Friday, September 25, 2015

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything the Pope says?

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything a Pope says? A number of comments by Pope Francis since his installation have given rise to this question.

It can be a dangerous question, because some Catholics may ask the question in order to seek the "minimum" to believe, and the rest can be rejected outright, as if 180 degrees wrong. So I would caution against that motive and we can see why in a moment.

I would also say, from one angle, a Catholic doesn't have to believe any teachings the Pope declares. A Catholic doesn't even have to stay in the Church. He or she can walk away and reject the faith any time. I wouldn't recommend it. But simply being Catholic does not eliminate one's free will. But this essay will focus on believing the Pope while remaining a Catholic in communion with the Church.

Also, some do not understand why a Catholic would be perfectly reasonable in embracing the Church's teaching on abortion, but not a Pope's view on a socio-political situation. Hopefully, this essay will clarify that matter as well.

In Catholic teaching, it is believed the Pope exercises a charism of infallibility when, as a function of his office as St. Peter's successor, he defines a teaching of faith or morals for the whole Church to believe. (see CCC#888-892; Vatican I, 4.4.9; and prior discussion on Fallacies on Infallibility). This is not a reference to anything special about the Pope, who is, was, and always will be, a fallible mortal. This charism is a trust in God, who Catholics believe in Christ to have promised this divine assistance to the Apostles and their successors, especially Peter, i.e. the first Pope.

So when a Pope meets this criteria on a matter of faith or morals, yes, a Catholic is obligated to believe that teaching. There is no gray area. For example (in all subsequent quotes, bold emphasis is mine):
Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful." (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)
That Mary was preserved from original sin is not an "optional" teaching for the Catholic faithful. It is a defined matter. It is a matter of faith. And remember, the guarantee of this truth is the Holy Spirit. We believe the Pope's teaching on this matter because Christ promised to speak through his Church in such a way.

Faith and morals are a good factor in identifying teachings that are representative of the Church versus an individual clergyman's opinion, even the Pope's, on a social or political or scientific matter. In fact, the Catechism teaches the following:
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC#892)
So you see how even matters taught by the Pope in non-definitive ways require a "religious assent," if that teaching is a matter of faith or morals. This is why it is imprudent to act as if a Pope's non-infallible statement is 180 degrees wrong. But the text does not say to offer religious assent if the Pope speaks on a matter of science, for example. Such matters are external to the Church's teaching authority. But keep in mind the rule of thumb to always look at a teaching and ask whether it falls under the category of faith or morals.

Now, let's look at less-defined propositions. In the Summer of 2015, Pope Francis stated:
Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. (Pope Francis, Address at Expo Fair Santa Cruz de la Sierras, July 9, 2015)
Quotes like these have been used by media to say the Pope condemns capitalism as a whole since capitalist societies produce many wealthy citizens. But if one examines the Pope's comment, the part that is a "moral obligation" is to strive for "just distribution" of goods. That is a very broad concept. In principle, the moral issue of justice (cf. CCC#1807) is obligatory for a Catholic to believe. Discussions of what government, social, political, or other solutions should prevail give rise to matters beyond the underlying moral issue.

In other words, a Catholic is not obligated to embrace nor reject "socialism," for example, as the solution to a problem of injustice. A Catholic is not required to embrace nor reject "capitalism" as a broad concept. Yes, a Catholic must oppose injustice, but methods of remedy are external to that moral crux. Even in that same speech, Pope Francis emphasized how the human person should be the focus when forming economies: "The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples."

We can even see in the Pope's own words, for example, that capitalism, which he has often decried to the degree it does not serve people, still merits further understanding on his own part. On a plane ride from Paraguay to Rome, a reporter asked of his economic views: "This is perceived by Americans as a direct criticism of their system and their way of life." Pope Francis replied:
I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. ... Yes, I must begin studying these criticisms, no? And then dialogue a bit with this.
Later in the interview, someone asked him about the economic situation in Greece. He conceded to not having had a good grasp on economics:
On Greece and the international system, I have a great allergy to economic things, because my father was an accountant and when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he brought the work home on Saturday and Sunday, with those books in those day where the titles were written in gothic. When I saw my father I had a great allergy and I didn’t understand it very well.
So, you see in such an example, a Catholic can take the Pope's words and make a prudential examination to discover the parts that are religious (i.e. the concept of justice) versus parts that are economic or political (i.e. the U.S. economic system or the Greek economic system). Comments on religious concepts are in the scope of the Pope's teaching authority. Comments on economic concepts are not.

Let me approach this from one more angle. If you happen to read in the media that the Pope is against "income inequality," and thus pro-Socialism, one should not assume the Pope is endorsing any particular economic philosophy. Or, at least one should not assume what economic philosophy the Pope appears to endorse is a required belief for Catholics. We can deduce this with emphasis if we compare two quotes. On the plane ride just a couple days ago from Cuba to the U.S., Pope Francis said of his economic views:
I am sure that I have not said anything that is not present in the social Doctrine of the Church. ... My doctrine, on all of this, on Laudato Si, on economic imperialism and all of this, it is that of the social doctrine of the Church.
And if we take a look at some of the Church's teaching on Socialism and income inequality in the past, we see such examples as:
It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition. (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, #17)
So here we see Pope Leo speaking how income inequality, per se, is not automatically an injustice. In fact, he says, a society needs the variation in order for business to have the capacity to function. And we have Pope Francis saying his teaching aligns with the Church's teaching. So where income inequality, for a Catholic, would become a concern, is where that inequality is the result of injustice.

The same can be said of the issue of "climate change," which appears frequently in the media, including with quotes from Pope Francis. (Note: An argument can be made that there is not scientific consensus on this matter either.) On this issue, the underlying moral principle is to have proper respect for creation (cf. CCC#2415), which is related to the commandment of "thou shall not kill." In Pope Francis' encyclical Laudatio Si, he acknowledges that he does not claim to teach a scientific solution to any ecological problems. He finishes with a caveat. He says on the ecology:
Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. ...there is no one path to a solution. ... On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.
So on climate change, much as with economics, a Catholic only need give assent to the underlying moral issues relating to the 7th commandment on climate change and the matter of justice. The views a Catholic holds from there, with regard to ecological or economic systems, should be held with those moral principles in view.

Remember, when listening to a Pope's comments, one should examine the content to identify whether or not the comment is religious (i.e. a matter of faith or morals) or something else, such as economic, political, or scientific. If the Pope is teaching a principle of faith or morals, the Catholic's assent is required. If the Pope comment is about an economic or scientific matter, the Catholic's assent is not required insofar as any economic or scientific claims or solutions to problems. The Catholic needn't scruple over such things.

Dr. Anne Hendershott (an excellent speaker and writer on Catholic thought in this blogger's opinion) made the following statement recently:
I am a huge fan of Pope Francis because I actually read what he writes and it's wonderful. And he's so affirming and so loving. I'm not crazy when he talks about capitalism. I'm not crazy when he talks about climate change. But I don't really pay much attention to that stuff because that's not the non-negotiables. (Dr. Anne Hendershott, Professor of Sociology at Franciscan University, Sept. 2, 2015, on the Drew Mariani Radio Show (MP3))
If a Catholic wishes to formulate an view on economic or scientific matters, that view should strive to satisfy moral principles of justice or the commandments where applicable. If one does this, he or she is already on the same page as the Pope and needn't worry about an explicit endorsement or condemnation of that view from the Pope.

The principle of faith and morals also should illuminate those who question Catholics who accept Church teaching on abortion (i.e. a moral matter) but not necessarily every Papal suggestion concerning climate change, income inequality, or other social, political, or scientific issues (i.e. not religious matters).

Thursday, September 3, 2015

7 historic photos with Catholic back stories

The Church's influence dwells in more places than may meet the eye. Following are seven historic photos, in no particular order, whose back stories contain interesting Catholic aspects.

1. The priest and the dying soldier, 1962

This dramatic photo depicts Navy chaplain Luis Padillo holding up a wounded soldier during a brief Venezuelan rebellion known as El Porteñazo. Other images from the scene (see article at Rare Historical Photos) show Fr. Padillo giving last rites to the dying on the streets. The article takes note of the kinetic danger while the priest held the soldier "as bullets chewed up the concrete around them." The photo was taken by Hector Rondón Lovera on June 4, 1962. It "won the World Press Photo of the Year and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The original title of work is 'Aid From The Padre'." The article also points to the frightening irony in the background:
Even more intense about this picture is the setting, in the background is a carnicería (a butcher’s shop). In Spanish a carnicería means both a “butcher’s shop” and “slaughter, carnage”. The phrase “fue una carnicería” (English equivalent: “it was carnage”) is so common in the Spanish language. The parallel really catches one’s eye and draws the horror of the scene even further.
2. The "last photo of the Titanic" afloat, 1912

This photo is considered by many to be the final photo of the Titanic still afloat. The photo was taken April 12, 1912 three days prior to the ship's infamous capsize. The Catholic interest in this photo is in its photographer, Francis Browne, a future Irish Jesuit priest who would be ordained in 1915.

The Encyclopedia Titanica recounts Browne's bio. He had begun his theological studies in 1911. In 1912, his uncle gifted him a ticket on the Titanic. His ticket was for travel from Southampton to a stop at Cherbourg to the following day's port at Queensland (now known as Cobh). Multiple accounts (e.g. Rare Historical Photos, Time Magazine) say a wealthy family had offered Browne a ticket to stay for the remainder of the Titanic's voyage. Browne sent a request to his superior cleric for permission to accept the ticket. According to Fr. Eddie O'Donnell, a Jesuit priest who collected Browne's photos many years later, Browne received a terse telegram from his Dublin superior which said: "Get off that ship." Browne disembarked and snapped the above photograph of the Titanic as it left Queenstown never to arrive at its destiny in New York. Many of Browne's photos from aboard the Titanic were also used as references for the 1997 film Titanic, as they are among precious few photos taken by a passenger who disembarked mid-voyage.

One final point of intrigue: according to the book Titanic by Messenger Publications, the wreckage of the Titanic revealed that the ship "split directly through state rooms numbered 36A and 37A, Frank Browne's quarters, and those of Thomas Andrews," the managing director of Harland and Wolff, Belfast, builders of the Titanic.

3. Tombstones holding hands, 1888

In the Dutch town of Roermond are these two tombstones, joined over a brick wall by two holding "hands." On one side of the wall is a Protestant cemetery and on the other, a Catholic one. The tradition called for an individual to be buried with the peers of his/her faith. The Telegraph summarizes the back story:
One one side of the wall lies JWC van Gorkum, a 19th century Catholic woman of nobility, on the other her husband, a Protestant. When he died, he was buried in the lot reserved for Protestants. Eight years later she passed away too, leaving directions for this monument - with the pair holding hands over the wall that divides the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries - to be built.
In a functional solution, the clever Catholic wife managed to respect the traditions of the cemeteries and be buried in a special, and most unique, proximity to her husband.

4. Andes rugby team survival, 1972

It is known as one of the most incredible survival stories in history. In 1972, a flight over the Andes Mountains in South America transported 45 people, including a rugby team. The plane crashed, killing many of them immediately. In the subsequent days, the remaining survivors battled for life in the frozen ice of the mountains. Desperate and having run out of food, the stranded had no choice but to eat the bodies of their fallen comrades. By the time the above rescue photo was taken, 72 days had passed, and 16 remained alive. The story razes at the concept of suffering and fate. Survivors told of horrors and discouragement and confusion. But at least one thing kept them united––the rosary.

Recently, an article about the survival story cited the author of a book about the incident:
As all of the team members were from a Catholic tradition, they employed ritual to keep their spirits up in the face of worsening conditions. Nightly discussions and debate followed by rosary recited in unison in the fuselage of the plane helped maintain a unity of purpose...
Survivor Álvaro Mangino recalls:
We had an enormous desire to live and faith in God. Our group was always united. We prayed the rosary. We kept our faith. I’ve changed. That’s the best thing about it.
While being treated after the rescue, a priest, Father Andres Rojas, visited the young men to comfort them, and even assured them that in such a desperate situation they had not sinned by eating the flesh of their deceased friends. The 1993 film Alive documents the incident, and includes scenes of the survivors praying the rosary.

5. Mountain procession, 1940

Anyone not familiar with the traditions behind this photo might think a caravan of mountain wizards are on their way to the ball. Or maybe it looks like a Klan rally.  Many old photo web pages file this under "creepy." But this is an example where context is crucial. This image depicts the celebration of Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain in 1940. The persons in the photo are walking as a sign of penance for their sins. An article at the University of South Carolina explains the significance of their outfits:
The “Nazarenos” or “Penitentes” may initially catch Americans off gaurd, as their costumes resemble those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. These costumes actually have no sinister meaning. The Spanish reasoning for wearing these costumes is completely different than that of the KKK. The cone-shaped “capirote” symbolizes a rising toward the heavens. The Penitentes are seeking forgiveness for their sins, and the shape of the capirotes signify their penance and yearning to be closer to the heavens. They hide their identities as they mourn the pain and suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. On Easter Sunday, each person removes his capirote in jubilation of Jesus's resurrection from the dead. Nazarenos are traditionally all male, but in recent years, many young girls and women have begun to wear the costumes. No one can decipher between males and females behind the disguise. 
See the full article for other photos of the ceremony taking place in modern times under better lighting than the dim mountains depicted above!

6. Nadal: "He's a real gentleman", 2015

For this photo, we turn back the clock all the way to January 21, 2015. It was the Australian Open, the first tournament in every calendar year that makes up pro-tennis' "Grand Slam." The second round featured a match between then-world #3 Rafael Nadal, winner of 14 Grand Slam tournaments, and Tim Smyczek, then-world #112, who had to win qualifying matches to even make the tournament. The match was grueling, lasting over 4 hours. Nadal led 6-5 in the final set only 2 points from victory when an unruly fan shouted during Nadal's serve which sailed long. The stadium booed as the umpire reiterated silence and Nadal stared in the direction of the ruckus. As Nadal prepared to serve again, Smyczek, in a nonobligatory act, told the chair umpire to allow Nadal to re-do the serve. Nadal gestured in gratitude to Smyczek as the crowd cheered the generous act of kindness. Nadal would soon win the match, but Smyczek's gesture remains a special historic moment of victory. In the above photo, Smyczek (left) and Nadal share a respectful handshake after the match.

Smyzcek, a Wisconsin native, is a practicing Catholic. Recently, the National Catholic Register interviewed him about this incident and his faith life. We learn of Smyczek's regular mass and confession attendance, praying the rosary, and his upcoming marriage in November. He says:
I carry around little books like The Way and The Forge from St. Josemaría Escrivá. They are very handy while traveling, because they don’t take up much space at all. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in wisdom from St. Josemaría, who wanted people to treasure, share and live out their religious beliefs rather than hide them.
Smyczek's now-famous gesture exemplifies the fruits of his religion in action. The catechism lists among the twelve fruits of the Spirit "kindness" and "generosity" (CCC#1832).

Nadal's words in the postgame interview were fitting:
First of all, I want to congratulate Tim, because he's a real gentleman. What he did in the last game is–– not a lot of people will do something like this at 6-5 in the 5th...after four hours. So just congratulate him for that, because he played, I think, a great match.
(Watch a one-minute video of the gentlemanly gesture and Nadal's postgame interview here)

7. World Championship chess match, Spassky vs. Fischer, 1972

In our final historic photo, we return to 1972, showing the World Chess Championship between Soviet Boris Spassky (left), the defending champion, and American Bobby Fischer. Fischer would win the match to become the first American-born champion, ending a 24 year streak by Soviet players.

As references collected in the Wikipedia article recount, Fischer found himself about to enter the championship without a "second" (a sort of chess counselor between matches). He counted on his childhood friend, William Lombardy, who was also a chess Grandmaster. In 1958, when Fischer was 15, Lombardy had coached him to be the youngest Grandmaster in history. But before 1972 rolled around, Lombardy was ordained a priest in 1967. He acquired permission to go to Iceland and serve as Fischer's second for the 1972 World Chess Championship.

According to the 2011 book Endgame by Frank Brady:
Fischer lodged a formal protest [over the second-game-forfeit] less than six hours after the forfeiture. It was overruled by the match committee... Everyone knew that Fischer wouldn't accept it lightly. And he didn't. His instant reaction was to make a reservation to fly home immediately. He was dissuaded by Lombardy, but it seemed likely that he'd refuse to continue the match unless the forfeit was removed.
Fischer eventually stayed. An article from August 19, 1972 in the Lawrence-Journal World, which ran during the multi-day championship, described Fr. Lombardy's priestly presence at the event:
The Rev. William Lombardy, the Roman Catholic priest and international grandmaster from the Bronx who serves as Fischer's second, viewed the end-game maneuver with bibical (sic) awe. "He passeth the piece that passeth all understanding," the priest punned gravely. Father Lombardy's constant cool and rollicking good humor seem to have a soothing effect on the moody Brooklyn genius [Fischer]… After move 12 in Tuesday's 14th game, which also happened to be the Feast of the Assumption, Father Lombardy left the arena long enough to celebrate mass at St. Joseph's Hospital.
Several days later, Fischer won the championship, thanks, in part, to his fellow Grandmaster, his second, who also happened to be a Catholic priest.