Make It Stop

Yet another press release on evangelicals who have found a home that is sweet and located in Rome. And once again, the great appeal is authority (papal, infallible, audacious?):

What I came to realize is that little progress will be made on the major issues (or many secondary issues) of theology until one settles the issue of religious authority. That single concern is related to numerous key facets of the Christian faith, the most impactful of which were the canon of Scripture and its orthodox interpretation.

The canon of Scripture (the books included in the Bible) is a huge issue for anyone who considers the Bible to be the Word of God and the authority for one’s faith. If one thinks the early Church went astray somehow, it becomes a very difficult problem because the biblical collection itself was not settled until centuries after the apostles died. If the Church was in error by then, how can the “Bible-Only Christian” be sure he really has the inspired Word of God? And if the Church was kept from error while it determined the canon, why was it not likewise kept from error during the councils and creeds it produced at the same time? As I looked at the major alternate theories of canonization, I discovered the historical truth that the Church is ultimately the standard.

This was also the case with doctrine. It is well known that there is rampant disagreement among the various sects, denominations, and cults of Christianity—but where is the line drawn? Christians often speak of “orthodoxy,” “heresy,” “essentials,” and “fundamentals”—but by what authority are these words defined, and doctrines labelled? For the Christian who denies that the Church is the standard, there seemed to be no non-circular means of doing so.

I’ve asked before and no one answered. So I’ll ask again. With all that authority, how do you explain the bad stuff? What about Marquette University? What are the bishops doing? Pope Francis? The converts?

Working in my Marquette office one afternoon in the spring of 2010, I heard unusual sounds coming from the normally quiet lawns outside my window. I was surprised to see a modest assembly of students and professors preparing to march in protest. Against what? Minutes later, an email arrived informing me that the university’s then-president, Robert Wild, S.J., had voided a contract extended to Jodi O’Brien to join us as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Though the contract had already been signed, Fr. Wild—perhaps under external pressure—decided that O’Brien, a partnered lesbian whose research included queer studies, was not an appropriate choice to represent our mission and identity.

Although an ordinary person with a passing knowledge of the moral teachings of the Catholic Church would think such a decision obvious, the department chairs in the college soon gathered and voted almost unanimously to censure Wild’s decision. The press, meanwhile, demanded an explanation. On the ­defensive, the university allegedly paid a considerable sum in order to break the contract. Officials were soon exercising themselves to demonstrate their concern for equitable treatment of gays and lesbians. The university would initiate projects, courses, conferences, and the like to explore issues of sex and gender! The clear implication was that change would come, though slowly. Marquette would get with the sexual-liberation program so that something like the O’Brien affair would never happen again.

Since 2010, the campaign for sexual diversity at Marquette has advanced rapidly. Last year, the university announced the expansion of the former Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (established in the wake of the O’Brien dustup) into two new initiatives: a Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies and an LGBTQ Resource Center. How much funding has been increased has not been disclosed. We also now have an Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, which offers faculty and staff awards for excellence in, yes, “diversity and inclusion.” Again, how much this will cost hasn’t been revealed. We do know, however, that funds have been promised to support the development of new courses that advance the cause. A faculty fellows program in diversity is also in the works.

The whole article is worth reading, but this paragraph is particularly telling:

For the last two generations, American Catholic ­theology departments have been at the forefront of a campaign of dissent against Catholic sexual morality. This campaign has often been led by Jesuits and Jesuit universities. Unlike attempts to attract more minority students, or programs to empower students from disadvantaged backgrounds—efforts in full accord with Catholic social teaching—this campaign of dissent has sometimes been underhanded, even dishonest. It has also been ruthless, working hard to suppress and punish any who speak up for the Church’s teaching. The way Marquette has adopted and promoted the mishmash of LGBTQ ideology over the last few years is consistent with that tradition of dissent.

So why don’t the converts ever include these developments in their touting of Rome’s authority and certainty? Are they unaware?

Whatever the reason, the Marquette situation may explain Rachel Lu’s counsel (which doesn’t say much about the hierarchy that is supposed to keep everything neat and orthodox):

In that spirit, try not to pay too much attention to Church politics. Catholic politics is, well, politics. Unless your profession requires it, you probably don’t need to obsess about it, and there are much more edifying ways to immerse yourself in the faith. But whatever you do, don’t trust journalists to educate you about Catholicism.

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How to Achieve Unity

I detect something of a breakthrough among Roman Catholics in reaction to Pope Francis’ comments about contraception and the Zika. Christopher Kaczor does his best to help out the pope (even if it is way above his pay grade):

During Pope Francis’ flight from Mexico to Rome, a Spanish reporter posed this question: “Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils?’”

In his answer, Pope Francis unequivocally condemned abortion, saying, “Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. [The nuns were in constant danger of getting raped and therefore of pregnancy.] Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself with abortion. … [A]s with every human evil, each killing is condemned. On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI , it was clear.”

The first part of the pope’s answer does not raise many questions, as it is a straightforward and unequivocal application of Catholic teaching that intentional killing of innocent human beings is seriously wrong. But what about the Bishop of Rome’s statements on contraception? Do his remarks indicate that using contraception is ethically permissible if the circumstances are dire? . . .

In his interview, Pope Francis could be understood as endorsing the view that the use of contraceptives such as a condom could be permissible in order to prevent the transmission of the Zika virus, which may be transmitted through sexual activity. On the other hand, his remarks are also open to the interpretation that forms of contraception, such as the pill, would be permissible in order to render sexual acts nonprocreative with the motivation that a child not be born with microcephaly. Given that Pope Francis is, in the very same interview, at pains to praise and show his agreement with Paul VI, the first interpretation is the more plausible one.

But other Roman Catholics from the left and right are not buying this and so are showing remarkable unity. Edward Peters finds the Pope’s construction of church teaching dubious:

No longer are we musing about a point of Church history (as interesting as that might be), now we are dealing with Church moral teaching. The stakes become dramatically higher.

So here’s my point: not only does the Congo nuns permission seem NOT to exist, but, even if it does exist in some form, it could NOT, I suggest, by its own terms, be used by Francis (or anyone else committed to thinking with the Church) to call into question the Church’s settled teaching that “each and every marital act [quilibet matrimonii usus] must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (Humanae vitae 11) and that therefore “excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after conjugal intercourse [coniugale commercium], is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means” (Humanae vitae 14).

Obviously the Congo nuns case (or the Balkan nuns story in the 1990s, to take another variation of the myth) was not about marital acts, it was about religious women facing criminal acts of violent sexual intercourse; the Congo question was not about possible birth defects, it was about stopping rapists’ sperm from reaching ova that perchance had been ovulated. Between women facing rape and wives worried about birth defects there simply is no parallel relevant to the moral question of contraception. One can like that fact or hate it, but one cannot change it or ignore it. Moreover, Church teaching on the immorality of contracepted marital acts is, I believe, taught infallibly; but, even if I were wrong about that technical claim, there is no question about what that teaching is, namely, that contracepting acts of marital intercourse, whether doing so as an end in itself or as means to some other end, is objectively immoral.

So does Peter Steinfels:

The precedents cited to render Francis’s statement consistent with standing teaching strike me as a stretch. Despite the pope’s own fleeting allusion to what is in fact a historically obscure episode involving nuns threatened by sexual assault in the Congo in the early Sixties, Francis was not talking about an apparently proactive prevention of forced conception from rapes that may or may not occur. He was not talking about prevention of transmitting a virus, parallel to HIV, from one marital partner to another. He was talking about the prevention of pregnancy.

And Humanae Vitae condemns any use whatsoever of contraception to prevent pregnancy—even as a “lesser evil … even for the gravest of reasons … even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” Nor, according to the encyclical, can “a whole married life of otherwise normal relations” justify such a single or temporary use.

My wager is that Pope Francis just doesn’t believe that. He respects it. He admires its author. He looks for the truth in it. But he doesn’t buy it.

But that’s pure guess on my part. The inability of church leaders, including the Holy Father, to speak straightforwardly about contraception has been a great disappointment.

This is unity, but it’s not the kind we’re supposed to notice.

At Least It's Not 30,000

Michael Sean Winters is following the meeting of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops in Baltimore this week and he — echoing Machen — thinks the church is really two:

If I may borrow Cardinal Dolan’s metaphor, there are two Catholic Churches in the U.S. today. One Church is thrilled by Pope Francis, glad not to feel that everything is their fault, happy that they no longer feel the lash of judgment because they cannot measure up to the moral standards articulated by certain conservative commentators, delighted to know that it is OK not to be obsessed exclusively by certain issues, even — what was unimaginable for most just a short time ago — proud to be Catholic again.

The other Church is meeting in the ballroom in Baltimore this week. There is no excitement. The agenda is very pre-“VatiLeaks”. The obsession with abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage rolls on in dreary predictability. Everyone is “in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace,” the very thing Pope Francis said would have worried him if it had characterized the recent synod. It characterizes the meeting of the USCCB so far. It is bizarre to me that the encomiums to Pope Francis are formulaic at best or absent entirely. So far as the public discussions go, you would not know that this is an interesting, let alone exciting, time to be a Catholic. The whole world knows. The cat is out of the bag. And the bishops seem to be asking, “What is a cat?”

I understand some might think quoting Winters is dirty pool, but when did Roman Catholics adopt the Puritan sensibility of the pure church, as if Winters has no right to think like a Roman Catholic?

This post coincides with a revelation about another church within the church. This one is the world of Roman Catholic apologists. Mark Shea describes the rise of Roman Catholic apologetics and links it to a perceived deficiency in the church at the time:

I’m glad of the boomlet in apologetics that has happened since the 80s. It began, almost single-handedly at first, through the efforts of Karl Keating and the good people at Catholic Answers. For some reason, apologetics had become a dirty word after the Council, with the predictable effect that Catholics soon lost the ability to articulate what they believed and why. When I was coming into the Church, it was like pulling teeth to find an RCIA group that would, like, tell me what Church taught instead of reflexively obeying the impulse to just affirm me in my okayness. Karl Keating, more than any other figure in the 80s, is the guy who took action to turn that trend around. And (I strongly suspect) no small reason for the resulting resurgence of apologetics was due to the relief Catholics felt after years of hearing what fools they were for believing the Faith and having few tools other than a gut feeling to counter these charges. . . . There was a rising flood of Evangelical converts and, as Evangelicals do, they started trying to articulate what they had done and why for the benefit of those they had left behind. Evangelicals have a bred-in-the-bone sense that, “If you can’t verbalize your faith, then there’s some doubt as to whether you really know what it is.” So we started writing the books and making the tapes that filled that Catholic book table by 1998. And, as we were doing this, we slowly started looking around and realizing to our surprise that we weren’t alone–usually well after our entry into communion with Rome. In fact, it was not until the early 90s, that I discovered people like Hahn, David Currie, Akin, Rosalind Moss and the whole current crop of Evangelical converts existed. The experience was similar for a lot of First Wavers. We thought we’d pretty much stepped out of Evangelicalism into the Incalculable Catholic Abyss, and to our astonishment there were all these other Evangelical converts! Result: The First Wave started “networking” just as a Second Wave (who read our books and listened to our tapes) were persuaded and started to convert too.

But the problem with these apologists is that they may be doing work that is properly reserved for the bishops. Shea admits:

I have found that, in an era where laity have been taught to mistrust their bishops–not only by the media and the culture, but by the shocking incompetence and perfidy of the bishops themselves in the abuse scandal–it’s very easy for laity to hive off and anoint new ersatz Magisteria in the form of whatever faction they happen to fancy. For some, the New Magisterium is the advocates for women priests. For others, it’s Catholics for a Free Choice. For still others, it’s whatever Richard McBrien says is the consensus of Thinking Catholics in the Academy. For some, it’s Dan Brown.

But for not a few in the apologetics subculture, it’s what I or Scott Hahn or [insert favorite apologist] thinks about X, Y and Z. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do, because we apologists are not protected by the charism of infallibility in the slightest.

I have long wondered about the various cultures in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and how the apologetic world is dominated by the laity. Why aren’t the bishops doing this? Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a popular bishop who did a form of defending the faith, but his existentially inclined faith was a long way from the textbook approach that dominates the popular apologetic front.

So to correct Winter’s observation, not two churches but three (maybe four if you count Jason and the Callers).