Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rebellion in Attitude


There seems to be a strong sentiment of rebellion among a certain part of American Catholicism that was hitherto unnoticed. During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI we saw the obvious dissent among Catholics on the political left, rejecting the Church moral teaching on sexuality. We were appalled by their behavior and their attempts to portray their disobedience as being authentic Catholicism. Indeed, when it came to Catholicism in America, it was easy to treat “conservative” as being synonymous with “orthodox.”

But there were always warning signs. The SSPX was the obvious example of dissent. There were also warning signs in the complaints that our Popes and bishops weren’t “orthodox" enough and encouraged dissent (Yes, even Benedict XVI was accused of this before his motu proprio in 2007). There were books out there on what needed to be done to save the Church from destruction—mainly focussing on striking down the dissenters, while complaining when the Church took action against the SSPX. “Why did the Church spend so much effort on them when the real danger was elsewhere?” When St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI wrote on economic and social justice, the media reports and resulting accusations were that these Popes were favoring socialism. There were signs that certain conservative Catholics believed the media reports and were all too ready to believe it.

So, all of this has happened before. It is not surprising that there is a conservative backlash against Pope Francis for the same reasons that there was conservative grumbling against his predecessors. But regardless of the motive or political slant, the fact is that when the Catholic decides that one can practice the faith as he or she sees best in opposition to the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Church, that is not an authentic practice of the faith. Some Catholics may take a rebellious attitude of “My way, regardless of what you say.” Others may be troubled by a misunderstanding of the faith or because of the faith being misrepresented to them, and are deceived into thinking that the Church must be wrong. But either way, it is an error, not the true practice of the faith. 

The way to avoid the attitude of the rebellious Catholic mindset is to beware some of the attitudes which help cause it.

Binary Thinking

America tends to be a binary system in terms of thinking: Either A or B. So we tend to think about things in the sense of “either us or them.” Either they are for us and the other things they do don’t matter, or they are for the other side and our enemy. We look at things like political views in such a way that either a person or group does what we think is best or they support our enemies overtly. That’s not an exclusively liberal or conservative approach. Both sides do it. The problem however, is that such thinking causes people to forget that other views exist like, “I don’t care for either view” or “I think a third position is better. Even if a view doesn’t fit into the either-or mindset, it will be forced to fit somehow.

Which is the case in how the Church is viewed. The Church does not fit into this binary thinking. She holds some teachings which are reviled by the political left and some reviled by the political right. American bishops, for example, are considered “leftist” for supporting compassionate treatment for illegal aliens and “right wing” for opposing abortion, the contraception mandate and so-called “same sex marriage.” So members of both factions label the bishops as belonging to the other side.

Currently, members of both political factions are making this mistake. The Pope recognizes that in the western nations, there is an extreme level of consumerism which leads people to support things which are contrary to the teaching of Christ. This isn’t limited to one faction. The difference is simply the difference of one side approving of the way the binary interpretation works. The other disapproves. Neither considers the possibility that the binary interpretation is wrong. Pope Francis champions both the Christian teaching on social justice and the Christian teaching on morality. Some Catholics are perfectly willing to ignore one side of the equation. But the problem is the Church teaching, even when it appears similar to a partisan position, is held for an entirely different reason: Love of God and Love of neighbor. The Church sees her obligation to instruct the faithful on what we must do. Some of that will be uncomfortable for conservatives, some for liberals. All people, not just one faction, are sinners and need to change their hearts.

Lack of Knowledge

Another problem seems to be the lack of knowledge about what the Church does teach. There are many people who are zealous in seeking to be faithful to the Church as established by Christ, but do not know all of the teachings of the Church. Such a person, whether a convert or a Catholic from birth, may bring beliefs and understandings along which are incompatible with the Church teaching and discovers conflict. They were unaware of this teaching, have been quite happily holding on to a belief that seems right to him or her, and suddenly it seems like something—that they actually hear for the first time—seems like a change in teaching.

Of course the Church has not changed, but rather the individual has learned something new. But if one combines this with binary thinking, the person who has always thought that X was OK can be shocked when the Church says it is not OK. I think this is a real problem when hearing Pope Francis speak. If you read what he has said and compare it to his predecessors, he has said nothing different on the subject from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI. But in America, many Catholics seeking to be faithful (especially younger Catholics and new converts) have seen mostly the Church needing to defend against those who would deceive on moral issues. So when Pope  Francis speaks out on social justice issues, they do not realize that this is not a change. 

That leads me to a second area where a lack of knowledge causes trouble. There are some Catholics who know that their knowledge of the faith is limited, but want to be faithful to the Church, and look to the example of some person or group that seems to be confident in the faith. Unfortunately, not all people who are confident are right. Many are affected by the problem of binary thinking, who assume that there is a choice to be made: Either Pre-Vatican II or Post-Vatican II. They can be effective because anyone who lived through the 70s and 80s have seen some really goofy stuff out there (I remember the Barry Manilow “hymns,” the “make your own Eucharistic bread for consecration crumb debacles,” the idiots preaching their own sermons instead of the laity, rebellious priests and nuns, etc.) and it’s easy to create a post hoc fallacy that argues that these things happened after Vatican II, therefore they were caused by Vatican II. So, people who dislike such misbehavior and know they don’t have much knowledge of the Church can be misled by these false teachers who say that most of the Church is in error except for people who think like them.

Such people need to understand that the magisterium of the Church has the authority to teach, and any people who claim that one can be a good Catholic in defiance of the teaching of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him are teaching dissension just as much as the looney toons they are opposing.

Failure to Seek the Truth (Or Look For the Damn Transcripts Already!)

Following up from this, from what I have encountered on the internet, a lot of people never bother to follow up on their lack of knowledge. A person might wonder about an issue and never follow up on looking up what is true—for example, what the Pope actually said on an issue (“Who am I to judge” needs to be read in context, for example). So when the media reports that the Pope is changing a teaching on something, many people are led astray, thinking the media is reporting accurately. Unfortunately most mainstream media reporters are religiously illiterate and rushing to break the latest breaking news. So we get all sorts of bizarre reports about the Church favoring changing her teaching on condoms (Benedict XVI), economics (St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis), homosexuality and divorce (Francis).

To add on to this, we have a case of the Blind leading the blind. Some bloggers and Catholic news sites pick up the secular accounts of what the Pope said, and begin speculating on What It All Means. Incautious readers treat these as infallible reports, and then rush to make the same judgments as the people who follow the mainstream media—sometimes to the point of the ludicrous. Remember Pope Francis and All Dogs Go to Heaven? The Media had to give a retraction for that story.

It’s pretty rare that I see anybody actually questioning the accounts and try to find an official account—especially a transcript—of what was alleged. That’s a pity because usually when we look at a “WTF” statement by the Pope, the transcripts show that there is no scandal—just a misinterpretation. The problem is, months or years later, the misinterpretations and misrepresentations still come out as if nobody had ever corrected the issue. It’s still assumed to be the truth, and when someone attempts to correct them, the response I have often seen is, “Well how come the Church never corrected that?"

Church news

Modern Idolatry

Another problem is the problem of becoming attached to a worldly political position in defiance of the Catholic position to the extent that the Church is seen as simply teaching error and needs to change her teaching. The problem often happens when the issue is one where people have a strong emotional attachment which makes the person blind to the possibility that they are the ones in error. There can be many causes for this attachment. The Church teaching on divorce and remarriage can be very difficult for the Catholic who has divorced and then remarried in a civil ceremony. Such people may be quite happy in their new relationship and the thought that they may have to give it up is terrifying. Or the Catholic who has been a staunch supporter on the American wars in the Middle East and believes that the use of torture is a legitimate tactic. He or she learns that the Church teaches that torture is evil and thinks this means America will be in danger.

The problem with these views is that the Catholic view is not a political view. It is a view which is concerned with the salvation of the whole world. If we are to love God with our whole heart, soul and being, and love our neighbor as ourself, we need to live in a way which is compatible with these commandments. The Church exists to make this way known to us—not through her own ideas, but from her obedience to God. So, if God calls us to live in a certain way, and we refuse to live in this way, demanding that the Church change her own ways, we are putting something above obedience to God.

This action is idolatry, as it replaces God as having the highest place in our lives. We need to seriously consider exactly Who we are rejecting when we reject the Church. We are not rejecting a human institution with arbitrary rules. As Catholics, we profess that the Church exists because Jesus Christ established her, and gave her the responsibility and authority to carry out His mission of bringing the world to Him.

The FUD Factor: (Fear Uncertainty Doubt)

It seems to me that those people in the Church who want to be faithful Catholics but are led astray by what is known as the FUD factor. They fear that they do not know enough about the faith. They are uncertain about where to find good teachers. They doubt that the person in their parish is giving them the straight story. So, when they are introduced to the person who shows assurance who seems to quote the old Church teachings from Trent to the 1950s to prove their points on how the Church should be, the Catholics seeking to be faithful can be led astray by having their fear, uncertainty and doubt exploited and be led to believe that the magisterium is corrupted. It is a neat little trap. The Catholic who wants to be faithful is taught that everything that challenges the views against the current Pope and bishops is “modernist,” and everybody knows that St. Pius X condemned modernism. The result is, it can be very hard to escape from this mindset. It’s a case of the NoTrue Scotsman fallacy. If the Catholic cited opposes this view, he’s not a true Catholic.

The way to escape from this is recognize that Jesus is looking after His Church and protecting her from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be Judases out there. That doesn’t mean that the teachers in the Church will be morally impeccable. It does mean that Jesus does want us to have a place to look when there are disputes on the meaning of His teachings.

The False Teachers

Eventually, when you explore the depths of people who believe error in good will, thinking it is authentic, you will find the bottom. The false teachers who have made a decision to reject the Church teaching and put their own teaching in its place. Ultimately, you will find such people who use the above factors to their own benefit, either by abusing the authority they have or by pretending their beliefs have an authority it does not have.

There are the false teachers out there who have put themselves in the place of the authentic teachers of the Church. For whatever reason, they have grown alienated from the teaching of the Church and believe something should have gone the other way. Because they have been so invested in the idea that their views on a subject must be right, a teaching from the Church that says their view is not true is seen as a sign that the Church is in error. This view is not limited to one point of view (though many are fond of attributing this to the other side). We have the Spirit of Vatican II people who claim to know what the Council really meant to teach better than the actual people who were there and participating it (such as St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI) on one hand, and the people who decided that everything the Church did since October 28, 1958 (the beginning of the Pontificate of St. John XXIII) was a disaster that needs to be overturned.

They are certain that they must be right, and that certainty has led them to believe that the Church cannot be protected from error—because if she was, she wouldn’t have taught that way. Throughout the history of the Church, heresies and schisms have arisen where people are certain that they have discovered the truth that the Church veered away from, and for the Church to get back to the path of righteousness, they have to follow this teaching The problem is, no matter how someone tries to justify these things, there’s a problem—this is a break from the Apostolic succession.

Apostolic succession is not something given to anyone who passes a “theological purity test.” The Catechism describes it this way:

861 “In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.”374 (77; 1087)

862 “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”375 Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.”376 (880; 1556)

In other words, the authority of the Church has to be passed on from the Apostles to their successors from the first century to today. Not all members may turn out to be worthy of their task, but it is to this succession, the Pope and the bishops teaching in communion with him, that God has given His authority and His protection, so that when they teach in matters of faith and morals, they will not teach the faithful something that is against the faith. Without such an assurance, the faithful could never know whether the Church could be trusted or not. Sure, we can have bad popes (John XII, Alexander VI, Benedict IX are some names to come to mind), but we have never had a Pope who formally taught heresy. We have had bishops who fell into heresy—but not those who remained in communion with the Pope, teaching as he did. It was only among those who broke away and rejected the teaching that the Pope affirmed. We believe that the line of Popes has continued unbroken from the time that Linus succeeded St. Peter until the present day, and that he and the bishops in communion with him are the ones God gives His authority to teach.

If the Church could go wrong in her official teaching, we would never know when she is right. If she could be wrong in Vatican II (a favorite accusation of the radical traditionalist), we can have no assurance she was right in Vatican I or Trent, or even Nicaea I. How could we know that it wasn’t the Arians who were right without God protecting His Church from teaching error in matters necessary for salvation? It is because we do believe that the Church is protected from teaching error that we can trust her when she says we must give assent to X or that we must not do Y.

The false teacher, whether he or she formally breaks from the Church does not have this authority and assurance of protection from error. In fact, the heresies and schisms from the Church did derive from people who were sure the Church was wrong. That doesn’t stop them. But the modern tactic is to appeal to a teaching from the Church in the past, contrast it with the phrasing of a teaching today and argue that the differences are a break in teaching as opposed to, say, a difference in the culture between how a teaching was expressed in the 16th century vs. how it is expressed in the 21st century. 

One might say that the false teacher is guilty of the same error as the Bible-Only literalist that assumes that his or her own interpretation of the Bible is the objective one and all others are distorted. But the question is about whether his or her interpretation is correct, and what gives him or her the right to declare it is. Except, instead of the Bible, it’s a question of interpreting Denzinger and Trent and St. Pius V on one hand, and their interpretation of Pope Francis or Vatican II on the other. False teachers presume to judge the teachings, ancient and modern, and declare what they think is right and wrong to be dogma. But since they have no legitimate connection to the Apostolic succession, their interpretations have no authority.

The Hans Küngs or Nancy Pelosis on one side and the Marcel Lefebvres and their followers do not have the authority to teach in opposition to the Church, and the people who cite them to justify their own rejection of the teachings they dislike are guilty of the fallacy of irrelevant authority—they do not have the right to teach what they do and call it authentic Catholicism.

We must recognize just where the authority to bind and loose is. Those who try to contradict the magisterium cannot be called good Catholics, no matter how they protest that their views are authentic Catholicism. We know who Christ has appointed as his vicar, and that He said that the one who rejects the Church rejects Him (Luke 10:16).


The Church does have a visible head who Christ has given the authority since the time of St. Peter. The authority is not the mark of his personal holiness and wisdom, but of the office he is appointed to, and nobody can take it from him, or overturn his decisions to bind and loose (Matt 16:19). It is not limited to when he makes ex cathedra statements. The Catechism makes clear the Church is to be obeyed even when the Pope does not make an ex cathedra statement, but still intends to teach:

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.

Ultimately, when faced with a struggle, we need to remember that if we have faith in Christ, we can trust Him to protect the Church from error when she teaches us. Even when individual members of the magisterium may behave badly, their bad behavior will not affect the truth of the teaching authority of the Church in communion with the Pope (Matt 23:2). That’s not because of the holiness of men, but because of the promise of God.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TFTD Irony Is...

...When people oppose the right of religious believers who own a business to refuse to do something they find morally wrong, while praising a secular company for doing the same thing.

I have no moral objections for Apple to do this, but I wish people would see that it is the same thing they oppose with Christians.

See: "Apple removes white power bands from iTunes | TUAW: Apple news, reviews and how-tos since 2004"

Funny isnt it

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The "Ex Cathedra Only" Argument and Why It is Wrong


Not all Catholics take the flagrant line of rejecting authority. Some try to portray themselves as perfectly willing to follow the teachings of the Church—if only the Church will explain themselves in a way which is extremely rare. That’s the claim that they’ll obey all of the teachings of the Church which are infallibly declared. Of course the problem is the Church very seldom makes use of the formal declaration of infallibility (also known as ex cathedra—literally from the chair—referring to the seat of authority the Pope possesses by his office and is a teaching that all Catholics are bound to accept as revealed truth).

In other words, it’s disobedience and rejection again, denying that the Church can teach in a binding way in any other form.

I saw a lot in the past from Catholics who were trying to defend abortion and so called “same sex marriage.” The argument was that the Church never made an ex cathedra definition on the subject, so the teaching was not binding. Unfortunately, now some Catholics are trying to defend torture in the same way: “Well, the Church teaching isn’t made ex cathedra, so it isn’t binding on us. It’s merely optional."

The reasoning seems to be similar to the Fundamentalist who rejects the teachings from the Church Fathers of the first centuries of Christian history. They argument they presented to me was: If the Bible is inerrant, but the Church Fathers are not, then the Church Fathers might be teaching error, and it is not safe to follow their lead. They follow that up with pointing to the differences between their personal interpretation of the Bible and the understanding of the Church Fathers and concluding these differences show it is the Church Fathers in error (never themselves).

Likewise, the ex cathedra only Catholic argues that the infallible statements of the Church are protected from error so we know they are safe. But we don’t know if the non-infallible teachings of the Church are safe to follow. Like the Fundamentalist, these Catholics match the Church teaching against their own personal interpretation of what the Church is supposed to be, and whatever they dislike is considered to be proof of error.

But their reasoning that only the ex cathedra statements are to be followed is based on faulty reasoning.

The Logical Flaw With the Argument

That defense is not a valid defense. The Church has never taught that this was the only way she could teach to the world. It’s an invention based on a false interpretation of Church authority. The basic form is:

  • All [ex cathedra statements] are [that which Must be obeyed] (All A is B)
  • [Statement X] is not an [ex cathedra Statement] (C is not a Part of A)
  • Therefore [Statement X] is not [that which Must be obeyed] (Therefore C is not a part of B)

In logic we call this Denying the Antecedent, which is not a valid argument. That is because the fact that C is not a part of A does not mean that C is not a part of B. We can demonstrate that with a diagram:

We Do Not Know Where C IsC might or might not be part of B, but we don’t know.
The Red Line indicates this uncertainty. 

If C (Statement X) is a part of B (that which must be obeyed) the argument is false. If it is not part of B, then it is true (but the argument does not prove that). So at best, this defense is unproven. At worst, it’s false. So we need to investigate this. Does the Church decree one way or another on what to do when the statement of teaching is not ex cathedra?

Data: What the Church Says on Her Teachings

In fact she does, and what she teaches knocks this “ex cathedra only" argument flat. Let’s look at some of these decrees.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

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.

Moving backwards, we read the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium #25:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Moving further back to Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis #20:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Finally, we can go back to the Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus (which defined infallibility) Chapter III:

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,* and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal,† but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement.‡ Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.

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.

The Church has made clear in her teachings that when the Pope teaches in a way that is not ex cathedra but still teaches formally on an issue, or when the bishops speak in the name of the Church (and in communion with the Pope), not just in matters of faith and morals but in matters of discipline and governing the Church, we are called to give assent to these teachings and adhere to them. Looking at these statements, the "ex cathedra only” crowd has staked out a position that the Church has rejected.

Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium

The problem with their thinking is that it seems to treat the ex cathedra definitions as if it were a sort of inspired teaching and the rest of the teachings as if the Church was just “making things up as they go.” That’s to miss the point. The Church teaches in different levels of emphasis, based on the needs of the people. The ex cathedra statement is used to define something in such a way as to eliminate any doubt. So, if there are two positions, X and Not-X, and the Church infallibly defines X, then it is made clear that the position Not-X is not compatible with Catholic belief.

But just because the Church has not made an ex cathedra declaration on a subject does not mean one can ignore the declarations made. The Church has not made an ex cathedra declaration on adultery, abortion, homosexual acts, etc. But the Church has continued to pass on the teachings that these things are sinful and may never be done. Do we dare assert that these are the opinions of the Church?

We cannot do so and claim we are being faithful to the Church. The Church continues to make clear that the Church teaching is to be followed from age to age, and emphasizes elements of the teaching that are being neglected in a specific age.

See, when the Church uses ordinary and extraordinary, she is describing that which is the normal way to do things and that which needs to be done in a way outside of the normal way. Ordinary comes from the Latin ordinarius, indicating the regular or usual way things are done, while extraordinary comes from the Latin extra ordinem meaning‘outside the normal course of events.’ The Church ordinarily teaches through the Pope and the bishops in communion with him stating what the Church believes, and calling the faithful to give their assent (agreement) and docility (readiness to accept instruction). But when there is a strong need, the Church can make an extraordinary teaching, saying “We define X in such a way that there can be no more attempts to ignore our usual teaching."

We believe that when it comes to a matter of faith and morals, the Church will be protected from teaching error—otherwise, how could we know if any Pope was teaching truth or whether following him would lead to our damnation? The extraordinary ex cathedra declaration is a special tool which is used in special circumstances. The ordinary teaching of the Church is the usual way the Church makes known what is compatible and incompatible with being a Christian.

Thus, the ex cathedra only Catholic is denying the authority of the Church when she teaches.

The Choice Must Be Made

So, now that it has been made clear: the Church has never taught that only ex cathedra teaching is to be obeyed while the rest can be treated as an opinion. So, now people who have staked out that claim have to make a choice. They can either decide to give their assent to the Church teaching, recognizing that they have erred in the past, or they can cling to their error out of obstinance, now claiming that the Church itself is teaching error while they are not. It is a decision of humility vs. pride—do I admit my own limits and trust in Christ to protect the Church? Or do I hold to pride and assume that I cannot err and the Church teaching must be in error when they conflict?

We need to pray for people faced with this decision. We want them to accept God’s grace. We must also avoid the approach of the pharisee towards the tax collector. Just because we haven’t fallen into obstinacy over this issue, doesn’t mean we won’t do so in other areas where we have comfortably accepted something in our society that goes against the teaching of the Church. We are called to constantly look at our lives and discover where we are not following Christ—seeking to amend our life in this area.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making Excuses: What Part of Intrinsic Evil Don't You Understand?


The defenders of torture are still at it, offering all sorts of scenarios as to what sort of circumstances might justify it. "What if someone kidnapped your child? What if someone was going to target a nursery school? Don’t tell me you’d just let them get away with it?” Some of them are more elaborate than that, of course, but it’s making use of the appeal to fear fallacy—you’re invited to imagine the scenario that a loved one was in danger of death, to encourage you to change your mind. But just because we may suffer when we stick to what is right, that is not a sufficient reason for going against what we believe is right.

The problem with these arguments is that they ignore the main issue: That the Church is teaching that torture is intrinsically evil. Intrinsic evil basically means that a certain act is evil by its very nature and can’t be justified by any motivation or circumstance. Torture, Abortion, Contraception, Same sex sexual activity, rape, idolatry, abandoning the faith etc. are all intrinsically evil. The Catholic, properly educated in his or her faith, realizes that these things can never be justified for any reason whatsoever.

The justification of torture is similar to the justification of abortion. Proponents of both appeal to the motive of relieving suffering as if that was the only factor to be considered. But that’s not the only factor. There are actually three factors:

Catholic teaching holds that, to have a good act, we must have the following:

  1. The Act itself must be good.
  2. The motive for the act must be good.
  3. The circumstances surrounding the act must be good.
If one of these are lacking, we cannot call the act good. (Think of a tripod. Then imagine removing a leg. The remaining structure won’t stand up). For example. Donating money to the poor is good. But if my motive is bad (I want to impress a woman so she’ll sleep with me) or the circumstances are bad (the money will be used to buy drugs or alcohol instead of food), the act isn’t good, even if good comes from it.

The irony is that the Catholics seeking to justify torture with exceptions actually reject those exceptions on other issues. For example, they recognize that hardship is not a legitimate reason to justify abortion because it violates the humanity of the unborn child and the mother. They would recognize that an ancient Christian who chose to sacrifice before an idol to avoid being killed would not be justified. (The reverse is true too—some Catholics who recognize torture is wrong for these reasons seem to fail to make the connection when it comes to abortion).

That’s the ultimate problem here. People seem to either be unaware or unwilling to accept that in some things, there is no but what if?  “But isn’t torture justified if a terrorist is going to fly a 747 into a nursery school?” “But isn’t abortion justified if the unborn child was conceived of rape?” “But isn’t apostasy justified if I have ten children who will starve if I get executed for being a Christian?"

The answer is “No.” There are some things that are so important that we cannot sacrifice them at any cost to ourselves. We may never do evil so good may come of it (CCC #1789). We must love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourself (Matt 7:12) and love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48).

Now there may be times when a person gets into a terrible situation. It may be our own fault. It may not be our fault. But in such a situation, the choice will be that we either accept the suffering as the sacrifice we need to make to remain faithful to God or to sacrifice our faithfulness to God in order to avoid the harm. If we love God with our whole heart, we know that we must choose in such a way that puts Him first in our life.


Another attempt to defend intrinsic evil is the appeal to a misapplication of double effect. Double Effect, properly understood, recognizes that situations exist where an action has a good intention, but a bad effect that is not intended, and would be avoided if possible. Not Intended is the key provision. If the evil effect is impossible to avoid AND does not outweigh the good effect, then the guilt of doing evil is not considered deliberate and therefore not considered to be sin.

But, if the evil effect is deliberately intended (such as committing torture or abortion), or if the evil effect happens through negligence (for example killing a pedestrian while driving drunk) then we CANNOT claim double effect. The guilt remains for the act and it must be condemned. So, that’s why the removal of the fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy is not considered an abortion. The removal of the fallopian tube will cause the death of the unborn child, because there is no medical procedure that can save the child. If it was possible to save the life of the child, that option would be taken. But if the woman and doctors deliberately chose to perform an abortion to save the mother’s life, that would not be double effect. It would be deliberately choosing evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says on responsibility and acts:

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. (1036; 1804)

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors. (597)

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author: (2568)

Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?”29 He asked Cain the same question.30 The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.31

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver. (2263)

This demonstrates the flaw in the defense of things like torture or abortion by appealing to double effect. If the act was willed, or if it was foreseen as a possibility we could avoid by taking the right steps, then we don’t get to claim double effect—we did wrong, either directly, or by being negligent.

Nobody can reasonably blame a person for an accident of course. But torture and abortion and other intrinsically evil acts don’t happen by accident. They happen by a person choosing to take part in it. Once again, we are forbidden to choose an act which the Church decrees is evil, and choosing to do that act is to choose something as higher in importance than God.

Our choice is this: Either we choose God in our actions or we reject God in our actions. When God directly, or through His Church says we must not do an action, then there is never any circumstance or motive that makes it permissible.

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.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

ALL of Us Must Seek Out God and Repent, Not Just THEM.

Personal Infallibility


Following the Catholic news, blogs and the combox comments, one gets the impression that things are getting out of control in America. What we’re seeing is a number of people declaring that when the Church teaching goes counter to what they hold, it’s the Church that’s in the wrong. We’re also seeing them point to whatever document or press conference that has a soundbite that suits them to justify their own position—even though looking at these soundbites in context show that their position cannot be justified.

Of course when you raise this point, the usual response is to assume that those who are guilty are those from the other side of the political perspective, and investigating one’s own position is treated as politically motivated persecution: Why are you focussing on us when those people are doing THAT?  It’s basically a view that says that only people who hold a position in opposition to mine is error.

The Authority Given to the Church is not Optional

The problem is, no individual has the charism of infallibility which allows them to declare that the Church is in error while they are not. This is given individually to the successor of St. Peter in limited circumstances, and collegiately to the bishops in even more limited circumstances.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,”419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

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.

2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.77

2036 The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God.78 (1960)

2037 The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason.79 They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. (2041)

When the Church teaches on what the faithful must do, we are called to give our assent (acceptance), and docility (readiness to accept instruction) when the Church calls us to respond to the moral issues of our day. Refusing to do so is to deny that the Church has the authority, that she claims to have from Christ, to make such demands on us. But there’s the problem. If one denies that the Church can teach us in a binding way, then she has no real authority other than a social club and it makes no sense to want to change the teachings. Just go elsewhere.

On the other hand, if the Church does have this authority given to her by Christ, then rejecting the teaching of the Church is rejecting Christ. That’s a serious matter, because Christ died to save us, and if we reject Him, we reject the salvation He gave us. He loves us, but He made clear that loving Him means keeping His commandments (John 14:15), and one of his commandments is heeding His Church (Luke 10:16; Matt 18:17).

Exalting Ourselves, Denigrating Others

The standard behavior is to look at ourselves as if we were the paragons of virtue, while those we disagree with ideologically are seen as what is wrong with the world. It’s easy to use someone who seems worse as the measure—if I don’t behave like that, it must mean I am a good person. What’s more, if the Church judges our behavior, it means that they give support to the sinners. Because we aren’t the sinners, their actions must mean the Church is teaching error.

The problem is, that’s not the standard Christ holds us to. It doesn’t matter that we’re better than somebody else. The question is, are we recognizing our own sins and repenting from them? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows us what is wrong with the attitude of “Better than them."

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We may do good things. We may not sin in the same way others do. That doesn’t matter. We’re still called to repent in the areas where our lives where we have gone against what it means to be a Christian. As Jesus told us:

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


24 *“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.sBut it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:21-27)

So, when Jesus teaches, whether through the words of Scripture we have or through the Church He established, we’re called to heed what He has to say.

The House on Sand

But our tendency is to build on sand. We equate our worldly political alliances with doing the will of God. When a behavior endorsed by our political party of preference is called “sinful” by the Church, we respond by being outraged at the “partisanship” of the bishops. When it is a behavior endorsed by the rival political party, we applaud the Church. But the problem is, what the Church has had to say on right and wrong has predated the Democratic and Republican parties by over 1800 years. How we mistreat others may change in different eras of history, but that doesn’t change the fact that mistreating people is always wrong. Neither political party is entirely correct. Whether the issue is abortion, the contraception mandate, so-called “same sex marriage,” torture or economic exploitation, these things are wrong. There are sins that cry to Heaven, according to the Catechism:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

(That basically denounces both political parties in America).

Yes, we are called to oppose these sins when done by the opposing political party. But more importantly, we are called to oppose these sins when they are done by our own political party—That’s putting Jesus first, and thus building the house on solid rock.

Metanoia and Paenitentia: The Change of Mind and Heart

To be in error is not a rare thing. We’re finite human beings and we don’t always consider the possibility that we’ve made a mistake. The question is, what do we do with our errors. Do we constantly look at what we hold to see if they are compatible with what God has taught us? As soon as we stop looking, that’s when we stop repenting from our sins.

The Greek Metanoia and the Latin Paenitentia have the same basic sense: change of mind or heart, repentance, regret. For the Christian, it’s a recognition that what we have done is not in accordance with what God has called us to be. It’s this recognition which causes us to pray the confiteor at Mass:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

If we support what the Church says we must not do; if we oppose what the Church says we must do, we need metanoia—to change our hearts and minds, to repent of what we have done and failed to do. God calls us to do so, and offers us the grace to do so. But we have to accept it. We can’t be saved if we refuse to change to what God calls us to be.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Don't Blame the Signpost For Telling You That You're Going The Wrong Way

“When a wise man points at the moon, the fool only looks at the finger."

—Attributed to Confucius


When you look at a painting of John the Baptist, the common trend is to portray him as pointing to Christ. This is done whether the picture of Jesus is of an infant, and adult or as the Lamb of God. The symbolism is a good one. John the Baptist did not do his mission for its own sake. His mission was intended to point to Christ and call people to prepare to receive Him. The disciple of John the Baptist who would be trying to put Christ in opposition to John the Baptist would be missing the point. As John the Baptist explained:

25 Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew* about ceremonial washings. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” 27 John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. 30 He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:25-30)

John’s message and mission was not a rival of Christ, but a signpost. People were free to ignore him, and some did. But he was there to point the way to Christ, and people who had a problem with him ultimately had a problem with God.

In some ways, we are seeing people make this same mistake with the Church as was made with John the Baptist. They look at the Church and get angry with what she says must be done if we are to follow Christ. They see the Church teaching as “judgmental” and want her to change her teachings to their own benefit—whether behavior or political ideology.

But the Church points to Christ when she says that we must do X or we must not do Y. If she changes her teaching to satisfy critics, she no longer points to Christ, and can no longer be a signpost.

Basically, it is foolish to judge the Church teaching on faith and morals as being a manmade imposition on people. The Church believes she is continuing the mission given to her by Christ, and will not change from saying “X is wrong” to saying “X is OK."

A person can either heed the Church as the signpost to Christ and follow her teaching, or one can reject the Church and go his or her own way. If they do so, they have nobody but themselves for going the wrong way.

I choose to follow the Church because I believe she points to Christ, and was given the authority and the responsibility to do so. This means I have been forced to reject some of my ideas and political beliefs when I learned they went contrary to what was right. As a Catholic, participating in the mission given by Christ, I am called to explain to them why the Church teaches they should go this way and not that way, but I can’t compel them to follow the signpost established by Our Lord. When they choose another way, all I can do is pray for them to return. When they are abusive of me, all I can do is pray for them and turn to The Lord for strength and consolation.

But I won’t change my ways to deny the teaching of the Church because I believe that she is the Church established by Christ and I will be faithful to Him in obeying the teaching of this Church.