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.

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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.