Category Archives: John Paul II

Is the Catholic Church Infallible?

I have convert friends who rightly worry that traditional Catholics, in criticizing Pope Francis, tend towards a Protestant mentality.  I
Conversely, I have convert friends who feel that Pope Francis’s teachings and praxis–telling an Anglican friend *not* to become a Catholic for example–have undermined their reasons for conversion.
Many worry that criticism of Francis undermines their faith in the Church Herself.  Perhaps–but that criticism is only the symptom.  There is a point at which we have to stop saying “It’s a mistranslation,” or “It’s just the media.”  The Holy Father knows fully well what people are saying he said, and he’s had ample opportunity to correct misconceptions.  In many cases, he’s “doubled down” on comments like “Who am I to judge” and the infamous “promethean neo-pelagian” invective.
If he did not want to create certain impressions, he wouldn’t create them.
However, to say that Catholics who point out the problems, whether those who look at the implications of his phrasing while supporting the orthodoxy of his words or those who accuse the Pope of outright heresy, are the problem is proverbially shooting the messenger.
Instead of trying to understand the fears and concerns of many tradition-minded Catholics about the Pope’s words and deeds, many in the middle and conservative wings of the Church are merely joining the Pope in condemning “Older brothers on the Porch” who “don’t want to see converts returning to the Church” and “Just look for reasons to hate Francis the way the Pharisees looked for reasons to hate Jesus.”
Here’s my perspective, as a temperamentally traditionalist cradle Catholic who grew up in the 80s and 90s, who grew up with priests as frequent dinner guests, devout parents with devout friends, who was reading _Catholic Answers_ in my early teens.
For me, the Francis Papacy seems to be the fulfillment of two equal and opposite narratives/predictions I grew up with.  On the one hand there were the priests, “church ladies,” etc., who showed commitment to protecting the unborn, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, etc., and spoke or recommended books about alleged and approved apparitions.  So on this side were the warnings (cf. _Pierced by a Sword_) of a time when a pope would be forced into hiding–either exiled from Rome or imprisoned in the Vatican itself–and replaced with a Pope who would be the first to change defined teaching, probably on matters of sexual morality.
On the other hand, there were the ones who said, “Vatican II got rid of that” about everything that seemed  “cool” about Catholicism–not just Latin, but popular devotions, Indulgences, Mary and the Saints, and so on–who were more concern about social activism than spirituality, and who spoke longingly of how, “A time will come when this old Pope [St. John Paul] dies and we get a Pope who will truly follow Vatican II and get rid of Canon Law, allow priests to marry, allow divorce and birth control, . . . .”
I heard nearly those exact words on more than one occasion.  A noteworthy example was a daily Mass “homily” in late 2002.  The priest claimed that the “only divine laws are the Ten Commandments, and everything else was man-made.”  He mocked the Church for having Canon Law, mocked the 1917 and 1983 codes, and expressed the aforementioned hope.  Before I could write to the bishop, the priest had resigned, amidst a pornography scandal in which, ironically, he had previously been protected by Canon Law.

So, now, we have a Pope who keeps hinting at such changes, who has brought back into the forefront cardinals and bishops like Walter Kasper, whose retirement Pope Benedict had readily accepted, and who keeps saying the same kinds of things the priests in the latter group would say.  It’s no wonder that many with a similar or more traditional background than my own are highly suspicious, at best, of the present Holy Father.

I’m still holding out hope that Pope Francis is like Pope Liberius, speaking ambiguously to hold the Church together, but that didn’t turn out well for Pope Liberius.

Regardless, after 3 years of trying to articulate my own concern, reading the synopsis of a recent homily that sounds like so many others, I finally got it.  My convert friends who don’t want to hear  Pope Francis criticized because they feel it undermines the Catholic faith are, as I said, putting the blame in the wrong place.

When the Pope says his critics are “following the Law” and ignoring the “Will of God,” when he says of changing an ancient ritual that copies something Christ did by saying, “It’s what Christ would do” (even though He precisely didn’t), the implication is clear: the Pope thinks, or sympathizes with those who think, that the Church before his Papacy, or at least before Vatican II, was *not* doing the will of God, was not doing what Christ would do.  He is the one saying the Church is not infallible, not those of us who question or challenge some of the things he teaches.

Oh, wait, saying the Church is infallible is “triumphalism.”  As a FB friend who’s a priest said, “A shepherd who pats a wandering sheep on the head and applauds his conscientious decision to leave the flock isn’t helping anyone but the wolf.”

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“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”

 

The Proper Weight of Man

January 15, 2000, at about 9 PM at the now-closed Steak & Ale on Forrest Dr. in Columbia, SC, I proposed marriage by reading this passage:

“The weight of these golden rings”, he said, “is not the weight of metal, but the proper weight of man, each of you separately and both together. Ah, man’s own weight, the proper weight of man! Can it be at once heavier, and more intangible? It is the weight of constant gravity, riveted to a short flight. The flight has the shape of a spiral, an ellipse—and the shape of the heart … Ah, the proper weight of man! This rift, this tangle, this ultimate depth— this clinging when it is so hard to unstick heart and thought. And in all this—freedom, a freedom, and sometimes frenzy, the frenzy of freedom trapped in this tangle. And in all this—love, which springs from freedom, as water springs from an oblique rift in the earth. This is man! He is not transparent, not monumental, not simple, in fact he is poor. This is one man—and what about two people, four, a hundred, a million— multiply all this (multiply the greatness by the weakness) and you will have the product of humanity, the product of human life.”
Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II), The Jeweler’s Shop, Act 1, scene 4).

Here’s a link to the play:

Let’s say the “worst case scenario” happens . . .

I happened to pray the Office of Readings for the first time in ages today, and it was a very appropriate reading from St. Gregory the Great that could have been written about the church today:

Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge. For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly. With reference to the former situation, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.
There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I will accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly—compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.
– See more at: http://divineoffice.org/ord-w27-sat-or/?title=Oct+10%2C+Office+of+Readings+for+Blessed+Virgin+Mary&date=20151010#sthash.zuBnCfii.dpuf

And in the midst of the debates about the Synod, there’s something I’ve never understood about people’s understanding of Papal primacy and infallibility. The “Old Catholics” broke off because they rejected Vatican I’s declaration of Infallibility. Then the “traditionalists” broke off, or whatever, because by their understanding of papal infallibility, and previous papal statements about modernism, religious liberty, etc., Vatican II was in violation of Vatican I, and they developed various approaches to the question. Now, I take the doctrines of infallibility and indefectibility to mean that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from falling into error–She just can’t. It has never happened in many situations similar to our own–though some crises have come close, and there was even at least one pope in history who was a material heretic.
Now, let’s say that the Synod does something directly at odds with the words of Christ in the name of Mercy. In practice, it means no more than a regional or national bishops’ conference. After all, B16’s Synod on Liturgy came up with some pretty strong statements that have been mostly ignored, such as calling for an end to “bilingual” Masses, and saying that it needs to be Latin, one vernacular and Latin, but not multiple vernaculars, and any congregation with significantly multiple languages should be Latin–how many diocese have implemented those guidelines?
Now, let’s say Francis, either with the support of the Synod, or unilaterally, does something that directly contradicts the words of Christ. *I am not saying I think it will happen*, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.
What becomes of infallibility and indefectibility?
The way I have always seen it, both the Vatican I schisms that we now consider to be morally “liberal” groups, and the Vatican II schisms and “not in schism but not fully in communion” groups that we call “traditionalist” are taking intellectually dishonest positions.
If Vatican II was heretical, then just saying, “It’s pastoral and not doctrinal” isn’t enough–“pastoral and not doctrinal” means that it is formulating authentic teaching, and promoting an approach to methodology, that is not necessarily “wrong” but one is free to disagree with. If one truly believes that teaching contradicts previous anathemas, one cannot simply say, “it’s pastoral and not doctrinally binding.” That only works for rectifying the apparent contradiction in approach.
That’s why the sedevacantists say that the “Seat is vacant,” and compare to times when there were exceptionally long papal interregnums, the Great Western schism, the Cadavar Trial and surrounding events, etc. Yet the sedevacantist position is that Vatican I was right.
What if Vatican I was wrong? Then we get to the “Old Catholic” position that Vatican I was wrong to say the Pope has unilateral infallibility, yet they hold to the teachings of Trent.
What I have not understood for a long time is how either group still clings to Trent.
If it’s possible for a Council to err, what makes this Council erroneous and not that one?
Between “in union with Rome” Catholics, anti-Vatican II traditionalists, anti-Vatican I “Old Catholics,” Protestant of various sorts, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and “Oriental” Orthodox (Copts and Chaldeans), Rome and Byzantium had the strongest and most intellectually consistent claims.
For me, though, one of the key proofs of Rome’s being the true Church of Christ is that She holds fast to Christ’s teachings on the indissolubility of marriage. If that ceases to be true, it creates a theological rift that simple sedevacantism cannot rectify. It cannot simply be “The Pope of Rome is infallible until I disagree with him.” It *has* to be, “maye he was never infallible to begin with.”

A Pope of the People?

There once was a cardinal from a country with a large Catholic population but a secular, anti-Catholic government. He had something of a reputation in his homeland, in Rome, and among the Catholic commentariat, if you will, but wasn’t really known to the average priest or layperson, or especially most non-Catholics. As a bishop and Cardinal, he seemed to be just like the bishop in Les Miserables. He didn’t like to be addressed as “Your Emminence,” “Your Excellency,” or even “Father,” but told people to call him “Uncle.” He enjoyed hiking and outdoor sports, and preferred hanging out with laity to clergy, and when he hung out with clergy, he didn’t “pull rank”–even to the extent that, on a weekend vacation with various priests, an old monseignor, not knowing who he was, decided to boss around the unassuming middle-aged “priest,” until the monseignor was embarrased to learn he had spent the weekend ordering a cardinal to fetch his tea or his newspaper.
When a papacy was suddenly cut short, there was an emergency conclave though it seemed one had just happened recently. There were rumors that this cardinal had been a front runner during the previous conclave, or that another cardinal had actually been elected first then rejected because of political lobbying, but either way people suggested for almost his entire papacy that this popular, populist cardinal was actually a communist agent.
He was elected Pope, and shocked the world with his unassuming greeting. For the first few years of his Papacy, he seemed to embody the “hopes” of the Vatican II generation for a “radical” who would strip away wall the remaining trappings and traditions. He appointed some key bishops and cardinals who emphasized a “pastoral” approach. He shunned some of the security measures and other trappings of the papacy to be “close to the people.” A few of his appointments, most notably his Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, seemed to have a more “conservative” or “traditional” bent. His erstwhile admirers began to be concerned that that he wasn’t the Pope they’d been looking for, although those inclined to mistrust him largely retained their mistrust.
Then, after a time, something happened. He was shot. After, he adopted more security. His teachings became more bold. His appointments became, generally, more “traditional.” Within a few years, though some of those who suspected he was a secret Communist never relinquished that view, even as he helped topple communist and other secular regimes around the world, but the progressives who had embraced him early on began to denounce him as a traditonalist and a reactionary. They began to express hope that he’d die soon so they could get a “Pope who will get rid of all that canon law stuff, allow contraception and divorce and abortion and women priests. . . . ” When he or his prefects at the CDF and the CDW issued strong statements on moral or liturgical issues, they’d say things like, “he’s trying to stop his successor from making the changes we want.” Yet when his CDF prefect became his successor, they ignored him.
And now I think we’re seeing the same process with Francis that we saw 30 years ago with St. John Paul II.

A Question for Pastors

I have a serious question to ask to any priests who may happen to read this, but first, I’d like to begin with an example.
Arguably, the worst pope in history was Alexander VI, aka Rodrigo Borgia: we say “Borgia Popes” when there was really only one, but his reputation defined an era; his daughter(!) Lucretia is ranked in history and myth with the likes of Jezebel and Medea; his son(!) is believed to be the model for the behaviors Machiavelli describes in _The Prince_.
During an era when women were forbidden, both in canonical and civil law, from preaching, a woman who claimed to be a locutionary and prophetess was brought before the throne of Alexander VI on charges of witchcraft.  She began to recite and denounce the sins of Rodrigo Borgia.  The Pope, not known for any particular respect for human life, could have publically or privately ordered her tortured or killed in any way he wanted, but he acknowledge the truth of her words and ordered that she be released.
I have known few local pastors willing to demonstrate such humility when laity have even so much as questioned their decisions on morally neutral matters, much less challenged them for setting a bad example or being outright cruel.  13 years after the so-called “scandals,”  which were really for some reason a sudden media outburst about problems long known and rumored, have we learned nothing?
While the Church has addressed child sexual abuse nominally by targeting parents and making up draconian policies based more on legal, insurance and PR concerns than morality–which was the problem to begin with–and while some reports suggest the cases of sexual abuse have gone down, verbal and emotional abuse by pastors goes on unabated.
When a few lay organizations perhaps go overboard in their zeal for prophetic witness, they are dismissed as “causing division,” while the average Catholic who cares about the Church is still ignored or dismissed or even banned.
The Holy Father worries about pastors “obsessing” in homilies about a “few disjointed moral issues,” yet most of us have rarely, if ever, heard those moral issues addressed from the pulpit, except by priests who preach of “tolerance” and “more important issues,” and the ones who do preach about them tend to “disappear,” get  passed up for pastoral appointments, or suddenly adopt a softer tone.
You see, if a rich liberal Catholic writes an angry letter to the bishop, that letter gets heard, but if a traditionalist, whether rich or not (but usually we have less disposable income because we actually have kids) writes to the bishop, in that case the letter-writer gets ignored or worse.

Poll after poll shows that most Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of Our Faith, and it’s not preached about, even when we have the Bread of Life discourse every three years.  Poll after poll shows that only a small percentage, if only a fraction of a percent, of Catholics are using NFP.
We’re told, if we point to the lack of children in the pews as a cause for pastoral concern, that we’re “being judgemental” and that maybe all those people are suffering infertility.  If that’s the case, then priests should be preaching about adoption or about how the birth control hormones polluting our water supply are causing rising infertility rates.

Yet, when the saints, and the Popes (including Pope Francis) suggest avoiding preaching against sin, they usually do it with the alternative of preaching prayer.  St. Louis de Montfort and St. Teresa of Avila both call on priests to teach prayer and devotion to Our Lady, that sinners want to know how to repent, and God will open the truth to them in prayer.

We’re told about the Pope’s admonitions against using air conditioning, but not his admonitions against priests living in luxury and his calls for pastors to “smell like the sheep” and go out among the poor.

And the question that I always come back to is: Father(s), do you care more about saving souls or about saving money?

Do you care that the majority of your flock are likely to go to Hell?  Why don’t you warn them?   Do you understand that, when you don’t encourage families to be in the church, when you tear down playgrounds or forbid people from using them, you’re telling people “children aren’t welcome”?  Do you care about the souls of people you push away?  St. Alphonsus warns that pastors will be held accountable for every soul lost to Hell because of their sins of deed or omission.  Even St. John Bosco had a vision, late in life, where St. Dominic Savio admonished him for permitting too many boys to be lost to Hell because he lacked enough faith!

If you find yourself wishing that the most fervent of your followers would die off or get over the alleged “fad” of Tradition, think about it.
If you find yourself suggesting you’d leave the priesthood rather than following Pope Benedict’s call to offer the Extraordinary Form to any group who requests it, or St. John Paul’s call to say part of every Mass in Latin, think about it.
If you find yourself saying things like a hole in one is the greatest moment in your life, think about it.
If you’re more concerned about money issues than whether children or families with children feel welcome in your parish, think about it.
If you find yourself too proud to read something like this and take fraternal correction in humility the way even Rodrigo Borgia was able to do, think about it.

And when you’ve thought about it, I invite you to make or renew a total consecration to Our Lady.  Start today.  Even if it’s not 33 days from a Marian feast, there’s no time like the present.

A guide to St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration
A guide to St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Consecration
IMG_3746
Please, Father, whoever you are reading this, please act now.

The Key to a “Perfect Marriage”

Is not to think there is one.

Back in the late 90s, Mary Beth Bonacci wrote a column about how the purpose of dating is to break up.  So often, that seems to be the purpose not just of dating but of most “relationship” articles.  “How to tell if your [guy/girl] is [cheating/wrong for you/the right one,” “How to tell if your relationship is failing.”  “What do all successful marriages have in common?”

Bai MacFarlane once observed of her divorce that there’s a certain attitude of the “perfect Catholic marriage” that has grown out of the JP2/NFP/TOB movement that sets a certain standard, and people are often led to stress about trying to achieve that standard.

A few years ago, Matt Walsh wrote a piece called “My Marriage Wasn’t Meant to Be,” which he apparently recently revised for his new Blaze column in response to the Sparks divorce.  His point is that we have free will, and the notion of being “destined” to marry someone takes away from free will but also creates an ideal that is too easily lost to sentimentalism–or questioning whether “this is the right one.”  I’d argue that a Mystery is far more complicated than that, and he is quite literally touching on the basic question of free will versus predestination and God’s plans versus our own, but he makes a good point.

Closer to home, my wife, thinking about cases like the MacFarlanes, or Nicholas Sparks and his wife, or of how every celebrity couple who give an interview about their great marriage seem to divorce shortly thereafter, always says, “Don’t say we have a ‘happy marriage.’  Saying that is just inviting the Devil to tempt us.  There’s no such thing as a ‘happy marriage’ or a ‘perfect marriage.'”  It wasn’t until recently that I connected all those thoughts and realized that’s what she means.

Maggie Gallagher a few years ago wrote of attending a 50th anniversary party, where the husband was asked the secret to staying married 50 years, and he said, “Arrive for your wedding and then wait.”

That, really, sums it up.  There are plenty of good points available for guidance in discerning whether someone is the “right” person to marry, and there is plenty of good advice for trying to do better.  But there is a great danger in constantly thinking that a relationship must be “perfect,” that a person must be “perfect,” that if you’re *not* living up to the standard, that you should call it quits.

Nonetheless, however you get there, presuming proper formation and discernment, and no canonical impediments, whether you’re “best friends,” “soul mates,” or arranged, or whatever, after the vows are exchanged, the key to marriage is a) to remember that divorce is never an option; b) to always keep working at it; c) to remember that you’ve given yourselves to each other and be grateful for that gift.

And that’s really all there is to it.