Friday, February 24, 2012

Who speaks for Church teaching?

First, I want to point out that this article focuses on comparing dissenting Catholics and the hierarchical Church. This post is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment on the immorality of contraception. In the current public attempt the HHS is making against the Church's conscience, religious liberty is the issue. As Bishop Lori so eloquently put before Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in his "Parable of the Kosher Deli," it could have just as well been an ultimatum forcing Jews to serve pork.

And now, for the rest of the post.

So who speaks for authentic Church teaching? The bishops? Or people who call themselves Catholics who disagree with the bishops?

The correct answer is: bishops.

And those of you with short attention spans can probably stop reading at this point. :) For the rest, consider this from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC#85 The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Unfortunately, this HHS contraception/abortifacient ultimatum has stirred up a variety of lay people identifying themselves as Catholics and decrying their own bishops. For example, Maura Casey, writing an editorial for the Hartford Courant wrote this week:
Like me, many would consider themselves irresponsible mothers if they did not tell their children to ignore the church's teaching on birth control.
Her basis for saying this is not the main point of this post––although she is wrong to have blanketly asserted contraception equals less abortions when the FDA approves drugs that cause abortions as well as other contraceptives (cf., Witherspoon Institute)––not to mention there have been studies, such as this one published in Contraception magazine (also quoted in PDF here at USCCB) that showed, over 10 years an increase of contraceptive use and elective abortions. She also ignores the moral dimension of contraception in itself, justifying its use earlier in her commentary on the basis that her mother once said she lived a sickly life "in hell" without it. It was not a good presentation of moral theology, but I digress.

Casey rooted her argument in the title of her piece, "Catholic women must speak out". Forget for one moment that women are speaking out quite frequently against the bishops, including Sr. Carol Keehan, as mentioned in my previous post. Casey argues that women should defend government mandated "free"1 contraception, because otherwise:

priests, bishops...and scores of male commentators will get away with the pretense that they are speaking for us.
Forget again the scores of female commentators and religious that oppose contraception.2 Search any pro-life or Catholic news site like, or even your local parish for scads of women who agree with the bishops. Forget for another moment the anti-male bigotry underlying her comment, insinuating if bishops are male, they can't correctly teach the God-revealed truth on this matter.

But in one sense, I agree with her on this point:

The bishops don't speak for her.

They speak for what the Catholic Church teaches. If she chooses to "ignore" that teaching and teach her children to "ignore" that teaching, then no, the Church does not speak for her. If she wants to reject Church teaching under the guise that her medical decisions automatically equate to good morality, then no, the Church does not speak for her.

Her implication is that she, and other "Catholic" women (and men, too, I suppose, though she allies herself with none in this article), who "ignore" Church teaching are the true teachers of what is right.

That brings us to a catechetical moment. The sin of contraception3 is a plain, well-known teaching of the Church.

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity. (Vademecum for Confessors, 2.4)
CCC#2370 [E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.

Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (Gaudium et Spes, 52)

In his catechesis on Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II, echoed Paul VI's condemnation of contraception, and later stated: "contraception is not morally correct."

See here ( or Fr. Mitch Pacwa ( for examples of the consistent teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium going back to ancient times.
The list goes on and on. It is no secret that the Church has long taught contraception is sinful. And the faithful are to hold to infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium. That is Catholic doctrine. Even Casey in her article admits she rejects "the church's teaching on birth control."

That being said, I want to finish with a look at canon law and the status of a person who rejects the Church's teaching on this or that matter of the faith. The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law reads:
Can. 1364 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
"Latae sententiae" literally means "automatic." An apostate, heretic, or schismatic is automatically excommunicated from the Church without the need for some formal declaration. So what is an apostate, heretic, or schismatic?

Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
Now, I'm not going to speak to Casey specifically. Maybe there are factors, misunderstandings, personal struggles, etc., that may extenuate her culpability in publicly denouncing Catholic teaching. Maybe or maybe not. She is unfortunately the writer of an article that I found useful as an example on this issue. She is not specifically the issue here.

The point is, a Catholic who obstinately denies a truth of the faith is a heretic and thus incurs an automatic excommunication. Likewise, a Catholic who refuses to accept the teaching of those under the Pope, i.e. the bishops, is a schismatic, and also incurs automatic excommunication.

No doubt some who still call themselves Catholic (and even some openly ex-Catholics) have no problem rejecting Catholic teaching. But the point is, such a person, by definition, cannot be representative of Catholic teaching. Such a person's Catholic identity itself is broken. At best, the truly excommunicated could only call him/herself a representative of excommunicated Catholics.

Bottom line––keep it simple. When you want to know what is authentic Catholic teaching, go to the "teaching" authority of the Church, that is, the bishops in union with the Pope. Even when I read a lay person's or theologian's works, I always look for Magisterial backup for their work if they propose something that is Catholic teaching.

EDIT TO ADD: A commentator messaged me that appealing to documents by the bishops to defend the bishops' authority is a catch-22. If that was all there was to it, that would be correct. But if I had to explain the inspiration of Scripture and the basis for Church authority in every post I made, my posts would probably double in size. But I thought it worth mentioning a very brief rationale as to why the Church's claim to authority is not self-validating. The argument is similar as to why we accept the Scriptural quality of some books of Scripture in part because they are validated by other books of Scripture. Authority belongs properly to God. We believe that the historical Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose from the dead, was God Incarnate who gave that authority to those apostles and their successors. Scoffers render it impossible for God to have given authority to a successive hierarchical body on the basis that that body cannot claim to have authority. But the early Church testifies to such authority, the subsequent historical Church sustains that heritage, and the Scriptural texts produced by that Apostolic Tradition speaks to this reality. The first Christians consistently looked to the teaching of the bishops as a matter of historical record. Our faith holds that the Church's authority is backed by God. We believe in the authority of the bishops because they trace their appointment to Jesus Christ. It is not a "self-validating" enterprise. But like I said, that is the super-short version without getting into specifics.

See tract on Apostolic succession for another brief article.

1As another aside, this business of justifying contraceptives under the guise that it will be free is absurd on its face. Someone, of course, will pay to provide these products, whether through higher premiums, fees, or directly. Proponents also argue that fewer health problems will result and pay for itself. However, as I stated in my first blog post on this HHS issue, why not hand out free shoes. Or as others have suggested, free toiletries or hygiene products. Furthermore, it remains debatable whether fostering even more sexual activity in this country is going to reduce health issues. Oral contraceptives do not prevent STDs, for instance. And finally, since when would a "cost savings" make something moral anyway? If we murdered 1000 random sickly people per day, we could save a lot of money. Saving money does not make something right.
2Recently, "free contraception" supporters parroted the idea that 98% of Catholic women used birth control. That myth was subsequently debunked. See here (, for example.
3In this, I am not referring to medicinal use of contraceptives where birth control is not the intent (see Humanae Vitae under the subhead "Lawful Therapeutic means").

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Catholic Health Association does not represent Catholic beliefs

On Sunday, the White House Chief of Staff made his rounds on the Sunday morning shows. Jack Lew, attempting to defend the Obama Administration's recent "accommodation" on the Contraception/Sterilization/Abortifacient Mandate.

This comment stood out, especially since he mentioned CHA more than once in different appearances.

[O]n Friday we had a broad range of groups endorse where the president's policy is. We had the Catholic Health Association, which understands health care extremely well and is true to Catholic beliefs.
The President of the Catholic Health Association is Sr. Carol Keehan. [Edit 2/15/12 to add] Her position in support of the "accommodation" conflicts with the teaching of the official teaching body of the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who disapproved of the so-called "accommodation" on Feb. 10.

So who is Sr. Keehan? In case you did not know:

Before the "accommodation" was publicly made, it was learned that the Sr. Keehan had been made privy before it became public. She had already emailed support to the Administration before the "accommodation" was announced. Her comments were then emailed to Obama supporters, including many of his Catholic supporters.

In March 2010, Sr. Keehan was given an honorary "presidential pen" given to political supporters when Obama signed the original bill.

On Monday, a donor emailed Sr. Keehan the following:

On behalf of all the women and men of Riverside for Choice I would like to thank you for protecting the rights of all women to have free access to essential health services including the contraceptives that allow us to control our own health and bodies. You have been a hero for choice in your Partnership with President Obama.
The emailer offered to send a donation to CHA, to which Sr. Keehan replied to this praise with" Thanks so much" and asked the donor to give to a poor woman in California.

In 2008, Sr. Keehan applauded then-Obama's appointment of pro-abortion Tom Daschle as secretary of HHS. See also in the previous link the Bishops' concern, now prophetic, that Catholic hospitals could be forced out of business.

Sr. Keehan received a standing ovation from a number of pro-abortion politicians last year in support of the initial Obama Health Care bill.

In June 2010, then president of the USCCB Cardinal Francis George called CHA a "so-called Catholic group." At the time Sr. Keehan insisted (despite the contrary in the bill) that Obama's health care plan wouldn't fund abortion. Of that, the Cardinal said, "Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation." And he added, again, prophetically,
[T]he dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle 'about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops' – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?
[EDIT 2/15/12 to add] Dr. Anne Hendershott at Kings College in New York argued how the Obama Administration in June 2010 was already using Sr. Keehan as a "propaganda czar."

Sr. Keehan's consistent support for pro-abortion politicians is essentially no secret. So when on the Sunday morning talk shows, Chief of Staff Lew cited Keehan's organization as an example of "Catholic" support, one must understand that Keehan's organization is consistently on the side of whoever supports abortion and/or contraception. [EDIT 2/15/12 to add] And as mentioned earlier, she contradicts the very teaching body of her own Church on the matter.

Needless to say, neither Sr. Keehan, nor CHA, is representative of the Church's beliefs.

For further reading, see
EDIT 3/2/12 to add: Biography of Sr. Keehan at National Catholic Register.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When state violates Church

The first amendment to the Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Here's a list of recent examples of the government directly interfering with or penalizing religious institutions based on their beliefs, even though they had previously been successful in serving a societal need. Example stories follow each in parentheses, although you can find these stories in many news sites.
  • Aug. 2011 - The State of Illinois defunded Catholic Charities for not placing foster children in the homes of gay couples, despite the fact that Catholic Charities deferred such couples to other charities that did provide the service. (see Chicago Tribune)
  • Oct. 2011 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of HHS defunded the Migration and Refugee Services organization run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The MRS rescued victims of human and sex trafficking, mostly women and children, but would not provide contraception and abortions. (see Catholic News Agency)
  • Jan. 2012 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of EEOC attempted to argue in front of the Supreme Court that the state could tell churches what religious ministers they must hire. The Court struck down their position 9-0. (see
  • Jan. 2012 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of HHS gave Catholic and other religious organizations a legal ultimatum to offer abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives in their insurance plans against their beliefs. (see previous coverage here at The Catholic Voyager)
  • Jan. 2012 - The State of Washington continues to try to force pharmacies to offer potentially abortifacient drugs against their beliefs. (see National Catholic Register)
  • (EDIT 4/2/2012) 2010 - The U.S. Supreme Court supported a California law school that denied a religious group normal campus group privileges because it did not condone its own group leaders to support homosexual lifestyles. The court departed from several related precedent cases, including one in 1984 in which Justice William Brennan said: "There can be no clearer example of an intrusion into the internal structure or affairs of an association than a regulation that forces the group to accept members it does not desire." (see USA Today)
Other stories of note:
  • Feb. 2012 - It seems an Obama-appointed official within the Army attempted to prevent a Bishop's letter to be read by Catholic chaplains regarding the HHS ultimatum. (see
  • EDIT (3/12/12) - Mar. 2012 - The Obama Administration revoked Texas' federal funding for women's health because Texas recently excluded Planned Parenthood funding at the state level due to the numerous abortions it provides. (see Kaiser Health News for several article summaries)
  • EDIT (5/3/12) - May 2012 - In SB 1172, the state of California seeks to regulate reparative therapy for persons with homosexual attraction who willingly desire to receive therapy. As part of the regulation, patients who seek such treatment would be forced to sign a statement, assenting to a number of the state's claims, including, "There is no scientific evidence that any types of therapies are effective in changing a person's sexual orientation." Minors would be forbidden to receive reparative therapy regardless of their desire to receive it, and regardless of their parents' desire. (see California Catholic Daily) For a radio discussion and interview of licensed therapist David Pickup who shared success stories and scientific studies to the contrary, download this hour MP3 from Kresta in the Afternoon radio show on 5/1/12).
  • EDIT (5/4/12) - May 2012 - A Texas court overturned the state's effort to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state's "Women's Health Program." According to the court, the state cannot exclude the abortion organization from the program. (see LifeNews)
  • EDIT (9/24/12) - April 2012 - In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the EEOC ruled that a Catholic diocese discriminated against a teacher who embraced a form of in vitro fertilization, a medical procedure considered intrinsically sinful by the Church for its separation of procreation with conjugal love. (see CBS News)
The articles about "defunding" one may argue are legal maneuvers by the government since they are not legally bound to fund any private organization. But when coupled with the same federal government's defense of Planned Parenthood, and the pattern of opposition to the Church at seemingly every opportunity, and the fact that those defunded organizations condemned on religious grounds the same government's advancement of contraception, sterilization, abortion, and abortifacients, it is by no means unreasonable to argue that the defunded organizations were defunded based on their religious beliefs, and therefore persecuted.

One comment I see in reaction to the Bishops' and other citizens' opposition to things like the HHS ultimatum are that it is an "attack against women" or some such. Yet in incidents like the defunding of MRS, which rescued women and children from sex trafficking, I did not see the same cries of anti-woman directed toward the government that impaired that effort, leading credence to the conclusion that cries of anti-woman directed against the Church are politically charged.

The clearest violations of religious freedom remain the federal government's (and similar story in the state of Washington) ultimatum via the HHS for Church and religious organizations to provide abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization insurance against their moral beliefs. The federal government's attempt to interfere with what ministers a religious body must hire also was a clear violation of religious freedom, as even the Supreme Court agreed unanimously, 9-0.

UPDATE: 2/22/12 The Supreme Court of the State of Washington voted against the state trying to force pharmacies to offer drugs against their beliefs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Correcting John MacArthur on Catholicism and works

This past Wed. Jan. 25, one of John MacArthur's sermons titled "The Gospel Satisfies the Sinner’s Need" aired on the radio in two parts. Here is the first excerpt that caught my Catholic ear:
All religion, with the exception of the truth, follows one line. It is all a religious effort on the part of man to achieve a rightness with God. I call it the "Religion of Human Achievement." All of it. Doesn't matter what it is. Doesn't matter if it's the worship of Molak, which I was describing, the worship of Ba'al, the worship of Allah, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you're a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic. If you are a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, doesn't matter what it is, or some minor religion unknown to most people, they are all the same. They are all purveyors of the big lie that you can make yourself right with whatever god you think exists by your own efforts. There's only one kind of false religion, and that's it, it just comes under many, many labels. The suggestions are endless, but they all involve human effort and human achievement––following certain behaviors morally, and certain behaviors ceremonially, and certain behaviors religiously––you can make yourself right with God. (quote aired 1/25/12)
First, although this is not an apologetic for Eastern philosophies, it seems MacArthur speaks erroneously about their beliefs as well. For instance, regarding Buddhism, though there are different philosophies in Buddhism, Buddhanet states: "Do Buddhist believe in god? No, we do not." The Wikipedia entry on "God in Buddhism" begins with: "The non adherence to the notion of a omnipotent creator deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions." So without even delving into Catholicism, MacArthur's blanket, repeated mantra that "all religions," "doesn't matter what it is," advance a big lie about humans going through some motions to get "right with God" is a reckless, incorrect statement.

On his website, MacArthur gives evidence as to why he claims Catholics believe in a "make yourself right" method of justification. His article, The Doctrine of Saving Faith, part 2, reads:
The Council of Trent repeatedly repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, the Council said, "Unless hope and love are added to faith, it never unites a man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body," session 6 chapter 7. You cannot be made right with God by faith alone. And the Catholic scheme, justification means God's grace is poured forth into the sinner's heart through the Sacraments, through various Masses and experiences like that, religious ceremonies, the person then receiving this grace mixes this grace with his own effort and his own works and becomes progressively more righteous. It is then the sinner's responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. You mix the works with the grace so that justification is not sola fide, by faith alone.
This is his explanation of Catholic teaching. He is wrong. Nowhere does the Council of Trent say anything about "mixing" one's "own" works with "grace." MacArthur injected these ideas into the text. (MacArthur in that article goes on to further criticize sacraments. See my prior treatment of MacArthur's misunderstanding of sacraments in the article: Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments.)

The quote from Trent he is criticizing here is right out of 1 Corinthians 13, which states part: "[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (v. 2) Shall MacArthur initiate a diatribe against St. Paul for daring to say love must be added to faith, just as the Council of Trent reiterated? Paul's chapter ends with: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (v. 13)

But let's go back to MacArthur's notion that if works of love justify along with faith, those works must be something a person does apart from grace. He assumes that is what Catholics think, even though Trent says no such thing. On this point, MacArthur exhibits a double standard. Here's why.

The second broadcast of MacArthur's sermon aired the following day, Jan. 26. In it, he stated:
Salvation comes by faith. Back again to Romans 4:5, He justifies the ungodly because his faith is credited as righteousness. That is an amazing and magnanimous gift, isn't it? For by grace are you saved through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9, that not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God. Simply by believing, by believing. Over in verse 20 of chapter 4, again, we're still talking about Abraham, verse 20 says with respect to the promise of God he didn't waver in unbelief, grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised He was able to perform, therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Do you understand this exchange? You give to God faith, He gives you His righteousness. That's why we say salvation is by faith alone. Sola fide. Faith alone. By believing. And even that believing is a gift of God.
First off, let me say, there's nothing I really disagree with in this excerpt, other than the notion of "credited" righteousness. But regarding faith, it is indeed a gift. For instance, CCC#162 reads: "Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man." No problem there.

In recognizing the gift of faith, MacArthur correctly does not confuse man's faith as man's effort. Even though a person exercises faith, and by it is justified, it is not man making a "human effort" of his "own" of faith, justifying "himself."

However, MacArthur does not afford the Catholic the same courtesy when it comes to man's works. He can see that faith is a gift of grace, but he fails to see that Catholics believe works are a gift of grace as well.

Above, we saw MacArthur quote from Trent 6.7 in his effort to claim Catholics believe they justify themselves with their "own" works "mixed" with "grace." But if he had only given pause a few paragraphs further, he could have avoided the error.
Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God . . . God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Trent 6.16)
This unravels MacArthur's claim that Catholics teach works are something alien to grace, something he describes as the "Doctrine of Human Achievement." Just as MacArthur correctly believes of faith, Catholics believe true good works1 are also Christ's "gifts." Trent actually gasps at the idea "that a Christian should either trust of glory in himself" even though MacArthur claims the Church teaches the opposite!

And so the teaching that Catholics believe in the power of their "human effort" to justify themselves is a fictional product of MacArthur's own design, not one of the Catholic Church.

Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). (I'll focus on the Matthean account for the purpose of this post.) In the parable, the master gives varying measures of gifts to each of his three servants. In the parable, the gifts are talents, or degrees of money. The first two servants later return their talents to the master with a profit. The third servant, however, hid the master's talent in the ground, essentially squandering the master's gift.

Placing this parable in view of judgment, the first two servants are told, "enter into the joy of your master." (Matt. 14:21,23) The third servant is said to have been sent off where "men will weep and gnash their teeth," (Matt. 14:30) which, to Matthew, is a figure of hell. (Matt. 14:40-42)

In examining this parable, a figure of reality, what gift does man receive from God which he returns to God that affects his salvation? The clearest answer, I think, is grace (not to exclude other valid understandings of the talents in this text). Paul echoes the financial figure of grace when he says God gives "according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:7) Paul also teaches that the measures of grace are not identical when he says we have "gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them." (Rom. 12:6) Grace fits with the figure of talents.

Cornelius Lapide, the 16th/17th century Catholic exegete wrote of the Parable of the Talents:
By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful, such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. (Lapide, Comment on Matthew 25)
And he goes on to acknowledge that the talents can also be seen as other gifts as well. (Notice also that Lapide, contradicting MacArthur's description of Catholicism, says "we can do nothing" without God's gifts.)

In recognizing these aspects of the parable, we see the Council of Trent's description of works. Trent says, "He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits." That is exactly what happened in the parable. The talents were the master's investment in his own servants, who could not have utilized the talents without first receiving them. The third servant received the same gift, but failed to utilize it.

Another way to look at it is this. If we are members of Christ's body, it is not against Christ for his own bodily members to work. MacArthur doesn't understand man's work in this way. He only understands man's work as something disconnected with Christ, something man "mixes" with grace rather than the extension of grace, just as he believes correctly of man's faith. In criticizing the value of works done in Christ, MacArthur unwittingly denies the efficacy of grace!

1True good works of love and adherence to the New Covenant are not to be confused with the "works of the law" from the Old Covenant condemned by Paul: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)