John Zmirak, who denies that there is such a thing as Catholic social teaching (this though the Vatican published a whole Compendium of it), is worried that Pope Francis is “falsifying Catholic teaching.” The lack of irony is astonishing. Perhaps the only way out is if Mr. Zmirak will just admit that by “Catholic teaching” he means “my opinions.” There’s no social teaching in Zmirak’s opinions; the pope is falsifying Zmirak’s opinions. Sound better?
You Told Me Something Wrong
Meanwhile Raymond Arroyo can barely hide his insinuation and his calumny that Pope Francis’s change to the Catechism was somehow meant to distract attention from the sex abuse scandal.
This despite the fact that the pope had been saying the very same things back in October of 2017. Perhaps Mr. Arroyo will tell us that the pope anticipated the scandal even then. Perhaps John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who both advocated the abolition of the death penalty, anticipated it too. They knew what was coming in 2018, and concocted a campaign against the death penalty to distract from it. Those wily popes. But Mr. Arroyo sees all.
Then, the chronically confused Phil Lawler decides that, because he is confused, “the [whole] world [must also be] full of confusion.” He gives no evidence, in his mad article, that he took a survey of the world and now reports back to us on their confusion. By no means. I read a man who says “I am confused” and then proceeds to project his own befuddlement upon everyone else. Mr. Lawler must think that confusion is like laughter: If you’re confused, the world is confused with you. Mr. Lawler is so confused he even confuses the world with himself. But he shouldn’t feel bad; Mr. Zmirak confused his opinions with Catholic teaching.
Cafeteria Catholic Steve Skojec, however, is not confused. He’s certain that the pope is guilty of “material heresy.” The reason Mr. Skojec thinks this is that the admissibility of the death penalty, at all times and all places, world without end Amen, is (so Steve says) an “infallible” teaching of the Church.
Death Site News also implies that the pope’s teaching is heresy:
You Run For Cover And There’s Heat
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, writing at Death Site, says at first that the pope is “openly heretical.” But then he backpedals for cover. Oh no, I didn’t quite mean that, he clarifies.
Whether Francis is a formal heretic … is a matter to be adjudicated by the College of Cardinals.
Dr. K. can’t say, but the men in red hats can. And where is that in canon law? I don’t find that in canon law. What I do find in canon law is this: “The first see is judged by no one.” That’s canon 1404. But Dr. K. thinks the first see can be judged by the College of Cardinals.
So here we have some curiosities. John Zmirak thinks that “Catholic teaching” means “Zmirak’s opinions.” Phil Lawler thinks “the world” means “me.” And Peter Kwasniewski thinks “no one” means “the College of Cardinals.” So who could be surprised if they go off in search of Catholic teaching on the death penalty and come out mistaken on a point or two? I mean, at least Mr. Lawler has the honesty to admit he’s confused. He shouldn’t be so certain he knows what the Church has “always taught.”
Do What They Say, Say What They Mean
But let’s say a few things on this point about heresy and infallible teachings. Shall we? Set the death penalty to the side for one moment. You want an infallible teaching? I’ll give you one: The pope is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error. This is a de fide dogma, and it is based on more than one text of Scripture.
- John 16:13. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.”
- John 21:17. “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”
(Some of the sheep, of course, are obstinate, and refuse to be fed. They act as though they are the source of their own food.)
- Luke 10:16. “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”
- Luke 22:32. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
Does Mr. Skojec mean to tell us Christ’s prayer was not answered and that Peter’s faith has, in fact, failed? Or does he mean to tell us that Pope Francis is not Peter? Be careful now.
- 1 Tim. 3:15. “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Now, some people get into these discussions and say, well, a pope could be a heretic, but he couldn’t teach heresy. The Holy Spirit would protect him from this. But once you understand that Pope Francis has put this teaching into the Catechism, we’re past the point of trying to make this distinction. If the teaching is heresy, the pope has taught heresy. There is no way around that.
Lumen Gentium 25, citing the infallible teaching of Vatican I, says that the pope teaches with the authority of Christ. Thus Catholics are to submit to his teachings—note this—“even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.” There is no “defying” the pope, as Mr. Zmirak brags he is going to do. Not if you are Catholic. The pope does not have to be speaking ex cathedra. He is “not pronouncing judgment as a private person,” says Lumen Gentium, “but as the Supreme teachrer of the Universal Church.” Whereas, Mr. Zmirak is the supreme teacher of his Twitter followers.
Mr. Lawler complains that the pope made the change to the Catechism “without consultation.” Well, he must be confused, since Lumen Gentium 25 says that he does not need “the approval of others.” Certainly Paul VI did not need anyone’s approval when he wrote Humanae Vitae. Paul VI famously flouted the counsel of others. I don’t hear Mr. Lawler complaining about that. Nor does what the pope teaches need “an appeal to any other judgment.” Not Zmirak’s judgment, not Skojec’s, not Arroyo’s, not Lawler’s, not Kwasniewski’s. Not Cardinal Burke’s.
The Church also teaches us all this in Donum Veritatis.
All acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.
One Little Bump Leads to Shock
Now, some might say that these are new documents, the Church didn’t perennially teach this idea that I must adhere to the Magisterium even when it’s not ex cathedra, and so forth. Alt, why do you only cite post-Vatican II novelties?
Be careful. You’re guilty of a modernist heresy, according to Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors. The Syllabus is a list of condemned heresies. It was written in 1864, a full hundred years before the tainted post-Vatican II Church of Nice. Here is one of them:
The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.
“I only have to listen to the pope if he’s infallible” is a condemned heresy.
It’s also a heresy that the pope can teach error. In Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (this is prior to Vatican II), p. 287, we read that the Holy Ghost “protects the supreme teacher of the Church from error.” Even “non-revealed teachings,” says Ott, are under this protection. None of this “but it’s not infallible” loophole-searching. Ott says this is a de fide dogma of the Church. As his authority, he cites three Church councils prior to, not just Vatican II but Vatican I: Constantinople, Lyons, and Florence.
Now if this is a de fide dogma, to deny it—to think that a pope could teach error—is a heresy. A heresy is, according to Canon 751, “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.” That the pope can not teach error is one such truth. So it’s not the pope who’s flirting with heresy here, but Mr. Skojec and Dr. Kwasniewski.
The Wrong Antidote
So those charging the pope with heresy are in a bit of a bind here, and there are two possibilities. The first is that the pope’s update to the Catechism is not an error. As Catholics, we have the duty to submit to it. If it seems wrong to me, and somehow a reversal (rather than a development) of what came before, then, because the pope can’t teach in error, either I do not understand the current teaching, or I do not understand the old teaching. I must figure out where I have gone wrong.
Or, the pope has taught an error, he has reversed the infallible teaching of the past. In that case, it really is possible for a pope to bind the Church to error. But then the Church has taught an error in saying that a pope can’t do this. And so the Catholic Church is not really the true Church, and I must leave and join some other one.
You must choose.