Showing posts with label overreaction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label overreaction. Show all posts

Saturday, April 11, 2015

CSI: Catholic "Scandal" Instigation

While it has been most obvious during the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Church has had a problem for awhile. That problem is certain Catholics taking incidents and blowing them up into scandals to promote their own agendas. Whether that agenda is one of a liberal advocacy of changing Church teaching or whether it is a conservative advocacy of reverting practices to the way they were before Vatican II, the tactic is to take an event involving a member of the Church and changing that member into a hero or a villain and claim that if only we had changed/not changed things in the Church, things would be better.

In other words, one faction cannot put the blame only on the other faction. Both are trying to use news reports to promote their agenda. Nobody ever seems to ask how the Church can be dominated by liberals (the conservative allegation) and conservatives (the liberal allegation) at the same time. But this is the world of CSI—Catholic “Scandal” Instigation.

YH11 1

The most common form works in reaction to the major news coverage. The media reports on something happening in the Church with only superficial interpretation at best (usually, it’s completely uninformed speculation). We get a soundbite quote from someone in the Church which is aimed at either promoting a futile hope in the Church changing her teaching or at casting a member of the Church or Church teaching in a negative light. Members of the CSI immediately jump on the story assuming it is true as written. The Church is attacked for being either terribly heartless or terribly lenient. Bishops and even the Pope gets attacked if the story gives the CSI member a negative feeling.

We can consider the first year of Pope Francis. The media was taking soundbites from interviews or Church documents with no reference to why the Pope said or wrote such things. Unlike previous pontificates where such soundbites were used to show the Popes in a negative light, these were used to make it seem like the Pope was willing to change Church teaching from “X is forbidden” to “X is allowed.” Those who wanted to believe it rejoiced. Those who didn’t want to believe it, but did so anyway, reacted with horror. The internet spilled over with some Catholics denouncing the Pope as a heretic while others, long dissenting, portrayed themselves as being right all the time while the Church "finally caught up with the times” while the bishops were “in opposition” to the Pope.

The problem was, nobody actually asked the question of “Did the Pope actually say that in the first place?” Once a full transcript or the actual Papal document was released, it turned out that while the line existed, it was in the middle of a paragraph that was demonstrating fully orthodox Catholic teaching. Of course, once the correct context was released, the people who supported the alleged new teaching ignored this context and continued to repeat the original out of context story, while those who opposed it either pretended the whole affair never happened or else made it seem as if their overreaction was the Pope’s fault (Two common retorts: “Every time the Pope speaks, the Vatican has to do damage control!” and “The Pope needs to speak more clearly!”).

Another way is to take a negative story about the Church and make it sound like the bishop is guilty of supporting something monstrous. Two examples recently were:

  1. To take an incident in San Francisco and make it seem like Archbishop Cordileone was directly responsible for deliberately turning water on the homeless (the accusation of it being deliberate based solely on the claim of an anonymous report), never considering the possibility that auxiliary bishop William Justice (who made the decision) was telling the truth and had installed an ineffective system for washing hazardous waste out from corners and doorways.
  2. To take a case in New Jersey was put on paid leave while an investigation took place over a public statement made on Facebook that could have been seen as misrepresenting Church teaching and make it seem as if Bishop Paul Bootkowski was firing because of her defending the Christian understanding of marriage while ignoring the fact that the first half of her statement was problematic and ignoring the fact that she wasn’t fired. (In fact, she’s been reinstated).

In both cases, the bishops were essentially slandered/libeled and both were accused of bad will and acting against the teaching of the Church. In neither case does evidence exist for the accusations. But the attacks live on and the Church is undermined.

In this, I was struck by something written by Fr. Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints concerning Pope Leo the Great:

St. Leo laid down this important maxim for the rule of his conduct, never to give any decision, especially to the prejudice of another, before he had examined into the affair with great caution and exactness, and most carefully taken all informations possible.


[Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 2 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 66.]

It makes me wonder why people continue to do this. When it comes to making a decision about doing right and wrong, why do we continue to assume we have all the facts before assuming the worst? We have seen often enough that the media, for whatever reason (ignorance or malice), constantly gets the reports wrong that we ought to beware of trusting the media in reporting on the Church at all. But people keep falling for it.

CB Football11

It seems to me that the problem is that people are willing to believe the worst about those they dislike or distrust. Conservatives mistrust the Pope and many bishops as sympathizing with liberalism, willing to undermine the Church. Liberals dislike the Church teachings on sexual morality and believe those who support it must be cold hearted and capable of cruelty (It should be noted that there seems to be a growing recognition that the Pope is not going to change doctrine and a gradual disillusionment with him). Both seem willing to undermine those in the Church who seem openly against their views.

We need to beware of the danger of jumping rashly on a news report. Nowadays, it’s all about being the first to report a breaking story. Reporters with little to no knowledge about the teachings of the Church can easily misinterpret the nuances of a Papal statement and report something wildly inaccurate. But we who are Catholic do not have the excuse of not knowing. We know that the Church teaching requires our assent. We trust that the Church is protected by God. Yet we continue to trust uninformed sources and let them form our opinions on the Church.

That has to stop. We have an obligation to think and assess before speaking. We’re not doing it. That failure is undermining of trust in the Church. Our first task is to give a favorable interpretation if possible. If not possible, we are to ask the one we are scandalized by for how they understand their own statement. Only then does correction take place—but even then with humility and love.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Media and Our Conception of the Catholic Faith

An Example of People Ignoring Media Claims About the Church

It’s become common now for the media to make comments about different people and events in the Church that show how they do not understand what the Church teaches. Take for example the article "Woman claims role as Kansas City’s first female Catholic priest | The Kansas City Star.” According to Catholic teaching, only a male can be ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II has made it quite clear:

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful. (emphasis added)

So, when we read in articles about women claiming to be ordained and the media treating this as fact, a person who has been paying attention to Church teaching knows that the opposite has been taught by the Church. He or she knows that this is not some new sort of teaching. We recognize that the media is to blame for this, and people who try to promote this as an example of change for the Church are either grossly uninformed about the Church or else are pushing an agenda against Church teaching.

That much seems obvious. We don’t see the National Catholic Reporter or Rorate Cæli (to name the extremes) talking about how wonderful/terrible it is that the Church is “changing” her teaching. 

Too Many Instances of People Accepting Media Claims About the Church—When it Suits Them

So, I find it curious that so many Catholics seeking to be faithful are willing to treat media reports as true when they call Pope Francis a liberal and claim he is overturning Church teaching. Anyone who looks at what his predecessors have said on a topic will find no conflicts, but at most a different way of explaining the Church teaching. The theme of the Pope’s preaching is reaching out to sinners, seeking to bring them back to God. He has said absolutely nothing about changing the faith. He has only said that it’s not enough to stop with stating what is forbidden, and we need to think about how to bring those people in a sinful situation back to the Church. He has repeatedly said that when it comes to Church teaching, he is a faithful son of the Church—on precisely the issues he has been accused of favoring a change.

So it seems clear that anyone who is trying to allege the Pope is changing the Church teaching is either grossly uninformed on what he said and what the Church says probably relying on the MSM and the opinion sites (religious and secular) which are treating the MSM as accurate.

Now of course, we want to avoid the genetic fallacy rejecting any news solely because it comes from a certain source. But we do need to consider the accuracy of a source—how knowledgable it is—when it attempts to report "breaking news” on the Church (which usually comes across looking like THIS). We also want to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy where we think that because we haven’t heard about a response to a misleading story that it wasn’t responded to.

Instead of Looking to the Church, People Look to the Media Caricature to Confirm What They Already Decided

The antidote to such antics is to look for the Church accounts of things. There are some sites which do a good job of reporting what was actually said, even to the point of providing transcripts (such as Vatican Information Service or ZENIT). I have found that whenever the rapid reporting of the MSM pronounces that the Church under Pope Francis is “changing Church teaching,” it is disproven within a few days at the most. That is why we cannot accept the MSM reporting on the Church at face value. They are acting from lack of understanding and perhaps bias (hoping that the Church will change her views as if they were a political platform).

Basically, when we look for an explanation of the Church teaching, we should turn to the Church, not away from the Church for a reliable answer. That’s not what is being done anymore. When a political pundit defines the Church in terms of his or her own bias, that’s not a reliable answer, but people are using these things to confirm their own views and justify what they were going to do anyway. Whether it’s a political liberal who wants to see a Church transforming into what he or she wants it to be, or whether it’s a conservative who is looking for an excuse to legitimize their rejection of Pope Francis, we are experiencing a situation where instead of being faithful Catholics looking to the Church, we are seeing Catholics who are affirming the Church only when it suits them, and denying it when they run afoul of the teachings.


If liberals want to trumpet their support for Pope Francis, then let them heed his teachings as a “Son of the Church.” If conservatives want to portray themselves as faithful to the Church, then let them start giving assent to the teachings of the current successor of St. Peter, trusting that Our Lord will not fail in His promise to protect the Church under the successor of St. Peter.

If people decide to ignore these things and instead pick and choose what it means to be a Catholic, then that’s hypocrisy—and both liberal and conservative are guilty of the same disobedience, even if they dissent on different grounds. Cafeteria Catholicism is not only a behavior of one political faction.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TFTD: The Facts Do NOT Justify This Reaction!

The reaction to Cardinal Burke’s assignment among certain Catholics is simply not justified, and is not supported by the facts of the case. The sequence of events do not support the view that the Pope “demoted” Cardinal Burke for any reason—let alone for his actions at the synod.

See, Cardinal Burke’s five year term as head of the Roman Rota expired in December 2013. The Pope had previously made it clear that he was opposed to the mindset of “careerism” in the Church, so it stands to reason he might not want to renew the cardinal’s term of office. Do a google search for “Pope Francis reappoints” and you will see that there are zero hits for the curia and only a few entries for non curia positions. He has shuffled some people from one position to another but he has not reappointed anyone to the same position in the curia thus far.

So, one cannot complain that the Pope did not make a special exception for Cardinal Burke.

So one might ask why the Pope didn’t appoint him to another position. Well, that requires there to be another position to which Cardinal Burke is qualified for that is open. Was there one? If not, the Pope would have to remove someone else from their position. That seldom happens without serious cause.

So, the expectation that he be appointed to a position of equal status is not reasonable if there was no assignment for him available. The Pope may or may not consider Cardinal Burke for a position that opens up further down the road—but the Pope does not owe him a position.

Perhaps instead of screaming that the Pope is trying to destroy the Church, we can follow the Cardinal’s example and remain faithful to the Pope.