Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Next Catholic Reform, Excursus

‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’… I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has ever been in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings, in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that any man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have always longed to love. Even now that face is looking at me with eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. ‘Trample!’ said those compassionate eyes.‘Trample! Your foot suffers in pain; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.’ 
—Shūsaku Endō, Silence
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This was another toughie to write. In my experience that’s usually a good sign—it means it’s worth bothering with.

The colossal scandal of Church corruption that’s been more and more exposed over the last few months, and the non-stop infighting among Catholics which has accompanied it, prompts a question [1]: why be a Catholic at all?

Even for someone who believes that Christ is personally present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharistic species, the Catholic Church is not the only place you can go and find that. The Eastern Orthodox Churches possess apostolic succession too, and their Eucharist is as valid as the Catholic. The Oriental Orthodox have preserved valid sacraments since their division from the main body of Christianity in the fourth century; so have the Church of the East, many Old Catholic Churches, and a few other bodies [2]. Of course, they each have their own scandals—there is no institution that doesn’t, if it’s existed for more than a few minutes. But that is not much of a case for being loyal to any institution, and certainly not a case against dissociating oneself, at least temporarily, from a body that’s embroiled not only in scandal, but in widespread refusal to address that scandal truthfully and effectively.

I’ve rehearsed my intellectual reasons for becoming and remaining a Catholic on this blog many times. I find a God the most satisfying explanation of the universe, Christ the most satisfying explanation of God, and Catholicism the most satisfying explanation of Christ. But is that enough to remain a Catholic, right now? No way. I don’t think I have ever seriously considered leaving the Church, but I know that is not because of my intellectual satisfaction with her claims. I wish I could say it’s because of a solid faith—and, hell, maybe that’s true too; faith is a supernatural gift and my understanding of it, even in myself, is bound to be limited. But really, I know it because I’m unchaste. Knowing Catholic doctrine, its assertions and hypotheses, its nuances and substructures, has never once kept me from unbuckling my belt.

Which lies athwart a quite different problem. Disobedience like mine is pretty straightforward. But what about the criticisms of the Catholic Church that paint her as homophobic, indifferent or oppressive toward women, controlling, and so on? If the Church’s doctrines are true, and if it’s pointed out that the Church also teaches us not to hate gay people or oppress women or any of that, so that those who do are really transgressing, these charges evaporate … right?

Wrong. This isn’t simply a question of people disobeying. Catholic doctrine is dangerous, and no amount of obeying it will make that not be true. The truth of an idea has nothing to do with whether that idea is dangerous. It is true, for example, that God forgives sins, no matter how grave, no matter how monotonously repeated, if we sincerely repent—which includes an intention to, but does not require success at, reforming one’s behavior. Put that truth into an abusive relationship and see what happens. It is true that people have a right to defend themselves against aggressors; put that truth into the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic and see what they do with it.

We have a duty to take thought for the consequences of not just our actions, but our ideas. The Holy Ghost guides the Church into all truth, yes, but he nowhere promises to guide her out of all implications. It is perfectly possible to be an enabler when one ought to be a prophet, without ever once saying anything untrue; and that will inevitably leave people, in a blasphemous paradox, victimized by the truth.

It’s like the water in Flint: you don’t stop needing water because it’s polluted with lead, but lead doesn’t become safe to drink because you have to drink water. Which means that the obvious thing to do is to leave Flint, at least until Elon Musk donates citywide filtration systems. So why not leave?

I won’t, that’s all. This flawed, ugly, corrupt mass of people is my mother, my home. She gives me Jesus—in spite of herself? often, but truly even then. I will do what I can to make her better, and I’ll hide from her cruelties and stupidities if I need to, but I won’t leave.
A darkness descends upon my eyes,
And as I fade into the unknown cloud,
It comes to me:
There is no place that I would rather die.
—from my poem 'Via Angorosa,' in the collection Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds

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[1] Not begs! ‘To beg the question’ means ‘to commit the logical fallacy of petitio principi, i.e. assuming the truth of an assertion that you want to prove as a part of your proof.’ To prompt or raise a question is not the same thing as begging it.
[2] These bodies exist principally in Asia and Europe and are little known in the US. The Church of the East was born of the Nestorian schism in 431, and at one point had sway all over central Asia: there were Nestorian Christians as far east as India, China, and Mongolia in the eighth century. Today they are mostly confined to northern Iraq and parts of western India; some entered full communion with Rome as the Chaldæan and Syro-Malabar Catholic Churches.
The Old Catholic Churches were founded in the eighteenth century through a series of disputed ecclesiastical appointments (rather like the quasi-schismatic status of the Society of St Pius X in the 1980s), and swelled in the nineteenth through Catholics who rejected the First Vatican Council’s definition of the infallibility of the Pope. There are certain divisions within the movement, and Rome recognizes only the communities of the Union of Utrecht (mostly in central Europe) to have apostolic succession. This is itself complicated by the fact that the Union of Utrecht is in full communion with the Church of England, and furthermore practices the ordination of women.
Other groups with valid (or possibly valid) Holy Orders are mostly derived, by hook or crook, from the lineage of Utrecht. These include the Polish National Catholic Church, which is seeking reunion with the Pope; the Society of St Pius V, which rejects all Popes since the death of Pius XII; the Palmarian Catholic Church, which bafflingly reveres Bl Paul VI as a martyr; and a handful of others.


  1. What about the best reason of all -- that it's the will of God our Beloved to remain within the Catholic Church?

    1. I don't deny that that would be a good reason. I dare say that for other people that really is the reason. But, to judge from my other behaviors, it isn't *my* reason. And I think that's worth acknowledging: partly for the sake of transparency as an apologist (however minor); and partly for the sake of others who may find themselves in a similar position of flawed but yearning devotion.

  2. Yes, it seems like the faithful are given a true “double-bind” leading to religious schizophrenia. On the one hand the faith is “good” on an innate level from upbringing or experience but then it is also “bad” since anyone with a conscience cannot support an apparent evil. And it is not surprising at all why they would choose to leave rather than continue to be the victims of such a situation (also of narcissistic supply if the double-bind is premeditated). And rather than abandon God altogether it would be spiritually safer and healthier to find shelter in a break-away group like the Orthodox or Old Catholics.