Beware of unqualified people – UPDATED

Beware of unqualified people – UPDATED March 1, 2019

Updated to add additional information I did not know existed when I published this – spd

The Catholic Church is wild about credentials. For instance, you cannot call yourself a theologian without a licentiate or doctorate in theology from an approved university. You would be silly to listen to anyone pontificate on canon law who did not have a canon law degree.

You cannot even call your nonprofit “Catholic” without permission from the local bishop. I know because when my parents founded a Catholic nonprofit in the 1990s, they did not ask permission, and ran afoul of our bishop. They renamed it after a saint. Even that still requires episcopal permission, which they finally got.

Yet, modern Catholics have a penchant for chasing after people who are manifestly unqualified for the positions they hold, or the authority granted to them by the public. Consider the devotion conservative Catholics have for President Trump, a serial adulterer, two-bit grifter, failed casino owner, and reality TV star. Conservative Catholics have a higher regard for him than they do for Pope Francis.

On a somewhat smaller scale is Matt Walsh, a writer who purports to speak authoritatively on Catholic issues, but who brags about his lack of a college (or any other) degree, and who is chiefly known for misogyny, sneering at celebrity suicide victims, and lying about authentic Catholic social teaching.

Then there is the satellite channel EWTN, which calls itself “The Global Catholic Network” and is treated as its own Magisterium by many Catholics, but which actually is run by a lay board of directors.

Catholic media

Regarding the media, I wonder how many of the newspapers or magazines or websites who call themselves Catholic actually have episcopal permission to do so? Probably not many. I am going to assume Catholic Digest, published in the United States, has this permission, because its parent company, Bayard U.S., is owned by the Augustinians of the Assumption.

I single out this publication because it published, recently, an interview with one Leila Miller, editor of a new book, Primal Loss: Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak.

Besides Primal Loss, Ms. Miller’s published books include Raising Chaste Catholic Men and Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues. Her Webpage also includes her current blog and archives of her old blog.

Ms. Miller bills herself as a “Catholic Author.” I’m Catholic and I write. I don’t know whether I’d call myself a “Catholic author” or “Catholic writer.” I’m a writer who happens to be Catholic, like J.R.R Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. And that’s good enough for me.

I also don’t pretend to be an expert on anything. I write about what interests me: politics, the arts, literature, issues in the Catholic Church, and so on. But Ms. Miller, through her book titles, presents herself as an expert on marital relations and child rearing. So, because she’s a “Catholic Author,” and because the Catholic Church is wild about credentials, it is only fair to ask: how much moral theology has Leila Miller studied? Does she have a degree in therapy or psychology? Is she a licensed marriage counselor?

Nowhere—her blog or her Facebook page—does she list any. Blurbs on the back covers of her books tell us she’s a “popular writer and speaker” who’s been on EWTN and in other Catholic media. She has “eight children and several grandchildren.” These aren’t credentials, except maybe in the circles to which she seems to want to appeal.

Marriage and raising children are serious issues, so I would advise Ms. Miller’s audience to find experts to listen to and to stop reading Ms. Miller. Because she gives bad advice and seriously misrepresents Church teaching. For instance, this:

There are very few marriages that won’t go through a time of serious crisis. It’s about pushing past it. Even if separation is necessary because of danger, the Church says that until reconciliation can happen, and the conjugal life can be restored, this should be pushed through because there’s something on the other side. But you must get through the cross. Sometimes people’s entire marriages are a cross.

Encouraging people to “push through” serious crises and remain in abusive relationships is probably the worst thing about this quote, but that’s not all that’s wrong with it. What struck me was how blithely she says, “Sometimes people’s entire marriages are a cross.”

No, no, that’s not how it works. Of all the sacraments, holy matrimony is the only one specifically ordered to human happiness, both emotional and physical. A marriage that is entirely a cross is not to be celebrated. It is to be ended, if the things that make it a cross are serious enough. Also, Jesus died on the cross so we don’t have to. Yes, we can and should unite our sufferings to his, but suffering remains an evil. Ms. Miller’s advice is a grave distortion.

Let’s look at Ms. Miller’s next answer:

St. Ignatius said that when you pick a state in life, you must assume you’re picking something permanent. The “d-word” cannot be on the table. If it is, then in that first crisis, the devil gets his foothold and he’s going to make you think you can leave. The dysfunction doesn’t end with divorce; it just gets exponentially worse.

When a victim of abuse escapes an abusive or chronically unfaithful husband or wife, it gets exponentially better for that victim, and for the children. In abusive or unfaithful relationships, by the time the “d-word” is on the table, it’s not the first crisis. It is not even a crisis. It follows a series of crises, crises that leave permanent scars, internal and external, on the victim and the children.


The sacrament is presumed indissoluble. We must stop thinking, Maybe I don’t have a valid marriage. Go back and look at the vows. You’re vowing 50 percent bad: sickness, bad times, poverty. You’re agreeing to stay through some pretty bad things until death. Go back and revisit those vows and think, This is what Christ meant. He knew everything, and he still said no divorce. Start believing that divorce is a sin. We’ll solve a lot of our problems.

Of course the Church presumes marriages are valid. That’s how due process works. But who is Leila Miller to tell people they have a valid marriage no matter what? Each situation is different, and anyway that’s why dioceses have marriage tribunals: so professionals can determine the validity of a marriage. Also, Jesus did not say “no divorce.” In Matthew 5:32, he allows it for infidelity.

I am not enough of a theologian to know whether, “Start believing that divorce is a sin” makes Ms. Miller a heretic, but I know enough to know that this directly contradicts Catholic teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church deplores divorce, calling it “a grave offence against the natural law.” But it also tells us, “If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.”

Stop following pied pipers

The rest of the interview is more of the same: Ms. Miller telling spouses to stay in abusive marriages (“Sometimes living out that vow is painful. That’s what a vocation is.”) and calling evil good (“It’s the very thing that will make you holy.”).

To be fair to Ms. Miller, she published, the same day I published this, an essay denying that she advocates for abuse. And in the excerpts from the Catholic Digest interview I included above, she allows that separation many be necessary “because of danger.” But I don’t know how she expects people will interpret, “Sometimes people’s entire marriages are a cross,” and her assertion that divorce is a sin, other than as tacit advice to remain in abusive relationships no matter what.

And what she completely omits are annulments. Annulment are a thing. Catholics who get divorced frequently also get an annulment. In fact, you cannot petition for an annulment without first getting a civil divorce. How can that be if divorce is a sin?

No one believes that divorce is an absolute good. But neither is it an absolute evil, as Ms. Miller says. Does it damage children? Of course it does. But watching a disaster of a marriage unfold before their eyes also damages children. So does having a front-row seat to years of abuse or infidelity, or sitting in a hospital waiting room while mom gets treated for injuries from the latest beating.

I think in these cases, divorce could be the start of healing, for both the children and the victim parent.

You don’t have to be a theologian to know that we will not actually “solve a lot of our problems” if we start believing that divorce is a sin. For one thing, peddling nonsense that contradicts Church teaching solves nothing. For another thing, promoting something—anything—as a cure-all is Gnosticism.

I guess I am no longer surprised that Catholics heed advice like this, toxic as it is. But as I wrote above, certain Catholics have penchant for following pied pipers. Reading the facebook pages of both Ms. Miller and some of the people who follow her, I see a lot of crossover between her fans, and Catholics who support Mr. Trump. I think of them as sanctimonious Pharisees. What I can say of the Pharisees in the Gospel is that, while they ignored the spirit of the law, they at least followed the letter of the law. I cannot say as much for Ms. Miller.

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  • Celeste

    Mark Shea – degree in English presents himself as an expert on theology, Scripture and apologetics.
    Jen Fulwiler – on the radio, writing books, seen as an expert on Catholicism – degree in programming.
    Yup…we could go on and on….

  • The Catholic Worker Movement has the Church’s permission to use the name “Catholic” … and we are proud to be highly unqualified to comment on poverty and the beatitudes !!

  • Michelle

    I happen to be an adult child of divorce, as well as having a declaration of nullity. You don’t know what you’re talking about ~ spouting half-truths in the name of Catholicism. Furthermore, real men and especially men who call themselves Catholic should never talk about a woman this way. Even if you disagree. This is filthy.

  • Jim Russell

    Next to the time when you said of Leila Miller “F**k her sideways,” this is the most stupid drivel I’ve ever seen from you, Dailey. You apparently know zilch about what the Church truly teaches regarding marriage and divorce. Utterly appalling and decidedly UN-Catholic post.

  • Katiebev

    Considering the fact that the author of this article sadly misses the mark on some key tenets of the Catholic faith, I am only left to question *his* credentials. And no, I am not a member of any of the conservative Catholic camps in question here.

  • Jim Russell

    ******Of all the sacraments, holy matrimony is the only one specifically ordered to human happiness, both emotional and physical. A marriage that is entirely a cross is not to be celebrated. It is to be ended, if the things that make it a cross are serious enough.*****

    Dailey is ironically not qualified to tell readers what the Church truly teaches on Matrimony. According to his own flawed logic regarding Miller, readers should not listen at all to Dailey.

    No, Dailey, when the Church teaches that the *secondary* end of marriage is the “good of the spouses” (the *primary* end of marriage is the procreation and education of children), She does NOT mean marriage is specifically ordered to humanly emotional and physical happiness. These goods are *not* the ultimate “good of the spouses”. Sheesh.

    Also–NO, marriages cannot be *ended*. The indissolubility of valid Christian marriages is not up for grabs even in the midst of “serious crosses.”

    ****No one believes that divorce is an absolute good. But neither is it an absolute evil, as Ms. Miller says. *****

    This is a lie from the pit of hell. YES–choosing divorce and *believing* it actually does what it claims to do–end a marriage–IS A SIN and an absolute evil.

    Duh–that’s what it means to be a grave offense against the natural law. YES, the Church permits a spouse to pursue the *civil* effects of divorce if that becomes necessary, but the Church NEVER condones any belief that civil authority has any real power to end a marriage. It doesn’t. That’s a total illusion and a grave sin to believe it does.

    Such foolishness from a writer who ought to know better, but apparently doesn’t.

  • Jim Russell

    Finally, the real kicker: ****Also, Jesus did not say “no divorce.” In Matthew 5:32, he allows it for infidelity.****

    Absolutely false.

    Jesus did NOT allow divorce for “infidelity” in Mt 5:32.

    Are you kidding me? No actual Catholic believes that.

  • Maris Weidner Bentley

    Unbelievable that a “Catholic” could write something like this. Makes me wonder about Mr. Dailey, and his experience, or lack of, with marriage, and his understanding of Catholic teaching?! Sheesh. He has embarrassed himself.

  • Jim the Scott

    He didn’t even retract the lies about the Covington boy even thought the facts are now not in dispute. He sounds like Ellen Page who is still making excuses for Jessie Smollett. “F**K her sideways”? Wow! This is just evil.

  • Jim, you can hate me all you want, but you aren’t allowed to lie about me. I did not say “f**k her sideways, as the screenshot you took of that comment shows. It’s crude, but completely different from your lie.

  • Jim Russell

    Wow–you’re right. I *lied*, didn’t I?

    Woe is me.

    No, actually, I recalled the pronoun incorrectly, for which I apologize.

    It’s SO SO different in meaning, now that you point out that you said “F me” and not “F her”.

    Just an absolute universe of difference. I can only apologize for my abject failure to properly report your crude, vulgar, and bullying attack on Miller. Mea culpa.

  • Jim Russell

    And, to be clear–I don’t spend energy on “hating” persons–I certainly don’t hate you. I judge your words and actions to be reprehensible and bullying and vulgar–and incomprehensibly confused when it comes to Church teaching–but I don’t hate you.

    E.g.–in your “updated” version of this post, you say, “In fact, you cannot petition for an annulment without first getting a civil divorce. How can that be if divorce is a sin?”

    Your apparent reasoning is preposterous. You don’t back-engineer morality based upon what legal documents are required by a canonical process. Do you honestly not realize the Church teaches that to obtain a divorce *believing* it ends a marriage is a grave sin??? Divorcing–as in *meaning* what the word “divorce” actual means and not merely just participating in the legal fiction of it for a just cause–is an absolute evil and a sin.

    Some people are *abandoned* by a spouse who sins by divorcing. Some people do sin by divorcing. Some people seek the civil effects of divorce (as the Church permits) without sinning because they don’t erroneously believe the divorce is ending the marriage.

    And the only reason in the United States that the *custom* is to have a divorce decree in hand before starting an annulment petition (this custom is NOT part of Canon Law itself) is because the divorce decree is documentary evidence that the couple has no reasonable hope for reconciling at that point. It decidedly does NOT mean that divorce is not a gravely sinful evil. It’s *objectively* not in accord with God’s plan and only *tolerated* in the context of the principle of double effect.

    And because I assuredly don’t hate you, I’ll be *glad* to explain this further and help you gain a clearer understanding of what the Church teaches–if you will actually listen.

  • Denise Renner

    I appreciated this reaction from Karl Keating:

    I would have hoped that Mark Shea, who used to do Catholic apologetics well, would have stepped in to correct his friend Sean P. Dailey’s claim that “Jesus did not say ‘no divorce.’ In Matthew 5:32, he allows it for infidelity.”

    In that remark, Dailey writes precisely as a Protestant, not as a Catholic. The apparent allowance for divorce in Matthew 5:32 is in stark contradistinction to every other mention of marriage and divorce by Christ. In every other case he condemns divorce. Is Dailey–and are Protestants–right to think he makes an exception for “infidelity”?

    Nope. There’s a problem with a common English translation of the Greek. The Greek shouldn’t be rendered as “infidelity.” The underlying term is “porneia.” (You can see the root of the word “pornography” in it.) It doesn’t refer to infidelity. It refers to a sham marriage, “shacking up,” living together as though husband and wife when not.

    In those situations, where there is no real marriage but only a simulacrum of one, a “divorce” that ends the “marriage” is permissible because there isn’t a real marriage at all. Since the parties aren’t married to one another, they are free to marry other people. For them, a “remarriage” would be a first marriage and thus not adultery.

  • Dan C

    Actually, no it does not.

  • Pete Socks
  • Jim Russell

    I have one last clarification–I just learned *today* (yes I’m old enough *not* to have known this) that the expression you used, that was screenshot, is considered idiomatic as a way of expressing something you find shocking or disgusting. I did not know that.

    It diminishes slightly my original disbelief that you would say something like that in reference to Leila. But only slightly, honestly. Even the idiomatic expression used as you did still crosses a huge moral line, in my view. In any case, I learned something today.

  • louisquinze

    Jesus said that Moses gave divorce because of your hardness of heart – that would seem to be the crux of the matter, the call to conversion of heart (to Christlikeness) and where one refuses to transcend ego, divorce becomes a necessity, since reconciliation would seem impossible………….

  • Jim the Scott

    You are a vicious human being and that statement is still misogynist and is verbal violence against women.

    Just saying…..

  • Steven Schloeder

    I’m trying to understand how one who chooses to be a public Catholic can call a book on virtues “filth” — which is a term aptly reserved for pornography.

    It seems strangely self refuting to warn people to beware of unqualified people who purport to share the Catholic faith (and actually do so in a way that is at least coherent to the moral understanding of the Church over the past two millennia, even if you might disagree with her or want more clarification from her) while making such an obviously moral misjudgment.

    Let alone to use unnecessary vulgarity.

    The words of today’s first reading come to mind.

    Reading 1, Sirach 27:4-7

    In a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind, so too the defects of a person appear in speech.
    The kiln tests the work of the potter, the test of a person is in conversation.
    The orchard where the tree grows is judged by its fruit, similarly words betray what a person feels.
    Do not praise anyone who has not yet spoken, since this is where people are tested.

  • Timothy J. Williams

    What a thoroughly nasty article! Even by the exceedingly low “standards” of Patheos, this is an appallingly dishonest screed.

  • Ken Hensley

    Not sure what to do with your argument. Everyone knows that some of the worst heretics on earth have had PhDs in theology or biblical studies. There are “experts” in psychology who actively promote the worst perversions. Having degrees simply does not equate to wisdom or truth. And it’s because in most cases the philosophical presuppositions with which people approach there fields of study determine their outcomes more than anything else. And then, would your argument have us blowing off C.S. Lewis as unqualified in apologetics because his degrees were in other things? Same with Chesterton?

  • CorrectionsDepartment

    Jim Russell would be wise to watch or read “Inherit the Wind.”

    At the end of the play (and the movie), Matthew Brady, who came in on a wave of self-righteousness and with the adulation of a hero, wins the case but at the cost of losing the crowd. He launches into a real stemwinder of a speech in the courtroom, but the radio broadcasts turn away and the crowd files out. No one is listening to him, and in his attempts to regain the crowd, he experiences a tragic end.

    Now, on this issue, it’s possible Jim Russell is right and Sean Dailey is wrong. Smarter minds can judge. But let’s be honest — why should anyone listen to Jim Russell? The condescension drips from his fingertips as he types — he clearly thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. Why? Because in comboxes and on Twitter, all he does is call people stupid, especially if they disagree with him on something related to Catholicism and the LGBT community.

    In his writings, Jim Russell is the epitome of a joyless, humorless, smarmy Catholicism that might be right on the issues but, tragically, offers nothing to those outside of his likeminded bubble; perhaps that’s why he appears to have been reduced to writing for the perpetually angry Church Militant and what’s left of Crisis, where he can enjoy the adulation of the humorless, joyless crowds there.