Saturday, February 14, 2015

Two World Views in Conflict

(Edit: It occurs to me that some of what I wrote in this article could be misinterpreted as a whitewash of or ignoring the things in history that are appalling when viewed today. This was not my intent. I recommend seeing HERE for some of my reflections on the darker parts of Church history)

In the 5th century AD, St. Augustine wrote his classic City of God which dealt with the two perspectives on the world—pagan and Christian. He showed the superiority of the Christian view. I don’t pretend to have any of his talent of course, but it seems to me that there are two major world views in conflict today in the West—the view of respecting the importance of God and the view of rejecting the importance of God. Now there is a range of views within these two groups. Some approach these things passively. Others approach it more militantly. So we can’t speak in a way that “all members of group X will behave exactly this way.” But we can point out the problems of the consequences that lead from the ideas.

These two views of God lead to two arguments about how a nation needs to be in sync with reality: The view that asserts that the reality of God needs to be reflected in the laws, and the view that denies that God is a reality which needs to be reflected in the laws. As I presented them, these views seem to be opposites, but in fact, the two views have a great deal of influence on how they treat those who do not think like them.

The group that asserts the reality that God exists and has established the universe to work in a specific way and has done so for our benefit—where living in opposition to this design causes harm to the self and to others, even though we have the free will to do so. Under this view, laws exist to promote the public good established by God and restrict people that choose to use their free will to bring harm to others. For example, a law against murder does not restrict the freedom of good people, but does have repercussions for would-be murderers. This view does not compel people to do what they think is evil or forbid them from doing what they feel morally obliged to do. But when such groups practice beliefs that harm society, law does not permit this. In other words, the group of people who do not share the beliefs about the nature of God are not forced to accept them (even at its worst, the Spanish Inquisition did not force Jews and Muslims to convert—though the Spanish government of the time did exile those who did not).

So, under this world view, the Jew living in Christian society can refuse to eat pork or can choose to circumcise their sons—things the Jews believe themselves obligated to do. He can refuse to become Christian. The Christian and the Jew might disagree on the nature of God but that disagreement in itself is not forbidden under law. (I’m not saying that all was well for Jews in Medieval Europe—by 21st century standards, they were unjust. But they had freedoms in medieval Europe that some are trying to take away from them—see below). 

However, to use a different example, the person who finds pregnancy inconvenient and wants an abortion would not be free to do so because such behavior is harmful to others (the unborn children). The fact that one group in the national population might have no problem with abortion is not a just excuse for allowing what is seen as murder to be permitted. Since nobody rational has a belief that says “I feel morally obligated to abort my child instead of put it up for adoption,” this law would not be forcing one to act in a way they thought was evil—despite the convoluted sophistry sometimes used to make people think this is a matter of conscience.

However, the world view that denies the existence of God and does not recognize belief in God has a bad habit of not allowing people to opt out. Even setting aside the obvious examples of the totalitarian regimes, a nation operating under the assumption that religion is of no value tends to have no respect for the people who hold it does. If a person who makes law believes that religion is a fantasy, they will not see any value in tolerating this “fantasy” when the people holding it want to opt out because their beliefs tell them they must do something they don’t want to do or tells them not to do things they feel they must do—not out of personal benefit, but out of the belief that loving God requires them do certain things and avoid other things. 

This isn’t hypothetical. Look at the western cities and even countries trying to ban circumcision today—something Jews believe they are obligated to do to be faithful to their covenant. Or how about Christian business owners being targeted by lawsuits and ordinances when they are refuse to participate in “same sex marriage” by providing their services for something they believe is morally wrong? How about the attempts to coerce Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives or abortifacients as a part of their health care coverage? The point is, when the mindset of the law acts as if God does not exist and that religious beliefs should not be allowed to play a role when it comes to drafting laws, the result is religious obligations are written off as being without value, misattributed as being an act of hatred. In such cases, the state makes it the arbiter of what religious obligations and which ones are not. For example, courts seeking to force a priest could be forced to reveal what was said in the confessional. It’s gotten to the point that some feel the need to preempt the courts by passing a law to prevent ministers from being sued for refusing to take part in a same sex “marriage.” Think about that. Ten years ago, such a law would be unnecessary. Today? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was overturned as “unconstitutional."

So when you look at these things, it raises a question. Which worldview is the dangerous one? The one based on the existence of God, but does not coerce people to do what they think is morally evil? Or the group that denies God exists and refuses to consider what religious obligations people hold to be binding?

It does no good to point to another epoch in history and say that Christians are the worse offenders. That’s comparing 500 year old apples to modern oranges. Back then, what passed for government did not have the political and economic stability we have today, and violent punishments were exacted for crimes against the state. Looking at it from the safety of the 21st century, we can all (in that, we Christians are too) be appalled. But these actions were not exclusive to one geographic region, one religion or form of government (Ask Socrates about his experience with democracy, for example). None of us, regardless of our views, could say we would have thought like 21st century Americans hundreds of years ago, regardless of what our views happen to be.

It also does no good to point to modern extremism in Islam today from groups like ISIS and al-Quaeda and say that is the end result of religious views in government. Neither the sins of other religions nor the sins of people acting against their own religion are proof of the danger of religion. In the first case, we do not control what those who do not share our beliefs hold. In the second case, we don’t coerce people who reject their professed religion. We can only appeal to them to remember their endangered relationship to God—you know, the very thing people who reject religion having a place in the public square ignore when we say it?

I would recommend the reader consider this well. If a government is allowed to get away with claiming the authority to decide which religious obligations to decide is acceptable for the people to hold and which are not, that government can also decide on what parts of the freedom of speech, press, peaceable assembly and petitioning the government for grievances  are acceptable and what are not. It’s only the government that recognizes the role of God and the obligations He gives us on how to behave that recognizes the restrictions on their governing, and those restrictions are much more of a guarantee than relying on the government which can reject as invalid whatever it disagrees with.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Should We Follow That Cause?


The Spiritual Works of Mercy show there are many things we can do in the face of error, including instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinners. When done fully informed of Church teaching, when done in charity and when done in submission to the teaching authority of the Church, these can be good things. But these things are not always done. Sometimes the person or group with a cause lacks the love, the understanding or the submission to the Church. When one or more of these things happen, it is a sign that the activist’s cause may be out of sync with the Church and, as a result, may actually be going against God (see Acts 5:39). Because of this, I believe there are certain things to watch for when deciding whether to take part in a specific cause—even when we may agree with the general principles it promotes.

Preliminary Note 

The word “cause” is an equivocal word, which can be used differently by different people. In one instance, it can be a general idea—for example the Church standing up for the right to life and the proper understanding of marriage. In another instance, it can be referring to a specific group—for example, there are many groups working to end abortion.

For the purpose of this article, I am writing about the second meaning of the word “cause.” That is, those specific groups who act in defense of a Church teaching.

Is there Love? Or Anger and Contempt? 

Wrongdoing can offend us, and anger against sin is not always wrong, depending on how it is directed. But the question is, does the activist show a loving concern for the person or group they are opposing? Or is the person/group seen as an enemy to be vanquished and punished while we ride on in triumph? That’s a hard thing to keep in mind. There are people who do publicly flaunt their rejection of Church teaching and try to make it sound like it is they who are the “real” Christians while those who try to be faithful are portrayed as bigots. It is easy to be angry at them. There are members of the Church who do not take as strong a stand on supporting the Church teaching as we would prefer. It is easy to be disappointed in them. 

But they are still children of God, and need our support in turning back to God. There should be concern for their souls and their being brought back to the truth, even if we need to admonish them for doing wrong. What does a cause opposing them say and do? Do they show this concern? Or do they just treat them contemptuously as people who are doomed to hell and the sooner they are out of the way, the better? If it is the latter, this is a sign that that specific cause may not be good to follow.

Do they accurately understand the Church Documents or what the Accused said/did? 

Unfortunately, some Catholics treat Church Documents in the same way as Literalists take the Bible—with the assumption that the individual doing the reading is true and any disagreement with that reading is wrong. But even a Catholic trying to be faithful to the Church can miss a nuance in the Church teaching, giving a meaning to a document never intended. Even though the Church is quite firm on what one must do in being faithful, she also has a good understanding about the knowledge and will of the sinner. For example, it is common for people to try to contrast the Church documents on the necessity of the Catholic faith with the Vatican II documents on religious freedom as if the two were opposed. They present the two as being in conflict. But when you read Blessed Pius IX and Venerable Pius XII, you see they did not accept the idea of no salvation outside the Church in a way that denied the right of non-Catholics to exist unmolested.

Likewise when reports are given concerning the words or actions of a Catholic, and these reports cause outrage, the question needs to be asked—have the words been reported accurately? Are there reasons for the action which are in keeping with authentic Church teaching? Certainly that is not possible in the case of a pro-abortion politician trying to justify the rejection of Church teaching, but we do need to ask whether the person intends to act against the Church. A lack of clarity does not mean an intent to be disloyal.

If the person in question does not intend to act against Church teaching, then a cause seeking to attack the person as disloyal is misguided and should not be supported. In addition, we need to consider the significance of the misunderstanding. In some cases, it is because the person/group behind the cause is reacting to a wrong in the Church in general and assumes from the thing said or done that the person in question is acting against the Church. In other cases it may be that the people behind a cause wrongly think that something they prefer is a part of Church teaching and are confusing a disagreement over the best way to do a thing as if it was a rejection of doctrine.

Of course, even if the person does correctly understand the person and the Church teaching, the reviling response is never justified.

Do they act in submission to the Magisterium? 

The Pope and the bishops in communion with him are the successors to the Apostles. They do have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18), and we can have faith that the magisterium will not be permitted to teach error when it comes to things pertaining to our salvation. Yes, a priest or even a bishop may fall into teaching error. But when it comes to assessing where authority is, it is always with the Pope when he teaches with authority. Yes, Paul rebuked Peter in Galatia over his personal failings (Galatians 2:11-14), and some saints have rebuked some Popes (St. Catherine of Sienna comes to mind here) over their personal failings. But these were personal failings, not doctrinal errors, and they never denied that authority of Peter or his successors.

When the cause stakes out the position that the magisterium itself cannot be trusted or seeks to place itself as a judge in addition to or over the magisterium, that is a cause I will not join or lend my support to.


In short, a specific cause from a specific group should be avoided if it shows one or more of the following:

  1. A lack of love for the person or group seen as being in need of correction, treating them as an enemy to be vanquished.
  2. A lack of understanding of Church teaching, or of what the person/group actually said or did.
  3. A refusal to subject itself to the living magisterium of the Church under the current Pope and the bishops in communion with him.

In such cases, this specific cause has gone astray. It is still acceptable to find a group that works to change an injustice, but not that particular group.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Topsy Turvy: Reactions to The Cardinal Burke Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Love and Justice Both: Losing Sight of the Big Picture

In dealing with the concepts of the love of God and the justice of God, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. It’s easy to get so caught up in focussing on one thing that one forgets that there are obligations to the other side of thing which God calls us to do. We are called, for example, to love those who hate us and to admonish the sinners.

For example, one of the things I notice when it comes to people being offended by the Church is that they tend to be too close to the issue to consider it objectively. It’s natural to feel threatened when someone is personally affected by an issue. But the problem is, when a person takes it too personally, they may lack the objectivity to listen to what needs to be said. It’s important to note that this is not limited to one faction or another. It’s not something that only happens to other people. Each one of us can feel attacked by something we need to hear and respond by refusing to listen. It’s common to hear things like, “God doesn’t care about your rules,” or “you need to stop being legalistic."

This becomes a problem when it comes to denying Church teaching because, as Catholics, we believe that the Church teaching has authority because Christ Himself gave the Church authority to teach, and so the denial of the Church is a denial of Christ. For example, if Jesus did tell Peter in Matthew 16:19 and the rest of the apostles in Matthew 18:18 that what they bound on Earth is bound in Heaven, then God does care about the rules of the Church.

Of course, God also cares about how we apply His rules. While we cannot set His commandments aside, it is possible to forget about the side of compassion and mercy required in teaching His commandments. The possibility of being so focussed on punishing the guilty and worrying about somebody “getting away with” things is dangerous. The possibility of a past mistake or sin repented of is not seen as relevant. If Bishop X once held a problematic position, he cannot ever be trusted again and whoever considers the possibility is not to be trusted either.

So it seems there is a problem with people confusing both what truth requires and what compassion requires. It seems like certain people think that God being loving and merciful cannot condemn the actions being done. From that error, it becomes easy to make one of two opposite false conclusions. Either the person...

  1. wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church cannot say things we do are wrong.
  2. wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church is failing to teach right and wrong.

That’s the danger of becoming so rigid or so attached to one’s sins that one loses sight of the big picture—that God is both loving and just. Ignoring one of these in favor of the other is going to give a person a distorted view of God and what we are called by Him to be. Losing sight of God’s justice means expecting God to just turn a blind eye to our sins. Losing sight of God’s love means viewing the sinner as an enemy to oppose instead of a person in need of salvation that we have to reach out to.

Both views need to be opposed. The person who does not want to change his or her ways, and thinks of Church teaching as “manmade rules” are creating a false image of God and risking their souls over a lie.  The person who thinks of the sinner as “the enemy,” are claiming the role of judge that they are not allowed to have, risking becoming alienated from Christ and His Church. We need to realize that the role of the Church does not embrace either extreme. Rather, the Church loves the sinner, while rejecting the false ideas the sinner clings to. The role of God’s teaching is to lead us in living according to His will. Those who have not fallen into a particular sin are called to help their brethren who have and love them—even if the response we receive from them is hostile.

We are called to love and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that means heeding the Church He established (Matthew 18:17). That also means serving in love in doing so. We can’t just point to the failures of the “other side.” We have to consider our own actions in relation to these two pitfalls.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What About the Troubled But Faithful?

Introduction—The Troubled Catholics Wanting to Be Faithful Are NOT Bad Catholics

In my recent articles about the rebellion in the Church, I focussed mostly on the people who were being obstinate because the Church was taking an approach they did not like or did not match their political preferences. However, there is one group I tended to only mention in passing. It occurs to me that some might think I was lumping this group in with the disobedient. So I thought I would talk more about this group—the troubled but faithful Catholic who is trying to make sense out of the claims and counter-claims made about what the Pope or the Church after Vatican II is doing.

First of all, I want to make clear that the people in this category that I have met are not disobedient. They want to know which claims are correct so they can faithfully follow the claims of the Church. Some of them may have been recent converts or reverts and are not confident in their knowledge of the Church. When they encounter someone who seems more knowledgable or confident about what they hold about the Church, they begin to wonder if perhaps these people might know more about the faith and should be listened to.

The danger to these Catholics in this case is that not all of the people who seem confident about their faith are representing the true faith, but are actually representing their preferences as doctrine. So when these Super Catholics start attacking the Pope or bishops because they dislike what is said, the troubled but faithful Catholic is in danger of being misled.

So the question of the troubled but faithful Catholic is understandable—who is to be heeded and who is to be ignored—is not unreasonable. There are examples of Catholics, laity, religious, priests and even bishops whose words, actions or inaction causes scandal. How can we say “trust the Church” when we don’t know if the individual priest or bishop is trustworthy? I want to make clear that I don’t consider this question to be the sign of a bad Catholic. I see it as the sign of a Catholic who wants to be faithful but is afraid to have their trust betrayed.

So, based on some of the things I have encountered on my blog and in talking with friends, here are some of the things that strike me as possibly helping the Catholics who fall into this category.

Fallacies of Composition and Division

There are two ways of thinking that seem natural and reasonable, but are actually misleading. They are known in logic as the fallacies of composition and division. I include them, because they can trip up the faithful Catholic who is troubled by dissent and scandal.

The fallacy of composition works this way: A is a part of B. A has flaw X. Therefore B has flaw X. The response is, “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument “Father Harry Tik favors contraception. Father Harry Tik is a Catholic. Therefore the Catholic Church favors contraception. This is false because in this case, the priest in question is in opposition to the teaching of the Church. Unfortunately this one is widespread. People encounter a bad priest or bishop and assume the whole Church has that badness. The fallacy of division works this way: A has quality X. Therefore every part of A has quality X. Again, the response is “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument, “The Church is pro-life. Therefore every Catholic is pro-life.” People like Nancy Pelosi show this is false.

The important thing to remember from these fallacies is that a person can’t make assumptions that the whole is bad on the behavior of some, nor that the individual must be good on the basis of the beliefs of the whole. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God being like a net cast into the sea (Matthew 13:47-50). It catches the good and the bad alike.

The Teaching Authority of the Church is Living, Not Dead

The history of the Church goes back to AD 33. The Church teaching authority has taught a lot in that almost 2000 years. There’s a lot written down which benefits the Church. But we don’t rely on those written documents alone. If we did, we’d be in the same boat as the supporters of sola scriptura, with about as many interpretations as interpreters. With a living magisterium, we recognize that it is the current Pope and the bishops who teach in communion with him who has the authority to teach at this time what is and what is not a proper interpretation of the Church teaching. When Pope Francis dies or steps down, it will be his successor who has that authority.

Once we recognize that, we can see that the Catholic who tries to claim faithfulness while denying or ignoring the teaching authority of the current Pope and the bishops is leading people astray. From the earliest days of the Church, people were clear on that. St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example was constantly exhorting people to respect the bishop and not to be in opposition to him (Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Trillions, Chapter II. Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, Chapters VIII and IX).

Yes, at times we do have faithless bishops who do not shepherd well, and on some occasions, teach error. In such cases, we are to pray for the bishop in question. But that doesn’t give us the right to ignore the teaching authority of the Church under the Pope.

Remember—Some People Put Forward Their Opinions As Doctrine

As human beings, each Catholic has their own preferences on what things should be like in Church. For example, I prefer the ordinary form of the Mass (respectfully celebrated of course) over the extraordinary form of the Mass, but I have no objections to the extraordinary form of the Mass or those who prefer it. Some Catholics however think the ordinary form was a mistake and should be repealed. Of them, some of them accuse the Church of falling into error. We need to remember that, while we may like a specific way for the Church to do something, it is up to the magisterium to determine what is best for the Church—theirs is the responsibility, theirs is the authority. If it troubles us, we can make our concerns known, but we need to remember that the bishop is the authority of the diocese and the Pope has authority over the whole Church. The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus tells us in Chapter 3:

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

Which means that when the Pope sets things in place for the good of the Church, we do not get to appeal to something beyond the Pope. We can ask him to consider it our way, but if he says that it shall be done this way, we can’t say “No, I’ll do it that way!” But some people do, and believe the Church errs, not them. Such people can be a danger to the faith because they have convinced some that the Church has fallen into error and can no longer be trusted. Such people cause a great deal of confusion for the troubled Catholic who wants to be faithful, and such people blame on the Church for the confusion.

So I would stress that when you encounter someone who says that the Church as a whole is in error, they are not a reliable guide.

Misinterpretations Happen More Than You Might Think

We don’t have to have a malicious media to get news about what the Pope says wrong. All it takes is a lack of knowledge to understand how the Church works and how she teaches. The Pope doesn’t formally teach in press conferences or in interviews or in personal books (St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth are not teachings of the Pope). He teaches in encyclicals, exhortations, motu proprio, and others. But the modern media seems to be focussed on the big scoop and they tend to think of Church teaching as party politics. So, when they come across words that sound like (to them) a change in Church teaching, they report it as a Church teaching. 

The modern media also tends to mirror each other. When one news source begins talking about “The Pope says X!” soon, all the news sources are talking about how the Pope said X, expanding on it with their speculation (See HERE for a parody of how this works). When this happens, people tend to believe it and when someone contradicts this, claiming it to be a misquote or taken out of context, people tend to not believe it. (“Who am I to judge” was taken out of context. “Breed like rabbits” was a misquote and so on). Some people accuse the apologists of trying to “explain away” what was said. But the transcripts do show that what was said and what the media reported are not always the same.

Now, the Vatican does have one weakness, and that is being slow when it comes to getting the full transcripts out there. I would hope that they catch on and release the transcripts as soon as possible, not relying on the members of the media to accurately report things they don’t understand properly. That wouldn’t help in cases where the Catholic is only aware of secular news sources (I strongly recommend Vatican Information Service and ZENIT), but if the full transcripts would appear on the same day as the interview or press conference, it would probably deflate a lot of the misinformation.

But here’s something to consider. How many times do the anti-Catholics dredge up the stories about how we “worship statues” for example. No matter how many times we deny that this is true, no matter how eloquently we explain what we do believe, you’ll come across someone who gets it wrong. So that’s why I have to disagree with the people who say that “If the Pope spoke clearly, this wouldn’t happen every time.” Yes, it can and does. St. John Paul II’s writings on economic justice was constantly misrepresented as being a turn in the direction of socialism. Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate was also represented this way. When St. John Paul II wrote Veritatis Splendor and Evangelism Vitae, the media’s first question was “Is the Pope changing Church teaching?” When Benedict XVI was interviewed in Light of the World, reporters around the world misinterpreted a hypothetical example of a “homosexual male prostitute with AIDS using a condom” reporters assumed he was perhaps moving towards approving homosexuality and definitely was changing Church teaching on condoms when it came to people with AIDS.

So, it is not true that the media wouldn’t keep misrepresenting the Pope if he spoke clearly—they did the same thing with his predecessors… constantly.


The thing I would most want to say to encourage the faithful Catholic who is troubled by what they see around them is this: Trust that God protects His Church, and His Church is centered around the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. Yes, there will be snags. Like us, they are human and sometimes they will goof up. Sometimes individuals in the Church may play the part of Judas. But we need to remember that God will not permit His Church to teach error in matters of faith and morals. Because even when the teaching is not ex cathedra, we have to give our assent to it (see CCC #892). It makes no sense for God to insist that we obey the Church in sinning against God or else be guilty of sin, so it is reasonable to expect God to protect the Church from teaching error when we must give assent or be guilty of sin.

This isn’t a call for blind obedience. It is a call for trust in The Lord.

May God Bless you in your seeking to be faithful to Him. I pray this article will be a help and not a hindrance.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflections on the Anti-Francis Mindset


One thing seems clear from reading comments and articles from a certain subset of Catholics is that we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset that exists in the Church. To this mindset, the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words and is believed to have whatever motive the media attributes to their report on his words. It can be quite demoralizing for the Catholic trying to be faithful, and encountering Catholics who seem much more confident in their allegations than they are in questioning them. It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt themselves and wonder if they have perhaps missed the point because they continue to run into these allegations.

The problem with this mindset that demoralizes others and undermines trust in the Pope is it assumes two things that needs to be proven:

  1. That the media reports are accurate.
  2. That the motives attributed to the Pope are true.

Unless both can be established, it is a rash judgment to assume bad will or bad teaching from the Pope.

Thus far it turns out that every time the media has focussed a story around the Pope planning to change Church teaching by using a quote, that quote was only a part of what the Pope said and when viewed in context it shows he did not say what the the media reported. When this happens over and over again, a person should recognize that certain sources are simply unreliable. But instead, the anti-Francis mindset assumes the Pope is unreliable.

Shocking News—Arnobius of Sicca blog Denigrates the Pope… OK, not really...

Think of it this way. Look at my first paragraph. See how many quotes you can create that could make me sound like I am opposed to Pope Francis. These are the ones I found with a cursory look:

  • “we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset” (implies I am speaking of the whole Church and I am a part of it).
  • “the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words” (Hey! Even the Papal defender Arnobius of Sicca says it’s the Pope’s fault!)
  • “It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt” (when taken with the other two partial quotes, sounds like I am saying the Pope is causing the doubt)

In other words, a person looking for quotes to bolster the image they want to give could even take my own blog which defends the Pope and make it sound like I am blaming him. I did say all of these things. But I didn’t say them in the context one might be led to believe. In fact, I’d oppose all of these claims. I wouldn’t be to blame for a reporter skimming my first paragraph and grabbing a few lines that caught his eye and making a story out of it. It would, in fact, be unjust to say I should have expressed myself better to avoid such misinterpretation. 

Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs of Catholic Authenticity?

That’s how it seems to work with the Pope. For the secular news reporter who has a negative view of the Church teaching, thinking it is judgmental and harsh and wishes it would change, words that talk about loving the sinner and presenting God’s love can sound like “A CHANGE IN TEACHING!” (and there’s another quote in my blog that can be taken out of context). It isn’t any such thing of course. Then the Catholic who has an antipathy towards the Pope—and certain Catholics have been antagonistic to his election to the papacy on account of his stand as cardinal on the extraordinary form of the Mass and have been hostile ever since—see this as justifying their hostility.

Like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, this mindset affects other Catholics who equate such sites as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy. If they oppose the Pope, some are led to believe that the Pope should  be opposed . . . after all, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t have said it right? So the reputation of Pope Francis as heterodox continues to spread. Nobody asks the question as to whether these self-proclaimed watchdogs of orthodoxy are in fact orthodox themselves?

This is a problem because the individual or small group does not have such authority to teach at all—especially if they try to teach contrary to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. God has entrusted the successors of the apostles with the authority to bind and loose—not people with a blog and a laptop (and, yes, that includes me). The person who tries to advocate opposing the Pope when he teaches is a rebel, not a faithful Catholic.

Does a Political Platform Judge the Catholic Teaching? Or Does the Catholic Teaching Judge the Political Platform?

That brings us to another problem. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was easy to equate conservative politics with Catholic orthodoxy. The Church was strong on her affirmations of abortion, “gay marriage” and similar issues as morally wrong. Politicians who opposed the Church on these things were liberal. Politicians who agreed with the Church were conservative. Simple enough—or so we thought.

It was never that simple. Church teaching and conservative politics never entirely overlapped. In some cases conservatism had positions which were also incompatible with Church teaching. In others, the motives for a shared teaching were difference. The Church had positions on social justice that were sometimes confused with political liberalism. St. John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke on the social problems in capitalism that needed to be reformed—and were accused of “moving to the left.” They spoke on environmental issues—and were accused of "moving to the left.” They spoke on compassion for illegal immigrants—and… well you get the point.

So, what we see happening with Pope Francis, happened before with his predecessors (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). They were praised for things members of a political happened to agree with (even if held for different motives), and attacked when such groups disagreed. Thus the simultaneous mutual claims by right and left that the Pope supports the other side. Like the Self-Appointed watchdogs mentioned above, political platforms do not have authority to teach. Political parties can take positions that the Church must condemn as incompatible with the Christian obligation. When they do, the Church condemnation is not partisan, but a warning for us to think about where we are in relation to God.

So, when our political beliefs feel threatened by the teaching of the Church, maybe the issue is not a bad Pope. Maybe we’ve adopted a political belief incompatible with the faith.

The Either-Or Fallacy

In addition, we need to remember that there are many times that the truth is not found in the formula of “Either A or B.” Sometimes both A and B are condemnable. Sometimes neither A nor B is condemnable. Republican and Democrat parties disagree with each other, but it is not a case of one being always true and the other always false. Yes, sometimes one party is in error while the other is not. But, sometimes both can be in error. Or sometimes their disagreements are over ways and means which are both in keeping with Church teachings. So we always need to ask what is true, what is in keeping with the Church teaching. That’s not just something we ask about others. It’s what we need to ask about ourselves.


These seem to be the problems with the anti-Francis mindset in the Church. There’s a lot of motives for it, whether misunderstanding or disagreement. But each person who doubts or outright opposes the Pope needs to answer some questions: On what basis do you justify yourself? Pope Francis is not an Alexander VI or John XII. He’s not a John XXII. There’s no moral behavior to scandalize or personal belief to be corrected. Where did your doubt come from? From your own belief? Then how do you know you have not gone wrong yourself? From the assertion of another? How authoritative are they? From your politics? Remember we must “Render unto God.” Do you think he is teaching error? Remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

The fact is, the Church is led by the successors of the Apostles, not the bloggers or the people who prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass. The magisterium has the authority and the responsibility to determine whether a belief is compatible with the teaching of the Church, not the bloggers or the fans of the extraordinary form. That’s ultimately the problem with the anti-Francis mindset. It would rather deny that God protects the Pope from teaching error than admit the possibility of being wrong about what the Church teaching requires us to do.

Now not all of these people are doing this out of malice. Some have simply been deceived by the hype. Some have not thought things through. Perhaps some are acting out of Scrupulosity. But some may have fallen to pride and decided that only when the Church goes their way that it is to be obeyed. I personally won’t judge the reason or the motive. But I will say that the anti-Francis mindset is an error and must be rejected.