When Will Bryan and the Jasons Notice?

Papal power cannot even control what happens closest to home (think subsidiarity):

In short, the motu proprio released on Saturday is another blow to the cause of transparency and accountability at the Vatican. As veteran Vatican-watcher John Allen observed, it is a victory for the “old guard”—the entrenched bureaucracy that blocks any significant change in the way the Roman Curia do business.

Just to make things clear, Cardinal Pell’s office is not having its wings clipped because of financial scandals. (“Pope reins in Vatican’s finance minister after scandal,” read one widely circulated headline, getting the story completely upside-down.) The Secretariat for the Economy was created because of the scandals. The money-laundering charges, the massive cost overruns, the no-bid contracts, the undervalued assets, the leaked confidential information, the undocumented expenses—all these took place before Cardinal Pell set up his new shop in 2014. The Secretariat helped bring these problems to light, set up procedures to guard against them, and in some cases took over the responsibilities that other offices had proven unable to handle cleanly.

Now the main work of financial management, which had temporarily been handled by the Secretariat, will return to the purview of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). This is the agency responsible for much of the trouble that Cardinal Pell discovered in Vatican financial management. Remember Msgr. Nunzio Scarano: the infamous “Msgr. €500” who was arrested in 2013 and now faces several different criminal charges for financial misconduct? He worked for years at APSA, rising to be the head of the accounting department—the accounting department—without causing his superiors to question how he was amassing a personal fortune on his modest salary. APSA is one of the major reasons why the Secretariat for the Economy was needed: part of the problem, not the solution.

Nor can papal authority insureensure faithful teaching:

A group of Catholic academics and pastors has submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a natural reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia. During the coming weeks this submission will be sent in various languages to every one of the Cardinals and Patriarchs, of whom there are 218 living at present.

Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” the signatories submitted, along with their appeal, a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris laetitia.”

Among the 45 signatories are Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world. They have asked the College of Cardinals, in their capacity as the Pope’s official advisers, to approach the Holy Father with a request that he repudiate “the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.”

“We are not accusing the pope of heresy,” said a spokesman for the authors, “but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.”

While the world turns, Bryan still debates Tim Challies.

Methodists and Roman Catholics Together

Looks like Jason and the Callers need to rethink their call to Protestants. Their pontiff just declared hostilities between Protestants and Roman Catholics to be sin:

Catholics and Evangelicals should not wait for theologians to reach agreement before praying and working together, Pope Francis recently told a group of Pentecostal Anglican bishops in Rome.

To continue to focus on differences between Christian denominations is “sinning against Christ’s will,” the pontiff said, because “our shared baptism is more important than our differences.”

In the light of Bryan Cross’ comment about the authority of the magisterium, I wonder if he needs to reformat his Call to Communion to conform to Francis’ understanding of Protestants:

The Church does not lose her authority when her claims don’t make sense to us, because otherwise there would no “seeking understanding” to “faith seeking understanding.” Rationalism would be true; the Church would have ‘authority’ only when we agree with what she teaches. Rather, when the Church, exercising her authentic teaching authority, teaches something that does not “make sense” to us, it is we who must trust and seek to grow in our understanding, not the Magisterium that in such cases must instead conform to our understanding.

Still, it sounds like Jerry Walls is making it easier for Methodists to break bread with the Bishop of Rome:

This Sunday (Nov. 2), on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“I got no problem praying for the dead,” Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University. . . .

Walls is a leading exponent of an effort to convince Protestants — and maybe a few Catholics — that purgatory is a teaching they can, and should, embrace. And he’s having a degree of success, even among some evangelicals, that hasn’t been seen in, well, centuries.

“I would often get negative reactions,” Walls said about his early efforts, starting more than a decade ago, to pitch purgatory to Protestants. “But when I started explaining it, it didn’t cause a lot of shock.”

Now if only Walls could be as generous about limited atonement.

What Talking to Bryan Cross Feels Like

John Zmirak (apparently no relation to Zrim) has frustrations remarkably similar to mine. Liberal Roman Catholics and Protestants together:

Q: Do you think that Vatican II taught heresy when it said that the use of coercion by the state in matters of religion is a violation of natural law—you know, like sodomy or (even worse) contraception?

A: Vatican II was a merely pastoral council, which must be interpreted in the light of sacred tradition, not in a hermeneutic of discontinuity.

Q: Are you saying that the state’s right to torture and execute Protestants is an infallible truth of faith or morals, which the bishops of the Church and Pope Paul VI somehow failed to recognize when they issued Dignitatis Humanae? So the Society of St. Pius X is right, and Pope Benedict XVI was defending heresy when he refused to accept them back into communion unless they acknowledged this point?

A: Dignitatis Humanae is a profoundly ambiguous document. It is hard to tell what it means, if it means anything at all. Remember that it states that the Council maintains the traditional teaching about the “duties of societies” toward the true religion.

Q: Are you a totalitarian? You know, along the lines of Benito Mussolini, who proclaimed, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”?

A: Of course not. Mussolini was an anti-clerical, whose father was a Freemason.

Q: You do realize that only totalitarians equate “society” and “state.” The classical definition of society includes the family and all sorts of other voluntary associations—including the Church, but also clubs, fraternities, labor unions, and the whole rich fabric of what political scientists call “civil society.” When the Council Fathers wrote that “society” owed allegiance to the truth, they were stating a simple fact—that everyone ought to acknowledge the kingship of Christ. They were not saying that people who didn’t fulfill this duty deserved to be tortured until they confessed, then burned at the stake and put into prison. Since in the same document the bishops of the Church, with papal approval, said that using state coercion to override people’s consciences violated the natural law—again, like adultery or perjury—isn’t it disrespectful of a universal council of the Church to assume that their statement was meaningless, or self-contradictory, or some piece of public relations that the Church would later stuff into the memory hole?

A: You are engaged in a neo-Catholic apologetic for the Americanist Catholicism of the 1950s which no longer exists, and which led directly to abortion on demand, homosexual “marriage,” and the radical imbalance of wealth in America that denies proper compensation to those who teach the liberal arts.

Q: Who would you call the authoritative interpreter of the Council—the popes who presided over it and those who came after it, and the Catechism they published? Or a network of bloggers?

A: Perhaps we serve the role of the faithful laity, which also preserved the Church from Arianism in the time of St. Athanasius.

Q: Did a Church council ever teach Arianism?

A: No.

Q: Was the only opponent of Arianism a band of schismatically consecrated bishops and illicitly ordained priests?

A: There’s a first time for everything.

Q: What confuses me is the fact that you point to the American vision of freedom as the greatest danger to the Church, when in fact the Church’s enemies are throwing that vision of freedom onto the trash heap, in order to hasten the persecution of the Church—and the Church’s friends are citing such freedom in the Church’s defense.

A: The American notion of freedom is profoundly corrupt, and lies at the heart of all the evils we face today.

Q: Is there an alternative political theory out there that anyone, anyone at all outside of infinitesimal Catholic circles, finds attractive, that would protect the Church’s liberty?

A: That is beside the point.

Q: Hasn’t the Church historically taken whatever is true in the secular world, used it as a common ground by which to approach the unbelievers, and tried to baptize and elevate it—rather than tear it all down and start from scratch in a barren wasteland. Wasn’t Augustine a patriotic Roman citizen? Or did he endorse the barbarian invasions in some text that you have uncovered from secret archives?

A: There is no call for sarcasm. The situation was different then. The Roman state endorsed the use of authority in defense of the Good, but merely had an imperfect vision of the Good. The American system has no notion of the Good at all. It is inherently nihilistic, and ought to collapse. Once it is gone, we can figure out what to construct in its place.

Q: Isn’t the classical liberal notion of freedom an outgrowth of the elevated Christian notion of the person, and the deep moral significance of his freedom and his conscience? Those seem to me like good things that the Romans knew nothing about. Was Pope John Paul II merely deluded when he praised those things in Memory and Identity? Was he being disingenuous when he apologized, on behalf of the Church, for the times that Catholics had violated those goods?

A: None of those statements by Pope John Paul II were infallible.

To Bryan’s credit, he is not so Americanist. But he is like this catechumen, thanks to the wonders of logic, elusive. Some call it hair-splitting, others Jesuitical.

(Thanks to our southern correspondent for the image.)

This is So Un-American

While Rome burns with Pentecostal fire, Jason and the Callers continue to play mind games.

The latest Protestant to try to ascend Bryan’s holy cap is Mark Hausam, who is, according to his blog, “a member at Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT, a catechumen with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, an instructor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an instructor at the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy. I am a husband and a father of seven. I am an officer in the Reformation Party.” (I had not heard of the Reformation Party. It does not look like it is “a par-tay.”)

Mr. Hausam tried to show — it was a fairly long-winded piece — that Rome did an about-face on the matter of religious liberty of freedom of conscience. I don’t know why this is such a hard point to grasp. Protestants also did an about-face. Consider justifications for executing Servetus (or heretics in general) versus Witherspoon’s support for a Constitution that tolerated heretics (as Presbyterians understood them). What many fail to grasp — maybe even Mr. Hausam but certainly Bryan Cross — is that modern notions of freedom of conscience are strikingly different from pre-modern ones. For the Puritans, for instance, someone’s conscience was free if his conscience was rightly formed. If someone’s conscience was in error, then it was no infringement of liberty to coerce a poorly formed conscience. In other words, your conscience was free if it knew and followed the truth. If it didn’t, it needed to be bound. Today, in civil society we make no judgment about the right or wrong of someone’s opinions. We simply protect them under the umbrella of freedom of conscience.

Whether this is an improvement depends on your conscience, I guess. But I do think I’d rather have the modern version if or when a ruler who comes to power does not approve of my opinions.

Be that as it may, Mr. Hausam tried to interact with Bryan on the changes that have taken place in Roman Catholic teaching, especially at Vatican II. And what did Mr. Hausam receive? The classic Nun-like wrap across the knuckles with the ruler of logic. It even came to this riposte from one of the Callers:

The problem with Mark’s article is that his explicit purpose is to establish a formal contradiction within irreformable Catholic teaching. Establishing a formal contradiction requires great precision in the use of terms and in the construction of argument. Long paragraphs laden with assertions make it difficult, if not impossible, for the reader to pick out the actual premises which are supposed to establish the formal contradiction. I simply do not understand why you or Mark, in the context of an article whose express purpose is to establish an exact logical fault, namely a formal contradiction; would continue to resist calls to package the verbiage of the article into a logical form where the formal validity of the argument as such can be easily established, so that interlocutors may then proceed to fruitfully explore the truth of the various premises.

Well, if this is the problem, then logic is an impertinent bystander to the issue at hand. If Roman Catholic teaching is irreformable, then no amount of syllogisms or premises could possibly show a contradiction. It is impossible, which is sort of the situation when trying to have a conversation with the Callers.

Word to the wise: Vatican II happened. It embraced modernity, complete with the sort of debates and diversity that modern societies have negotiated. If Jason and the Callers want to return to a time when debates were simply an indication of infidelity, they may want all they want. It is a free country. But they should also realize that this was the debating posture that made many Americans wonder if Roman Catholics — the ones really really loyal to the pre-Vatican II papacy — were capable of living in a free republic.

A Supreme Bishop is a Wonderful Thing

. . . except when you don’t follow him. Hear Bryan Cross:

Hence Clark cannot without inconsistency simultaneously stand as a Protestant on Luther’s “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason …” and decry both “cafeteria Calvinism” and the very biblicism by which Luther and Calvin justified their rebellion against and separation from the magisterium of the Church into which they both had been baptized. Clark is trying to maintain middle positions that are not available, such as the position according to which confessions formed without magisterial authority but rather as expressions of private judgments concerning the meaning of Scripture are to be treated as having such ecclesial authority, and the position in which ‘church authority’ chosen on the basis of its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture is an actual binding authority, and not something that loses its ‘authority’ as soon as it fails to conform to the criterion by which one chose it as ‘authoritative.’ But when one sees the delusion of derivative authority, one sees that the solution cannot be to write another confession, or even revise a confession. And when one sees the farce of painting an ecclesial-authority target around one’s interpretive arrow, one sees that the solution cannot be to fire one’s arrow again, and paint another target. At that point, the paradigm begins to crumble, and one either consigns oneself to solo scriptura biblicism, or one begins to seek out the answer to the following question: Where is the Church Christ founded?

Hear Pope Francis:

“While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement … We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen … Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts.”

Francis uses the example of the Good Samaritan as an illustration: “Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.” The image of the Good Samaritan was also a warning against the risks of communication: “Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable.”

I appreciate Bryan’s candor about Luther and Calvin’s rebellion and separation from the magisterium of his church. I don’t think it’s going to be a very effective Call to Communion (not to mention that it doesn’t do much justice to the prayer for Christian unity). But if Luther and Calvin were supposed to obey the pope, why doesn’t Bryan Cross need to?

Whatever Happened, It Deserves to be Mentioned

While Bryan Cross and others shrug their shoulders about Vatican 2’s significance, practically everywhere you go in other Roman Catholic venues you find acknowledgement that something changed in the church and it was disruptive. Bryan likens this line of attack to an accusation of bait and switch — such that when he blogs about the virtues of Rome he doesn’t mention the elephant in the room that Vatican 2 became for conservatives and traditionalists (but of course, according to Bryan, conservatives don’t exist — you’re either Roman Catholic or you’re not). Well, try as I might, I am having trouble finding other Roman Catholic apologists or scholars who are as reluctant at JATC (Jason and the Callers) are to talk turkey about Vatican 2.

So in the spirit of the season, here are a few servings:

It is hard, from these standpoints, not to stress the discontinuity, the experience of an event, of a break with routine. This is the common langauge used by participants and by observers at the time — the young Joseph Ratzinger’s reflections after each session, published in English as Theological Highlights of Vatican II, are a good example. It is from this perspective that James Hitchcock calls Vatican II “the most important event within the Church in the past four hundred years,” and the French historian-sociologist Emile Poulat points out that the Catholic Church changed more in the ten years after Vatican II than it did in the previous hundred years. Similar positions are held by people along the whole length of the ideological spectrum. Whether they regard what happened as good or bad, they all agree that something happened. (Joseph A Komonchak, “Benedict XVI and the Interpretation of Vatican II,” 108)

I do find it odd that the very institution that is supposed to govern interpretations within the church — the papacy, the office that protects Rome against Protestantism’s opinions — can’t even control the interpretation of such a central feature in church life.

Then comes this from Eamon Duffy:

On every front, then, the Council redrew the boundaries of what had seemed to 1959 a fixed and immutable system. For some Catholics, these changes were the long-awaited harvest of the New Theology, the reward of years of patient endurance during the winter of Pius XII. For others, they were apostasy, the capitulation of the Church to the corrupt and worldly values of the Enlightenment and the Revolution, which the popes from Piux IX to Pius XII had rightly denounced. And for others, perhaps the majority, they were a bewildering stream of directives from above, to be obeyed as best they could. Many of the older clergy of the Catholic Church found themselves sleep-walking through the Conciliar and post-Conciliar years, loyal to an authority which called them to embrace attitudes which the same authority had once denounced as heresy. Pope John’s successor would have to do with all this. (Saints and Sinners, 274-75)

Bryan is wont to shrug at such quotations from historical works, but I’m not sure how he doesn’t feel the weight of the change of authority — the very authority that he uses to show Protestantism’s inferiority — that Duffy notes. He can hide behind the claim that no dogma changed at Vatican 2. Yet, the line between sin and heresy and dogma and discipline was never so clear that the priests Duffy mentions knew how to sort it out and instruct the faithful on what was no longer required and why it wasn’t even though it had been sinful before not to perform certain acts of obedience.

Even for those hopeful of a restoration of Rome’s conservative posture — hard to believe given stories about conservatives’ perceptions of Pope Francis — Vatican 2 was a ecclesiastical bowl of confusion:

Of course, the fact remains that none of the documents of Vatican II are taught ex cathedra. Therefore, none of the teachings of Vatican II are formally pronounced as dogmas by the Second Vatican Council itself. So, very strictly speaking, a person can dissent from Vatican II itself without being a formal heretic. However, to dissent from an ecumenical council is no small matter. To put it informally, one may avoid being a heretic, but still may be a “bad” Catholic.

How did this confusion take root? It can best be explained as rising from the concept of conciliar self-verification. In other words, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the fathers at an “ecumenical council” are teachers of faith and morals, and their “definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.” The problem is, the ecumenical council making this statement is itself an ecumenical council—and, therefore, is making statements about itself and not making it with the highest authority, i.e., ex cathedra.

In other words, one might say this is the conciliar version of chasing one’s own theological tail. The fallout has been that, for several generations of Catholics, from academics and Church leaders to the laity in the pews, the lasting impression is, “Vatican II said it was okay to disagree with the Pope.”

Thus began the era of “taking sides.” It was as if the Catholic faith became no more than a grand game—Pope and established Church teachings versus the dissenters—and individual Catholics could simply pick which team to root for. Some called themselves liberals (the “left”) while others called themselves conservatives (the “right”). Each group dissented from Vatican II, but for different reasons.

Many liberal nuns in the U.S., for example, continue to sympathize with anti-life groups that claim they are helping the poor by promoting the poor’s right to funds for abortion and contraception. They claim to be supporting social justice by defending, or, at least, sympathizing with, the gay agenda. They are especially vocal in demanding that the Church ordain women to the priesthood—even after John Paul II informed them that the Church teaching on an all male priesthood is infallible and, therefore, cannot be changed.

On the other hand, the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, continues to err on the side of utter conservative rigidity. They reject the Second Vatican Council as a movement of the Holy Spirit, and cling to the minutiae of 500-year-old rituals as necessary, for their own sake. The change of the liturgy from Latin to English, or the vernacular of each particular country, is their most well-known objection.

Therefore, today, 50 years after the opening of Vatican II, the misinterpretation of one of its most salient documents, Lumen Gentium, continues to drive a number of Catholics in the United States into one of two camps, the “right” or the “left.”

So the next time Bryan wants to call conservative Presbyterians to communion, he might want to go through the fine print with those he’s calling.


While Bryan Cross ducks the question about whether his communion is more faithful now compared to 1960, the Archbishop of Philadelphia has apparently taken a stab. The questionnaire that the Vatican has prepared to acquire input from the laity on marriage and sexual relations has already gone public in Philadelphia and it includes the following estimate:

Challenges to the Gospel today include widespread cohabitation, same sex unions, the adoption of children by people in a same sex union, the marriage of people of varying religious affiliations, single parent families, polygamy, a disregard for the equality and dignity of spouses, a weakened sense of the permanence of marriage, a feminism hostile to the Church, a reformulation of the concept of the family, the negative impact of the media and legislation on the meaning of Christian marriage and family, and the increase in surrogate motherhood. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance has declined.