Elsewhere: what works — tradition or modernity?


It always amazes me when people champion relaxing “rigid” rules in favor of a more “merciful” or “pastoral” Church. This is code for finding ways to justify reinterpretation of orthodoxy, at least in practice (wink, wink). It is also known as heterodoxy.

In charity we assume such people are well intentioned, but the result is not just. It hides the truth – resulting in more pain, separation from God and a smaller, less effective Church.

The collapse of liberal Protestant communities and growth of “traditional” ones illustrates this. In the Catholic Church, we see vocations plummet when a liberal bishop arrives or at parishes with altar girls. Conversely, vocations bloom under more traditional bishops and parishes. This has been observed again, and again, and again (worldwide).

One theory apparently is that the truth is too hard for young people who seek inclusiveness, tolerance and affirmation. That is false, at least for the young who seek truth, would actually come to Church and are open to the Gospel were it boldly offered. Michael Warren Davis wrote an interesting piece recently for the always excellent Crisis Magazine:

No one swims the Tiber (at least not seriously) hoping the Church will “meet them where they are.” They don’t want to stare into a mirror, content with their own little being. That’s why we have…   well, mirrors. If someone makes the effort to become Catholic, it’s because they want to gaze up at some terrible Gothic cathedral and feel helplessly small. They want to become a better person, not to be told what a wonderful person they already are. They want to exchange fashion for what Eliot called “the Permanent Things.”

Which is why Fr. James Martin’s Building a Bridge is such a depressing read, especially compared to a masterpiece like Brideshead Revisited. Modernism somehow manages to be both more debauched and less sexy than traditionalism. It wants us to be more understanding toward the “LGBT community,” but glosses over our common denominator: that we’re all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. If any Millennials struggling with same-sex attraction do approach the Church, I promise you: they’ll prefer Waugh’s treatment. They’ll want to be Catholics, not gay Catholics.

It’s why I and other Millennials are flocking to the Latin Mass, despite the Holy Father’s accusations of “rigidity.” As Paolo Gambi so ably put it:

We, the younger generation, need some rigidity, surrounded as we are by weak systems of thought and “liquid societies.” If we perceive the Mass as something rigid, uncompromising and rigorous, it can be attractive. If it is just something social, then we have better social places to go.

But traditional Catholicism isn’t really rigid. Nothing that survives roughly 1,600 years ever could be. Name a great poet, novelist, sculptor, painter, or architect; odds are he attended the Latin Mass. Little wonder bright young minds sick of tedious nihilists like Duchamps and Foucault turn ad orientem.

And it’s why, as a recent piece in National Review pointed out, we’re experiencing a renaissance of traditionalist conservatism among college students. They’re “more interested in, and connected to, the Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching.” They’re reading St. Thomas Aquinas and Russell Kirk. They’re “trying to reorient Americans toward ideas and ideals that nourish the whole person: community, truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Read the entire piece: A Millennial Defense of Catholic Tradition.

Elsewhere: liberal Christianity


There is an experiment tried over and over. It is a kind of insanity, always hoping for a different result than last time. That is, “theologically liberal” Christianity. It varies, but generally seeks to be “inclusive”, “tolerant” and “affirmative” of every person and their actions. I suppose this is so that they “feel good” about themselves and the church would grow. It’s a lie (always) and thus sinful (depending on the usual factors) and ultimately doomed. I have previously covered the Episcopalian journey from orthodoxy to liberalism resulting in their spectacular meltdown as well as others.

Our orthodox Christianity is inclusive / tolerant / affirmative too, except always raises God and His revelations to us above all else. We are inclusive of every person in their equal human dignity, no exceptions, but not of non-repentant sinful behavior. We tolerate and celebrate our unique differences but not immoral actions. We affirm every person as created in the image and likeness of God, but not their free-will choices against Him.

A scholarly study was released earlier this year examining 22 mainline Protestant churches in Canada. Of those, 9 were growing and 13 were declining. Why?

Tim Mattingly summarized the results on his Get Religion blog:

Crucial findings in this study showed that, in growing churches, pastors tend to be more conservative than the people in their pews. In declining congregations, pastors are usually more theologically liberal than their people. For example:

  • Clergy in growing churches affirmed, by an overwhelming 93 percent, that Jesus rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb, while 56 percent of clergy in declining churches agreed. Among laypeople, this divide was 83 percent vs. 67 percent.
  • In growing churches, 46 percent of clergy strongly affirmed, and nearly 31 percent moderately affirmed, this statement: “Only those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will receive eternal life.” Zero pastors in declining churches affirmed that statement and 6 percent moderately agreed.
  • In growing congregations, 100 percent of the clergy said it’s crucial to “encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” while only 50 percent of pastors in declining churches agreed.
  • In declining churches, 44 percent of pastors agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers,” compared with 100 percent of clergy in growing congregations.

There were other patterns worthy of future study, said Haskell. Growing churches were much younger, with two-thirds of their members under the age of 60, while two-thirds of those attending declining churches were over 60. Families in growing churches also had more children. Finally, growing mainline churches were finding their new members among outsiders – people who say going to church is new for them – at the same rate, about 12 percent, as growing evangelical Protestant churches.

It is a short piece, but check-out Canadian researchers find that doctrine really does matter, in terms of church growth. The study abstract, 57 references and link to purchase ($40) is at Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy.

Elsewhere: voting for abortion


I have stayed out of commenting on particular political candidates this round. That is not changing. Our choices are truly horrid. They are not much better in congressional and other races. Horrid.

Yet, at the end of the “process,” the presidency and every one of these offices will be filled by people acting in our name. Their occupants will, for better or worse, make decisions which are binding on all citizens in both the near and long term. We should all be able to agree with this statement of fact.

What if I told you that some candidates support parental “rights” to terminate their newborns up until the age of 1. It would be a deeply personal, difficult choice, but would allow them not to be punished with a child they recognize as a mistake. Perhaps a woman might be abandoned by the child’s father. Perhaps the child was less than perfect. 100,000 would be erased per year in this way, with a societal benefit of lowering health care and education costs.

Do you support that? Would you reluctantly ignore that position of a candidate if you felt there were counter-balancing economic and structural positions? Could you tolerate it if the candidate supporting it was far less detestable to you than the alternative?

While this evolution is not yet on the table, abortion is and it is more than 10 times worse. People – Catholics – are struggling with this moral dilemma. That is so, so sad. This should not be a struggle at all for faithful Catholics. Choosing against innocent life is moral depravity. At this magnitude it is history’s greatest holocaust. Abortion is always an intrinsic evil (never justified) of the greatest gravity (life itself). Weighing this against prudential choices of economic policy or candidate likability is possible only by putting politics ahead of God.

Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, spoke on this exact issue recently at the annual international gathering of Knights held in Canada.

“We need to end the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion advocates,” he said. “It is time to end the entanglement of Catholic people with abortion killing. It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion politicians.”

“Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale,” he added.

Anderson said politics does not mean partisanship, but a stand for the common good and for moral and religious values that make free, democratic institutions possible.

Foremost among these values, he said, is “the equal dignity of every human life and the right of every person to freely practice their religion.”

“We will never succeed in building a culture of life if we continue to vote for politicians who support a culture of death.”

He reflected on the political question of whether one should support a candidate attractive for many reasons but who supports abortion.

“Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion candidates through a complex balancing act. They claim other issues are important enough to offset a candidate’s support for abortion,” he said.

“But the right to abortion is not just another political issue,” Anderson said. “It is, in reality, a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.”

He noted that 40 million is a figure greater than the entire population of Canada.

“What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation?” he asked. “The answer, of course, is that there is none.”

Anderson’s comments are reported in the National Catholic Register: Carl Anderson to Voters: ‘Stop Creating Excuses for Voting for Pro-Abortion Politicians’.

Please, please reconsider your support of anyone you know is going to continue the tragedy of abortion (even if they disingenuously claim to be “personally against it”).

Elsewhere: growing Amoris Laetitia pushback


For all the good, beautiful and true prose in Amoris Laetitia, there are serious problems. As I noted in my review written 11 days after its publication (Amoris Laetitia conclusions), the “problems overshadow the rest of the document”.

I am not usually good at predictions, but these were easy:

  • Amoris Laetitia will fail in its goals, but will be seriously divisive for the Church.
  • Those who are “divorced and remarried” will increasingly receive communion (and thereby, as St. Paul warned, “eats and drinks judgment on himself”) — with and without pastoral guidance.
  • In areas where bishops tolerate (or worse, promote) this abuse, actual applications for annulments will decline in preference to this express approach.
  • Young people contemplating marriage, will have ever more reason to doubt the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. What they see in actions will speak much louder to them than the words to the contrary.
  • Likewise, struggling marriages will be weakened as a new acceptance for “remarriage” may appear to be normalized.
  • A future “pope of clarity” will have to unambiguously correct this and other official ambiguities which have appeared in recent years.

All but the last one have already proven to be true. I hope that I am wrong on the last prediction, but I continue to doubt that Pope Francis will satisfactorily address this. It will therefore continue to fester, to lead people astray and to increase division.

This week we learn that 45 Catholic academics urge cardinals to ask Pope Francis to fix exhortation’s errors. This was reported in LifeSite News:

Forty-five Catholic prelates, academics, and clergy have submitted an appeal to the Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome requesting that the cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition Pope Francis to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from Amoris Laetitia.

The appeal will be sent in various languages to the 218 living Catholic Cardinals and Patriarchs over the coming weeks.

The unnamed signatories contend that the exhortation contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” According to the group’s press release, 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.”

The group’s appeal asks the cardinals, in their capacities as the Pope’s official advisers, to approach Pope Francis with a request that he reject “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 Dr. Joseph Shaw, a signatory and a spokesman for the group of scholars and pastors, “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.”

“It is our hope that by seeking from our Holy Father a definitive repudiation of these errors we can help to allay the confusion already brought about by Amoris laetitia among pastors and the lay faithful,” continued Shaw. “For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”

The group takes issue with nineteen passages in Amoris Laetitia that seem to contradict Catholic doctrine and maintains that the exhortation undermines the Church’s teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who are not living abstinently may not receive the Sacraments.

The article goes on to provide more detail and examples. Read the whole piece at 45 Catholic academics urge cardinals to ask Pope Francis to fix exhortation’s errors.

There is still more…

That was not the only high-profile appeal this week. Sixteen pro-life leaders from around the world have made a similar, passionate request directly to the Holy Father. Read their comments at Plea to the pope: Life and family leaders call on pope to ‘end the confusion’.

Each speaks personally, directly to Pope Francis in this 30 minute video . Excerpts are also available for the public in the following short (under 4 minutes) version:

This problem can not and will not go away.

Elsewhere: the average Catholic?


Everyone is aware of the problems of secularism — turning away from God in favor of salvation offered through government. In the last 50 years, many poorly catechized Christians have left the Church and are now “nones.” A sizable number of those who have remained are so poorly grounded that it seems only a matter of time until they too leave.

Eric Sammons has noticed this too in his work at the diocesan and parish levels. In a short piece for OnePeterFive, he recounts some of his experiences.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know my typical audience, which I would describe as “average Catholics.” They are not people who have left the Church or are antagonistic to the Faith. Neither are they hard-core Catholics, the type that might travel hours to hear Scott Hahn speak or go to a Steubenville Conference. They attend Mass regularly (perhaps 2-3 times a month, maybe more) and identify as Catholic, but do not follow Catholic news or Catholic blogs. They form their impressions of the Church and her teachings from hearing the weekly homily, talking with their fellow Catholics, and following the mainstream news.

I have encountered many good and decent souls among my parish visits, but over time I’ve formed an impression of what I would call The Average Catholic. Let’s call her “Amy” (the Average Catholic is usually female):

We are all good people going to heaven. Amy the Average Catholic assumes she – and all her friends – are going to Heaven. Usually she ignores the topic of Hell; when pressed she would dismiss it as a medieval invention. Amy doesn’t believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with herself. Sure, she might eat too many sweets, or could work on her patience. But any problems she might have would only require a life coach, not a Savior.

The Church’s teachings on sexuality are an embarrassment. Amy believes the Church can be a force for good in this world, reminding people to be kind and to take care of those around us. But when it comes to moral issues, especially those related to sexuality, Amy is embarrassed by the Church’s teachings. She wishes the Church would just avoid those topics.

The Church is a place to socially gather and feel welcome. If asked, “Why are you Catholic?” Amy would probably answer vaguely that she grew up Catholic, and it makes her feel good about herself. She goes to her parish to see friends and hopefully hear a nice homily. It’s a place she feels welcome, and it’s what decent people do.

The Church evolves over time, and is better the more it is like the world. According to Amy, the Church has an unfortunate history it must get beyond. It’s not really the Church’s fault; after all, everyone used to be discriminatory and old-fashioned. But now that we are in the 21st century, the Church needs to be updated and become more like the world. Otherwise, the Church is in danger of being left behind.

Essentially, Amy the Average Catholic is an Episcopalian.

You know this is true and have heard it countless times talking to other Catholics. Read the whole piece: Meet Amy, the Average Catholic.