Showing posts with label schism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schism. Show all posts

Monday, July 17, 2023

It's Iimi! CATHOLIC AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!

 It's a lazy Saturday youth group. The girls go, hoping for a quiet session. Little do they realize they are about to participate in… CATHOLIC AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!

Pre-Comic Notes:
The arguments from Daryl and Sean are ones I've personally experienced from these factions on Social media.




















 Post-Comic Notes:
Obedience to the Pope and bishops in communion with him is a key ingredient in being Catholic. It doesn’t matter whether or not we agree with the politics of the dissenter. Obedience to the Church, with the Pope being the arbiter of what interpretation is correct is mandatory. If we don’t have that, we’re blind guides.

What can I say about the cover? I've always been a fan of the Silver Age comics…

 I originally had "Rad Skull" with the emblem of the SSPX. But I decided not to use it because the comic might inspire factional comments that it was supposed to be acting against. However, I do not apologize for portraying Daryl and Sean's decisions as morally wrong.

 The Parish response to the SSPX setting up in Babylon was loosely based on a different group, Iglesia ni Cristo, setting up a storefront church and aggressively targeting Hispanic Catholics in our (real life) parish. They didn't last. But it was a concern at the time.

Monday, October 26, 2020

What Will You Do When Things Don’t Change?

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

 

Talking with another Catholic blogger/meme creator, I was asked, “What will the Pope’s critics do if his successor teaches the same things that the Holy Father currently does?” It is a good question. After all, what Pope Francis has been teaching was taught by his predecessors, and the problems he faces were faced by his predecessors. The only difference is that technology means misinformation spreads faster.

 

What we tend to forget is, what his predecessors taught on unpopular issues have been quietly ignored in favor of the soundbites that said what critics want to focus on. So, these critics will gleefully point out that Leo XIII condemned socialism and Pius XI condemned communism. They label Pope Francis’ teachings as “socialist” and argue a contradiction exists.

 

The problem is, critics forget the fact that his predecessors also condemned the abuses within capitalism that made those systems seem appealing… because those abuses that run counter to the teachings of Christ. So, critics might invoke St. John Paul II in opposing Russian communism and contrast him with Pope Francis but at the time, they ignored—or derided as naïve—the saint’s encyclicals on social justice, using the same arguments. St. John Paul II was derided as being economically naive because he came from Communist Poland and didn’t understand capitalism. Similar arguments are used about Pope Francis coming from Argentina.

 

Another thing to remember is the argument that we never had confusion about what the Church meant before Pope Francis, so the confusion must be his fault. I don’t intend to be sarcastic, but when I hear that I am left wondering if they slept from the 1960s rebellion through through the present.

 

Prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis, we had the confusion caused by those who misinterpreted or misrepresented the teachings of Vatican II and the counter protest of radical traditionalism, both claiming that the Church had gone wrong and only their way could set it right.

 

Confusing gestures? There’s nothing that can compare to the Pachamama, right? Wrong. Remember St. John Paul II kissing the Quran? He thought it was merely being respectful (a human error). In comparison, the so-called Pachamama wasn’t even a pagan idol, let alone that particular being... “Pachamama” being worshipped in the Andes, not the Amazon.

 

Praising someone who turned out to be a heretic or a morally bad person? When they complain about bishops appointed today, the critics seem to to forget when they raged against Cardinal Mahoney and Archbishop Niederauer, when they used to use “2011” as a mantra… 2011 being the year that the problematic bishops of that era turned 75 and needed to submit their resignations. And it isn’t even a Vatican II phenomenon. I’ve personally read letters from St. Leo the Great and St. Augustine where that happened.

 

Even if they concede that the media got it wrong, they claim that since this never happened before, Pope Francis must be the cause of it. But even that doesn’t work. What gets forgotten is that, prior to Benedict XVI, Popes did even not give interviews. Prior to St. Paul VI# they didn’t even give weekly audiences. But people did misinterpret or misrepresent what Popes said. We have centuries of anti-Catholicism which bear witness to that.

 

I would say that the meteoric rise of misinformation came with the internet age, especially with the smartphone. A large portion of the West had instant access to information, and media rushed to be first with whatever they thought was “breaking.” The problem was, the reporters were religiously illiterate and did not know what the Church taught in the first place. So, when they heard something that didn’t square with what they thought Catholicism was, they thought it was a “change,” rather than an opinion or a new way of formulating a teaching. Beginning in 2010*, we saw Benedict XVI constantly portrayed as “changing” Church teaching. The most infamous was the claim that the Pope was allowing condoms to be used in the face of AIDS. But there were others. They thought Benedict XVI’s words about unions in Caritas in Veritate was a change based on the assumption that the condemnation of radical 19th century unions still held force against 21st century unions that weren’t radical.

 

So, what is the point of all this? My point is, whoever succeeds Pope Francis will teach on the same matters he did, and be taken out of context when he speaks because the Catholic teaching will not go away depending on whether the future Pope is considered “conservative” or “liberal.” Nor will future Popes cease to have personal opinions. I doubt they will stop having Wednesday audiences or giving speeches that will be misconstrued (remember Benedict XVI at Regensburg?), and might continue to see interviews and press conferences.

 

The reader might be tempted to look at the pontificate of Pope Francis and agree with this sentiment§:

 

“Rome, Rome, where are you? What has happened to your voice that gave courage and woke the slumbering? Today all they will say is ‘Give in’. Pray, pray for the Church! Surely she will not perish! But why must we remind ourselves of this so often and so bitterly?”

 

But you should be aware that the person who wrote it (Lamennais, in 1828) died estranged from the Church. If we focus solely on what we dislike within the Church, we risk winding up like him. But if we remember that God is in charge despite the flaws of His shepherds, our faith in His Church will not be shaken by the problems that will come.

 

So every Catholic needs to ask themselves what they will do when things don’t change under the Pope’s successor. Authentic Social teaching will continue to sound like “socialism” to those who don’t know Christian obligation. Insistence on some sins being always evil will continue to sound “heartless” or “out of touch” to the person who thinks it should not be a sin. And in both cases, love of sinners will continue to look like one agrees with the sin, even though Christ Himself set the example.

 

It is possible we might see guidelines—taken from what we have learned about media reporting—established in the future that gives the Vatican more control over what the Press can report. But the problems we face here neither began with Pope Francis and will not end with him either. Besides the fact that Popes are finite men, we will still see religiously illiterate reporters passing on much of the news, and so the problems that critics think are the fault of Pope Francis will continue in the pontificates of his successors.

 

If we expect the next Pope to be perfect, we will be disappointed. But, if we recognize that the next Pope will be a sinful man in need of salvation like the rest of us, then let us give Pope Francis the same consideration. Otherwise, we might find that we separated ourselves from the Church while believing only we are true to it.

 

 

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(†) Crossing the Threshold of Hope, by St. John Paul II was based on a planned televised interview that fell through. The Pope answered the provided questions anyway, and it was published as a book.

 

(#) On his first audience (September 6th, 1978),  John Paul I said

 

Just a month ago, Paul VI died at Castelgandolfo. In fifteen years he rendered enormous services to the Church. The effects are partly seen now already, but I think that they will be seen especially in the future. Every Wednesday he came here and spoke to the people. At the 1977 Synod several bishops said:

 

“Pope Paul’s Wednesday addresses are a real catechesis adapted to the modern world”. I will try to imitate him, in the hope that I, too, will be able, somehow, to help people to become better.

 

St. John Paul II initially referred to them as continuing the unfinished audiences of John Paul I. Now they’re an institution.

 

(*) It’s easy to forget about the problems of past pontificates. Even I—a bona fide theology nerd—can forget about the past scandals until I come across something that reminds me. So I’m not surprised that people forgot about the criticism St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI faced. But we should at least remember there is nothing new under the sun.

 

(§) Quote taken from von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, p. 109

 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

New Actors Playing an Old Part: The “Theology” Of Dissent

The Anti-Francis Catholic frequently identifies himself with orthodoxy within the Catholic Church. But he (or she) must reconcile that claim with the fact that they are choosing to reject the teaching of the current Pope as heretical, an opinion, or a prudential judgment. When faced with the challenge that the Pope must be obeyed when he teaches (Canon 752), the common attack is that this insistence to obedience is ultramontanism, and is an aberration compared to what was believed by the Church during the pontificate of his predecessors.

The problem is, they can’t reconcile their claims with the actual words of past Popes. In fact, during past pontificates, these anti-Francis Catholics cited the statements defending the authority of the Popes to bind and loose (cf. Matthew 16:19). No previous Pope would have considered his teachings optional. For example, St. John Paul II would write: 

This supreme authority of the papal Magisterium, to which the term apostolic has been traditionally reserved, even in its ordinary exercise derives from the institutional fact that the Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Peter in the mission of teaching, strengthening his brothers, and guaranteeing that the Church’s preaching conforms to the “deposit of faith” of the apostles and of Christ’s teaching. However, it also stems from the conviction, developed in Christian tradition, that the Bishop of Rome is also the heir to Peter in the charism of special assistance that Jesus promised him when he said: “I have prayed for you” (Lk 22:32). This signifies the Holy Spirit’s continual help in the whole exercise of the teaching mission, meant to explain revealed truth and its consequences in human life.

For this reason, the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope’s teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of his Magisterium with the manifest intention of declaring, recalling and confirming the doctrine of faith. It is a consequence of the institutional fact and spiritual inheritance that completes the dimensions of the succession to Peter. (Audience, March 17, 1993)

The Saint did not just invent this belief. He bases it on the consistent teaching about how the Church exercises her teaching authority. In fact, throughout history, you have to go to those who broke with the Church to find the same arguments that are made now. Whenever a Pope would rule against a person, the obstinate would argue that he could err or that his teaching was an “opinion.”

Understanding this, we begin to see the real issue with the attacks on Pope Francis. Whether the critics act out of defiance or out of ignorance, they do not like that his teachings differ from their interpretations, and think his words should match their views. This was a problem throughout history. It might be from a confusion of moral and doctrinal error. Many critics seem to think that the existence of morally bad Popes in history means that this Pope can teach doctrinal error. But that’s a non sequitur as the Pope can be protected from teaching error even if one acts wrongly in his personal behavior. So, the appeals to John XII and others are irrelevant in insisting on the possibility of a Pope teaching error.

Once we recognize this error among Papal critics, the justification for disobedience vanishes. St. Paul withstood St. Peter to his face (Galatians 2:14). But this was not because of any teaching error, but because withdrawing from the Gentiles to avoid conflict with Jewish Christians to avoid a conflict led some to think that Jewish practices were required—against St. Peter’s intent (Acts 15:7-11).

We need to realize that the critics who are claiming to defy the Pope out of a love of the Church are—at best—misled about the teaching authority of the Church. The teaching of the Pope is the teaching of the Church. Laudato Si and Amoris Lætitia are Church teachings and not opinions or “prudential judgments.”

It seems that one problem is that the critics are declaring themselves judge and jury. They claim to have the right interpretation of the Church teaching but refuse to hear the ones who are entrusted with that authority to clarify and deny the teachings. As long as they have that attitude, they will never consider correction of errors in their understanding. That’s dangerous because, while being innocently mistaken about what the Church teaches might be easily corrected, being obstinate against what the Church teaches is the definition of heresy (canon 751).

The tragedy of the modern critics is that they have invented a “theology” of dissent that claims that a Pope can be a formal heretic and teach error, and can be deposed by the Church—none of which is actually taught by the Church. Canon 1404 says, The First See is judged by no one and, during the history of the Church, only those in dissent tried to claim that they could.

There have been in the past and may be in the future morally bad Popes. I deny Pope Francis is one of those. But that fact has never meant that the past Popes have ever taught error. Yes, some disciplines may have been changed for the needs of the time, and some development of understanding have led to the prohibition of things once tolerated. But it was not a case of the Church once taught evil was all right but now it’s wrong ‡.

In this time when people are willing to justify disobedience in the name of the Church, we should remember that the new champions of the argument are just using the same old errors. As such, they cannot be considered “orthodox” when they argue that dissent is justified. It’s the same old error, but with new actors playing the part.

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(†) For example, a thoroughly wicked Pope might be prevented by the Holy Spirit from teaching at all to prevent an erroneous teaching.

(‡) Sometimes Churchmen would support evils like torture or slavery. These are what we would call vicious customs. They were not invented by the Church. Rather, the local customs (often pre-Christian) were accepted as the norm. Slavery had been on the decline during the middle ages to the point that, when Europeans began taking slaves in the Canary Isles, Pope Eugene responded (1435) with an angry denunciation in Sicum Dudet. The worst one could say is that the some of those leading the Church stayed silent when it should have spoken. But that’s a moral failing on the part of the individual.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

False Conception and Fatal Consequences

I think that one of the beginnings of error—potentially leading to heresy and/or schism—is forgetting we can err. By this, I mean that when we think that things should operate in a certain way but do not consider the possibility that we have misunderstood either the teaching we use as a yardstick or the statement that we measure against it, we have a false conception.

This can happen in different ways. Aristotle—in the quote to the left— uses the example of geometry. It can happen by drawing false analogies from a misunderstanding of history. It can happen by classifying philosophical or theological topics as scientific and claiming that science “refutes” the existence of God. Or by using political views to interpret science.

What is dangerous is when our false conception is used to refuse the authority of one who does know the truth. The greater the damage caused by the false conception, the more dangerous it is. Thinking that a soda has the same effect on the body as water—despite warnings to the contrary—is (usually) a minor harm. Rejecting warnings that H2SO4 does not have the same properties as H2O is much more serious, and very likely fatal. Once we get into the realm of what happens to our immortal soul, the consequences for rejecting one who knows can reach the level of eternal salvation and eternal damnation… consequences that are much more serious than a matter of life and death.

Every heresy and schism starts with a false conception. The nature of God, the nature of Christ, the nature of Scripture and Tradition, the nature of Faith and Works, the nature of male and female, etc. When a person goes wrong on these things, they will wind up saying what is false. But if they speak falsely on a matter of salvation—regardless of whether or not they think it’s true—they can do something that is deadly (mortal) to their soul or the souls of others. 

Men like Arius and Nestorius, Luther and Calvin, the modern anti-Francis Catholics and those who opposed his predecessors have reached a false conception on some essential truth. But it isn’t just an individual false conception. These individuals also rejected those who do teach the truth when the teachers said their ideas were false. Worse, they misrepresented the words and actions of the teachers to undermine people’s trust in them, leading the people astray.

Catholics should know that the teacher I am referring to is the Catholic Church, giving binding teaching with Christ’s authority and protection (Matthew 16:18-19, 18:18, 28:18-20). Our Lord made obedience to this Church necessary (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16, John 20:23, 1 Timothy 3:15), and to reject her is to reject Him. Since it is the magisterium—the Pope and the bishops who teach in communion with him—that binds and looses, refusal to obey is schism and the obstinate rejection of what the Church teaches is heresy.

The person who knows that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ, but refuses to listen, or remain within the Church is doing something much more foolish than the person who ignores the warning about H2SO4. He is not merely risking his life. He is risking his immortal soul. It is true that a person who has invincible ignorance—not knowing and having no way of knowing something—has reduced culpability for the wrong done. But as Gaudium et Spes #16 puts it:

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.

We must be careful to remember that the Catholic who doesn’t look to the Church for the proper understanding of the teaching they use as a yardstick is not taking the proper care for truth and goodness. If they persist in rejecting the Church, they might grow blind to their errors and not realize it.

It is not for me to judge the individual here. Whether you, or somebody you know, might be in that situation is beyond my capacity to judge. I am a member of the laity with no authority to bind or loose. I am not God that I can look into your soul.

All I can do is to ask everyone this: when one is scandalized by something in the Church, please remember that the authority of the Church to teach and Our Lord’s protection is not negated by the sins of the men who are Popes and bishops (cf. Matthew 23:2-3). If a person is tempted to think that the Church must be wrong because what she teaches doesn’t square up with an individual interpretation, such a person should remember: in the history of the Church, there were many Catholics who believed the same thing… and wound up in heresy or schism.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Dear “Karens on Facebook.” Please Stop

I came across a meme (creator unknown) on Facebook and decided to repurpose it for the declining state of Catholic theological understanding. 

In the beginning, Catholics looked to the Pope, the bishops, and the theologians in good standing to understand the teachings of the Church. But there was a problem we didn’t see. So long as we could find magisterial figures who taught what we agreed with, we would follow that part of what they taught, and downplay the rest. But things began changing when the Pope and bishops began reminding us of the teachings we didn’t like. Then Catholics began looking to non-experts with the views we held. 

These non-experts were used to explain why we didn’t always have to obey the Pope and the Church. Theologians Not in good standing with the Church invented a theology of dissent in the “spirit of Vatican II,” or “defense of tradition.” If St. Paul VI taught on contraception; if St. John XXIII taught on social justice, we could find a theologian who told us it was all right to dissent against it.

Once that door was opened, it became easier to pick and choose what we would believe and invoke whoever would support the decision as proof. We skipped past the non-magisterial theologians to the media pundits who did not know the Church teachings but reported on it anyway. People who would not believe the media when it reporting on their favored political figures would uncritically accept everything they said about the Pope or the Church. Eventually, Catholics on the internet would go so far as to accept ipse dixit claims from anybody who said that “everyone knows that.” These baseless statements were repeated so often that it was considered irrational to question it. 

Some go so far as to make themselves “experts.” Where laity once looked to the magisterium to make clear the things they did not understand about Church teaching, they now interpreted them for themselves and sat in judgment on the Pope or bishops who dared to teach differently. 

These people became the “Karen of Facebook,” offering false interpretation as “proof” of magisterial “heterodoxy.” They repeated other people’s statements and others repeated theirs to the point that everyone believed the false interpretation and thought that those who said the interpretations were wrong were either blind or part of the deception.

Now, people just chant slogans and occasionally cite agreeable media personalities or those theologians, lacking (or not using) the magisterial authority to teach, as if they were reporting fact in order to accuse those who do use authentic magisterium. From a Church that was strong in obedience to Our Lord and those tasked to lead the Church, we’ve become an ochlocracy (mob rule) following every demagogue instead.

People complain about confusion in the Church. But the confusion isn’t caused by the Pope. It’s caused by “Karen of Facebook.” Who are these Karens? Those who spread their own views or repeat the views of others across social media as if they were authoritative against the true authority of the Church.

How do we end the confusion? We stop listening to the Karens and stop being the Karens. We need to start listening to the Magisterium under the authority of the Church. We need to trust that Our Lord protects His Church that He built on the Rock of Peter. THAT is the mark of the faithful Catholic. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Beware: What You Personally Interpret Might Not Be What is True

Throughout the history of Christianity there have always been people who read Scripture, Patristics, Magisterial documents and other things and used the conclusions they drew to argue that the Church—whether through the teachings of Pope or Council—had gone wrong and, to get back in the right, needed to adopt their own interpretation of these things.

This goes back as far as the Gnostic heresies of the First Century AD and continues throughout history to the present day, sometimes it is heresy; sometimes it is schism; sometimes it is dissent. But it always involves the individual or group forgetting two things: 1) The Church, under the magisterium of the Pope and those bishops acting in communion with him, is protected from error when she teaches. 2) Those of us not in or not acting with that authority do not have that protection.

Once we figure out those two points, it becomes easy to identify who we should listen to when an individual or group attacks the Pope. Unfortunately, in the United States and Western Europe, a growing number of Catholics have lost sight of—or never understood—the two points and accuse him of heresy or (to avoid a schismatic act) of “causing confusion.”

Don’t be fooled. The confusion in the Church is not caused by the Pope but by those who rely on their own interpretation of what the Pope said and don’t check to see if they interpreted him—or the past teachings they put in contradistinction to the Pope—correctly. Such people either never had authority in the first place (your typical Pope-bashing site or religiously ignorant mainstream media) or they are offering their personal non-magisterial opinions (the Priest, Bishop, or Cardinal who disagrees with the Pope and is not acting in communion with him, but as a private individual).

There is nothing new here. Arius, Nestorius, Calvin, Luther, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Donatists, the Novatians, the SSPX, the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics, etc., etc., etc. have caused the confusion in the Church by pointing to the personal interpretation of what the successor of Peter said, contrasted with their personal interpretation of other documents. But the personal interpretation§ has no authority against the interpretation by the Pope. 

To blame the Pope for the depressingly increasing number of false interpretations is like blaming the Popes in the 16th century because Calvin and Luther contrasted Church teaching on our personal obligations to avoid sin with their own faulty interpretation of Scripture and St. Augustine to argue that the Church was guilty of Pelagianism. But the Church never taught what this duo accused her of. The Church never contradicted herself or fell into error. Rather, people grossly mistaken about what the Church taught, believed that the Church either was previously or is currently in error.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Much of this could be avoided if we would remember that rash judgment and calumny are sins. As the Catechism tells us:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

But those who automatically assume that the Pope must err because they do not ask whether they properly understand him or the teachings they think contradict him before accusing him. Where are the attempts to assume a favorable interpretation? Where are the attempts to ask for clarification?* The critics have went straight to “it must be error.” That’s rash judgment.

Calumny comes in to play when falsehoods are leveled against the Pope or the Church. Whether they know it is false or not, those who accuse the Pope of saying, doing, or intending things he did not say, do, or intend. Whether they believed it or not, Calvin and Luther committed calumny when they accused the Church of inventing doctrines to justify their desire for money or power#. When critics accuse the Pope of wanting to promote divorce and remarriage or homosexual “marriage,” these are calumnies, whether those who made these accusations knew they were false or were in gross error.

We need to remember that what we think must be intended might be error. It is only by using the Church as our guide to proper understanding that we can avoid falling into error. But as soon as we respond to the teaching of the Pope by saying that the Church errs but we do not, we fall away from “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) which is the Church.


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(§) Not even mine. If something I write turns out contrary to what the Church teaches under the leadership of the Pope (such a thing would be unintentional), you should of course listen to the Pope.

(*) The problems I have with the “dubia cardinals” is not that they had a question about interpretation. Dubia have been used for centuries to understand things properly, after all. My problem is that the text of their questions gave me the impression of the “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” complex question fallacy that assumed a heterodox intention by the Pope. They might not have intended it (to avoid rash judgment myself, I try to avoid attributing intention and motives to them). But it comes across disrespectfully.

(#) The false claims of the late Jack Chick can actually be traced back to the false claims from foundational writings of the men who established Protestantism.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Hijacking Legitimate Authority

As I continue to work my way through the dreary Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I notice a good deal of what I call hijacking legitimate authority. By this I mean that he claimed his interpretation of Scripture was what Scripture actually means. Then, when the Church rejected his interpretation, he claimed that the Church was at odds with the Bible when it was actually at odds with him

Thus we see in the graphic (from Book IV, Chapter IX, Section 5) that Calvin accuses the Pope and bishops of discarding the truth and instead invent teachings at odds with God’s word. But his accusations only have merit if his interpretation of Scripture (and the teaching of the Church that he claims contradicts it) is correct. This means we must assess his authority to teach in a binding manner before we give him any credibility in condemning the Church.

And that’s where his claims collapse. He presupposed that the Church teaching he disagreed with must be wrong. Then, to deny the Church authority when it justly rebuked him, he lumped together the bad behavior of some Churchmen and heretical councils rejected by the Church as “proof” that the Church could “teach error.” But in all of his writings, he never could demonstrate that the Catholic Church taught error or contradicted herself in matters of doctrine. The best he could do is point to the Church legitimately changing discipline while alleging that the Church changed “teaching” and the corruption from some in the Church were willed as doctrines.

The modern anti-Catholic fundamentalists who, due to being taught from the beginning to (wrongly) think that the founders of Protestantism spoke the truth might have an excuse before God§. But the person who professes to be a faithful Catholic but rejects the authority of the successors of Peter does not have that excuse (see Lumen Gentium #14). We are supposed to believe in a Church established and protected by Christ and which teaches with His authority. If we do believe that, we will trust in Him to protect those who teach with authority—the successors of Peter and the Apostles—from teaching error. When acting in their role (see Lumen Gentium #25), their teaching binds, regardless of what we might think about their personal behavior.

This is not papalotry. This is what the Church has always expected of the faithful. What’s more, when we look at Church history, we see that even when saints rebuked the personal behavior of Popes, the saints always recognized the authority of the Popes to teach. Church History gives us a very different judgment of those who refused to obey the teachings of the Popes—schismatics and/or heretics.

People who struggle with what this Pope teaches should ask themselves this: Is it really possible that God would allow His Church to teach error when even the Ordinary Magisterium binds us to obedience?* Or is it more probable that—if we see “error” in the teachings of the Pope—we have somehow either misinterpreted the Pope or the Scripture and Church teaching we cite against him?

If one is tempted to respond that the Pope is the one in error, such a one should think again. They should look at Calvin and recognize that he is the one they’re emulating, not the saints.



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(§) I say this in the sense of “I do not know their individual culpability before God.” Not in the sense of “What they do is okay.”

(*) See Pius IX Syllabus of Errors #22, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25, The Catechism of the Catholic Church #892, Code of Canon Law #752 etc.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

On Anti-Francis Catholics, Calvin, and the False Case Against John XXII

Some people have reacted with hostility or mockery to my articles about the Pope Bashers behaving like Luther or Calvin. Presumably they think I mean they share the same errors on theology. Since they know they don’t, they think I’m making wild claims. But that misses the point. My point is that, whether or not they realize it, they show the same contempt for the Church that teaches against them and corrects them as the founders of Protestantism did. Both groups use the same arguments to deny the authority of the Pope while insisting that they are the true Christians for rejecting him

To give an example, let’s look at how the two groups point to the example of Pope John XXII.

To give a brief description, John XXII was a reforming Pope who ruled against the abuses of a certain religious order—the Spiritual Franciscans. This resented the restrictions he placed on their religious practices and, because they thought their ways were legitimate, responded by constantly accusing him of heresy. The main issue came about when, during some private homilies, he expressed the opinion that those who die do not experience the Beatific Vision until the Final Judgment. Certain French theologians expressed concerns. And they convinced John XXII that their understanding was correct. So he changed his personal opinion. Remember, that’s what his private homilies were: opinion. He gave no formal teaching on the subject. What’s important to remember here is that the Church had not yet defined the issue but some Catholics thought he was changing Church teaching. It’s similar to how some Catholics misinterpreted Benedict XVI when he used an example of “a male prostitute with AIDS” and thought he was relaxing the teaching on contraception. The Spiritual Franciscans portrayed this as “The Pope teaches heresy, therefore he has no right to condemn us!”

On the matter of when people experience the Beatific Vision, it was not defined until after his death. His successor, Benedict XII issued the decree after ordering both sides to present their case#. If a Catholic were to insist on John XXII’s position now, such a one would be a heretic because they would be obstinately holding a position against the teaching of the Church. Likewise, we regard St. Thomas Aquinas as a saint despite the fact that he did not believe that Mary was immaculately conceived. The topic had not yet been defined either by ordinary or extraordinary magisterium§. But if a person today were to deny it, that person would be a heretic.

With this background, let’s look at this section from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, chapter 7, section 28). Where he misapplied the case to justify rejecting the authority of Popes:

28. Apostasy of John XXII

But let us imagine that the impiety of the pontiffs whom I mentioned is hidden, because they have neither published it by preaching nor by writings, but have betrayed it only in table, in bedchamber, or at least within walls. However, if they wish this privilege (which they allege) to hold good, let them expunge from the list of the popes John XXII, who openly asserted that souls are mortal and die along with bodies until the day of resurrection. And that you may mark that the whole see with its chief props was then utterly fallen, none of the cardinals opposed this great madness, but the School of Paris impelled the king of France to force him to recant. The king forbade his subjects to communicate with John unless he should promptly repent, and published this by herald in the usual way. Compelled by this necessity, the pope abjured his error, as Jean Gerson, who was then living, testifies. This example relieves me from having to dispute with my opponents any longer over their statement that the Roman see and its pontiffs cannot err in faith, because it was said to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” [Luke 22:32]. Surely with such a foul kind of fall did John XXII fall from the true faith that here is a notable proof to posterity that not all are Peters who succeed Peter in the bishop’s office. Yet of itself this claim is also so childish it needs no answer. For if they wish to apply to Peter’s successors everything that was said to Peter, it will follow that they are all Satans, since the Lord also said this to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” [Matt. 16:23]. Indeed, it will be as easy for us to turn back this latter saying upon them as for them to cast the other against us.

Under Calvin’s reasoning, because the Pope privately believed something that was not yet defined differently  from what we profess now, it was “proof” that Popes could formally “teach error.” Therefore the Catholic Church could not be the true Church.

The current crowd of Pope bashers don’t want to go that far. They only want to argue that the Popes they dislike can teach error and, therefore, be ignored. Meanwhile, the Popes they like are to be obeyed. But there are problems with that. Logically:

1. All Popes are human beings.
2. All human beings are sinners*.
3. Therefore all Popes are sinners.

So, you will always be able to find embarrassing things in the actions of any Pope that any critic who wants to use that argument can use to refuse obedience. When one faction argues that they don’t have to obey Pope Francis because of his “errors,” while another argues that they don’t have to obey St. John Paul II because of his “errors,” who decides whether the claims have merit? If the critics can make that decision, then no Pope can ever be trusted to teach and we might as well accept Calvin’s reasoning—or that of the sede vacantists

But, even though these critics accuse the Pope of “Protestantizing” the Church, they make the same error that Calvin did: they treat a personal error on an undefined matter (or, in the case of Pope Francis of thinking the Pope made an “error”) into a “proof” of heresy and use it to reject the Church when they disagree. Calvin goes further in his rejection, taking it to the “logical” conclusion that comes with denying that God protects the Pope in any case at all, but it’s still the same flaw that leads them to reject the legitimate use of papal authority.

These critics should be cautious. Rejecting obedience to a Pope is a schismatic act (canon 752), and performing a schismatic act while professing to be the true faithful shows a failure to understand Scripture or Tradition. As St. John Paul II (Ecclesia Dei #4) put it:

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".

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.

If the modern Catholic critics resent being compared to the founders of Protestantism, they should tale pains to avoid the forms of schism and not think they can’t be guilty because they don’t share the form of Calvin’s schism.

________________

(#) This doesn’t mean that the Church could have just as easily defined it the other way. God protects His Church from teaching error.

(§) Yes, the ordinary magisterium is binding. Berengarius was condemned for denying the Real Presence. It wasn’t infallibly defined until 1215, but had been consistently taught before then. 

(*) Obviously, we are not denying the Immaculate Conception here. I do confess that Our Lady received, from the moment of conception, a special grace that kept her sinless. But the rest of humanity does fall under that premise.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sincerity is not Same as Accuracy

When I read Luther and Calvin in their attacks on the Catholic Church, two things become clear: First, that they were probably quite sincere about opposing what they thought was wrong. Second, that despite their sincerity, what they wrote to justify rejecting the Catholic Church was absolutely false and harmful. This brings us to something that should be remembered when people today launch attacks against the Pope or the Church: just because an attacker is sincere, it doesn’t make him or her right. What matters is if the actual evidence supports the allegations, not the accusations themselves.

Luther and Calvin confused their own interpretation of Scripture, St. Augustine, Church Councils, etc., with what was actually said. When the Catholic Church held a position that ran counter to their interpretation, the Church was declared guilty of Pelagianism, of inventing new teachings and so on. The problem was the interpretation is not necessarily the actual meaning. Both men cited Augustine and argued that his refutation of Pelagius was also a refutation of Catholic teaching on grace. But the Catholic teaching on grace does not allow for the Pelagian views of merit that these two men accused the Catholic Church of holding. So, even if they were sincere# in their refutations, they were still wrong because their accusations were simply untrue. If they had considered the possibility of being mistaken, they might have looked more closely and realized their accusations were false.

I could also bring up Calvin’s interpretation of the Patristics in trying to argue (book IV of the Institutes of the Christian Religion) that the primacy of Rome was a later innovation. Calvin confused his interpretation of the texts with what the actual texts said§. The result is a “history” that merely reflects his unproven belief that the early Church could not possibly have had a Pope*.

This is why I warn about the modern anti-Francis Catholics falling into the same errors as Luther and Calvin. No, their theology is not the same. But their tactics are. That’s why the modern critics are in danger. The difference between the founders of Protestantism and those leading the Catholic reform of the time is this: the members of the Catholic Reform gave religious submission of intellect and will to the teachings of the magisterium while the leaders of Protestantism rejected it.

But before a critic argues, “But that was different! We’re rejecting errors!” remember that this is what men like Luther and Calvin said too. No matter how sincere the modern critics might be, they are causing the same turmoil and using the same tactics.

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(§) Modern religious software like Verbum or Logos allows for instantaneous investigation of the cited works. This lets us discover things taken out of context, paraphrases, and injected editorial comments that mix with or even replace the actual words of the early Church Fathers. Luther and Calvin went beyond what the anti-Pelagian writings actually said.

(#) It is not for me to judge their culpability. But, sincere or not, they were wrong.

(*) Begging the question is a fallacy that gets used frequently by anti-Catholics outside the Church and dissenters within the Church.

(€) Many of the critics are “cradle Catholics,” but it would be interesting to do a study to see if there are any residual assumptions among converts who are also anti-Francis Catholics. Unfortunately, I don’t have any way of conducting such a study to test the idea for accuracy.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Umm, What? Reflecting on Bizarro World Catholicism

As the antics of some Catholics continue, I am reminded of the DC Comics Bizarro World. The basic concept here is whatever is seen as right, true, and good on Earth is seen as wrong, false, and bad. It’s played for laughs, and it works because we know what is supposed to be right.

In the Bizarro-Catholic world, we’re seeing cases of Catholics who are ignorant of past Church history hailed as knowledgeable and those rejecting the authority of the magisterium with the vehemence of Luther praised as “defending the Church from Protestantism.” Formal teaching today is called “opinion” while opinions from the past are called “doctrine§.When the Pope repeats the Church condemnation against nuclear weapons, he is condemned as ignoring the Church teaching on Just War; when he repeats the consistent Church teaching on caring for the poor and oppressed, he is condemned for being “political.” When he makes something clear, they accuse him of being vague; when his staff corrects a misinterpretation by his critics, the Bizarro Catholics say the Vatican is “walking it back,” or even “lying.”

I could go on and on about these ridiculous antics—and, tragically, the Bizarro Catholics will continue committing them—but it will get annoying. The point is: a certain group that accuses the Pope or the Church today of being in error are actually the ones in error, and the standards they use to judge orthodoxy are opposed to what the Church has always called on the faithful to accept as the guide of what is authentically Catholic.

Pointing this out angers this faction of Catholics. They point to excerpts of obscure Latin documents and contrast them with the actions of the Church today, arguing that it is a “contradiction” and proof of modern error. The problem is, they are arguing about authentic interpretation when the final decision about authentic interpretation is the Pope. They do not consider the development of Church teaching and discipline, and whether the Church sees a need for a changed approach in times that have grown deaf to the methods used in the past.

St. John Paul II warned about this attitude in Ecclesia Dei, when he explained how the SSPX fell into error:

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)

The Church will never contradict the doctrines she has previously taught, but that doesn’t mean that what was written in the past cannot be clarified or when loopholes arise. As a result, when someone stands up and says that the Pope or validly convened and ratified Council errs, we have seen the antics of a Bizarro Catholic. And, if we give these critics credence while rejecting the Church under the visible headship of the Pope, we too are Bizarro Catholics.


_____________________

(§) Case in point, one of St. Robert Bellarmine’s evaluations of different opinions on whether a Pope can be a formal heretic is considered “doctrinal” when the work in question is simply a defense of Catholicism against Protestant claims. He no more intended to be magisterial that Benedict XVI did when he wrote theological works as Cardinal or as Pope.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

They Aren’t Remembering History. Will They Repeat It?

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it§.

—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, volume I

I’ve been reading different Patristic Church histories lately. I find accounts from Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Rufinius, Theodoret, etc. fascinating in describing how the various schisms tried to impose their errors (if they were heretical) or rigorism (if they were schisms) on the Church. 

What made them successful in the short term was how they controlled the narrative and had the ear of important people. They selectively miscited the writings of those with authority in the Church, portraying the Popes and bishops as rejecting “authentic” teaching and falsely accusing them of all sorts of vile crimes. Idolatry, supporting heresy, debauchery, etc. The heretical and schismatic groups tried to get the Popes and bishops deposed from their positions. But in the long term, the orthodox Catholic position triumphed.

When they finally lost in the battle for the Church as a whole, they declared that the Church itself was wrong and broke communion with the successor of Peter and insisted that they were the faithful remnant. Montanism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, etc., were some of the heretical movements that rose from clinging from things the Church condemned. But there were other movements that rose from those who accepted the same beliefs as the Catholic Church but falsely claimed something the Church taught something that she did not* or claimed that the Church approach of mercy to sinners was allowing sin. Groups like the Novatians and Donatists fell into this category.

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)

—St. John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

I find that the modern attacks on the Pope and bishops is tragically similar to the attacks in the first centuries of the Church. Many of those hostile to the Pope like to think of themselves as being like St. Athanasius against the Arians or St. Paul opposing St. Peter. But they act more like Hippolytus, Novatian or Donatus, assuming that a position of mercy from the Pope must be a position of laxity or actual sympathy towards error.

While certain critics might think that Santayana’s comment on history justifies their stance, actually they fit what he warned against. They don’t understand the history and development of the Church. Instead they rely on perpetually new interpretations of a fixed moment in the Church that they consider ideal, assume was always the case, and remain ignorant of the actual development and struggle to defend the faith. Being ignorant about this development, they assume deviation from their ideal is error even if it’s orthodox Catholic teaching.

Because they fail to remember history, they cannot see the direction the Church has gone in and how she has changed discipline and custom but left doctrine intact. If certain critics will not remember this history, they might wind up repeating the tragedies that led to error and schism.


______________

(§) This is the context of the oft paraphrased quote.

(*) Men like Photius, Michael Celularius, Luther, and Calvin also used false accusations to justify breaking with the Church.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Reflection on the Making of Schism

In fire safety classes, we’re told about the four1 conditions necessary for a fire to start: Fuel, Heat, Oxygen, and Flashpoint or Ignition. They call it a fire tetrahedron. Without all four conditions, you don’t have a fire. I bring this up because, as I study ecclesial history and the writings of those who wound up separated from the Catholic Church, I’ve noticed that the schismatic movements have similar things in common that brought them about, regardless of what era they took place in. Like a fire, there needs to be four conditions to set a a schism rolling. Using the tetrahedron as an analogy, these things seem to be*:

  • (Fuel) Some sort of real or perceived scandal that angers a large percentage of the Catholic population in the region where the schism occurs.
  • (Heat) Some sort of demagogue or symbolic figure who is at odds with the Church on one or more issues.
  • (Oxygen) A misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church teaches.
  • (Combustion or Flashpoint) A point that causes the break in trusting the Church.
Let’s look at each of these:

(Fuel) A Real or Perceived Scandal

The Church, which Our Lord entrusted to sinful human beings, will always have scandals that anger the faithful. Some of these are real scandals. Others are things perceived to be scandals, but are not. The difference between the two is, with a real scandal, the Church needs to clean it up—justly—the sooner the better. The perceived scandal is when the Church has done nothing wrong, but people in some part of the Church think she is to blame for something that has gone wrong. The tricky part is understanding the difference. The Church must discern the two, and deal with it appropriately.

A real scandal is something like the current clerical abuse scandal. It needs to be cleaned up. A perceived scandal is not a scandal, but some people wrongly attack the Church over it. Fr. Adrian Fortescue describes how Photius stirred up a schism in the 9th century by an admixture of condemning differing customs (points 1-2) and stating falsehoods about the disciplines of the Latin Rite which were never imposed on the East (points 3-5):

There are five points: 1. The Latins make the Bulgars fast on Saturday (so they do: that was then the universal custom in the Roman Patriarchate). 2. They eat butter, milk, and cheese during the first week of Lent (that is: we do not begin Lent till Ash Wednesday, whereas the Byzantines do on Quinquagesima Monday). 3. They despised married priests and thereby show themselves to be infected with Manichæan error. 4. They do not acknowledge Confirmation administered by a priest. 5. They have changed and corrupted the Creed by adding to it the Filioque. The doctrine that the Holy Ghost proceeds from God the Father and God the Son he described as “godless, atheistic, and blasphemous.” Photius then declares: “We, by the decree of our holy synod, have therefore condemned these forerunners of apostasy, these servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, these liars and fighters against God … and we have solemnly excommunicated them.”

(Fortescue, Adrian. The Orthodox Eastern Church, p. 153)

While the Church must avoid laxity in scandals (the corruption scandals that were fuel for the Protestant Revolt were tragically neglected until they became one of the rallying points), she must also avoid scapegoating or surrendering acts of teaching and governance. If it turns out that the public outrage is directed at something that is not the fault of the Church (usually, this comes over a misperception over what the real problems are), the Church needs to oppose the mob.

(Heat) A Demagogue

Every schism has a leading figure people look to who is at odds with the Church and refuses to admit error when challenged. Some of these demagogues are heretics who obstinately reject what the Church teaches, claiming that she fell into error and until she follows the heresiarch, the Church will remain in error. Others accept the teachings of the Church but reject those who shepherd her, denying their authority or sacramental validity, giving authority to their preferred leaders instead. Patristic era heresies include the Arians and Nestorians. Patristic era schisms include the Novatians and Donatists. 

Both heretical and schismatic demagogues provide the heat to go along with the fuel of real and perceived scandal, and the oxygen of misinformation, raising the danger of schism. The more of the other conditions exist in the Church, the more influence the demagogue is likely to have. Luther probably wouldn’t have gotten far if resentments hadn’t made him seem like a potential cure. He wasn’t, but the fact that he was speaking against abuses led people to accept his claims that they existed because of “errors” in Church teaching.

Here we need to make a distinction between a demagogue and a legitimate reformer in the Church. The former eventually rejects the Church (whether by formal schism or simply refusing obedience) if the Church should say something they propose is wrong, and tries to lead others to follow their vision. The latter accepts and obeys the Church when she says a proposal is incompatible with the Church teaching and proposes reform while obedient in response.

(Oxygen) The Misinterpretation/Misrepresentation (or Rash Judgment/Outright Lies)

I should start by warning against taking an analogy too far. In the literal sense, Oxygen is something essential for life. In the sense of this analogy, it is only used as one of the things needed for a fire to exist.

The oxygen the fire of schism needs is misinformation# that leads people to think it is an unjust institution instead of the Body of Christ. When there is a movement aimed at undermining the teaching of the Church, it’s not enough for those who lead the movement to say, “this is what we believe.” They have to undermine the Church which tells the demagogue and his followers that their view is false. They don’t do this by saying “the Church teaches X this way, but we think X should be taught that way. You decide for yourself.” Instead, they tend to describe the Church teaching in the worst way possible, accusing the Church of holding errors because the Church doesn’t side with them. In the schisms that exist (Orthodox, Protestant, etc.), the Catholic teaching is misunderstood or misrepresented in such a way that makes us look diabolical while the Catholic reading their claims can only say “what in the hell are you talking about?”

One example is Martin Luther. It was not enough for him to say that he disagreed with the Catholic Church and thought our teaching on the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance was wrong. He had to misrepresent them as purely human institutions invented for corrupt purposes2—saying things the Catholic Church never believed, taking documents out of context to “prove” his point.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of nonsense of this type among Catholics too. When we see Catholics state that a Pope or Council intended to “make the Church Protestant” (actual Protestants I have talked to are puzzled by that claim, recognizing that our teachings and the Ordinary Form of the Mass are nothing like their beliefs and practices), it shows that misinformation is more widely believed than the actual teaching of the Church. Pope Francis is widely accused of “reversing” Church teaching and welcoming “pagan practices” when both claims are based on misinformation. 

One can see a lot of this online. I routinely encounter Catholics who tell me to “open my eyes” or say that I’m refusing to consider the “truth” of their position. The problem is, what these Catholics cite as “proof” is misinformation. What they describe is a distortion of the truth. I don’t know what percentage has read but misunderstood what the Pope has taught, what percentage has decided to misrepresent what they dislike, and what percentage is merely “the blind following the blind.” This is why I try to avoid assuming bad will on the part of those I encounter. But the accusations are false. There are a lot of these falsehoods out there, regardless of the motivation. They lead the people astray. Combined with the other aspects discussed, it can cause a dispute to become a conflagration.

(Combustion) Refusal to Believe that the Church teaches with God’s authority and protection

The above three points will always be found in different ways and times in the Church. We’ll always have to deal with scandal, with people at odds with the Church, and with Catholics believing falsehoods about the Church. But the fuel, heat, and oxygen are not enough to have a fire, although if all three are present, we are in grave risk of the fire of schism if the flashpoint is introduced to the mix. That flashpoint is the refusal to accept the Church under the visible head, the Pope, as teaching with the authority given by Christ and protected by error. They might try to argue that they support “the Papacy, but not this Pope” (as Hans Urs von Balthasar warned against3) but Pius XI reminds us:

22. Faith in the Church cannot stand pure and true without the support of faith in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The same moment when Peter, in the presence of all the Apostles and disciples, confesses his faith in Christ, Son of the Living God, the answer he received in reward for his faith and his confession was the word that built the Church, the only Church of Christ, on the rock of Peter (Matt. 16:18). Thus was sealed the connection between the faith in Christ, the Church and the Primacy. True and lawful authority is invariably a bond of unity, a source of strength, a guarantee against division and ruin, a pledge for the future: and this is verified in the deepest and sublimest sense, when that authority, as in the case of the Church, and the Church alone, is sealed by the promise and the guidance of the Holy Ghost and His irresistible support.

(Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, #22)

We need to make a distinction here. Having a difficulty understanding how something the Church teaches fits in with what actions one sees or with what one thinks Scripture or Church documents say is not the problem if he strives to recognize where he got it wrong. It’s when we say “I’m not wrong, the Church is wrong,” refusing to trust the authority of the Church that comes from the Catholic Church being the Church established by Christ and protected by Him when the Church goes against what we think it should  do. If one reaches that point, they risk making a shipwreck of their faith.

We certainly have evidence of bad men becoming Popes in history yet, upon becoming Popes, suddenly refused to carry out the errors they were inclined to do before their election. Consider the case of Pope Vigilius who actually helped get his predecessor exiled and killed with the understanding that when he became Pope, he would return heretical bishops to their sees. But once he became Pope, the Liber Pontificalis tells us he stood up for the Church and would not carry out his task:

But Vigilius replied: “Far be this from me, Lady Augusta. I spoke beforetime wrongly and foolishly; now I do assuredly refuse to restore a man who is a heretic and under the anathema. Although unworthy, I am the vicar of blessed Peter, the apostle, as were my predecessors, the most holy Agapitus and Silverius, who condemned him.”

People trying to discredit Pope Francis by claiming a Pope can teach error should consider this case. In a real case of corruption with the intention to enable heretics, God appears to have prevented him from going ahead with his pre-papal plan, even though he was imprisoned for his refusal. If God should prevent this, isn’t it foolish to think that He would permit a Pope to teach errors?

What these critics don’t seem to consider is that while Popes can change discipline depending on the needs of the Church in a certain time (so a successor could change a discipline enacted by Pope Francis) the Church in communion with the Pope is protected from teaching error. If truth was sometimes found in Rome, sometimes in Constantinople, sometimes in Econe, we could never know for certain when THE CHURCH was teaching truly in any instance. If one would reject Pope Francis when he teaches, why not St. Pius V? If one would reject Vatican II, why not Trent, or even Nicea?

I call this part the flashpoint because of how it interacts with the other elements. This element views the scandals with hopelessness and treats the magisterium as an enemy instead of approaching scandals something to pray about. It looks at the demagogue and thinks “maybe he has a point in his attacks on the Church.” It assumes that the false information about the Church must be true. The person who loses sight of the fact that the Catholic Church, under the Pope as visible head, teaches with Christ’s authority and protection will be tempted to view whatever problems that exist in the Church as places where “the Church is wrong and I am right.”

The Fire of Schism

Each of these conditions are serious and the Church needs to work to eliminate them—the sooner the better. But the existence of up to any three of conditions will not cause a schism. There have always been scandals in the Church or people who wrongly believe that something they don’t understand is a scandal. There have always been demagogues at odds with the Church. There have always been misunderstanding and falsehoods about Church teaching. And there have always been people who lost faith in the Church. But it seems that schism is usually present only when all four conditions are present. The demagogue exploits real scandals or invents false ones. The faithful misunderstand or fall for misrepresentation about the Church. And, even though we have the obligation to trust and obey the Church, under the the headship of the Pope (see canon 752), some of the faithful, facing these problems decide they can’t trust the Church anymore until it becomes what they think the Church should be.

And then you get a schism. Schisms have happened throughout Church history. We need to prevent them and heal those that do start. Not because the Church will fail without those who leave (the Church survived previous schism, and will survive any future schism). But because Jesus doesn’t want us to be satisfied with the 99 sheep who didn’t stray. We need to bring back the 100th. Moreover, the efforts of the Church to go out to the whole world is hampered by the division as she must expend effort to bring back to the fold those who strayed.

Final Thoughts: Whither the Church today?

Since I’ve been speaking out against anti-Francis Catholics since 2013, and have on occasion expressed concern about schism, you may wonder how I view the state of the Church today under these categories. My opinion is we have three of the four conditions present: the fuel (scandal), the oxygen (falsehoods), and the flashpoint (a loss of belief in what the Church is). What I think we lack is a demagogue. Yes, there are people who refuse obedience to the Church, insisting the Church errs. But we don’t have an Arius or a Nestorius. We don’t have a Luther or a Calvin. We don’t even have a Lefebvre. We do havegrossly irresponsible websites that are run by disgruntled Catholics who might have the will, but their influence is small. We do have4 some highly placed Churchmen who might have the following and have (in my opinion) used rhetoric I think is imprudent to the point of recklessness, but these Churchmen don’t seem to will an all out conflict with the Pope (though some of their followers from the irresponsible websites seem willing to follow them if they would give the word, thinking it only a matter of time5).

If a schism should come from this quarter, I don’t think it would happen during the pontificate of Pope Francis (though I could be wrong). I think it would happen in the pontificate of his successor who upheld Pope Francis and moved forward on the same path. This would be the end of their false hope that the Church would “go back” to the way that they prefer. If they would not recognize their own error, they might be led to abandon the fiction of “just the Pope’s erroneous opinion,” “prudential judgment,” or the like, but instead of repenting, they risk outright denying that God protects His Church. And then they are in grave danger.

So, that being said, what should we do? First, I think we should look at ourselves. Are we in any danger of making a shipwreck of our faith? We might think not, but I suspect nobody ever joined a schism unless they harbored resentment and defiance that rose from these conditions. We should pray and study that we might understand and remain in full communion with the Church—which means giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope, even in the darkest of times. Second, I think we can’t be silent when misinformation, perceived scandals or demagogues shake the faithful. And third, we should pray for those who are struggling, that they might not become demagogues or fall into the traps. After that, we need to have faith in God to protect His Church, come what may.


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[*] Assigning these categories to specific elements needed for fire is largely arbitrary. I could have just as easily applied “oxygen” (for example) to scandal as to misinformation. So please don’t draw more from these classifications than convenient illustrations.

[1] There used to be three. I remember in the Cub Scouts, they used an image of a tripod needing three sides to stand. Modern safety classes now include “ignition” as a fourth condition. It kills the analogy, but is more accurate. That’s why you see signs warning about fire danger in the summer: three out of four conditions are present, waiting only for the ignition.

[#] To clarify the interchangeable usage: The unintentional spread of misinformation can be classified as misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The deliberate spread of misinformation is misrepresentation. But whatever the intent, if what someone spreads is false, it’s misinformation.

[2] For one example, see (though I don’t recommend it) The Babylonian Captivity. I leave it to God to judge what Luther’s culpability might be, but whether from misunderstanding or misrepresentation, his charges were falsehoods, tragically still believed by anti-Catholics.

[3] from The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes, which is indefectible, and the sedens, who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning.

[4] As usual, no names in these cases. I leave it to God to assess the culpability of individuals. I just try to point out dangers.

[5] This is why I am cautious about joining in on the attacks some defenders of the Pope make against these high ranking Churchmen. Since some supporters of the Pope misrepresent him to bolster their own ideology, it’s possible that these Churchmen’s supporters are doing the same. I might say on my blog Facebook page that I fear that Cardinal X’s words are dangerous, but I try to avoid violating the Golden Rule in doing so. 

That doesn’t mean I give a free pass to what they do say. I recall favoring one cardinal to become Pope in 2013 (I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio then), but the experience of the past six years leads me to believe he would not have been a good choice.