recognized his right to make this decision under his authority to govern the governing of the Church.

Recently re-encountering this letter, I was struck by the similarities between the message of mercy Benedict XVI had for the members of the SSPX who were (and, sadly, still are) at odds with the Church, and the message of mercy Pope Francis has for those at odds with the Church (like the divorced and remarried). But people seem to favor the outreach to one, but not to the other. In both cases, we have people willing to point out the wrongdoing on those unrepentant in the group and say that the Pope is in favor of their wrongdoing… otherwise he would never have opened the door to mercy. And, of course, it is easy to see the fault in the other side’s mercy while downplaying the problems that inevitably crop up with the mercy shown to a faction that we have empathy for.

Perhaps we should consider this when we look at those at odds with the Church. Whatever they have done, God desires our salvation, and calls on the Church to be His ordinary means to bring His salvation to the world. While we cannot force others at odds with the Church to accept that salvation, we must never tire of trying to be God’s coworkers for the truth (cf. 3 John 1:8), no matter what we think of the actions that have put them at odds with God and His Church… even if they should think that their wrong is “right.”

Yes, I hate how certain Catholics misrepresent the Pope through ignorance or malice. I also deplore how certain people misrepresent his words to lobby for “changes” that are incompatible with Church teaching. But I can’t treat them hatefully, even if I should speak against them forcefully.  Wherever I have failed in this, I must reconsider my attitude.

This isn’t a matter of factions. This is about making certain we do not fall into rash judgment or mercilessness in dealing with those at odds with the Church. We are called to be merciful to each other, forgiving seventy times seven because God is merciful to us, and if we will not be merciful, we cannot expect it from God (cf. Matthew 18:21-35).

Pope Francis warns against a Pelagian mindset in dealing with others. In Gaudete et Exsultate, he says:

49. Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.”

 And in the footnotes, he points to Evangelii Gaudium #94 where he writes:

A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

This is something that happens across the factions within the Church. Catholics in America frequently classify what is reallyCatholic according to their personal preferences, to the point that you can identify the political views of the Catholic doing the judging. But we cannot write people off because their positions err. The task is to help them understand why their position is in error and help them to find the truth taught by the Church—not to compel them to embrace the political contrary of their position.

If we forget our role as individual Catholics and as members of the Catholic Church as a whole, we’ll be missing the point of our calling. We’re not called to play “goalies” keeping undesirables away from the Church. We’re called to play medics in a field hospital, bringing them to know Christ and why it is important to change our ways to follow Him. People tend to do a poor job detecting their own hypocrisy, but do a good job seeing it in others. So, if there is hypocrisy in our own behavior, rest assured others will see it and recognize that we’re not doing unto others what we would have them do to us or those we sympathize with.

This is why Benedict XVI’s words should be heeded. There are some people who hold things we abhor. We might want them to leave—or be thrown out of—the Church, and we might be scandalized when the Pope reaches out to them. But he’s doing what he must as the Vicar of Christ, and if we condemn him for doing so, we’re merely displaying our hatred of our foes, not our fidelity to the Church’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

 

(†) The reader will have to decide how well or how badly I have done on this.

(‡) The disputes between the so-called “Original Pro-Life Movement” and the “New Pro-Life Movement” sometimes tends to say more about the party affiliation that the members subscribe to than their knowledge of the moral obligations which they often downplay when it’s inconvenient.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Taking Back the Church: It’s NOT What Some Think It Is

Twenty years ago, I had finished my Masters in theology at a university renown for its fidelity to the Church and the Pope. It was clear to everyone that if we would be faithful Catholics, we needed to remain faithful and not fall into dissent. Today, I see many (including some who came from the same university) who now speak contemptuously about the successor to Peter and behave like it falls to them to defend the Church from those tasked with shepherding it, who call the religious submission of intellect and will we all accepted twenty years ago “ultramontanism” or even “papolatry.” 

It is a reminder that no individual can guarantee their remaining faithful to the Church unless they put their trust in God to protect the Church. This protection cannot be sporadic, today protecting the Pope in Rome, tomorrow protecting an archbishop who accuses the Pope. Either God consistently protects the visible magisterium under the headship of the Pope or He does not protect it at all. If He does not protect it at all, then we can never know for certain when the Church taught truth...not even when the Church defined the canon of Scripture.

Some of these Catholics raise slogans that we need to “take back the Church.” I think the slogan is true, but not in the sense these Catholics mean it. To take back the Church is not to take it back in time to where one thinks the Faith was practiced “properly,” eliminating what we dislike. Nor is it “taking the Church back from those successors to the apostles who we dislike.” No, taking back the Church means taking it back to the proper understanding of obedience—something that can exist regardless of who the Pope is and how he applies past teachings to the present age.

To be faithful to God means keeping His commandments (John 14:15). Since He made obedience to His Church mandatory (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), if we want to be faithful to Him, we must be faithful to His Church. This was true when the worst of men sat on the Chair of Peter, and it is true now. If Our Lord did not create an exception for obedience with John XII, we can be certain He did not create an exception for obedience with Pope Francis.

There is a deadly movement in the Church. One filled with people who that believes that the magisterium can err but they cannot. They claim to be faithful to the true teachings of the Church but no saints behaved in this way. The saints offered obedience to the Popes and bishops who remained in communion with the Popes... even if these saints turned out to be holier than some Popes. What these members of this movement are acting like are not saints, but like the heresiarchs who insisted that the Church was in error but they were not.

To appeal to the credentials of the current dissenters, I once had a critic of the Pope tell me that one of the people making accusations against the Pope had a doctorate. To which I can only reply, “So did Hans Küng, so what’s your point?” Education is not a guarantee of infallibility. The authority of the Pope is not in his education or his reputation for holiness (though this Pope has both). His authority comes from the charism that comes from his office.

Unfortunately critics appeal to a hypothetical crisis to deny the authority of the Pope or a Church teaching that they despise. They ask, “what if a Pope were to teach X?” X being something that clearly contradicts Scripture or Church teaching. The argument is meant to imply that such an error would prove the Pope heretical and therefore we cannot provide the obedience required to the Pope on other areas we think wrong.

The problem is, the Pope has never taught this hypothetical X, no matter how many times people expected it. They constantly claim that the Pope will “legitimize” homosexuality, contraception, remarriages and the like. In fact, he has consistently reaffirmed Church teaching on these subjects. He has simply called for mercy and compassion for those sinners that they might be helped back to right relationship with God and His Church.

The fact is, while we have had morally bad Popes (like Benedict IX and John XII) and suspected theologically bad Popes (like Liberius and Honorius I), they have never taught error. Unfortunately, the anti-Francis critics seem to think infallibility is something like prophecy where the Pope declares a new doctrine. Infallibility is a negative charism that prevents him from teaching falsely. 

An illustration of this could be: if the Pope’s infallibility was in mathematics instead of teaching faith and morals, how many questions on a math test would he have to answer correctly to be infallible? If you answered “all of them,” then you have misunderstood infallibility. The answer is “zero.” The Pope could submit a blank answer sheet.

This is why the Church has always taught that when the Pope teaches—even if that teaching is not ex cathedra—we are bound to obey (canon 752). He is not teaching a mixture of truth and heresy. A future Pope might change discipline in a way that the current Pope does not. A future Pope might address conditions in the world that the Church today doesn’t have to deal with. These things don’t mean that the current Pope is wrong.

But when he teaches as Pope, whether by ordinary or extraordinary magisterium, we are bound to obey. If it seems strange to us, we must realize that we can err and trust God to keep His promises to protect the Church—under the authority of the Pope—from teaching error.

The ones we need to take back the Church from are not predatory priests and bishops who covered up (though we must oppose them while remaining faithful to the Church). We need to take back the Church from those who claim to be faithful while rejecting the successors of the apostles. Until we do, the Church will simply become more factionalized until someone finally commits a formal schism.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

You Are The Man! (2 Samuel 12:7)

Catholic factions on social media bears unfortunate witness to the fact that we’re little different than the ones we’re supposed to bear witness to: We’re good at spotting when those they disagree with act at odds with the Faith. We’re not so good at spotting when they fall short themselves. 

The result of this is we see conservative Catholics correctly point out how liberal Catholics fail to defend life and liberal Catholics correctly point out how conservative Catholics fail to support social justice—but neither group considers evangelizing their own faction where it goes wrong. The result of this is Catholic factions reducing our moral obligations to what they already agree with while downplaying or ignoring the real evil their faction commits. We’ve effectively become like the Pharisee in Our Lord’s parable (Luke 18:9-14)—we’re proud of what we do and look with contempt on those who don’t act as we do. But we don’t acknowledge our own sins.

That’s a serious matter.  If a Catholic views his faith in terms of his politics, he has replaced his faith with an idol. Our Lord is demoted from God and Savior to the archetype of the political platform he values. This is not a call for moral relativism. This is pointing out that no political faction is synonymous with our moral obligations. If a Catholic thinks he can downplay the issues his party is in the wrong over, he is not being a faithful Catholic, even if he is “right” on other issues.

To be a Catholic is to devote our entire life to God, rejecting whatever is contrary to Him. It is not a case of a bizarre moral calculus where we devalue issues we are less concerned over in favor of the positions we’d support regardless of what the Church teaches. If we allow ourselves to compromise our moral obligations when it harms our party or candidate, we’re no better than the Catholic we hold in contempt—for doing exactly the same thing! So let us avoid immediately thinking of how the other side does that as a defensive mechanism.

Our Lord warned us about hypocrisy in judgment (Matthew 7:1-5). While we must go out to the world and tell them of the right way to live (Matthew 28:20), we cannot excuse in ourselves what we condemn in others. Otherwise, at the Final Judgment we might find that—in waiting for “the other guy” to be judged—that Our Lord tells us the same thing the Prophet Nathan told King David: You are the man! (2 Samuel 12:7)

If He does, we will have no defense.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Change, Perception, and Dissent

When people accuse the Church of changing, they generally think the Church is contradicting herself. They think that the Church now sanctions something she originally thought was a sin. What they don’t consider is that the Church refines her teaching, so that as humanity discovers more ways to do evil, the Church applies her teaching to the circumstances of an age in order that people of that age might be saved.

Critics that think this way can be opposed to change and think that the Church fell into error after a certain point. Or they can favor change and think the Church finally got something right. Both err, because they don’t understand what is changing.

For example, some Catholics believe that because the Church stopped mandating meatless Fridays, or changed Church teaching on lending money, she can change her teaching on sexual morality. What they fail to understand is where the sin was in the first place. Mandatory meatless Fridays had nothing to do with the evil of meat. It was about the Church setting a mandatory penance on Fridays. Those who refused to cooperate were rejecting the authority of the Church to bind the faithful. The Church changing the penance for Fridays was not a contradiction. It was a permission for people to find a more suitable penance if needed (abstinence from meat is still recommended). Likewise, the Church never changed her teaching that usury is a sin. Rather she made the distinction between demanding interest from helping someone in need and investing money and expecting a return. Usury is still a sin.

In both cases, the person who believes those cases were changing Church teaching on sin are in error. They were about deepening the understanding of what makes a sin morally wrong. 

I think of this as dissent solidifies against Pope Francis and his teachings on dealing with the divorced and remarried. Some people believe he is saying that the Church was wrong before on divorce/remarriage. But he is not. Reading Amoris Lætitia shows he recognizes the Catholic understanding of marriage and the evils of divorce. Most of the Apostolic Exhortation is about instructing the Church on the need to prepare couples for marriage and providing support for the existing marriages.

Chapter 8 exists because there are people who are in the situation that the Church wants to avoid—the people who have divorced and remarried when the previous marriage is valid in the eyes of the Church. The Pope’s intent is on getting these people back into right relationship with God and His Church. When it comes to the “infamous” Footnote 351, the Pope is recognizing that this, like all other sins, can have cases where even though the matter is grave, the knowledge or intention does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. If circumstances do not meet the requirements of mortal sin, then the person is not committing a mortal sin. He urges bishops and confessors to evaluate whether this is the case in specific instances. He does not open the Eucharist to whoever wants to receive it.

But that’s exactly what the critics claim he is doing. They claim (with approval or disapproval) that he opens the Eucharist to “all who feel called.” They can’t get beyond the idea that the matter is grave, and assuming that the Pope’s refinement of teaching is a claim that either divorce/remarriage is no longer grave or that mortal sins are no longer a bar to the Eucharist. 

In making this assumption, the critics show a fundamental misunderstanding. The Pope is neither changing “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin,” nor changing the obligations before receiving the Eucharist. He is merely asking the bishops to evaluate whether there are any cases where culpability is reduced. The critics overlook the possibility that a bishop will evaluate the cases in good faith and find that the number meeting that criteria is ZERO. (Some have gone so far as to claim that such bishops are opposed to the Pope).

The problem is, too many are using their (false) perception of what they think the Church is to judge the current conditions of the Church. Those who object to things like the Church teaching on contraception or women’s ordination as if the Church was always wrong and they hope that the Church will someday “get a clue.” Others who think that the cultural attitudes of the 16th century were doctrine, treat the Church from 1958 onwards as if it was a contradictory change and therefore a “heresy.”

But both views are error in themselves. When the Church teaches on faith and morals, she does not contradict herself in teaching moral absolutes, even if she should determine one approach is better suited for the current age than the previous one. Both of these views are the same error. The liberal Catholics think the past Church was wrong; the conservative Catholics think the current Church is wrong. Both are going wrong because they are in error about the nature of the Church.

Another form of this error is the labeling of Pope or bishop in light 0f one’s political outlook. The person who labels a shepherd 0f the Church as liberal because he speaks out on social justice, or the person who labels a shepherd of the Church as conservative because he speaks out on the right to life is letting their perception poison their view of the Church.

To avoid this error, we have to stop confusing our perception with the reality of the Church. We believe that the Church possesses the authority—given by Our Lord—to teach in His name, and when the Church teaches, we must give assent. Sometimes, when the Church teaches ex cathedra, we hold that this teaching is defining doctrine. But even when the Church teaches and preaches with the ordinary magisterium, we are obliged to hear and follow. This excludes the argument that the Church “errs” and, therefore, justifies ignoring the teaching.

This is the danger a growing number of Catholics are falling into. I’ve seen Catholics I hitherto respected, who defended previous Popes against the accusations of supporting error, suddenly act as if this current pontificate is an exception to the protection God gives the Church. I’ve seen known dissidents suddenly pretend to be faithful Catholics, ignoring the fact that they failed to give the Pope’s predecessors the same assent they claim to give now.

Even though both groups despise each other and blame each other for what they think is wrong with the Church, they foment dissent and accuse the other side of it, never realizing that they are guilty of what they condemn in the “other side.” But this is not an invincible ignorance. The fact that they condemn this behavior in others means they know it is wrong. Our Lord Himself warned us of the consequences of rejecting His Church (Matthew 7:21ff, 18:17, Luke 10:16).

So let us be wary of our perception. It can mislead us into wrongly assessing change and lead us into dissent that puts us at odds with the Church we claim to defend. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Church and the Self-Centered Catholic

Introduction

The Church, over the past two thousand years and including today, has continued her mission of being faithful to Our Lord’s teaching. She evangelizes and she fulfills the commands of love and justice. She cares about the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Sadly, we have some in the faith who assume that if the Church does not explicitly focus on what they care about, or if they focus on what these people don’t care about, then the Church is accused of not being faithful. Depending on the slant of the critic, the same Church is accused of ignoring past teaching and of ignoring Our Lord’s commands to love.

But when we look at the complaints, they have something in common, no matter how vast the ideological divide. That commonality is believing the Church has failed if she does not act as I see best. This is a problem because it makes the individual preference take precedence over the discernment of the magisterium. The decisions of the magisterium on how to apply the teachings of Our Lord as handed on to the Apostles are reduced into an opinion—no more valuable than anybody else’s and often less valuable.

Confusing Preference With Truth

The problem is, we’re tempted to think that we have got things right. If others disagree, it means they are wrong. If problems don’t seem to subside, it means the Church “doesn’t care” or even “supports error.” Such views overlook the possibility of our own error, the possibility of more options than we have considered, or the possibility of people rejecting the Church teaching. In other words, if we think the problems in the Church are because the Church does not handle things as we see best, then we are self-centered Catholics

To head off objections, I want to make clear that I am not saying we should be passive when some Catholics support something morally wrong. As Catholic Christians, we have the right to expect our clergy, religious, and laity to provide the true faith and not their self-imposed opinions (cf. Canon 213). The problem is, self-deception is easy. We can trick ourselves into labeling the warnings of conscience rising from Church teaching as “political” or “heretical.” 

Too often we assume God, previous successors to the Apostles, the saints, etc., think like we do. What we want becomes DEUS VULT! What we don’t like is obviously “error.” But is that the case? If we don’t like Church teaching on contraception, on divorce/remarriage; if we don’t like the Church changing discipline on the Form of the Mass or how to interact with other religions, we accuse the Church of betraying Christ or betraying the past teachings of the Church, depending on what proof-texting we can use to justify ourselves. 

Do We Center Our Preferences on Ignorance about our Ignorance?

Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. (Apologia 21)

 

Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition, vol. 2 (New York; London: Oxford University Press, 1892), 113–114.

What’s not asked is, Do I properly understand what the Church teaches and accepts as legitimate obedience to those teachings? If we think we know what the Church teaches and think we understand the person we think at odds with the Church, but we actually are mistaken about one or both, we may be condemning what the Church accepts or supporting that which is incompatible with Church teaching—all the while thinking we are doing right.

On one side, I see Catholics dissenting from Pope Francis on the basis of what they think he supports and what they think Church teaching allows. The problem is, a review of their attacks show they neither understand what he actually said, nor understand the Church teaching he references. Many assume his teachings on social justice reflect a “leftist” anti-capitalist political view. I think these critics have never read Pope Pius XI, or St. John Paul II when they wrote on moral obligations in economics. Many assume his position on divorced/remarried Catholics shows moral laxity, ignoring the reality of intrinsic evil. These critics seem to show no recognition about the question of individual culpability. They seem to be unaware that the Pope asks bishops and confessors to investigate the conditions of individual Catholics, not look for loopholes. They seem to confuse discipline, which can be changed, with doctrine, which cannot.

On the other side, I see some Catholics who are proud of their defense of Pope Francis but behaved just as badly towards his predecessors as current dissenters behave towards Pope Francis. They sought to contrast a loving Jesus against a bureaucratic, heartless Church. They showed no understanding on why the Church said something could not be changed. They viewed the male priesthood and the condemnation of abortion and contraception as proof of “patriarchy.” They assumed that any attempt to determine what barred people from the Eucharist as “being obsessed with rules.” 

In both groups, the assumption was that the Church went wrong when she taught differently than the critics wanted—usually when her teaching showed them as being in the wrong. Both groups assume God doesn’t care about what they don’t care about. Yet both groups are willing to point fingers at each other where the other group goes wrong. This finger pointing shows that they are aware that the Church teaches, and that they appeal to it when it suits them. But with this awareness, it shows one has no excuse if we only apply Church teachings to others and never bother to ask if we fail in our own behavior.

Conclusion

Pharisee and Tax collector

I think the temptation to self-centeredness leads us to judge others rather than go through the trouble to investigate ourselves. We think that God cares more about the sins of those we disagree with than ours. We forget that the deadliest sin for each one of us is the one that sends us to hell, not the one we’re not tempted by. So if we can’t be bothered to look at our own sins and repent of them, we might be horrified at the Last Judgment, if Our Lord says to us,‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:23.) St. Paul warned us, Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12).

If we’re so self centered that we think that all flaws are with the “other side,” and that even the magisterium of the Church can be on the “other side” if her stance is against us, we are likely to find, at the Last Judgment, that we were on the wrong side all along.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Blind Guides

24 Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:24–26)

Introduction

Fire breatherHow many Catholics on Social Media
Come Across Today, Sadly… 

There are very vocal groups of Catholics out there who are fighting tooth and nail about the belief that their preferences are the only true view, and pretending they are the defenders of religion. These groups have a hatred for whoever disagrees with them on the grounds they knowingly support the evils this faction oppose. While the political platforms they support are different, their tactics are the same. When the party they oppose is in power, they condemn what they do loudly. When their own party is in power, they ignore it when that party does wrong. Of course, these groups will point out the hypocrisy of the other faction, but ignore it when it found on their own side. They are acting against our Catholic faith, but both assume only the other group is.

These groups are adept at citing Scripture and Church documents to play “gotcha” with their foes—You claim to be Catholic, but you’re ignoring X! The problem is, nobody seems to pay too close attention to the full teaching. They downplay the Church teachings they value less, while angrily demanding everyone value the Church teachings they hold important. What they forget is they’re all important—the deadliest sin is the one that sends you personally to hell. If we forget that, and spend all our times looking at the evils of others, we’re acting like Pharisees—and that’s not a title that only applies to one faction.

These factions don’t have clean hands. When Obama was president, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on abortion and sexual morality. Now that Trump is in power, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on social justice. These factions bash the bishops as political when they speak out on the issues that their factions are wrong on, while using them as a symbol of purity when they speak out on what they already believe.

One Big Error Paired with Many Ideologies

The problem is thinking of this as a clash between two factions. Any faction can be a part of this. It’s based on the assumption that whoever disagrees with me must support the opposition. Thus whoever speaks against a political evil stands accused of all the evils the other side supports. Whoever questions whether an accusation is just is accused of defending the crime. Logically this is the either-or fallacy and it ignores the possibility of there being a third choice or a rejection of both positions. 

The clash between two positions can only be valid if there are only two positions, and everybody takes one of these two sides. But if there are more than two sides, then a person can say, “I think you’re both wrong.” It would be wrong to accuse this person of standing for evil or ignoring other issues simply because they disagree. Yes, some  take a partisan view about their faith, but not everyone. So when we see someone accusing another of being a “anti-abortion but not pro-life,” or a “Hillary supporter” because the target disagrees with their conclusions, this is a sign of someone blinded by their ideology.

Avoiding the Error

What we need to remember is this: We need to accurately learn what a person holds, and critique that. We can’t assume that because a person disagrees with us, that he endorses the opposite view. The critic may simply think we have gone wrong in our argument. In that case, we need to understand why this person rejects our reasoning. This is not an argument calling for relativism. Rather, it is the Church, led by the Pope and bishops, who interpret how to apply Church teaching in each generation, and they are the measure of orthodoxy. We trust God protects them from teaching error in binding matter (which can be a case of guiding the shepherd not to teach at all). 

So if a person deliberately rejects or misrepresents Church teaching, this must be opposed. But we also have to consider the possibility of others faithfully following Church teaching, but preferring a different way of doing so, or even of being sincerely in error. It would be monstrously unjust to accuse them of being false Catholics willfully defending evil.

Conclusion

If we would avoid being blind guides leading others into a ditch (Matthew 15:14), we have to consider whether we have misunderstood those we disagree with, or even our own faith. St. Paul once believed he was doing good in persecuting Christians, because he thought he was opposing a blasphemous heresy. He learned he was wrong about how God viewed Christians, hating what God Himself willed.

Yes, there are Catholics out there who support evil positions, and think the bishops are “political” when they speak against these evils. Yes, they need to be corrected, but corrected with charity so as to return them to the sheepfold. Even if we’re defending the right view, if we drive people away from considering the right way to live, what have we gained? And if we’re defending a position contrary to God’s will, while believing we are faithful, we do great harm.

So we need to be certain we properly understand what the Church teaches, we need to be certain we properly understand what our opponents are saying, and we need to respond in charity. If we fail on one or more of these, we run the risk of being blind guides leading people astray into thinking our personal preferences are truth and driving them into error.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thoughts on Authority and Disobedience

The Church has rules. That’s not open for debate. Some of these rules come from doctrine: God has taught us, and we cannot disobey these rules without disobeying Him. Others come from the Church applying her beliefs to face situations that arise in a given time, We cannot disobey these rules (Luke 10:16), but the Church can decide to change them when conditions change. Dangers arise when people confuse these things. If one assumes that Our Lord’s teaching is a “man made rule,” or that a discipline is Our Lord’s teaching, they wind up rebelling against Our Lord and the Church He established.

There’s more to it than that, however. Some confuse their assumptions about Scripture or about Church teaching are the teaching of Our Lord or His Church, when they actually apply restrictions or laxity which are not present. As Catholics, we’re blessed to have a Magisterium which has the right and responsibility to determine how these teachings are to be understood and applied in each age. They have the authority to decide when a change of discipline is needed and how Our Lord’s teachings, as passed on to us by the Apostles, faces the new challenges from the world.

Our Lord gave the Church the authority to bind and loose in His name, and this authority did not end with the death of the Apostles, but continues on with their successors until the end of the world. There will occasionally be Judases among them, but we believe the Lord will keep His promises and protect the Church from teaching error. These promises are important. If we did not know who was protected from teaching error, we could never know who we could trust to properly bind and loose. If the Bishop of Rome could sometimes truth and sometimes err—as happened with the patriarchates of ancient Christendom—how could we know who to turn to?

The history of the ancient Church tells us of sincere men who believed that the words of Scripture taught something contrary to the Church. These men persuaded emperors and patriarchs to embrace errors about the faith. It was only the Bishop of Rome that consistently resisted these errors. Sometimes that was tenuous—that a Pope might only be silent instead of teaching error—but the evidence shows that Popes did not teach error when using their authority to teach [†]. If a Pope were to teach that it was permissible to do evil, this would be a matter of the Church binding error, permitting a Catholic to do something which endangered their souls. The next Pope to do this would be the first.

Understanding this, we can see how reckless it is to accuse the Pope of teaching error, against the true faith of the Church. Such an accusation goes far beyond the accusation of the man holding the office. It must assert that God does not protect His Church and we must decide for ourselves when the Church teaches rightly or wrongly. That’s a recipe for spiritual anarchy, and contrary to what the Church teaches about herself. 

Accordingly, some who disagree with the direction a Pope takes try to downplay the authority of a teaching. Since the Church teaches that the faithful must obey her teachings, some try to claim that a teaching is not binding unless it is infallible. Others try to draw a dividing line over what level of Papal document is binding [*] and claim that an unpopular document is neither binding nor protected from error. That is to legalistically split hairs. Even before Vatican II, the Church had a clear idea as to when the Pope was not protected from error:

The Pope is therefore not infallible when he gives a decision as man, bishop, scholar, preacher, or confessor, nor when he expresses an opinion on questions of art, politics, or secular science. Infallibility is quite distinct from personal impeccability.

 

F. J. Koch, A Manual of Apologetics, ed. Charles Bruehl, trans. A. M. Buchanan (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1915), 177–178.

One can exclude a press conference, an interview, decisions governing the diocese of Rome, writing a book [§], giving a homily and the like. But when the Pope, or those authorized by him, gives instruction, we are obliged to obey:

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), 248.

Yes, we can have (charitable) differences of opinion on how to best carry out these decrees, but we can’t refuse obedience in the name of appealing to an earlier teaching of the Church or by trying to contrast the Bible with the Church. Unfortunately, people do make these appeals. Critics of St. John Paul II appealed to the Bible with selective quotes on love and mercy. Critics of Pope Francis try to argue that he contradicts his predecessors.

The problem is, if we accept their claims, we’re back to the problem of never being able to know when the magisterium taught truly and when they did not. Some liberal Catholics reject Popes they dislike. Some conservative Catholics do the same. Without a final authority, who can determine who is right? We’d be reduced to making the appeal the Mormons make about the Book of Mormon: Feeling a “burning of the breast.” But heretics feel just as strongly about their errors as orthodox Catholics feel about the truth. So we can’t rely on what feels right, or how we interpret Scripture or Church teaching. We must use the magisterium as the guide. If we proclaim that we can’t trust the authority of the Church today, then we have no guide at all. We merely have a Church with a billion Popes.

We can trust God to protect the Pope from teaching error as Pope. That can either be through extraordinary tools, like ex cathedra teachings, or it can be from preventing a morally bad Pope from teaching, or somewhere in between. But we can’t declare a teaching we dislike as somehow being an exception to our obligation to obey the Pope when he teaches. We can’t invent excuses not to obey. So, having faith in God to protect His Church, we should pray for the Pope and bishops to be effective teachers.

 

_________________________

[†] Pope John XXII held a private opinion on the Beatific Vision which his successor later defined to the contrary. But at the time, it was not defined, and he did not teach as Pope on the subject. Pope Honorius may or may not have personally believed in Monothelitism (Scholars are divided). However, he did not formally teach it as Pope. The documents under contention were private letters.

[*] Ironically, some of these critics will simultaneously say that a Papal statement is not binding but somehow prove the Pope is “teaching error.” If it is a teaching, it is binding (See Code of Canon Law, #751-754). If it is not teaching, the Pope is not “teaching” error.

[§] For example, Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy was very insightful, but not protected under infallibility.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

False Interpretations and Unspoken Assumptions

There’s no doubt that there is infighting in the Church. Without getting into who is right and who is wrong, Catholics are pitted against each other. This time, it is not just orthodox vs. heterodox. Added to that conflict is a civil war between Catholics professing to be faithful to the Church—indeed Catholics who strove to defend the Church during earlier pontificates—on whether one needs to oppose the current shepherds or whether that is wrong. One of the areas of contention is over the claim that we never had this level of confusion in the Church before (a claim I disagree with).

I have a few theories. One of them involves the growth of Social Media plus smart phones allowing us to be instantly misinformed about what is going on with the Church. One who wants to undermine the Church can now reach a global audience as opposed to xeroxed pamphlets shoved under people’s windshield wipers. But that’s only one part of the problem. It doesn’t explain how some stalwart defenders of previous Popes can now turn on the current one. To some critics of the current Pope, they don’t see how one can support him without rejecting his predecessors. Since they know his predecessors taught truly, they believe they have to oppose the Pope today.

Yes, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did explain boundaries of intrinsic evil. Nobody denies that. But what we forget is they also stressed reconciling the sinners to God, not expelling them from the Church, except for grave issues in hopes that would bring them back to their senses. Like it or not, they did have teachings against unrestrained capitalism and destruction of the environment (in earlier documents, they called it “ecology”). Like it or not, there were bishops who did regrettable things during their pontificates but remained in their positions. There were pro-abortion Catholics who were never excommunicated back then too. We tend to forget these things and that some Catholics bitterly condemned them.

It seems to me that Pope Francis takes his predecessors’ teaching on intrinsic evil as a given and has devoted his teaching to emphasize what we overlooked (but was always present) in his predecessors’ teachings—how to reach out to those Catholics estranged from the Church in the hopes of bringing them back. This is why I think some have missed the point of previous papal teaching: We were so concerned with blocking those people actively trying to corrupt Church teaching (and they existed), that we assumed all people who wound up afoul of Church teaching were part of this group. We didn’t consider that some of them might have been badly educated on what the Church taught and why, and might be brought back if we reached out to them. We assumed they made an irrevocable decision and any attempt to reach out to them meant compromising on truth.

Yes, some of the issues are muddled because some people do want to undermine Church teaching, whether knowingly or through being mistaken. But when one starts wth the assumption that the Pope’s position is the teaching of the Church (the quote ignored in favor of “Who am I to judge?”), we will see his teachings on mercy and forgiveness presuppose the works of his predecessors. It’s only if we assume he intends error to begin with that we’ll see error in his words. This is why Benedict XVI could talk of Pope Francis in an interview this way:

[Q] Some commentators have interpreted this exhortation as a break, particularly because of its call for the decentralization of the Church. Do you detect a break from your Papacy in this programmatic text?

[A] No. I, too, always wanted the local churches to be active in and of themselves, and not so dependent on extra help from Rome. So the strengthening of the local church is something very important. Although it is also always important that we all remain open to one another and to the Petrine Ministry – otherwise the Church becomes politicized, nationalized, culturally constricted. The exchange between the local and global church is extremely important. And I must say that, unfortunately, those very bishops who oppose decentralization are those who have been lacking in the kind of initiatives one might have expected of them. So we had to help them along again and again. Because the more fully and actively a local church itself truly lives from the centre of faith, the more it contributes to the larger whole.

It is not as though the whole Church were simply dictating to the local churches: what goes on in the local churches is decisive to the whole. When one member is diseased, says St Paul, all are. When, for example, Europe becomes poor in faith, then that is an illness for the others as well – and vice versa. If superstition or other things that should not occur there were to fall in upon another church, or even faithlessness, that would react upon the whole, inevitably. So an interplay is very important. We need the Petrine Ministry and the service of unity, and we need the responsibility of local churches.

[Q] So you do not see any kind of break with your pontificate?

[A] No. I mean, one can of course misinterpret in places, with the intention of saying that everything has been turned on its head now. If one isolates things, takes them out of context, one can construct opposites, but not if one looks at the whole. There may be a different emphasis, of course, but no opposition.

[Q] Now, after the present time in office of Pope Francis – are you content?

[A] Yes. There is a new freshness in the Church, a new joyfulness, a new charisma which speaks to people, and that is certainly something beautiful.

Benedict XVI, Pope (2016-11-14). Last Testament: In His Own Words (Kindle Locations 769-787). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This is the testimony of a Pope emeritus who believes the current Pope to be orthodox and consistent with his predecessors. But many Catholics who praise Benedict XVI seem like they would disagree with his assessment.

This is why I have misgivings about the things four cardinals, a group of philosophers, and a mob of Social media critics say—in various levels of politeness—the Pope should answer the dubia. Whether they intend it or not, what some of them really mean is, Answer it so we can see if you are orthodox or heterodox. When one looks at it this way, there is no confusion when the Pope and his supporters say things are already clear. He does intend them to be understood in the light of Church teaching.

I believe the way out of the confusion some complain about is not in the Pope speaking differently. Confusion ends when we start assuming the Pope is orthodox and we interpret what he says from that perspective. No Pope will look orthodox if people assume he is heretical. Remember, sede vacantists and the SSPX interpreted St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI as teaching error when these Popes went against their views.

The confusion is not about what Pope Francis said or did. The confusion is about individual Catholics on the internet being mistrustful of the Pope. They have interpreted Church teaching in a certain way and anything that does not match that interpretation must be in error. What they don’t ask is whether they misinterpreted the Pope or prior Church teaching. If a critic misinterprets one of these (they often misinterpret both), they will reach a false conclusion.

We should start questioning our own interpretations. If interpretations do not correspond to what a teaching is, they are false interpretations. We should look at our own assumptions. If they are wrong, we will be misled. The hard part is, self-deception is easy. Nobody likes realizing they’re wrong and we have ways of shifting the blame to excuse ourselves. But when this interferes with our obligation to seek out and follow truth, that can have dangerous consequences.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Catholic Tribalism at its Worst

Over this weekend, a couple of famous Catholic bloggers lost their jobs with a prominent Catholic newspaper. But this article is not going to be about them. I only mention it because the aftermath does involve what I want to talk about—the partisan behavior of American Catholics who judge by what they prefer and not by what is true. In such behavior, we see Catholics split into two basic camps:

  1. The faction of “I support X”
  2. The faction of “I oppose X”
There is no third side. This is a case of “You’re with us or against us!” in their minds. If you won’t accept their view, you find them placing you on the opposite side. This is how the bishops get accused of being too liberal and too conservative at the same time. 
 
To the partisans in these groups, their side is on the side of angels and the other side is on the side of demons. They justify or downplay whatever their side does. Whatever their opponents do gets twisted into willful malicious evil done to cause harm. Who’s in the right? In most cases, neither side. Oh sure, the conflict might start because someone did or taught wrong—but at other times it revolves around misunderstandings. Either way, that’s a side story to the mutual recriminations where each faction thinks the others are scum of the Earth. Because the other side doesn’t see it “our” way, it must mean they support the wrongdoing by the extremists on the other side.

This is the wrong way to approach this. As Catholics, our task is to be faithful to Our Lord and the teachings of His Church—under the leadership of His vicar here on Earth—the Pope, carrying them out to the best of our abilities. Sometimes there can be different ways to be faithful to Church teaching on a subject, and sometimes the faithful can disagree on the best way to carry out Church teaching. So long as a side does not try to evade Church teaching but follows the Church sincerely, these differences can exist without sin. In such cases, it is unjust to accuse others with a different idea on how to be faithful of being faithless.

At other times, sometimes individual Catholics or groups do go wrong. Either they knowingly choose something the Church teaches as wrong, or they don’t understand the Church teaching. They think the shepherds of the Church must be wrong because the bishops don’t see it their way. In that case people are choosing wrong, though I leave it to God to judge the culpability, and do not pretend to know their intentions. In that case, we must oppose people in error, though we must oppose them in charity, not with insults and wild claims.

And in both cases, Tribal Catholics get it wrong. In the first case, they take offense when someone says, “I do not think your plan is the best way to handle this.” Because they equate their position with all that is decent, whoever disagrees must not care about Church teaching, the poor, the unborn, etc. In the second case, a faction who supports something against Church teaching (for whatever motive) assumes that the Church intends harm to whoever is at odds with the teaching. In such a view, support for the Church can only be partisan or dogmatic rigidity. So they attack the Church on one side for not caring about women because she opposes abortion and contraception. On the other side, they accuse the Church of supporting illegal immigration because the bishops object to an inhumane policy on immigration.

So long as a Catholic clings to a tribe mentality, they're closed to considering anything that suggests their positions or heroes are wrong. Criticism is, ironically, considered partisan when it targets these things. What's vital to remember is both sides in a tribal war are guilty. When we put our tribal idols first, we're blind to considering whether we’ve gone wrong. It's only when we recognize our own sinfulness and turn to God, seeking His grace, that we can learn to do good. As St John Chrysostom said in a homily:

A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins: Be the first to admit your sins and you will be justified. For this reason, too, the prophet wrote: I said: I will accuse myself of my sins to the Lord, and you forgave the wickedness of my heart. Therefore, you too should condemn your own sins; that will be enough reason for the Lord to forgive you, for a man who condemns his own sins is slower to commit them again. Rouse your conscience to accuse you within your own house, lest it become your accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord.

Catholic tribes can't do this because they think their sins are little compared to the "other side.” That’s what’s dangerous. Being a Christian means a constant turning towards God and away from the sins we were blind to. If we would escape the tribe (and we must strive to do so, praying for God’s grace to succeed), we must be open to considering whether we've fallen into error through ignorance, habit, or pride. We need to consider whether our heroes have gone wrong in comparison to what the Christian life demands. 

First, that means we have to make sure we know both all the facts and what the Church teaches. If we don’t do that, we risk falling into error, wrongly tolerating error, or wrongly accusing someone of error. If the Church allows leeway, we don’t condemn a person for taking it. if the Church forbids something, we don’t make excuses for going against it, claiming it is closer to the Catholic position in spirit. We look to the magisterium to guide us, and we seek to understand. We don’t make ourselves a judge of the “plain sense” when the Pope and bishops make this decision on how to apply the timeless teachings in a certain time.

Second, even when someone errs (for whatever reason or motive), that is not a signal that all moral obligations of justice and charity get tossed out the window. We need to speak truthfully and accurately. For example, being in error is not the same thing as being a heretic. The heretic knows and obstinately refuses to accept Church teaching. The person in error may sincerely think they are being faithful to Church teaching. If we respond in harshness, we may drive a person into the error we want to pull him out of.

Escaping Catholic tribalism means recognizing we can be wrong, and that we must look to the Church for guidance, and respond to others with love and mercy. Sometimes our ideals are false idols. Sometimes our heroes can go wrong. In these cases we must choose: Do we sacrifice mercy and justice to our tribal feuds? Or do we sacrifice our tribal feuds to mercy and justice as God commands? We should consider that carefully the next time a fellow Catholic behaves badly or the next time someone opposes our heroes. We should consider carefully whether our tribal loyalties put us at odds with Our Lord and His Church.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Let's Talk Elections—More Specifically Let's Talk About Our Behavior in Them

I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want my blog to be a vehicle for my political opinions. I especially don’t want my blog to misrepresent my political opinions as being Catholic moral theology. While we’re forbidden certain actions, we can reach different decisions about how to best be faithful to Church teachings. We must avoid rationalizing the forbidden choices through pick-and-choose quoting Church teaching in order to justify what we were planning to do anyway. We have to apply Church teaching to every aspect of our lives, promoting good and opposing evil to the best of our ability. That includes our political preferences. When one candidate openly supports an evil condemned by the Church, we’re not supposed to support that candidate without a reason that outweighs the harm done. 

I don’t think I am violating my blog editorial policy by saying this election is particularly bleak for Catholics and other Christians seeking the right thing. In ordinary times any one of these candidates would disqualify themselves as the greater evil. This time, we’re going decide between two dismal choices. Donald Trump fails because of his violations of social justice teaching. The Democrats (at this time I can’t figure out who’s going to get the nomination though, at the time of my writing this, Hillary Clinton seems favored to win) fail because of their open support of moral evils. Some people enthusiastically support one of these candidates. Many are reluctantly choosing one on the basis of reducing the harm done to the nation. A few are championing a Third Party in general, write-in, or not voting at all. (My post on all these concerns is HERE). The problem with that movement is, while these people are clear on who they oppose, they cannot agree on who to support.

When we analyze these choices, we need to remember that the right to life takes top priority. We can’t take a number of lesser concerns and claim that, put together, they outweigh the right to life. St. John Paul II called support for these other concerns “false and illusory” (Christifideles Laici #38) without support for the right to life. But, when no credible candidate supports the right to life, we can vote to shrink the damage done by voting for the candidate we think is less extreme in their support for evil. We don’t support that candidate’s evil, and we have an obligation to oppose it. We can’t just wash our hands of it on Wednesday, November 9th and say “Not my problem."

That’s standard teaching on Catholic ethics in voting. People faithfully obeying Church teaching can reach different decisions on what their conscience will allow. The question we have to answer is, What defense will we offer at the last judgment for our vote? In other words, we will have to answer to God for our actions so we need to take our decision seriously.

What leaves me with election burnout are those Catholics who have embraced one of the choices—usually for reasons I find unconvincing—and go out of their way to condemn people who reach a different decision as being bad Catholics. Each of these factions will contrast the evils of the other choices with Church teaching, but when they compare their own choices with Catholic teaching, I find that reasoning shallow and, as a result, the accusation of being a bad Catholic for disagreeing with them to be offensive.

We all have the obligation between now and November of being open to new discoveries of truth that might impact how we need to vote. Truth is a key word here. Many throw unproven allegations—often based on what they think the words mean—across social media. We have the obligation to investigate them—NOT assume they must be true because we dislike this candidate—in light of our obligation to promote good and oppose evil. We may discover one candidate grows progressively worse than we thought, or we may discover allegations against a candidate are false. In these cases, we have to reevaluate our decision to see if it is still in keeping with Church teaching.

Certainly we can still hold opinions on the best way to vote, and we can debate each other about these opinions. That’s a good way to learn more about the consequences of our opinion and whether we still want to hold them. But we can’t commit rash judgment in doing so. Trump supporters and third party supporters (the biggest civil war I see between Catholics on social media[†]) can’t accuse each other of being bad Catholics when their consciences forbid them to vote the other way.

Dialogue is certainly welcome to help people reach the right decisions. But in doing so, we should keep in mind something said by GK Chesterton. “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.[*]” We must not condemn faithful Catholics who make a legitimate choice different from ours. Nor can we refuse considering if we somehow went wrong in our own reasoning.

If I was making a single point about what to watch out for, I’d say the danger is pride. Nobody wants to be in the wrong. Being a practicing Catholic means trying to live according God’s teaching and the teaching of His Church. So when someone says “I think that’s wrong,” anger is easy to come by. But even practicing Catholics are sinners. We don’t have the papal charism of infallibility. We can make mistakes. That’s why it’s important to constantly reevaluate our views and respond to differing views with patience and charity. If we don't, the results could be serious...

JW3

____________________________

[†] Generally speaking, I haven’t found Catholics who support Hillary Clinton and few who support Bernie Sanders because they openly support things as “rights” which the Church calls intrinsically evil (always evil regardless of intention or circumstance). I have met some third party supporters who would support Clinton or Sanders over Trump if they didn’t have a 3rd party to consider, because they believe Trump is lying about opposing abortion and/or fear Trump would cause great harm in nuclear or conventional war. “Abortion vs. World War III” is the common rhetoric used here.

[*] Chesterton said this in the context of providing reasons for why one is Catholic, and not coming across like an uninformed bigot. I think his words can apply to other disputes as well.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Catholics and the Ideology Trap

It's no secret that factions try to hijack Church teaching to either try to give their political platform credibility (if they are similar) or to discredit the Church (if they are opposed). For example, the Church teaching on caring for the poor is hijacked into either equating this teaching as a mandate to vote for a party platform or to indicate that the Church is being biased and therefore should not be heeded.

In America, both parties use both tactics, and some members of the faithful who want to promote a politcal cause will misquote Church teaching a way that makes it appear as if the Church is changing...either to praise the party or discredit the Church by accusing them of "becoming political."

For people who get caught in it, this is nearly an airtight trap. It leads one to either think that fidelity to one political faction is fidelity to the Church, or to claim that they are being faithful to Our Lord or the earlier Church over the Church today.

This happens in two different ways. In one case, we have obvious schizophrenia where the US bishops are simultaneously called left-wing and right-wing by foes of different positions. But a new tactic is emerging,  One where both factions react to accounts from the secular (and religiously illiterate) media and ignores what they ignore. As a result, people are ignorant of the fact that Pope Francis is just as firm in defending Catholic moral teaching as his predecessors, and his predecessors were just as firm as Pope Francis on social justice.

For example, I recall a debate on Facebook with a woman who angrily wanted to know why Pope Francis never mentioned the plight of Christians in the Middle East when he spoke about injustice.  She was shocked when I produced an address by the Pope pleading for the world to help these Christians and retracted her objection. She literally didn't know the Pope had spoken about this.

People forget that ALL news media is partisan. It's easy to deride "Faux News" or MSNBC, but the entire media is biased. If a person is unaware of this, they will not realize that a distortion IS a distortion.

The remedy for partisanship is to recognize that a political position must be judged by the Church,  NOT the other way around.  We must remember that deploring abortion is not "right wing" and deploring the treatment of migrants (legal or not) is not "left wing."

I believe that we must change our method of thinking. We must stop assuming that secular reports about Church teaching are accurate. We must first seek to understand what the Church intends to teach. We must reject an arrogant overconfidence in our ability to interpret what we think is the "plain sense" of a document (if I had a dollar for every time someone with a wrong interpretation appealed to the "plain sense" of the document,  my student loans would have been paid off years ago). We must realize that our perspective as 21st century Americans (or Europeans etc.) may lead us to interpret words in ways that the Church NEVER intended.

In such a case, the Church is not at fault for "speaking unclearly" (a common charge). Rather WE are at fault for assuming that the Pope is thinking like a 21st century American.  It's pretty arrogant to assume our cultural experience is normal.

I believe that, for us Catholics, we must step back from our dualistic political views where Left and Right become Right and Wrong. We must start thinking of the Church as Mother and Teacher again and apply her teachings to the issues of the World. That means rejecting the tendency to view Church teaching as a political platform and accepting the view that all politics need to be re-formed (and thus reformed) by Christian belief that doing good in relation to God, neighbors and self is to be sought and evil rejected.  When it comes to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we need to stop thinking like the Pharisee.

It means we must stop thinking of politicians as evil incarnate when they have the "wrong" letter (D or R) after their name and stop making excuses if they have the "right" one. Regardless of your opinions on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we have to think of them as fellow sinners who God wishes to save as much as He wants to save us.

That means when the Pope shows compassion to a person on the "wrong side" of the political divide, we don't assume he is blessing the party platform of our opponents. It also means we don't assume he gives carte blanche endorsement to our political platform when he says something our party agrees with.

What it boils down to is that the Christian must constantly assess themselves, turning away from evil and back to God. It means we must pray that our hidden faults are revealed to us and for the grace to change our ways.

This, I believe, is the remedy to the trap of ideology.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

With Great Concern: Thoughts on the Anti-Bishop Mentality among Some of the Faithful

Introduction

The recent civil war on the internet which has erupted among Catholics brings to my attention that it is actually a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is the growing issue of division among some Catholics seeking to be faithful to the Church.

12 I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Kephas,” 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 1:12-13)

One mindset seems to believe there is widespread corruption among the hierarchy of the Church, and very few can be trusted to do the right thing. This isn’t merely an attitude of arrogance – the “do what I think is right or you’re a modernist heretic” mindset. There are also those individuals who do look at the remaining dissention within the Church, who rightly recognizes that it is a bad thing, and think it must have a cause among those who lead the Church. They then think that if the bishops were doing their jobs rightly, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.

What disturbs me most about this mindset is that it seems to be a spirit of dissention which confuses the lawful authority of the office of the bishop with the individual who holds it. If the individual falls into sin, makes a bad choice or even makes a different choice from the one we would personally like, it seems that there are some who would dare to say we can ignore their authority as a bishop.

A Personal Experience

I recall encountering this mindset for the first time in the lead up to the 1996 elections when Pat Robertson was going about with his Christian Coalition and trying to form a group for Catholics (I think it was called Catholic Alliance). One bishop, citing canon law, made a statement reminding the faithful that no group could call itself Catholic without the approval of the Church, and this group had not even sought approval from the Church.

I recall bringing this up at the campus (I was doing my Masters degree at this time) group Human Life Concerns where certain members were trying to encourage all of us to join Catholic Alliance. In response, one of the members made a dismissive response saying the bishop in question was “totally liberal” and we didn’t have to listen to him.

I was deeply troubled by this because it was a bishop who was exercising his office to clarify what the Church position was (not his own opinion) on this subject and he was treated dismissively because this individual had a low opinion of this bishop and “the bishops” in general.

A Fallacy of Bifurcation

An underlying problem with the mindset is the dividing the issue into two areas – but the two areas are not mutually exclusive. This is the mindset of either [A] or [B]. Either we can side with the person in defiance of the bishop, or we can side with “corruption within the Church.” The reason this is a false argument is that it is possible that one can say neither [A] nor [B]. I can for example deplore the dissent among certain priests, religious and laity and also reject the claim that we can disobey a bishop and still be faithful Catholics.

The Bishops are Successors to the Apostles

The problem I have with the antipathy towards the bishops by those who claim that they are faithful to the Church is that it ignores a rather crucial part of the Church teaching, and that is the bishops are not employees of the Church but are successors to the Apostles. Vatican II points out:

27. Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them (58*) by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant.(169) This power, which they personally exercise in Christ's name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate. (Lumen Gentium)

So, when the bishop acts as the head of his flock, he is to be heeded by those under his care. That is inescapable. Refusal to obey the rightful authority of a bishop means one is dissenting against what they dislike. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, writes:

Chapter VIII.—Let Nothing Be Done Without the Bishop.

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

Chapter IX.—Honour the Bishop.

Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ [shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.

—St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans

From the earliest days of the Church, the importance of the Bishop was recognized. Acting in harmony with the bishop is seen as good. Acting against the bishop or without him is deemed wrong. This is something to keep in mind. Do we carry on the practice of faithful Catholics when we reject the authority of bishops we dislike or disagree with?

Rights and Duties of the Faithful

At this point some may accuse me of saying that all the faithful should shut up and mindlessly obey the Church. I would in fact reject this accusation. The Church does indeed speak on what we are to do in terms of dealing with difficult situations.

Canon Law brings out that we the faithful of the Church have rights and duties in terms of our relation to the Church. We are to obey the lawful authority of the Church, but have the right and at times the obligation to make known our needs to those entrusted with our spiritual health.

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. (Code of Canon Law)

So the Church does not say “Shut up and take it,” in response to problems within the Church. However, we are to obey the pastors who act in the role of ruling the Church, and when we must make known our needs and concerns we must do so in a manner which is reverent and dignified.

Thoughts on Galatians Chapter 2

Members of the SSPX I have encountered love to cite Galatians 2: 11-15 to justify their disobedience to the Pope. They claim they are like St. Paul withstanding St. Peter to his face on an issue where they claim the Pope is wrong. Others use this to justify opposing their bishop, claiming they are following the example of St. Paul. There is a problem with this however.

Let’s look at the passage from Galatians 2:

11 And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.

12 For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised.

13 And the rest of the Jews (also) acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

St. Paul is calling to mind a flaw in St. Peter’s behavior, not his teaching. His personal actions warrant a rebuke. St. Paul is not disobeying St. Peter because this is not an issue of obedience.  So it cannot be used to argue that we can defy the bishop when he acts as head of his diocese.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Correcting a Superior

St. Thomas Aquinas brings forth an excellent exposition of what the correction of a superior entails:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church. (Summa Theologica II-IIa Question 33: Article 4)

The act of correcting a superior requires charity, gentleness and respect. Angry, rude and disrespectful accusations are not a part of such a charitable correction. St. Paul demonstrates the attitude which St. Thomas Aquinas discusses. He is not rude and abusive. He brings the facts of where Peter goes wrong in his personal behavior, but does so respectfully.

Recognizing that Our Way is not the Only Way

Another problem to be aware of is that just because we have a preferred solution to a problem does not mean only our situation is right. I may personally prefer that our bishops punt the dissenters out so hard that they bounce on landing. However I need to recognize that, because the Church acts with the mentality of saving those who are in dissent from her, the Bishop may have a valid reason for undertaking a different action than we do.

The Need to Recognize the Possibility of Personal Error and Partisanship

We must also recognize that before judging a bishop we must be certain we have all the relative facts. If our understanding is flawed, our conclusion will be flawed as well. It probably reflects our original sin, that it is easier for us to think someone else errs than that we err.

Likewise we need to recognize that a similarity between a Catholic position and a political party plank does not mean that the bishops are “liberal” or “conservative.” We need to realize the one who is partisan may be us.

If we do not realize this, we run the risk of dogmatizing our personal beliefs and mistaking them for the beliefs of the Church.

You Cannot Draw a Universal Conclusion from a Limited Sample

Another problem is the tendency to argue from the bad decisions of certain bishops that the whole is corrupt. Now there are bishops who do wrong and do disagree with the teaching of the Church. However, it does not follow that all bishops are bad because of this.

To have a valid argument which makes a universal conclusion, one needs a universal premise (All [A] is [B]). If you don’t have this Universal premise, you cannot draw a universal conclusion. To make an argument about the whole, you have two options.

You can either say:

  1. All [A] is [B]
  2. All [B] is [C]
  3. Therefore All [A] is [C]

Or you can say:

  1. All [A] is [B]
  2. No [B] is [C]
  3. Therefore No [A] is [C]

Any other valid form of argument can only speak of “Some,” not the whole. Even that requires one universal statement (Either “All [A] is [B]” or “No [A] is [B]”) to go with the limited statement (“Some [B] is [C]” or “Some [B] is not [C]”) to make a valid conclusion (Therefore some [A] is [C] or Therefore some [A] is NOT [C]).

Otherwise, the argument cannot be said prove its point.

So to apply this to the case of the Church, if one wants to say that ALL Bishops are bad, or to say NO bishops are good, that person has to establish universal premises and show that the premises are true

Begging the Question

This brings us to our next error to consider. This is the failure to establish that a claim is true, but merely assume to be proven what needs proof:

  1. The Church is falling into error by doing [X].
  2. If the Church wasn’t in error, she wouldn’t do [X]

We call this Begging the Question because we can ask, “On what basis do you say [X] is wrong?” Or “On what basis do you say the Church is doing [X]?” If [X] isn’t wrong or if the Church isn’t doing [X], then the argument doesn’t work.

If someone tells me “All Bishops are corrupt,” I have a right to ask that be proven. I don’t have to take your word for it. We can look at the Church teaching on [A] and see if it is being violated by the bishop (as opposed to being handled differently than we would like).

I suspect this is why so many “appeals to Rome” against some Bishop fail. The allegation is made, the Church looks at it and recognizes that the accuser does not realize their allegation does not establish real wrongdoing.

Confusing Partisanship with Doctrine

We also need to be aware that just because a bishop formulates a response for his diocese which seems to come close to a political plank for one of our parties does not mean the bishop is acting out of sympathies for one party or another. The Catholic Church opposes abortion. Not because the Catholic Church is “right wing” but because the Catholic Church believes that the unborn children are human beings. The Catholic Church does not oppose the anti-immigrant laws in America because they favor the Democratic Party, but because they believe these actions go against the obligation to treat each person as a child of God.

We have to judge the political parties by Church teaching, not Church teachings by political ideology. We also have to recognize that the rejection of one extreme does not mean the acceptance of the other extreme. For example, the rejection of pure socialism is not an endorsement of laissez faire capitalism, and the rejection of laissez faire capitalism is not an endorsement of socialism.

Overlooking our own lack of knowledge and potential to err

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are many who assume the Church teaches a thing when she does not, or does not realize that their own views are far stricter (or far more lenient) than the Church teaching.

I’ve personally experienced people hear me say [A], then reason “If [A] then [X]. If [X] then [C]. Therefore he supports [C].” I then get accused of holding [C] when I actually reject [C]. The false accusation is based on the assumption that premise [X] follows from holding [A] without checking to see if I actually agree that [X] follows from [A].

This also happens in the Church. For example some argue:

  • If a bad priest appears to unchecked in a diocese, it means the bishop is doing nothing.
  • If the bishop is doing nothing, it means he sympathizes with the bad priest.
  • Therefore the bishop is corrupt/heretical etc.

The problem is, just because we don’t see a response does not mean an absence of response. If we do not know how the proper procedure, if we are focused on punishment while the bishop is focused on redemption, then it is possible that we can judge a bishop out of ignorance.

So the question is first, do we know all the facts of the case? If we do not, educating ourselves is necessary.

Conclusion

The anti-magisterial attitude among certain Catholics is a danger which needs to be recognized. Yes some bishops do wrong and need to be corrected. However, others do not do wrong but are accused of being wrong because the individual thinks a case should be handled differently. Also the whole is often judged on the failings of a few.

I don’t feel we need to justify a bishop who does wrong through choice or through a mistaken judgment. However, we do need to realize that it is entirely unjust to judge the whole on the basis of what we think is correct, without verifying that our knowledge is correct.

Nobody wants to admit their knowledge is lacking on a topic important to them. For those who seek to be faithful Catholics, having to admit not knowing is difficult — it’s as if we feel we are admitting we are less faithful than we thought. But that simply isn’t true.

Once we realize we don’t know a thing, we can begin to learn. However, so long as we stubbornly cling to thinking we know all there is to know about a situation, the result is clinging to error. It is dangerous for a person to assume he is not blind and therefore is allowed to judge.

40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”

41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:40-41)