Showing posts with label false accusation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label false accusation. Show all posts

Saturday, February 19, 2022

It’s Iimi! Knee-Jerk

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

 

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















Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ignorance and Arrogance: A Reflection

Introduction

The saints and the philosophers made a distinction between being ignorant and being arrogantly ignorant. The former involved not knowing. The latter involved not knowing but still assuming one’s rash assumptions were true. The former might or might not involve sin, depending on whether one made the effort to learn to the best of one’s ability (God being the ultimate judge). The latter certainly involves rash judgments. Both of them are to be avoided, though the consequences might differ.



Ignorance

Ignorance can be defined as being “uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact,” or “lacking knowledge or awareness in general.” We tend to see the term “ignorant” as an insult or a condemnation. But that isn’t always the case. Humans, being finite, will always have things they don’t know. Sometimes, what we don’t know is inconsequential (What was Gary Kasparov’s seventh move in the final game of his first victorious tournament?)* Sometimes, what we don’t know can have life-threatening consequences (Is it safe to pass that truck while going over the hill?).

Obviously, ignorance about things impacting our or other lives can be harmful. We can be held responsible if we could have learned the answer but never bothered or refused to learn to avoid acting on it. But if it was impossible for us to learn something (invincible ignorance), we can’t be held responsible. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (#16) tells us

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

Even if we strive to be faithful Catholics, there is always more to learn. There will be things we didn’t know previously that the Church taught on, or discover nuance in a teaching we had previously thought was more blunt. When we do discover this deficiency, we need to correct our thinking, trying to live according to those teachings. 

To do so, we need to be attentive to the Church, under the visible head, the Pope and bishops in communion with him. When the Church admonishes us that a behavior is incompatible with being a disciple of Christ, we act wisely if we listen to the Church, and foolishly if we refuse to listen and insist on our own views.

Arrogance

Arrogance can be defined as “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” It combines with ignorance when we have an exaggerated sense of our own knowledge, when we are actually ignorant—we think we know what is important to know, passing judgment without considering the possibility of our own being in error. For example, I have seen numerous instances of people responding to the Pope condemning injustice related to our politics by saying “why doesn’t he speak out on the mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East?”

This is where I wish I could reach through the computer screen to smack the person. The Pope has frequently spoken out on this subject, and a Google search would quickly correct the accusers error. The arrogance is assuming that one’s lack of knowledge is a knowledge of lack. Through arrogance, the accuser turns what they know nothing about into a belief that the Pope is negligent.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns against thinking that way, teaching:

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

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

Assuming the moral fault of another requires knowledge that a thing is so, and not merely assuming that what we think we know is sufficient to level accusations. To accuse the Pope of letting priests marry, of letting the divorced/remarried receive the Eucharist, of supporting Marxism, one has to determine that it is what the Pope intends to do and not what one thinks follows from their interpretation of what he says or writes (I discuss this more, HERE).

The Catholic Church is a catholic (universal) Church. It teaches to people of all languages, cultures, and times. But if we assume that our language, culture, and time is the only way to interpret the Church teaching, we are ignorant and arrogant when we condemn the Church—under the visible head the Pope—for pointing out that we have gone wrong in an assumption.

___________

(*) No idea. After writing the sentence, I tried Googling it out of curiosity. No luck.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mistaken Papal Critics and History We Forget

Preliminary Note

I have no intention of passing judgment on successors of the apostles like the "dubia cardinals" led by Cardinal Burke, or the Kazakh bishops. Just as anti-Francis Catholics have misrepresented the Holy Father to support their narrative of a "heretical" Pope, I find that these cardinals and bishops were also misrepresented, with anti-Francis critics making it sound as if these cardinals and bishops "supported" their schismatic behavior.

This article does not claim to say that these churchmen are guilty of the same wrongs Sts. Cyprian and Hippolytus committed. I merely write this article to show that misinterpretation and attacks on Popes were not limited to the pontificate of Pope Francis. Rather, I wish to point out these two cases where the Popes were misrepresented and attacked as a reminder that even men known for their holiness can go wrong if they put themselves in opposition to Popes using their teaching office.

Introduction

One of the popular narratives in opposing Pope Francis is to point out some of his predecessors—such as Liberius, Honorius I, and John XXII who were suspected of privately holding error. The anti-Francis Catholics point out that these Popes are proof that a Pope can err. From that, we have a string of tortured logic arguing that because those Popes privately erred [a claim disputed among Church historians], Pope Francis can publicly err in his words and actions that sound unfamiliar to our own understanding of Church teaching.

These critics overlook a different part of Church teaching—where Popes have taught and certain bishops of the Church mistakenly thought the Popes were teaching error and publicly took a stand in denouncing them.  I would like to briefly discuss the case of two papal critics from the Third Century AD.

Pope St. Stephen I vs. St. Cyprian

One example of this took place in the Third Century AD. St. Cyprian held that the baptism of heretics was invalid, and if any of these heretics should convert to the Catholic Church, they needed to be rebaptized. 

However, St. Stephen I taught differently. He held that if the heretic was baptized in the proper formula, the baptism was valid. If this heretic turned/returned to the Catholic faith, he did not need to be rebaptized, but merely perform penance. Instead of realizing he had misunderstood the nature of baptism and changing his views, St. Cyprian accused St. Stephen I of promoting heresy in a series of letters to his fellow African bishops. For example, in his Epistle LXXIII, to Pompey:

2. He [Pope Stephen I] forbade one coming from any heresy to be baptized in the Church; that is, he judged the baptism of all heretics to be just and lawful. And although special heresies have special baptisms and different sins, he, holding communion with the baptism of all, gathered up the sins of all, heaped together into his own bosom. And he charged that nothing should be innovated except what had been handed down; as if he were an innovator, who, holding the unity, claims for the one Church one baptism; and not manifestly he who, forgetful of unity, adopts the lies and the contagions of a profane washing.
Cyprian of Carthage, “The Epistles of Cyprian,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 386.

But the fact is, the Catholic Church followed the teaching of St. Stephen, not St. Cyprian. If a person who was validly baptized by a non-Catholic intending to do what the Church intends, we hold that baptism to be valid. Even an atheist can validly baptize. The Catholic Church holds it is wrong to rebaptize. If a person was never validly baptized, we baptize. If there is a question about whether a person was validly baptized, we give conditional baptism. 

St. Cyprian’s error was in assuming that his position was correct and that the Pope must be wrong. From that assumption, he drew the false conclusion that the Pope was doing damage to the Church from his “error,” and had to be opposed. But since St. Cyprian was in the wrong about baptism, his condemnation of the Pope was simply wrong.

Pope St. Callistus [†] vs. St. Hippolytus 

Another example of a bishop wrongly accusing a Pope involved Pope Callistus. In a time when the Roman Empire held that slaves could not marry free citizens, the Pope decreed that such a marriage was valid. 

St. Hippolytus thought the Pope was in error. In a denunciation, he declared that the Pope’s action would lead to divorce, use of contraception, and attempted abortion on the part of a free woman who married a slave, writing [§]:

For even also he [Callistus] permitted females, if they were unwedded, and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth.9 Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!
Hippolytus of Rome, “The Refutation of All Heresies,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. J. H. MacMahon, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 131.

I find this remarkably similar to the statements of some Catholics who claim that what the Pope said in Amoris Lætitia would mean people in a state of mortal sin seeking to receive the Eucharist—assuming that the abuse was directly caused by the Pope’s action as opposed to being an abuse of his teaching. 

Yes, a third century Catholic could think about becoming pregnant by a slave husband in that way, but that would be doing evil that was not in accord with the Pope’s teaching. This was a post hoc fallacy by St. Hippolytus which is similar to the one committed by Pope Francis’ critics.

Conclusion

These cases are examples of members of the Church who confused their interpretation of what should follow from Church teaching with Church teaching itself. Because of this, they falsely accused Popes of promoting error, attributing worst case scenarios as directly caused by the Pope who declared the teaching. These cases also involved the accusers assuming the worst of the Popes, leading them to think they must support the worst abuses.

I believe that these are the proper historical counterparts to the opposition to Pope Francis, not the examples of “bad Popes” people try to cite. People who have assumed that all people who are divorced and remarried must be in a state of mortal sin cannot reconcile that assumption with the Pope correctly pointing out that assessing culpability must be done with remarriage as well as with every other grave sin.

Like the third century critics of Popes, the 21st century critics of this Pope have confused their view with Church teaching itself. The Pope has made a reasonable teaching, but some people, failing to understand it, assume their fears of negative consequences through abuse is the intended teaching.


______________________

[†] Also known as Callixtus.
[§] This is commonly cited [correctly] as proof that the Church consistently condemned contraception and abortion.  But I find it interesting that Hippolytus slandered Callistus in doing so just as some critics today slander Pope Francis. These critics are correct that the teaching they defend is true. But they err in thinking the Pope’s teaching contradicts it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Knowing, Not Knowing, and Knowing You Do Not Know

Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: 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.

Introduction

When it comes to the ongoing faction wars in the Church, I suspect many of the participants who attack the Church today as being in error never intend to reject the Church. Instead, they act as they do because they think it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, what one thinks is the right thing, and what the right thing actually is are often two different things. I think this is an example of the situation described by Socrates’ Apology above—that the person does not know the truth, but does not know about this lack. That is a problem because, if a person does not know that they do not know the truth, they will remain in error while thinking themselves defenders of the faith. 

Unfortunately, one of the problems with social media discussions today is nobody wants to admit that they don’t know something. In fact, implying someone doesn’t know something usually results in an angry response. Bring up the Argument from Ignorance fallacy [†] and people think you’re calling them an idiot. This defensive attitude is unfortunate because every person has a lack of knowledge in some part of their life. The question is, do we recognize this lack and try to learn? Or do we think that what we think we know is all that needs to be known? 

Being Faithfully Catholic Means Constantly Growing

If we are in the latter state, this is harmful for our spiritual health. The Catholic faith requires us to know, love and serve God. That goes back at least to the Baltimore Catechism, and it’s a good summation. We need to know what God revealed, the natural law with which He created the universe, and make use of our natural reason to apply that revelation and knowledge to our personal lives. Being finite beings, afflicted with concupiscence, we do make mistakes in judgment. We do choose the wrong thing. We do miss crucial facts that would change our outlook. And, finally, we do fail to comprehend complex ideas that go beyond our knowledge. There’s no shame in that limitation. But we cannot live that way. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it:

[16] In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

 

Catholic Church, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

If we refuse to learn, refuse to form our conscience, we have no excuse when we do wrong. And, since Our Lord gave us the Church to guide us, we have no excuse for going astray if we should ignore the Church. As Lumen Gentium puts it:

[14] They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

 

Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

In short, we can’t stop with what we think we know on how to live the Christian life. Growing closer to God means learning how to live as He calls us to live. Can you imagine a marriage where one of the spouses couldn’t be bothered to learn about his partner? Not caring what the other thought or felt about things? The successful marriage requires a constant change for the better. Our relationship with God requires the same.

Knowing and Learning

Of course the Church goes back to Our Lord Himself, and the writings of the members of the Church, the Councils and so on is massive. One person cannot hope to learn and master it all, even if they had no demands on their time but this study. So one average Catholic may view the encouragement to learn as an impossible demand and give up hope of understanding. Meanwhile another average Catholic might just decide that what he knows is good enough to pass judgment on Popes.

Both views should be avoided. In the first case, the equivalent of a Ph.D is not necessary for salvation. People with the ability and time to study theology can indeed lend their talents to the Church, but this is not the only way a Catholic can be holy and serve the Church. Each one of us has a calling regardless of education and status in life (1 Corinthians 12:15-26). In the second case, assuming one knows enough is to give up learning about Our Lord and growing in relationship with Him. When such a person encounters something within the Church, new to them, they might assume the idea is heretical without considering the possibility of their lack of knowledge making them misinterpret the issue.

To avoid this state, we need to start with the step of realizing the possibility of our not knowing something, considering the possibility that there is more to the situation than we are aware of. We need to realize that, just because we might think, “I can’t think of any reason why the Pope does/doesn’t do X,” does not mean there is no reason that justifies his actions.

Example—The Pope, Divorce, and Remarriage.

One of the problems I see in the social media debates is confusing the intrinsic evil with the actual responsibility of the person. Intrinsic evil means that some act is always wrong regardless of intention or circumstances. One can never have a just abortion or a just rape for example. But one can have a just war if proper conditions are met.

What some Catholics seem to forget (or perhaps did not know), and what the Pope wants us to remember, is that it is not enough to speak against intrinsic evil. Determining the culpability (responsibility) of the person who acts is part of the confessor’s task.  Certain circumstances can reduce the level of individual guilt (but not the fact that an intrinsic evil is done). Confessors have to assess the knowledge and circumstances that led to the action in determining how serious the sin is. For example, masturbation is an intrinsic evil. One must never do it. But some people have formed compulsive habits that are hard to break. In some circumstances, this compulsion reduces the personal responsibility so the person lacks the consent necessary for a mortal sin. The act is still intrinsically evil, and the person is obliged to work at overcoming this compulsion in cooperation with God’s grace. But this reduced culpability does not mean the Church is calling evil “permissible.”

Some critics of the Pope (including a few I ordinarily respect) say they can’t envision a circumstance where culpability can be reduced. But that is an argument from ignorance fallacy. We need to consider the possibility of things being different from what we think, based on our own experience. 

I believe that some Catholics forget this when it comes to the fight over Chapter 8 of Amoris Lætitia involving the divorced and remarried. Contrary to his critics’ claims, the Pope has not denied that divorce and remarriage is never permissible as long as the legitimate spouse lives. What he calls for is that confessors assess the knowledge and circumstances of each person, in this situation. Contrary to the claims of anti-Francis Catholics, the Pope is not seeking to legitimize divorce/remarriage. He is seeking to restore each person to a right relationship with God and His Church. If [§] it turns out that a Catholic in this situation lacks the conditions that make a mortal sin [∞], then the confessor can encourage the reception of the Eucharist while also guiding the sinner to turn away from sin and return to God. He is not a “liberal” or a “modernist” when he properly applies this.

Is it possible that a confessor can act wrongly, or err in their assessment? Yes, because we are all sinners. But the wrongful action of some confessors or some bishops does not mean that the Pope promotes or supports those things. 

Example—Knowing that differences exist in other nations.

Another thing that people may not know that the situation in Western Europe and the United States is not universal. For example, during the Year of Mercy, the Pope declared that all priests would be granted the facility to absolve abortion [¶]. This did not affect the United States, where the bishops already gave their priests the facility to act in their name, but it did affect other parts of the world. In interviews and press conferences, the Pope has discussed all sorts of different abuses and obstacles to marriage that we in the West have never experienced, but people in other countries have to deal with.

Likewise, things we take for granted, like tribunals, do not exist in some Catholic countries. An open and shut annulment case might take 90 days in the US, but might take years in another country. Other countries might have vicious customs that discourage seeking annulment. In such cases, people might feel trapped into doing things that the Church teaches is wrong. As I pointed out above, this does not change the fact that what they do is wrong. But it might (and might ≠ must) mean that some (and some ≠ all) cases involve reduced culpability. If we do not know these things, we run into the danger of thinking the entire world is like the US, and that his actions are nothing more than laxity. But this is false.

Blind Guides who do not know that they do not know.

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

 

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

 

 John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

So far, I have talked about people who are unaware of differences, or what the Pope actually said, and simply assume conditions are the same everywhere in the Church. But there is another group of Catholics who are truly dangerous to souls. These are the Catholics who, out of ignorance, assume that differences between their own misunderstanding and what the Pope says to be “proof” that the Pope is in error. They stir up confusion, and then argue that the existence of that confusion is the fault of the Pope they attack. 

This group of Catholics seem intimidating because they pull quotes from obscure Church documents the average Catholic has never heard of. But they sound knowledgable, and the average Catholic, insecure in their own knowledge, thinks their inability to think of a response means it must be true. It is important to remember that their behavior is like the anti-Catholic who distorts a Catholic teaching, and then cites a Bible verse they claim “contradicts” it. But the issue is not the Bible verse, but whether they use it properly. Likewise, the anti-Francis Catholic who cites a quote from Church teaching and contrasts it with something the Pope says has always either misquoted or taken the quote out of context. Often they have never actually read these documents, though they may try to feign otherwise. They often get isolated quotes from websites that argue the Church today is in error. Once countered, they ignore that argument and move on to the next [∑] or ignore that refutation.

For example, when they cite St. Robert Bellarmine on a “heretic Pope,” they make it sound like this is an official Church document. It is not. It is one opinion he lists in a work defending the authority of the Pope (I discuss this HERE). They often misrepresent history of the Church, making it sound like we have had openly heretical Popes in the past, and Pope Francis is merely one more of them. But this too is false. We have three Popes who may have privately held error [£], but never taught it. Since Pope Francis is teaching, if he taught error, it would mean that what the Church believes about being protected from teaching error in faith and morals was false. And once we see that, we realize we can never know if the Church was not in error.

What the average Catholic needs to know about not knowing in this case is, the issue in question is not the Bible or Church documents. It is their interpretation of the documents that are being judged. The authority to interpret how the timeless truths of the Church are applied in each time period fall to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. One judges the dissenter’s claims by how they line up with what the Pope and bishops in communion with him say. When the Pope teaches, even when that teaching is not ex cathedra, it must be obeyed:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 236.

So, even if you are an average Catholic who has not had the opportunity or time to study all the tomes the Church has produced, here is something important to know—you cannot have authentic Catholic faith in opposition to the Pope and bishops of this generation. Once you know that, you know that despite all the quotes they may produce, these dissenters have no authority to defy the Church today in the name of being faithful to what they think the Church meant in the past. 

Conclusion

To tie all this together, we need to avoid being like the politician who neither knew the truth nor knew he did not know it. We need to know our limitations and if we do not know something, we must recognize this lack and try to learn the truth. You wouldn’t trust a person who claimed to read a medical textbook and rejecting the findings of the AMA to do surgery on you. You shouldn’t trust a person who claimed to read Church documents and rejected the Pope and bishops guide you spiritually either.

We do have a Church, established by God. God promises to protect this Church. In this Church we have a guide to show us how to live. But the dissenter—whether he says the Church is too strict or too lax—is no guide. He is simply someone who does not know of his own ignorance. If you know you do not know, but know the dissenter does not know either and does not know they are ignorant, you are not as bad off as he is.

But knowing is better than not knowing. So it is always good for Catholics, regardless of their state in life and education, to learn more of their faith—always with the Church, and never apart from it.

_______________________

[†] Briefly explained: Just because a person doesn’t know of a reason disproving their position, it doesn’t prove there isn’t one.

[§] What critics forget is the possibility of a diocese investigating and finding zero cases that meet the Pope’s criteria. That’s why I, unlike some Catholics, don’t see Archbishop Chaput’s statement that he’s not changing diocesan policies to be a rejection of the Pope. If a diocese already does these things the Pope calls for, there’s no need to change.

[∞] Intrinsic evil, full knowledge, deliberate consent

[¶] Normally only the bishop, and those priests he permits, can absolve in this case.

[∑] My favorite “war story” of this type was the anti-Francis Catholic who cited one of the sessions of the Council of Trent to try claiming that after Vatican II, the Church was in error. Unfortunately for him, I had read the sessions of Trent (it’s amazing how much of a Catholic library one can acquire electronically) and cited another portion of that same session that contradicted his interpretation. His response was he didn’t have time to “reread” that document. But if he had read it at all, it was quite clear.

[£] Liberius, Honorius I, John XXII. Of these: Liberius’ error is widely debated; Honorius I probably held error but never said anything public; John XXII offered an opinion on a subject not yet defined—and was only defined by his successor.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thoughts on the Errors of Combox Warriors

Introduction

There seems to be a slew of errors going around on social media which feed on a misrepresenting of the interviews with Cardinal Burke over the dubia. Like always, I’m not accusing him of supporting those actions done invoking his name [†]. I’m opposing errors from those I call “Combox Warriors” (Catholic battling in social media over Church matters, viciously attacking those who disagree). These errors stem from the refusal to consider they might have gotten something wrong in comparing what they think follows from what they think the Pope says with what they think previous Church teaching means. In other words, the attacks on the Pope depend on the ipse dixit claims of his critics who need to prove what they assume is true.

So let’s look at some of the problems with their claims.

How is it that X Isn’t a Teaching, but Y is, When Both are Taught at the Same Level?

One of the claims used to deny the teaching authority of Amoris Lætitia is to say it isn’t a teaching because it is only an Apostolic Exhortation. The problem is, these critics also insist that this Exhortation is wrong because it “contradicts” (a point to be proven, not assumed) Familiaris Consortio. But there is the problem. Familiaris Consortio is also an Apostolic Exhortation. So, if Amoris Lætitia is not a teaching because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation, then logically one must concede that Familiaris Consortio is not a teaching either.

In other words, you can either accept the authority of both or reject the authority of both. But to accept one and reject the other on these grounds is irrational.

There’s No Facility for Removing a Pope from Office

Another problem comes from Combox warriors quoting St. Robert Bellarmine out of context (we’ll talk more about that below).  The argument is that when a Pope is a manifest heretic, he is no longer the Pope. It is claimed that the Pope’s teachings “prove” he is a heretic (or will be soon). Therefore, it is argued that he’s not the Pope. So, who determines whether the Pope has crossed that line? Cardinal Burke thinks it can be done but “It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.” The problem is, there is no competent tribunal to judge him. No valid council has ever deposed a sitting Pope. In fact, the Code of Canon Law (#1404) tells us, “The First See is judged by no one.”

Indeed, the cause of the Great Western Schism came about because a majority of cardinals deserted Pope Urban VI and elected an antipope (Robert of Geneva, aka Clement VII) in his place. Later, to try to correct the confusion, cardinals called a council at Pisa [*] and tried to depose both the Pope and the antipope and “declared” a new person Pope (antipope Alexander V). In all of this, the Church regards the true Pope to have been Urban VI and his successors.

The Council of Constance declared that a Council had the authority to depose a Pope (the Haec Sancta Synodus decree), but this decree was never approved by Gregory XII (the legitimate Pope of the time) nor his successor Martin V, so it is not considered a magisterial teaching. Therefore, it cannot be invoked against Pope Francis. The point is, despite whether one, four, or even all 121 of the cardinals under the age of 80 want to depose the Pope, there is no valid means they can use to do so.

Before a Pope could be removed from office because he was a “manifest heretic,” we would need one of two things to happen:

  1. The Pope would have to issue a decree defining how a Pope could be removed.
  2. A Council called by a Pope would have to decree on how a Pope could be removed—and the Pope at the time of the Council would have to approve that declaration. 
In other words, the Church has no ability to force a Pope from his office, and will not get one unless a Pope enacts such an ability through his authority. So long as there is no such authority granted, we can trust in God to remove such a Pope—and I deny any Pope past or present fits the condition of manifest heretic.

Let’s Talk About St. Robert Bellarmine’s Opinion [§]

Earlier, I mentioned the passage of St. Robert Bellarmine that critics of the Pope cite to say a Pope can be removed. The arguments I have seen run along the lines of pointing out that he is a Doctor of the Church and therefore his writings are official teachings of the Church. This is not true. The text in question actually discusses 5 opinions. What’s not normally quoted is the fact that the first view rejects that the Pope can be a heretic in the first place:

The first is of Albert Pighius, who contends that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: 806 [Hierarchiae Ecclesiasticae, bk 4, ch. 8.] such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.

However, he says that because “the common opinion is to the contrary, it will be worthwhile to see what the response should be if the Pope could be a heretic.” Note that phrase, “if the Pope could.” He’s not assuming it happens. He’s making a speculative, “What if that’s wrong?” Of those four opinions He rejects three of them:

  1. That the Pope can be deposed the instant he falls into even personal heresy.
  2. That the Pope can’t even be deposed for manifest heresy.
  3. [St. Cajetan’s opinion] That if the Pope falls into manifest heresy, he can and should be deposed by the Church.

After analyzing and rejecting these, he supports the following:

Now the fifth true opinion, is that a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics soon lose all jurisdiction, and namely St. Cyprian who speaks on Novation, who was a Pope in schism with Cornelius: “He cannot hold the Episcopacy, although he was a bishop first, he fell from the body of his fellow bishops and from the unity of the Church.” 819 [Bk 4, epist. 2]. There he means that Novation, even if he was a true and legitimate Pope; still would have fallen from the pontificate by himself, if he separated himself from the Church.

Bellarmine, Robert (2015-05-22). On the Roman Pontiff. (De Controversiis Book 1) (pp. 309-310). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. 

Unfortunately, the term “true opinion” is misunderstood today. It’s a philosophical term which refers to an opinion which is held for reasons that are true, as opposed to arbitrary preference, but many wrongly think it means “fact.” So, this isn’t Church doctrine, and St. Robert Bellarmine doesn’t think it is either.

I would sum up this chapter as follows: While not defined, it is probable to believe that the Pope can’t be a manifest heretic, and therefore can’t be deposed. But, if he could be a manifest heretic (which is debated), members of the Church don’t depose him—he’d merely stop being Pope because he’d stop being Christian. (Many of Pope Francis’ critics who cite the Saint’s opinion actually seem to misinterpret it as #1 and #3 which he actually rejects.)

That being said, St. Robert Bellarmine’s treatise was never turned into the official teaching of the Church. As pointed out above, the Church has no defined way to remove a Pope, so this cannot be used by cardinals or councils to depose a Pope.

Popes Honorius I and John XXII

Two Popes who have been mentioned as “proof” of Popes being heretics are Honorius I and John XXII. The problem is, neither Pope proves anything in the case at hand, and it is unjust to claim Pope Francis is in the same situation.

Honorius I was condemned at the Third Council of Constantinople, 42 years after his death, because, in a letter to Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, he seemed to privately hold the heresy of monothelitism. But there is a dispute as to whether he disagreed with Our Lord having two wills (heterodox) or disagreed with the idea of Our Lord having two wills in conflict. Regardless of which was true, he is considered as having failed to carry out his duty by evading the issue instead of confronting it.

If it was true he privately held heresy, his case does not show a Pope can be deposed for heresy. He died in office and a later Pope confirmed the sentence of the Council. Nor can his evasion be equated with Pope Francis refusing to answer the dubia. Honorius I sought to evade an answer. Pope Francis insists the teaching is clear, but some people want excessive clarification. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Pope, there is no evidence that he is seeking to evade a debate.

Pope John XXII is (wrongly) portrayed as a Pope who taught heresy. That is not an accurate accusation. The issue was whether those who die see the Beatific vision immediately or not until the Final Judgment. At this time, the issue was not decided. What John XXII did was give homilies (which are not an occasion for infallibility) holding the former position. The controversy is over whether he was defining doctrine. He was not formally corrected, but was persuaded to change his opinion on the subject.

The accusations of heresy came from a group called the Spiritual Franciscans whom the Pope ruled against. The issue was over whether his condemnation of the idea that, “Christ and his apostles had no possessions whatever.” Seeking to discredit the Pope, they accused him of teaching heresy. However, this was not a defined doctrine and the Pope was not teaching. It was not until his successor, Benedict XII, that the issue was defined. Since heresy is “ the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” and John XXII did not deny anything, let alone obstinately, we don’t consider him a heretic. 

Conclusion

It’s not my place to judge the intentions of the cardinals who are troubled by the Pope, and I won’t accuse them of bad will.  Cardinal Burke did explicitly say Pope Francis was not a heretic, so it would be unjust to put those words in his mouth.

Unfortunately, some Catholics on social media are using his words to justify their attacks on the Pope. These attacks have long been based on their own readings of what they think the Pope says, contrasted to what they think the Church said previously. In doing so, they have two prove two things:

  1. That they have interpreted the Pope according to his intention.
  2. That they have interpreted previous Church teaching according to the understanding of the magisterium today.
In fact, these “combox warriors" show they understand neither correctly. Quotes from both are lifted out of context to show they are “contradictory.” These are the same tactics used by the critics of Vatican II and every Pope from St. John XXIII forward. I won’t lump all these critics together (there are variations), but we have to realize that some of the most abusive attacks come from people who have long seated grudges against the Church and refuse to consider the possibility that they could have gotten it wrong.
 
It’s my hope that by discussing some of the more common claims, this article might show that the arguments of such “combox warriors” are flawed and leading people astray by deceiving them into thinking the Church is in a state of error. It is only by recognizing the possibility of our own error when disagreeing with the magisterium that we can avoid spreading dissent while thinking we are in the right.

 

__________________________

[†] One wishes the combox warriors would give the Pope the same consideration.

[*] This gathering was condemned in the Lateran V Council.

[§] Permissions to quote sections of the recent translation of this work was given by Mediatrix Press. The volume in question can be found HERE. (To get to the relevant chapter, go to Book II, Chapter XXX) I’ve copied the footnotes to the text in brackets after the number for readers who want to make sure nothing is overlooked. 

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.

Friday, August 5, 2016

This Has to Stop: The Shipwreck of the Anti-Francis Mindset

I m With Him

Introduction

As things progress, it seems more people are getting swept up in doubting the faithfulness of Pope Francis as a Catholic. Some are willing to attack him openly as a menace spewing error and the Church is only protected because he’s not speaking infallibly. Others let doubts fester, gnawing at them so they give more credibility to his critics than to the Pope himself. I believe the greatest threat to the Church is not an ideology, but an attitude—the attitude that whatever doesn’t match what we think the Church should be is wrong. A person doesn’t have to be a leftist or a radical traditionalist to have this attitude—this attitude existed long before our modern political system or Vatican II. It just takes a suspicion with whatever feels different and a refusal to think one's perception might be wrong. 

The result is, whenever the Pope speaks or writes, some Catholics attack him as a promoter of error and cause an increasing number of their fellows to question his leadership of the Church. These are rotten fruits and should speak to the source (see Matthew 7:16-17), but they succeed because they claim the Pope himself is responsible for this confusion when in fact the attacks depend on interpretation. When challenged on their misrepresentation, their tactic is falsely accusing the defenders of believing everything the Pope says is infallible. 

The Non-Binding Personal Opinion

Catholics who want to avoid falling into this trap need to be aware of what the Church teaching on the authority of the Pope means. The key difference here is whether the Pope intends to teach as Pope or whether he does not. When he intends to teach, we must give assent—even if his teaching is not given ex cathedra. But he doesn’t always teach when he speaks. As the 1915 Manual of Apologetics puts it:

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.

We dot have to accept his opinions on a matter as teaching. That’s where one of the biggest areas of dispute comes into play. Until recently, Popes did not have interviews. St. John Paul II started the process rolling in Crossing the Threshold of Hope where he published the answers to planned questions after plans for an interview fell through. Meanwhile, Cardinal Ratzinger gave book length interviews and writing theological works, which he carried over to when he became Pope. While these works gave insight into their thinking, these were not teachings which bound the faithful.

This practice continued under Pope Francis. He engages in press conferences and interviews. These are not ways where the Church teaches in a binding way. So, they are not binding and they are not infallible. Because of that, some people argue that what he said can be in error and, when it disagrees with their views, they claim that it is in error.

That’s misleading. It is true that when the Pope does not use his office to teach the Church, he doesn’t make use of the charism of infallibility. But the fact that the Pope is not speaking infallibly does not mean he is spewing error any more than it means Cardinals Burke or Sarah spread error when they speak. The Pope still has his training, his personal wisdom and other graces given by God and we ought to give him a hearing based on these things. After all, Scripture tells us in Leviticus 19:32, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old, and fear your God. I am the LORD."

A person who properly understands what the Pope intends to say and properly understands Church teaching can respectfully disagree on his non binding opinion with no problem. But, if someone wants to do more than disagree—if he has the arrogance to rebuke the Pope for being wrong about the faith—then he has his work cut out for him. Why? Because that’s no longer a question of opinions. It now involves a person claiming the knowledge to judge the Pope’s knowledge of and fidelity to Church teaching.

The Blind Leading the Blind

Such a person has to show he properly grasps the topic under debate. He has to show he has full knowledge of what the Church teaches on the subject. He has to show he has properly understood what the Pope intends to say. It’s like a tripod. If the person doesn’t have all three legs of knowledge, the claim collapses. When one looks at every accusation made in the last three years, it is clear that the critics never had all three. Critics show they misunderstand topics when they get outraged over “Who am I to judge” and “Rabbit Catholics” having no idea what the focus was. They show they misunderstand Church teaching when they get “evangelize” and “proselytize” confused with each other. They show they don’t understand his words when they think his objection to the term “Islamic violence” is a denial of the motives of ISIS.

But instead of learning what the Pope means through the transcripts and his other words and writings on the topic, they rely on others who interpret fragments of his interviews and press conferences (badly), whether the secular media or Catholic blogs critical of the Pope and draw quotes from these sources, assuming they interpreted it rightly. They repeat soundbites, but when questioned, they act surprised to learn that the Pope said things differently than they heard.

The danger of all this is, undermining trust in the Pope is becoming a chain reaction. When someone falsely reports that the Pope teaches error, he influences others who look to him to explain the faith. So, if the religiously-illiterate media influences Catholic sites, and Catholic sites influence their followers, you get an increased circle of suspicious Catholics. As this number grows and the people repeating the falsehood grows, even Catholics defending the Pope begin to wonder if they missed something.

Then, if these defenders should misinterpret the Pope, the number of earlier incidents suddenly become “proof” that the critics were “right.” They get swept up in thinking the Pope is bad for the Church. They might not think the Pope is a heretic, but they no longer trust him. Then the former defender begins influencing people who trusted him and the circle of error expands again.

Denying Actual Authority

What makes this a danger is that when people start treating his words as suspect in his private opinions, it’s only a matter of time before they start questioning him when he leads the Church. They start questioning his actual teachings, where we must give religious assent (Canon #752) and looking for excuses not to obey. For example, Laudato Si’ (#15) tells us, "It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.” In other words, he intends to teach in a way that requires assent. Yet, despite that, people argue his teaching is not binding. Some claim he is teaching error. Others, not willing to go so far, argue since he is speaking on science, what he says does not bind. But he’s not teaching on science. He’s teaching on our moral obligations to consider how our use of the planet harms others.

The irony is people who once defended his predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, now use the same arguments they formerly debunked to attack Pope Francis. If it was dissent against Pope Paul VI, it’s dissent now. If it was sinful then, it’s sinful now. But, just like it was almost 50 years ago, people assume they know better than the Church when it comes to things they don’t want to hear.

Because they don’t trust God to protect the Pope from teaching error when we must give assent, they justify their disobedience as obedience to a higher “truth” that allows them to ignore the authority of the Pope. Because they assume the Pope is not trustworthy, they assume anything he says that doesn’t square with their understanding, it’s “proof” the Pope is wrong.

The Shipwreck of Faith and How to Avert It

Shipwreck

This is how you make a shipwreck of faith. One puts confidence in themselves and the claims of critics, but not in the Pope. By assuming that the Pope's non-infallible opinions must be full of error and never questioning whether he has fallen into error in understanding, the critic begins treating binding teaching as false opinion and commit rash judgment.

So how do we stop this shipwreck? The first step is realizing that God protects His Church from error, and that He built His Church on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18). He’s protected it since Pentecost in AD 33. Second, we must realize our own limitations in knowledge and holiness. As human beings we have finite knowledge and sinful inclinations. These two things easily lead us astray if we do not give assent to the magisterium. Once we trust God and recognize our own weaknesses, we stop assuming the Pope is some kind of idiot and start seeking knowledge.

No, that’s not making the Pope into an impeccable being who can never do wrong. We’re merely acknowledging that we can be wrong, and what sounds odd to us might just be a hole in our knowledge or understanding.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Love and Truth Will Meet—and Apparently Say "See Ya"

11 Love and truth will meet; 

justice and peace will kiss. 

12 Truth will spring from the earth; 

justice will look down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11–12).

Introduction

There’s an ugly battle flaming up between Catholics when it comes to the Orlando mass shooting. it’s a battle over how to address the people who have a same sex attraction when it comes to condolences. Are they a community? Or are they not? The dispute is over whether one should send condolences to the “LGBT community” or whether that would look like an endorsement of sinful acts. This seems like something which they can resolve charitably. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where the two sides are practically throwing anathemas at each other, assuming the other side is guilty of bad will or even malice.

Setting Up the Situation

To sum up the two positions briefly (and hopefully, fairly):

  1. Those who think we should use term “LGBT community” say this is no different than referring to “the black community” or the “Jewish community,” and nobody should take offense or think this is an endorsement of sinful behavior.
  2. Those who oppose the use say that grouping people by their inclination or behavior is not the same as real ethnic or religious communities, but instead equates people with their behavior. Also, given the tendency of the media to present such things as “CHURCH TO CHANGE TEACHING” headlines, it does matter whether or not Catholics use this term.

So the question is over whether calling people with a disordered attraction a community is in keeping with the command to love the sinner and speaking against the sin.

There’s no official teaching on the proper form here. The official statement from the Holy See said:

The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.

The Pope did not use the term, but there’s no doubt he was clear in condemning an evil act and showing love and compassion for victims and their families. So, unless wants to condemn the Pope, there is nothing wrong with avoiding the term. On the other hand, some bishops did use the term in sending condolences and Catholics dispute whether this was right.

Here’s the Problem

The problem with this debate is many debaters are openly insulting of the other side, accusing them of being bad Catholics. Hotheads among Catholics who support using the term “LGBT community” accuse those who don’t like it of bigotry and a lack of compassion for the victims and their families. Hotheads among Catholics opposed to the term accuse those who do use it of heresy and sending a false message to the world. Neither side is free of inflammatory rhetoric (So don’t go pointing fingers at the other side).

But people are assuming that a dispute proves a lack of love or a neglect of truth. Yes, we want to show compassion to the victims and their families. Yes, we want to condemn the mass shooting as something evil regardless of how the victims lived. But we also must make clear (where fitting) that our moral beliefs are not going to change because of the evil some do.

So, we have an obligation. Before we condemn a Catholic for being heretical or hateful, we have to know the intentions the speaker or writer had. Does the person who uses the term “LGBT community” mean to endorse something against Church teaching? Or is this a case of simply not thinking about the potential meanings people might draw from it? Does the person who does not use the term mean to show hatred to the victims? Or is it a case of wanting to be clear about where the Church stands?

What gets overlooked is the fact that a person may not intend what the listener/reader believes it the point. We should strive to speak clearly. But not all will have the same talent in doing so. We have to realize that condolences phrased differently than we like may not mean support of evil. It is possible the speaker is unclear or we have simply misunderstood because we give words meaning that the speaker does not intend. If the speaker uses the term, but does not mean to support sin, we must not condemn him for heresy. if the speaker does not use the term, but does not act out of hatred in doing so, we must not condemn him of bigotry. It is only when we know the person acts from a bad motive, that we can offer a rebuke.

Conclusion

It’s hypocrisy to love the person far away and hate our brother. God, who told us to love our enemies, also told us to love our neighbor as ourself. So if we call for love and compassion for the victims, but will not show it for the fellow Christian who we argue with, we are doing wrong. It’s time to stop accusing each other of bad will and time to start understanding what the other person meant, accepting different views as valid when they are compatible with Catholic belief and gently guiding them back when they are not.

Savaging each other over disagreements because we assume the other is deliberately choosing to do evil is rash judgment and we become hypocrites if we refuse to love our fellow Christian.

Monday, May 30, 2016

How Hard Did You Look?

One common complaint about the teaching authority of the Church today is that she does not teach clearly. This complaint pops up a lot when a person railing against a Church teaching or press conference by the Pope gets refuted. In other words, the person assumes that any misunderstanding about Church teaching must be the fault of the Church. Translated: “I don’t make mistakes. So if I misinterpreted it, someone else must be to blame!"

But when I witness people who blame the Church for their misunderstanding, the question that pops into my mind is How hard did you look for the true interpretation? Now the ability to interpret Church teaching may vary from person to person. Each of us have different levels of education and training after all. Some may be able to research for themselves. Others may not even know where to begin and need help from a reliable source to understand. But how many are even looking?

The fact that people automatically assume that the Pope and bishops in communion with him are seeking to change Church teaching shows that not only are they not looking for truth misrepresented in news reports, they do not even know the foundations the Catholic theology needed to properly assess what the Church teaches—both now and in the past. Since we believe that the Church can only bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18) because Our Lord gave the Apostles and their successors that authority, and that Our Lord equated rejecting the authority of the Church with rejecting Him (Luke 10:16), it follows that when the magisterium intends to teach—even if the teaching is not ex cathedra—we must give our assent to that teaching[†]. Since it is absurd to think God would expect us to obey error and deny truth, it logically follows that Our Lord protects His Church from teaching error in matters that would force us to sin against God if we obeyed.

So, when we read a report that the Church is reversing a long held teaching to allow what she formerly condemned as sinful, Catholics searching for the truth should know this claim is untrue. From this, we can search out what the Pope, bishop or synod said and in what context. The belief that Pope Francis intends to change Church teaching on moral obligation shows both an ignorance about what Pope Francis says and what his predecessors said. 

For example, many take offense at Pope Francis condemning evils in Capitalism and call him a Marxist. But if we look at what Popes said about moral obligation in social justice, we see that from Pope Leo XIII to the present have consistently opposed the same economic injustice Pope Francis opposes. To call him a Marxist means calling his predecessors the same thing.

What we have is the same situation Socrates spoke about. People often do not know the truth, and they do not know they are ignorant about the truth. Instead, they think their assumptions and preferences are truth, and attack whatever challenges those assumptions and preferences as error. So long as they do not constantly investigate whether their assumptions are true, they will never escape error.

When we are ignorant about something and we could have learned the truth if we bothered to look, we have vincible ignorance—that is to say, ignorance we can avoid and are responsible for if we do wrong through our ignorance. If we rely on the secular news and decide that the Church is in error while we are not, then we reach our interpretations through vincible ignorance and the error is our fault.

Yes, some people say “Pope Francis should have expressed himself more clearly” to excuse themselves. But people have misinterpreted Church teaching throughout history. How many anti-Catholics still believe we “worship” statues? How many of them think we believe in “works-based” salvation where we have to earn it? We do not believe these things but you will always find someone taking the Bible or a Church document out of context to justify a false accusation.

The fact is, the Church cannot express herself in such a way where nobody can misinterpret or misrepresent what she said. We use words in different contexts than Church documents intends and then assume the Church uses the word in the same context we do. That’s our fault. We rely on what others claim the Church said and don’t consider whether their claims are in context or even factually correct. 

I’d like to end this article with two truths that always helped me when people try to attack my faith in the Church:

  1. Just because we don’t know the answer to a problem does not mean the Church has no answer
  2. When we’re tempted to think the Church is teaching error, we must investigate whether we have misunderstood
If we remember these things, we are less likely to fall into error when the Church says something we find confusing.

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[†] Pope John XXII (commonly cited as proof that “heretic Popes”can exist) offered a personal opinion on a topic not yet defined at the time and never intended to teach it as Church belief. Yes, we’ve had bad popes, but that badness was moral, not doctrinal.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trapping Oneself by Clinging to False Ideas

But on the day before I was to be shipped home my favorite nun, Sister Patrice, pulled a chair up to my bed. 

“Andy, I have a story to tell you. Do you know how natives catch monkeys out in the forest?”

My face lit up at the thought of a monkey story.

“No. Tell me.”

“Well, you see, the natives know that a monkey will never let go of something he wants even if it means losing his freedom. So here’s what they do. They take a coconut and make a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey’s paw to slip through. Then they drop a pebble into the hole and wait in the bushes with a net. “Sooner or later a curious old fellow will come along. He’ll pick up that coconut shell and rattle it. He’ll peer inside. And then at last he’ll slip his paw into the hole and feel around until he gets hold of that pebble. But when he tries to bring it out, he finds that he cannot get the paw through the hole without letting go. And, Andy, that monkey will never let go of what he thinks is a prize. It’s the easiest thing in the world to catch a fellow who acts like that.”

Sister Patrice got up and put the chair back by the table. She paused for a moment and looked me straight in the eye.

“Are you holding on to something, Andrew? Something that’s keeping you from your freedom?”

And then she was gone.

Andrew, Brother; John Sherrill; Elizabeth Sherrill (2001-10-01). God's Smuggler (pp. 34-35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

A common trend lately, whether in debates on politics or moral concerns, are people who are so convinced they are right, that questioning their premises is “proof" of either bad will, by supporting what they define as the opposite position, or ignorance on a subject because you’re “too deluded” to see the truth. The only way to disprove these charges of your being a foe is accepting what they claim as true. They won’t accept the concept that they’re in the wrong.

This seems to be the case with the reaction to Pope Francis. Certain people believe he intends to overturn Church teaching in favor of a more liberal-friendly version. Some of them want it. Others dread it. Either way, they cling to this belief that they’ll find vindication for rejecting authority, refusing to consider the possibility they had it wrong all along. If it happened once or twice, we could understand this kind of mistake. But when it happens every time, and every time it turns out the Pope has no intention of changing Church teaching, then we know the problem is not with the Pope. 

Rather than accept that fact, they make all sorts of other explanations justifying their misinterpretations. Defenders of the Pope “explain away” his words. The Pope “speaks unclearly.” “Ambiguous documents” mean people will be able to do what they want. These arguments all depend on them proving their clung-to belief is true, but instead, they insist we just accept their claim as proven. They might even go so far as demanding to be disproven and, after refusing to consider your challenges, claim that nobody could refute them.

But, they’re not the last man standing. They simply refused to show up for the bout.

Another example is slander/libel against Christians for rejecting the ideology of gender and sexuality sweeping America today. People cling to the belief that opposition to morally bad actions is a hatred of people who do those actions. It doesn’t matter how reasoned the argument. They simply will not hear any refutation to the “moral opposition = bigotry” claim. The only way to avoid the charge of bigotry is to agree with them. But they will not prove the allegation that they have to prove—that moral opposition is bigotry.

In both the case of the charges against Pope Francis and the accusation that our opposition to arbitrarily changing morality is bigotry are a case of clinging to a belief that they can’t let go without admitting they were wrong. So they offer elaborate arguments why they’re in the right and their opponents must be malicious or deluded. Then, refusing to consider whether they might be wrong, they construct elaborate views of things that ignore inconvenient facts and treat those who disagree as enemies. In refusing to let go of this idea, they’re trapped into holding increasingly obvious falsehoods that prevents them from finding the truth.

I believe that the common denominator between my examples and other examples in the world is this: The false idea we cling to is “I cannot be wrong!” Until we realize we can err about something, we trap ourselves like the monkey in the story and will wind up captured by error. It’s only when each individual asks the question “Am I wrong?” that we can begin determining the truth and follow it.

In saying this, I say each of us must start by looking at ourselves. Not at others holding beliefs we dislike. If we skip that first step, if we assume we can’t be wrong, then we cling to the pebble like the monkey until we cannot escape. Perhaps we should start by looking at that area where we think “everybody else is an idiot!” Are we factually wrong about the issue? Are we wrong about the mindset of the people we think are idiots? Are we wrong about what they really think?

If we find we are wrong in one of those areas, then we need to let go of the error and seek the truth.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Christianos ad leones! Once More, Here We Go Again

From the first century AD to the present, harassment and persecution of the Church by government or cultural elites have followed a pattern:

  1. Accuse the Church of obstinately clinging to an unpopular teaching out of hostility and bad will.
  2. Attack the Church, using a false accusation as justification for unjust treatment. 
  3. Offer to relent if the Church will cede a part of the obedience owed to God to the state.
  4. When the Church refuses, increase the attacks and use that refusal as “proof” of unreasonableness of the Church and justification for continued mistreatment.

Sometimes these attacks have been overt, cruel and barbaric. Sometimes they masquerade as enforcement of an ordinarily good law but is misapplied. But regardless of how it is done [*], the State using these tactics is abusing its authority and often betraying the principles it was established under. In most circumstances, the Church in a region has two choices: To endure the persecution while trying to convert the persecutor or to capitulate to the State and consent to doing evil or having evil done in her name. The goal of the state is to force the second option. The call of the Christian is to choose the first option.

In the 21st century, the political and cultural elites of America seems determined to continue this cycle. No, it’s not brutal like the overt attacks on the Church in past centuries. Instead of arenas and wild beasts, it is courts and lawyers and instead of executioners and gulags, it is fines and lawsuits. But the end result is the same: The state usurps the power to compel the Christian to give support for what his religion calls evil. In doing so, America betrays the values she was founded upon. The explicit forbidding of the government to pass laws which interfere with the free practice of religion without a compelling interest (meaning vital for the safety of the country and with the least interference when proven compelling interest exists) has been perverted to the point that the state claims the right to coerce religion into abandoning whatever moral teaching is unpopular with the political and cultural elites.

We see this most recently with the vetoing of (and refusing to enforce) laws that seek to protect the freedom of religion from harassment by the state. The term Religious Freedom is put in Scare Quotes and portrayed as discrimination. The goal is to portray Christians who invoke their constitutional rights of freedom from state coercion as if they were calling for the right to mistreat people they dislike—a charge which is entirely false and one that makes use of the antics of a tiny minority to stereotype their behavior as the behavior of the whole group. In any other case, that tactic would be considered gross bigotry (for example, stereotypes like: all Muslims are terrorists, all blacks are felons, all Hispanics are illegal aliens).

The fact is, the Christian must do what is right before God—which is vastly different from the antics of the Westboro Baptists or suicide bombers—and what is right before God also means seeking the true good of our fellow human beings [†] even if we are harassed or persecuted for doing so. That is why we reject the charges against us. Our teachings and moral obligations are not based on the hatred of the sinner. If that were the case, we would have to hate ourselves as we believe we are all sinners in need of a Savior. People ma call us bigots, but that is nothing more than slander aimed at vilifying us for speaking against the popular vices of a society. Our Church absolutely forbids us from interpreting God’s commands as justifying mistreatment of the sinner [§].

So society has a choice to make. It can choose to try understanding the what and why of Church teaching and thus discover that the reason for our teaching is sound. Or it can choose to ignore the obligation to search for the truth and speak falsely against us. But if America should choose the latter option, she should consider this. The harassment of the Church and denial of religious freedom is ignoring the principles of the Bill of Rights. If society should decide that they are justified in ignoring one part as not being important, then they will have nothing to say if another group should use the same reasoning to suppress a different part of the Bill of Rights on the grounds that they don’t think it important.

I’ll leave you here with a section of dialogue by Dr. Peter Kreeft to consider:

‘Isa: But the main argument, the simplest argument, is just this: if no moral values are absolute, neither is tolerance. The absolutist can take tolerance much more seriously than the relativist. It’s absolutism, not relativism, that fosters tolerance. In fact, it’s relativism that fosters intolerance.

Libby: That’s ridiculous.

‘Isa: No it isn’t. Because … why not be intolerant? Only because it feels better to you? What happens tomorrow when it feels different? Why be tolerant? Only because it’s our society’s consensus? What happens tomorrow, when the consensus changes? You see? The relativist can’t appeal to a moral law as a wall, a dam against intolerance. But we need a dam because societies are fickle, like individuals. What else can deter a Germany—a humane and humanistic Germany in the twenties—from turning to an inhumane and inhuman Nazi philosophy in the thirties? What else can stop a now-tolerant America from some future intolerance?—against any group it decides to oppress? It was Blacks in the Southeast over slavery last century; it may be Hispanics in the Southwest over immigration next century. We’re intolerant to unwanted unborn babies today; we’ll start killing born ones tomorrow. Maybe eventually teenagers. They’re sometimes “wanted” even less than babies!

Libby: You’re getting more and more ridiculous.

‘Isa: Then answer the question: Why not? That’s the question. We persecuted homosexuals yesterday; today we persecute homophobes; maybe tomorrow we’ll go back to persecuting homosexuals again. Why not, if morals are only relative?

 

 Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 98.

 

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Christianos ad leones = latin for “The Christians to the Lions!"

[*] A common logical fallacy used here is the fallacy of relative privation, which claims that because your injustice is not as bad as another injustice, it is not injustice at all.

[†] The true good and the popular vices of a society being incompatible.

[§] At this point, someone will point out the punishments in past centuries as a “proof” against my claims. But that is to miss the point. In societies which had less developed forms of government, such practices were not distinct to one religion or culture. I don’t deny that some Churchmen in authority focussed too much on the civil punishments for sins that happened to be crimes as well, but you will never see the formal Church teaching state  that being merciless is good.