Showing posts with label responsibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label responsibility. Show all posts

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

After New York passed its barbaric abortion law, Catholic Social Media attacked Cardinal Dolan for not excommunicating Cuomo. There were two problems with this. First, it’s not Cardinal Dolan, but the bishop of Albany (Bishop Scharfenberger) who has jurisdiction over Cuomo. Second, Excommunication for abortion is for those involved in the act of procuring [brings about, achieves] abortion. Canon 1398 states 

person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication.

When it comes to the Catholic politicians that legalize abortion, the proper canon is 915:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

In most cases, the individual is told by the bishop not to present themselves for Communion and the appropriate pastors are notified. Usually this is done privately. In rare cases (e.g. Sibelius, during the Obama administration), this is made public.

So, the attacks on the Cardinal Dolan were doubly wrong. First, because they demanded action from someone who could not perform it. Second, the action demanded was not the action that the Church applies. All excommunications involve grave sin, but not all grave sins have the penalty of excommunication. The bishops cannot arbitrarily go beyond the penalty set. This is a safeguard against abuse of power. Otherwise a bishop could excommunicate someone for any minor irritation.

This incident is an example of one problem in the Church. Many people do not know how the Church governs herself. The Church is not a tyranny (rule by the whim of one with dictatorial powers). She is governed by canon law which lists rights, responsibilities, and procedures. The Pope can amend canon law when needed (it is a human law, after all) to serve justice, but he doesn’t do so arbitrarily.

So, it is unreasonable for a Catholic to get angry with a bishop when the bishop doesn’t have the authority to do something through jurisdiction or the obligations of law.

So, the Catholic must ask whether he or she understands how the Church handles things in general and whether he or she has all the information needed to correctly judge what is going on. If the Catholic does not, he or she has no right to condemn the bishop.

If, however, a Catholic should do the required study, and remain concerned that wrong is being done, he or she has an obligation to convey that concern properly. As Canon 212 §3 puts it:

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Even if you’re concerned that a bishop made a “bad call,” you have the obligation to be reverent and respectful. That means no snide comments about “backbone” or insults. The bishops are successors to the Apostles and must be treated as such.

This is an example of why the adage, “a little knowledge is dangerous,” is true. A person ignorant of what the Church requires, accusing the Pope or bishop of doing wrong, is risking committing schismatic or heretical behavior because they don’t understand the responsibility and obligations of their office. They are effectively picking a needless “hill to die on.”

Understanding what the Church does and why is essential for assessing the actions of the Pope and bishops. Without that knowledge, those clamoring for “justice” are merely committing rash judgment.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thoughts on Catholics and the Major Party vs. the Third Party Debate

Stephen before the council(How we think we look debating others)


I have encountered some hostility between Catholics who debate over whether to vote for a major party, third party, write in or not vote in the 2016 elections [†]. Since all of the candidates seem flawed in a major way in this election, I’m not going to attack their decision as sinful when it is obvious they are seeking to apply the Catholic teaching and their conscience [*] to what is a bad situation. But I do think some of the arguments given for voting their way are flawed and need to be rethought. Rethinking may cause some to change their minds and may cause some to develop better reasons for their positions. My hope is that my fellow Catholics will practice constant discernment of the issue between now and November so they might make the best choice as Catholics on how to vote.

The major dispute over choosing the major party vs. the third party is over who is the worse evil. Some insist there is absolutely a greater evil in the choice between the two major parties. Others claim they are both equally wrong. Those who hold there is a greater evil between the two choices point out that a third party vote is essentially a vote for the party they ordinarily oppose. Those who deny that one is worse than the other essentially say that they refuse to vote for a candidate they see as promoting evil, and since they think the two are the same, they will not vote for either one.

The acrimony over this debate involves the issues of intrinsic evil. The fact is, we have one party which openly champions things like abortion, the contraception mandate, and “same sex marriage” while the other party holds views on immigration, war and torture which are not compatible with the teaching of the Church. In other words, both parties are wrong about some serious things. The argument is over whether one is worse or both are equivalent. The person who holds one is worse than the other generally advocates one party. The person who says they are equivalent tend to support the third party option. 

The Major Party Consideration 

The question a person needs to ask before supporting a major party candidate is, “How does this candidate match up to the Catholic teaching, and are there any disqualifying factors?  The US bishops wrote:

42. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.


USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, (2015)

So, we can’t support a candidate solely on one issue while ignoring their stands on other issues, but some positions do disqualify a candidate from our support. Those positions that disqualify a candidate cannot be weighed against other issues as if ten social issues outweighed abortion. As St. John Paul II wrote:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.


 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

The point is, we need to discern which candidate is more likely to work for (or at least less likely to work against) the defense of life. The argument that "candidate X may be pro-abortion, but his positions on other issues make him more ‘pro-life’” is not an argument a Catholic can make.

The Third Party Consideration

On the other hand, the question people who support the third party option need to ask themselves is whether they are giving full consideration to the issues or whether they have a personal repugnance for one of the options that prevents them from being objective. If it is the latter, a person needs to look beyond preference to evaluate the real issues. The reason I say that is because: the third party vote is not a vote free of consequence. About the only way we can have a third party candidate elected president is if America underwent a King Ralph situation, but the third party vote is still influential. Why? Because when a person who ordinarily votes for a major party chooses to vote for a third party, the party he ordinarily votes for gets less votes while the opposing party gets about the same number [§]. The result is often that the major party with voters who defect to a third party will wind up with fewer votes than the opposing major party, resulting in the opposing major party winning the election.

This actually happened in the 2000 elections. In Florida, George W. Bush was elected with a majority of 537 votes. Now regardless of what your views were on hanging chads and butterfly ballots and how the recounts were handled, there is one fact that made this possible—97,488 people who normally voted for the Democratic Party instead cast their vote for Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Given that the Green party is to the left of the Democratic party, few (if any) of those voters would have voted Republican. The vast majority would have probably voted for the Democratic party. If they had, Al Gore would have carried the state by slightly less than 97,000 votes and would have been President over George W. Bush [∑].

We Have to Consider the Ramifications of our Choices—Even if we Dislike the Options

That’s the kind of thing the Catholic opting for the third party vote needs to consider—are they willing to accept the election of the party they normally vote against and all the consequences of not preventing a party that goes against the right to life that goes along with that result? Ultimately, that is a decision of conscience. As Archbishop Chaput puts it:

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 230-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I agree with the Archbishop. If one makes their best effort to discern the truth about the candidates and issues, is informed about the teaching of the Church, and decides that following Church teaching and conscience means support for a major party or a third party vote, then I cannot tell them they are doing wrong. However, if one has not made their best effort to discern the truth and has not struggled over how to best follow Church teaching, such a person has not discerned deeply enough and needs to continue prayer and study over the issues. [ß]

Avoiding Rash Judgment In Debate

As we struggle to decide how to make the best decision in a morally troubling election, we need to avoid attacking and misrepresenting people who reach a different conclusion by following the Catholic teachings. I’ve seen some supporters of the third party option attack Catholics who support a major party of supporting the evil that party does. That is rash judgment. I’ve also seen Catholics who support the third party option attacked as being in favor of the opposing major party. That’s also rash judgment. So is making comparisons between a major party candidate and Hitler.

Nor can the supporter of the third party option belittle the concern over life issues that leads another to vote for a major party. For example, I’ve seen the Catholic voter who supports the third party option say they were not going along with the “Vote Republican or the fetus gets it” argument. That’s nothing more than the Appeal to Mockery fallacy that only ridicules an argument but does not actually refute it.

If a person seems to support a candidate or the third party option for the wrong reasons, then we need to speak up and refute those reasons with charity. But if the person has formed their decision based on the teachings of the Church, properly applied of course, then we must not attack their decision as one of supporting evil or accuse them of being faithless Catholics.


The point is, the Catholic has a responsibility to cast their vote wisely to pursue good and oppose evil. That wisdom requires the voter to consider all the issues (giving them their proper weight) and whether their information is actually correct. What I am concerned about is that people may lose sight of the issues Catholics need to consider, getting so wrapped up in the question of whether a candidate is angelic or scum, that they forget the moral issues that will exist the day after the election which the new president will act on.

I find it significant that the Church mentions the life issues by name. She has made clear that the Catholic cannot treat that as one issue among many, to be set aside at will by the voter in favor of other issues. So I’ll conclude by asking each voter (regardless of whether they choose a major party or the third party option) to consider this: Is a voting decision based on the moral teaching of the Church? Or based on personal preferences and dislikes? Have we properly understood the Church teaching? All of us have a moral obligation to evaluate our behavior honestly, knowing we will have to answer for our efforts before God.




[†] For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to lump third party, write in candidate and not voting all in under the heading “third party option” because the results are the same.

[*] Of course this article assumes that a person is intending to sort out the moral quandaries in choosing to vote in accord with the Church teaching. If a person intends to support a candidate regardless of what the Church teaches and merely cherry-picks the Church teachings to legitimize what they planned to do anyway, they do wrong.

[§] Recognizing there will be variants of course in numbers of voters.

[∑] I recall during the campaigning before the 2000 elections, Nader supporters said there was no real difference between Bush and Gore. I imagine they found out otherwise after the election was resolved.

[ß] I think what makes this so hard for is is the fact that when a person makes a choice we disagree with, we tend to automatically assume that choice is made contrary to Church teaching. Given that some Catholics do support immoral candidates or positions out of ignorance or from rejecting Church teaching, it is easy to leap to that conclusion. But we must not do this.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faithful Catholics Divided on the Election. Reflections on a Passage by Archbishop Charles Chaput

There is no doubt that this election is going to be a difficult one for people who are appalled by the statements made by our major candidates. They are asking questions along the lines of “who can I vote for in a good conscience?” Unfortunately, these people are often being accused of bad faith to the point of not caring about the issues the accuser finds important. Confusing the issue is the fact that some people are supporting candidates for reasons contrary to Catholic teaching or are supporting a candidate for reasons which seem superficial and flippant. It is easy to confuse people in the first category with people in the second. Another problem is that some confuse questioning one candidate with supporting another. This results in many people feeling on the defensive over having their orthodoxy challenged while also believing that people with different views are not orthodox Catholics. It’s a vicious circle.

I think that a passage from a book written by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in 2008 is especially relevant here. 

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I think his insight here is wise and worth heeding even though he makes clear he is not exercising his episcopal authority in this book. He makes clear that to support, without a reason that outweighs the evil, a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil is to sin. But, if the Catholic finds both candidates support the intrinsic evil, he must still make a choice. That decision might be different for each person, but if it is reached by being faithful to the Church teaching, another Catholic cannot condemn him just because they reached a different conclusion than the first.

What has to be avoided is legalism, paying lip service to Church teaching as an excuse to justify a vote one was going to make regardless of what the Church said. One has to seriously consider the evils of both sides and what consequences follow from one’s vote. Are we sure that the reason we vote for one candidate over the other really outweigh the evil that candidate will do?

It’s understandable to be skeptical. In previous elections, we have had people argue that voting for a pro-abortion candidate was actually the more “pro-life” activity because of their stands on other social justice issues. But, in refutation, St. John Paul II made clear that support for those “other issues” was meaningless if the candidate was pro-abortion:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.


 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici #38 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we see that a Catholic can’t say “well, he’s sorta pro-life even though he supports the right to kill unborn children."

The problem we have in 2016 is that on one side we have candidates who actively call good what the Church calls intrinsically evil while, on the other side; we have candidates who support other issues the Church calls evil due to the motives and circumstances. There are also reasons to question the sincerity of some candidates. If a candidate has a reputation of oscillating back and forth on the issues, how do we know that the commitment will remain? It’s like the play A Man For All Seasons where Sir Thomas More says:

Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate— Lutheran. We must just pray, that when your head’s finished turning your face is to the front again.

Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 580-582). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

It’s not wrong to ask which way a candidate is going to wind up if they should get elected. But we do need to remember that there are faithful Catholics who have different views on which way things will wind up and, provided they follow the Church teaching sincerely in doing so, they are not choosing to endorse evil if their discernment turns out to be wrong.

But that is the key people are forgetting. Yes, there are Catholics who support a candidate for unworthy reasons. Yes, there are times when we do have a clear choice as to who is better. But if it turns out that neither situation applies, then we have to recognize that one faithful Catholic may feel that only choice A is acceptable while another may feel that only choice B is acceptable. In this case, I believe our task as Catholics is to reach out to those voting because they support an evil position or have a insufficient reason for voting for the one who supports evil. We do have the Church teaching to point to.

But, when the decision is not clear, Catholics can try to explain why they think their own position is better, but they cannot elevate that opinion to Church position to give that opinion authority it does not have (the reason why I do not offer my political opinions on my blog is to make sure nobody thinks I am usurping the authority of the Church to justify my own position).

So there’s our task. We seek to correct people (charitably) who hold views contrary to the Catholic teaching. We can seek to persuade people to do what we think is a better position when there is room for different opinions and we must pray that we are open to the truth and do not deceive ourselves or misjudge others.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nothing is Isolated: Thoughts on Laudato Si, Chapter IV



In Chapter IV, the Pope discusses the integral ecology. While some readers with preconceived notions may think that the term sounds like some kind of new age “we are all one” pantheism, this is not the case. This is said in the Catholic sense that what we do has a farther reach than we anticipate and, in finding solutions, we have to look at the full sense of the impact. It seems to me that a number of critics must have skimmed this chapter, because the Pope deals with a number of topics that they say he never considered—especially the impact on people.

Again, this is no innovation. It has long been a part of Catholic moral theology that the consequences of an act can involve far more than what people consider. So let’s look at what he has to say in this section.

Integral Ecology means Considering All Aspects

The Pope says (¶137) that when dealing with solutions, we have to consider all aspects—which includes the human and social aspects. This will be important because the Pope rejects what many impute to him—that he would let people suffer in exchange for the environment. Indeed, he says that fragmentation of knowledge and isolation of bits of information can actually become “a form of ignorance" (¶138) and need to be integrated into a broader view of reality. In fact, he insists that the environment is “is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.” Solutions cannot be aimed at specific symptoms but have to be comprehensive (¶139).

In reading this, I am reminded, of all things, about a passage from the Michael Crichton novel, Jurassic Park:

They’re both technicians. They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences. That’s how you get an island like this. From thintelligent thinking. Because you cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape. But they don’t see that.”

“Don’t you think it’s just human nature?” Ellie said.

“God, no,” Malcolm said. “That’s like saying scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast is human nature. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s uniquely Western training, and much of the rest of the world is nauseated by the thought of it.”

[Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park: A Novel (p. 317-318). Random House Publishing Group.]

By being focussed on only one thing, without considering how that thing interacts with other things can lead to creating something when something good is intended. This can happen when proposing something or cleaning up after it.

Hearkening back to a theme he referenced in chapter 3, the Pope says that looking at the whole means recognizing the intrinsic value independent of usefulness. For example, considering the aspects of how the ecology regenerates in sustainable use. He says that economic ecology needs a broader view than simplifying procedures and reducing cost (¶140). The environmental analysis cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family work-related and urban contexts. Nor can we consider the environment apart from relationships with the self and others.

He speaks of the fact that the health of a society’s institutions impact the environment and the quality of human life. In this he stresses the family as the “primary social group,” (and it should be remembered that the Pope has been strongly defending the family against “gender ideology.”) He says that whatever weakens these institutions will have a negative impact on the other aspects (¶142).

Indeed, he stresses the fact that any ecological solution must respect the culture involved, and sees the consumerist views as leveling the variety which is the heritage of peoples. Uniform regulations can overlook the complexity of social issues, so the imposition of an outside framework can be a problem. Merely technical solutions (refer back to chapter 3) risk addressing only the solutions. But quality of life considerations must be understood with respect to the rights of people and cultures (¶144).

He also discusses the fact of how exploitation can exhaust resources and undo social structures, and even goes so far as to say that the disappearance of a culture (which, as we saw earlier, fits in with the discussion about relations with God, neighbor and creation. This is, of course a rejection of the anti-human view that many environmentalists take, and shows the accusations that he does not care about the effect on human beings is false. Indeed, he points out (¶144) that authentic development seeks to improve the quality of life. This leads to a discussion of homes and transportation and their impact on this quality of life.

Human Relationships and Moral Law

When it comes to human ecology, it involves the relationship between human life and moral law (¶155). Indeed, building on his many statements on gender ideology, he says we have to respect our own bodies instead of thinking we have absolute control over them. This respect means accepting the masculinity or femininity it comes with and respecting the differences between male and female. This is something timely in light of the recent Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner case.

One aspect that some might misinterpret as political buzzwords is the fact that he says that the common good cannot be separated from the human economy (¶156). It starts with recognizing that the person has basic, inalienable rights and the welfare of society—beginning with the family. Society has the obligation to provide this common good. Moreover, this common good extends to future generations and we need to ask ourselves what sort of world we leave to them? (¶159). We cannot view these things in a utilitarian way. The changes we want must begin with the question of what sort of world we want to leave behind (¶160).

He finishes up this chapter by pointing out that...

162. Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”

Because we tend towards individualism today, we tend to focus on instant gratification in a way which is wasteful and are unable to think of how our actions exclude or harm the poorest.


Chapter IV actually sets a moral framework for our consideration on all issues—not only for the environment. In pointing out the moral considerations we need to make, we see he advocates nothing that his detractors allege. He rejects the idea of imposing an attempt to cure the situation that does not consider the impact on all aspects of life. Going along with the previous chapters, we see that the forms of environmentalism that his detractors claim he is advocating are actually rejected.

Whether we are choosing a to do a thing or choosing to correct the damage, we have to think about the impact it will have on different groups—including human groups, and especially the family. It’s when we refuse to do this that we cause harm. We use the home of a people as a nuclear testing ground, we develop efficient ways to produce a thing without considering how the materials will effect people and the environment in the future (asbestos as a flame retardant) on one hand, and we develop environmental policies that are harmful to communities to repair the damage, never considering how they impact people or how people might respond to them when considered a threat.

Like every other aspect of moral theology, we need to consider the harm our actions can do, and not simply focussing on a technocratic, “thintelligent” way of looking at things.

Next time, Chapter V—Lines of Approach and Actions 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Topsy Turvy: Reactions to The Cardinal Burke Interview

What Cardinal Burke really said about 'resisting' Pope Francis :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)
Rorate Cæli: Full translation of Cardinal Burke's interview to France 2

I’m seeing some Catholics responding to an interview with Cardinal Burke that brings up a sense of déjà vu. They’re outraged at the words of Cardinal Burke which give an impression of disloyalty.

If what Cardinal Burke said was cited in context and translated with total accuracy, then it goes without saying that Pope Francis was entirely justified in throwing him out from his position. But, practicing what I preach about not rushing to judge Pope Francis on the basis of clips, let me just say that I don’t think that this “if” is true. (And, if you read my blog regularly, you already know I don’t think the Pope “threw him out” either).

Cardinal Burke, responding to a clip of Pope Francis’ oft misquoted “Who am I to judge," said in an interview with a French TV station as saying (assuming that the interpreter from Rorate Cæli did a good job translating—and I simply don’t know one way or another):

[Interviewer:] How do you intend to place pope Francis on the good path?

[Burke, in Italian] On this, also one must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope. The classic formulation is that, "the Pope has the plenitude, the    fullness, of power." This is true. But it is not absolute power. His power is at the service of the doctrine of the faith. And thus the Pope does not have the power to change teaching, doctrine.

[Interviewer:] In a somewhat provocative way, can we say that the true guardian of doctrine is you, and not pope Francis?

[Burke, in Italian:] [Smiles, shakes his head] We must, let us leave aside the matter of the Pope. In our faith, it is the truth of doctrine that guides us.

[Interviewer:] If Pope Francis insists on this path, what will you do?

[Burke, in Italian:] I will resist. I cannot do anything else. There is no doubt that this is a difficult time, this is clear, this is clear.

Those words, by themselves sound damning. But I oppose a rush to judgment. Why? Because in an interview with Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Burke (affirming he was quoted accurately) said he was “responding to a hypothetical situation” and “I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church's teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” and, “No authority can absolve me from that responsibility, and, therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist, in fidelity to my responsibility before God.”

What Cardinal Burke says is true. The Pope could not absolve him from the responsibility to defend the Catholic faith over error. So we can’t say he was throwing down the gauntlet of rebellion against the Pope. But, if the Pope did not demand of the Cardinal that he teach error, that’s kind of a non-issue.

I think the problem is the video (following the translation—I don’t know either French nor Italian) seems to be excerpted clips from a bigger interview. Also, the interviewer and the presenter seem to be asking leading questions and biased rhetoric. So it feels like we’re not getting the whole picture needed to make an accurate judgment.

If Cardinal Burke intended to make Pope Francis to sound like a man who was heterodox, then I believe it could be said that he did wrong. But if the station France 2 gave an excerpted version of the interview, then we would have to avoid rash judgment and ask whether there is more material on the cutting room floor that would have clarified his relation with the Pope. If so, then Cardinal Burke could not be blamed and I would hope more information would come forward.

In order to avoid rash judgment, I would have to say we could not denounce (or praise as some seem prone to do) Cardinal Burke for disloyalty. We would have to wait and see, being willing to give a good interpretation to his words, asking him to clarify and only if he did turn out to be disloyal, to correct in love.

Practicing what I preach, I will not judge Cardinal Burke without solid evidence. Because there is none, I will not judge him.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TFTD: Have We Lost the Will To Fight?


As the shouting fades out on the Catholic blogs, I look at the complaints against the Pope and the synod and find myself wondering—when did we stop being members of the Church Militant and start becoming members of the Church Whining? I mean we have had saints who have had to fight real heresies, real laxness, real abuses—all of which had lasted longer than the life of the saint. Sometimes they had to pay for them with their lives. But they always had to work hard without ceasing in combating error and promoting the truth.

But today? A leaked unofficial document from a small group of the synod, the media misrepresentation of said document, and people are complaining that the Church will never be able to undo the damage, that Pope Francis has lost his chance to win over conservatives, that he will no longer be able to lead the Church effectively.

So, are we going to just throw in the towel? Concede the battleground to the enemy? Blame the Pope?

If our forefathers in the faith had behaved this way, there would be nothing but heresy out there today.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of lies told about the Church that never go away. The concept of the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition . . . and let’s not forget the modern falsehoods: The so-called “Silence of Pius XII” or the sexual abuse scandal etc. Does that mean we should blame the Pope and bishops for the ignorance of others? Should we complain because we’re undergoing hostility?

To behave like this is to abandon the fight, leaving the Magisterium isolated.

If we’re going to be like our forefathers in faith, we have to realize there will always be an “all hands on deck” situation where we are called to be the witness to the Church where we are in the world.

Maybe we should consider the possibility that the reason error seems to be running so rampant is not because the Pope dropped the ball, but rather that we have dropped that ball. That we’re expecting a perfect world without the toil.

That’s not reasonable. Christ gave all of us a mission to spread the good news. That’s not just the people off in Darkest Africa. That’s also the de-christianized here as well. The “Nones” and the “not practicing” are the fastest growing group in the country. Why are we blaming the bishops when it may be our job to reach out to them?

Instead of bewailing the media distorting the teaching of the synod and blaming the Pope and bishops, why not consider helping them out?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

The mood one sets in a conversation or a piece of writing can affect the mindset of others, even if they don’t agree with the argument made. I can understand that. After a string of articles being published on the general theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy for that kind of negativism to affect others. I’ve seen it happen that some people I encountered look at the synod as, “We have to pray so that the errors proposed don’t become a change of teaching."

On the other hand, it can also impact people who think Pope Francis is doing a good job. After reading a large number of articles on the theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy to begin looking at the complaints as if the Church is full of malcontents who are leading many astray. For example, with the realization that much of what I predicted a month ago did actually happen, my response was to write a very bitter and negative article about those who blogged in such a way. (Don’t worry. I killed it and it won’t see the light of day).

What this personal experience, of becoming what I hated, did was it brought to my mind the dangers of negative approaches to things. Obviously, we should never downplay problems in the Church. But we shouldn’t be so overwhelmed with the negative side so that we see nothing but doom and despair. I have seen that a lot in my years on Catholic forums and blogging. There are a lot of people out there who take in all these negative reports and actually believe that the Church has never been in a worse spot than now when it comes to fighting error. (Try taking that up with 2000 years of Christians who encountered far worse)

The thing is, Pope Francis is not a bad Pope. The synod didn’t recommend error. We are not in the worst situation in Catholic history. But if a person believes it, it is likely that this person is going to look at the words of the Pope or the bishops in a negative light and assume they are the ones who are responsible for the dissent among some Catholics. We can get ourselves worked into such a frenzy that anyone who says otherwise is considered naive.

I would ask the bloggers out there (as if any of them actually heard of this blog) to consider their attitudes and words when it comes to writing and speaking out. We’re supposed to be bringing the good news to everyone . . . and we’re supposed to help those in error to the truth. If the media is leading people to think, “The Church is changing her teaching,” then our job is to disabuse them of that notion. Let’s not be dismayed when people missed the point and keep repeating these things. How many times have we had to deal with gross misrepresentations of the Church? How many times have we run into the same error made by different people? Yeah, it’s frustrating, and we sometimes wish that we didn’t have to deal with explaining the Crusades or the Inquisitions again and again and AGAIN. But instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. We need to explain the truth in response to a falsehood, even when we get weary of it.

Certainly we need to stop thinking that if only the Pope and bishops taught better, we wouldn’t be having these problems. If that were true, then that means the saints who combatted Arianism must have been even more incompetent than the current batch of clergy. That heresy lasted hundreds of years and was believed by a majority of Christians. The saints didn’t bitch about things and how bad the Church was. They rolled up their sleeves and combatted the heresy in communion with the Pope—not in judgment of him.

Yes, there are Catholics who promote bad ideas out there, and yes they need to be opposed. But let’s not exaggerate the situation and act as if our defeat is assured because we can’t see any other possibilities.


Remember the character of Denethor in the Lord of the Rings books (or, if you must, the movies). Based on what he saw (through a corrupted palantir) and what he thought he knew, he assumed all was lost. He thought Gandalf was a fool for counseling otherwise. But he was wrong about what he saw, and could not be persuaded against suicide (the movie completely botched the incident).

Remembering this, we should consider the limits of our own knowledge, the source of the knowledge, and whether or not what we see is actually accurate or whether we have been overwhelmed by a negative interpretation that actually distorts reality. We should also consider whether our own negative attitudes might affect others who look up to us as knowledgable.

Remember too the fact that the Church is not a society like a secular government. We believe we have God protecting the Church from error. Individuals might fall into error over what the Church teaches, but the Church herself will never teach error.

So let’s not be the nattering nabobs of negativism preaching woe when there is no woe. Let’s have faith in God to protect His Church and let us continue to refute the distortions . . . they will never go away (like the distortions of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the sex abuse scandals etc. never went away despite years and even centuries of refuting these distortions).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised for 2012

Preliminary Note: I never claim binding authority for myself.  I believe my original maxim and this updated one reasonably follow from Church teaching and reflect things we are called by the Magisterium to keep in mind when forming our decisions.  Of course this article mainly applies to a situation like America's (effectively) two-party system.  A nation with multiple parties and coalitions would probably have a different set of criteria to consider.


Back in the 2008 elections, I wrote an article dealing with an attitude among some Catholics which invoked conscience to vote for the party they preferred even though that party promoted policies explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church.  That maxim was, I believe, what reasonably followed from the Catholic obligation to obey the Church and the Catholic obligation to never disobey our conscience when it condemns something.  To sum up, I had said that if one political party holds a view which the Church condemns and the other holds views which an individual's conscience cannot allow them to vote for the other, then in order to reconcile these views, one could vote for a third party or decline to vote but could not vote for the party promoting views the Church condemned.

It made sense for the time.  In 2008, the dispute was essentially based on whether or not the Catholic could vote for the pro-abortion, fetal stem cell research, gay "marriage" party.  I think it still applies for voters who are choosing between these two parties.

A New Situation

However, in 2011, we see a few Catholic bloggers who oppose both parties as equally rotten and argue that the proper attitude is to vote for a third party or not at all.  We also see some opponents of these bloggers who claim that to act this way is to throw the election over to those who support the greater evil by taking away votes from the only party with a chance to oppose them.

It was this new perspective which leads me to reconsider the former maxim I drafted to take into account this new dispute.

The Issue of Double Effect

In considering the two sides of this dispute, we need to consider the principle of Double Effect.

Briefly, Double Effect deals with the situation where an action intends a good result but has an unintended and undesired negative effect which cannot be avoided.  Catholic teaching holds that the negative effect must be unintended and that the intended good must outweigh the unintended bad.  This is why the Church permits a hysterectomy (removing a diseased or damaged uterus which cannot safely undergo pregnancy) with the unintended bad effect of removing the woman's fertility but condemns the sterilization of the woman (directly intending to remove the woman's fertility).  The first views the loss of fertility as an undesired effect which would be avoided if possible.  The second directly intends the loss of fertility.

In terms of the debate of not voting for one of the major parties vs. the risk of allowing the greater evil to become elected is essentially a dispute over Double Effect.


  1. The intended good is to obey conscience by not voting for candidates who are considered to have immoral positions.
  2. The unintended bad effect is that the greater of two evils may benefit from a split votes.

The moral dilemma is then to balance out the obligation to follow conscience vs. the preventing the greater evil from taking effect.

Voting and Morality

Voting is not a neutral act.  It is a moral act in which we are obligated to use to achieve a greater good or oppose a greater evil.  We need to consider the ends our vote is intended to achieve and whether the unintended negative consequence outweighs that intended good.  Certain actions are intrinsically (by their very nature) evil and can never be done.  The Church authoritatively teaches abortion is a grave evil:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. 'Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action' (Evangelium vitae #57)

So it seems to follow that not only are we never to vote for a candidate who supports this grave evil, we cannot permit the grave evil to become possible by our inaction either.

On the other hand, since we are never to support evil actions, what are we to do if the other party also seems to support evil?  Especially since they seem lukewarm on the issues of Life?  After all, Blessed John Paul II also pointed out:

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. (ibid #74).

An Attempt to Find a Solution to the Impasse

Conscience is not infallible.  It must be formed with the teaching of the Church in mind and it requires us to inform ourselves to the facts to avoid making an error by wrongly interpreting the situation or how the Church teaching is to be applied.

There are times when Catholics must vote for a lesser evil to avoid the greater evil.  Blessed John Paul II gave an example:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. (ibid #73)

In this case, we can see that voting with the intent of limiting the evil of abortion is not a cooperation with evil.  If we can't abrogate an abortion law, we can certainly vote to limit its effects.  Lukewarm opposition to abortion is superior to no opposition.

Finding the Least Evil

So it seems to follow that when it comes to voting for a third party or not voting, we are obligated to consider the consequences of such an action.  Is it, in fact, the least evil?

That is the hard decision to be made.  Since we may never do what our conscience condemns and may never refuse to do what our conscience commands, we are obligated to inform our conscience through the teachings of the Church and to educate ourselves on the consequences of our action or inaction.  Conscience is not sentiment.  It is not a matter of like and dislike.  Conscience is the interior voice which says I must or must not do.

The Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised

So with these points in mind, I would reformulate the maxim on voting as follows:

  1. We must never vote for a candidate who openly supports a position condemned by the Church if an alternative exists.
  2. We must never vote in violation of our conscience.
  3. We must always form our conscience to be in line with the teaching of the Church.
  4. We must be informed so as to recognize the greatest evil and the least evil and act accordingly in casting our vote.
  5. Finally, whomever is elected, we must not ignore their lesser evils but instead make it known to them the importance of rejecting those evils.

Final Caveat

Again, I do not claim binding religious authority for this maxim.  Rather I write this as what I believe is a summary of Church obligation on this subject.  I certainly submit to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church and nothing I write should be given an interpretation against the lawful teaching authority of the Church.