Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 false mantras intended to silence the Church

In today's entry, I examine 3 mantras or buzz terms extant in today's media and culture, each of which are logically flawed arguments, and each of which are intended to gather support for the censorship of the Church. Sometimes these statements are made by non-Catholics, and sometimes they are made by those who claim to be Catholics in good standing.


This type of argument is perhaps most commonly seen in news story comboxes.

An ABC News commenter writes: "As soon as the Catholic Church cleans their own moral house – they can tell Catholics and Non-Catholics how to live their lives." A Minnesota Minnpost commenter writes: "Until the Catholic Church can clean up there own sins, [they don't] have any right to talk about any law." In another paraphrased echo, a Nov. 2012 CNN blog responder writes: "The catholic church needs to clean up their own pedophile-filled sewer before they try telling anyone else how to think."
Admittedly, comboxes are havens for high emotion and bombast. But this mantra is extraordinarily prevalent and not exclusive to comboxes. I distinctly remember 670 The Score host Mike North, prior to his departure from the station a few years ago, make the exact same argument in response to some public statement from a member of the clergy.

But all of these comments have the same basic demand. The Church must remain silent as long as sin exists within it. The problems with this argument are multifold.

To begin, these arguments, all recent, are founded on the myth that the Church does not address sins within the Church, particularly with regard to the pedophilia scandal of recent years. The folks over at have cataloged a number of statistics on the improvement in Church self-policing in the last 10 years, in addition to stories often overlooked, such as false accusations that have falsely nourished the myth of universal sex abuse or other scandal in the Church. The Church has also permitted third party investigations, including the vast and recent John Jay report last year. The Church has called for seminary screening to include psychological tests in an effort to prevent infiltrators from abusing the priestly office. Early in the exposure of the scandal, the American Church brought in Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent to remedy the situation. The Church's response goes on and on. To argue that the response could be "better" or not is beside the point. Those who argue the Church doesn't address these matters are simply advancing falsehoods.

Secondly, these comments calling for silence are often addressed to priests or bishops who are by all accounts innocent of any scandal. What justice is there for my local priest, innocent of the crimes of a minute percentage of his peers, to suddenly forfeit the entire purpose of his ministry and refuse to teach morality from the pulpit? The demand is nonsensical on its face.

And third, imagine the following analogy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith have two sons. The elder son is caught taking harmful and illegal drugs. The parents have a talk with the elder son. But soon after, he acquires the drugs again, and is involved in an ongoing drug problem. Meanwhile, Mrs. Smith finds out that Mr. Smith has a certain addiction to visiting strip clubs. This has caused an obvious additional rift in their marriage and in the family. Finally, the youngest son decides to become a petty thief. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a talk with the younger son, explaining to him that it is wrong to steal. The younger son back-talks to his parents, to those in charge of "shepherding" him. He tells his parents they have enough sin to deal with in their household. The parents admit their problems and their ongoing efforts to solve them, but the younger son ignores the concession. He says "until" they "clean up" their sins, he will go on stealing. The younger son demands the parents' voice be silenced.

At the end of the day, where does the younger son fail? Do the parents have problems in their home? Yes. Do they admit the problem? Yes. Are the parents still the parents? Yes. Does the younger son ever confront the idea that stealing is wrong? No. That is where the younger son, the one who attempts to silence those who love him, fails. Stealing is right or wrong independent of the parents' personal problems. The association made by the youngest son is therefore flawed. And regardless of their ongoing issues, loving parents retain every right and obligation to articulate the immorality of thievery.


Another method to avoid confronting the teachings of the Church is to accuse the Church's positions of being archaic or old-fashioned.

Raymond Gravel, an openly dissident Canadian priest, is quoted: "The leaders of the Catholic Church...have locked themselves up in their archaic and obsolete doctrines...they refuse any re-definition of marriage that would allow homosexual couples to legalize their union." Pamela Haag, appearing in the Huffington Post (whose erroneous, anti-papacy material I addressed previously) writes in defense of abortion and modern "sex": "Without access to affordable, reliable, convenient birth control, heterosexual men's and women's sex lives are effectively rolled back to the pre-Griswald 1930s." Following the Pope's recent utilization of Twitter, an anti-Catholic cartoon caricatured the Pope as saying: "This 21st century technology is great for spreading my 15th century views on gays, women and contraception!"
What is perhaps most peculiar about this line of argumentation is the insinuation that if an idea has an older or ancient pedigree, it must be wrong. Again, the accusation is nonsensical on its face. My eyebrow of suspicion is especially raised at the lack of similar accusations against modern scientists who continue to advance Isaac Newton's 17th century views on gravity and physics. Or where are the opponents of the applicability of Shakespeare's 16th century philosophies on love and other realms? Let's not even mention those professors who keep using Pythagoras' archaic 6th century B.C. mathematics!

The main point, of course, is that this "appeal to modernism" (argumentum ad novitatem) logical fallacy fails to confront the substance at hand. Consider abortion. For example, if the Church teaches abortion is wrong because it kills a person in the womb, then attempting to confront that claim by calling it "archaic" neither defeats the Church's position nor supports the arguer's position. It doesn't tell you anything about the validity of the argument. It instead treats it like a style of clothing. It says, "The Church has been pro-life for 2,000 years––you wouldn't want to support that any more than bell-bottoms, right? You'd be out of fashion!"

Secretly, the "archaic" line of argument defeats itself, for its logic defers to a future postulator that calls it old-fashioned.


Let's cut right to some examples:
Quoted in the UK Telegraph, a dissident group that rejects Church doctrine called the Church "mysoginist," "homophobic," and "intolerant." A gay rights group in England named Cardinal Keith O'Brien "Bigot of the Year," for believing same-sex unions are not "marriages." In May 2012, NY Times opiner Maureen Dowd wrote an article which warned in the headline of "the church's intolerance," and went on to claim that the Church is "intent on loyalty testing, mind control and heresy hunting. Rather than all-embracing, the church hierarchy has become all-constricting."
Let's forget for a moment about the 800-lb gorilla of irony who ghost wrote Ms. Dowd's column, and how her column is a test of the Church's loyalty to Ms. Dowd's views, is an attempt to influence the minds of her readers to her position, is an accusation that the Church has violated Ms. Dowd's defined heresies of "intolerance," and has constricted the Church's option on doctrine to the boundaries Ms. Dowd has set. I don't even know what to make of the "mind control" comment, but I pray I am not writing this with the spiraling eyes of a drone.

But what is the issue here, once again? None of these name-calling monickers confront the Church's actual position. They are strawmen or perhaps, more accurately, non sequiturs. If the Church believes that a sacrament, such as the priesthood, demands terrestrial representation of that which it signifies, and therefore maleness must be characteristic to depict Christ, the incarnate male bridegroom of the Church, then what productivity is there in simply shouting "mysoginists!" as a response? The same would apply to the Church's view of the complimentarity of males and females with regard to marriage, or the Church's view of life, etc...

If one refuses to confront the Church's position on the natural and theological plane and foundation from which it is taught, one can hardly seek refuge in name-calling as an adequate substitute. Instead many of the accusers have set up certain doctrines of their own. And those who do not comply are branded bigots of some sort.


There was a time when anti-Church accusers would prop up the Inquisition as one of a handful of historical events when trying to establish mistrust in the Church. Their view of the Inquisition was that the Church forced people to comply with Church doctrines or face quantifiable persecution. Today, that same activity is taking place and now faces the American courts. Catholic or other religious institutions are threatened under penalty of potentially crippling fines to embrace the state's doctrine of the virtue of funding birth control, abortifacients, and other bodily dysfunctioning sterilization procedures. Those who do not comply are branded as bigots, intolerant, archaic, and told to clean their sins before fines or potential arrests to civil disobedience are administered. What is it but a 21st century "Inquisition"? Have the Church's critics gone so far as to become what they have purported to loathe?

In 1942, C.S. Lewis's book The Screwtape Letters was published. It is a fictional tale utilizing theological perspectives. In it we read letters from a master demon counseling his apprentice as to how to lead a certain man assigned to the apprentice to hell. Page 1 contains the following excerpt:
Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.
And so when you see various false mantras assigned to the Church in an effort to silence Her, remember to ask yourself, what is the Church's actual position? Can I articulate it in a way the Church would recognize as Her own argument? Is dismissing the Church's position as "archaic" or "intolerant" an adequately reasonable or just response?

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