Showing posts with label non causa pro causa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non causa pro causa. Show all posts

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reflection on a Hidden and False Assumption

Preliminary Note: This is not the only case of error out there. I could probably write a logic text using nothing but examples from anti-Francis Catholics to demonstrate bad reasoning. But it is an error that undermines trust in the Church and needs to be addressed by itself.

I had a critic take exception to my last article, arguing (among other things) that the existence of certain evils in the Church was the fault of “Rome.” It’s a common allegation, one I’ve been fighting since before I started blogging (I’ve fought the SSPX using it against St. John Paul II for about as long as I’ve been on the Internet). It does have an enthymeme in it. That hidden premise is the belief that any persistent sin in the Church can only exist because of the approval or negligence of “Rome.” Because a sin exists, a Pope they dislike is accused because if he “took action,” the sin wouldn’t exist.

The problem is, under that line of reasoning, it indicts every Pope since St. Peter, and overlooks the fact that societies sometimes have vicious customs—evil acts commonly accepted in a society despite the teaching of the Church. For example, the French and their infamous acceptance of mistresses despite the fact that the Church has consistently condemned adultery and concubinage. If the current widespread sins of Catholics “proves” the approval or incompetence of the magisterium, then it also follows that the Church is to blame for not stopping mistressing. St. Paul VI (Humanae Vitae) is to blame for the acceptance of contraception among Catholics, and St. John Paul II (consistent warnings against the culture of death) for the prevalence of abortion. Never mind that they and their successors fought these evils and urged Catholics to reject and oppose them.

Even if one only speaks about corruption among the clergy (where there’s even less of an excuse for ignorance), you can’t say that it could only exist because of approval or indifference of Rome? St. Peter Damian wrote “The Book of Gommorah” (epistle 31) about the practice of homosexuality in monasteries and urging reform. Popes did take action to reform these evils but the evil did not vanish. Are we to condemn every Pope from Leo IX forward for this fact? Abortion was condemned since the first century but some Catholics still support it. In other words, this argument aimed at accusing one Pope or one Council would actually indict all of them if the widespread existence of a sin is the fault of a Pope.

This attitude is effectively a re-emergence of Pelagianism, believing that one is able to overcome sin through their own efforts. This re-emergence assumes that the Pope just has to make a harsh enough statement and Catholics will obey. We should consider what Pope Francis had to say in Gaudete et Exsultate:

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.” When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything,” and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. In every case, as Saint Augustine taught, God commands you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot, and indeed to pray to him humbly: “Grant what you command, and command what you will.”

Some things are beyond human effort and, if God’s permissive Will allows them to remain, we will not be able to overturn them no matter how much we want to (cf. Numbers 14:39-45).

This doesn’t mean “do nothing.” It means each age has its own evils and we must work to overcome them, relying on the grace of God to strengthen us for the task. Not by accusing people of malfeasance if the results are different than we want.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Truth vs. Perception

While I’m in the hospital doing rehabilitation from a recent amputation, I have the opportunity to do a lot of theological study. One of the things I’ve been doing is reading the post-Vatican II writings of St. Paul VI where he implemented the Council teachings into the practice of the Catholic Faith. I find his writings demonstrate a solid theology that reflects The Lord’s parable of the head of a household (Matthew 13:52) who “brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” He understood and respected the timeless teachings of the Church and the need to make them intelligible to the modern generation that thought the Church archaic and irrelevant.

I contrast that with all the horror stories critics bring forward about the rebellion within the Church with all the banality and dissent. In comparing the two, we discover that the Church never condoned these things. Rather there was a second movement within the Church—one predating Vatican II—that balked against certain disciplines and obligations. When the rebellion of the 1960s happened, this second movement identified with it and its call for radical change.

Unfortunately, some of the Catholics (rightly troubled by this rebellion) committed the non causa pro causa (“non-cause for a cause”) and post hoc fallacies in response. They assumed that since these rebellions came after Vatican II, Vatican II caused the rebellion and since these rebellions did not immediately vanish, it meant that St. Paul VI and his successors approved of the rebellion. Combine this with an ignorance about what the Council actually taught and you have a false perception that people believe simply because they can see problems exist in the Church and can see things they dislike in the Church.

This result was understandable but false. Since the Church was perceived as stable before the Council, but was now facing chaos, it was easy to link the problem to the dislike. Groups like the SSPX grew by claiming that the Council taught “errors” and the only way back from the “error” was to go back to the way things were before the Council. The problem is, there were no errors.

It’s remarkably similar to the anti-Catholics who see things they think of as error. They assume that the Church needs to “go back” to a time before the “errors” (a fictional time when the Church was allegedly guided by the Bible alone). Like the anti-Vatican II crowd, they assumed that the Church went wrong where it taught what they dislike. But there were no errors in teaching. There was corruption when members of the Church failed to live according to that teaching.

And, of course, we have the same problem today with anti-Francis Catholics who assume that the Pope is teaching “error” and insist that we must undo what he did to “save” the Church. These critics overlook the fact that the problems we have now were problems we had under his predecessors. 

In all these cases, reform had to happen or will have to happen where wrongdoing happened. But the reform that was needed was not the reform the critics demanded. The reform was not needed because of the teaching. It was needed because of people acting in opposition to the teaching. The truth and the perception were different.

Ultimately we need to beware of the “obvious solution” that matches the preferences of the person making it. If we want to correct problems, we need to look at the problem and not assume cause and effect intersect at the point of our dislike.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Missing the Clues, Missing the Answer

Among the dangers of misunderstanding out there, one that comes to my mind is the fact that members of the faithful are all too quick to draw assumptions from what they think they know, treating it as all the information needed to form a judgment. The problem is it is easy to make mistakes over cause and effect, or assume that there is only one conclusion to be drawn.

Assumptions can be falsely positive or excessively negative. I’m reminded of some triumphalistic books written by English Catholics in the early 20th century about the rising divorce rate in Protestant countries. They rightly deplored the divorce rate (back then it was “only” 3 in 10 ending in divorce), but wrongly assumed that the problem was caused by Protestant theology and that Catholics would never run into these problems. Unfortunately, that assumption was based on false interpretation of information. Yes, the Protestant mindset about marriage caused this to appear more quickly among their denominations, but they mistook the cause and effect. The problem was a growing indifference to moral and religious obligations... something that would fester later (after World War II) among Catholics. The reaction of the authors was rather like the above (repurposed) comic by David Low. These authors failed to grasp that the growing threat put them in the same boat if the problem was left unchecked.

Another example might be one described by C.S. Lewis in his essay, “The Decline of Religion” (found in the book God in the Dock). Talking about the missed clues that led to the decline of attendance at chapel in Oxford, he pointed out that the assumed cause and effect was wrong. He wrote:

The ‘decline of religion’ so often lamented (or welcomed) is held to be shown by empty chapels. Now it is quite true that that chapels which were full in 1900 are empty in 1946. But this change was not gradual. It occurred at the precise moment when chapel ceased to be compulsory. It was not in fact a decline; it was a precipice. The sixty men who had come because chapel was a little later than ‘rollers’ (its only alternative) came no more; the five Christians remained. The withdrawal of compulsion did not create a new religious situation, but only revealed the situation which had long existed. And this is typical of the ‘decline in religion’ all over England.

In other words, when chapel was mandatory (and attendance was taken), the nonconformists had to report in early. So many came to chapel not out of conviction, but because it meant sleeping in an extra ten minutes. It could not simply be fixed by reinstating mandatory attendance because the attitude had appeared long before.

Another issue is mentioned by Benedict XVI in his work, Milestones. In discussing the attempt of the bishops to defend the schools from the Nazis (page 15), he discusses a problem that doomed their efforts:

Already then it dawned on me that, with their insistence on preserving institutions, these letters in part misread the reality. I mean that merely to guarantee institutions is useless if there are no people to support those institutions from inner conviction. But this was only partially the case. To be sure, teachers could be found in both the older and the younger generations who had deep convictions of faith, people who in their hearts saw Christian faith was the foundation of our culture and, therefore, of its work of education. But in the older generation there existed an anti-clerical resentment that was understandable, considering that the prerogative to inspect schools belonged to priests. In the younger generation there were convinced Nazis. So in both these cases it was inane to insist on an institutionally guaranteed Christianity.

Yes, the bishops were fighting to save an institutionally guaranteed Christianity, but the people didn’t.

This is why I think the Catholics who say things like “Vatican II caused X,” miss the point. The fact that much of our abuse scandal involved priests ordained before Vatican II shows the problem had another cause. The fact that there was a false “hope” among many Catholics that the Church would overturn the contraception teachings after the discovery of “the pill,” and the abandonment of Friday fasting from meat (even though some penance was still required) showed that a large number of Catholics didn’t obey previously out of conviction but out of compulsion. When the social upheavals of the late 1960s arose, many Catholics simply stopped obeying... and if they stop obeying, how can the magisterium succeed in standing for the Church?

It would be wrong to assume that “the magisterium” was to blame. Pope Pius XII was the first to warn about the loss of the sense of sin in the Church. His successors continued that warning, targeting specific evils of that time. It would also be wrong to blame one political faction. Yes, the Catholic “left” rebelled against sexual morality teaching. But the Catholic “right” rebelled against social teachings. Both led to the later Catholics believing they could set aside whatever they disliked. In both cases the rebelling Catholics used the same argument: the teaching they didn’t like “was not binding” and not free of error.

The Popes didn’t miss the clues though. They continued to teach on what Christians had to avoid, and continued to encourage us to go beyond the letter of the law. Pope Francis’ letter to the US Bishops (PDF) is an example of that—saying it was not enough to create policies. We had to change our hearts as well.

As I see it, the problem today involves a legalism which condemns whatever others do that we agree with while evading obedience which condemns what we want to do. In that, we’re little different from the students C.S. Lewis mentioned who only did something so long as it was required under pain of sanction. 

We need to stop assuming that the problem in the Church exist because we changed or did not change a discipline in the Church. That’s being so focused on our pet theories for cause/effect that we miss the real causes. We need to watch for the signs that people no longer care to defend the Church and live it wholeheartedly. If we miss those clues, we miss the solutions.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Enemy is a Friend Who Wants to Kill You? Reflections on Noonan's Defense of the Media

Sources: Peggy Noonan: The Catholic Church's Catastrophe -

Anti-Benedict Media Sharks: Best Friends *and* Enemies? | Blogs |

Peggy Noonan is a Catholic, former Reagan speech writer and an author (she wrote a book on John Paul II) who generally seems to be loyal to the Church.  So when it comes to her criticisms, it is clearly a different case than the New York Times or the attacks of "Cafeteria Catholics."

Reading her article, The Catholic Church's Catastrophe I am inclined to think that she fundamentally misses the point regarding Catholic's anger over the recent attacks.

Her thesis seems to be essentially:

In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.

This is the fallacy known as Non causa pro causa. The reason I think she is wrong is that she makes an error over what the case is about.  It is not about denying any sort of abuse took place.  It is not about the fact that some bishops did horrible wrong in kicking it under the carpet instead of following the Church rules on the subject at the time the abuse was known.  It is not even about whether some cases were handled in a way slower than should have been.

The reason there is anger from Catholics over the media bias is that in the recent news stories of Milwaukee, Munich and Arizona, there was a concerted effort to attack the person of Pope Benedict XVI with no evidence in favor of, and in fact much evidence against, their claim.

Noonan, in attributing anger over the false attacks against the Pope as anger over reporting abuse at all is attributing a non-cause as a cause.

An Enemy Is A Friend Who Wants To Kill You

I also think Noonan errs over the claim that the media forced "the Church" to deal with the issues.  She says:

Without this pressure—without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts—the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.

However, the facts are against her.  In Milwaukee, the case was moving forward until the time of the death of the defendant.  In Arizona, the priests accused were suspended and barred from priestly ministry and had appealed the verdict, taking several years to resolve. In Munich, the vicar general made a decision on his own behalf without consulting then Archbishop Ratzinger.

Indeed, Noonan seems to be making a fallacy of equivocation here.  "The Church" was indeed working on this before the 2002 scandal of Cardinal Law.  She could perhaps say that the Church in America was forced to confront the issue, but this is a far different issue than the accusing of Pope Benedict.

The Principle of Subsidiarity

The thing is, the Church operates under the principle of Subsidiarity, which is described in the Catechism as:

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

In the idea of subsidiarity, the higher gets involved in the affairs of the lower when there is a failure in the lower to police itself.  This is what the Church did, once reports of the abuse began crossing its desk.  It reformed its former rules on the subject.

One could make a case that certain media reports helped alert the Magisterium to a breakdown in subsidiarity in the lower levels in America, however, I suspect that the media did not have as big a role as Noonan thinks.

The media may have publicized it.  However, it does not follow that they caused the investigations to begin.  The issue of course is the objectivity of the media.  There were 3,000 cases dating back to 1950 which had to be investigated.  Much of the media had made it sound as if there were many more cases annually.

If The Media Is Alarmed Over Abuse, Why Does It Ignore the Largest Offender?

I think it is a valid charge that the public schools has a exponentially larger number of cases of sexual abuse of minors, and doesn't pick up a fraction of the coverage, even though the Church has put in place of protections the public schools still lack.  Such behavior speaks against concern for victims of sexual abuse and speaks more for bias in the media in an attempt to attack the whole Church.

This is not a tu quoque of course.  The evils in the Public schools do not make for a defense of abusers in the Church.  However, if the media is concerned about the children, why does it continue to report on old cases within the Church instead of reporting on the ongoing problems within the public schools and the utter lack of reform and the ongoing practices which the Church is in the process of eliminating.

The fact that the media continues to report on cases from the 1950-2000 era even though the Church has reformed itself and is clearing the backlog of cases, and ignores the schools utter lack of reform seems to indicate an agenda.

If the Church Makes a Policy Change and Nobody Reports it, is it still the fault of the Church?

That kind of coverage was not helpful, and in fact obscured the real issues to be dealt with.  The Church made a careful investigation at the time the media was making accusations of stonewalling, and policies were enacted.  People with homosexual tendencies were restricted based on the investigation into those most likely to be victimized.  Rules were made concerning the policies to be carried out in parishes and dioceses.

Much of the time, the media made much of the charges, but said almost nothing of the Church actions in response to the abuse.  Were it not for the Catholic media reporting, nobody would have been aware that the Church had acted.

The Media is Hardly a "Friend"

Mark Shea writes an article about the view that the media is the friend of the Church which brings home all the flaws of the defense of the media in the latest frenzy.  In it, he writes:

Look.  I can grant that *God*, who orders all things for the good of those in Christ Jesus, can use bitter enemies of the Church to bring about redemption and healing.  But please: let’s make up our mind.  Are journalists who do slipshod hatchet jobs on Benedict “the Church’s best friend” or are they “enemies of His people”?  I think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, whatever God may have in mind, the authors of this war on Benedict do not regard themselves as “best friends of the Church” and that the self-congratulation of journalists for their shoddy reportage is as repulsive as the self-congratulation of abusers who lectured their victims to sit there, shut up and take it due to the abusers’ sanctity as priests and as mediators of Truth.  Spare me.

It is an excellent point.  The Holy Week attacks on the Pope were not done with the good of the Church in mind.  The attacks attempted to link the culpability of those who had in fact done evil (the abusers) with Pope Benedict XVI — without a shred of proof.

Shea goes on to write:

But please. This group of frenzied MSM sharks bent on destroying Benedict and engaging in their annual Holy Week Church Bash on the flimsiest charges are not the Church’s"friends”, nor do they give a tinker’s damn about the good of the Church or abused children who are not usefully Catholic.  You might as well tell me that Mehmet Ali Acga (whom these sharks did not fail to consult for his expert opinion) was just trying to help John Paul II grow closer to Christ Crucified when he shot him.  Jimmy Akin has methodically taken apart the NY Times crapalicious reporting.  Real “friends” at the Times (London and New York) would acknowledge they did a lousy job and apologize (as for instance, NBC did when they libeled the Pope as a child molester).  Enemies, however, admit nothing.  And enemies of the Church is just what these people act like.  God will, of course, bring life out of the sins of pervert priests, bad bishops *and* bad reporters.  But with the exception of a few journalists with actual integrity and knowledge of the facts like John Allen, the spectacle leading up to the annual MSM Bash Christianity for Holy Week Fest has been a depressingly ignorant and ideology-driven affair.  To be sure, what the MSM meant for evil, God means to turn to good.  But they do indeed, largely mean to do evil in this recent spate of hatchet jobs on Benedict.

This is the difference between enemies and friends.  If the attacks were made in good faith, those who made these reports would have acknowledged their errors and corrected them.  The media in these cases did not do this.

Conclusion: Why Noonan Erred

This is why Noonan has erred in her claims that the media is the friend of the Church, even though she seems to seriously believe it.  By falsely linking the justified investigations of actual abusers with the attempts to insinuate Pope Benedict XVI was guilty, she makes a false accusation that those of us who are angered at the attacks on the Pope are actually angry that abuse was reported at all.

The truth is, we would not be angered at objective reporting, and the admission of errors made in this reporting.  We do object to the smearing of our Pope and the attempts to push an ideology onto the Church using the abuse cases as an excuse [The inevitable calls for women priests and the end of celibacy among other things].

Shea is correct: God may use these attacks for good (it certainly woke up American Catholics to the problems within the American Church).  However, let's knock off the claim that the media did good because change happened.  That's a post hoc fallacy.  Change happened because the Church cared about what happened, and change was happening even before the 2003-2004 reporting of the abuse scandals.

[Edited to correct a typo which changed the meaning of one sentence from what I intended]