Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Archbishop ViganĂ² and our Vale of Tears

Greetings in Christ our Lord, my friends. I want to ask your forgiveness ahead of time for the length of this post, but as you know, these are very extraordinary times in the life of our beloved Church. News has been developing almost hourly. We are in a state of crisis.

The following post are simply some observations that have come to me over the past few days since the publication of Archbishop Vigano's letter on August 25th.

It is ridiculous how the media has played this as a "conservative coup" against Pope Francis. It is the Achilles heel of the secular media that they can only view any issue as part of a conservative versus liberal dichotomy. This is what the stupid two-party system has done to the American mind; binary politics leads to binary thinking. It's not unexpected, but it is sad. To secularists, this is just a political power struggle between conservatives and liberals. Unfortunately, many Catholics are buying into that thinking as well; for example, this dimwitted statement by Ave Maria University President Jim Towey. Yes, Catholic defenders of Pope Francis are also turning this into a political football, as when Cardinal Blaise Cupich said the accusations of Vigano were just a "rabbit hole" and that Francis was too busy to deal with the matter because of the "bigger agenda" of environmentalism and migrants' rights.

Of course, this "conservative reaction" narrative is ridiculous; I am not supporting a full investigation of American dioceses because I am a bitter conservative, nor am I suggesting Wuerl or Francis or anyone else resign because they are liberals. Wanting justice for those who have been sexually abused by clergy—and wanting to make sure Catholics of all ages and states in life can live their faith in an atmosphere of safety—is something that transcends the liberal-conservative divide. It is just a basic, fundamental good that everybody should agree on. It's disgusting that it is being politicized. But rest assured, Cardinal Cupich, this time Catholics are not going to be thrown off the scent. This time, no appeal to immigrant families or the environment or the death penalty or anything else will be able to save you. You tried to tweet a quote from John Paul II about peace and your followers simply responded with "RESIGN!" No, we're not being distracted again. This time it's your head. And Wuerl's. And Tobin's. And all the rest of you ilk. Even if you all somehow manage to avoid resignation in disgrace, the small semblance of moral authority you still think you possess is obliterated. The Vigano letter is just the beginning.

2. The story of how the Vigano letter came to publication is almost as fascinating as the letter itself. In case you have not familiarized yourself with the back story, I recommend the article "The Amazing Story of How Archbishop Vigano's Report Came to Be" on One Peter Five. It contains the English translation of the account of Italian journalist Dr. Aldo Maria Valli, who received and published the Vigano letter. Dr. Valli's story is illuminating and heart-wrenching; it presents Archbishop Vigano as a man wore out from a lifetime of dealing with the Vatican bureaucracy who is seeking to simply make his peace with God and his conscience before facing the judgement seat of Christ. But what is especially intriguing are Vigano's last words to Dr. Valli. Valli reports:

"He tells me he has already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time."

Is the corruption in the upper echelons of the Church so advanced that a man must go into hiding and get off the grid for merely telling the truth? Clearly Vigano thinks so; clearly he fears for his very life. What powers does the Vatican have at its disposal that Vigano would be in fear of his life? Does it not put the sudden death of Cardinal Caffarra, one of the four signatories to the dubia, into a new perspective? This should really give us pause as we contemplate what sort of darkness we are facing.

3. Even the Neo-Catholics are getting on board. Steve Ray is calling for the resignation of Cupich, but more notably said "Even if the Lord doesn't come back for 1000 years, there will never be a pope who takes the name Francis II." He also tweeted "I never liked this pope...something from the beginning told me something was wrong with this guy." In a controversy with Ave Maria University President Jim Towey, Ray said, "Being loyal to the pope, THIS pope, is not remaining Catholic but denying it and being way out of touch with reality." Scott Hahn publicly thanked Archbishop Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, who had said the Vigano letter was credible and called for a full investigation into everyone implicated in the letter, including Pope Francis. Dr. Taylor Marshall apologized to Rorate Caeli. Karl Keating blasted Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the latter of whom is publicly opposing a full investigation; Keating says the church should "welcome the sunshine" as a disinfectant, no matter who it brings down. It is getting harder and harder to remain neutral and aloof. Those who continue to defend the status quo are looking increasingly ridiculous. Everywhere people are being forced by circumstance to line up.

4. Of course, the big news on this front is that Michael Voris and Church Militant TV have finally gotten on board with criticizing the actions of Pope Francis. In order to not appear contradictory, Voris has offered the explanation that lay people should not judge the pope in theological matters, but that lay criticism is warranted when the pope's failings are moral. There is some truth to this; for example, if we look back at history, it took a body of professionally trained theologians to rebuke Pope John XXII for his erroneous teaching on the beatific vision; however, moral scandals of a pope (fornication, simony, nepotism, etc) have traditionally been more publicly derided by lay populace at large. I get the angle Voris is trying to take. That being said, I don't find the distinction of CMTV personally convincing, as in this particular case, theology and morality are all wrapped up together and have been for some time. The cover up of sex abuse has to do with preserving the homosexual networks within the Church, which is intimately bound up with clandestine efforts to weaken the Church's doctrinal teaching on homosexuality, which in turn is bound up with the rest of the post-Conciliar novelties. This problem cannot be compartmentalized. It is all part of the same general movement towards apostasy. The problem must be viewed in totu.

Of course, everybody has their thresholds; it's any writer's editorial decision whether they will or will not criticize a sitting prelate. All of us bloggers have had to make that call. I once got into a private argument with New Catholic at Rorate because he believed something Cardinal Kasper said was qualitatively racist whereas Kasper's statements did not meet that threshold for me. That doesn't mean I would ever attack or insult Rorate for making an editorial judgment different than my own. I have a priest friend who reads this blog. Sometimes he agrees with me, other times he tells me I'm full of shit (God bless you, Fr. Scott). We smile and go on as friends. That's the way it isor ought to bewhen you do this. One can't take oneself too seriously, even though paradoxically the things we write about are very serious.

It is thus unfortunate that Church Militant couldn't simply make that call on their own without calling other outletssuch as Rorate, The Remnant, and Steve Skojecspiritual pornographers. It's one thing to make an editorial call, but quite another to insult others who haven't made the same call as yourself. Really what's happened, as I see it, is that Francis has transgressed in what, for Mr. Voris, is his particular pet issue and now he is comfortable jumping in to the fray because his particular threshold has been crossed. I would like to see Mr. Voris apologize to Michael Matt, Steve Skojec, and The Remnant the way Dr. Taylor Marshall did. But either way, I am happy Church Militant has finally come around, and I have to say their coverage of this unfolding scandal has been top-notch. I like CMTV, and I also like The Remnant, Skojec and a lot of other bloggers. A lot of people have done a lot of good work; I've been reading Steve Skojec's Facebook thread daily to keep up on the developments. Everybody deserves commendation who has helped bring this filth into the light, regardless of how late they got in to the game. The important thing is that light is shining and the wheat and the chaff are being separated. God grant me that I may stand with Him and His saints. God grant treasure in heaven to those who have truly merited it.

5. When the McCarrick scandal was first breaking, I posted an info-graphic on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam Facebook page with some statistics from the John Jay Center, which researched the demographics on clerical abuse victims since 2002. The John Jay research clearly indicates that the abuse problem in the Catholic Church is predominantly homosexual in nature; that predatory homosexuality, not pedophilia, is the primary problem. My goodness, I have seldom got so much hate and ridicule as for drawing the rather obvious connection between homosexuality and sex abuse! So many people want to believe that the real problem is "clericalism", or a culture of secrecy, or pedophilia, or anything but secret networks of predominantly homosexual priests who use their positions of power to gratify their homosexual lusts. Anything but that.

That position may have been tenable even as recently as a few weeks ago. But now, with so many clergy speaking up about what they know and have experienced, with the fallout from the Vigano letter, I notice the chorus shouting "This is not a homosexual problem!" has grown far quieter. This is because it's becoming increasingly ludicrous to argue such. The real issue is summed up aptly by the official statement of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote (emphasis mine):

"But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual—almost exclusively homosexual—acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals....There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publicly-deplorable acts of pedophilia. That is to say, until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia—this despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is time to be honest that the problems are both and they are more...While recent credible accusations of child sexual abuse by Archbishop McCarrick have brought a whole slew of issues to light, long-ignored was the issue of abuse of his power for the sake of homosexual gratification. It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord" (Bishop Robert C. Morlino's "Letter to the Faithful Regarding the Ongoing Sex Abuse Crisis in the Church")

Archbishop Vigano, who in his position as nuncio to the United States had a unique and privileged view into the situation in the American Church, noted in his letter:

"Regarding Cupich, one cannot fail to note his ostentatious arrogance, and the insolence with which he denies the evidence that is now obvious to all: that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims... In fact, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, President of the Centre for Child Protection, and Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently told the newspaper La Stampa that “in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.”"

More poignantly, in his conclusion he calls for the destruction of "homosexual networks", which he says are at the heart of the crisis:

"The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated. These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church."

It is definitely a homosexual problem, and Vigano should be in the position to know. But if you don't believe Vigano, read about the investigations of the lay association Christifideles into the homosexual networks of the Diocese of Miami. Or check out the candidly honest assessment of gay Catholic Daniel Mattson in his article "Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests" (First Things, August 2018), who notes:

"What unites all of these scandals is homosexuality in our seminaries and the priesthood...Because the sex scandals of the Church are overwhelmingly homosexual, the Church can no longer risk ordaining men with homosexual inclinations in the hopes that those inclinations turn out to be transitory."

Or read Rod Dreher's "Inside the Seminary Closet" in The American Conservative. It is a painful article, highlighting the first hand experience of a seminarian who had to undergo constant homosexual harassment and was even told "Come on, you must know that everyone is staring at you all the time. You know full well that every guy here including the priests and even the bishop would f*ck you if they had the chance.” Heck, go back and read Goodbye, Good Men again. Any of these sources will demonstrate that this is not a problem with sexual secrecy and the fact that some of the perpetrators happen to be gay is incidental. No; this is essentially and primarily a homosexual problem.

Can anyone read through all this material—the grueling experiences of men who have been through the seminary or (like Morlino and Vigano) are intimately familiar with clerical culture—and tell me straight-faced that this is not a homosexual problem? It's so painfully, ridiculously, hideously obvious that you'd have to be intentionally negligent and/or intellectually dishonest to deny the homosexual nature of the current crisis. Yes, I know there are other aspects to the problem. Of course, reality is complex. But from here on out, after everything that has been revealed, if you still deny this is primarily a homosexual problem, then you have zero credibility in my opinion.

6. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has a poignant piece entitled "The Silence of Pope Francis and the Pain of a Church" which discusses how devastating it is for the faith of ordinary Catholics that the pope will offer no response whatsoever to Vigano's letter. Kass seems a little confused by the pope's silence, as he notes that Francis is "revered as a humble and good man" and he's not sure why such a "humble and good man" would drop the ball so colossally. I'm sorry, but I am just astonished at how could anyone have ever thought Francis was humble. I am actually appalled. This may be a little bit of a rant, but I need to get this out. I am so disappointed at how many Catholics went along with this idea that Francis was "humble." He's not humble. He's never been humble. Nothing he has ever done has led me to believe he was humble. I'm seriously astonished that anybody was ever fooled. From the first moment he stepped onto the loggia of St. Peter's I knew the man was not humble.

I remember, in my professional life, I was once in a job where I had to screen resumes. Every now and then I would get a candidate who would write about how he was perfect for the job because he was going to come in and improve all our internal operations, show us how to be more efficient, and bless us with his wealth of knowledge. I used to toss these in the trash. They reeked of arrogance, of a person who doesn't know how to simply learn and receive what is being handed on—the sort of person who isn't satisfied unless he's remade everything he touches with his own personal stamp. Such did Francis' gestures all seem to me: asking the people to pray for him on election night, shunning the red shoes and the papal attire, living in Domus Sancte Marthae, and on and on and on. He has never ever appeared as humble to me and I'm frankly astonished that any thinking person ever thought he was. But everyone seemed so carried away with the galactic humility of this man it was astounding (Related: "Humility and Station in Life").

7. Not long ago I did a post entitled "Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism", in which I lamented that limp-wristed, anthropocentric liturgies constituted a real barrier to evangelism of non-Catholics. Talk about obstacles to evangelism! This current round of sex-abuse scandals takes the cake. I honestly can't imagine why a non-Catholic would want to join the Catholic Church right now, and no, saying "They just need to understand it's Jesus in the Eucharist!" isn't going to change it. As I said in my previous essay, why would anyone care what we think is in the Eucharist if it appears (and quite reasonably at this point) that our institution is a criminal racket organized for the purpose of institutional sexual abuse? There are some who are leaving the Church now over these scandals; predictably, other Catholics are piling on them and shaming them for leaving, or suggesting their "faith wasn't strong enough" or whatever. But Jesus wants us to go after the one sheep who goes astray, not condemn them for leaving. This is only going to shrink the Church's credibility more, and this will only continue until, in the words of Vigano, the homosexual networks are eradicated. Heads need to roll this time. No more "we are deeply saddened" statements, no more committees with new plans, no more useless platitudes. Action. Everyone involved needs to resign and possibly face criminal charges depending on the gravity of their complicity.

8. One final consideration. Take a look at this chart of all the prelates named in the Vigano letter. I offer no comment on how complicit any of these men are in any abuse or cover up; I only list them here because Archbiship Vigano has implicated them in some degree. Look at it carefully and deeply consider it:

 I know there's a lot of things to consider and it's not this easy. Yes. But....I do want to say, this is way "Santo subito!" is never a good idea. This is precisely why you wait for the patient judgment of history before you rush to canonize a prelate.

9. This is a painful time for all of us. Has my faith in Christ and His Church been shaken? I honestly have to say no, but only because I never believed that this sort of thing couldn't happen to begin with. When the scandal first broke, my first impulse was not to blog about it, but to have a difficult conversation with my 16 year old daughter, who obviously has many questions and concerns over the current situation. I grieve for the souls who will be scandalized because of this. I think my faith isn't shaken so much because anyone who has extensively studied history knows that this kind of corruption is absolutely possible within the Church. It's only those who have deluded themselves into thinking this is a new Springtime and Francis is a saint that have to deal with the full brunt of this. As for me, I've never lost sight of the Church's human side. Am I horrified? Yes of course I am. Surprised? No. Unfortunately not.

And so we go on, through the Vale of Tears until Christ makes all things right.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sadder Than When I Came In

I walked into the parish around twenty minutes early for Confession. This was not my parish, but I often came here for Saturday Confession because it is close to my work and the associate pastor is an excellent confessor. I walked around and entered a small, back door. That is normal with these large, historic urban churches. They are often in bad parts of town and keep the front doors locked during the day. The Catholic populace in the immediate neighborhoods having long died, the historic churches in these parts of town linger like old monuments of better days.

I dipped my fingers in the holy water font inside the door and walked through the vestibule into the sanctuary. The door way opened into the sanctuary from the side, and I was a little surprised to find a very large gaggle of people milling around in there. A wedding party, from the looks of it, doing a Saturday afternoon wedding rehearsal. They all immediately turned and stared at me awkwardly, looking at me like I was an intruder in their private space. 

I made the sign of the cross and they shrugged and returned to their rehearsal, a loud, rambling affair. I walked across the church and sat down in the pew near the confessional, an old, ornate wooden kind that in most parishes is being used for storage. I was twenty minutes early for Confession, but the light was already on indicating the presence of the priest. I could see through the stained glass on the door that the confessional was open. I walked in, but could see through the screen that there was no priest. I stood in there confused. The wedding party people stared at me. "Okay," I thought. "It's like one of those stores where the shop owner lazily leaves the neon "OPEN" sign illuminated 24/7 even thought the business is closed." I went and plopped myself back down in the pew and prayed.

I tried to concentrate, but the wedding party was very distracting. The bridesmaids posed for pictures immediately in front of the tabernacle with no acknowledgement of it's existence whatsoever. The entire crowd milled about the elevated dais which is usually reserved for the minister. A cluster of women stood right up around the table altar, laying their cell phones and papers on it like it was a table—of course, it doesn't help when the altar looks like a table. They gabbed and blabbed; one woman set down a bottle of soda on the altar. A few young kids chased each other in circles around the altar while the adults talked, elbows resting on the altar top. The little urchins took to their hands and knees, scrambling in and out under the legs of the table altar. I got out my cell phone and took a video of the debacle, intending to send it to the parish office later with a humble request that if a wedding party was using the church, a representative from the parish should be in attendance at all times to ensure proper decorum.

What an outrage to put a soda on the altar. But then I thought about why I was here and said to myself, "I have committed worse outrages than that." That doesn't make the placing of soda on the altar acceptable, but it does keep the self-righteousness at bay.

Finally the wedding party began to drain out of the church. The women picked up their car keys and cell phones and beverages off the altar. Just as the last of them walked out, the door opened and the priest came in. I don't know if he was hovering around outside the doors intentionally waiting for the wedding party to leave so he didn't have to chit-chat with any of them, but that's what it seemed like.

This was not the usual priest. He seemed like he was from out of town. He was unfamiliar with the sanctuary. He walked into the confessional. I was first in line, so I slipped in and closed the door behind me.

He was sitting down behind the grate. "Hey," he said blandly.

"Um, hello," I responded quietly.

He made the sign of the cross, mumbling the invocation  of the Trinity. "Okay," he said awkwardly, as if he was trying to say, "Okayyy...let's get on with this." It always hurts my heart when the priest's opening is so informal.

I made a very heartfelt confession. There were several things that had been on my heart for awhile that I knew I needed God's grace for. It was one of the more humbling and humiliating confessions I've ever made. The priest responded, "Mhmm...mhmm," as I accused myself before God. I could see him flipping through a book of some sort behind the screen. I tried not to look at what he was doing. I had my hands folded and I looked at them instead.

Finally I finished. "That's all I have to confess, and I plead for God's grace to overcome my faults," I said.

"For your penance, do one-half of an Our Father now say your Act of Contrition," the priest said. I was a little startled and somewhat disappointed that he had no words of encouragement or advice for me, given the deep, heart-rending confession I'd just made. But to be given "one-half an Our Father" for penance? What does that even mean? I was frustrated and sad. Fine. If that's the way he wants it, I thought. I mechanically regurgitated the Act of Contrition by rote—not insincerely, but with no more external effort than necessary to formally satisfy the request. He absolved me and I exited the confessional, freed of my burdens of sin but sadder than when I came in.

Friday, August 24, 2018

On Abusing the Seal of Confession

As the new wave of clergy sex abuse scandals unfolded, many of us heard stories of deviant priests abusing the seal of confession to bind orthodox priests to silence about their despicable crimes.

Like many, I responded with shock and disgust when I heard of this diabolical means of silencing good priests. I had always understood that the seal of confession is absolute, but it made me wonder if a priest who hears such a confession was precluded from doing anything. For example, obviously a priest who hears a confession cannot go to his bishop and say "Bishop, Monsignor Joe confessed to me that he is abusing seminarians," for that would break the seal. But, could not the same priest say, "Bishop, I can't go in to specifics but I have reasons to suspect that Monsignor Joe is unfit for the priesthood and should be investigated"? Such an approach would not reveal that Monsignor Joe had confessed to the priest, nor would it reveal the content of what had been said.

I posed this question to a priest friend of mine and he enlightened me on an aspect of the seal of confession I had been hitherto unaware. He told me that the seal of confession does not merely preclude a priest from disclosing what is revealed in confession, but that the priest cannot take any action based on what he hears in confession.

For example, if Person A confesses to a priest that he is in the custom of habitually stealing from his employers, and then later Person B tells the priest he is planning on hiring Person A, the priest cannot say, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Even though he's not revealing anything about what was confessed, he is taking positive action based on what he learned through confession, and this violates the seal. He cannot use knowledge he has obtained during confession in any way, not only by word but even by action.

The priest I consulted about this referred me to the following excerpt from Fr. Prummer's 1957 Handbook of Moral Theology:

1. even for the greatest spiritual or temporal good. Thus, for example, a confessor is prevented from confessing his own sin, when its revelation would violate the seal; he cannot take to flight or omit to say Mass is he knows from confession alone that his life is threatened or the wine is poisoned; he cannot dismiss a servant whom he knows from confession to be a thief or to be with child;

2. for the public good. Consequently a priest is not allowed to disclose the name of a penitent whom he knows from confession is about to betray his country or to murder some innocent person;

3. for the good of religion. Consequently a priest cannot expose a penitent he knows from confession will receive Holy Communion unworthily; he is obliged even to administer Holy Communion to such a person if the latter asks for it.

Handbook of Moral Theology by Dominic M. Prummer, O.P. P.J. Kennedy & Sons, New York. 1957

This is why an abuser priest confessing to an orthodox priest is so diabolical; it not only binds him to silence, but to total inactivity.

That being said, the priest I discussed this with said he did not believe the rumors about deviant priests doing this. I can't speak to that; I only know what I have heard.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Query: A Catholic's Voting Obligation in Light of New CCC Changes?

On this blog's Facebook page, I recently linked to an article on The Josias by Dr. John Joy, STD, addressing the magisterial weight of Pope Francis' amendment to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty. It is an excellent piece you should all read.

As a follow up question to Dr. Joy's article, someone on Facebook posed this question:

"Does it follow [from Dr. Joy's conclusion] that Catholic politicians and voters are morally obligated to support efforts to abolish the death penalty in developed nations? I primarily have the United States in mind. If a voter fails to support efforts to suppress the death penalty would that be a grave sin? If a Catholic fails to believe that using the death penalty is sinful in the modern context would that be a grave sin? I am trying to understand how strong is the obligation to give religious submission of will to the Holy Father's teaching."

I reached out to Dr. Joy with the question and got the following response:

"It's not clear to me at this point how this text [of the Catechism] should be understood, so it is hard to know exactly how Catholics should respond. But here are the three most likely possibilities as far as I can see: 

(1) If the text is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty, then it must be rejected as formally heretical. 

(2) If it is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty when not absolutely necessary for public safety, then it must be rejected as erroneous and at least proximate to heresy if not formally heretical. 

(3) If it is meant to be understood as a prudential judgment about the applicability of the death penalty in the present circumstances, then I would assume that the words of Cardinal Ratzinger would still apply:

"If a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion [i.e. it would not be a grave sin]. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia" ("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles", July, 2004).

So as far as I can see, regardless of how the text of the Catechism is interpreted, Catholics are not morally obliged to work for the legal abolition of the death penalty, nor are they morally obliged to think that the use of the death penalty in the present circumstances is necessarily sinful. 

Therefore, it is doubtful at best whether this new text imposes any obligations on the faithful, and a doubtful obligation is no obligation at all. If there is an obligation imposed by this text, I think it is probably this: that Catholics ought "to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty" (CDF, Letter to the Bishops, August 2, 2018); understood in this sense, that we ought to do what we can to create a society where the death penalty does not need to be used in practice because capital crimes are not committed. That's a goal that any Catholic should be able to get on board with."

                                                                         *  *  *  *  *

Dr. John Joy is the Co-Founder and President of the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. He earned his master's and licentiate in sacred theology at the International Theological Institute in Austria and recently defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. His primary academic interests are in the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, dogmatic theology, and especially questions of infallibility and the magisterium of the Church. He is the author of On the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium from Joseph Kleutgen to the Second Vatican Council, as well as earlier works Poena Satisfactoria and Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility. He writes for various online Catholic publications, including One Peter Five and The Josias.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Meta-Problem: From Magisterium to Policy Objectives

This past week Pope Francis announced that he was officially changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect his assertion that the death penalty is always immoral under all circumstances and thus never permissible. Of all the things going on in the Church and world that require action, to devote his energy to this topic, well, it was so incredibly brave and bold (*sarcasm*).

Much has been written on the subject in the past week, such that I do not feel I need to add anything. However, for some background on the context of the modern about-face on the death penalty in the Catholic Magisterium, I would like to recommend my articles "Death Penalty & Retributive Justice" (USC, Nov. 2015) and "A Reminder About Capital Punishment" (USC, Mar. 2015). Also worth reading are two essays by J. Budziszewski and Matthew J. Belisario respectively, "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice" (First Things, 2004) and "The Corrupt Theology of the Seamless Garment" (Coalition for Thomism, 2010). Finally, the book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, which gives the most thorough Catholic defense of capital punishment.

For a more contemporary reaction to the changes in the Catechism and its implications, 1 Peter 5 has two decent articles, here and here. For a more scholarly reaction from a trustworthy contemporary theologian, see John Joy's article "The Magisterial Weight of the New Text of the Catechism on the Death Penalty" (The Josias, Aug, 2018).

So, while I am not going to offer any defense of the traditional Catholic position here, I do want to comment on what I would call the meta-issue that overshadows Francis' amendment to the CCC: that is the concept of the papal Magisterium as a creative outlet for a current pontiff's pet theories.

Traditionally, the Church's teaching is encapsulated in something called the deposit of faith. The deposit of faith is the body of revealed truth in the Scriptures and tradition proposed by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful. This "deposit" is protected and promulgated in three ways: Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Church's Magisterium. Scripture and Tradition are the written and unwritten revelations of God, while the Church's Magisterium forms a kind of living, interpretive arbiter of Divine Revelation. 

The job of the Magisterium is to look at a given subject of faith or morals and tell the Christian faithful what the Church's constant teaching has been. It is a living voice of Tradition in every subsequent generation. We are probably all familiar with the concept of the stool with three legs which represents how these three elements, Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium interact.

The role of the Magisterium is to tell the faithful of each generation what the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith are. If there is confusion about a teaching, the Magisterium is supposed to diligently seek the solution in the sources of faith and propound it faithfully.

Contemporary Catholicism, however, seems to have adopted a new view of the Magisterium. Rather than authoritatively explaining the Church's perennial tradition, the contemporary Magisterium has become the mechanism whereby a current pope's priorities are transmuted into policy.  A pontificate thus becomes more akin to an American presidential administration, where each successive president has certain policy objectives that are implemented through the machinery of the federal government. Instead of asking, "What does the Church teach?", the question is increasingly becoming, "What is the policy of the current pontificate?"

Obviously every pope has had and always will have things that are of special importance to him; but what I think alarming is seeing the way the contemporary popes—beginning with Paul VI but really culminating in Francis—essentially endeavor to recreate the Magisterium with each successive pontificate to reflect their own personal pet-projects.

For example, look at the subject of Catholic social teaching since Vatican II. Paul VI gave us Populorum Progessio, the first post-conciliar Catholic social teaching encyclical. St. John Paul II gave us three, Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), and Centesimus Annus (1991). Then Benedict XVI wrote Caritas in Veritate (2009). Not even a decade has passed and the Franciscan pontificate has promulgated Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and Laudato Si (2015). One gets the idea that each new pope is expected to issue his own social teaching encyclical—not because the needs of the Church require such an encyclical, but because it is expected that a new pope will want to put his own "stamp" on the Church's body of social doctrine. It seems as if the way modern encyclicals are used is that they become occasions for each pope to re-evaluate a subject in light of his own particular interests. When a new social encyclical is issued, pundits' mouths water as they wonder "What is this pope's take on Catholic social teaching?", as if it is each pope's job to "shape" what comes down to them by offering a new "take" each pontificate. (Related: "The Curiosity of the Modern Papal Encyclical", USC, June, 2015).

Yes, the Magisterium is treated the way a president would treat the federal government: as an outlet for his "policy objectives." We even have gotten to the point where Pope Francis' new amendment to the Catechism cites as its source a letter of the very same Pope Francis. How humble! And the letter is supposed to have been elevated to Magisterial authority by its inclusion in the Catechism. This seems kind of backwards, as originally the CCC was promulgated as a compilation of teachings already considered authoritative. A teaching was considered authoritative, and therefore included in the CCC; now a teaching is included in CCC and therefore considered authoritative. It all feels so lop-sided.

One final consideration: Those in the Church calling for the global abolition of the death penalty usually do so in the context of citing a ever-growing groundswell of public opposition to the death penalty in civil society at large. To put it bluntly, the Church is trying to take the position of being "on the right side of history" by suggesting there is a popular outcry against capital punishment.

For example, St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae (1995), wrote "there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty (EV, 27). He goes on to say "there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely" (55). Benedict XVI, also, in a letter of November, 2015, cited his opposition as being in keeping with "political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty." And of course, Pope Francis' amended Catechism paragraph, which reads "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes" (CCC, 2267).

See? Opposition to the death penalty is "growing." It's a groundswell. it? I get there are always people out there who are opposed to the death penalty, for every cause has its adherents and its opponents. But is there really this growing mass movement for the abolition of the death penalty? The death penalty is regularly used in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa; I am not aware of any mass protests against its general applications in these countries. Many people in the Middle East strongly support death for certain crimes, I suspect; same with Africa. Belarus uses the death penalty; other than that, it is non-existent in Europe. There's no mass protests against it in Europe, since it's not utilized there. The only western country that regularly uses the death penalty is the United States, and there is certainly no mass movement against it here. One wonders, where exactly is this "growing public opposition" cited by the popes?

I am not suggesting there aren't many moderns who dislike the idea of the death penalty, but I simply don't see it as a strongly polarizing issue that is drawing a groundswell of popular opposition. I think when the popes cite growing opposition, they are mainly citing the opposition of some determined members of the hierarchy who latch on to this issue precisely because it is so safe and non-controversial.

I submit there is no strong growing opposition; there is a collective shrug and a "meh" from an ambivalent public. The pope is taking a subject that at most elicits moderate levels of disagreement from people and trying to elevate it to become This Year's Controversial Social Justice Issue.

Mutans tenebras ad lucem