Showing posts with label obligation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label obligation. Show all posts

Monday, October 12, 2020

Dealing With the “In the Real World” Brush-Off

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.  (Ezekiel 33: 7-9)

* * *

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The other day, I wound up involved in a combox argument with a woman who was using all the old arguments certain Catholics use to downplay abortion when they want to vote for the candidate who is pro-abortion and do not want to delve into whether that choice is compatible with the Catholic teaching. As the dialogue devolved, I heard the typical “the pro-abortion candidate is more pro-life” and “personally opposed but I can’t impose my beliefs on others.” When I pointed out that the Catholic obligation to go out the world to teach the nations about what they need to do to be saved (John 14:15 figures in prominently there), she came up with an even older argument, that ran, “That might be the ideal, but the Church needs to consider the real world.” That is nothing more than a repackaged version of “the Church needs to get with the times.”

This is not an advocacy article trying to tell you how to vote, however. Rather I see this attitude as a warning sign that we have work to do in evangelizing the world… starting with ourselves.

The fact that some Catholics continue to fall back on those arguments shows that they either do not grasp or do not care to follow the Church teaching on areas that would go against their preferences. But, before we get cocky, we should remember that this sort of thinking also exists on the other side of the political factionalism. Consider how many times we hear that the Pope grew up in a socialist country so he does not understand how economics work in the real world (currently this is directed against Pope Francis, but this argument was also used against St. John Paul II)  and it is unreasonable to follow his uninformed opinions. How many times do we hear Catholics say that the Church is out of touch in condemning torture because these times are more dangerous than they realize?

This is the same argument as the first, only applied to a different disobedience. Regardless of faction, this argument effectively denies that the Church can teach in a binding manner if we dislike that teaching. Their personal political preferences come first and if they dissent against a teaching or fear their political preferences will be harmed by a teaching against them, they define the Church teaching as out of touch with the real world.

The problem is, we cannot pretend this is compatible with the Catholic Faith. The Great Commission makes clear that we have a mission. We must let the people of the world know about the need for salvation and the need to reject what goes against that salvation. The fact that people will continue to try to do evil things and be harmed if they are blocked if those things are barred by law is not an excuse for us to avoid saying what is right and explaining why it is vital to follow these teachings.

“The Real World” that everyone appeals to against the Church is not the reality of what is right. “The Real World” is identified in Scripture as “the flesh,” “the world,” “the carnal,” etc. It is the attitude that puts self-gratification first and reacts hostilely to anything that threatens it directly or indirectly. While it would be wrong to interpret it in a gnostic sense—that matter is evil—Our Lord did warn us, The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify to it that its works are evil (John 7:7).

We are called, as part of the Great Commission to let people know they need salvation and what they need to do to be saved. Peter Kreeft described it this way:

Christianity is the “good news” indeed, but this good news makes no sense unless you believe the bad news first. The good news is like the offer of a free heart transplant operation from God; but if you don’t think your heart is desperately diseased, you won’t see that offer as good news at all. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). He said this to the Pharisees, the self-righteous fools who thought they were just good people who didn’t need to repent of sin. The good news of forgiveness is really good news only because the bad news of sin is really bad news. The greater the problem, the greater the solution. The deeper the valley, the higher the mountain. (Peter J. Kreeft, Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer.Ignatius Press, 2008, 209).

Those who say the Church teaching does not work in the real world are like those Pharisees who thought they did not need to repent. We do need to realize we need to repent and turn away from the values of “the real world” and teach others to do the same. Otherwise, we should remember the words of God to Ezekiel warning him of what should happen if we stay silent.



(†) One of the bizarre behaviors of the critics is, the same Catholics who say that the Pope’s words about the abuse of capitalism are more applicable to socialism also say we must oppose him because he is a socialist. Well, which is it?

Friday, September 20, 2019

On the Need For Dialogue

Therefore, let us not be provoked with these men, let us not use anger as an excuse, but let us talk with them gently and with kindness. Nothing is more forceful and effective than treatment which is gentle and kind. This is why Paul told us to hold fast to such conduct with all the earnestness of our hearts when he said: “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but must be kindly toward all.” He did not say “only to your brothers,” but “toward all.” And again, when he said: “Let your gentleness be known,” he did not say “to your brothers,” but “to all men.” What good does it do you, he means, if you love those who love you? 

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Homily 1.40)

While doing the somewhat irritating task of studying non-Catholic Christian theologies, I came across this “interesting” claim from an Eastern Orthodox professor about what Catholics supposedly believe:

A natural consequence of this is the attempt of Roman Catholics to dematerialize as much as possible the offered gifts of the Eucharist, since they represent symbolically the completed transubstantiation. The bread of the Eucharist is not the everyday bread of people; they have replaced it with “hosts”, an unleavened, almost transparent preparation. And they deprive the laity of sharing in the cup, because the taste of the wine is dangerously opposed to the idea of transubstantiation. (Yannaris, Christos. Elements of Faith: An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith)

To which, the informed Catholic is tempted to respond in this manner:

The reason we are tempted respond this way (and the reason I call studying non-Catholic theology “irritating”) is because the author of the book is either grossly ignorant or deliberately deceptive about what Catholics believe to the point of being insulting.

In doing so, he invented a ridiculous reason to explain why we “believe” something so foolish. But Catholic belief on Transubstantiation does not have anything to do with what Professor Yannaris falsely claims we believe.

[Excursus: Before going forward, I want to make something clear. When I say these writings—described or quotedin this article—speak falsely or falsehoods about us, it doesn’t mean that I automatically accuse them of deliberately lying. I leave it to God to judge whether they who speak falsely lied or simply erred. Rather, based on Aristotle’s definition of truth, the person who says of what is, that it is not, or says of what is not, that it is, speaks falsely. All lies are falsehoods, but not all falsehoods are lies. A lie is when a person knowingly says what is false. But a person who believes a falsehood is true or repeats it without investigating whether or not it is true does not lie, but still speaks falsely. Whatever their culpability, because Catholics do not believe what they accuse us of, these claims should be rejected as false by all people of good will.]

We have the same problems when modern anti-Catholics repeat the falsehoods of Luther, Calvin, and others. They speak falsely about what we believe, take Scripture and Patristics out of context [¥], and invent a false motive for why we “believe” them. It seems like a huge poisoning the well fallacy used to turn the reader against considering the Catholic perspective before they ever encounter it. 

For example, Calvin’s misrepresentation of Catholic concepts of repentance as external works (for example, Insitutes of the Christian Religion Book III Chapter 4) and his claims of what we believe about Confession are plain and simple falsehoods, misquoting people like St. Thomas Aquinas to make it seem as if the Catholic Church invented doctrines, either ignoring or being ignorant of the fact that the Saint anticipated and answered his objections 300 years previously.

Ironically, Luther was quite angry at those who dared to misrepresent him. In his introduction to the Smalcald Articles [€] he writes (The Annotated Luther, volume 2, p. 425):

I must tell a story. A doctor sent from France was here in Wittenberg. He stated publicly in our presence that his king was persuaded beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no church, no government, and no marriage among us, but rather that everyone carried on with each other like cattle, and all did what they wanted. Now imagine, how will those people, who in their writings have represented as pure truth such gross lies to the king and to other countries, face us on that day before the judgment seat of Christ? Christ, the Lord and Judge of us all, surely knows that they lie and have lied. They will have to hear his judgment again; that I know for sure.

Yet, he and Calvin did exactly that with Catholic teachings. Luther was correct in saying that those speaking falsely would be judged. But he apparently didn’t ask questions about whether what he said was true. As Our Lord said in Matthew 7:2, For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Unfortunately, some Catholics are guilty of doing what anti-Catholics do to us. Some are perfectly willing to yank quotes out of context and repeat things as truth without investigating whether they were actually said or what they meant. Then there’s the Catholics who commit the same calumny against Muslims that 19th and 20th century Americans used against us [*]. If it’s wrong for non-Catholics to misrepresent us, then logically we must not misrepresent them either. As the Catechism points out:

2464 The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.

I think this is where the oft maligned concept of dialogue comes into play. Dialogue is not a stealth attempt to make the Catholic Church “Protestant” (a popular charge from the anti-Vatican II crowd). Dialogue [#] is “discussion directed towards exploration of a subject or resolution of a problem” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). The Catholic Church enters discussion with other groups to eliminate misunderstandings and resolve needless religious conflicts with the aim of working to restore communion. The Code of Canon Law makes this obligation clear:

can. 755 §1.† It is above all for the entire college of bishops and the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement whose purpose is the restoration among all Christians of the unity which the Church is bound to promote by the will of Christ.

That doesn’t mean all problems will vanish once everyone understands what we believe and why. There will cases where the accurately understood beliefs of those involved in dialogue will conflict with each other. For example, the Catholic Church professes: “We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men” (Dignitatis Humanae #1) and “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium #14). So, Catholics cannot say that we have “part of” the truth and the “whole” will only be found in coming together.

This is obviously going to be a stumbling block. Faithful Catholics cannot deny these teachings or try to undermine them [^], while those who believe that the Catholic Church is in error and think that dialogue means we want them to embrace error will be scandalized. Many Christian denominations and non-Christian religions think we’re arrogant to make the claim that the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church. At the same time, those Catholics who either don’t know or don’t believe that Vatican II reaffirms the past teachings about her nature fear we're going to “give away the store.” If we’re going to avoid needless conflict and perhaps close gaps between us, we need to make sure that all parties involved understand what the others believe and why, even if we disagree afterwards. As St. John Paul II put it during his June 26, 1985 audience: “On our part we shall make our entire commitment of prayer and of work for unity, by seeking the ways of truth in charity.”

But that unity can only happen if we [§] talk to each other instead of at each other; if we strive to understand what the other parties believe and why, instead of merely inserting our own meaning into something we don’t understand. That’s why the Church takes part in dialogue. And that’s why we must not treat it as some sort of “capitulation to error” when we take part. Because if the Church doesn’t take part, how will those who accuse us learn that their charges against us are false? And if they never learn that their charges are false, how can we hope to restore communion?


[¥] Reading Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity, I am struck by how brazenly he makes ipse dixit, argument from silence, and begging the question fallacies in claiming that the Scriptures that contradict him don’t count (e.g. “In the first place the sixth chapter of John must be entirely excluded from this discussion, since it does not refer to the sacrament in a single syllable” The Annotated Luther vol 3, p. 21) when it is precisely his assertions that need to be proven in the first place.

[€] The accusations in the Smalcald Articles are so bizarre that I find myself wondering just how bad Luther’s priestly formation was in his monastery that he could possibly believe the Church taught these things. If he wasn’t knowingly distorting things to justify his schism, it certainly explains why the Council of Trent insisted on a reform of priestly formation.

[*] No, they didn’t worry about a Catholic al-qaida. But they did worry about Al Capone.

[#] Technically, dialogue between different groups of Christians is “ecumenism.” Dialogue with non-Christians is “religious dialogue.”

[^] To make it clear to those who might misunderstand me, I fully believe and profess these things that the Church teaches.

[§] When I say “we,” I don’t mean individual Catholics should decide for themselves what the “real truth” is, ignoring what the Church teaches. The Church wisely warns against casual and uncritical reading of works hostile to the Church to prevent people from making a shipwreck of their faith. Too many think that if they don’t know an answer to a challenge, that means there is no answer. I suspect that many ex-Catholics are in this category.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

False Accusations revisited

Parvus error in principiis, magnus error in conclusionibus (Small error in the beginning leads to great error in the conclusion). It’s a maxim that means that if you start with errors in your assumptions, your conclusion will build on those false assumptions and wind up with an even greater one [§]. So, when we set out to prove something, it’s vital to make sure that our assumptions and research are correct.

This is especially true if you’re planning to accuse a person or group. We might think something is an error. But before we argue that it is in error, we need to investigate whether our understanding about the thing is true. If it isn’t, our opposition might be what’s really in error.

I think of this when I come across anti-Catholic attacks. In attempting to show why they are right in their beliefs, they start by attacking our “errors.” The problem is, Catholics don’t believe what they accuse us of. So, if they justify breaking with the Catholic Church on grounds of the Church teaching error [#], but the errors they allege we teach are things we don’t we actually reject then their break remains unjustified. So when Calvin alleges we worship idols, when some Orthodox allege Catholics think we “earn” our way out of Purgatory by our suffering (The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church, Question 66) [*], when Luther alleges (Commentary On Galatians, Chapter 5 v. 15) [+] that we believe we can earn salvation, these things are simply false. The Catholic Church does not and never had believed these things.

Whether Calvin, Peter Mogila (the author of the Orthodox Confession) and Luther were badly taught on these matters, whether they badly misunderstood the correct teachings, or whether they were barefaced liars (I leave it to God to judge), they used false statements to justify rejection of the Catholic Church and encourage others to do the same. Not only at the time of writing, but in the present time where modern anti-Catholics assume they had accurate knowledge of Church teaching. [%].

Of course, we must follow Our Lord’s teaching in Luke 6:31. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If we would have others speak truthfully about us, we must speak truthfully about others. That means if we want to speak about another’s errors, we must be sure we have properly understood their statements as they intended it to be understood. Whether we speak or write about others, inside or outside of the Church, we have the obligation to make sure we speak accurately about what they really said and did.

Sadly, that isn’t the case. There is a (probably informal) movement that is aimed at opposing what they think is error in the Church. They take “Who am I to judge” to be approval of homosexuality. They take “rabbit Catholics” to mean opposition to large families. They take his words on the permissive will of God to be something approved of by God. From here they use their false interpretation (whatever the culpability might be) to attack the Pope, some having gone so far as to formally accuse him of heresy and urge the bishops to take action.

But these are false accusations, even if the anti-Francis Catholics believe them. We have an obligation to understand a person correctly before accusing him if we are to avoid rash judgment (you’ll notice that, while I pointed out that reformers, anti-Catholics, and anti-Francis Catholics spoke falsely—which can be established by comparing what they wrote with what the Church wrote—I never accused them of lying. That would require knowledge of their heart and mind that only God knows).

Whoever you are, whatever you do (I’m looking at our politicians and media here), whatever you profess to believe, you have an obligation to speak accurately when making an accusation, not assuming that what we hear or what we think it means is what our opponent holds.


[§] In logic, if one or both premises are false and/or the logical form is invalid, the conclusion is unproven. It might be correct by sheer coincidence, but the person didn’t prove his point.

[#] We need to distinguish between what the Church teaches and what an individual Catholic might believe—contrary to the teachings of the Church. If one assumes that the error of one is the error of the whole Church, that’s the fallacy of composition.

[*] This catechism reads in part: “Our Church doth not admit or approve of such Fables as some Men have fancied concerning the State of Souls after Death; as that they are tormented in Pits and Waters, and with sharp Prongs, when they are snatched away by Death before they can have done sufficient Penance for their Faults.” To which Catholics can say, “we don’t believe that either.

[+] “This we see also in the Papacy, where the doctrine of faith being cast aside, it was impossible that concord of spirit should remain, and in the stead thereof there arose through the doctrine of works innumerable sects of monks, which being at variance with one another, did measure their holiness by the straitness of their orders and the difficulty of their superstitious works which they had themselves devised.” To which Catholics can say “Luther knew less than he thought about the Catholic Faith.”

[%] That doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church teaches the Protestant position of course. Rejecting A does not mean accepting B.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Myths and Lies

The term “myth” in the dictionary (Oxford) has two definitions. 
  1. a traditional story concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.
  2. a widely held but false belief.
I’m inclined to think that when it comes to anti-Catholicism, we can combine the two and describe it as “a widely held but false belief explaining a natural or social phenomenon.” By this, I mean that in defending a movement opposed to the Church, proponents of the movement must retroactively justify the opposition. Because actual history does not provide such a justification, these proponents must invent one that explains it. Thus we wind up with a bizarre claim that the original form of Christianity was “corrupted” or “driven underground” by the Catholic Church early on through “error” and “innovation.”

Under this tactic, the teachings of the Church are turned into a huge straw man that Catholics have never believed while the actual corruption is transformed into something that was openly supported and blessed by the Church instead of the abberation it was actually seen as. The absence of technology before a certain point is transformed into a conspiracy. Cause and effect is assumed when it needs to be proven (post hoc fallacy).

Thus abuse in the matter of indulgences (for example Tetzel or how the use of charitable donations could be misunderstood as buying and selling) was transformed into an invention of the Church interfering with the relation between God and man. The fact of widespread illiteracy (those who were literate in that time did know Latin) and no printing press before the 15th century became the Church “withholding” the Bible from the laity.

Under this myth, aberration is portrayed as “normal.” There’s the case of how monks and priests were supposed to be stupid and uneducated. Yet the former clergy who began Protestantism were highly educated as monks and priests and they were not self-taught. Who taught the Reformers about Scripture in the first place? Luther didn’t find the Bible hidden in a storeroom. He was assigned to teach it by his superior in the Augustinian order!

I could go on and on, and the anti-Catholics undoubtedly will. But the point is that the Church corrected her corruption, while holding firm to her teachings. The Church made them clearer against misunderstanding, yes. Reduced opportunity for abuse, yes. Made uniform standards, yes. But the teachings were never repudiated. In fact, men like Luther, Zwingli, Knox, etc., misrepresented what the Church taught, whether knowingly or out of their own misunderstanding. (I leave it for God to judge).

As I’ve said in similar articles, this is not a “Protestant bashing” article. Rather I take this historical issue of misunderstanding or misrepresentating the Church (which continues among anti-Catholics), and apply it to the “widely held but false belief explaining a natural or social phenomenon” that Catholics use to attack changes in discipline which they dislike. 

Take the case of First Things, issue 249 (January, 2015). In an article arguing that the Church was compromising with the sexual revolution, the author wrote:

By renouncing the discipline of the Friday fast after Vatican II, the Church abandoned the stomach—after which collapsed an entire social system of Friday-focused marketplace and restaurant businesses that was organized around the Church’s claim upon the body. The same goes for the Church’s provision of Saturday-evening Masses. This decision relaxed Christianity’s claim to “own” our bodies on Sunday. 

I find his comments to be the Catholic equivalent of the anti-Catholic propaganda. St. Paul VI did not renounce the Friday fast. Rather, he recognized that penance needed to be... penitential. In the Apostolic Constitution, Paenitimini, he wrote:

The Church, however, invites all Christians without distinction to respond to the divine precept of penitence by some voluntary act, apart from the renunciation imposed by the burdens of everyday life.

To recall and urge all the faithful to the observance of the divine precept of penitence, the Apostolic See intends to reorganize penitential discipline with practices more suited to our times. It is up to the bishops—gathered in their episcopal conferences—to establish the norms which, in their pastoral solicitude and prudence, and with the direct knowledge they have of local conditions, they consider the most opportune and efficacious.

It’s the person having lobster on Friday, not the Church, abandoning the stomach. The diabetic who can’t abstain from meat isn’t abandoning the stomach by replacing it with another penance. Likewise, with the vigil Mass, Ven. Pius XII established the Vigil to benefit the person who has to work or travel on Sunday. One can abuse the intent, but the Church “relaxed” nothing.

We can point to other myths. Consider the claim that the Ordinary Form of the Mass was designed by Protestants (explicitly denied by those involved)... a myth aimed at justifying disobedience to the Church and rejecting the legitimate exercise of the magisterium. Consider the “Pope Francis allowing divorced/remarried to receive the Eucharist” when his point was determining whether all elements of a mortal sin was present instead of assuming they were. For that matter, consider all the (continuing) claims that the Pope is changing Church teaching on homosexuality, even though he consistently teaches against it. Or that he intends to force through female deacons even though he has said, “I can’t do a decree of a sacramental nature without having the theological, historical foundation for it.”

I can go on, and like the anti-Catholics, these people will.

When it comes to the anti-Catholic, the anti-Vatican II, or the anti-Francis myths, we have to ask ourselves this: Do those who spread them know they are false? If they do, they commit calumny. If they don’t, they commit rash judgment. Both are sins. The former is deliberate. In that case, the person spreading the myth knowingly participates in a lie. The latter is a failure to investigate the justness of a claim before assuming guilt and spreading unjust gossip. Their culpability, I leave for God to judge. But He has forbade false witness.

Whether the reader is hostile to the Catholic Church or a member, we have an obligation to speak honestly and make sure what we hear is true before spreading it. If we refuse to meet that obligation, we will have to answer for it.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Is the Road to Hell Paved With Bad Reasoning?

The Pope issued a statement today on the moral responsibility that capitalist systems must address. Predictably, defenders of capitalism and opponents of the Pope began pointing out the flaws of socialism, accusing him of championing it. This is bad reasoning. Speaking about the flaws of A does not mean a support of B (“either-or fallacy “). Pointing out the flaws of B does not debunk the arguments pointing out the flaws of A (“begging the question fallacy”). Reflecting on this, I was struck by the following: Is the road to hell paved with bad reasoning or the refusal to reason?

In saying this, I don’t mean invincible ignorance. Nor do I mean that one must be a logician to be saved. Rather, I mean there is a danger with seizing on whatever reasoning one can find to justify opposition to a disliked Church teaching without investigating the soundness of the argument. Since we have an obligation to form our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we cannot refuse to investigate whether we are in error. If we do, this is vincible ignorance, which is liable to judgment. As Gaudium et Spes taught (#16):

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.

If one grasps onto sophistry to justify dissent, that person cares less for truth than for supporting an ideology. And we, who profess to be Catholic, would be wise to remember Our Lord’s words on the higher standard we are held to: 

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Luke 12:47–48).

As Catholics, we are the ones entrusted with more. With a Church established by Christ Himself, we are the ones who know our Master’s will. As Lumen Gentium #14 says (citing Luke 12:48), 

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.

We should keep this in mind always. All the advantages we receive through the Church comes with a corrresponding obligation. We have a Church that teaches with Christ’s authority. If we refuse to keep the obligation, of hearing the Church, and forming our conscience in line with the teaching of the Church, we will not be saved.

I believe part of this obligation is the obligation to ask whether our “justified” disobedience is really a refusal to ask if we are in error. One can mistakenly reason without guilt if it were impossible to know otherwise. But if we “reason” ourselves into dissent, we should be aware that we do not have the charism of infallibility. The Church does. So our “reasoned” opposition must be spurious if we think we must be right and the Church wrong.

Monday, April 1, 2019

To Speak the Truth

The Problem

The recent secular and religious news demonstrates one of the flaws in our society: people prefer our version of reality to what the truth turns out to be. So, when the truth comes out, people invent reasons to argue that the truth isn’t true but their opinions still are true. What this means is sobering. It means that we are no longer a people who seek out and follow what is true. Instead, we are ignoring what is true when it threatens us.

The Symptoms

This behavior is easy to spot in others. We shake our heads when the people we disagree with start making excuses. But we behave the same way. The person who supports something automatically discounts anything that could undercut the assumption it is good. Those who oppose it automatically discount anything that could undercut the assumption it is evil. If we were honest, we would recognize that our opinion is either true or false. Recognizing this, we would do our best to investigate the facts and determine whether they fit or contradict our opinions. Then we would abandon those opinions that went against the facts and determine what conclusions did fit the facts.

The Examples 

But instead of doing that, people invented falsehoods and obscure facts to deny what challenges them. For example, to deny the fact that abortion is an act aimed at ending a human life, abortion supporters try to reframe the issue as women making “a choice,” but not saying what choice a woman is making. They say that the unborn child is “just a blob of tissue,” ignoring the fact that we could define an adult human being as “a blob of tissue” as well. There is no attempt to ask whether whether the opposition is right in saying that the unborn child is alive. They simply say “we can’t know,” without asking... because if they did ask, they would be forced to realize that the “choice” is to decide to kill another human being.

Another example would be anti-Catholic attacks. The basic issue is whether the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ or not. If the Catholic Church is that Church, then all refusal to obey her and remain in communion with her is to act in opposition to Christ (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). That is what all who are outside of the Church must investigate. Anti-Catholics refuse to investigate this issue and justify their refusal by making claims against the Church: The claim that we worship statues or think Mary is a goddess, the claim that we think we can earn our way to heaven, the claim that we tried to hide the Bible, etc. 

The people who claim these things have an obligation to investigate if these things are true before using them as a reason to reject the Church. The fact is, Catholics do not believe any of these things. Therefore, using Aristotle’s definition of truth, these anti-Catholics are saying of what is not that it is and do not speak the truth. In fact, they are bearing false witness against the Church and these claims are not valid reasons to reject the Church.

I could also mention the attacks against Pope Francis, where he has been constantly accused of promoting heresy during his pontificate. Every so-called scandal has turned out to either be a sentence wrenched out of context or an absolute falsehood.

The Obligation 

Bearing false witness is a sin. Since what we hear and say is either true or false, and since we either know it or we don’t, we have the obligation to investigate whether these things are true. If they are true, we must follow them. If they are not, we must reject them. But what if we aren’t sure?

In that case, we have the obligation to see if there is any merit to them before repeating them. If we discover they are false, or we cannot find evidence that they are true, we must not repeat them as if they were true. Some things we will never know for certain. We must not spread something that is unproven, even if it benefits our ideologies or people we support. Nor can we use ignorance as an excuse to do whatever we prefer. We have the obligation to seek and carry out the truth.

One thing to be aware of here there is the “gotcha” question where someone tries to set a trap based on a claim we don’t know the truth about. The “gotcha” tries to force you into thinking that if A is true, Church teaching B must be rejected. That’s an attempt to abuse the obligation to follow the truth by presenting something unproven as true.

In such a situation, you need to discover what Church teaching B is before determining if it is related to A. That doesn’t mean, “I can’t find any refutation, so it must be true.” It means, “Given the Church teaches with the authority given her by Christ, I must understand what teaching B is before accepting the word of someone who tells me it is wrong.” In this case, we need to remember that just because we don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t have one. In the meantime we are not obligated to abandon Church teaching on the say so of someone who attacks it.

One example of this kind of challenge: it was popular to argue that the Church teaching on contraception could be changed because the Church had changed her teaching on usury. I was extremely doubtful of the challenge, but for years, I could not find an answer. The matter was solved when I discovered the Papal document Vix Pervenit by Pope Benedict XIV. In it, he continued to condemn usury in lending money at interest to people in need, but called for a study distinguishing how investing differed from usury. The challenge used to argue that Church teaching had been changed before was false.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, our obligation is to search for and live according to the truth. We cannot knowingly speak what is false, and we cannot simply spread assertions if we don’t know if they’re true... something popular on the internet today. As Christians, we recognize that Christianity is true. As Catholics, we recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ. So we have an aid in discerning truth from falsehood. Because of this, we have even less excuse than the average unbeliever. 

Let’s remember that the next time we’re tempted to use what benefits us—but is false—over what is true.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Let’s Not Be Proud

7 “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? 8 Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? 9 Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’ ” 
(Luke 17 NABRE)

It’s no secret that this blog offers religious submission of intellect and will to the Church under Pope Francis. I’m not alone in this view, and we recognize that the attitude of dissent against the current magisterium must be opposed. However, I notice a trend on social media that we should beware: the attitude that we are holier than the rest—whom we look down on with disdain. But our obedience doesn’t mean we’re saints. It just means we haven’t rebelled yet, and we should be praying that we never do fall into disobedience.

In addition, the temptation to look down on those who rebel is incompatible with the message put forth by the Pope we claim to defend. In reaching out to the divorced/remarried, the people with same sex attraction, etc., he seeks to call them back into right relationship with God. We recognize that the Catholics who oppose him are behaving like the Pharisees who preferred ostracizing to evangelizing. But in refusing to reach out to these Catholics, we become what we denounce.

In addition, when we denounce the dissenting Catholics, are we dissenting ourselves? For example, I have seen some “defenders” of the Pope agitating for a change in Church teaching on homosexual acts and “same sex marriage” even though the Pope has rejected these things:

251. In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”
(Amoris Laetitia)

Are we willing to entertain doubts about the binding nature of the Pope refining Church teaching on the death penalty, calling it inadmissible in this time? If we are, we are guilty of what we denounce in others. Are we willing to accept at face value the accuracy of a Catholic—who consistently misrepresented the words of the Pope—when he or she approvingly cites a member of the clergy he or she thinks is opposed to the Pope? If we are, we are guilty of the same rash judgment that they are.

The point of all this is, we must not be proud. If we are faithful to the Church, giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he teaches, we are only doing what we are obliged to do. And if we choose to disagree with the Church under Pope Francis, we are no better than his dissenting critics.

Let us move forward in carrying out the mission of the Church without praising ourselves for doing what we must do. Let us continue to pray we are not subjected to the tests that might break our faith. Let us continue to reach out to those who reject the Pope (overtly or through behavior).

Otherwise, we’re failing to what is required of us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Problems of Misinterpretation

In my past few articles, I’ve discussed the problems of Catholic critics who confuse their interpretation of Church Teaching with what the Church actually intends. Whether they start out with false premises, or whether they use fallacious reasoning with true premises, or (sadly, very common) using both false premises and fallacious reasoning, they wind up claiming that Church teaching justifies something that is actually contrary to what the Church teaches.

Some do this to claim that a sin is not a sin, and that they are therefore not guilty of choosing an intrinsic evil. Others do this to discredit a Church teaching they dislike, arguing that we must return to their idealized view of when the Church was right and abandon or restore disciplines to match their idealized concept—the teaching they dislike is considered “proof” of heresy or political bias.

This is not the sole provenance of one faction. I’ve seen some Catholics claim that Jesus wanted a Church of love and mercy—denying that He ever intended condemning acts that they think shouldn’t be sins. I’ve seen other Catholics balk when the Church has changed disciplines when the magisterium determined they no longer serve the intended purpose, claiming the Church has fallen into “heresy.” But both groups are confusing what they want with what best serves keeping God’s commandments and evangelizing the world.

These critics judge the actions of Pope and bishops based on what they want (and, therefore, what they think God must want). If the Pope and bishops do not take that stand, it is considered a betrayal of either Christ or His Church. So, the liberal Catholic applies their assumptions to St. John XXIII, Vatican II and Pope Francis and think they are “correcting” the former “errors” of other Popes, Councils, and Bishops. Conservative Catholics think they are “committing errors” contradicting previous teaching.

But, their conclusions are based on false assumptions. They assume that the Church they conceive of is the way the Church is supposed to be. But if the assumption is false, they cannot prove the conclusion. If their conclusion is not proven, we cannot use their arguments as the basis of enacting teachings in the Church.

It’s important to realize that such false assumptions need not be malicious. The person can be quite sincere. It’s quite possible that the person is assuming that the simplified explanation Sr. Mary X gave them in Catholic grade school was doctrine and either embraced or rebelled against it, thinking it was a doctrinal teaching. The individual can fail to realize that the possibility that the explanation was oversimplified, or that they misunderstood it.

I think this lack of realization is the real problem in the Church. If we do not grow in our understanding of the actual Church teaching, we can easily be led astray. If we don’t understand that the style of Church teaching may sound more forceful in one age than in another, we might be confused over what is doctrine, what is discipline, and what is governance. Doctrine does not change from X to not X. But it can develop with a deeper understanding over time. Discipline and acts of governance can change if the magisterium deems it beneficial to do so.

Yes, it is possible that a Pope can be a notorious sinner, or that a bishop can be unjust. But it does not follow from the fact that we have had such Popes and bishops in the past, that the current ones fit in that category. That’s the point to be proven. If we simply assume the point to be proven, we commit the begging the question fallacy. The “evidence” we provide that is based on that assumption proves nothing.

If one wants to argue that St. John Paul II “betrayed” Vatican II (as liberals like to allege) or that Pope Francis “teaches heresy (as some conservatives like to allege), the obligation is for the individual to investigate whether they have gone wrong themselves—not for the teaching authority of the Church to prove them false.

The problem is, it quickly becomes apparent that the critic has often either not read or has only superficially read the relevant materials. Instead they tend to rely on summaries from biased sources, assuming that the Church has always understood the teaching in the way they think it means. Therefore, the Church is “proved” to be doing wrong—not in fact, but in their mind

Such misunderstanding cannot lead to a proper understanding of the Church. Instead, it leads to obstinacy. Ironically, though the liberal and the conservative disagree with each other about what this fictitious ideal is, they wind up using the same arguments, and ultimately denying the authority of the Church—all the while condemning the other side for their dissent.

The only way to escape that trap is to recognize who has the authority to interpret the past Church teachings and apply them to the present. That authority is the current Pope and bishops who are successors to the Apostles. We believe that Our Lord protects His Church from teaching error in matters where she must be given assent. Without that promise, we could never know when the Church was teaching error.

If we would be authentically Catholic, we must trust Our Lord to protect His Church. When Our Lord has sent authentic reformers from outside the magisterium, they were always respectful and obedient to those chosen to be the shepherds. Those who became heretics and/or schismatics refused to give that respect and obedience.

Yes, we have had a few bad Popes in the history of the Church. But they have never taught error despite doing wrong, or rarely thinking wrong in private thought. The current critics of the Church, by alleging the teaching of error, are de facto denying God’s protection exists.

But once you deny that, you cease to be a witness to the truth of the Church and instead become a stumbling block that causes scandal to potential members. If you deny the Church has authority on issue Z, you lead person to question why the Church has authority on issues A-Y. 

So instead of dogmatizing our errors, we have to realize that since the Church is protected from teaching error, we must consider how the Church can teach differently from our expectations on what she should teach. Yes, there will be people obstinately in error out there. Yes, Catholics who don’t like to follow them will look for lax or rigorist spiritual guides telling them what they want to hear. But these Catholics and their blind guides do not take away from the actual teaching authority of the Church under the current Pope. 

We must remember that, when we encounter a teaching from the Magisterium today that runs counter to what we expect, we have the obligation to seek understanding and not assume the difference means error on the part of the Church.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Time to Choose

Things are falling apart faster than I expected. Certain Catholics (not all of them: I pray this is merely a noisy minority) have gone beyond expressing disagreement and misunderstanding and have started rejecting the authority of the magisterium under Pope Francis. Some openly accuse him and his supporters of heresy. Others think the Pope is incompetent. But the assumption of these individuals is their opinions carry more weight than the teaching of the Pope, and they are deceiving faithful Catholics into going along. Now, each Catholic who professes to be a faithful Catholic will have to make a choice.

The choice every Catholic must make is whether to remain in obedience to the Pope and giving assent when he teaches, or to decide they can be Catholic without the Pope and listen instead to Catholics who say what they want to hear.

Despite slogans of “Answer the question,” what we are seeing is not a Pope who is corrupt or in error with “heroic” Catholics opposing him. This is not about “bashing” the cardinals who issued the dubia. This problem precedes this, and has its roots in factions which have been at war with the Pope, promoting dissent since 2013. These dissenters undermine our faith in Our Lord who built His Church on the rock of Peter, deceiving many into thinking the Pope is destroying the Church.

It saddens me to watch Catholics deceived into deciding they can no longer support the Pope. They think the problems in the Church will vanish once Pope Francis’ pontificate ends. But we have always had confusion and dissent in the Church. History shows that whenever portions of the Church fell into error, it was always the Bishop of Rome who was a beacon to the truth. We’ve had muddled Popes and morally bad Popes, but none of them have taught error. If his critics are right, this will be the first time a Pope has ever taught “error” and encouraged people to follow it.

But this is what Our Lord promised to protect us from. Informed Catholics used to know that the Papacy was the final line in the sand to determine what was bound and what was loosed. If the Pope can teach error (binding error and loosing truth), then we no longer know when truth was taught, and by whom. That’s denying the promise of Our Lord to protect His Church.

So, when it comes to this choice, I make mine to stand with Pope Francis. I trust that God will protect Him from error, and I reject the accusations that our Pope is incompetent or heterodox. That doesn’t mean I deify him or think he cannot sin. It means that since false teaching will endanger souls, God will protect the Pope from making false teachings.

While I believe the dissenters are a minority, I will hold to this position, even if I stand alone, because I believe that being in communion with the Pope is God’s intention for us in being faithful Catholics.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Essay on Partisan Dissent Leading to Rebellion


Benedict XVI, in one of his pre-papacy books, discussed turning the Catholic faith into partisan factions. In it, he pointed out what faith was in contrast with what people were trying to do with the Church.

When I advocate a party, it thereby becomes my party, whereas the Church of Jesus Christ is never my Church but always his Church. Indeed, the essence of conversion lies precisely in the fact that I cease to pursue a party of my own that safeguards my interests and conforms to my taste but that I put myself in his hands and become his, a member of his Body, the Church.


 Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 158.

The faith of the Church calls us to change to grow closer to God. Partisanship calls on the Church to change to match what is most pleasing to us. If we’re not careful, we might find ourselves rebelling against God in the name of “reforming” or “restoring” the Church to what we want while pretending we’re doing it for the benefit of others. As always, this is not a case where only one faction is guilty. Any time we get angry at the Church for changing things from, or not changing things to, what we think is best, we’re behaving in a partisan manner.


I’d like to clarify something first. What I wrote above does not deny the right use of Canon Law #212 §3. I’m concerned, however, that some people who appeal to this canon are misusing it to demand the Church become more like what they want, not considering (or, perhaps, refusing to accept) that the Church might have valid reasons for making some changes and refusing to make others. 

I would also like to clarify that this does not mean the laity has nothing to say when a priest or bishop misuses his authority and acts against the teaching of the Church. Our Lord gave His authority to St. Peter and the Apostles, and is handed down from generation to generation to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. The priest or bishop who acts against this magisterium abuses his office. Such a one cannot demand that the laity act against what the magisterium teaches.


Who Has the Authority to Determine Proper Interpretation and Church Practice?

However, Catholics do go wrong when someone claims that the Pope and bishops today are in error and go against the teachings of earlier Popes and Councils or that they were wrong in the past and finally are getting it right. The magisterium decides how to best apply the timeless teachings of the Church to the problems of today. In contrast, someone who claims that a recent Pope “violates" what St. Pius X said, or someone who claims St. John Paul II “violated" Vatican II, has no standing to interpret the documents against the magisterium today.

This confuses some people. After all, aren’t they appealing to the magisterium? No. They are appealing to their personal opinion on how they think the document should be interpreted against those who actually have the right and responsibility to determine how the document is to be interpreted. It’s like a person trying to argue that his interpretation of the Constitution is right and the Supreme Court is wrong. The individual simply does not have the authority to interpret the Constitution in a binding manner on the country, and the individual does not have the authority to interpret magisterial teaching in a binding manner on the country.

Selective Obedience is Dissent 

The problem is, people assume that they only have to listen to the Church if they agree with what she says. If she teaches something they don’t like, dissenters accuse her of becoming “conservative” or “liberal.” They’ll accuse her of betraying tradition or betraying Vatican II. Because the Pope and bishops are deemed “wrong” in these areas, dissenters claim they don’t have to obey the shepherds of the Church. They’ll appeal to conscience or tradition when it suits them and treat the teaching they don’t like as if it were an opinion or even an error.

The problem with that view is the Church is not an invention of men with arbitrary rules. Catholics believe (if they’re not grossly deficient in their religious education) the Church established by Our Lord and the Catholic Church today are one and the same. This means she teaches with the authority given by Christ (Matthew 16:19, 18:18, 28:18-20). Since Our Lord likens rejecting His Church with rejecting Him (Luke 10:16, cf. Matthew 18:17), dissent is a serious matter—rebellion against God Himself.

Church teaching is not arbitrary. The teachings are made for our benefit. How do we live to be faithful to God? What is incompatible with loving Him? Church teaching exists to make His teaching known. The Church is the means Our Lord chose to bring knowledge of His salvation of the world and the commandments we must keep if we would be saved (see John 14:15). Obeying only the parts of His teaching we agree with anyway is rejecting Our Lord on the rest. If we reject Him, it will not go well for us (Matthew 7:21-23).


The danger for Catholics today comes from the fact that rejection of authority (dissent) has metastasized. It’s no longer a case of aging modernists and radical traditionalists like the SSPX. It has spread to the mainstream of the faith, so that a growing number of Catholics who once defended the faith now believe the Church is in error to the point that they openly question or even reject legitimate teaching authority when it goes against their preferences, forgetting that God punished such behavior as rebellion.

Do you want damnationWhy do we assume God won’t punish our rebellion, when He punished it in others?

With that in mind, I’d like to look at some of the dangerous errors that lead people to dissent while believing themselves to be “faithful” to the “true” Church (while rejecting those given the task of shepherding it today).

Vincible Ignorance

When a person has no way of knowing what the truth is, but follows one’s conscience and seeks to do what is right to the best of their knowledge, God does not condemn him for what would be impossible to know. But when a person could know if they bothered to do the research, then they do not have this excuse. When someone makes an accusation against the shepherds of the Church, we must find out the context of what was said, taking into account the difference of culture, history, and other conditions that lead to misinterpretation. Because Rash Judgment and Calumny are sins, we can’t just repeat what we heard. We have to actually learn the truth about what was claimed.

For example, when people condemn (or praise) Pope Francis for “supporting same sex marriage” because he said “Who am I to judge?” they are guilty of vincible ignorance. They could look it up and read to the transcript, which shows those words had nothing to do with what people think. Because they could learn, but prefer to remain in their ignorance, their lack of knowledge will be judged by Our Lord.

This leads us to our second problem.

Knowing Less than You Think You Do

Relativism must be rejected. We cannot twist Church teaching to turn “Thou shalt not do X” into “X is OK!” The problem is, some people know less about what the Church intends to teach than they think they do. There’s 2000 years of Catholic theology out there, dealing with countless ways people can sin, as well as knowledge of reasons why their guilt may be increased or decreased. A person ignorant about these things might see two different issues and assume they are the same—and that one must contradict the other. So they choose the one that fits their preference and say the other one is wrong. But if the differences between the two cases are greater than the similarities, we can’t compare them and claim they contradict each other.

For example, recently on Facebook, I encountered someone claiming that St. Pius X said that secularism was a "pernicious error” and that Pope Francis said states must be secular. Therefore, this person reasoned that this “proved" Pope Francis was a heretic. A person seeing this might think this statement was proven. To which I say, “Not so fast."

St. Pius X did say this in the encyclical “Vehementer Nos” (#3), written in 1906. The context of this encyclical was France establishing anti-Catholic laws absolutely excluding the Church from any role in the state (a situation worse than in America today). Under those conditions, all religions were equally isolated. Put in context of today, what he was condemning was the expulsion of the Catholic Church from the public square. In contrast, Pope Francis, speaking about France 110 years later spoke about a nation needing to be secular in the sense of not harassing religions in favor of one, but also insisting on religious freedom which France did not provide in 1906. The context missed by accusers was 110 years of experience. St. Pius X was writing about a new rebellion. Pope Francis spoke about what the Church learned since then. For example, the experience of totalitarian hostility to all religion and religious persecution from a sectarian state in the Middle East.

In other words, St. Pius X wasn’t wrong in condemning France for their attack on religion, but Pope Francis spoke from the perspective of things not yet present in 1906 and did not contradict his predecessor.

False Dualism

One common assumption is that if you don’t support a preferred position, you support the antithesis with all the evils it involves. One common example in the election season is targeting Catholics who oppose both Trump and Clinton. Because they will not vote for Trump, they are accused of voting for Clinton and supporting all areas her politics violate Catholic teaching. Another example might be assuming that whoever thinks certain government programs don’t work must favor letting people suffer.

The error here assumes that there are only two possible solutions and if a person does not support the accusers favorite position, he must be guilty of supporting the evils of the other side. But if there are more than two possibilities, this accusation is false. Assuming there is no attempt to evade Church teaching, a disagreement over the best way to carry it out is not endorsing evil. Traditionalism and Modernism are not the only two options. Conservative and Liberal are not the only two options. These factions do not express whether a person is a faithful Catholic or not. If X is wrong, all Catholics must reject X regardless of their political or liturgical preferences.


I could come up with several more errors, but I want to wrap this article up by discussing why they are dangerous. The danger is these errors lead Catholics to think that the person who has different preferences on how to proceed is acting out of malice. So the conservative Catholic assumes that the liberal Catholic (or vice versa) automatically embraces everything evil about that political view. The radical traditionalist assumes the non-traditionalist is a modernist. People assume that Popes and bishops speak as 21st century Americans and don’t consider the times and places they knew when speaking.

Accusers see differences and assume the difference means a rejection of Church teaching, or a rejection of what Jesus said in Scripture. The accusers don’t consider whether they’ve gotten something wrong and make unjust accusations. When these accusations are made against the Pope and bishops when they teach, they separate the accuser from the Church while thinking they are in the right. They also cause scandal by undermining faith in Our Lord protecting His Church and leading others to disobey as well.

What we have to remember is we need to know the facts and circumstances involving the acts before making an accusation. When the accused is the Pope or a bishop properly exercising his teaching office, we need to remember we have to give our assent. In all cases we must remember charity and make sure we properly understand and not act rashly. The Church does not turn wrong into right, but circumstances can mean that two events that look similar can actually be very different. If we rashly assume evil on the part of the shepherds of the Church, we can’t just shrug off the false accusation on Judgment Day. We’ll have to answer for our rebellion.

So to avoid judgment, we must recognize we might not have all the facts and therefore might not properly understand what seems wrong at first glance. Yes, there will be sin out there and we must correct sinners. But we must not assume we are always in the right and the Pope must be wrong if he rules differently than we want.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Confusing Church Teaching With Opinions on Applying It

Dealing with Biblical literalists, I noticed they constantly made the same mistake. That mistake was confusing the words of Scripture with their opinions on applying it against the Catholic Church. They would keep insisting that this wasn’t their opinion. After all, they were citing the words of the Bible—weren’t they? What they couldn’t grasp was this: We did not deny the authority of Scripture. Nor did we deny the words of the text. What we did deny was their claim to applying it accurately against the Church.

While some Catholics may laugh at their silly blind spot, some of them make the same error in applying Catholic teaching. They cite a teaching of the Church, they apply it against a practice in the Church or behavior by an individual and accuse them of going against Church teaching. Like the literalist, they assume that the rejection of their opinion on how to interpret it is a rejection of Church teaching itself. 

The problem with the literalist and the Catholic demanding on their interpretation of Scripture or Church teaching is one of authority. The problem is not what Scripture or Church teaching says. It’s about who can interpret it in a binding way. The person who does not have that authority cannot demand people follow their views. They can only point to the teaching authority that exists. The teaching authority belongs to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. The priest takes part in this authority by working with the bishop and never apart from him.

The rest of us can explain the teaching of the Church. But we have the responsibility to explain it rightly and make sure we separate what the Church teaches from how we would like people to apply it. There is a difference. If a Catholic tries to twist Church teaching to justify disobedience, we need to challenge that. But if a Catholic is faithful to Church teaching but disagrees on the “nuts and bolts” ways to apply this teaching, savaging him is wrong.

Discerning this difference is not always easy. Yes, people sometimes do get things wrong and we need to help them understand the right. But in doing so, we have to make sure we have a clear understanding on what the Church teaches, and make sure we are not replacing Church teaching with our own opinions on what we think should follow from it.

For example, I have seen people argue that Church teaching demands Catholics vote for or against a specific candidate. Some will go so far as accusing Catholics who disagree with them of being bad Catholics. This confuses Church teaching with personal opinion on applying Church teaching. Yes, Catholics who vote for a candidate because the candidate holds a view which is against Church teaching do wrong. And, yes, Catholics need to consider the consequences of their vote. But if a Catholic  uses Church teaching to guide them, seeking to be faithful, we can’t accuse them of being faithless just because their decision does not match ours.

As I see it, if we find a person’s actions troubling but not intrinsically evil, we have to discern their reasoning and how they understand Church teaching. If they understand Church teaching rightly, and are using Church teaching to guide their actions, we cannot condemn them. The Catechism tells us how we must approach things:

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.


 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594.

But some Catholics don’t give a favorable interpretation. They don’t ask how the other understands it. They don’t correct with love. They assume from the fact that the other disagrees on how to best handle a situation, they must be bad Catholics. That’s rash judgment, and the Church forbids it.

Think about that the next time you’re debating on social media.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Do They Speak the Truth?

Truth is saying of what is, that it is and of saying what is not, that it is not. In other words, truth points to reality and we should strive to live according to truth because we should strive to live according to reality. Since we are finite beings with imperfect knowledge, we have to constantly reassess what we think is true, discarding what turns out to be false and amending ourselves when our earlier grasp of the truth turns out to be inadequate. If someone makes a claim, but we do not know whether it is true or false, we need to find out before accepting or rejecting it—we can’t just rely on their say so.

Crystal ball(Some people, despite their claims, are not reliable sources of truth)

When you read that, it seems obvious. But human fallibility makes it difficult. Some people are liars. Some mistakenly think a falsehood is true. Sometimes people misinterpret the message and think their reasoning about these misinterpretations are truth. It is true we can’t assume that the person who speaks falsely is malicious, but just because a person says something does not make it true.

This realization is especially important when people say things that impact how we view the world. Just because an anti-Catholic attacks membership in the Church because they claim we do not follow Scripture, or just because a radical traditionalist attacks what the Pope says today on grounds that he “contradicts” what earlier Popes had to say does not make their claims true. If one wants to refute a worldview, they have to show that they accurately understand what the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Church holds compared with what others claim she holds. The brilliant 19th century work A Manual of Catholic Theology tells us:

The heirs of the Apostles have the right and duty to prescribe, promulgate, and maintain at all times and in behalf of the whole Church the teaching of the Apostles and of the Church in former ages; to impose and to enforce it as a doctrinal law binding upon all; and to give authoritative decisions on points obscure, controverted, or denied. In this capacity the Church acts as regulator of the Faith, and these doctrinal laws, together with the act of imposing them, are called the Rule of Faith. All the members of the Church are bound to submit their judgment in matters of Faith to this rule, and thus by practising the "obedience of Faith" to prove themselves living members of the one kingdom of Divine truth.

Scheeben, Matthias Joseph (2015-03-26). A MANUAL OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGY: Based on Dogmatik (Complete in Two Volumes) (Kindle Locations 1412-1416). Lex De Leon Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So, if the anti-Catholic, the radical traditionalist, the modernist dissenter or other person tries to attack part of the Catholic faith with the intention of changing our view of reality, the first question is, whose interpretation of Church teaching do we trust to be most accurate?

  1. The individual who accuses the Church of saying X?
  2. Or the Church under the authority of the present Pope and bishops in communion with him?

Hint: The answer is #2. Even if one rejects the authority of the Catholic Church as having the authority to teach, it is common sense to ask a person whether we have understood them, not to assume that our interpretation is error-free. If we’ve misunderstood what the Church has said, the end result of our reasoning is going to be worthless. But people don’t try to find this out.

For example, anti-Catholics make all sorts of assertions about what we believe and pull out Bible verses to “contradict” us. But they never ask whether they have understood us accurately or whether they have misapplied Scripture on the rare occasion when they do understand us rightly. Radical traditionalists assume that a difference in tone from one era to the next “proves” a change in teaching.  But the question to ask is whether the Church today is really condoning what she used to call sinful or whether she is merely speaking about changed tactics or changed circumstances while still holding to the underlying belief.

So, before we accept their claims as true and try to live according to them, we have to see if they are true. Does the Church teach the same as what her critics allege she teaches? But we can’t just rely on someone’s claim that there is a conflict (an ipse dixit fallacy). We have to seek out an expert who can speak with authority on the subject. Who is that expert? The heirs to the Apostles, the Pope and bishops in communion with him. Catholics believe that as successors to the Apostles, they share in the authority Our Lord gave His disciples. So, if an individual's interpretation of Scripture or a Church teaching does not match what the magisterium today teaches, then we know the individual does not speak the truth. 

Once we realize that, we will recognize them as false teachers. Even if they are sincere, they do not speak the truth about what the Church teaches and what they claim against her cannot be trusted.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Do We Follow the Church or Does the Church Just Happen to Agree With Us?

24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:24–27).

*  *  *

18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)

Some people become or stay Catholics because they agree that the Church has the authority to teach and give their assent to that teaching. Others become or stay Catholics because they find her position on certain topics compatible with their own. The former is like a house built on rock, the latter is like a house built on sand. Like the houses in Our Lord’s parable, the one built on sand faces ruin.

Why do I say this? Because the Church is simultaneously gifted with Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16) and protected from teaching error (Matthew 16:18. Matthew 28:19-20) on one hand and filled with sinful people who need salvation on the other. So when the Church teaches and we dislike the teaching, or if we get scandalized by the bad behavior of some churchmen, the only thing that will keep us on the right path is faith that God protects His Church. If we treat our affiliation with the Church like a political affiliation, what will we do when the Church goes in a direction we don’t like?

Oh noes(probably this...)

Let’s face it. Some parts of Church history were pretty ugly with corruption or weakness. People expecting every past Pope acting like their favorite Pope will find themselves  disappointed and sometimes appalled. Yet, those flaws did not change the truth of her teaching. Popes committing sins condemned by the Church does not change the truth of her teachings.

In the same way, the Church teaches consistently from age to age, but the emphasis she gives in carrying them out can change with changing circumstances. Sometimes certain situations arise that are new. How does the Church apply her teachings to them? Sometimes the relationship between Church and State changes. Ways of evangelizing that worked in a pre-industrial Europe where all Christians were Catholics will not be effective in a 21st century computerized and secularized world.

With both cases, people who like the way the Church handled things in one era are shocked when seeing a change, thinking it a contradiction. If people are part of the Church simply because they like her views and not because they believe the Church received Our Lord’s authority to bind and loose, then a time will come when they do not want to go in the direction the Church teaches we must go. When that happens, they rebel. This rebellion might not result in formal schism or heresy. But they will believe they are right and the Church is wrong.

This is how we get contradictory reactions. Some believe the Church is too conservative and defy her teachings on morality. Others think she is too liberal and defy her teachings on social justice. Both make themselves judges against the Church when it comes to right and wrong. But judging the Church as conservative or liberal misses the point. God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He is neither a modernist nor a traditionalist. When we judge things from what we like, we miss the point of what the Church is.

The Church is our mother and teacher. Our mother because she cares for us, our teacher because she guides us to follow Our Lord faithfully. Our Lord will not let corrupt members hijack her message. If He did, we could never know when we could trust Church teaching. If God doesn’t protect the Church under Pope Francis, how can we know if He protected the Church under St. Pius X? If we deny God protected the Church under Vatican II, how can we know whether He protected the Church under the Council of Trent? This works both ways. The “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic who rejects the past has no basis for invoking the present because the authority of Vatican II depends on the authority God gave His Church from the beginning.

This is why we must look at our attitudes. If we think of Church teaching as liberal vs. conservative, we make the Church into a merely human institution. When we think it goes wrong, we lobby for change. But if her teaching comes from God, then our antics are not lobbying but rebellion.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Distinguishing This From That

There’s been some Facebook and blogging debates going on about the authority of the teaching of the Church and infallibility. Unfortunately, some of this discussion is muddled because of a confusion of two issues: The issue of obedience and the issue of infallibility. Some, in attempting to argue against obedience to the Church in an issue they dislike, try to explain away binding authority this way. They begin by pointing out that the ordinary magisterium is not formally protected from error in the same way that an ex cathedra statement is protected. They point out that technically, the rest of the Church teachings are non infallible. Now that is true. The ex cathedra statement is a special magisterial action, and it has special protections, given the level of authority they invoke.

But, then the fallacy of equivocation comes into play.  Because the teachings of the ordinary magisterium are non infallible, it is argued that they are in fact “fallible,” and the word is stretched into the claim that the Pope or the bishop is teaching error and must be resisted. That is a distortion of the Church teaching. Everything that was eventually defined infallibly by the Church was previously taught by the ordinary magisterium. The infallible definition essentially made the ordinary magisterium more specific. But people were still obligated to obey the ordinary magisterial teaching before it was defined ex cathedra.

So the Catholics who believe the Papal teaching is not error object to this argument. They say that the teaching is not in error and that God is with the Church, protecting her from teaching error in matters of faith and morals in which the faithful are obligated to obey. At this time, we see another example of equivocation. When we say that the Church is protected from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, some try to turn this onto a claim that “the ordinary magisterium is infallible.” But claiming the Church is protected from teaching error is not the same as claiming that the Ordinary teaching of the Church is ex cathedra statement. This can get muddled of course. Some Catholics may start using the term “infallible” when they mean “protected from error” as a kind of shorthand, and that plays into the hands of the dissenting Catholic who accuses him of “Papolatry" or "Ultramontanism."

It’s easy to do. I’ve done it too, and we shouldn’t. But the problem is, this confusion over shorthand is not saying every utterance of the Pope is infallible, and it is unethical to accuse such Catholics of dong so.

What we need to remember is that the Pope’s teaching is not automatically prone to error as a part of the Ordinary Magisterium. Transubstantiation was not formally defined until AD 1215. That does not mean that Transubstantiation was an opinion that could be in error before AD 1215. Berengarius of Tours was condemned in AD 1079—which was 136 years before the definition in AD 1215. But, if one wants to deny that an Ordinary Magisterium statement is binding and wants to claim that any such statement is prone to error, then that person is effectively arguing that everything us up for grabs until such a time that it is defined ex cathedra. But that would be absurd.

The problem is, the Church very seldom uses an ex cathedra definition to proclaim her teachings. It is normally when there is a serious rebellion against the ordinary magisterium of the Church that the extraordinary magisterium is deemed as necessary. Those people who reject the authority of the ordinary magisterium of the Church are still committing the sin of schism. Our Canon Law tells us:

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


can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.


can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.


can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.


 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247–248.

Notice what these canons cover here—Ordinary Magisterium. We are bound to obey the authentic magisterium of the Church, even when it is not an ex cathedra pronunciation. Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

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.

Note that term—Divine assistance. God provides assistance to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him when using the ordinary magisterium of faith and morals. That doesn’t mean we have a finished product in the sense of the ex cathedra pronunciation. There is still room to become more precise as time goes by. But the Church has Divine Assistance

What follows from this is that we can trust God to prevent the Church from teaching that homosexuality is OK or that the divorced and remarried can receive the Eucharist. Individual Catholics (even individual Catholic bishops) can err, and err badly. But we can trust the magisterium not to err in her binding teaching. We don’t have this trust because of the quality of the individuals in office. We have this trust because of the fidelity of Our Lord to His promises.