Showing posts with label papal derangement syndrome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label papal derangement syndrome. Show all posts

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Knowing, Not Knowing, and Knowing You Do Not Know

Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. (Apologia 21)

 

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

Introduction

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

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

Being Faithfully Catholic Means Constantly Growing

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Knowing and Learning

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

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

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

Example—The Pope, Divorce, and Remarriage.

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

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

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

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

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

Example—Knowing that differences exist in other nations.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

_______________________

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

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

[∞] Intrinsic evil, full knowledge, deliberate consent

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fallacious Thinking and Attacks Against the Pope

Introduction

Regardless of whether one thinks the cardinals who sent dubia to the Pope acted rightly or wrongly, one of the fruits of their action is a bad one: It’s become a rallying point for those Catholics who oppose the Pope and seek to undermine him by accusing him of error. That’s a dangerous position, one that encourages dissent and possibly de facto schism. It may even lead to the damnation of souls.

I want to make clear that I am not accusing the cardinals of bad will or seeking to promote schism. These are serious charges that must not be made without evidence. Their intentions and the state of their souls are for their confessors to assess, not a layman like myself. However, the Pope’s opponents on social media are making those serious charges against him, either directly or indirectly.

The Problem

The point of contention, as I understand it, is these cardinals do not see how Amoris Lætitia can be reconciled with the teachings of St. John Paul II. The dubia asked if those teachings still hold true. The Pope declined to answer and the cardinals went public. The result of this is a number of Catholics made assumptions (none of them good) about that silence and what it might mean. The problem is, logically, we cannot draw a conclusion from silence. We can only point to it as a lack of evidence one way or another

Let’s look at it this way. If silence from Pope Francis implies a rejection of St. John Paul II, as his social media critics imply, then we could ask whether if Cardinal Burke and his compatriots are in favor of schism because they do not speak against those combox warriors who misuse their statements. There could be any number of reasons, for example, “Not wanting to draw attention to it by publicizing it.” A person could argue that not speaking about these rebels is encouraging them, but they can’t use the silence to “prove” the cardinals want to encourage them.

Fallacies of Ignorance and Silence

But once we recognize this, we have to apply it to Pope Francis as well. People might want him to offer clarifications to the dubia, and might be disappointed when he doesn’t, but we can’t claim his silence is in support of error. That brings us to the two fallacies that critics of the Pope—and even some of the faithful—have been using: The Argument from Ignorance and the Argument from Silence.

The Argument from Ignorance is a fallacy which confuses what a person knows with what is reality. For example, if someone says, “I can’t think of any reason why Pope Francis would not answer,” that does not mean there is no good reason not to answer. Not knowing an answer is not the same as there being no answer. So to argue that he does intend to change Church teaching on the basis of his not answering is fallacious. 

The Argument from Silence fallacy happens where one assumes that silence is proof of a position. “He didn’t defend himself, he must be guilty,” or “He didn’t admit it, he must be innocent.” Silence is simply “no testimony.” In American law, no person can be compelled to give evidence against himself, and a prosecutor cannot use this refusal as “proof” of guilt. What the silent person intends and the motives for the silence are unknown. So to argue from the Pope’s declining to answer that he cannot defend his position without contradicting St. John Paul II is an argument from silence.

The point of this article is to encourage people to recognize there is a difference between wanting the Pope to respond and drawing a negative conclusion from his declining to do so. Because we Catholics are forbidden to make rash judgment, we certainly cannot rashly judge the Pope as being a heretic or incompetent on the grounds he did not answer.

The Real Problem That Fuels the So-Called “Scandals”

Let’s be frank. The most a papal critic can allege from this case is that the Pope used poor judgment (though I would probably challenge that). But that fact is not anything new in Church history. . .

John paul ii kisses koranEven St. John Paul the Great had his “not so great” days.

No matter how much one likes a Pope, there will always be something cringeworthy in their actions. That’s because we’re all humans in need of salvation. No matter how much one dislikes a Pope, cringeworthy actions do not detract from their office and our obligation to give assent when they teach as Pope. You can go all the way back to Pope Peter, and you’ll still have to deal with the “Denying three times” scandal and the “not eating with gentiles” scandal.

We have to realize that Pope Francis is not a Pope John XII or Alexander VI. Nor is he an Honorius or John XXII. The Church will not collapse because of Pope Francis any more than it collapsed under those members of the Papal “Hall of Shame.” God promised to protect His Church. If we don’t believe that, then our problem is much greater than a Pope.

We need to realize the Pope has been constantly attacked for almost four years by critics and every one of those attacks is based on a misinterpretation of what he said. There’s a third logical fallacy here—Begging the Question. People who assume the Pope is a heretic interpret everything he does under the suspicion of heresy. People who assume the Pope is incompetent interpret everything under the assumption he handled it incompetently. The problem is, these accusations have to be proven, but his accusers act as if they were true—and they have begun to instill doubt into weary Catholics who begin to think: “There must be something to these accusations, or people wouldn’t make them.”

There’s a real danger here. Certain Catholics hate the Pope and what they think is “corruption” of the Church since the Pontificate of St. John XXIII. They lead some members of the faithful astray, causing them to think they’re the only faithful Catholics left when, for almost 2000 years, the Church has been led by the successor of Peter without teaching heresy.

Conclusion

The point of this is, this latest attack on the Pope has its roots in an anti-Francis mindset and has no rational basis. A person is not wrong to wish a Pope might handle a situation differently at times. But we have to realize that what we wish and what the Pope determines as the best way to handle the situation can be two different things. To accuse him of bad will or incompetence because his decision is not what they want is not the obedience of the saints. It’s the same behavior that dissenters used to attack previous Popes.

We should reflect on this, and consider who benefits from this behavior: Not the Church, but the devil. We should think long and hard about divisive behavior before committing it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Building Houses on the Sand: A Reflection on Relationships With God and His Church

House on sand

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ 

 

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 7:21–27).

There’s a dangerous mindset among some Catholics. It’s one where a person believes he can reject a Church teaching and still be a good Catholic. In fact, often the person thinks he is a better Catholic than those in authority. He believes the Church teaches wrongly on a subject and has lost her teaching authority as a result. This person believes the Church can only regain her authority if she will either abandons a teaching he dislikes or reverts to a time he thinks was a golden age for the Church. Often such a person will think he is being faithful to the Church because he is faithful to that idealized view of the Church that he wants to defend.

But that’s not being faithful to the Church. The Church consistently keeps the teaching Our Lord passed on to the Apostles, from generation from the first century down to today. Whether the head of the Church is St. Peter or Pope Francis, it is the same Church and the same faith, with the same God protecting them in feeding the sheep (John 21:15-17). From the 1st century to the present, Our Lord has built His Church upon the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18). He has insisted that people heed this Church (see Matthew 18:17 and Luke 10:16) to the point of saying that rejecting the Church rejects Him.

Neither the radical traditionalist nor the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics give their assent to this authority. Both think there was a break in teaching. The radical traditionalist believes the Church went wrong because of Vatican II. The “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic thinks the Church went wrong before Vatican II, finally got it right, before Blessed Paul VI and his successors “betrayed the Council."

Neither group is right. During the two millennia the Church has existed, we’ve had good Popes, mediocre Popes, and bad Popes. No matter who was Pope, you will be able to find some behavior which was wrong, weak-willed, or at least ill-considered. But even with the worst Popes in our history, they have never taught error [†]. The Church has never taught good was evil nor that evil was good.  Have individual priests and bishops fallen into error? Yes, at times. But that is not the same thing.

If the Church is what she claims to be then, to be faithful Catholic Christians, we must give our assent to the teaching of those given the role of shepherd. We cannot pretend we are being good Catholics if we say we must reject Pope Francis in order to be “faithful” to the Church. Nor can we say we’re rejecting Church teaching in order to be faithful to Our Lord. He said that if we love Him, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15) and rejecting those He sent is rejecting Him (Luke 10:16).

Banias Spring Cliff Pan s Cave(This is a rock. More specifically, it is Caesarea Philippi [AKA Banias] where Jesus told Peter
that he would be the rock on which Our Lord would build His Church[§])

If building a house on rock is listening to and obeying Our Lord’s words, and His words include telling us to hear His Church, then it follows that listening to the Church because Our Lord gave her authority is obeying what He said. It also means that obeying only when it suits us—which is failing to keep His words when it doesn’t—is building a house on sand. 

Many people resent the implication they are building on sand. They think it would be easy to tell the difference, just like it would be easy to tell the difference between a pile of sand and a boulder. But the difference was not always clear in Galilee and Judea when Jesus told this parable. The sand could feel solid and people could think they were building on a solid foundation. The sand could be solid for years. But if a torrential rainstorm came, that assumed solid base would wash away.

Sand(This is sand, not rock, even though it might look like rock. 
So long as it is dry, all is well. But if it rains...)

Likewise, if we put our trust in our personal interpretation of God’s word and what part of Church teaching we think is right, it may seem solid. Our faith may stand for years. But in a time of trial, we may find our faith collapsing because we put our faith in our own perceived wisdom and righteousness. I reflect on this when I consider the rebellion against the Church during the pontificate of Pope Francis. Not only did radical traditionalists and “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics assume a break in teaching, but some Catholics who were staunch defenders of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI bought into these claims as well.

What I think happened is this. The media between 1968 (the year Humanae Vitae was promulgated) and 2013 focused almost entirely on the Church teaching on sexual morality and abortion. So it was easy to think this was the sole focus on the Church. The Popes in this period spoke on many other topics well. But the media did not cover them. So it was easy to think that so long as one stood up for life and sexual morality, it was enough. So when the media began covering Pope Francis when he spoke about other areas of Church teaching, many people believed this new emphasis from the media was a change of teaching by the Pope. Just as the media ignored St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI when they spoke on other teachings, the media ignored Pope Francis when he spoke on life and sexual morality teachings.

So, when Pope Francis spoke on these topics, Catholics who assumed that their faith was mostly about defending life and marriage either felt betrayed or elated, depending on where they stood on the defense of life and sexual morality. There was no break in teaching and Pope Francis’ predecessors did not neglect these other issues [#].

Offering my opinion, I think what people built their houses (that is, their faith) on was not the rock of Jesus’ words and His Church, but on the sand of what they thought Catholicism was, based on a partial understanding. I see the rains as the increased—but grossly uninformed—media coverage about what the Pope said.  The house of faith collapsed when people assumed that while the Church could err, they themselves did not and see any discrepancy between their presumptions and what the Popes said “proved” the Popes erred. I call this a collapse because they’ve damaged their faith in God’s Church and, as a result, they’ve damaged their relationship with God as well.

I believe we avoid this ruin by putting our faith in Our Lord and in the Church He built, trusting Him to protect it from falling into error. Yes, there will be times when members of the Church—even high ranking ones—do something that scandalizes us. But the bad behavior or personal error of individuals is not the teaching of the Church. There is no break. In the same way, we must stop placing confidence in our own views over the teaching of the Church when they differ. Every schismatic and heretic in history believed they were right and the Church was wrong. They wanted to “protect” the Church from error, but never considered their rejecting the Church was a sign of their own error.

It is only when we realize that it is far more reasonable that we are in error than to think God has stopped protecting His Church that we can pull up the stakes from the sand of our pride and error and move to the rock of faith in Christ.

________________________________

[†] We need to be clear here: Teachings are not the same thing as bad policy or bad laws in the Papal States before 1870. Nor should we confuse teachings with the opinions from individual members of the Church. These have never been authoritative in any way.

[§] gugganij - own photography - eigenes FotoPermission details
Own work, copyleft: Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5 and older versions (2.0 and 1.0)

[#] For example, many thought Evangelii Gaudium was a break with previous social teaching from the Church and a sign of Pope Francis’ “Marxism.” But if you compare it with Pius XI with his 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo anno, you will see their criticisms of abuses in capitalism are virtually identical

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ancient Fallacies: Begging the Question and Anti-Francis Attacks

So looking for a bit of entertainment, I watched a couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens. The basic premise (for people with enough common sense to stay away) is that aliens could have visited Earth, provided technology to build monuments, fought battles, influenced events described in the Bible and so on. The main problem with the show is that the featured individuals arguing their points assume their premises are true, when they actually have to be proven. The things they assume as following from the claim of aliens can only be considered as a link if the original premise is true in the first place. It’s the begging the question fallacy.

Aliens(Most people recognize this is bad reasoning)

Aristotle, over two thousand years ago, described what was wrong with this way of thinking:

16 To beg and assume the original question is a species of failure to demonstrate the problem proposed; but this [30] happens in many ways. A man may not reason syllogistically at all, or he may argue from premisses which are less known or equally unknown, or he may establish the antecedent by means of its consequents; for demonstration proceeds from what is more certain and is prior. Now begging the question is none of these: but since we get to know some things naturally through themselves, and other things [35] by means of something else (the first principles through themselves, what is subordinate to them through something else), whenever a man tries to prove what is not self-evident by means of itself, then he begs the original question. This may be done by assuming what is in question at once; it is also possible to make a transition to [40] other things which would naturally be proved through the [65a] thesis proposed, and demonstrate it through them, e.g. if A should be proved through B, and B through C, though it was natural that C should be proved through A: for it turns out that those who reason thus are proving A by means of itself. This is what those persons do who suppose [5] that they are constructing parallel straight lines: for they fail to see that they are assuming facts which it is impossible to demonstrate unless the parallels exist. So it turns out that those who reason thus merely say a particular thing is, if it is: in this way everything will be self-evident. But that is impossible.

 

 Aristotle, “ANALYTICA PRIORA,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).

Basically, this fallacy happens when one assumes something is true without proving it to be true and then cites things as examples of this assumption—but they are only valid examples if the original claim is true. If the original claim is not established as true, then the “examples” cannot be established as supporting the allegation,

Unfortunately, since 2013, many Catholics have been plagued by this fallacy in their approach to Pope Francis. The begging the question comes around by alleging that the Pope is a liberal, or a heretic, or both. For this allegation to have any merit, it has to be proven. Otherwise it is merely an unproven assertion. Once we recognize this, all of the “scandalous behavior” vanishes away. 

For example, the Pope speaks out on the ecology, the plight of refugees and the death penalty. People acting on the assumption that the Pope is speaking on these issues in this way because he is a liberal—which is the point to be proven in the first place. But if the Pope has any other reason for speaking out on these issues besides a partisan political concern, then the citation of these stands are not a confirmation of his political slant. The ultimate result of the begging the question fallacy in this case is that certain Catholics are assuming the Pope is the enemy of the faith for irrational reasons. If one reads the works of Pope Francis’ predecessors in office, once can see they were not liberal and yet they spoke against the same things that Pope Francis spoke against.

Because people beg the question in assuming the Pope is a liberal/heretic, they assume his words and actions in his US visit and the ongoing synod on the family have a liberal/heretical meaning. So, he didn’t mention abortion directly to the President or Congress—he must be a liberal! He spoke about the death penalty and immigration—he must be a liberal! He wants to find ways to reach out to the divorced/remarried and the people with same sex attraction—he must want to change Church teaching! The Vatican issued a statement indicating that the Pope’s visit with Kim Davis was not as significant as reported—he must be a liberal!

Liberal pope(Many Catholics don’t realize this is bad reasoning even though it is the same as above)

ALL of these arguments have been made and all of them require the accuser that he did these things because he was liberal and not assume that he is liberal and therefore all of his actions have that intention. But, if there is any basis for it other than assume that only a liberal would support those positions, then one must stop making the allegation—the claim is unsupported.

Thus people complaining about the Pope’s visit to America and complaining about the synod need to stop their accusations. They have no basis for their claim. Everything they are working themselves into a rage over comes from assuming there are parallels when there are none and assuming that certain positions can only be explained by a politically leftist Pope. Since the claims cannot be supported, the people who repeat them are using a fallacy, not reason when they attack the Pope.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

If You Believe This, Then Why BE a Christian in the First Place?

(See: Does Pope Francis fear God? On the Synod of the Family and the fracturing of the Catholic Church.)

So, a Catholic writer, in a conservative magazine, wrote the following:

In the next three weeks, I fully expect the leadership of my own One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church to fall into apostasy, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family that begins today in Rome. This is the outcome Pope Francis has shaped over the entirety of his pontificate, and particularly with his recent appointments. An event like this —heresy promulgated by the Pope and his bishops — is believed by most Catholics to be impossible. But they should be prepared for it anyway. This is not an ordinary religious conference, but one to be dreaded.

The question that comes to my mind when I read this is, why in the hell would anyone be a part of a Church that can fall into apostasy? If the Church at the level of binding and loosing can fall into apostasy, then it cannot be—and never was—a Church established by God. 

I don’t use this as rhetoric or as a click-bait opener. Rather, I see it as a problem with people who have so confused their political preferences and media misinterpretations of the Church teaching, that they no longer believe that God is with His Church, but instead believe that they themselves cannot err.

Infallibility

Such a Catholic has to consider the ramifications of their anti-Francis mindset. If one recognizes that Jesus Christ is God and that the Catholic Church was the Church that Our Lord willed to establish in Matthew 16:18, then it follows that the promises He made about the Church will be kept. If a person denies one or both of these tenets of the faith, their faith is deficient.

Let’s think about it. If Jesus is God and the Church He established is the Catholic Church then he promised that the Church, built on the rock of Peter, would not see the gates of Hell prevail against it, and He promised that He would be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20). If the authority of the Church, which has the authority to bind and loose, should fall into error then we have to recognize one of two possibilities:

  1. That Jesus could not keep His promises.
  2. That Jesus did not mean it in the sense that the Church has taught.

If Jesus could not keep His promises, then He is not God and our Catholic faith is in vain. We might as well go and seek admittance to Judaism if we wanted to still believe in the God of the Bible, but being a Christian would be nothing more than being a Platonist—a philosophy of doing good which is right some of the time. If Jesus did keep His promises, but the Catholic Church misinterpreted these promises, then she is a blind guide leading the blind into a ditch. We could never know when she got it right about being a Christian and when she did not. Was she wrong in Vatican II? Vatican I? Trent? Nicea? We could not know whether it was the Trinitarians or the Arians got it right, the Catholics or the Protestants and so on. We could only have opinions on who got it right—solely based on our own hunches and preferences.

In either case, the results of the synod would be irrelevant. Whether the Church upheld the traditional teachings on marriage, or called for polygamous homosexual divorce would be irrelevant, because the Church would have no authority whatsoever.

It only makes sense to be a Catholic if we believe that Our Lord protects the Church from teaching error when she teaches. We are bound to give assent not only in her ex cathedra pronunciations, but in her teachings of the ordinary magisterium as well. As the Catechism says:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

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.

If we are bound to give assent even to the ordinary magisterium, then again we have two possibilities:

  1. God will bind error and loose truth if the Church so decrees.
  2. God will prevent the Church from binding error and loosing truth.

The first choice is asinine. The God who came to save us from our sins would certainly not say that sin is OK if the Church gives its sanction. But given that Our Lord equates rejection of His Church with rejection of Him (see Matthew 18:17 and Luke 10:16), obedience to those He has put in charge is not an option. But since human beings are weak and sinful, God must have a way which ensures that they do not lead people into sin.

Even if we should see the synod become another “robber council,” (which I do not expect), we can have faith that the Pope would block such things from becoming teaching. Think about it. St. Paul said that to receive the Eucharist unworthily would be eating and drinking judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). If the Church should sanction people in mortal sin receiving the Eucharist, that would be a case of binding error and loosing truth. 

It is because I have faith in Our Lord that I do not fear that the magisterium of the Church will teach error. The leaders of the Church can indeed be sinful and weak. They can enact rules that are ineffective and falter in the face of opposition. Thus we need to pray for them. But even if some individual bishops or even regions should fall into error (it has happened in our History), the Church will not call evil good.

The person who believes that the Church will embrace error and change her teachings on good and evil needs to ask himself or herself this: If the Church is not protected from teaching error, then why even be a Catholic at all?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Out of Control and Missing the Point

The Pope’s visit to America confirms what I long knew—the media and the politicians don’t understand the meaning of religion, treating it as one more political viewpoint. It also confirmed what I long suspected but hoped was actually false—that a large portion of American Catholics view religion in the same sense as the media and politicians. The result of this mindset is that the average person praises or laments what the Pope says or does in light of his or her political convictions and not on the basis of the Christian faith.

St. Paul wrote about this way of thinking in his letter to the Philippians:

17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. 18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

Our calling as Christians supersedes our preferences in politics. Politics necessarily involves earthly things. Our faith involves approaching this world according to the bigger picture of what God calls us to do with the fact of our life after death always kept firmly in mind. So, to judge the Pope’s words and actions by political preference is to pervert the Christian message, committing sacrilege according to the sense of treating holy things as profane.

Unfortunately, America is very dualistic. We think things are either liberal or conservative and create a logical error called denying the antecedent. That error works as follows:

  • The Pope is conservative or liberal.
  • Not conservative.
  • Therefore liberal.
The argument overlooks the possibility of “none of the above” being an answer.
 
Hes with Me
 
Unfortunately, the American view of politics has determined that concern for the environment or the treatment of immigrants to be “liberal” and the defense of life and marriage to be “conservative.” That’s how it plays with our political parties. But actually, the Catholic Church has a body of teaching that can point to both liberals and conservatives and say “you’re wrong about that.” In addition, she can say to both, “You’re right on this, but for the wrong reason."

When the Pope meets with the President, meets with Congress, meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor, meets with a former student (who happens to be actively homosexual), meets with Kim Davis—these things are all given a political meaning, even though the Pope intended no such thing by them. Then they take offense by the fact that the Pope did not use his addresses to condemn the President or Congress.

But, since the Pope did not intend a political message, the people who wanted one with him endorsing their position got angry when he took a stand against their position. People who hate Kim Davis were angry that he did not denounce her. People who support her were angry that he didn’t tell supporters of “same sex marriage” to literally go to hell.

Essentially they wanted him to be something he had no intention of being, and got disappointed because he didn’t satisfy their desire to see their foes "put in their place.” The thing is, Jesus didn’t set out to put people in their place. He came to call them to repentance. It was only with the self-righteous, the ones who behaved in a hypocritical manner, that he ended up "putting them in their place."

The Pope isn’t Jesus, of course. (With the anti-Catholics out there who think we do believe that, it unfortunately has to be said). But he is following the example Our Lord gave for us to follow. He’s essentially offering Our Lord’s mercy to the sinners. When we want the Pope to praise us and denounce the sinners we despise, we behave as hypocrites—and it was the hypocrites that Our Lord openly denounced.

I think that in trying to play “Capture the Flag” with the Pope, people assumed that if he would only “say more” about topic X, other people would go along. Really? Why should it be any different under Pope Francis than it was under his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI on contraception, St. John Paul II on a whole raft of issues. likewise Benedict XVI. They’ve been speaking out since 1963 on sexual issues, economic issues, life issues and so on. There’s been no variation in message. Sollicitudo rei Socialis and Caritas in Veritate say the same thing as Evangelic Gaudium—they all draw on Paul VI and Populorum Progressio (and Sollicitudo rei Socialis #34 mirrors Laudato Si).Despite this fact, people haven’t changed. The pro-abortion politicians have been this way throughout the past four pontificates. The people who think social justice is a code word for “socialism” still think so. If the Pope has so much influence over sinners that he can change them with a word, then why haven’t they been changed already?

No, America is out of control and missing the point. They think the Papal message is political policy and if the Pope says something similar, it is assumed that the Pope validated their entire platform. If the Pope said something in opposition, he’s a foreigner who should stick to religion and “stay out of politics.” (It’s hypocritical—basically a case of “It’s OK if he agrees with me, bad if he doesn’t.”) Catholics missing the point and out of control are making things worse. We’re called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we’re acting as worldly and partisan as everyone else, we are failing to share the Gospel with the world. 

American Catholics who think of themselves as orthodox need to get back in control and get the point. Otherwise, they are causing great harm in their dissent and disobedience while patting themselves on the back for being “faithful."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quick Quips: Pope Francis in the USA Edition

Introduction

So I enjoyed the Pope’s visit and was impressed with what he had to say. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to have been unhappy with the visit, thinking he should have said more on topic A and less on topic B. So here’s another episode of Quick Quips where I put onto the internet the eye-rolling, teeth gritting thoughts I’ve had as I read the news, the blogs and the comments made essentially bashing the Pope. So here we go.

What Radical Nut Came Up With…?—Oh Wait...

So, did you hear the radical words uttered at the Papal Mass this morning in Philadelphia?

"Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance."

What is this radical Marxist agenda being spouted?

Oh wait—the Pope didn't say that. That was from the Second Reading from today’s Mass, the Epistle of James 5:1-6. Maybe, just maybe, the Pope is not spouting Marxist views, but is actually teaching the parts of Christianity that we have forgotten.

So Who’s To Blame For Misinterpretation Now?

So some Catholics have trotted out the old “if he would only speak more clearly, people would not misinterpret him” lament. But after seeing the comments in the (secular) conservative sites where every old bit of anti-Catholic slander going back to the 16th century has been hurled at the Pope (things like “we deny the resurrection because we have a corpus on a crucifix while Protestants have an empty cross” and the old “works alone”), I have to ask—do you really think these people would even want to find out the truth about what a Catholic had to say (as opposed being comfortable in their bigotry)?

If Only The Pope Had...

I've encountered something coming up in blogs and on Facebook, saying that if only the Pope had mentioned abortion directly in his address to Congress, they could have defunded Planned Parenthood successfully in the vote that came up the same day. Personally, I don't believe it. That would require there to be enough Catholics in congress that could have swung the vote that were:

  • Not already determined to vote their position regardless of what the Pope taught.
  • So ignorant of the Church teaching up to now that if the Pope mentioning it directly, they would have said "Oh, wow, what the hell were we thinking? It’s bad for Catholics to support abortion?” after the Pope spoke.

Dissenting Catholics who think abortion to be "a right" haven't changed their views when faced with the Pope's predecessors and I doubt they'd change now either...

The Pope Was So Silent on Abortion That Even Planned Parenthood Spoke Against Him—Wait a Minute...

Also of note is the fact that while conservative Catholics denounced the Pope for not speaking out on abortion, Planned Parenthood denounced him for his pro-life stance, saying the Church needed to change her teaching. When the enemies of the Church know that the Pope is pro-life, maybe—just maybe—the concerned Catholics need to realize that his message is getting through.

Guess the Pope Who Said This...

Here’s a Papal document which speaks on the environment this way:

34. Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks—alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it—called the “cosmos.” Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration which it is useful to reflect upon carefully.

The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate—animals, plants, the natural elements—simply as one wishes, according to one s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.”

The second consideration is based on the realization—which is perhaps more urgent—that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.

The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.

Once again it is evident that development, the planning which governs it, and the way in which resources are used must include respect for moral demands. One of the latter undoubtedly imposes limits on the use of the natural world. The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to “use and misuse,” or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to “eat of the fruit of the tree” (cf. Gen 2:16–17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.

A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization—three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development.

Pope Francis and Laudato Si? No. Sollicitudo rei Socialis by St. John Paul II, written in 1987. That’s right, almost 30 years ago.

That Guy From Nazareth Would Be A Lot Better Speaker if He Talked About the Unjust Romans...

Continuing the theme of “The Pope didn’t speak on X,” I was struck by how the Israelites and the Apostles constantly wanted to know when Jesus was going to speak out on the corrupt tax collectors, the Roman occupation, the Samaritans and so on. Jesus rebuked them for their attitudes. But wanting justice was not a bad thing in itself. However, when considering His mission, an approach which did not to condemn the sinners but to sought to bring them to salvation, what people wanted to hear and what they needed to hear were often two different things.  

The Pope seems determined to follow Our Lord’s example in how He approaches things. He didn’t come as a firebrand preacher—you know, the type most people cross the street to avoid. He spoke with gentleness and encouragement, addressing the issues that maybe we need to hear, and not putting the other guy in his place. A lot of people don’t like that—but then again neither did the Pharisees.

In Closing

Ultimately I think that people who approached the Pope’s visit with an open mind and heart, seeking to learn, came away satisfied. But those who approached the visit with the assumption that “that idiot is going to screw it up again…” came away disgruntled. I believe the Pope presented the faith in a gentle manner, speaking to a nation that has forgotten how one is to be good, hoping to get them to listen. But Catholics who wanted blood sports where the Pope denounced Pelosi, Obama, Biden and so on, I think they missed the gifts of the visit.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Overlooking the Essentials: Reflections on the Negative Catholic Reaction to Pope Francis

Introduction

With the Pope’s visit to the US, people—including Catholics—are scrutinizing his words to use them in order to justify their political positions. If the individual agrees with his words, he is a great Pope, while if they don’t, he is not. Unfortunately this mindset seeks to take the Pope’s words and cram them into a dualistic political mindset: “Either the Pope is conservative or liberal.”

On one hand, we get Nancy Pelosi’s reprehensible statement of “I actually agree with the pope on more issues than many Catholics who agree with him on one issue” where that “one issue" is abortion and St. John Paul II spoke of "Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death." [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae #18]—a pretty big disconnect. On the other hand, we get the accusation that the Pope is a liberal-leftist-marxist-who-should-stick-to-religion-and-not-get-into-politics (whew!) whenever he speaks on a topic they dislike.

Both views miss the point. Catholicism isn’t a faith of “Well I may have got an F when it comes to abortion but I get an A+ when it comes to holding political positions I can sort of equate with the Catholic teaching, therefore I get a grade of C as a Catholic!” (conservatives would reverse this and come to the same conclusion). Catholicism is about seeking to be faithful to God in all things, repenting and turning back to Him when and where we fall short.

The politician who ignores the Church teaching on abortion does evil. That’s undeniable. But the politician who ignores the Church teaching on social justice also does evil. Does that mean that abortion and social justice issues are moral equivalents? Definitely not. But to say that Issue #1 is worse than Issue #2 therefore Issue #2 is not important is simply false. The unrepented mortal sin will damn a soul whether it is abortion or whether it is adultery.

Labelling the Pope Based on Personal Ideas of What We Think Should Have Been Said

Unfortunately there is a strong anti-Francis mindset (it’s beginning to be called Papal derangement syndrome elsewhere) where the Pope’s orthodoxy is judged based on how often he mentions a topic and how forcefully he does so. It’s so predictable, it's almost like a simple computer program:

10 IF POPE DOESN’T MENTION ISSUE X DURING ADDRESS GOTO 20; ELSE GO TO 30
20 PRINT “THE POPE NEVER TALKS ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE!”; GOTO 10
30 PRINT “THE POPE DOESN’T TALK ENOUGH ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE”; GOTO 10 

This kind of mindset assumes that there is no merit to other topics the Pope might discuss and that if he doesn’t make Issue X the centerpiece of his visit to America, then there was no merit to his visit. In such a case, the individual has made himself or herself into a judge who determines the importance of what issues to discuss in the Catholic teaching and has actually deafened himself or herself to hearing what the Pope actually has to say.

Unfortunately the Pope, like his predecessors, have been slandered. Both the supporters and detractors of Francis, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have bought into the myth that their positions are political. The only difference is that Francis is maligned as being a liberal while St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were maligned as being conservative. But neither accusation is true. If you read Sollicitudo rei socialis by St. John Paul II and Caritas in veritate by Benedict XVI said similar things on social justice and responsibility to creation: Indeed, all three recognized the importance of, and drew from, Blessed Paul VI and Populorum progressio. But while his predecessor’s teachings have been forgotten already, Pope Francis is maligned as being a liberal-leftist-marxist-modernist-heretic (whew!) when all three of them said the same thing.

What We Think Should Have Been Said May Not Be the Best Thing to Be Said

We need to realize that we are not the Pope and do not have his insights into what he thinks this country needs to hear when it comes to being evangelized. Think of it this way. The Jews, in expecting the Messiah, legitimately were concerned about justice against the Romans and wanted Him to declare Himself (see John 10:24 for example and Matthew 11:3ff). But Jesus’ mission was not what the people expected it to be. Those Jews waiting for Jesus to speak about those issues only were going to wind up disappointed. But those who came to listen and learn from what Jesus said would be satisfied.

I’m not suggesting that the Pope = Jesus here. But the Pope is imitating Jesus in his words and actions in America. When he speaks to the President, Congress, the UN, the Bishops and us what he believes we need to hear—not in condemnation but in gentle encouragement. If we dismiss this message, labeling it as not important, we will end up frustrated and dissatisfied by what he said when his visit to our nation ends. But if we approach his addresses with the mindset of “What is he saying to me and how should I apply it to my life?” we will end up enriched by this visit.

Now, yes, I would like it if the Pope chose to speak more overtly on the moral issues like abortion, “same sex marriage,” and the like. But I do believe he is reaching out gently to people who are not ready for the solid food of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3), speaking to them gently, not harshly. We should certainly recognize the possibility of the people estranged from or ignorant of the Church being driven away from listening if the Pope spoke as we might wish he would.

Ultimately we should come to learn from what the Pope is teaching and not judge him on what we want him to say.