Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Indignity Unbecoming

One more small yelp about Christians spotting media bias.

Alan Jacobs faults journalists for improperly interpreting Pope Francis’ declaration of mercy for women who have had abortions:

Pope Francis has done a big, big thing: he has made it dramatically easier for women who have had abortions to be reconciled to the Church. But take a look at this NBC News headline: “Pope Francis: Priests Can Forgive Abortion If Women Are ‘Contrite’” — as though before this papal statement contrite women could not have received forgiveness!

The distinction between making forgiveness — more accurately, reconciliation and restoration to Communion, but even I won’t be a stickler for that — easier and making it possible is an important one and easy to grasp, but a reputable religion journalist insisted to me on Twitter this morning that such headlines are perfectly accurate and that my questioning them shows my ignorance of Catholic doctrine.

Apparently the BBC doesn’t agree with him, because the headline and article they posted earlier — has been revised: “Pope on abortion: Francis relaxes forgiveness rules.” Which is a big improvement in accuracy, though at least one, ahem, reputable religion journalist will think it wholly unnecessary.

Why defend the indefensible? The NBC and the original BBC headlines are plainly and simply wrong, and the stories accompanying them are factually wobbly at their best and in several places incorrect. So why say otherwise? An ideological axe to grind? Misplaced professional solidarity?

But when Roman Catholics themselves don’t know what the church teaches or pay attention to the papacy, why should the press be held to a higher standard than those who answered the call to communion. Rod Dreher reports on the latest set of numbers that don’t lie (and don’t reassure about the call’s terms):

Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.

And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.

When Rod adds that liberalizing church teaching would actually hurt more than help, I have to wonder:

This is a pretty strong piece of evidence against the idea that if Pope Francis (or any pope) liberalized church teaching and practice in certain controversial areas, it would stop the bleeding and bring back Catholics who have left the church. All it would stand to do is to discourage the core of true believers. In fact, the Pew survey appears to indicate that the teachings of the Church don’t have a lot to do with the way many individual Catholics — even regular churchgoers — think and live.

I’ve seen what the numbers do to the true believers who at least were former Protestants. Nothing discourages these folks. It’s always sunny in Rome.

Isn't It Really Justification by Baptism?

The substitute caller for Jason of the Callers has tried to reverse the table and claim Roman Catholicism as the real home of justification by faith:

In the Protestant view, for man to enter Heaven he needs to have kept God’s Law perfectly. This means Salvation for the Protestant is purely based upon human “works,” the catch is that since sin has tainted all we do, it’s impossible for man to keep God’s Law perfectly. This is why Protestants say we need Jesus to keep God’s Law perfectly for us, and impute this “work” to us as if we did all this “work” ourselves. Hence why Protestants say our only hope to stand before God and be seen as “righteous” (i.e. a perfect keeper of the Law) is to trust in “Christ’s finished work” alone. So what does any of this have to do with faith alone? Protestants say the way we ‘receive’ this “work” that Christ did is through ‘the empty hand of faith,’ which reaches out and lays hold of and applies that work to our account.

In the Catholic view, for man to enter Heaven requires that he be in communion with God before he passes from this life. For Catholics, Salvation is not so much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘being’. Communion with God is principally characterized by being “in a state of grace,” that means us possessing the divine gifts of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the Indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our souls. In this view, faith implies the possession of all these other divine gifts for the Catholic. And the means by which a person first acquires all these is through “the washing of regeneration,” also known as Baptism.

Could be, but that would not explain the partial and plenary indulgences which are still very much available. Just imagine how many users of McCheyne’s schedule for reading Scripture entirely in a year could benefit from this one:

50. Reading of Sacred Scripture (Sacrae Scripturae lectio)

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture.
A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.

But then again, it could be that faith is really a form of obedience (as Norman Shepherd tried to argue):

Just as Abraham is the model of “the obedience of faith” offered to us by Sacred Scripture, the Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment (cf. CCC, n. 144). “By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ and so giving her assent: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:37-38)” (CCC, n. 148). Mary’s response perfectly expressed the disposition of complete and unconditional obedience — she is the model for what our response should be to God’s will in our daily lives. Her faith never wavered, and for this reason “the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith” (CCC, n. 149).

To close this installment, I invite you to reflect on an inspiring excerpt from Fr. Michael Gaitley’s recently published book 33 Days to Morning Glory: “She [Mary] is perfectly united to the Holy Spirit, because she was conceived without sin, never sinned, and always does the will of God perfectly. She allows the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, take possession of her soul, and bear fruit through her. The Holy Spirit delights in always working in and through Mary to save all other creatures made in God’s image” (p. 110).

Is it just (all about) me I or do these guys seem to view Roman Catholicism through a Protestant paradigm?

Audacity Lives

This just in from the Vatican:

Pope Francis will grant a plenary indulgence – a remission of all temporal punishment due to sin – to World Youth Day Catholic participants, the Vatican announced July 9.

The head of the Church’s Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, and its secretary, Bishop Krzysztof Nykiel, released a decree on July 9 that says the Pope will grant it during the July 22-29 event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“The young people and the faithful who are adequately prepared will obtain the Plenary Indulgence, once a day and under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in accordance with the intentions of the Holy Father), applicable also to the souls of deceased faithful,” states the decree published July 9.

The document adds that people who cannot attend World Youth Day can receive it “under the usual spiritual, sacramental and prayer conditions, in a spirit of filial submission to the Roman Pontiff.”

But this means they must participate “in the sacred functions on the days indicated, following the same rites and spiritual exercises as they occur via television or radio or, with due devotion, via the new means of social communication.”

While Christian Smith tells us to “get over” indulgences, they are still pretty hard to fathom from a biblical paradigm. I still come back to a point that Luther made in a 1516 sermon, as summarized by Roland Bainton:

To assert that the pope can deliver souls from purgatory is audacious. If he can do so, then he is cruel not to release them all. But if he possess this ability, he is in a postition to do more for the dead than for the living. . . . Indulgences can remit only those private satisfactions imposed by the Church, and may easily militate against interior penance, which consists in true contrition, true confession, and true satisfaction in spirit. (Here I Stand, 71)