Category Archives: infallibility

The SSPX, like the Dwarves in _The Last Battle_, will refuse to be taken in

Haven’t written much lately, and have several posts saved as drafts, but wanted to post some thoughts on a report that talks are still continuing informally between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X’s superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay.

When he spoke in Columbia several years ago, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, said that, in his experience, the higher you go in any given “denomination,” you’re generally more likely to find people who are reasonable and open to dialogue. He told a story of giving an address to a Baptist seminary once on the Marian dogmas and how they reinforce authentic Christology. He said the ordained ministers and the theology professors all nodded in agreement. The students and other laity present got angrier and angrier as his talk progressed.
I’ve only ever met one SSPX family “IRL” that I can recall. It was at the Traditional Latin Mass the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP; the Order established by St. John Paul II for former SSPX members who were willing to return) used to offer monthly in Columbia–ironically, after Summorum Pontificum, they said they could no longer afford to drive from Atlanta every month unless the attendance increased. They offered to train one of the local priests. The only one who was willing was transferred, and no other pastor would volunteer to host or celebrate the Extraordinary Form.
Anyway, one of the only times I brought my whole family, there was this “nice” young family visiting their family for the holidays (I am not being politically correct; I forget which holiday it was). Our kids played with their kids while we talked after Mass.
They told us, “We only came here because there wasn’t an SSPX parish nearby. . . . ” They actually said they felt guilty for attending a “fake” Latin Mass and that, back home, they had both FSSP and SSPX but attended the latter. That, to me, summed up the problem and crushed any hope of formal reconciliation.
Bishop Fellay seems like a man of good will. He may get some of the other bishops and many of the priests to agree to reconciliation with Rome, but the priests and the laity already have the freedom to rejoin “full communion” (I’m choosing my words carefully) if they want. The priests can join the FSSP. The laity can just come to a local EF, but they won’t, because they fundamentally oppose the “New Church.” If Rome tomorrow said, “The suspension of SSPX is lifted, and they are in full communion and enjoy full canonical status as a [personal prelature or ordinariate],” there would still be Ross Perot’s “Giant Sucking Sound” of people defecting to Williamson’s group, the SSPV, etc.
Most people think the Mass is the issue, but it’s really a relatively small issue. The real problems the SSPX and other (for lack of a better term) “RadTrad” groups have stem from the documents: the vague wording, the teachings on religious liberty, _Nostra Aetate_ (which Pope Benedict XVI said was open to criticism for its naivete), etc. The fundamental issue of the “schism” (for lack of a better word), though not an official SSPX position, was the new rite of episcopal ordination. Bishop Fellay and other critics of the Second Vatican Council argued that the new rite has key points in which it diverts from the common traditions of all Catholic rites in history that render all post-Vatican II episcopal ordinations, in their view, invalid–including that of Josef Ratzinger. That is why Bishop Fellay ordained the group of four relatively young priests as bishops in 1988 against Vatican approval: to ensure in his view a valid line of Apostolic Succession, but ignoring that the ordinations would be canonically illicit and incurring excommunication on himself and the four young valid but illicit bishops.
When B16 succeeded St. John Paul II, the SSPX website got friendlier to Rome. It praised him and featured him prominently when he lifted the excommunications of the four bishops and opened discussion. It praised him even more when he issued Summorum Pontificum. Then suddenly it got very quiet. Rome made an offer. The SSPX refused. Controversial Bishop Richard Williamson was expelled but Fellay started sounding like Martin Luther.
The Benedict, for whom reconciliation with SSPX was a target of his papacy (how could the Church expect to heal centuries of other divisions without starting from the most recent?) gave his radio address saying it’s OK to criticize _Nostra Aetate_. He appointed Archbishop Gerhard Muller, often seen as something of a “liberal” to many of us because of his sympathy for liberation theology and his calls for St. JPII to retire, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Then, a few months later, after few headline-grabbing statements, Benedict resigned. His resignation of course created the situation of “two Popes,” a scenario which many traditionalists and many who were not previously “traditionalists” saw as potentially fulfilling warnings from various saints and visionaries.
There is so much pride and anger and hard-heartedness mixed up in all of this. I don’t doubt there are forces at work in the Vatican who squashed the talks and probably contributed to the Holy Father’s decision to resign, but there is so much hard-heartedness among the rank and file of the SSPX that, if Rome issued a statement tomorrow saying, “The faculties of all bishops and priests of the Society of St. Pius X are reinstated, and the Society will enjoy canonical status as an Ordinariate,” even then you’d hear Ross Perot’s “Giant Sucking Sound” of SSPX members starting yet another group, joining Williamson’s group, or joining the Society of St. Pius V.

St. Pius X and St. John Paul II, pray for unity of the Pilgrim Church on Earth.

Check this out

David Alexander, aka “The Man with the Black Hat,” has done me the honor of quoting me in his piece on the first anniversary of His Holiness Pope Francis.  When he asked me if he could quote a reply I made to one of hsi Facebook posts (basically a summary of my entire “take” on Francis), I agreed, assuming he was assembling a bunch of quotes from different people.  I was honored when he quoted me as extensively as he did and as basically the only such quotation he used.  Please return the favor by reading his piece, but basically I was saying, which David elaborates on, that people either criticize or praise Francis for supposedly not being as academic as his immediate predecessors, but the problem, to my mind, is the opposite: when I read Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I feel like I’m reading teachers–really smart teachers who use big words, but teachers nonetheless–when I read Francis, I feel like I’m reading a scholar: someone who knows his stuff and assumes you do, too.  Put another way, as people like to treat them like The Only Three  Popes Who Have Ever Existed, and find “common themes,” and using Francis’s “field hospital” metaphor, JPII was our Bachelor’s advisor; B16 was our doctoral advisor; Francis is the hospital director managing our residency.  He expects us, rightly or wrongly, to know everything the others tried to teach us and is talking about application.

How are you using your “talents”, and *why* are you using your “talents”?

I happened to hear Mass on EWTN this morning, and the Gospel reading was the one that haunts me most, the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30). Knowing that this tends to be a proof text for “liberals” that vita activa is superior to vita contempliva, or that it’s used as a proof text for “conservatives” that interest is OK in spite of the many Biblical teachings (including in the Gospels) against it, I tend to dread homilies about it. OTOH, as a passage in itself, I tend to see it as one of the most basic and hard hitting passages for examination of one’s own conscience: Am *I* using my talents the way God wants, or am I making excuses?
The visiting priest gave what turned out to be a very good homily, though it started out sounding like a combination of both the two common uses I alluded to. He began by talking about his lawn mowing business he had in his teens, and how successful he was at it, and the full time job he picked up just out of high school, until God called him to the priesthood five years later. However, it turned out to be about how God challenges us out our comfort zones, how in each stage of his ministry, he’s resisted God’s call, then answered it, then become comfortable in a role only to be called to something else. He talked of how we can become improperly attached even to an apostolate or ministry, a theme I’m constantly revisiting in my own life.
That ties in to the latest brouhaha in the Catholic blogosphere–this time after Michael Voris did a video about the salaries earned by people like Al Kresta and Karl Keating, and the responses to that video, and now the usual back-and-forth of who are truly the “faithful Catholics” versus “professional Catholics” out for money or ambition.
As someone put it in a Facebook thread just now: “There is so much jealousy among the faithful and there really is not reason for it. There is enough missionary millage [sic] to go around. Stop attacking Voris; it is not coming from God!” I agreed with the first two sentences, and then the person totally contradicted herself with the last sentence.
The priest’s homily also applies to more legitimate debates that have arisen in the past few years regarding certain “celebrity priests” who’ve been recalled by their bishops or Orders and responded either in obedience or rebellion.
In all these cases, people rally around their “heroes” who seem to be “under attack” and label the “attacker” as doing the devil’s work. Most of these things could be avoided if when A points something out about B, B is willing to say, “You may be right; I’ll take it under consideration.” C. S. Lewis stepped out of apologetics altogether for almost 10 years after some of his key arguments were refuted by Elizabeth Anscombe at a debate: during which time he wrote _The Chronicles of Narnia_ (which, in turn, got a lot of criticism from J.R.R. Tolkien). However, too often the reaction to such situations in the “New Media” is not humility but petulance and defiance, which results in a back and forth that comes to sound like a fight among children: “He started it!” “No, she did!”
Often, the argument in the comboxes or Facebook is, “X is doing God’s work. He [or she] is the only one speaking the Truth!” [or “the only one standing up for the unborn” or whatever]. That mentality is always a red flag for me and seems to be the salient point in all these squabbles. The phenomenon we have in the Church today is very much what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians:

I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to 5 Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 6 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? . . . Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.(1 Cor 1:12-13, 3:4-9)

Today, it’s “I am of Voris,” “I am of Catholic Answers,” “I am of Fr. Corapi,” “I am of Medjugorje,” “I am of EWTN,” etc. It sounds like the very thing we criticize Protestants for doing. There is only one person in the Church with the charism of infallibility, and that is the Pope, and even then only under specific circumstances. Otherwise, all of us, including the Doctors of the Church, are subject to human error. Some errors may be worse than others, but if we’re constantly looking for heresies under every rock, where does that put our own souls?
I spent most of this past April unconscious, following my aortic surgery, and I had a lot of hallucinations or dreams or whatever. In many of these, I and most of my family ended up in Hell. I even at one point said I would rather spend eternity in Hell with my family than go to Heaven and be “alone,” at which point I realized what a grave error I’d committed (and confessed as soon as I was able), that even if they all ended up in Hell, Jesus should be enough. A month or so later, a seminarian who was interning as a hospital chaplain was assigned to my floor, and he told me a story of his early days in the seminary–when he was lamenting to a classmate about the “loneliness” of their vocation. His classmate said, “Jesus should be enough.” He went to Adoration, felt God’s love surround him, and has never felt lonely since. It was a fantastic inspiration that he chose to tell me that story.
If you’re doing God’s work, you should be primarily concerned with obedience to His will for *you*. That may mean doing a podcast or a blog. It may mean speaking to stadiums full of people. It may mean pro-life activism. It may mean staying at home and praying, raising a family, or being pastor of a parish. As soon as we start thing of yourself (or someone else) as the “only person” doing God’s work, we’re demonstrating a lack of faith in God. “For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Your apostolate isn’t about other people; it’s about you. People say, “God needs us to stop Planned Parenthood.” In some sense, that’s right, but only because God chooses that way. If He wanted to, He could force the conversions of all abortionists while you’re reading this, but He wants us to choose Him freely. The best way we can challenge the disobedience of others–be it the overt disobedience of Planned Parenthood or the more subtle disobedience of our neighbor in the pew–is to improve our own humble obedience.
As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta put it:

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

The Rift in the Church: Who has the better argument?

Certainly, there are many factions within Holy Mother Church, and always have been. That’s what the seven letters in Revelation Chapters 3 & 4 are all about, not to mention numerous admonitions in the letters of St. Paul. Indeed, while there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, one could argue there are just as many “Denominations” of Catholicism.
However, it’s perfectly clear that, in the contemporary West, particularly in America, there are two principle divisions, out of which several smaller divisions permeate. These are often described by political terms, since the people who tend towards one side or the other tend to share common political ideologies as well. Another term that has been used by some commentators is “American Catholics” versus “Roman Catholics,” with the odd caveat that “American Catholics” generally tend to be pretty hostile to America as such, while “Roman Catholics” tend to be patriotic or even jingoistic conservatives. That these divisions exist should be patently obvious to anyone with a modicum of understanding of the situation in the American Church.

Each “side” of the division believes its vision is authentically Catholic and that the other side’s vision is precisely un-Catholic. There are also those who attempt to straddle the “middle ground” and say that both sides have strengths and weaknesses in their arguments. This is a position which Dietrich von Hildebrand declared untenable in that one cannot pick and choose from modernist political ideologies and peace together an authentically Catholic vision. The idea of treating ideology as a puzzle or a recipe and picking and choosing ingredients that one prefers out of various “options” flies in the face of political philosophy as it ignores the need for first principles.

That said, I think many people choose where they stand on the Catholic spectrum largely by what their mothers or grandmothers taught them. Some people’s mothers and grandmothers taught them to live in fear of the spectre of anti-Catholicism, the problem of “fitting in” back before the Council when Catholics supposedly were so different. Their mothers also taught them that, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Their understanding of Catholicism is very akin to so-called mainline Protestantism: Jesus was a nice guy who taught some nice stuff and ultimately wants everyone to be nice to each other. Whatever their “personal views” of various Catholic moral teachings (which they often think are open to question), they generally do not believe morality should be publicly enforced, partly because they realize that enforcement of morality necessarily implies nforcement of some religious view, and their ancestors came here fleeing religious persecution only to find more religious persecution. Indeed, their ancestors often came here fleeing European monarchies (even the Catholic ones), and tended to accept a Masonic mistrust of the Church along with Masonic mistrust of monarchy. They rightly emphasize the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” but wrongly emphasize it at the expense of public morality. While they theoretically oppose authority, they seem to welcome authoritarianism when it comes to economics. They see a kinship between the socialist’s concern for the worker and the Catholic’s concern for the worker, even though 19th Century Catholics and Socialists alike understood their interests to be opposed rather than allied. They think that the proposals of _Rerum Novarum_, which were radical when compared to the established aristocratic and capitalists classes of Europe and America in the late 19th Century, mean the Church endorses the economic radicalism of Democrats today, in spite of the numerous encyclicals written to update the Church’s teaching to suit advances in economics. Finally, like the Catholics who willingly voted for Hitler and Mussolini because they promised economic security, jobs and universal health care, these Catholics willingly vote for people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in spite of the various warning signs.

On the other hand, we have the Catholics whose mothers emphasized good behavior, moral uprightness, and daily devotions. They follow a model of general obedience to the Church, except when obedience to local hierarchs means disobedience to Rome. Some of them see the flaws of the American system in general and choose to work towards a return to the days of Christendom, while others to varying degrees accept the Republicans as the lesser of two evils. Both those sub-groups fight amongst each other but generally recognize that they’re all in a common fight for some level of traditional Catholicism. They are baffled why the other side puts economics above morality. They themselves sometimes compromise Catholic principles in their alliance of convenience with the American Right. Catholics of the “Right” tend to have an approach that’s more akin to Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants. We emphasize the documents.

Nobody’s perfect, but what gets to me about the “Left” is its attitude towards Rome. I blogged recently about badly catechized Catholics–Catholics who are not ignorant of the Church’s teachings but have been taught to look at the Church from a distorted lens of Masonic principles, which they mistakenly believe are Catholic principles. I compared liberal Catholics to mainline Protestants: like mainline Protestants, their view of Catholicism boils down to “what Father So-and-so says.” They are at least consistent in their views. The “We Are Church” mentality leads to the conviction that if a Catholic believes something, a Catholic *can* believe that, whether for good or bad. So, like a secular anti-Catholic (the very anti-Catholics they claim to fear but kowtow to), they’ll point to Catholics who supported the antebellum South, or Catholics who supported Hitler (even though those Catholics agreed with them that “social justice” trumps morality), or Catholics who committed atrocities during the Crusades, and they try to say that those Catholics, even if they were criticized by their Popes, somehow represented the teaching of the whole Church. Conversely, if they can find some random Catholic bishop or priest who supported homosexuality or abortion or socialism in the past, they’ll take that person’s opinion as authoritative Catholic teaching. They care far more about the opinions of Hans Kung, Charles Curran or Karl Rahner than they do about the opinions of John XXIII or Paul VI.

And then there’s the whole “Spirit of Vatican II” thing. Many of us have heard the argument that what happened after Vatican II was not the intent of the Council, that the people who “implemented” the Council went against what the Council Fathers actually said and manipulated the interpretation of the documents. I’ve looked at the documents many times over the years but mainly in a “research” capacity. Certainly, those readings have confirmed that view. Lately, I’ve been actually reading them, straight through, per Pope Benedict XVI’s call for us to seriously study the Council Documents for its 50th Anniversary in this “Year of Faith.” Well, guess what? That argument is true in spades. I read Sacrosanctam Concilium, the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy, and what that document describes is nothing like what happened. Indeed, the collected documents of Vatican II volume we have has a note after S.C. that says how the reason it’s so different is that there were a bunch of other documents that came out after the Council closed that decided to go with more radical reforms and ignored what S.C. actually said (i.e., its requirements that all laity be taught Latin and that priests and religious continue to say the Office in Latin). It struck me as ironic that SSPX-ers are told they must 100% assent to every word of the Council Documents because it’s a Council and it’s binding, yet the people who “implemented” the Council ignored those very documents.

So, the “Left” has its popular refrain of “Vatican II got rid of that,” or that anything deemed “too conservative,” whether in devotions or liturgy or politics is “not in keeping with Vatican II.” Advocates of a hermeneutic of rupture make much of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement that the Council was a kind of “anti-Syllabus” or “counter Syllabus,” referring to Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors that condemns many modernist ideas. Yet he was referring to the approach, not the content of the Syllabus. Vatican II simply changed how the Church deals with the world. First, where official documents have traditionally been addressed by the Vatican to the bishops, expecting the bishops to relay it to priests who in turn relay it to the people, Vatican II and subsequent Vatican documents have generally been addressed to *everyone*, and not just to Catholics but to *everyone*. I think part of this is precisely that the Vatican *did* recognize the widespread infiltration of the priesthood and episcopacy and that that priests and bishops could not be relied upon to spread the message. Also, the “Vatican II approach” is to invite people to explore the wonders of the Catholic faith rather than presuming people are Catholic and condemning them for not getting it (arguably, there’s something to be said for both approaches). Even so, the content of the Syllabus has been in many ways reaffirmed since Vatican II–for example, by Pope B16 in _Caritas et Veritate_, which in many was is just an explication of what Pius IX says in the Syllabus.

And that gets to the thought that inspired this post, which I may have blogged before, but it bears repeating: who has the better “case” for their “view” of what Catholicism fundamentally is? The main argument the “Catholic Left” has in its favor is the “spirit of Vatican II,” a notion that is easily discredited, combined with the teaching of Bishop X (Arius was a bishop), and “my great grandfather was a Catholic, and he voted for FDR”.

The Catholic “Right” has as its argument that its positions are backed up by the actual documents. It has a general favorability of the Popes towards its positions (i.e., while the Popes acknowledge the failures of Catholicism–Bl. John Paul II in his encyclical on the 100th Anniversary of _Rerum Novarum_ argued that we should distinguish between a truly “free market” and laissez-faire Capitalism–they acknowledge that capitalism is far closer to what the Church calls for than socialism is, and that at least Capitalism gives people the freedom to implement privately what the Church teaches). If one looks at most pre-Vatican II Catholic figures, including “anticipators” of Vatican II like Dorothy Day and Josemaria Escriva, one sees a general favorability towards conservatism over liberalism, even if it’s not entirely the “conservatism” of the contemporary GOP.

It’s not that Republicans are perfect, by any means: I have always questioned whether a Catholic can be 100% comfortable in a country founded on Masonic principles. It’s just that it’s really hard, as I see it, to argue that the Democrats are “right” vis-a-vis Catholic teaching. And *we* have a legitimate explanation for why we believe the Catholic Left went off track: the systematic infiltration of the Church by Masonic and Communist agents, an infiltration that is often dismissed as a conspiracy theory, yet it has been well documented by no less than Dietrich von Hildebrand, the “20th Century Doctor of the Church,” and testified to by Communist agents during the McCarthy hearings. The Left doesn’t have a legitimate reason to explain why “we”– Catholics who lean towards either a conservative view of Vatican II or a traditionalist or radical traditionalist approach — are collectively “wrong,” other than taking that usual liberal attitude that we’re just angry, hate-filled people. Besides that, the best they can muster is that “neoconservative” Catholics are falling prey to the influence of Evangelical converts like Scott Hahn, whom they consider “infiltrators.” They see no contradiction in dismissing Right Wing talk of Left-wing infiltration of the Church as a crazy conspiracy theory while openly discussing their own conspiracy theories about Right wing infiltration of the Church.

So, whatever our differences on the “Right,” we generally have the documents on our side, and we have the backing that the Left’s view has been distorted by corrupt prelates. They back their position up with emotionalism, appeals to non-Papal “authorities,” and dismissing actual Catholic teaching as “hateful rhetoric” and “judgementalism.” So who has the more solid case?

There’s a difference between “Badly Catechized” and “Poorly Catechized.”

We often say the problems in the Church today, particularly in America, are due to “poor catechesis.” This is true. Indeed, but proper faith formation has been a problem before the past 50 years.

However, I often find that the problem is not just “poor catechesis” but “bad catechesis”: that is to say, people have been very well formed in a false conception of Catholicism.

Yes, I long ago learned to realize how very few people actually read the documents, or seem to get anything out of them when they read them, and there are a lot of people who just need to be informed. I also have encountered plenty of people who know what the Church teaches and simply reject it.

What still blows my mind, however, and deeply frustrates me are people who *are* well-read, who know what the Church teaches but insist that’s not what the Church “really” teaches, or that it’s wrong, people who think they are wonderful Catholics because they have inculcated a “Catholicism” that is totally alien to any kind of orthodox tradition. I assume this is a problem in other cultures, but I know it’s especially a problem in America, and was a problem in America long before Vatican II. After all, Leo XIII was well aware of the problem.

Europeans who emigrated to America came here in rejection of the authorities back in Europe, and often those authorities included the Church. This led to a breed of Catholicism that has been traditionally defiant and suspicious of the Vatican’s authority. In _Crisis_ back in the 90s, Fr. James Schall described the division we sometimes characterize too simply as “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics as “American Catholics versus “Roman Catholics”: although ironically the Catholics who emphasized their identity as “American Catholics” within the Church were more likely to balk at patriotism when it came to their secular lives.

So tonight I had a very long exchange with a fellow who brought forth all the standard talking points of both anti-Catholics and the “Catholic Left”: Crusades, Inquisition and all that. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up Galileo! He pulled out the recent claims that the Church only cared about marriage between a man and a woman after Aquinas and insisted the first millennium church endorsed “gay marriages”. He dismissed my every reference to Pius IX, Leo XIII, or even John Paul II or Benedict XVI (whom he insisted on calling “Ratzinger” and accusing of being a Nazi sympathizer).

Yet this fellow insisted he was a good Catholic, that Jesus’s primary teaching is “love” (in the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means”),and that I was just a bigot. He insisted that, by saying, “It’s wrong for people to try to force society to endorse their sins,” I was *actually* saying that some sins should be singled out as worse than others (well, objectively, that’s true).

I keep thinking that “Obama Catholics” are unaware that the Pope has said the present administration, in conjunction with the gay rights movement, poses an unprecedented America) threat to the Church. I keep thinking that “Obama Catholics” are unaware of the numerous statements by bishops about the threat posed to freedom of religion (a message the Pope told them to speak about in that same speech), a threat posed not just by the HHS contraception mandate, not just by Obamacare’s infringements on individual conscience, but by the “gay marriage” movement and the trend towards labelling the Bible “hate speech.”

But, no. They’re very much aware, and they just say, “Non Serviam.” They still buy into the “We Are Church” mentality and see the Pope as an out-of-touch German guy. Since he served unwillingly in the Hitler Youth, they speak of him as if he personally participated in the Holocaust. They apply the same principles they use about Catholicism today–“Lots of Catholics use birth control, so birth control is OK for Catholics”–and extend them to the past. Thus, if they can dig up some Catholic priest or bishop in 800 AD who seemed to approve of homosexuality, in spite of the statements to the contrary in the Fathers, they say, “The early Church approved of homosexuality.”

If they can find some Catholic priest in the US who endorsed slavery, it’s “The Catholic Church endorsed slavery,” and when told about papal statements going back centuries that condemned slavery, they insist that the Popes approved of it because they didn’t excommunicate Catholics who supported it (they did).

If they find some Catholic bishop who was a racist, then the Church was racist.

It’s maddening, but it’s a deeply ingrained worldview that comes from generations of American Catholics who have gradually adopted beliefs that are more Masonic than they are Catholic. It comes from their easy adoption of secular thought and the falsely Catholic ideologies they have encountered among their religion teachers.

A Word on Internecine Debates Among Catholics

I seem to be finding out about Catholic blogosphere flame wars later in the game than I used to. Apparently, the latest feud concerns disagreements over the population of Hell. Here’s a blog post that sums up the recent discussion. Fr. Robert Barron, of _The Word On Fire_ and _Catholicism_, has a tendency to lean more towards the “universalist” theory. Now, the rise of universalism among Catholic theologians (and even Popes) in recent decades is one of the big legitimate complaints of “RadTrads,” and apparently is filtering into the “mainstream” Church, as it were. Catholic Universalism was pioneered by the late theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was highly respected by the late Bl. John Paul II and was a direct mentor of Joseph Ratzinger. Many prominent “orthodox” Catholics, such as Fr. Joseph Fessio (in turn a direct student of Ratzinger’s), have been von Balthasar supporters, so a tacit approval of his universalism has filtered into the church. The Holy Father even implied a few years ago in his capacity as pope that Universalism is not necessarily heretical and may actually be how things work. So theologian Ralph Martin apparently wrote something pointing out that the full Christian Tradition is that the majority of people go to Hell, and challenging some of Fr. Barron’s teachings.

And this is how these debates always start.
1. One of two things happen
a) One prominent “conservative” theologian, apologist or priest writes or says something critical of some aspect of the thought of another prominent “conservative” theologian, apologist, priest, or perhaps a pro-life activist.
OR
b) A popular priest gets in some kind of trouble with his bishop or religious superiors.

2. Immediately, a group of supporters of the person who’s been criticized or investigated jumps to his or her defense online, writing angry messages saying how it’s a Satanic attack, and anyone who would criticize such a good and holy person must be working for the Devil.

3. Then, of course, those taking the other position have to not only defend their position but defend themselves against the accusation of being agents of Satan, and the flame war begins, and people are forced to “take sides” rather than look at a situation rationally.

And that doesn’t even touch on the flame wars that erupt over unapproved apparitions and fantasy novels.

So simply saying, “I think A is an admirable activist who’s heart is in the right place, but I think some of his/her methods are morally questionable or imprudent” MUST imply that one is opposed to the entire pro-life movement. Simply saying, “I think Fr. B should follow the examples of the saints and step out of the public eye till this investigation is finished” becomes a claim that one things Fr. B is “guilty,” even by those who invoke the same saints to point out how priests have often been falsely accused of stuff. Saying, “I think Fr. C expressed some valid points that few people are willing to consider” becomes an endorsement of pedophilia. Saying, “I think Fr. C expressed some stupid opinions, but he’s still a very holy man” becomes a statement of contempt for Fr. C. Saying, “Fr. D.’s public actions are very problematic, but I’m not making a judgement of the private accusations” is taken as a judgement of the private accusations. And so on. It’s maddening.

And it’s not new to the Internet, as I’m going to discuss. Sheldon Vanauken discusses this phenomenon in _Under the Mercy_, and he points out it’s what drove him to the Radical Left in the 60s: he was largely conservative but supported the Civil Rights movement and some aspects of the feminist and anti-war movements. However, society’s insistence on polarization (which has always been there) meant that if you sided *at all* with the Left on those issues, you had to be a Liberal, and so he fell completely into everything that was the 1960s, and it took him years to reverse course.

Now one need read only the ancient rhetoricians or the Founding Fathers to see that debates have always been heated and the Internet doesn’t do anything to make things more “heated” other than widening the range of people involved in any given discussion, and watching videos online of WFB in his heyday show that TV political talk shows haven’t changed much either. However, I am frustrated with the way that we Catholics have adopted an “all or none” attitude towards our brethren.

So if someone expresses one opinion that we disagree with or that may even be objectively wrong, we throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. “I can’t believe [Fr. Groeschel/Fr. Barron/Peter Kreeft/Mark Shea/Christopher West/whomever] said that, so I’m going to label him a heretic and never listen to anything else he has to say.” I’m really sick of that mentality, a mentality I used to have myself till I realized how insulating it is. We ought to be able, as Fr. Barron says somewhere in the _Catholicism_ series, to have a “good, clean debate” without insisting that those who are 90-99% in agreement with us must be 100% our enemies over topics where the Church gives room to debate. And again, this is nothing new: Scotus’s insistence on the Immaculate Conception was seen as a personal affront to the legacies of Aquinas and Bonaventure. Jerome was known for writing nasty letters.

Only the Holy Father is infallible, and technically he’s only infallible when either a) restating previously defined dogma, b) speaking ex cathedra, or c) speaking definitively at a Council.

We need to stop expecting infallibility of our favored theologians and philosophers. All of us our capable of committing intellectual mistakes, or in Fr. Barron’s case, perhaps erring a bit too much on the side of mercy (or in other people’s cases, erring too much on the side of judgement).

We also need to stop confusing personal holiness and teaching. Fr. X may be a fantastic preacher who hits the nail on the head, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t commit sins–especially if he often observes in his own preaching that we should recognize that priests are sinners, too. Fr. Y may be personally holy and the most close-to-sinless person you ever meet, and his teaching may sometimes have flaws because he lets his personal compassion for sinners infect his teaching. It would be nice if all our priests followed the model of St. Louis de Montfort–a lion from the pulpit and a lamb from the Confessional.

But let’s try to be more merciful in our view of one another.

Who’s your Pope?

Tracy: “So what’s your religion, Liz Lemon?”
Liz: “I pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me.” –_30 Rock_

“His heart was moved to pity for them, for they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” –Mt 9:36

The Catholic Church is often attacked over the concept of Papal infallibility, yet one of the ironies is that people long for “infallibility.” There is a reason the Bible is constantly comparing people to sheep: sheep are, as a priest once pointed out in a homily I heard, stupid. This is a controversial point, I know, but most people really are stupid. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”: our great excuse at personal and final judgement day will be, as the Catholic Church teaches, stupidity (Catechism 1793).

So we seek out people to guide us, like Israel begging Samuel for a king (1 Sam 8). Yet, just as when Samuel warned Israel that a King would become a tyrant (and all the kings of Israel fulfilled that warning, so too do the little kings we create for ourselves inevitably fail, because all are human.

In a previous post, I explained the limits and extents of Papal infallibility. Infallibility is, in one sense, a very limited concept, though it includes a general sense of obedience to the Pope. A traditional notion of anti-Catholicism holds that the Pope somehow micromanages the Church. The “Kennedy Doctrine” is heretical because, as Vatican II documents, Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all teach, the State *must* listen to the Church. However, in one sense, Kennedy was right in trying to dispel a common notion that Catholics all get secret personal marching orders from the Pope.

Papal infallibility only plays a big part in my life because religion plays a big part in my life. As I noted in the earlier post linked above, a Pope’s personal opinions are just that: opinions, and even his prudential judgements about matters of great import, and whether the Church’s teachings are properly being applied, are just that, prudential judgements. A Catholic owes a certain deference to the Holy Father, but Catholics are free to make up our minds on such matters, provided that we give them due study.

The principle of subsidiarity that the Church teaches in politics and economics applies in the Church as well. The Pope oversees 2 billion Catholics and does quite a lot but relatively little. A few thousand people work at the Vatican to oversee those 2 billion Catholics, and the proportion of Vatican employees to worldwide Catholics is far less a percentage than the staffs of most secular corporate or government headquarters.

Then there’s the local bishop, who oversees hundreds or thousands or even millions of parishioners. Again, the bishop’s authority is relatively minimal and mostly managerial. Most practicing Catholics only see their bishops on rare occasions, such as Confirmation or Ordination masses, or special events. I was a parishioner in my diocese’s cathedral as a kid, and I remember even *there* that the bishop making an appearance was a special event.

Then comes the local pastor, who *ought* to be involved intimately in each of his parishioners’ lives, but in practice this rarely happens. So the Church in general, in terms of Her human agents, doesn’t play that big a role in the average person’s life. I care about my pastor’s views on theology, morals, liturgy, church discipline and even politics. I don’t care about my pastor’s views on music (except liturgy or moral issues), sports, movies (except moral issues), etc.

The Pope doesn’t tell me what to watch on TV, though he may give advice on what to consider from a moral aspect when choosing a TV show.

However, people in general look for “infallible authorities” to give them simple answers. They balk at the notion of an established and official hierarchy, but they create one for themselves by seeking out little gurus, the way the fictional Liz Lemon “worships” Oprah.

Look at the way certain Protestant televangelists rake in the dough and the adulation, and people hang on their every word. Look at the range of issues where people would seek advice from James Dobson. Look at the followers of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Martha Stewart, the modern-day Sophists.

then add to that the polarization of society, and people’s basic need to separate everything in to “good” versus “evil.” So once a particular “guru” has been established as a “good guy,” then everything that person says *must* be good, and if anyone criticizes that person, watch out.

So the followers of Fr. Corapi, myself still one of them when his troubles started, reacted in his defense when he announced that he’d been suspended. Anyone who raised a sign of caution that there might be validity to the allegations–especially since he based his entire ministry on his allegedly sordid past–were attacked as agents of Satan.

Look at what happened when some people raised questions about the ethicality of Lila Rose’s “undercover” operations at Planned Parenthood.

Even questioning one aspect of a “good guy’s” behavior is offensive to the “follower” because the “good guy” is bestowed a kind of personal infallibility that goes far beyond the scope of the infallibility of the Pope–and often the person doesn’t have any real claim to such authority.

I raise this issue because, back in 2004, Catholic Answers, which is a wonderful apologetics organization, issued a “Catholic Voter Guide” was basically geared towards saying it’s wrong to vote for the Democrats. Interestingly, the content of the Guide itself favors voting for a third party candidate, but it has been manipulated to support the Republicans.

This “Voter Guide” was issued right around the same time as the leak of the “private letter” that then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger sent to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, clarifying the prioritization of “life issues” in voting, and in various reports, the content of the Catholic Answers “Voter Guide” got conflated with the Ratzinger letter.

The Catholic Answers Voter Guide introduces a concept of “Five Non-Negotiables”: abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning and gay “marriage.”

Now, it’s true that these are “non-negotiable” in Catholic teaching. This refers to the fact that the economic documents always emphasize the freedom of Catholics to determine how to apply them, and it refers to how in matters such as war and the death penalty, the Church discourages them and gives strict guidelines for their application but still gives the State the right to use them when necessary.

The whole point of the Catholic Answers Voter Guide is this:

Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

Do not reward with your vote candidates who are right on lesser issues but who are wrong on key moral issues. One candidate may have a record of voting exactly as you wish, aside from voting also in favor of, say, euthanasia. Such a candidate should not get your vote. Candidates need to learn that being wrong on even one of the non-negotiable issues is enough to exclude them from consideration.

Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.

These posts would seem to advocate voting for a third party candidate because the voter is encouraged to eliminate anyone wrong on one of these “five non-negotiables”. This is affirmed by the teaching of John Paul II, who said it was more important to vote for the candidate that’s morally correct than to worry about who would win. See “John Paul II on Incrementalism”.

The Voters Guide, on its own merits, is a helpful document. However, there are several problems that have arisen from it because of tribalism and party politics:

1) Because Catholic Answers has a reputation for “orthodoxy,” they are “good guys” in the above calculation, so they are, according to the reasoning, beyond reproach, and on the other hand, anything Catholic Answers issues gets elevated to Magisterial teaching. So even though this is a voter guide issued by a lay apologetics group, many Catholics speak of the “Five Non-Negotiables” as if the concept was an ex cathedra papal statement.
2) There are more than five non-negotiables in Catholic teaching, and the Catholic Answers staff were misrepresenting papal teaching to suit their own accomodation to American politics. This is my big beef with the document. The Voter’s Guide is used to argue why ESCR, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and cloning are always evil, but the Church also says many other things are always evil: contraception, in vitro fertilization, etc.
3) it has become confused and conflated in the public mind, which isn’t the fault of Catholic Answers. A woman once insisted to me that there are only “five intrinsic evils,” and she listed CA’s “five non-negotiables.” I quoted the passage in the Catechism (2297) which defines intrinsic evil, itself quoting Vatican II:

“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”

Now, the lady in question told me that I wasn’t a Catholic for thinking that the Catechism, _Veritatis Splendor_ and _Gaudium et Spes_ superseded Catholic Answers and “defriended” me on Facebook. Surprisingly, she didn’t block me, and we run into each other periodically on other groups and pages.

But her confusion and tribalism represents a typical problem. In 2008, things were complicated by the war and ESCR. The “Catholic Left” argued that torture should be a “non-negotiable” since the above passage lists it as equally evil to abortion. That would be fine if Bush had been running for re-election, but the fact was that most of the Republicans running in 2008, and the third party right wing candidates, all opposed waterboarding: IIIR, only Giuliani (who’s also pro-abortion) and Thompson specifically supported it: Dr. Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr (pro-abortion) and especially John McCain all opposed “enhanced interrogation” for one reason or another, and so torture should have been a non-issue. Ironically, all the Catholics who voted for Obama because of “enhanced interrogation,” illegal detainment and other intrinsic evils of the Bush Administration, along with the questionable justification of the war in Iraq, elected a president who has been far worse for these evils and who has gotten us into several very clearly unjust military actions, such as Libya.

Meanwhile, Catholic conservatives continue to blindly vote Republican the way Catholic liberals have blindly voted Democrat. Even though the CA Voter Guide itself encourages voting third party if possible, Catholics have used the CA Voter guide to justify milquetoast Republicans over Democrats because “abortion is a non-negotiable!”

Well, the problem is that John McCain supported ESCR, and suddenly ESCR became a “negotiable” — NRLC even dropped it as a priority issue (and let’s not forget that Bush authorized it so long as the babies were already dead). Now, we have Mitt Romney, who passively legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, passed a healthcare mandate law in Massachusetts (and convinced Obama to go with a mandate over total socialization), ignored a Catholic protest in MA to his own contraception mandate, gave money to Planned Parenthood, made money off two abortion-related companies (one that produced abortion pills and another that handled “disposal” of aborted fetuses), and was outspokenly pro-abortion and for changing the GOP platform.

We are supposed to believe that social liberal Mitt Romney has undergone a total change in his views since being governor of Massachusetts. We’re supposed to believe he’s pro-life, even though he’s skipped every pro-life event this year, including events that all his opponents in the primary attended. We’re expected to believe he’s opposed to a health care law he helped write.

We’re supposed to believe that he’s pro-life and pro-family because of his stay-at-home wife (in whose name the Planned Parenthood donations were made) and his 5 kids–one of whom is having his own children through “surrogate motherhood”–even though the Romneys had their kids in the 1970s, and their kids were grown before their father did his worst anti-life and anti-family actions. The fact that the Romneys were already Mormons with a big family when they supported PP and contraception mandates, etc., before they opposed them, they makes them far worse.

And for some reason people are buying this garbage and getting mad at those of us who don’t. They insist Romney’s going to be better than Obama and change things, but he’s not. He’s going to say “Ha, Ha!”

I remember the arguments of Catholics–from died in the wool liberals to people like Doug Kmiec–who argued that if Obama knew a lot of pro-lifers voted for him, maybe he’d change his mind. Yeah, right. How did that work out for *them*?

Now we have Catholics arguing on the Right that if they vote for Romney, and he knows they voted for him because he claims to be pro-life and claims to be pro-marriage,

I argue with the “Catholic Left,” and they say that abortion is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering it as an issue.

Then I argue with Catholic conservatives about issues like contraception, and they say that contraception is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering.

The odds are I’m going to be dead before the election. My concern is primarily with peoples’ individual souls–including the candidates’–and not with what actually happens in the election. It’s better to vote third party, and know that you vote for someone who represents your conscience, than to vote for a major candidate by compromising your beliefs. It’s fine to vote for a “lesser of two evils” if you really think that’s necessary, but don’t try justifying the evil.

C. S. Lewis warned about “Christianity AND”. The Vatican censured the Action Francaise because its leaders referred to the Church as a tool to achieving the monarchist cause, rather than the opposite.

Shape your politics to your religion, not your religion to your politics.

More importantly, remember that human beings are flawed. The fact that you happen to like a lot of the things a particular writer or organization puts out doesn’t make that writer or organization infallible. You don’t have to 100% agree with someone. Decisions like whom to vote for are incredibly complicated, and any attempt to simplify the decision is going to be problematic.

And stop assigning absolute infallibility to people just because you generally agree with them. Let God be God.

Infallibility and You

I am formulating a post related in part to apologetics of papal infallibility, but got side tracked on a long explanation of infallibility per se. I’m posting that explanation here so that if and when I post the other argument, I can simply refer back to it.

Infallibility is a very strict thing, though the term “infallibility” technically applies to three different things.

In its most proper sense, “Infallibility” simply means that a pope cannot make a mistake in matters of faith and morals. It does NOT mean that a pope can’t make a mistake in terms of his personal faith or morals. Protestants point to the immorality of the Borgia Popes; radical traditionalist Catholics point to the questionable ecumenical behaviors of John Paul II. Both claim that the alleged sins of the Popes negated their office. Yes, my radtrad readers will no doubt object, as they often do in online debates, that the alleged acts of John Paul II (kissing the Koran, alleged participation in pagan rituals, etc.) constitute apostasy or defection from the faith or de facto heresy. However, I don’t see how kissing a Koran as a sign of politeness could be an act of apostasy but murdering people and keeping mistresses isn’t.

In any case, infallibility has nothing to do with the Pope’s actions, and it has nothing to do with his every day comments. Benedict XVI has even made a point of distinguishing things he writes as “Benedict XVI” from things he writes as “Josef Ratzinger”, to distinguish his personal opinions from his papal teachings. I think he does this, in part, because of the way people have exalted all the writings of Karol Woytyla to merit the authority of the pope.

Infallibility means that the Pope can’t make an error in matters of faith and morals, but his personal opinions are just that. If the pope expresses an opinion on sports or a *particular* political issue (i.e., whether a particular war was “just” or not), that isn’t “covered” by infallibility. That’s called prudential judgement. A Pope *is* infallible when he states the principles a Catholic should follow in making political decisions.

Another aspect of infallibility pertains to what Dietrich von Hildebrand calls “incomplete truth.” Sometimes, a particular aspect of Catholic teaching might be emphasized to deal with a particular issue, such as when social justice was emphasized to fight the horrible working conditions of the Industrial Revolution era, or how abortion is emphasized today. This is also shown in the history of the ecumenical councils: one council would define a truth to denounce one heresy, but then another heresy would arise at the opposite extreme, claiming the previous council as its validation (i.e., Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility is one of the major legs of those who reject Vatican II; after the notion that Jesus was two persons consubstantial in one body was denounced, those who denied there was any difference between Jesus’ human and divine natures came to the forefront, and the Church said, “No, He is two natures in one Person”, and so on0.

So a particular papal document may emphasize the obligation of the state to listen to the Church on matters of Natural Law, denouncing “freedom of religion,” but then another pope comes along later and promotes “freedom of religion”: an apparent contradiction, but both are attacking the same problem from both ends. The Communists call for “freedom *from* religion”, and that is what Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII spent so much time denouncing–usually in documents condemning socialist governments in particular countries. On the other hand, Leo XIII preceded John Paul II in praising the kind of liberty promoted in the United States: again condemning the notion that the government should be totally free from the Church but praising the notion of not coercing people to adopt a religion. Then Vatican II comes a long and promotes “freedom of religion,” as a way of fighting the efforts of Communism, Islam and Western Secularism to crush such freedom altogether.

This is the same thing that happens with the Bible: when passages in the Bible seem to “contradict” each other, it’s almost always because a different audience, issue and historical context are involved. So in one passage, for example, St. Paul says it’s OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but in another passage he advises against it if it’s going to cause scandal.

So even on matters of faith and morals, the Popes must be understood in their historical contexts, and the audiences they were addressing.

The second sense of “infallibility” is what’s called “assent of religion.” This speaks to the Pope’s authority in matters of Church discipline, such as clerical celibacy or fish on Fridays. It also speaks to the matters of personal opinion mentioned above: even though a Pope’s personal opinion is not infallible, Catholics are obliged to follow the Evangelical Counsel of Obedience, so great care and caution should be taken before questioning a Pope’s judgement.

The third meaning of “infallibility” is when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra,” “from the Chair.” The Hebrew religion had the same principle. The New Testament, particularly Acts, makes reference to it in various places where the High Priest’s words are given a special authority, and the High Priest is shown as being sometimes inspired by the Holy Spirit in spite of his opposition to the early Christians.

The power of the Pope to speak ex cathedra means that he can define a matter of faith or morals as dogmatic and binding on all Christians without the need for a Council. This “power” has only been exercised a maximum of four times by Popes since Vatican I, and two of those are disputed: Blessed Pius IX’s definition of the Immaculate Conception; Venerable Pius XII’s definition of the Assumption; Bl. JPII’s definition of life beginning at conception; and Bl JPII’s definition that women cannot be ordained.

The last one has been debated mainly because an early Church Council already defined that dogmatically, and the Pope was just reiterating what they said, but he was using the formulations that Vatican I & II require for an ex cathedra statement. It is also unclear whether he was calling for a dogmatic definition or a matter of “assent of religion”; in any case, Avery Dulles’s elevation to Cardinal is often accredited to his defense that the Apostolic Letter _On the Ordination of Women_ was infallibile. However, even if the encyclical was not “ex cathedra,” it was certainly “infallible,” precisely because it was restating something a Council defined.

Similarly, there is debate about _Humanae Vitae_ because Paul VI came close to officially making it ex cathedra, and there are two arguments given why he didn’t. The so-called “Catholic Left” tries to insist that Vatican I & II said something they didn’t say: ex cathedra is precisely the power of the Pope to speak unilaterally. However, liberal Catholics try to insist that it’s only permitted if the Pope conducts a sort of “long distance Council.” So liberals try to say that Paul VI consulted all the bishops, and since the theological commission set up to investigate the “Pill” had found in favor of it, and since most of the bishops were in favor of it, liberals argue that Paul VI wasn’t able to speak ex cathedra. On the other hand, conservatives argue that the same principle as _Ordinatio Sacerdotalis_: contraception in all forms (herbal contraceptives having been used in all cultures throughout history) has been clearly condemned by the Church throughout history. Natural Family Planning, usually referred to as “selective abstinence” in Church documents, had been officially approved already in Pius XI’s _Casti Connubii_, so that wasn’t new, but he broadened its permission. The only thing novel in Humanae Vitae was the definition of marriage has having both a unitive and procreative purpose, where the prevailing Thomistic view had limited it to procreative (there’s that “incomplete truth” thing again).

One of the issues with both Catholic “Left” and “Right” is an inability to see the big picture of the Church: there are tons of documents produced by hundreds of Popes and dozens of Councils over the centuries, most of them buried in archives at the Vatican and other places, and most of them written in Latin and never published. Most of us don’t have any idea what the historical teachings of the Church are, so questioning the judgement of a Pope and saying it contradicts Church teaching (on the one hand) or that the Pope’s teaching is not dogmatically binding (on the other) is to claim that you’ve read *all* that, plus all the Doctors, early Church Fathers, etc., whose writings help make up the Magisterium. It’s a complex matter.

Text is not absolute

C. S. Lewis described his friend Owen Barfield as the “Other Friend,” who “read all the right books but got entirely the wrong things out of them.”

One of the lessons it took me a long time, and a Master’s in English, to really learn is how text is not absolute.

Is the Constitution “clearly” a document to restrain the states from oppressing the people, or is it “clearly” a document to protect the states’ rights from the federal government?

Does the second amendment “clearly” provide a right to bear arms or “clearly” limit the right to bear arms?

Does the first amendment “clearly” provide freedom to exercise or discuss religion in public or “clearly” establish a “wall of separation” between Church and State?

Does the Bill of Rights cast a “penumbral shadow”?

Are the “Harry Potter” books/movies a gateway drug to occultism or a fantastic Christian allegory?

Do people read _The Lord of the Rings_ and discern deep Christian themes or join strange clubs that wear elf ears and eat mushrooms?

Is Madame Bovary about the downward spiral of sin and addiction or about how the patriarchy and the Church oppress women?  Or is it just about sex?

Is Hamlet insane, pretending to be insane, or a madman who thinks he’s sane and pretending to be insane?  If he’s insane, is he bipolar, schizophrenic or sociopathic?

Does Aristotle contradict the Bible or not?

Does Plato promote or disapprove of homosexual behavior?

Any given text is open to a wide range of interpretations based upon which aspects one emphasizes.  People debate texts all the time, with each side claiming the “literal” reading of the text. Lawyers and lawmakers know this.  This is why they haggle over precise wording and punctuation in contracts and legislation.

The Muslims are “People of the Book” and there are several varieties of Islam.

The Jews are “People of the Book,” and there are 3 major modern forms of Judaism, with more specific forms, as well as the various ancient forms (Sadducee, Pharisee, Essene, etc.)

Then we have the over 30,000 Protestant “denominations,” plus the various ancient Churches in the East that consider themselves “Orthodox” compared to one another and to the Catholic Church, as well as all the ancient heresies, which all consider themselves to be going by a “literal reading of the Bible”.

Why does anyone sincerely believe that there can be such a thing as a literal reading of Scripture without the guidance of the Church?

Treatise Against Sedevacantism II: Bad Hermeneutics

The problem with Sedevacantism is it undermines every Catholic apologetic versus Protestantism or Orthodoxy. When it comes to considering the questions of Orthodoxy and Protestantism, a Catholic points out that the Catholic Church is the most truly “universal” form of Christianity, and the most truly evangelical. Protestant sects continually divide over every dispute. They have no sense of authority other than the “book.” They are very provincial. Orthodoxy is equally provincial, but doesn’t win converts. Only the Catholic Church has the full sense of what Christianity should be. If the sedevacantists are right, she doesn’t.

Most importantly, if the Seat is vacant, then where is our standard of authority? As Catholics, we are to see the primary authority not in any book but in the living authority of the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter. Sedevacantists are textual fundamentalists: they look at the pre-Vatican II texts, and the Vatican II texts, and they balk at any apparent contradiction. Rather than considering historical context. For example, Pius XII was condemning very specific things that were going on in specific countries at the time of his writing. Pius XII in many of the RadTrads’ favorite passages was writing to specific audiences about contexts that were specific to his day. It’s like today when a Pope writes about something going on in some dictatorship, and liberal Catholics take the teaching and assume it applies to what’s going on in the US.

Pius XII was very clear in defining what he was condemning: a certain notion of liberty or “freedom of conscience” which separates the individual from both society and the Church. He was specifically condemning radical libertarianism and the French model of “liberty.”

Meanwhile, certain passages from Paul VI get taken out of context, particularly the following from Paul VI (Address During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965):

Secular humanism, revealing itself in its horrible anti-clerical reality has, in a certain sense, defied the council. The religion of the God who became man has met the religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God. And what happened? Was there a clash, a battle, a condemnation? There could have been, but there was none. The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the council. A feeling of boundless sympathy has permeated the whole of it. The attention of our council has been absorbed by the discovery of human needs (and these needs grow in proportion to the greatness which the son of the earth claims for himself). But we call upon those who term themselves modern humanists, and who have renounced the transcendent value of the highest realities, to give the council credit at least for one quality and to recognize our own new type of humanism: we, too, in fact, we more than any others, honor mankind.

RadTrads are fond of quoting the above passage by starting with “The religion of the God who became man” but leaving out the part where Paul VI calls secular humanism “horrid” and “anti-clerical.” He says secular humanism has “defied the Council,” yet the sedevacantists try to use this very passage, inexplicably, to accuse Paul VI of secular humanism!!!tw

A similar conflict occurred in the late Renaissance.  In the Renaissance, two forms of “humanism” emerged: one embodied by Erasmus, and the other by St. Thomas More.  More was criticized by many in the Church merely for being a “humanist”, even though his humanism was not in conflict with Catholic teaching.

A few centuries earlier, St. Thomas Aquinas was criticized for trying to reconcile Aristotle to the fath.

Why is it evil for a Pope to suggest a different approach to dealing with the world, an approach of sympathy?  I cannot understand what there is to object to in this passage, unless one is admitting to a view of judgementalism and hatred?

In my Carmelite group, which has some pretty brilliant people, including two highly trained theologians, it always strikes me that I’m the only one trained in literature, and while I often regret that I never got a theology degree, it amazes me now how much my literature degree has helped me better understand theology.

Text is always open to interpretation, reinterpretation and misinterpretation.  Text is never absolute.  As Catholics, we know we must look at the Bible through the guidance of the Church.  We know that the Biblical authors were writing in historical contexts that we must understand to fully understand what they’re saying.  We know that the Biblical authors were addressing specific audiences about specific issues, and we must consider those audiences and issues.

Did Jesus have “brothers” or “brethren”?  Or did Jesus speak a language, Aramaic, which had one word for both?  When Paul says things about fasting or eating meat, was he talking about Catholic disciplinary practices or was he talking about things the Gnostics were doing?  We understand, as Catholics, that we must read the Bible with the Church’s guidances, yet somehow radical traditionalists think they can read the Church’s documents without the Church’s guidance and take them out of context.

If the Church tells me how to read a document, I’m going to listen to the Church’s guidance on how to read that document. My job as a Catholic is to believe in order to understand.  I trust my own reason only so far, and I do not presume the arrogance to think that I’m smarter than, say, Cardinal Burke or Cardinal Dulles or Cardinal Arinze or certainly Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict.

The Problem with “Movements”

Since 2004, there has been a discussion of so called “non-negotiables” in Catholic public life, often tied with the term “intrinsic evils.” I have problems with the usage of both terms as they have their ambiguous elements.

However, they have been introduced into Catholic political discourse to emphasize that the Church is unequivocal on some issues.

Almost all teachings of the Church regarding public life have some level of nuance to them. Usually, the Church teaches a totally different way of looking at politics or economics (notably subsidiarity and distributism) that, despite more than a century and a quarter since _Rerum Novarum_, still don’t quite fit into established secular political movements. Part of this is due to the fact that people have listened to the social encyclicals only reflexively by rejection (“Mater si, Magistra No”) or by intentionally misinterpreting (“If you’d only read the social encyclicals, you’d vote Democrat”).

With almost every issue, there’s some nuance. The Church almost always advises more on which principles to consider in regard to an issue rather than prescribing a particular course of action.

War: Just War Doctrine
Death Penalty: Equivalent strict standards of application
Economics: distributism; right to property, but the right to property is not absolute, etc.
Environment: Care for God’s resources; be good stewards; don’t blindly destroy nature; yet don’t put nature above humanity
Immigration: Have generous immigration laws; respect human dignity; keep families together; secure borders; don’t allow illegal immigration.
Even with the War in Iraq, there is some level of nuance in the Church’s teachings. Indeed, the War in Iraq was going on in 2004 when then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote his now infamous letter to Cardinal McCarrick saying specifically that war does not carry the same weight as abortion, since the Church teaches that some wars are just, and we can’t always be 100% sure of the justice or injustice of a cause. Yet Popes Benedict and John Paul have made comments against the Iraq War. Yet again, before the war, John Paul appealed not to the US but to Saddam Hussein to do what was right, since he was the one being uncooperative with the UN. And yet again, when B16 came here in April 2007, he praised our troops for fighting for the cause of freedom.

There’s always *something*. There’s always a level of room for adaptation of the general principles to one’s own perspective and situation, and the Popes acknowledge this.

However, there are issues for which there is no nuance. Abortion is wrong, period. The Church has always taught that and makes no exceptions.

Two equal and opposite problems arise from this.

The first problem involves voting. Since parties are coalitions, voting involves some kind of compromise. In theory, people “tally” votes, where, in reality, they vote on their pet issues. I’ve often heard it said, “The Democrats are in line with Catholic teaching on more issues than the Republicans,” though I’ve never been able to figure out which ones. Another justification Catholics will use for voting Democrat is trying to apply to abortion the level of nuance that other issues have, making up arguments about ensoulment and so forth, or else just saying that the Church is “hypocritical.”

And that, right there, gets to the problem of “movements.” I will grant that politics is one thing, and sometimes holding one’s nose and voting for the least evil of the candidates is what one must do.

However, most “movements” become so focused on their issue that they lose sight of the Church. It’s one thing when this happens in terms of political alliances. It’s quite another when the movement turns to criticizing the Church.

So, for example, with the “Peace Movement.” Peace is a good thing. However, I have a hard time maintaining dialogue with peace activists, with whom I largely agree, because they are so adamant about pacifism as such. I may not approve of the war, but I approve of the existence of the military, and I believe in the possibility of a Just war that is defensive or one that liberates one country from another’s attack.

However, that mere distinction is too much for many peace activists. Indeed, they’ll say that “Just War” theory itself is wrong and “goes against the teachings of Jesus.” To show how it goes against the teachings of Jesus, they’ll quote Dorothy Day, or Eileen Egan, or the Berrigans, Sr. Joan Chittister, or one of several dubious bishops. Challenge them with actual writings of Popes and Saints, and they’ll shut you out.

I have no problem with conscientious objection. Indeed, I support it. I have no problem with criticizing a war if one sincerely believes it is wrong. I have no objection to a person living a pacifist life, save for the question of protecting a loved one from assault. However, I *do* have a problem when someone’s zeal for peace takes the form of criticizing the Church and saying that Just War Doctrine itself is wrong.

Similarly, the Holy Father recently gave a speech about environmental concerns, which has spurred the usual debates on that topic. Again, the Church teaches that the environment must be honored and safeguarded, but the needs of humanity must come first. Radical Environmentalists conveniently ignore the latter qualification and use the Church to promote their agenda. Their opponents will ignore the first part and focus on the latter.

Again, it’s one thing to make an unhappy allegiance for voting purposes; it is quite another to call the Church’s teaching on a subject “wrong,” whether that subject is “peace” or divorce or economics or contraception.

So as much as I sympathize with their causes, I can’t get behind the “Peace” Movement or the “Environmental” Movement because they involve too much criticism of the Church and too many sketchy interpretations of Church teaching. The pro-life movement may compromise itself sometimes in its political allegiances, but the movement itself does not go around saying the Church is wrong on matters of dogma.

Progress in the SSPX Discussion

New Liturgical Movement reports that Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta, perhaps to now one of the least well known of the Society of St. Pius X bishops, has said the outcome of the first official doctrinal meeting was “good”.

The main points under discussion are, understandably:

a) The Magisterium of the Council and after the Council.

b) The conciliar liturgical reform.

c) Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

e) Papal authority and collegiality.

f) Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, secularism and the social reign of Jesus Christ.

g) Human rights and human dignity according to the Council’s teaching.

Of course, most “traditional” Catholics who are not schismatic, such as yours truly, agree with the SSPX to some degree or other on these issues, if only that Vatican II is very confusing in the light of Church tradition. I believe in a hermeneutic of continuity, but it is rather intellectually puzzling in some cases.

Progress in these dialogues would be a great boon to the Church. If the SSPX is allowed to resume full canonical status, then it would not only be a victory for authentic ecumenism, but it would ease the minds of many troubled traditionalists–it would also infuriate a lot of liberal Catholics.

According to the article, the process of the dialogue is: a) SSPX writes a position paper on one of the issues; b) “technical experts” exchange e-mails on the subject; c) the Vatican issues a formal response; d) an in person discussion is scheduled (and recorded by both sides); e) the results are forwarded to Pope Benedict XVI and to Bishop Bernard Fellay.

Do we use the language of the Greeks or not?

The doctrine of transubstantiation, that the Eucharist contains the substance of Jesus Christ–His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity–but not the “acccidents”, uses terms derived from Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotle.

Substance was, for Aristotle, what makes a thing what-it-is.  What does it mean “to be”?  The Latin verb “to be” is esse, from which we get essence.  A thing’s substance is its essence. 

Classic example: a man is a man.  His having a beard is an “accident”, because he can have a beard or not have a beard and still be a man.

Anything that is not necessary to one’s being is an “accident.”  Anything necessary is a “substance.”

Modern science has basically turned that around and said that a “substance” is that which is.  Just the thing in front of you.  In chemistry, any finite object is a “substance.”

A human, considered as a human, is a “substance.”  A cell, considered as a cell, is a “substance.”  A DNA molecule, qua DNA molecule, is a substance.  And so on.

But Aristotle wanted something deeper.  Plato said that substances didn’t exist in this world: they’re “forms” of things in Heaven.  Somewhere in Heaven, for Plato, there’s an IDEAL BED.  There’s also an Ideal Sofa Bed.  And there’s an Ideal version of the precise sofa bed I”m reclining on as I write this.

C. S. Lewis embodies this philosophy in the last chapters of  The Last Battle.Aristotle could not see how substance could be refined to a purely spiritual reality, since things exist in a material plane. So he sought out how to define that which a substance is.  Metaphysics is the field of study “beyond physics,” but philosophers have long debated  whether that title is just bibliographic, as in “The book after Physics,” or “Physics, Level II”, or else it’s really “a field of study about things higher than what physics studies.”

 

Today, the proper study of metaphysics belongs to those who study quarks and dark matter and relativity and quantum physics. 

Medical science probes the human brain and discovers parts of the brain that fire when people have mystical experiences, showing how the spiritual realm transects with  our reality.

Physical science studies the fringes of the cosmos and discovers how limited our universe really is, and how limited our understanding of matter and energy really are.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church remains trapped in Medieval cosmology.

The substance of a body is something physical.  Something that can be touched . Something that can be seen.  Something that can be observed with any of the senses. 

So, those who try to give a pragmatic, worldly theology of the Eucharist, even doing so in an orthodox manner (because they argue from council proclamations based upon obsolete science), will say, “It’s the substance, but not the accidents,” using Aristotle’s terminology.

But, as soon as you point out that Aristotle’s substance is something physical, they say, “We can’t be confined to Aristotle’s terminology.”

Or else that there is a Divine substance, such as “consubstantial with the Father.”

But it’s not the Divine Substance of Jesus we’re talking about.  It’s the substance of His Body.  The substance of His Blood. Even the Blood more than the Body.  For if one is to say, “it’s just a ‘spiritual body,'” then what is spiritual blood?

Transubstantiation has to mean something, or else it is meaningless.  It has to be something *different*.  It cannot be something we just chalk up to “spiritual reality.”  If that’s the case, then Transubstantiation is no different than the omnipresence of God.

I certainly have no problem with spiritual reality, and it is quite obvious that transubstantiation cannot be observed according to the standards of our every day observation of material reality.

But if we’re going to use the term “substance,” and we’re going to use the term “body,” and we”re going to use the term “accidents,” then we have to play by Aristotle’s ground rules.  I’d rather we didn’t.  I’d rather we scrapped the whole issue altogether.

But Transubstantiation touches on the very question Aristotle is asking in the Metaphysics: What does it mean to be? And not just to be, but to be what we are?  What makes me John Charles Hathaway? 

On the human level, that is the fundamental question I ask of people who support abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, or other aspects of the Culture of Death: how do you define what a human being is?

Liberals usually answer that question with an appeal to religion: a human being is a soul.  It’s a “spiritual reality.”  They sever the human body from the human soul and say the soul is what defines the person, not the body.

Pro-lifers argue that, given our current knowledge of science, we have to say that the continuum of human life begins at conception, and we cannot create arbitrary divisions in the stages of development of the human person.  The reason for this is that, to create such a division, you have to deny human rights to someone already born, as well.  The usual division one hears is “viability,” when the baby is no longer 100% dependent upon the mother exclusively(but the adoration of George Tiller by abortion supporters show they don’t really care about viability).

Yet that removes the right to life of anyone on life support of any sort.

The argument that “life begins at conception” is almost a kind of fall-back measure, because we can’t really say what a human being is.

We don’t know what, in the Aristotelian sense, the substance of a human being is.

The answer to that question may not exist, but the fringes of modern science show that it very well may.

What if transubstantiation and the mystery of human life are inherently linked, which is why they are so important to Catholics of a more traditional mindset, and why “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics want to downplay both?

Both touch on the fundamental question of Creation, of how the supernatural and the natural interact.

When a priest consecrates the Host, he performs a similar accomplishment to what a married couple do when they conceive a child: both are bringing a human substance into the world.
One is bringing the human substance of the God Man, Christ, back into the world in the appearance of bread and wine.
The substance of the bread and wine–what makes them bread and wine–go away. The “accidents” remain.

And the man and woman combine the cells of their bodies into a new embryo, and that embryo has what we call a “soul” (and Aristotle’s word “anima” is the biological equivalent of “substance”–whatever it is that makes things alive).

Only in such an explanation can the claim that “the Eucharist is a spiritual reality” be saved from leadinng to Rahnerism.

For perhaps Plato was right. Perhaps all substance is spiritual. Maybe we’re all just little game board pieces, little avatars, being moved by our True Selves in Heaven.

Or there’s something else.

If the substance of a human being is the DNA, or the cells, if “life begins at conception,” then we have to be able to put the Host under a microscope and see evidence of the substance of Christ’s Body.

A 1 week old embryo and a 100 year old man will, in theory, have the same DNA when looked at side-by-side.
If the genetic code is the “substance” of a human person, whether that person is under the appearance of an embryo or an old codger, then the Eucharist *must* have the genetic code of a man, not wheat.

But wait.

The problem is in the pro-life argument. DNA *cannot* be where we find the anima or the substance of man, because DNA CAN CHANGE

First, there’s the common response to “life begins at conception”: identical twins. Their DNA doesn’t change, per se, but the embryo splits in two, and the two new embryos have identical DNA, so that DNA cannot be the “substance” of either one.

DNA can be mutated during a person’s lfe, by radiation for example, or by certain drugs that have been shown to alter DNA. An embryo’s cell is not the same as the cell of an old man because an embryo is all stem cells, and we know that even adult stem cells are not exactly like embryonic stem cells.

So the 100 year old man does not necessarily have the same DNA as the baby. Even if it only happens that way occasionally, it still proves that DNA is not the substance of a person.

So, now, from the pro-life perspective, we have an insoluble quandary, but the philosophical quandary of the Eucharist makes more sense.

But, again, what if there is a third way between Plato and Aristotle? What if there is a third way between “spiritual” and “physical”? What if, as scientific knowledge advances, we hit on some level of existence that really is what Aristotle calls “substance” and also what Plato calls Forms?

Whatever happens to the universe at the moment of Consecration is the same as whatever happens at the moment of conception. If we can figure out what that is, we’ll have solved everything.

The standards of Papal Infallibility

How do we know whether a Pope is speaking ex cathedra?

First, the definition. From an EWTN article:

There are, clearly, four tests of infallibility: The Pope must be (1) intending
to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority (3) a matter of Faith
or morals (4) to be held by the universal Church.

From Vatican I, on the Holy Father as Supreme Judge in the Church:

8. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful [52], and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment [53]. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon [54]. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.

Now, the definition of Infallibility:

9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. .

Now, here’s what the Catechism says about infallibility anad obedience:

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

Now, this is rather important: speaking ex cathedra technically applies to matters of divinely revealed truth in theology. This is different from moral theology, which is known through the Natural Law (as well as through divine revelation). Technically, there cannot be an ex cathedra pronouncement on the wrongness of contraception, because that is a moral truth, which pertains to the natural law and can be argued with appeal to natural reason alone. This brings us to the next paragraph:

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.

The Catechism is mostly quoting Lumen Gentium 25.

Now, let’s look at when it has been unquestionably exercised.

From Bl. Pius X, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854:

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”[29]

Like any good Catholic dogma, this is followed with an anathema:

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Ven. Pius XII uses similar language in Munificentissimus Deus (1950):

44. For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed
dogma
: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having
completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into
heavenly glory.

Again, with the anathema:

45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

Let’s look at three more recent cases which may or may not have constituted infallible pronouncements either according to assent of faith or assent of religion.

My recent mysterious interlocutor acknowledged the following paragraph of Evangelium Vitae to be “infallible”

Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. 72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 73

This is an interesting question. John Paul II is defining abortion as a “grave moral evil” That would seem to fall under CCC 892, not 891. However, it clearly uses the language of speaking ex cathedra, and it is contingent upon the ontological proclamation that life begins at conception.

It is also interesting that John Paul’s proclamation, to which my interlocutor has stipulated, is itself based upon what Paul VI says in Humanae Vitae (see the footnote, which refers to Humanae Vitae).

There is another passage in Evangelium Vitae which seems to carry the same weight:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 51

Here, however, His Holiness confirms. He does not declare, because he is simply restating the content of the Fifth Commandment. He exerts his Petrine authority, but he does not “declare,” because he is dealing with something that has already been defined clearly by the Magisterium.

Another case where John Paul II reportedly used infallibility was in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994):

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

The language is much simpler, but His Holiness still uses the Petrine authority (Lk 22:32), and uses the word “declare,” and says, “this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”. However, in some sense, we might argue that he should have used “confirm,” since, in the previous paragraph, he states that “the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents.”

Now, let’s look at the encyclical which theologians have spent great sophistry trying to reject over the past 40 years, teaching their students in “Catholic” schools and universities to do the same, Humanae Vitae.

First, on the commission itself:

However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

So, basically, he’s admitting that the commission was corrupt.

The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.
. . .
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14)

Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

Now, he does not invoke the authority of Peter. He does, as John Paul does in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and in the passage of Evangelium Vitae the killing of innocents, invoke the established doctrine of the Church, saying that he is merely reiterating what the Church has already defined (it would be nice if the term John Paul uses–confirm–were adopted by the Church for all such proclamations.