This Can of Worms

10 November, 2013 at 7:44 pm

can-of-worms

When I sat down to write my thoughts about the trouble I was having with Pope Francis, I just couldn’t anticipate what would follow.

You see, this is a blog that very few people read. I have other outlets for more media-worthy stories that have larger audiences. But when I’m working something out and need to get it written down, I go here. I share it with family and friends, and I expect that — usually anyway — that’s about as much impact as it will make. It’s where the posts I can’t write anywhere else go to die. Well, usually.

So I wrote my little thing about the pope, and it struck a nerve. Tens of thousands of views later, I have now been interviewed by NBC News and The New York Times (the latter was also picked up by The Drudge Report) about my papal concerns. This is understandable, if a bit surprising for me. The understandable part is that articulate opposition always creates just the right touch of conflict in a story, and I can provide that to a certain extent, even though there are others far smarter, more noteworthy, and more articulate than I out there doing the same. The surprising part is that I’m really nobody worth bothering about, much as I would like sometimes to believe otherwise.

I am a not-very-accomplished sometimes writer who has happened to make a hobby out of studying theology over the last 20 years or so. I have enough knowledge to be dangerous but not enough to consider myself an accomplished Catholic apologist of any stripe, my college degree in Theology notwithstanding. 2,000 years of religious practice, tradition, thought, and belief is hardly something a young man can cram into four years of a second major. I can hold my own in an argument, but these days, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into depth on this stuff. It gets pretty heady, and the investment into research and response to a protracted debate over the particulars can drag on for days.

You see, I have a wife, and I would like to keep her. She was very patient with me in the early days of our marriage as I played Catholic Vigilante of Teh Internets, but as time went on and our family grew, my little pursuit became an obstacle to doing my main job: providing for the family we had built together and helping to educate and care for them and the home they live in. Now that we own a business as well, which always needs a thousand things done although there’s never enough opportunities to do them, I have to set priorities. This is why you’ll note the rather long periods of time between posts in this space.

So the choice I’m making is this: I cannot substantively engage in the sort of point-by-point debates I used to. This means that I am, I fear, selling those commenters who have taken the time to ask thoughtful questions short. These commenters, no matter how much fondness (or enmity) I towards whom I may feel are simply not as precious as my small children or as beautiful (or dangerous) as my lovely wife. They come first. But I will try, however briefly and inadequately, to set some things straight.

 

So, back to the subject at hand.

I’d like to address a few points that have been brought up:

  • I am coming at these issues from the perspective of a faithful Catholic who understands and obeys Church teaching. (I say perspective, because although I strive, like all sinners, I sometimes fall very short of this ideal.) I have absolutely no time or interest in entertaining arguments or trolling about how the Church hates gays or I hate gays (or women, or puppies, or poor Lithuanians, or whatever). I don’t hate class of people, and neither does the Church. But love — real love — means challenging people who are in sin. Whether that’s me because I’m out committing adultery or robbing banks or you because you’re living a homosexual lifestyle, the Church teaches that these things are sinful, and thus recommends that you stop doing these things if you want to get to heaven. That’s about as far as I’m going to take this one. Go find someone else to argue with about the Church hating gays.
  • I have been asked “who are you to judge the pope?” Who am I? Nobody, really. And I’m not judging him. I’m saying that the things he is saying on issues such as evangelization, liturgy, devotional practices, freedom of conscience, abortion, homosexuality, and contraception have formed an impression that is generally contrary to what the Church has traditionally taught. Since the pope can’t change Church teaching, that’s problematic.
  • I have been attempting to explain what the doctrine of papal infallibility covers, and what it doesn’t. It DOES NOT cover every word that the pope says, every opinion, every interview. Not by a long shot. In fact papal infallibility is an incredibly limited faculty and rarely used as compared to magisterial infallibility, which is much more common. To quote Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman on the topic:

“If the Pope prescribed lying or revenge, his command would simply go for nothing, as if he had not issued it, because he has no power over the Moral Law. If he forbade his flock to eat any but vegetable food, or to dress in a particular fashion (questions of decency and modesty not coming into the question), he would also be going beyond the province of faith, because such a rule does not relate to a matter in itself good or bad.

[...]

However, there are other conditions besides this, necessary for the exercise of Papal infallibility, in moral subjects:—for instance, his definition must relate to things necessary for salvation. No one would so speak of lotteries, nor of a particular dress, nor of a particular kind of food;—such precepts, then, did he make them, would be simply external to the range of his prerogative.”

  • One thing that seems to be lost in the current understanding of papal infallibility is that a pope can’t just up and do a 180 on Church doctrine. He doesn’t have the power to overturn any doctrinal or dogmatic teaching that came before him. He is a custodian of truth, not the creator of it. So I’m not claiming that he IS changing it. I’m claiming that he’s giving the IMPRESSION that he’s changing it, which can have a similar effect on the way people live if left uncorrected.
  • Finally: the Church is bigger than any single pope. That’s the takeaway I really want people to have. He’s just one guy with a limited amount of power to do the things he has on his agenda. This is something I don’t think I ever adequately understood in the past, but we all grow and evolve in our way of looking at things if we’re being honest and paying attention. So yes, while Catholics have traditionally pointed to the pope when he was the only one speaking the truth, we (many of us, anyway) fell under the impression that his words had more power and carried more weight than they really did. There are non-negotiables, and there are personal opinions of a particular pope. Being able to make the distinction between the two is essential to understanding any particular papacy.

The bottom line is that my issues and concerns all come from an understanding of what the Church *is* and how the nature of the institution is to be unchanging. When people start going around trying to change it, it becomes something else. Something other than Catholicism. And if that’s the case then why not just start a new religion or join a different one.

I have more thoughts, of course, but they’ll have to wait. I’m getting pretty tired of talking about this, so maybe they’ll wait for a long time. Being a critic of anything tends to draw negativity, and I don’t like getting mired in that for too long. It’s draining.

ALSO: Though it’s not how I like to do business, I will not have time to police the comment box — here or on the original post — though I will probably do a drive by here and there if necessary. Please be civil, or I will hit you with the magic death ray of banification.

UPDATE: I should have included links to two of the more outstanding Church documents that point to problems in this papacy. The first is Pascendi Dominici Gregis , by Pope St. Pius X. The first few sentences are true now more than ever, and the later warnings against modernism that will come through the guise of clergy and theologians are chilling. The opening statement:

One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and the gainsaying of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body, for owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things,”1 ”vain talkers and seducers,”2 ”erring and driving into error.”3 It must, however, be confessed that these latter days have witnessed a notable increase in the number of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, who, by arts entirely new and full of deceit, are striving to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, as far as in them lies, utterly to subvert the very Kingdom of Christ.

That obligation of “guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of faith” is one I don’t see Pope Francis taking very seriously at all, at least in terms of the never-ending stream of misinterpretations of Catholic teaching or the direction of the Church that seem to follow in his wake.

The second document, and one which carries significant doctrinal weight, is Bl. Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. A sometimes challenging read when you have to remember that the positive statements in the document are the very same that are being condemned, not supported, it nonetheless addresses issues such as the question of atheists and those of other faiths not needing to convert to attain heaven. Among the condemned propositions:

15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. — Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. — Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1846.

17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ. — Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

18. Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church. — Encyclical “Noscitis,” Dec. 8, 1849.

Both of these documents offer much value to this discussion, but I’ll leave them to you to read on your own rather than expound upon them here.