Monday, January 16, 2017

Benefit of the Doubt Presumes Doubt

A lot has been going on in the Church in the past few weeks. Most of it has happened too fast for me to event digest let alone have any sort of cogent commentary on - and that's okay, because I don't feel any need to keep up with it all. As God lives, I rejoice that I don't. I recently posted an article on the sister site on the history of Eucharistic Adoration from the apostolic age to the year 1264 and that was much more edifying.

The other day I waded onto social media to see what some of the chatter-boxes were saying about a lot of these developments. It was very disappointing. I have never seen so many otherwise faithful and intelligent people sticking their heads in the sand about the present pontificate. "Maybe he is being misreported" they say. Ugh...I've been hearing that line since the days of John Paul II and I am so sick of it. It's been repeated ad nauseam for three pontificates. If the popes are so constantly being misquoted, you would think that once - just one time in three pontificates - at least one of those popes who are always being "misquoted" would have stepped up and corrected the misquotation.

"Hrum hrum...I would check the Vatican website. If it's not in an official publication of the Vatican, I wouldn't believe it", says the guy who didn't believe John Paul II said "May St. John the Baptist protect Islam!"...until I showed it to him on the Vatican website.


"Well, we always have to give people the benefit of the doubt." You know what, this is certainly true, and a very solid piece of Christian advice. We must always first seek to give someone the benefit of the doubt and interpret their words in the most charitable way possible. But the other day I heard an interesting corollary of this: instead of "always give people the benefit of the doubt", a priest said, "I can always find a benefit of the doubt." The difference is subtle but important. "Always give people the benefit of the doubt" means that before assuming the worst, we assume the best. Only if the best proves incorrect do we then assume the worst.

But saying "always give the benefit of the doubt" also implies that sometimes the benefit of the doubt is the wrong assessment of what is happening. Any rational judgment of a situation requires that we reserve the right to simply see what is going on - to acknowledge our first impression, while charitable, might be wrong. To say "I can always find a benefit of the doubt" seems to say "No matter what the truth of the situation is, I can always find some way to spin this to avoid confronting the truth." It is the difference between saying I will always offer a benefit of the doubt and "I know I can find a beneficial way to interpret this" - you see?

I admire people who seek for the truth and understand offering benefits to facts that may seem unflattering. I despise it when people have already determined they have found their narrative when it runs counter to everything else that we know. I will always extend our pontiff or any other clergyman the benefit of the doubt - but hell, sometime the facts are so manifest there is no more doubt. If some local politician says "African Americans commit a disproportionate amount of crime in our city," that comment could be interpreted in a racist manner (blacks commit more crime because they are inherently disposed to violence), or it could be interpreted in a non-racist manner (conditions of poverty and lost opportunity disproportionately affect black neighborhoods and result in a cycle of crime); in such a scenario, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant it in the latter sense. I can do this precisely because there is a doubt about what he means.

But sometimes there isn't a doubt. If the same politician (sorry to be crude) were to say, "Damn, I seriously hate those [N-word]"..well, there would really be no "doubt" left to give him the benefit of. In such a case, one must simply accept the truth, unpleasant though it is. The guy is racist. That's all there is to it.

However, suppose one of our brightsiders approaches the problem with characteristic head-in-the-sand logic. "Perhaps when he said the N-word he wasn't referring to black people", or, "Well, yeah, he says he hates them, and used the N-word, but if you ignore that one statement and look at all the other non-racist statements he made, you'll see he's not really racist at all", or "Maybe all those media outlets misquoted him when he said he hates them, even though neither he nor his office have offered any clarification suggesting otherwise" or "Well, reality is very complex and I am sure there was much, much more to the story than just saying he 'hates' blacks and used a racial slur, and since I don't know every single last fact I can't possibly make any judgement."

In other words, to give the "benefit of the doubt" in the face of plain evidence to the contrary becomes no longer a benefit accorded to a doubt, but rather wishful thinking of the most fantastical sort.

Please, I am not referring to any one issue or statement or action of the pope or anyone else. I just talking about...the same stupid ho-hum-fingers-in-the-ears-nothing-to-see-here-twelve-things-to-know-and-share-nobody-can-know-all-the-facts-nothing-new-who-made-you-judge? sort or nonsense.

Ugh. I am so sick of it.


Konstantin said...

The question is also if everybody should always receive the benefit of the doubt. If someone is a notorious bank robber and says "I would really like to do that bank job", I would assume that he is talking about robbing another bank and not about getting a job as a bank clerk. I think the whole benefit of the doubt thing also involves prudence. If someone is disposed to say or do certain things, I don't think we have to interpret his utterances in a fashion that would mean the total opposite of the usual intention of that person.

Terrence said...

Also people who love sacred tradition are rarely extended that benefit of doubt in the mainstream Catholic press. Being concerned about people in manifest grave sin taking communion means being unmerciful, cowardly, or sick to them.

Boniface said...

^ *unconcerned

c matt said...

When you have to extend the benefit of the doubt to practically every blinking thing someone says in order to make it kosher, I would think doubt has been dispelled.

therealDymphna said...

Very well put!

Anonymous said...

The answer may lie in the Book of Daniel, take a look at 10:21 and 12:9. Then consider a series of alleged prophecies called the Book of Truth. Claimed to be the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

One English language archive site is:

For multiple language resource go to:

Boniface said...

^^^BAHAHAHAHAHA! Maria Divine Mercy!? Are you serious!? LOLOLOL. What a hoax that is. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Get used to it. I left traditionalism because I realized that many don't have a traditional Catholic understanding of the relationship between Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Magisterium or the Indefectability of the Church. I see only two fundamental options here. Call Francis an antipope or submit to him even if you can't understand. Since I believe he really is the pope, I choose option 2. Faith is a belief in God's promises not because what He says make sense but a trustful surrender. The Church corrects me, not I the Church.

Once I did this I started to see that Francis preaches what the Catechism teaches. He just has a different speaking style than previous popes. If you think he's a heretic you have to call the Catechism heretical too. If the Church teaches A but you believe not A, you update your beliefs or become a psuedo-Protestants.

Frank (@txtradcatholic) said...

Dear Anonymous:
The CCC does not teach that conscience is subjective or that it is "merciful" to administer Holy Communion to persons living in an objective state of mortal sin with no purpose of amendment.

In addition, your attempt to define the question of our relationship to Francis as a binary one between "antipope" and "everything he says is Truth" is patently absurd. It is not necessary to accept every utterance a pope makes and never has been. Go read a little bit about what papal infallibility and the levels of the Magisterium really mean. You clearly have no clue.

God bless you and Mary keep you.

Karl said...

Anonymous, 6:04,

your statement that ”many don't have a traditional Catholic understanding of the relationship between Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Magisterium or the Indefectability of the Church” certainly ring true, but to claim that more people suffer from this flaw within the Traditional movement than outside of it is highly questionable. As is, dare I say, your claim of conversion a hair’s breadth from sedevacantism to the sudden enlightenment of its radical opposite. I do not believe submittance to every whim and word of the Pope to be the litmus test of real Catholicism, rather closer to an error known as Ultramontanism, and I hesitate to elevate the CCC because I doubt it’s protected by the infallibility of the dogmas it describes and summarises.

Unknown said...

"Call Francis an antipope or submit to him even if you can't understand. Since I believe he really is the pope, I choose option 2. Faith is a belief in God's promises not because what He says make sense but a trustful surrender. The Church corrects me, not I the Church."

There seems to be a third option that I have actually found more common among Traditional Catholics that I encounter, and that is that Benedict is the REAL Pope, while Francis is an administrative anomoly with no real authority. I don't pretend to know how realistic this is.

I am now blogging at:

Boniface said...

I am a traditionalist and I totally believe Francis is the real, legitimate pope. Benedict cannot be pope because he voluntarily resigned - unless you say "Yeah but he was forced" which nobody has any possible way of proving. Francis is the pope. He just sucks. That's the reality.

Anonymous said...

Sedevaticanism and Ultramontanism are two sides of the same coin.
In the case of the Sede they see popes personally contradicting the perennial teaching of the church and conclude that it must be a false pope. The Ultramontanist contorts his mind to dismiss reality "it's the media, a translation error, cetera"

An authentic understanding of the papacy acknowledges that you can have horrible popes, which is currently the case.

Boniface said...

^Thank you, Ben

Anonymous said...

An alternate view is a new religion was created and foisted upon unsuspecting Catholics in the mid 1960's.

emanuel. said...

Is it misogynistic or inconsistent with free will to say that women behave certain ways because of their bodies? If not, what's the difference between that and saying that races behave differently. It's just a fact that behavior and degree of intelligence are strongly influenced by genetics.

Boniface said...

Uh...but races don't behave differently because of genetics but because of culture.