Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pride: The Danger of Judging of Popes

There is a troubling group of Catholics out there who, while a minority, are quite vocal out there. They are the Catholics who believe that Pope Francis is making a definite break in Catholic teaching, teaching error and needing to be resisted. If they were only a fringe group, we could just dismiss them with a shrug and a shake of the head. But it isn’t merely the lunatic fringe. It is people who equate the Pope with a political view that they don’t like, and don’t think the Church should be teaching on those subjects and that the Pope should focus on subjects they agree with.

The irony of it all is the fact that prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis, there were other Catholics who rejected the teachings of his predecessors, equating them with a political view they disliked and thought that the Church would be better off teaching on subjects they agreed with. Basically, the two groups are guilty of the same behavior but with a different bias. What’s most tragic about this is the fact that both groups seem to condemn the other for doing this, but both are blind to the fact that they are guilty of the very same thing: Having a selective view that is twisted to match political views that justifies themselves and vilifies the others at the expense of obedience to Church teaching.

What’s overlooked is that the predecessors of Pope Francis said pretty much the same thing on issues of social justice that he did, and that Pope Francis has said the same thing as his predecessors on the moral teachings of the Church. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II were not “right wingers” and Pope Francis is not “Left Wing."

So a large part of the judging of popes seems to be ignorance of or ignoring what the Popes have actually taught in favor of a caricature. The problem is, we can’t accurately assess something without knowledge of the facts—facts which the media stories do not supply. Now it may be forgivable for people ignorant of the Catholic faith to not realize that there is more to the story than the media reports. But we Catholics do not have that excuse. If we have faith in God to protect His Church from error when it comes to matters of salvation, there can neither be a case of the Church was right before but wrong now, nor a case of the Church was wrong before but right now. The Holy Spirit didn’t take a nap during Vatican II or the election of Pope Francis. Nor did the Holy Spirit take a nap until Vatican II. There is a continuity in the teaching. It’s just that the ways of expressing the teaching can be done in different ways by different Popes in different ages.

The point is, as the Church faces new circumstances, new attacks, new understandings, teaching develops—but never contradicts former teaching. We’ll never go from saying divorce and remarriage is wrong to saying it is OK. But over time, we have had to answer questions from different sources, and perhaps face situations that the Church in earlier times did not have to address (for example, the widespread rejection of the belief that a valid marriage is permanent that exists today). Pope Francis has to address the problem of a society that has no idea what marriage is really for. When people no longer understand what is the sin, the older methods of explaining the moral truths may be inadequate.

Ultimately, this judging of Popes is based on the idea that the Church should be what the individual wants it to be. When the individual puts himself or herself in opposition to the Church teaching, or when the Church teaches on something the would-be judge thinks is similar to a political view he or she dislikes, the objection is that “God doesn’t care about that,” or that “the Church should be focussing on serious issues.” That’s pride—the belief that *I* can’t be a sinner. If the Church says I am sinning or that  my political views are against what following Christ requires, then the Church must be in error.

Mind you, when it comes to being faithful to Church teaching, there are different ways to do it, and two faithful Catholics can have two different views on what the best way to carry it out. So, it’s not being faithless if one would prefer a different approach (in keeping with the teachings, mind you) on doing these things, so long as we recognize exactly who has the authority to decide on what the Church will officially do—whether that concerns the way to carry out a doctrine or what the discipline of the Church is going to be. If one refuses to accept the Church teaching, that makes them disobedient.

For example, take the disputes that have happened concerning the Mass as it exists today (the Ordinary Form), vs. the Mass in the form of the 1962 Missal (the Extraordinary Form). The preference for the Extraordinary Form is not sinful in itself. Some people prefer the Extraordinary Form. I prefer the Ordinary Form. One preference is not right while the other wrong. But it is the Pope who decides what is best for the Church, and if he decides on something that is different than we prefer, he has the authority from Christ to make that decision. Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II were not wrong in mandating the ordinary form. Nor was Pope emeritus Benedict XVI correcting error by expanding permission for the use of the extraordinary form. Those who defied Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II during their pontificates did wrong, and that fact was not changed by the decision of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. It merely meant that those who began to use the extraordinary form of the Mass according to the motu proprio, after permission was given, were not sinning in doing so. Yet a good deal of ink and bandwidth has been expended seeking to portray Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II as teaching error.

That’s what this judging of Popes does. It is an arrogant decision that the individual has the charism of infallibility while the Pope does not. If the Pope teaches differently than I would prefer, it means the Pope is in error. Such a view refuses to accept the possibility of being deceived by the devil through pride. And if we refuse to accept the possibility that we can be wrong, it blocks us from accepting Our Lord’s grace and salvation.

These aren’t minor matters. Those who presume to judge the teachings of the Pope are possibly (I will not judge their culpability) putting their souls in danger. So, when we encounter such people on the internet or in person, at least say a prayer for them that they might come to trust that God is watching over the Church.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Insanity: The Case of Catholics Who Defend Torture

Preliminary Note

This article is not going to deal with the allegations of the Senate Report on CIA torture and whether or not they are true. I’ve seen some people try to sidestep the real issue by questioning whether the report is accurate. As I see it, that’s a red herring. Regardless of whether or not this report is accurate, that doesn’t change the issue of whether torture should be done at all. This article is going to deal with that second issue. If torture is evil, then whatever nation uses it is doing evil—and that includes the United States.


There is a certain insanity going around the internet—or, for their sakes, I hope it is insanity—concerning the release of the Senate report on torture and the CIA. I call it insanity because the action is essentially Catholics openly rejecting the teaching of the Church. Mind you, these are not the typical dissenting Catholics who reject the Catholic teaching on abortion and contraception and teach that people need not listen to the Church. These are people who openly profess their belief in and obedience to the Church who are saying that torture, which the Church condemns as intrinsically evil (that is, never can be considered morally acceptable under any conditions), is justified against the enemies of the United States.

The Catholic Cannot Be Considered Faithful In Defiance of Church Teaching

This is where the individual Catholic has to make a choice. Either he recognizes that the Church teaches with the authority of Christ, and is protected from teaching error, or he denies that authority—at least on some issues—and makes himself or herself the authority which judges the Church.

The Catholic who professes to be faithful knows that when the Church teaches on a matter of faith and morals, even when the Pope does not teach ex cathedra, the Catholic is supposed to give assent to the teaching of the Church. We can see that taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #892:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

So, when the Church condemns something in a source like the Catechism, we are to give our assent (express agreement) to this teaching. If we don’t, we’re not being obedient to the Church teaching, and if we condemn others for being disobedient to Church teaching, we show ourselves to be hypocrites. Now, it is good to explain the why of a Church teaching, but right off the bat, we have to make a fundamental choice.

The Catholic Defending Torture is Rejecting Church Teaching

The defense of torture tends to take three basic forms (which can be embellished by name calling and emotional rhetoric). All of them involve a rejection of Catholic teaching. These three basic forms are:

  1. What was done was not torture.
  2. We have to do this to keep Americans safe.
  3. What we do is not as bad as what they do.

The first of these denies that the Church has the authority to define what is and what is not torture. In the Catechism (#2297), the Church describes torture as "physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred.” The individual Catholic does not have the right to define it in a more convenient way.

The second promotes an idea of pragmatism which the Church utterly repudiates. In the Catechism (#1789), the Church declares, "One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” Yes the government is required to protect her citizens from harm. No, the government cannot choose to use evil means to do so. All the arguments that state that because we haven’t had a major terrorist attack since 9/11/01 are irrelevant. If torture is evil (and the Church teaches it is), then we cannot use it as a means to let good come of it.

The third argument is sheer moral relativism. It replaces good and evil with the concept of “Not as bad as . . .” Basically it says, "I’m not as bad as a terrorist. Therefore what I do is acceptable.” The Problem is, whose standards are you going to measure yourself against? Pope Francis? George W. Bush? Obama? Kim Jong-Un? Josef Stalin? Adolf Hitler? As long as you use someone worse than you as your standard, you can basically justify whatever the hell you want. And that’s what is happening. Say on Facebook that torture is evil and people will say that what we do is not as bad as what ISIS does, so we shouldn’t complain.

But the problem is, just because what ISIS does is grossly evil does not mean that what we do is not evil. The difference between ISIS and what the US has been accused of is not the difference between two extremes. It’s a difference of degrees—ISIS is willing to tolerate more to achieve their goals than the US is, but both are willing to make use of "physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred.”

But, if we use what benefits us as a sign of what is good and compare ourselves to someone who is worse, what basis would we have to complain if ISIS said, “We’re not as bad as Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler”? They would be using the same argument, but in their own favor. Without an objective moral standard that says “torture may never be done,” the only standard is the morality of the individual. History is full of people who believe this . . . and we look back on them with horror and disgust. 

Basically, none of these arguments are compatible with Catholic teaching. If we believe that God exists, and that certain things are always evil, we must not do those things. If we have done these things, we must repent and turn away from them if we would have God forgive us.


For the Catholic, we cannot let our political ideology get in the way of our faith. If we believe that the Catholic Church was given the authority to bind and loose by Christ Himself, we have to accept that the Church has the authority to bind and loose what we can do—always protected from teaching error in things concerning our salvation. If we reject that, it makes very little sense to remain in the Church.

If something is condemned as wrong by the Church, we do not have the right to say it is morally good. That includes abortion, and it includes torture. We who claim to be faithful Catholics must be faithful to all the teachings of the Church, not just those we like. Otherwise, we’re just cafeteria Catholics, just like those who reject the Church teaching on contraception and abortion and so-called “same sex marriage."

We must also realize that we will be judged for what we do, and we will be judged for leading others astray. As the Catechism points out (#2283), "It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God’s name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion."

Will God judge us for causing people to repudiate religion because we are so foolish as to reject the Church teaching on a subject where even the irreligious can see evil is being done?

Think about it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Resharing Articles on Torture

With the recent report out on torture, I find that some Catholics are attempting to justify it, even though the Church declares it as being intrinsically evil.

First is my 2011 article, which I wrote as an investigation based on my disliking both the pro- and anti-waterboarding arguments as being logically flawed. So this was a sort of summary of my personal explorations.  There is one amendment I would like to point out here, however:

At that time I concluded it was torture, but said I could not specifically state that the Church mentioned it by name. Since then, I found a convincing argument that pointed out that the Church did not post a comprehensive list of cruelty that was condemned and the attempts to say that because the Church didn’t mention waterboarding by name it wasn’t torture, was actually an argument from silence fallacy. Keep that in mind when reading this article (found HERE).

The second article (2014) was written in response to certain Catholics who were arguing that it didn’t matter if it was torture or not, it was still justified. My article took the position that one could not be a good Catholic and support torture. I still believe this is correct. (Read HERE).

Also, we need to remember the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reminds us:

1789 Some rules apply in every case: (1756; 1970; 1827; 1971)

— One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

— the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”56

— charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience … you sin against Christ.”57 Therefore “it is right not to … do anything that makes your brother stumble.”58


2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors. (2267)

Quite simply, torture is incompatible with our Catholic faith, regardless of the good some think it must do:
  1. No evil can be done so good may come of it
  2. The Church condemns torture as evil.
  3. Therefore No Torture can be done so good may come of it.

Deny that the Church can condemn torture as evil, and you also deny the authority of the Church to condemn things like abortion, murder, etc.

TFTD: The Chilling Imposition of Ideology

I came across an article today: "Catholic profs told to report opposition to 'gay marriage' as harassment :: Catholic News Agency (CNA),” that is troubling in one sense, and downright chilling in another sense. The troubling sense of the article is that a Catholic university (Marquette) has had a training session which tells them to report opposition to so-called “same sex marriage” as “harassment.”  The article reports a spokesman from Marquette as saying:

Brian Dorrington, senior director of communications at Marquette University, told CNA Nov. 21 that the university requires all employees, faculty, staff and student employees, to complete an anti-harassment module “in accordance with federal law and university policy,” He added that harassment training “includes the latest changes in law, and workplace diversity training reflects developing regulations.”

He said the presentation uses “hypothetical scenarios” are “teaching tools do not necessarily equate to university policy.”

Given that the Church condemns sexual acts outside of the marriage of one man and one woman as morally wrong, the fact that a Catholic university has given such a training session to be morally troubling.

However, while troubling (a Catholic university should bear witness to the truth despite what people say), this is not what makes it chilling.

What makes it chilling is the fact that this university believes it has to do this to be in compliance with EEOC regulations and court decisions that decree that the belief in marriage being between one man and one woman is “discriminatory.” Apparently, the government sees this belief, expressed publicly, is considered harassment. In other words, to publicly express that a thing is morally wrong is speech which can be targeted. As the program states:

“Although employees have free speech rights under the United States Constitution, in academic and other workplaces those rights are limited when they infringe upon another person’s right to work in an environment free of unlawful harassment.”

Of course, the person who thinks they should be allowed to work without having their religious beliefs attacked aren’t covered. The rights of the atheist to mock Christianity in a university is widespread. But the rights of the Christian to say, “This is wrong,” are blocked.

So, it’s a “right” that is similar to the sentiment expressed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

if someone dislikes what you have to say, you can’t say it—so long as what you say goes against the favored ideologies. So, you’re free to bash religion in public, but presumably a Catholic in a Catholic institution could be accused of harassment for quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it states:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Our teaching says we cannot mistreat a person—treat him or her as less than human—just because he or she has a same-sex inclination, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept such behavior as morally indifferent. But apparently, speaking out on what is right counts as “unlawful harassment."

What it boils down to is that we no longer have the freedoms of the First Amendment. We have preferred ideologies which are free to say what they want, and unpopular beliefs which will not be tolerated when they speak against the preferred ideology.

That’s kind of troubling. One thinks of how Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla because he privately supported the defense of marriage against redefinition by a donation. Mozilla suffered no repercussions for their action, even though Eich’s action was in no way a violation of Mozilla policy. But, on the other hand, a Catholic parish is being sued because they terminated an employee for publicly flaunting their defiance of Church teaching. One wonders if, by 2016, Google (which runs the Blogger sites) might decide that the blogs which speak in a way they disapprove of can be removed because they promote “discrimination.” Perhaps not, but it is part of the same principle—if speech our political and social elites dislike can be labelled “unlawful harassment,” then the limits to what they can get away with are few.

That’s a real problem. Such policies violate freedom—which America is supposed to be based on—in several different ways, but because the targets are unpopular with the cultural elites, they can get away with it..

In terms of the Freedom of Religion, Catholics believe that the Church is given the mission by Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations. This includes teaching about sin and the need for repentance. We cannot be forced to do what we think is evil and we cannot be forced by the government to teach only what they want us to teach. The Constitution, in this respect, recognizes that the government does not have the right to make such demands on a person. But more and more often, we are seeing the government decree (or permit lawsuits) that do make such demands, while denying the rights of the Christians to live as they believe they ought—particularly if they run a business.

In terms of Freedom of Speech, we are seeing amazing hypocrisy. Christians in America are constantly being told that if we don’t like something, just ignore it. But when others hear Christians say or do things they dislike, we’re told to cease and desist. There’s no freedom of speech there. At a bare minimum, we can say, either give us the same freedoms that our critics possess or give them the same restrictions they give us. Otherwise, there is no freedom.

Our rights to petition the government peaceably for grievances are being denied. When we enact laws which promote the shared values of a majority of citizens, the result is unelected courts overturning the laws they dislike—not by a blind equality for both sides, but by an unequal favoritism towards some views.

Now, it is disappointing that Marquette went along with this policy, instead of standing up for what was right. But let’s remember that the symptom of Marquette reflects the real problem—that publicly expressing what we believe is right means we can suffer legal penalties for being obedient to Christ in a way that even the most indifferent person should recognize is a right the Constitution promises and the government ignores.