Used to be that the Pope wrote teaching documents…

Used to be that the Pope wrote teaching documents… January 6, 2015

…and then people read them and responded by trying to figure out how to incorporate the Church’s teaching into their lives.

Then, the pope wrote Humanae Vitae and the left pioneered the strategy of deploying “primacy of conscience” as the fig leaf for ignoring whatever the Church said.  This was given a huge boost in the 70s and 80s as the “spirit of Vatican II” instructed those navigating by “primacy of conscience” that the Holy Spirit could pretty much always be counted on to tell you exactly what you wanted to hear, particularly about your desires for Pelvic Adventure and liturgical loopiness.

It was around here that I entered the Church (1987) and fairly quickly surveyed what I took to be the lay of the land.  The Church, I gathered, was divided between the loopy left and what Peter Kreeft called “non-revisionist Catholics”, aka “faithful conservative Catholics” who accepted the whole of the Church’s teaching, including the inconvenient and difficult Pelvic Bits, and tried to live that out.  Having endured numerous nutball Seattle liturgies (“in the Name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, may God our Father/Mother bless you”) with edited scripture readings sanitized for my protection and commentary such as “This passage is a crock” from the Seattle priestly caste, as well as instructions to just feel free to blow off the Church’s more inconvenient teaching, I came into the Church ready to stick it out defiantly against the lefty Seattle fiefdom with its sneering contempt for orthodoxy and its naked disdain for the Holy Father (my DRE loved to mock the Polish accent for the benefit of the RCIA class and tell the newbies what a buffoon the pope was for upholding the Church’s teaching.  It made my blood boil.  Only silly ultramontanes believed all that junk JPII said, I was assured.)

So I entered the Church in 1987 and set out to seriously live by the profession “I believe all that the holy, Catholic Church, believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God.”  Found a great parish in Seattle (Blessed Sacrament) full of wonderful Dominicans who taught me that the key to happiness as a Catholic was what Sherry Weddell has come to term”intentional discipleship”.  That means not merely getting the sacramental card punched once a week, nor figuring out strategies for doing as I pleased while checking off a minimum daily adult requirement checklist on bare minimum cooperation with the Holy Spirit when he doesn’t get in my way, but making a serious stab at asking “What do you want me to do today, Jesus?”  In this, I assumed that the great secret underground of Faithful Conservative Catholics was my allies and that the mission was to infiltrate, undermine, and destroy from within the regime of liberal dissent I’d seen up close and personal here in Seattle.  Seemed reasonable.

Consequently, I took the formulation of the Five Non-Negotiables (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem call research, human cloning, and gay “marriage”) as common sense as, I have no doubt, did whoever formulated them.  I can’t remember when I first ran across them (sometime in the 90s I think) and I have no idea who came up with them, but they seemed (and seem) to me to have a certain prima facie common sense to them:  Here are five big issues that, at the very least, Catholics should agree on.  The “at the very least” was always, for me, the key phrase.  It never occurred to me that Catholics would insist that these are the only things Catholics should care about, much less that Catholics should seize on these things to attack other aspects of the Church’s teaching.  That was, I assumed, what the Liberals did with their hyperfocus on protesting the Trident base over at Bangor while turning a blind eye to Seattle’s abortion mills.  So I happily embraced the five non-negotiables as as a sort of quick and dirty summary of bare minimum adherence to the Church’s fundamental teachings about the dignity of human life, and the family.  It didn’t and shouldn’t exhaust our understanding for the Church’s social teaching.  But it sketched out the floor of that teaching, below which we cannot go.  If you wanted a much fuller teaching, there was the Seamless Garment, which always impressed me as a fine, nuanced, balanced, and sane approach to articulating the whole of the Church’s consistent ethic of life.  Indeed, back in the day, I once wrote a piece for the National Catholic Register, sketching out the sanity of the Seamless Garment and more or less naively assumed all Catholics agreed with this obvious, catechism-based, common sense.

Boy, was I naive.  In fact, there was tremendous hostility to the Seamless Garment, because there was tremendous hostility from secular political conservatives to applying Catholic teaching consistently.  And that hostility was skillfully brought to bear on sincere Catholic prolifers in order to shape as many of us as possible, not into intentional disciples of Jesus, but into useful pawns for the GOP.  

I experienced this first hand on various  occasions, as when I was once contacted  by the Bush White House in early Januar 2003 (I am not making this up) and asked to sit in on a conference call in order to be fed talking points about the rampup to war in Iraq, with the purpose of then disseminating those talking points to my audience and conditioning them to support that war (something that I, at that time, was already stupidly doing). 

It left a bad taste in my mouth.  I was instructed to repeat the talking points, but not say where I had received them.  I realized that I was, with a wink and a nod, being told to play ball as a Catholic writer and be a good instrument of policy.  As time went on and it became more and more obvious to me that two popes and all the world’s bishop’s were warning that this war did not meet just war principles (“the concept of preventive war is not in the Catechism”: Ratzinger), and yet “faithful conservative Catholics” were obeying the White House Catholic Press Manipulation Strategists and not listening to the bishops, that started to bother me.  Far too late, I realized I had put party loyalty over the Church’s teaching–and on a matter of the life and death of innocents that differed only in body count from that of abortion.

It started to bother me even more as I entered on a solid decade of listening to “faithful conservative Catholics” pull out every lie, fallacy, rhetorical trick, denial, threat, and falsehood they could possibly imagine to defend a completely indefensible commitment to the use of torture.  Then I noticed the same thing being done with dissent against the Church’s obvious teaching on the death penalty.  Then again with the Annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki Rationalization Festival.  Then with numerous other aspects of the Church’s teaching big and small, that did not fit the GOP playbook.  And most astonishing to me, every time such acts of dissent from the Church’s obvious guidance were bruited “faithful, non-revisionist” Catholics would then brandish their Precious Feet pins and suggest that if you sided with “liberal doctrine” (as they termed the Church’s guidance) on the death penalty or torture or gun violence, you were somehow supporting abortion.

That was when I belatedly began to realize that, however well-intended they had been, the Five Non-Negotiables had morphed, in the hands of anti-abortion-but-not-prolife conservatives into the Five Only Things that Matter Which We Selectively Apply.

So for many (not all) conservative Catholics, the murder of innocents is bad (unless those innocents are in cities we want to bomb in unjust wars opposed by every bishop in the world and two popes).

For many (not all) conservative Catholics, euthanasia is wrong (unless it is the euthanasia of prisoners on death row in defiance of the obvious teaching of the Church).

For many (not all) conservative Catholics, gay “marriage” is a crisis, but not the multiple marriages of Limbaugh or the adulterous trysts of conservative folk hero Dinesh D’Souza. Both continue to be lionized by conservative and the egregious D’Souza continues to be cheered by the manufacturers of conservative Catholic thought.

For many (not all) conservative Catholics, ESCR turns out to be highly negotiable when Bush and McCain want to do it.

And when the GOP wants to torture and murder prisoners, polls show, for years, that white conservative “prolife” Catholics don’t merely go along with that, they lead the charge, cheerlead for it, and fill the air with the most ridiculous and repulsive blasphemous lies for it to be heard in our culture.

In reality, the five non-negotiables are now the five highly negotiables when they get in the way of conservative agenda items.

What is not negotiable for many conservatives is defense of war, massive spending on war, defense of torture, defense of the death penalty, opposition to every common sense move to help the weak, and a dogmatism on a host of other prudential matters from gun rights to the minimum wage about which large percentages of conservatives will not budge one inch while they pretend to focus on the “non-negotiables”.

And so eager are “Faithful” Catholic leaders to elevate their dogmatic views on alleged prudential judgments that they are upping their game.  Time was they waited till the pope had at least opened his mouth before, for instance, writing dismissals of Caritas in Veritate that would make a Soviet propagandist blush. Now they are not even waiting for the pope to speak.  They are getting out ahead of him through various organs of the Right Wing Noise Machine to instruct the faithful to ignore and defy the Commie pope and his Population Planner pals on whatever it is he might say about the environment.   The Noise Machine is already  shouting him down before he opens his mouth–and with grotesque transparent smears that only a fool would believe, declaring that Francis is “aligning with some church enemies,” including “a few environmental extremists who favor widespread population control and wealth redistribution.”. Because the pope and the Church are just *all about* population control and only the brave Fox network is holding the line in its profound respect for Jesus’ and his teaching.  

Indeed, the single most repulsive tactic of anti-abortion-but-not-prolife proponents of the “non-negotiables” is the habit of using the unborn as human shields for the defense of every right wing agenda item at odds with the Church’s teaching. So we now pass from “Why are we wasting time talking about “torture” [the scare quotes are essential for Torture Defenders] when the The Babies[TM] are dying?” to the bizarre claim that the Pope(!) is in league with Teh Population Controllers[TM] (read “abortion exporters”) and so we should ignore whatever this next document will say. 

Meanwhile, some of us can not only walk and chew bubble gum at the same time, we can uphold the Church’s teaching on abortion *and* on other items ranging from war crimes like torture and murder to whatever guidance the Magisterium might have to offer on the environment.  Some of us even have the extraordinary capacity to wait until Francis actually says something before commenting on it, much less smacking it down and declaring it a “catastrophe”. (Personally, I’m interested in what Francis will have to say since my interest in the climate change debate has always focused on the fact that the whole thing is conducted, on both sides, in the language of faith anyway.  With Francis, we will actually have somebody who understands and speaks the language of faith intelligently, instead of the ill-informed mashup of pop science and pop theology that governs both sides of the climate change argument.)  But for the Right Wing Noise Machine, the mere thought of Francis speaking to the environment is a disaster and he must be pre-empted with dismissals, disavowals, denunciation, minimization, and an arsenal of rhetoric to instruct the “faithful conservative Catholic” on his duty to uphold right wing talking points against the Magisterium’s guidance well ahead of the hour the Magisterium presents that guidance.

Here’s the deal:  Just as the Left has perverted “primacy of conscience” from meaning “form your conscience well and always obey it” to “do whatever you feel like and claim God’s blessing on it”, now the Right has perverted “prudential judgment” from meaning “How can we best and most prudently obey the guidance of the Church?” to “Feel free to blow off and mock the Church’s clear guidance if it does not jibe with the hivemind of Movement Conservatism”. Here, in short, what the “conservative Catholic” hivemind sounds like, and all before it has heard a single word of what the pope actually says:

“The American bishops are equally leftist. As a lifelong practising catholic, I am out.”

“I feel like sending my Catholic Membership card back! So frustrating!!!”


“He’s a material heretic, not just for this, but for a lot of other stuff he’s said; modernist to the core if you ask me, and apparently Bishop Fellay said the same thing. But the ‘traditionilsts’ are the problem? Please.”

“Just another major disappointment for me in my Catholic church.”

“I am Catholic but, am very disappointed by the Current Holy Father — am beginning to think he is an idiot. Stay the hell out of Politics and Fraud Science…..”

“I am a Catholic Convert . I have no respect for this leftist pope & no longer consider myself a Catholic.”

“It is time for an American Catholic Church separate and independent from the Vatican, which is a foreign power.”

“Leftist ideology working without the facts, as most progressives do. I’m done with this PolitiPope!”

“will not pay any attention to this man. I am Catholic and he is off the reservation on this one. Yes he does swing to the left. With abortion and Christians being slaughtered in the middle east he is worried about Climate change. You have got to be kidding.”

The way out of these twin lies of perverted primacy of conscience and perverted prudential judgment is docility.  Those still serious about the actual teaching (as distinct from the “spirit”) of Vatican II can get their instruction on what that looks like from, bump ba dum!, the documents of Vatican II:

Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 25)

This means that the goal of the faithful Catholic is not to figure out which teachings of the Church are binding and only listen to them (unless they forbid torture–in which case we try to lawyer our way into defining waterboarding as ‘not torture’–or abortion–in which case we try to lawyer fetuses into ‘not persons’ in order to kill them) but to assume that all of the Church’s guidance, even the prudential stuff, is reliable and should be implemented unless there is a damn good reason not to.

This is particularly pointed guidance for those (again, many, not all) conservative Catholics who–for all their reliance on the concept of prudential judgment as the loophole for ignoring the Church–seem to be unaware that on almost every issue beyond the selectively applied non-negotiables they consistently demonstrate massive, visible-from-space imprudence.  Whether it’s the folly of the Iraq War, or coming to the defense of such obviously dodgy figures as Fr. Corapi and Fr. Maciel, or anointing Cliven Bundy as their Folk Hero, or coming down hard on the side of making war on pope Francis as the enemy of the Church, or attacking gay Catholics who are chaste and disobedient to no teaching of holy Church, or spending countless hours trying to figure out why “CIA-style waterboarding” is compatible with Catholic teaching, or screaming at desperate children at the border and longing to remand them to sex slavery and murder in their native lands, or wasting years trying to prove Obama is Kenyan, or a host of other matters big and small, conservative Catholics repeatedly raise the question “Why trust the prudential judgment of such a hugely imprudent demographic over the perfectly reasonable and common sense guidance of the Church?”

All of which is to say, I haven’t moved an inch since I said, back in 1987, “I believe all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God.”  What has moved is a considerable portion of the Catholic conservative demographic, which no longer believes that such a profession is sufficient to define what constitutes a “faithful Catholic” and which, on countless occasions, has informed me that I am a “so-called Catholic” or a “fake Catholic” for failing to despise and mock the pope, to support torture and unjust war, to believe that our gun regime is perfect, to accept that screaming at terrified children at the border is morally good, and to think that our treatment of the weak and poor cannot be improved upon, etc.  It turns out the profession of faith in the Church’s teaching and the non-negotiables are not the core issues for many (not all) “faithful conservative” Catholics.  Rather, adherence to Movement Conservative shibboleths and economic and culture policies is.  Being sure to always despise Obama is.  The second amendment is.  Defense of waterboarding is.

No thanks.  I will stick with the Church’s guidance, not merely on bare minimum matters of dogma and not committing mortal sin, but on even prudential issues.  I want the whole megillah, not just the bits acceptable to some some small suffocating subculture in the Church.

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  • LH

    Is it just me, or is Shea smugly retreating back into his typical habit of labeling the people he is talking about, and splitting them into two groups? And is it just me, or wasn’t Shea in this article complaining about how those silly conservatives run into the embrace of “politic games” instead of remaining independent, unworldly, and Catholic? Somehow, Shea seems to still fit the mould that he is criticizing.

    • Marthe Lépine

      It’s just you!

  • midwestlady

    Mark, you’re getting there. It’s possible for a thinking convert to get all wrapped up in the factions of the Church, trying to figure out what’s going on. It’s all very convincing. You’re strong and you’re smart, and you’ve put up an epic fight to understand. Problem is, sorting out the factions doesn’t really get to the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that Catholics, by and large, are sacramentalized but not evangelized. It’s not that some of them are behaving badly and the rest can describe a more appropriate sort of behavior and allegiance that will fix it all. No. It’s that it’s all competing flavors of the same thing. It will be a shock when you realize it, and you will realize it in steps, but you are well on your way. Been there, done that, as they say.
    And then you will be able to step back and it will all make sense, except for one thing. How the hell is it that it was allowed to get this bad? I’m still working on that. One of the things that held me up for so long is that I couldn’t believe that it could be this bad. But no, I wasn’t wrong. The data is in. FID, Pew Reports, CARA, Barna. It’s all there.

  • Harry Seldon

    Mark, you are such an arse. Everyone else is learning their way in the faith, just like you. It’s not you alone making this heroic journey up the mountain while the forces of left and right take special aim at your delicate soul. No, everyone is muddling their way along, you’re just the one yelling at everyone else while they do it. I come to your blog about twice a year when I survey the blogosphere, and I read a lot of interesting and some troubling stuff that makes me think, but I read your stuff and I have the urge to shout ‘Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” because you win the prize for Cathlo-narcissism. God gave you a quick mind and a turn of phrase, please turn it to some other use that this.

    • midwestlady

      Except he is working from a different vantage point, Harry. And he’s struggling with it, as many converts do. As I said before: Been there, done that. There is an explanation but it’s not one that’s easy to come by. It takes at least as much courage and honesty as entering the Church in the first place.

    • RuariJM

      I thought he was rather perceptive, personally.

      Are you saying that the situation he describes does not exist?

    • chezami

      ‘Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” will be more and more all the Right has to say to this pope. It can’t die fast enough.

  • Richard Wise

    Right on target. The word is Catholic teaching not conservative or liberal teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the guide. Fox new, CNN, etc. are for profit agencies that make money by drawing viewership so they can watch the commercial. We are Catholics. Mark is merely stating Church teaching. The new evangelization is the painful effort of making Catholic aware of Catholic teaching. This is what he is doing. He is not making a pitch for the right or the left.

  • Elijah fan

    The normal encyclical though can have errors. Read section 39 of Evangelium Vitae (1995) which uses a death penalty passage Gen. 9:5-6 to argue against the death penalty:
    Evangelium Vitae:
    “From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting” (Gen 9:5): reverence and love for every human life

    39. Man’s life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God himself makes this clear to Noah after the Flood: “For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting … and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life” (Gen 9:5). The biblical text is concerned to emphasize how the sacredness of life has its foundation in God and in his creative activity: “For God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6).

    Human life and death are thus in the hands of God, in his power: “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind”, exclaims Job (12:10). “The Lord brings to death and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6). He alone can say: “It is I who bring both death and life” (Dt 32:39).
    ,.,..,..,..,.,..,.,..,.,.,,.,.,.,..,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,..,.,.,,.,..,.,.,,.,.,.,.,..,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,. ,.,.,.,.,.,..,. ,.,.,….,.,.,.,.,,

    What John Paul never tells the reader is that he has removed the middle of the scriptural couplet: ” if any man sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed”. Why did he remove the thing he hated…a death penalty? Because, influenced by the exegesis of the past 200 years, he felt that the execution mandate was from the culture not from God….see his implying this in section 40.
    .,.,..,..,.,.,.,,.,.,.,.,.,.,. .,.,.,..,,,,.,…,.,.,.,.,,.,.,.,.,.,.,,.,.,…..,.,..,.,,.,.,.,..,,.,.,..,.,.,.,..,.,.,.,…,.,.,.
    Benedict in section 42 of Verbum Domini (2010) states that the massacres of the Old Testament were not moral and then says the ” prophets…challenged…every form of violence…individual and communal”. But they didn’t. Elijah killed 552 men. Samuel killed Agag. Eliseus was mandated by God to kill anyone who escaped the sword of Jehu from the house of Ahab.
    Isaiah even disputes Benedict’s saying the herem were immoral here:
    Isaiah 23:11 ” The LORD commanded the destruction
    of Canaan’s strongholds.”. What the prophets did decry often was the violence of rich Jews against poor jews as they took their land and added it to theirs. Leviticus 26 has God promising (as part of the Covenant) the Jews that they will rout their enemies with the sword if they obey His commands…ergo…no prophet could object to all violence but only unjust violence. Jeremiah warns the Chaldeans that they are cursed if they hold back their swords when fighting Moab.
    ,.,,.,..,.,,,.,.,,.,.,.,.,.,.,..,. ..,.,.,..,.,..,..,.,,,,..,.,.,,.,..,.,.,.,.,,.,.,.,.,..,,..,..,.,.,,.,.,,.,.,.,..,.,..,.,,.,..,

    Therefore Catholics should read Popes with caution especially now that we’ve had in 1995 and 2010 two papal documents that A. were borderline pacifist and B. got there by editing consciously or unconsciously….God’s Word. Remember, Fr. Raymond Brown was on the PBC under both John Paul II and Ratzinger as CDF head….and Brown was the Catholic demythologizer. It is a short walk from Brown saying that Mary didn’t really say the Magnificat ( Birth of the Messiah) to John Paul not thinking God really said the beginning of Gen.9:6….to Benedict thinking God really didn’t command the herem. Problem is…Christ told Jerusalem they were in for the worst herem….because ” you have not known the time of your visitation “.

    • Marthe Lépine

      My, my… You sound very much like a “sola scriptura” Protestant… Are you?

      • Elijah fan

        And you sound like Henny Youngman….like a million other people on the web who can’t address posts point for point.
        Actually if you read Dei Verbum within Vatican II, the Magisterium must hand on what is handed to them in the scriptures…they, the magisterium, have no editing function in regard to scripture. Next they’ll be altering Christ’s words…and you’ll still be doing one liners.
        Vatican II
        Dei Verbum sect.10
        ” This teaching office is not above the word of God…teaching only what has been handed on.”

        John Paul removed from view the death penalty part of Gen.9:5-6 then used the other fragments to argue against the death penalty unlike every Pope from 1253 AD to Pius XII in 1952.
        Benedict simply did not know the prophets’ relationship to violence in general nor did he realize that the herem were not a first measure by God. God only brought them when the Canaanites had not repented for four hundred years under God’s lighter punishments. Not noticing this, Benedict jumped to the assumption that God could not have done them. He missed reading the entire 12 th chapter of Wisdom.

        • donttouchme

          That’s the question I would have about it all. If you have two dead popes who taught conflicting things, what, we believe the most recent one? We believe JPII for example because he said his piece on Thursday? Pius XI or Pius XII by contrast can be safely ignored because they spoke on Monday or Tuesday. That’s what it means to believe everything the Catholic Church teaches.

          • Elijah fan

            The confusion is this: 90% of Catholics on the web think the Church is always infallible ON MORALS. And she is not …as stated by Ludwig Ott’s ” Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” Intro./ section 8/ last paragraph…the go to handbook of the mid 20th century for all priests and university students. Most morals come from scripture which is inerrant. But Pope Leo X and Aquinas in affirming the killing of heretics were looking at the OT judicial law ( which Aquinas said could still be used) but they were not looking at Luke 9 where Christ rebukes the disciples for wanting to bring down fire on a heretical Samaritan town….which type of action Elijah did twice to idol worshippers but Christ did not want done after Him because there was a change in dispensation. However on the execution not of heretics but of murderers, Christ as God and author of all scripture ( Vat.II) via Romans 13:4 repeats the death penalty of Gen.9:5-6 for murder. That is the change in dispensations stopped the killing of heretics (which Popes unfortunately affirmed from 1253 til Vatican II ) but not the killing of murderers. These last three Popes never…never bring up Romans 13:4 when this topic is floated. Read anything they wrote on it. We have gone from one extreme ( killing heretics from 1253 til roughly 1750) ) to the other extreme ( not killing murderers beginning in 1995). In the latter case we will be getting people killed again…murder victims through lack of sufficient deterrence….see Supreme Court 1976 decision on resuming the death penalty ie it deters not passion murders but premeditated murders…the ones rampant in six Catholic countries. The two largest Catholic countries…Brazil and Mexico…have no death penalty and are 20 times the rate of murder of all East Asia which is largely death penalty and non Christian. Your family is an astounding 270 times safer in death penalty Japan than in Catholic non death penalty Honduras…the worst country on earth for adult murder. But Japan is less telling than China because China has Latin America’s rich poor divide without having Latin America’s high murder rates from Brazil northward.

          • HornOrSilk

            Actually, we have obedience to the current Pope, and also, understand that the Church’s teaching authority includes interpreting its own documents. Often what people say are contradictions are not, but poor interpretation of both.

            • Elijah fan

              No…there are real contradictions outside the world of apologetics flattering authors. Always obey the present Pope? That means that you would have obeyed Pope Nicholas V in 1454 as a Portuguese layman. Google Romanus Pontifex and go to the middle of the fourth large paragraph where the Pope is giving you through your Prince the ability to perpetually enslave ” all other enemies of Christ” in the newly discovered lands. In section 80 of ” Splendor of the Truth” John Paul II calls slavery an intrinsic evil. He’s incorrect also since God gave chattel slavery over foreigners to the Jews in Leviticus 25:44 onward. But John Paul is close to the truth. Slavery is wrong unless among nomadic uncontacted tribes who are executing for petty theft if they are not enslaving petty thieves. Slavery in the nomadic setting is prison; is the settling of debt ; is the solution to captured enemy soldiers….all of whom would be killed without slavery as a solution among primitives.

              • HornOrSilk

                Hello Protestant pick and choose the past and interpret it, not according to the Spirit of the Church, but of the way I can try to make it contradict the Church to prove I can reject the Church today. Well done. Luther is proud!

                • Elijah fan

                  But you never reconciled the passages given. You switched to Catholic trolI insult+brevity. I have 16 years real Catholic school. Think…use your brain. We’re converting the less literate natives of the world and driving away literate people.
                  If there are non infallible papal statements, they can contradict each other because they are not infallible in the first place….and they can also be contradicted by infallible statements. THAT’s THE NATURE OF THE NON INFALLIBLE…THEY MIGHT BE INCORRECT…LOL.
                  Only infallible statements never contradict each other by their very nature. Nothing in the Assumption encyclical can contradict anything in the IC encyclical because they both are infallible. Ergo the non infallible Exsurge Domine art.33 affirming burning heretics because it was non infallible….can be contradicted by THE NON INFALLIBLE sect.80 of Splendor of the Truth when it calls coercion of spirit an intrinsic evil. Neither document is infallible but the latter has more truth in it than art.33 of ED by Leo X in 1520…and they are opposites.

                  • HornOrSilk

                    No, you have been the Catholic troll, trying to find excuses to ignore the Pope. As for reconciling the passages, perhaps you would do well to read and study the Popes who have authority to interpret the language of the past, and you will see it. As it is, in a comment box, to deal with apparent contradictions in texts, is an absurd position to do, because 1) length of the comment 2) quite a bit of background info needed 3) scholarly technique (footnotes) difficult to give (and when provided, would be ignored). Seriously, it is just another typical attempt to play games which lead to people seeing through your spiel.

                    • Elijah fan

                      I read papal documents for 8 years under priests and brothers. Then I read the whole bible and all of the Summa T minus the objections…then most of Augustine.
                      You’ve been reading too many convert apologetics people who mean well to a point but are often pan infallibility people which is not Catholic but permeates the web…and many convert priests.

                      Here’s why it’s not as complicated as you aver:
                      Here’s one Papal text (1454) attacking another. Go to the middle of Romanus Pontifex’s 4th large paragraph by Nicholas V:
                      ” and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery”

                      Now go to Pope Paul III 83 years later in Sublimus Dei of 1537 where he is directly attacking Romanus Pontifex:

                      ” notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ”

                      Neither document is infallible but the second was willed by God…the first was not and it turbo charged the Portuguese slave trade which lasted til the 19th century.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      Way off on what I have done and continue to do. Way off. My reading is not apologetics, but with patristics, the schoolmen, the major thinkers of the renaissance, the saints, doctors of the church, through all time – not just the Summa, treating it as a catechism which it is not. And eight years, is that all? And “under priests and brothers”? Ok, and I’ve done all that at much, much more. But you don’t know me, and you presume, and you show you do not understand even the method of Aquinas, who would be the first to contest what you have done, trying to pit Pope against Pope. In fact, the schoolmen in part, formed as a response to Abelard’s attempt to make authorities contradict each other just like you did, with the scholastics pointing out the problem in methodology (such as equivocation) being behind most of the apparent contradictions. This Aquinas knew, and would use to work with Papal Documents. Sorry, your methodology is far off. Good day.

                    • Elijah fan

                      Lol… still haven’t answered any post or the problem I just showed you in print between two papal texts.. Every one of your posts avoids the simple fact that if a document is not infallible then it can be contradicted either by another non infallible document or by an infallible document. That’s logic 101.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      I already told you, comments box is not the place to deal with critical studies on papal documents. The fact you think it is says enough. Good day.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      And if you want to know how complicated it is, explain the official church theologian and friend of Nicholas, Nicholas of Cusa and his De Pace Fidei.

                    • Elijah fan

                      You’re in water over your head so you’re going to pose as smarter than you are. Good luck.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      What pontifical university have you taught theology at?

                    • Elijah fan

                      They’d actually be able to do critical thinking if I taught them. Apparently no pontifical teacher is teaching fraternal correction if no clergy can criticize Benedict’s mistakes in VD….. if Benedict can say in Verbum Domini 42: ” the prophets challenged…every form of violence….individual or communal”… and absolutely no Catholic pontifical teacher corrects him in public.
                      Here’s Jeremiah
                      “A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the LORD’s work! A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!”
                      said to the Chaldeans concerning killing the Moabites.
                      Does Jeremiah sound to you like he’s challenging violence? Elijah, Samuel and Eliseus all killed….were they against violence?
                      Benedict said the herem or massacres were sins. No Cardinal corrects him.
                      Here’s Isaiah
                      23:11 ” The LORD commanded the destruction
                      of Canaan’s strongholds”.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      You didn’t answer. You really have not shown you know how to engage theology. I have provided you examples of your problems, and you say I am the one who is out of my depth. You are just doing to the Popes what Abelard did, and that was exactly the thing Aquinas and the schoolmen found troublesome. I am done with you. You want to over-simplify things, and then demand complex theological treatises to be done on a comment box, and if not done, claim victory. Hurrah! Enjoy the victory of ignorance.

                    • Elijah fan

                      You’re evading for watchers; you know I see through it. Pro theolgians don’t derisively call other people “Protestants” on the web…they’d be canned in a week.
                      Theology which I have a minor in has zero to do with Benedict not knowing that the prophets were themselves violent….and zero to do with Benedict not knowing Leviticus 26 which promised the Jews as part OF THE OLD COVENANT…that they would have success in all battles IF they obeyed the covenant. It was impossible under the covenant for the prophets to challenge all violence as Benedict averred. You just don’t want to say it in print…Benedict erred…Benedict erred on the herem too.
                      I know within…you now see things you didn’t see before I appeared. Adios. paninfallibility moves on like some huge river through the web.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      And of course, I didn’t call you “Protestant.” And you have a minor in theology. WOW! That makes you an expert! But you have ignored the basic argument which deals with the problem of equivocation. Well done. Again, done with you. Minor indeed.

                    • Elijah fan

                      Check your first post to me….” Hello Protestant pick and choose the past and interpret it….”
                      Your done…out of the oven….165 degrees.

                    • HornOrSilk

                      Of course, your literalism doesn’t get analogy. Got it. Another example of what I said. Thanks. Done.

                    • Elijah fan

                      Or you neglected to put a period after Hello or neglected to move everything after Hello to the next line. As written, it was incorrect vis a vis your now implied intentions.

            • donttouchme

              Ah, but the current pope, before he is pope, has obedience to the former pope. So if the former pope teaches something during the lifetime of the current pope, the current pope ought to obey what the former pope taught. Or does the teaching authority of the pope and the authority of what he taught evaporate when he dies or abdicates like Benedict? If the authority of his documents doesn’t evaporate upon his death, then we also have obedience to former popes. If one pope flatly contradicts his predecessor’s teaching, then what. One of them is incorrect. It makes no sense to say that one is correct because he’s speaking today and the other is incorrect because he spoke yesterday. The one presumed correct because he’s speaking today could suddenly be incorrect when the next pope starts teaching tomorrow. Makes no sense. The only really reliable teachings are the dogmas. The second most reliable are the constant teachings. So if JPII for example departs from a dogma or the constant teachings, he’s less reliable than the constant teachings which ought to be held in higher regard than JPII.

            • donttouchme

              hey where’d my comment go?

  • Maria Rodriguez

    I applaud Catholics who stand up and oppose things like Hiroshima, embryonic stem cell use etc. when they are argued for on dubious consquentialist or utilitarian grounds. Yet, often these very same Catholics will hold up Humanae Vitae as the last word on contraception and know nothing about Casti Conubbii or dismiss it because it’s old(er). The former abandoned the stronger moral and philosophical evidence in favor of consequentialist one.


    • IRVCath

      Perhaps because it is an explication of underlying principles? HV, as CC, is neither the only word on the subject. One can oppose the world’s teaching on moral matters both because it is immoral AND because it is detrimental to society. Many acts are are, after all, both immoral and ineffective in what they seek to obtain – abortion is one example.

  • Howard

    I agree with much of what you say, Mark. The problem is that you are now too bitter and angry to do any good in saying it. The current post is just the history of exactly how you became too bitter and angry to be of any use to the Church as an apologist. You jump down with all your fury on anyone who does not believe in The World According to Mark Shea and is willing to mention the fact — but even according to this post, you are not yourself consistent in what you believe over time. How can you expect anyone to always agree with you when you do not always agree with yourself? You can spare us the shtick that you are a holy prophet and that “whoever hears you, hears Christ” — you’re just another shmo like the rest of us. If your opinion could not be trusted a dozen years ago, why should it be trusted today?

    • Marthe Lépine

      Is it that you just cannot believe that people can grow over the years? Or can keep learning as they study, read and experience real life over the years? Or even – God forbids! – come to repent and change their minds as they do grow? This is very strange…

      • Howard

        Nope. However, someone who repents does not go on a guilt-ridden jihad. Repentance requires humility; an irrational fury at anyone who dares to disagree with you means you have a problem with pride.

        This is all the more true because what we can be most confident of is CHANGE, not GROWTH. Everybody and his Aunt Mabel believes that, however many errors they may have made in the past, they are surely gradually approaching perfection. Mere inconsistency is not a guarantee of growth.

        So Mark was a stooge of the GOP. Too bad. He takes his revenge by misconstruing Catholic doctrine in such a way that allows him to attack his former comrades as viciously as possible, all in the name of defending the Church, which would be helpless without him, of course. That’s the problem.

        For example, take what he mentions offhand regarding the death penalty. Many “supporters” of the death penalty really only insist that a part of the dignity of each human is that he makes moral decisions of real consequence, one consequence being that he deserves to die at the hands of his fellow men. You will not find anything in Catholic Teaching to contradict this formulation, and a great deal to back it up. In fact, certain caveats would be abominable if it were not true — it would mean that the state could, for the sake of “public safety”, execute someone who does not deserve it. There are several reasons why a just sentence might not be carried out. Bad reasons include sloth, indifference, and corruption. The good reasons are mercy and forgiveness. Somehow recent documents have left off talking about mercy and forgiveness and our very real obligations to extend them as generously as possible without creating an unreasonable public danger, but that is where the discussion needs to go. I know from past experience that Mark will have none of this; he would rather pretend that the Church teaches that the death penalty is always unjust and that murderers and other capital felons should not be forgiven, but rather protected by an unthinking and unfeeling statute. This allows him play his “angry prophet” role.

        So what does he accomplish? Does he actually convince anyone with his rants? No. Those who agree with him will cheer him on, inflating his ego; the rest will either boo him, something anyone playing the angry prophet takes as a reinforcement, or get tired of him and tune him out, along with those who support him. Seriously, if a stranger walks into your church, and the layman sitting next to him in the pew launches into an angry jeremiad, will he pay attention to the liturgy or the homily? Will he come back? But no one has his mind or heart changed; no one is converted; Mark has his ego stroked, but he ends up failing as an apologist.

        Oh well. Mark seriously needs to take a break from apologetics and public commentary until he can work this out for himself. Until then, I have to be more disciplined about taking a break from him.

        • Marthe Lépine

          I think you took the wrong example here, since in my country the death penalty has been abolished decades ago… So I am led to take your arguments as another attempt by a Republican Catholic to justify his tribal opinions (not just on the death penalty) and to twist the Church teaching, and the clear teaching of the Catechism, in order to support his opinion… And that brings me to what I see Mark as trying to do: Since he has a good mind and a talent for writing, he is acting, in his own blog, as a teacher. And a good teacher cannot allow his students (or readers in the present case) to keep entertaining errors in the subject matter he is trying to teach. In this particular case, Mark is trying to pass on (teach) what the Church Magisterium is actually teaching. It is understandable that, at times, he may become really frustrated at people who, in spite of his constantly reminding them of what the Church is actually teaching, keep looking at bits and pieces of the Church past history, other material written in past centuries, or nitpicking Scripture itself, in order to keep trying to find arguments, often out of context, in order to justify their cherished errors…

          • carpenter

            Please explain how Mark is “teaching” anything about capital punishment.

        • pbecke

          Are you seriously suggesting that you are docile, teachable? I’d as soon try to convert the brothers of the rich man in the story of Lazarus.

    • pbecke

      Because it takes egregious integrity to acknowledge complicity, for whatever reason or unreason, in an act of such extraordinary maleficence as the Iraq war.

      Here I’m going to judge you – not condemn you, only God can do that – you and your like-minded brethren on here would not be fit to do up his shoelaces.

      I don’t agree with Mark’s views on everything, including some he mentioned above, but he is clearly a man of no mean intelligence, and a Christian; you know…. neither narcissistic, nor self-referential, nor speciously legalistic, but the kind that Francis has identified as true Gospel-followers.

      You people are more proud of being Catholic, than of being Christian, notwithstanding.all the wickedness which has inevitably marred the history of our institutional church, despite the heroes of the faith, celebrated and anonymous, who have brought it under God’s protection to the present day. And what a force for good it is in our world now.

  • Elmwood

    the Holy Father is concerned about global warming because he listens to advisors who are climate scientists and experts on this subject.

    global warming is a scientific phenomenon and its truthfulness is judged using science and not religion or politics. unfortunately, the GOP seems to have a problem with science and even truth itself. it probably explains why they cling to trickle-down wealth economic policies.

    • Misguided Conservative

      Some recent settled scientific facts that were originally suppressed by the scientific community due to settled science but later reversed and history was re-written:

      1. Plate tectonics
      2. The Big Bang
      3. Dark Matter/Energy
      4. Accelerating expansion of the universe.

      These are ones that happened within the last 100 years, and this is only significant stuff, and does not count the “coming ice age” hysteria of the early 1980s, There is a ton of stuff that most people, including myself, which seems trivial, but which was “settled science” but later proven wrong.

      • Elmwood

        You are comparing apples to oranges; nearly all climate scientists conclude global warming is happening and is man-made. Why not trust the experts like the Holy Father instead of assuming all of the climate scientists are making this up.

        I imagine you would listen the 97 out of 100 doctors when they tell you how you should be treated for an illness. To do otherwise would be extremely foolish and or delusionally paranoid.

        • Misguided Conservative

          how is comparing situations where 97 out of 100 scientists have been wrong not the same as another situation where 97 out of 100 scientists say “global climate change is real and shut up, you bigot!”?

          Anyhow, to quote a fairly recent presentation put on by the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group, one of the professors (Nate Mantua, I believe, but I could be mistaken) said (and I quote “The problem [we] have convincing the public that climate change and rising global temperatures are real and need to be addressed is that there is no evidence to support us.” — I took notes, because that was just incredible.)

          And I do not trust the experts because I have looked at the data and when I questioned the results, I was told that I’m too stupid to understand the data (I use statistics and analytics of large data sets for a living, so I do understand how to read data, and spot data manipulation and fabrication).

          Also, I do not infer that people who do not follow the concensus are “extremely foolish and delusionally paranoid.”

          • Elmwood

            why don’t you not trust the experts but the Holy Father and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI both do? do you think you are wiser than they?

            • Misguided Conservative

              Nope, I do not believe I am wiser, nor do I believe that I am infallible. I have just looked at the fasts, read the papers, asked the questions, and came to the conclusion that the crisis of “man made climate change” is largely a means to secure funding.

              Why do you not believe the vast majority of modern Philosophers, over 60% of scientists, and a great portion of the intellectual intelligencia who all agree that there is no God, or that belief in God is inconsequential and relevant?

              Of the world believers, why do you not listen to the 66% of the world that is not Christian? Or the 84% of the world that is not Catholic?

              Global warming is either real, or it is not. our opinions or the opinions of 97% of scientists will not change that.

              • Elmwood

                don’t you think the pope (chemist) along with the Jesuit scientists who study this for a living know better about the truth of global warming than you?

  • Antonio A.


  • Hart Ponder

    Residuum revertetur!

  • Mary

    Perhaps the problem is what you have described. We are not talking about faith and God, we are talking politics. And when talking about God, we are talking about a libertarian if we were labeling Him. God invented free will and freedom. He also invented mess. If we were talking about faith then we know that God created heaven and earth and gave people dominion over all those things. So fundamentally the environment is a legitimate faith issue that the Pope can and should talk about – but not politically.

    Here in is where Francis’ message seems to get obscured. We get his words from the media and they are political. Even when we don’t get our words from the media, the Holy Father is not really very clear in his communication of ideas. He had a tough act to follow in his expression of clarity. People say that he communicates by example better. I can’t comment as I am too busy living to really pay attention. However, in the communication of words what seems to get lost which bothers I think many Catholics, including myself, is the message Both/And. I think he says it but it gets lost. For example if a gay man in a relationship were to come to the well, Jesus would ask the crowd who is without sin, they would leave, and he would say go and sin no more. I are only hearing – the I won’t condemn and not the “sin no more”. And as you rightly point out, we are not looking at ourselves when asked who am I to condemn.

    So Francis is heard on the one “who am I to condemn” and not heard on the “sin no more”. Catholics of one side run with the first. Catholics on the other side run with the second. When the answer is both and then more…

  • Frostbyte

    Well said, as always, Mark Shea. I was trying to explain to someone the other day what a mockery the GOP makes of the “useful idiots” within the church (harsh, but very sadly true), but I can think of no better explanation than to point someone towards your blog.

    • Robert A. Zimmerman

      Many thanks for your courageous comments, Mark. Partisanship has sadly trumped consistent faithfulness.

  • Bernard Fischer

    Buckley didn’t say Mater si a Magister no. That was printed in NR but the words came from Gary Mills, no right winger

    • Dagnabbit_42

      Garry Wills, actually.

      But otherwise, you’re right. Gary Wills was originally a distributist without a strong left-right affiliation, and for a time self-identified as a conservative while writing for National Review. The quote was published during this time.

      But later he went left-of-center and was among the trio of former NR employees about whom Bill Buckley joked, “For a while there, I thought we weren’t so much running a magazine, as a finishing-school for apostates.”

  • Deo Credo

    This was an interesting post. A lot of good points. The glaring problem is simply that Mark assumes anyone in disagreement with him is a blithering idiot. There is no inherent issue with people holding a contrary view to his. If the church wishes to teach only one possible view then they do so. I am glad to see a person who feels strongly about sensitive issues. It might be useful if Mark could learn to be charitable. It might help him become effective rather than just shrill.

    • chezami

      No. I do not assume that. Please address what was actually said.

  • Justin

    Excellent article- I know Mark gets a lot of heat for his chosen targets, but I sympathize. I came to the church from an extremely “Left” heritage, and while I still view myself as a Liberal in pretty much all things but the faith, my irritation is frequently, and far more deeply, directed towards the Left. We expect certain deficiencies from the “other team,” but it hurts most to see them on our own bench. Mark’s not trying to tear apart an enemy Right. Rather, he’s trying to get the attention of his friends who he respects; respects too much, in fact, to accept that they can’t shake the hypocrisies he sees them indulging in. I feel your pain, my friend.

    • chezami

      Thanks, man. You get me.

    • Misguided Conservative

      In a similar way Jesus rips into the more pious and pure Pharisees while largely sidestepping the much more liberal Sadducees. It is the “you should know better” criticism, which I accept. I just wish Mark would come from a more humble direction and would not use factual errors (e.g., bringing up a quote from Wm. F. Buckley that he never said) and employing the methodology of those he attacks (e.g., giving half the story about the death penalty and not considering that it is viable to agree with the pope’s moral argument while disagreeing with the Pope’s reasoning).

  • Matthew

    Every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part exists naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we see that if the health of the whole human body demands the excision of a member, because it became putrid or infectious to the other members, it would be both praiseworthy and healthful to have it cut away. Now every individual person is related to the entire society as a part to the whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and healthful that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6).
    (Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 2)

    • chezami

      Thomas would be horrified to be used to attack the Magisterium’s clear teaching.

      • HornOrSilk

        So many people abuse Thomas without understanding his methodology, only using conclusions out of context. And then they try to turn him (so long as it fits their protest against the Church, mind you) as the only infallible authority to follow (but when he does something they don’t like, which the Church actually approves, Thomas is decried by them).

      • Matthew

        The Church so far as I know has never made the claim that the death penalty is intrinsically evil. It is up to the prudential judgment of citizens and legislators whether it promotes the common good. In this is different than the use of artificial contraception or abortion.

  • VeritasChristi

    I am afraid that the Pope is going to do what previous Popes have done and wade into issues that are beyond the competency of the Church. What policies should be enacted to combat global climate change is a matter for scientists and economists, the Church should stick to proclaiming the moral imperative that we as Christians have to care for God’s creation. Previous Popes and the USCCB have waded into economic issues, making claims that depend implicitly on certain economic claims. For example, Church leaders should not have advocated for increases in the minimum wage because the question of whether or not the minimum wage promotes the common good is a question for economists (whether they are able to provide an answer or not!). Rather, they ought instead to have proclaimed the importance of having a system that promotes the common good and left it up to individual Catholic politicians and citizens to weigh the evidence on whether the minimum wage does so.

    • HornOrSilk

      Moral questions are not left to “markets without morals.”

      • VeritasChristi

        So what is the Catholic who is convinced that the policies advocated by the Church do not promote the common good to do? Is he bound in conscience to champion policies he believes will harm the people they are ostensibly designed to benefit? Does it really belong to the deposit of faith that the minimum wage is a better tool to improve the condition of the working poor than the Earned Income Tax Credit? The idea is simply ludicrous.

        • HornOrSilk

          He is bound, first, to show no disrespect to the church. Second, he is bound to seek clarity, to understand the church’s teaching before speaking out. Third, he is to act very humbly when he thinks there is a question. Fourth, he would do good to show where in tradition his position is found, if he can, to justify the question (n.b. you won’t find it). Etc. A catholic has to have an informed conscience

          • VeritasChristi

            The Church has no competency to say what the effect of a certain set of economic policies will be any more than it as competency on scientific questions. The fact that economists have been less successful in solving problems in their field than natural scientists have been in theirs is irrelevant. I don’t have to justify my belief that the minimum wage is bad economic policy by an argument ex traditione any more than I have to justify my belief that E=mc^2 ex traditione. I am not suggesting that the Church cannot make pronouncements on what the ends of economic policy should be, just like I am not saying that the Church cannot make pronouncements on whether scientific knowledge should be used to make ever more powerful bombs.

    • hebbron

      There are many folks who do not believe in global warming/climate change. There have been many heated discussions about the issue. Is there such a thing? YES! NO! They quote scientists and site articles to support their position. That said, many become frustrated and angry when Pope Francis speaks out on issues of global warming/climate change, the environment, etc. He’s a priest. What can he know? He should stick to religious matters! There are those who are unaware of his academic background (masters of Science in Chemistry), and of the group with whom he consults on this and other scientific and mathematical matters, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. His critics are not aware of its existence much less the make up of the Academy. There are scientists and mathematicians from across the world, renowned researchers and others who are members. Pope Francis did not just wake up one morning, decide to hold a news conference, and make some off the cuff remarks on global warming/climate change. He does his homework. Check reference for more information of where and how the Holy Father gets his information about science. Please have more respect and faith in the Pope and how to draws conclusions meant to impact his flock and the world.

      “The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is international in scope, multi-racial in composition, and non-sectarian in its choice of members. The work of the Academy comprises six major areas: Fundamental science; Science and technology of global problems; Science for the problems of the developing world; Scientific policy; Bioethics; Epistemology.

      …”Who Are the Pontifical Academicians?

      “The Pontifical Academicians are eighty women and men from many countries who have made outstanding contributions in their fields of scientific endeavour (many have been Noble Prize winners in chemistry, physics, etc). They are nominated by the Holy Father after being elected by the body of the Academicians. The Pontifical Academicians participate in study groups and meetings organized by the Academy to examine specific issues. Their deliberations and scientific papers are published by the Academy. They assemble in the Vatican in the Casina Pio IV for Plenary Sessions.

      “Relationship to the Holy See
      The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is an independent entity within the Holy See. Although its rebirth was the result of papal initiative, and though it is placed under the direct protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff, the Academy defines its own goals with regard to its statuted mission: “…to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of epistemological problems relating thereto” (Statutes 1:2). Pius XII underlined the Academy’s freedom of inquiry in an address of 1940 to the Academicians: “To you noble champions of human arts and disciplines the Church acknowledges complete freedom in method and research…”. Since the deliberations and studies which it undertakes are not influenced by any one national, political or religious point of view, the Academy constitutes an invaluable source of objective information upon which the Holy See and its various bodies can draw.”

      • L Almaraz

        Tumbs up to your comments. One thing I am in total agreement with Shea is that we are seeing many conservative Catholics criticizing Pope Francis without carefully checking out what he is trying to say or teach. That there is a problem either with translations of his speeches or his manner of constructing his words is very apparent in view of the many corrections the Vatican has had to issued. But still…he has said he is “a son of the Church”. I will take his word on it and continue to stand in his corner.

      • VeritasChristi

        No scientific proposition, no matter how well founded, is ever a matter of faith. This is the point of my post.

        • chezami

          Critics of Humanae Vitae said the same stuff about the pope “meddling” in human biology. Shutting up the pope when he addresses moral actions in the real world is a beloved pastime of ideologues.

          • VeritasChristi

            If the argument in Humanae Vitae was built upon questionable and controverted ideas in Human Biology then such critics would have a point. Fortunately it is not. The Magisterium is the servant of truth and not its author. If one believes ostensible solutions to climate change put forward by the Pope do not promote the common good then one is bound in conscience to oppose them. If one believes that an increase in the minimum wage is a counterproductive way to try and help the working poor and is vastly inferior to an increase in the Earned Income Tax credit then one is bound in conscience to oppose the policy prescription of the USCCB.

            • chezami

              Pray tell, what is the argument of an unwritten and unpublished teaching document? Also, can you give me the winning lottery numbers with your psychic powers?

              • VeritasChristi

                I never claimed to know what the argument in the encyclical will be. If you will read my previous post in the light of my original post you will see that I am talking about what I fear the Pope will do in the encyclical. I don’t think his previous, less official remarks on this matter make such a fear irrational. The clear lack of charity in your mocking tone makes me fear that I also have been uncharitable in my posts and for this I apologize.

            • Hmm….Money as they earn it, vs a windfall between February and June depending on when they file their taxes…..I think I come down with the Bishops on the idea of increasing the minimum wage being a larger help to people who have already proven that they have poor money management skills, than the Earned Income Tax Credit which they will blow on a luxury and it will be gone within a week of when they get it.

        • hebbron


          And I beg to differ with your comment that issues like minimum wage belong to the economists and not to the Pope. You do not hold to the teachings of Christ in the Scriptures, the teachings contained in the CCC, let alone Papal teaching. Go to an ADORATION Chapel sometime and speak to Our Lord, and then listen to see what He has to say to you. You might be surprised at what He has to say about the beliefs you hold dear… or is Sunday Mass enough for you. A five minute homily is enough for the week.???

          And keep in mind what you say … Oh, I cannot support the Pope on name the subject….he just don’t the point. When the Pope speaks, often it is his own opinion,,,,he is not necessarily speaking ex Cathedra. When he repeats already declared Catholic doctrine, of course, he speaks with Catholic authority. What Shea is saying is that even when issues have been declared Catholic, many, many folks say, well, I don’t believe that, I take exception with…I’ll believe what I want! That’s precisely what is wrong with our Church…that’s his point. I don’t believe in abortion, but gee, I sure do approve of the death penalty, gee I believe in the Iraq war, gee, I believe in torture (and like Mr. Channey (not a Catholic, but many a Catholic believe as he does).I’d do it all over again.. and what about the commandments and Church doctrine…..well, for “those” folk all that goes out the window….”I”ll believe what I want!”…that’s what he is talking about. …and yes, that is being a cafeteria Catholic. And yes, I’m a Catholic business owner, but those ignorant, illiterate people …name the group… I don’t need to give them sufficient wages to feed their families, they’re used to getting by…anyway, it will mean greater profits for me and my stockholders. Yeah, and I’m a Catholic broker, or a Catholic banker, or a Catholic car dealership owner, or a…you name it…. and, gee, I can scam/gouge whomever as long as I profit, wait, not just profit, but make MEGAbucks, because I live in a capitalist society, right..I’m a Catholic in good standing, I deserve it, etc. AND, If I have a twinge of consciousness, I can go to confession and all is forgiven…until tomorrow. Oh, yeah, I’m a good Catholic and give $2000 to the Archbishops appeal every year…all is good.

          Thank about it Veritas Christi and others whom have the say ideas you express.

  • Michael

    “All of which is to say, I haven’t moved an inch since I said, back in 1987”

    Which if true only means that Mark never was the “non-revisionist Catholic” he claims he was he is unaware of just how much of a change has been affected in his views over the years by the extremely liberal environment in which he lives and identifies with and that forms his perspective in subtle ways. It is possible to oppose the wars and the torture without becoming a self-righteous leftist who cannot seem to break himself of the habit of calling into question the good intentions of those who disagree with him on prudential matters of politics. At least it is if one is not a denizen of the Left Coast, fully immersed in that environment. Slaying straw men (such as equivocating defense of water-boarding and criticizing Obama) is a time honored tradition of the left and it is something at which Mark greatly excels. Oh well.

    • chezami

      Only in the diseased world of American conservatism is a “leftist” somebody who accepts the Church’s teaching completely, opposes abortion, euthanasia, ESCR, in vitro fertilization, artificial contraception and gay “marriage”, as well as upholding just war teaching and capitalism (within Catholic moral guidelines). As I say, the *real* non-negotiables are not the 5NNs. They are the dogmas of Movement Conservatism.

  • Aaron

    One major factor in all this that needs to be addressed further is how the election and papacy of Pope Francis is directly related to the Catholic right’s monstrous flip-out. I was a big fan of Pope Benedict, and in turn Pope Francis. I have been STUNNED by the disrespect shown to Pope Francis by those I thought were good Catholics. Benedict was easier for them to reconcile to their own views, I guess, thanks to all the negative coverage he received from the media. Not so with Francis, even though their theology is actually pretty similar.

  • Idler

    “For many (not all) conservative Catholics, euthanasia is wrong (unless it is the euthanasia of prisoners on death row in defiance of the obvious teaching of the Church).”

    The death penalty is not euthanasia, that’s rather disingenuous of Mark. The Church has not banned the death penalty. Like, Bill Clinton and abortion, the death penalty should be “safe, rare and legal”.

    However, the Catechism explicitly states that anybody who participates in an abortion is excommunicated: “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.” No such admonishment is made against those who participate in a criminal execution.

    And, I question the efficiency of locking up a terrorist in jail. The terrorist may spend the rest of his life in jail but he is free to proselytize to others who will go out and commit the murders. From Wikipedia regarding Ramzi Yousef, convicted for the first world trade center bombing:

    According to interviews with ADX Florence staff, Yousef prayed almost every hour and refused to leave his cell for recreation when he first arrived at the facility; he did not wish to undergo the required strip search.[27] Yousef made frequent, unsuccessful attempts to convert the American Timothy McVeigh, convicted of bombing Oklahoma City, to Islam when sharing the same cell in “Bomber’s Row.” This cell block also holds the American Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.[28]

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. (2306)

    If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

    Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”68

    • naturgesetz

      Hadn’t heard that about Timothy McVeigh. I’m grateful to God that Tim had the faith to reject the blandishments of Ramzi Yousef, as I was previously grateful to learn of his visit with a priest before his execution. Of course, what he did was gravely wrong, but we must always hope that sinners will accept the mercy of God.

  • Matthew

    Let us not forget that our current Pope opposes not only the death penalty but life imprisonment. I’m sure Mark Shea and other posters on here believe that serial killers out to be released once they have learned to say nice enough things to parole boards a la Jack Unterweger.

    • Matthew

      *ought to be

  • I_M_Forman

    Mark, the only thing that seems to stop you from being a total liberal is being Catholic with those 5 non-negotiables; otherwise I would have a hard time distinguishing what you say from that of any other run-of-the mill liberal – well intentioned but way off the mark. By the way, how many people died from U.S. water-boarding as opposed to Islamic beheading. Perhaps the Battle of Tours has to be revisited to see if there was an unacceptable level of violence there.

    • chezami

      Thank you for making clear what the *real* non-negotiables are for you.

  • Holy crap, that was long. Mr Shea, your piece is monstrously overlong. Scalia, or whoever edits it, should have cut out the first half. You could have made the same point in one or two paragraphs. Not every thought that comes into your head needs to hit the keyboard.

    I continue mostly agreeing with you, Mr. Shea, but increasingly, I find myself entirely repulsed by your sheer nasty caustic abrasiveness. Frankly, I stopped reading you regularly during the waterboarding discussions, not because I disagreed, but because of the sheer ugliness of your tenor. On that point, your bloc is called Catholic and Enjoying It!, but you don’t seem to. I find myself sometimes wishing you’d go elsewhere and be nasty there.

    You seem largely oblivious to the fact that many of the people that you so voluminously loathe and revile actually seem to have mentored you – with all their imperfections – back in the day, and that you owe them a debt of, well, let’s just say not flaying the skin off their backs in public.

    • chezami

      Nobody edits it except me. Sorry you didn’t like it. And you should revisit my blog motto: “That no thought of mine, no matter how stupid, should ever go unpublished again.”

      I’m curious who you think my mentors are and who I loathe and revile. People have such fascinating theories about my history and supposed relationships.

      • Mr. Shea, the idea that every thought needs to leak onto the web is unfortunate. Much of what you write is really good, and unfortunately buried really well in extra paragraphs.

        I do not know or speculate about whom your mentors may have been. I have no theories about you personally, only I presume you were mentored into the body of Christ by existing members. That is the case with all of us since the time of the Apostles. You yourself allude to this fact with regard to your own personal history, even in this piece.

        “So I entered the Church in 1987 and set out to seriously live by the profession “I believe all that the holy, Catholic Church, believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God.” Found a great parish in Seattle (Blessed Sacrament) full of wonderful Dominicans who taught me that the key to happiness as a Catholic was what Sherry Weddell has come to term ”intentional discipleship”. That means not merely getting the sacramental card punched once a week, nor figuring out strategies for doing as I pleased while checking off a minimum daily adult requirement checklist on bare minimum cooperation with the Holy Spirit when he doesn’t get in my way, but making a serious stab at asking “What do you want me to do today, Jesus?” In this, I assumed that the great secret underground of Faithful Conservative Catholics was my allies and that the mission was to infiltrate, undermine, and destroy from within the regime of liberal dissent I’d seen up close and personal here in Seattle. Seemed reasonable.”

        These are the people who bought into the “Five Non-Negotiables” that you took as common sense in consequence to finding this parish home. By mentors, I meant only those who preceded you as “allies” in the quest to “infiltrate, undermine, and destroy from within the regime of liberal dissent,” that has indeed been a serious problem in the Church in America. I presume that you came into the Church learning from those within her that preceded you and whom you trusted. It’s a common experience, and I apologize if I incorrectly inferred from your words that it is yours.

        I am not trying to be harsh or abusive. In fact, I’m trying to do what the Gospel calls us to do, and what you have often called readers to do, and what you are, in this piece, doing in a way: call the brethren to account and alert them to the consequences – or at least perceptions – of their actions. You’ve grown harsh and bitter in your tone, and it saddens me. Your tone is as dismissive of those concerned about the Holy Father as you accuse them (correctly, for the most part, I think) of being about him. People who mistake FOX-Capitalism-Neocon-Anti-obamism with the Gospel mostly operate in good faith and bad formation, just like the people who mistake NCR(bad)-Socialism-Democratic-Carter/Obamism for the social implications of the Gospel.

        I really appreciate that you responded personally and politely. Thanks for your thoughts and time.

        • chezami

          I can live with the fact that stuff I dash off on my blog is not finely honed. I’m not writing for the ages.

          • That’s fine.

            And the abrasive harshness? Mockery that would make Voltaire proud? Is that the joy of the Gospel?

            All the best,

            • HornOrSilk

              St Thomas More would be. St Jerome would wonder what the big deal is.

              • Not everything done by every saint is worthy of emulation.

                Anyway, I’ve said my piece. I’m not sure it’s the sort of point that can be resolved by debating.

                All the best.

            • chezami

              Yes, the sobbing gasps of butthurt and self-pity from people who are ready to subject others to drowning, freezing, beating, suffocation, Russian Roulette, death threats to wives and chidren and rape threats to mother, all while slandering the pope as a commie population controller are deeply moving, but my ice cold heart somehow manages to block out their pleas for pity. I am History’s Greatest Monster.

              • No, but you are over the top and fairly unlikely to convince anybody going on like that. Have a good one.

                • chezami

                  Nothing will convince people going on like that. Therefore, I seek to turn others away from people going on like that.

    • “Holy crap, that was long. ”

      If you think that was long, get thee to a good Catholic Parish and try reading the Big Green Book.

  • martinogk

    Great article. For me, it is the Sermon on the Mount that is the Non-Negotiables.

  • MarkRutledge

    Prudential judgement is a “loophole?” I certainly don’t get that from Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings specifically on that matter. There are other, similar problems with the discourse above. Mark Shea’s has the good sense to refrain from adopting the inherent heterodoxy of liberalism, but it appears he has decided to become an anti-conservative, if merely reflexively so.

    • Jacob Suggs

      Prudential judgement is not in itself a loophole, obviously. But claiming that that the phrase “prudential judgement” is sufficient in itself to justify directly and repeatedly working in opposition to all of the bishops on a whole host of issues (that deal with the same principle) is to attempt to use the phrase as a loophole, in pretty much the exact same way that those on the far left sometimes do with the word “conscience.”

      You will also find bishops and popes saying that we must all follow our consciences. This is counterbalanced by the fact that we must form our consciences in line with the Church’s teaching first. A conscience can be malformed and hence lead to objectively evil actions.

      In a similar way, any sane Catholic who finds himself in constant disagreement with the bishops on the same sort of issue ought to wonder if he is really being prudent in his judgements, or if he has bought into an incorrect worldview and is just using that phrase for an excuse. For instance, if one disagrees with the bishops on whether a specific war (or even the death penalty) is justified, then that may in fact be a legitimate exercise of prudential judgement. But if one disagrees with all the bishops every single time they oppose some military operation/life and death policy/other thing touching on basic moral principles that the republican party (for example) supports, then one ought to reexamine ones motives, as, in a similar way, if our conscience tells us that the bishops are wrong about every abortion/same sex marriage/other pelvic issue that the dems support, then we ought to be suspect of our conscience (if, that is, we truly think the Church is what it says it is).

      There’s a difference of course. Saying that the Church is wrong in principle in even one instance while saying that Catholicism is true (as the Catholics for Choice do) is entirely illogical. But if we say that the Church is right in principle about war and similar, but wrong in nearly every single case in which its leaders attempt to apply those principles, then we need to check and see if we’re being honest with ourselves and truly accepting the principle (and the fact that our bishops our in fact our shepherds).

      (And yes, this is a response to a nearly week old post, but what can I say – I refreshed out of morbid curiosity, and saw a misrepresentation of what was said of such magnitude that my fingers typed a response of their own accord. Which tendency makes the internet a dangerous place for them.)

  • Matthew

    My friend approached me about converting to Catholicism but he does not believe in global warming and he is a supporter of the death penalty. I told him to keep his heresies extra Sanctam Matrem Ecclesiam. Am I doing it right?

    • linda daily

      Tell him to speak with a priest and remove yourself.

  • Carlos


  • Judith Johnson

    Thanks. I agree with you. I came into the Church a few years after you, in 1991 in Lubbock, Texas and the same thing is going on here. We must have had the same DRE!
    Last year at Medjugorje as I climbed Cross Mountain, I had the profound spiritual experience of seeing a vision of Jesus carrying His cross up Calvary..I could see His bleeding legs and the end of the Cross. I heard in my heart “prayer is the only thing that will save you”. I had come to Medjugorje as one of those conservatives you talk about here, conveniently twisting what I believed to fit what I wanted. I left Medjugorje knowing beyond certainty that there IS NO POLITICAL SOLUTION. Following Christ in total trust and obedience to the Church He founded is the only thing that will save us. And we have a storm coming.
    Judy Johnson, Wolfforth, TX

  • CadaveraVeroInnumero

    Mr. Shea,

    Is there a thread in the whole-cloth-garment who haven’t picked and unraveled yet?

    [From the BANKRUPT Diocese of Stockton]

  • accelerator

    “What has moved is a considerable portion of the Catholic conservative demographic …which, on countless occasions, has informed me that I am a “so-called Catholic” or a “fake Catholic” for failing to despise and mock the pope…”


  • This is completely correct, and I encourage you to start practicing it yourself.

    We don’t get to pick and choose among Church teachings. We must be Catholic first.

  • Mark, I’m glad to see that you’ve removed the old canard about Buckley (r.i.p.) from the post. Unfortunately, the RSS version of your item has not received the update. Perhaps the elves of Patheos can be encouraged to fix it.

    I once, decades ago, looked up that unsigned piece written by Wills, a short commentary only a few paragraphs long. Libraries are a wonderful invention, aren’t they? For the sake of fairness, I should mention that the piece was not harsh in tone, but skeptical, and even the title ended in a question mark.

    Speaking of “question Mark”, that’s certainly my policy these days too.