I disagree: faithful dissent

Last, but not least, Kelly Wilson has produced an argument–sure to live forever in the annals of sophistry–for why Catholics who reject Church teaching aren’t really rejecting Church teaching.  Wilson is upset that conservative Catholics would like the modernist heretics to just apostasize and stop trying to undermine the Church from within.  It is we, she says, who are unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying the Magisterium must be obeyed!  I was eager to see how Wilson would defend this counterintuitive claim, and she doesn’t disappoint.  Catholic teaching comes in three levels, she says:  1) what comes straight out of revelation (the Bible), 2) what follows through logical necessity from revelation, 3) other pronouncements.  The trick for beginning modernists is to push all the stuff that offends against modern androgynist utilitarianism into the third category, and then say that the third category are teachings we must “respect” but not necessarily believe–like how I guess we’re not supposed to make fun of the tradition that Saint George killed a dragon, but we don’t have to actually believe it.  But here we hit a snag:  the pope himself said that an all-male priesthood (that horror of the modernists) belongs to category 2.  “Ah”, says Wilson, “but he never said that the proclamation that all male priests belongs to category 2 is itself a category 2 statement.”  Now, in ordinary communication, it is always assumed that “X” and “X is true” are asserted with the same certainty, but if they aren’t all sorts of possibilities open.  If the pope decides to plug this hole, saying “The declaration ‘X belongs to category 2′ is itself category 2″, well, would that statement itself be category 2?  At a stroke, the Magisterium can’t declare anything!

Following a similar line of argument, Wilson denies that the Magisterium, in its emphatic insistence in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae that contraception is utterly incompatible with Christian morality, ever positively asserted that this teaching must be accepted.  One wonders what in the world they were talking about, then.  Wilson’s guide here is the traitorous Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian Catholic bishops, which at least seems to claim that, if a couple is unconvinced by Humanae Vitae, well then, it’s A-OK for them to go on desecrating the conjugal bed.  I’m not sure why the Winnipeg statement is supposed to trump both the pope and all world’s other bishops, who insist that this teaching is an absolute requirement of the natural law.

So, let me endorse the comments by Bruce Burgess and others that Wilson finds so obnoxious.  People who choose Leftist over Catholic orthodoxy should leave.  The entire rest of the world belongs to them and their devilish creed.  There are scores of liberal Protestant denominations that already embrace the watered-down Christianity they want Catholicism to embrace.  The heretics can take their pick.  If they really believe in religious tolerance, they should stop trying to force the poor, pitiful remnant of the once splendid Roman Catholic Church to go along with them.

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35 thoughts on “I disagree: faithful dissent

    • Welcome Mr. Wilson (sorry about the gender mixup). Now that you’ve showed up in person, this blog’s comment policies will apply to you: no one may impugn your character or faith, or their comments will be deleted. Of course, we get to attack your arguments as much as we like, and you ours.

      • Is there anything within your opening post that you would like opportunity to articulate differently? If not, I am more than happy to help you understand the points of my own post.

      • Hello Mr. Wilson,

        I think we can take my initial post as a suitable jumping-off point. If I feel myself misunderstood, I can always reply, as you are doing for me.

        Incidentally, since another commenter says you are a seminarian, I am especially glad that you’ve initiated this conversation. Thinking you were just another blogger, I was picking a fight over logic. In fact, the pastoral consequences of blurring the lines over what the Church does and doesn’t require–or even giving the appearance of blurring them–are far more serious. I’m proud to be an integralist and not-so-proud to be a jerk, but I’m pleased to have the attention of someone who may someday have the care of souls.

  1. Is a Congregation of the doctrine of the Faith to a Department of Defense what an
    Office of The Holy Inquisition is to a Department of War?
    Just as the department of defense never won a war, so too does a congregation of the doctrine of the faith never win a war against heresy?
    To Kelly Wilson, my take is that if you disagree with the way that the majority of the Catholic tradition interprets Scripture, you are almost certainly a heretic. The burden of proof on you for your interpretation is nigh unbearable. You probably aren’t even an original heretic—to the best of my knowledge, all of the flavors of heresy had been invented by around 700 AD, everything after that is just a sewer blend of ancient heresies.

  2. ” Catholic teaching comes in three levels, she says: 1) what comes straight out of revelation (the Bible), 2) what follows through logical necessity from revelation, 3) other pronouncements. ”

    Is this correct?
    Potential problems
    1) It is the Church that authorizes Bible and not vice-versa.
    The Revelation or what is known as the Deposit of Faith has to be interpreted from Bible e.g. Trinity is not explicit in Bible.
    2) “Other pronouncements” are not arbitrary but follow rationally from the Deposit of Faith and the guidance of Holy Spirit.
    3) The Catholic Church Herself provides the hierarchy of teaching that Mr Wilson disregards. The elements include Deposit of Faith, Guidance of Holy Spirit, Natural Law reasoning.
    The classification chosen by Mr Wilson smacks more of Protestantism with disregard of Natural Law and guidance of Holy Spirit.

    • Hi Vishmehr…

      Bonald has misunderstood what “revelation” means in that context. The misunderstanding has caused him to take the Bible and imposed it upon one of those principles even though I never mentioned the Bible.

      Might I suggest that instead of calling me almost certainly a heretic (Jehu…), or instead of suggesting (as you do, Vish) that I disregard the hierarchy of the Church’s teaching (a hierarchy I have actually taken the time to explain), that you make sure you know what you are talking about first.

      I anticipate at least three red-faced persons when I have posted my response to Bonald, but before I do that I want to make sure there isn’t anything within his post that he would like to, perhaps, articulate in a different way.

  3. It would be impossible for me to tally up all the times I have seen individual Catholics attempt to distinguish the different levels of authority different magisterial documents and statements possess. I am unsure if there is widespread agreement even among theologians on the matter. As far as I can tell, such attempts follow something like this: not everything in Magisterial teaching is infallibly pronounced, and if not infallibly guaranteed it may be in error, and if in error then theologians can discover said error, and, unless theologians be asked to be enemies of the search for truth, religious submission of mind and will cannot be allowed to interfere with the questioning of theologians though not with their respect and reverence for the Magisterium itself.

    Invariably the debate turns to the scope of infallibility, the degree of assent owed to the authentic Magisterium, and the amount of questioning permitted to theologians. We’ve already somewhat reached that point. Bonald touches on this problem when he writes about Kelly’s treatment of what Bonald calls “category 2″ statements. There does seem to be a true difficulty here: if a Pope says that something in some other statement is infallible, but he does not do so while protected by the charism of infallibility, how much authority does his statement about the statement carry? Without a papal definition how can we know that we’ve arrived at finality on the matter?

    • There does seem to be a true difficulty here: if a Pope says that something in some other statement is infallible, but he does not do so while protected by the charism of infallibility, how much authority does his statement about the statement carry?

      The difficulty can be resolved by interpreting any statement of the form “X is infallible” by a Pope who is intending to teach (rather than engage in theological debate, speculation, meditation, etc) as being protected by infallibility. Bonald is saying that this is the normal, natural interpretation of any such statement in such a context. Also, that failing to interpret such a statement in such a way leads to “the Magisterium can’t declare anything.” So, on his account, connotatively, the statement “X is infallible” is, in fact, the statement “X is infallible and so is this statement, etc ad infinitum.”

      The fact that there is a “true difficulty” is a problem for Bonald’s opponents, not for Bonald. You are just failing to engage with the actual argument on offer.

      • Bill, I am grateful for your reply and, as far as I can tell, your position (which is also Bonald’s position) is the only one that can maintain the integrity of Catholic Tradition and teaching. I raised the issue not because I am in agreement with Mr Wilson but because some account of infallibility is usually needed in these debates. I appreciate your clarity.

  4. First, let me just say that using internet comments as a foil is absolutely brilliant.

    All the legal talk is cute misdirection. Trying to bringing these questions into the realm of politics is an obvious move for the modernists, because their eventual triumph on any matter is assured in that domain. It’s simple, really: the individual conscience is to be given authority over doctrine if it can get enough “votes”, resulting in a doctrine of the least common denominator. The sovereignty of an individual’s conscience over themselves goes without saying, and I don’t think anyone here will contest it. As the church has zero political authority in the modern world, they are clearly not impinging on anyone’s ability to obey their conscience.

    The fragmenting of authority into tiers is also quite advantageous to the modernist cause, because it isolates individual points from the full picture of Catholic teaching. A subtle divide and conquer strategy.

    All that said, I disagree with the comments cited, and don’t endorse excommunication of lay dissidents, even obnoxiously vocal ones (this doesn’t mean I think the Church is wrong on and the critics are right). There are situations where the denial of the Eucharist is called for, and in the best interest of the person being denied, but such situations are not common.

    • The fragmenting of authority into tiers is also quite advantageous to the modernist cause, because it isolates individual points from the full picture of Catholic teaching. A subtle divide and conquer strategy.

      Yeah, so an interesting question is: “Was it wise to define the dogma of Papal Infallibility?” People sure do seem to spend a lot of time, post-definition, trying to categorize various acts of the Magisterium as infallible or not. And there is a whiff of “If it isn’t infallible, then I don’t have to believe it” about the project.

  5. I would have picked up on entirely different themes in Mr Wilson’s piece and the comments he was reacting to. Two things struck me as interesting. First, what are the obligations of religious ed teachers and how well are they being carried out? Second, what are the obligations of both theologians and non-theologians who find themselves dissenting?

    Mr Wilson talks about the automatic excommunication attaching to abortion. For the excommunication to attach, the procurer of abortion must know that the penalty attaches. Obviously, lots of Catholics don’t know any such thing (and probably their ignorance is not even culpable), so that, in fact it does not attach all that often. Similarly, one of the commenters on the article Mr Wilson was posting on says:

    My entire family actually left the Catholic Church we went to for 15+ years because they kicked a lesbian couple out of the congregation. At our family dinner we all agreed it was interesting considering it was against all the things the children were taught in CCD . . . In CCD we were taught to love and respect people. We were taught that the only time you should look down on someone is when you are helping pick them up.

    CCD seems pretty generally to be a pile of crap. How can most Catholics possibly not know that excommunication attaches to abortion? How can a catechized, seemingly intelligent Catholic possibly think he was taught that denying communion to manifest, grave sinners (I assume what “kicked out a lesbian couple” means) is somehow contrary to Catholic teaching? I haven’t pimped John Zmirak’s fine graphic novel recently—let me recommend it as an interesting meditation on the question of what’s going on with the seemingly willful debasement of common knowledge of the Catholic faith.

    Second, I suspect that most of the commenters Mr Wilson is reacting to would be a lot less spazzy if the dissenters would just STFU. Being quiet would almost certainly obviate the perceived need for them to leave. Do non-theologian dissenters have (among others) an obligation to shut up? Do they have an obligation not to become CCD teachers? In the case of theologian dissenters, do they have an obligation to shut up outside the narrow confines of journals, requested advice to hierarchs, and the like?

    • Seminarian Kelly’s main point seems to be not whether offensive (i.e., to the conscience well formed by public opinion) teachings are irreformable but whether erroneously believing it might be reformable. But if the dissenter is so wondrously faithful, why can he not be bothered to find out whether offensive teachings actually are reformable?

      Wouldn’t we all really be better served to offer acquiescence or death? If dissenters happen choose the latter, can’t we all agree to let God sort it out?

    • How can most Catholics possibly not know that excommunication attaches to abortion? How can a catechized, seemingly intelligent Catholic possibly think he was taught that denying communion to manifest, grave sinners (I assume what “kicked out a lesbian couple” means) is somehow contrary to Catholic teaching? I haven’t pimped John Zmirak’s fine graphic novel recently—let me recommend it as an interesting meditation on the question of what’s going on with the seemingly willful debasement of common knowledge of the Catholic faith.

      In fact, ignorance of *this* bit of canon law seems a whole heck of a lot more urgent than what prompted Mr. Wilson’s first post, which — to my uncultured and barely-educated mind — reads like a lengthy exercise in Someone Is Wrong On The Internet Syndrome. Why the inversion of priorities? Ah, right, we know why.

      • Proph, in general most people don’t know much about Canon Law. We could bemoan this, but more important, I think, than knowing that excommunication *can* attach to abortion (assuming certain criteria are in place), is knowing what abortion *does* to the innocent life of another. In my view, the Church has done a pretty good job communicating the importance of choosing birth over abortion.

  6. The question of infallibility in practice is largely an academic issue. Changing a church practice that impinges directly on ‘How therefore should we live our lives’ requires much more than a majority opinion, a cultural zeitgeist, and the absense of an infallible decree from the Pope. You’ve also got to be correct, and your probability of being correct against the weight of nearly 2000 years of tradition and Christian practice is nearly zero. Where there is significant variation in tradition and practice—as in, say, whether priests can or can’t be married, there is room for debate. But on theology of the body issues, the debateable space is almost zero. Hell, I’m a Protestant and I recognize this. Before 1950 nearly all major Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic church on these issues. Did these churches suddenly become more enlightened and holy, with a new revelation from God and the Holy Spirit after 1950? Not bloody likely, the hypothesis that they just became a lot more heretical is far easier to support.

  7. Bonald, you write: “I think we can take my initial post as a suitable jumping-off point. If I feel myself misunderstood, I can always reply, as you are doing for me.”

    Fair enough. As I am not a professional blogger, I will respond to your post and attempt to do so by the end of the weekend, but if I have not been able to do so by then, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten.

      • Okay Bonald, I have responded to the first one hundred and fifty three words of your 505 word engagement with my post.

        I have done so through the lens of 5 propositions of yours whose retractions I invite. The post appears at Vox Nova.

        If you still wish that I engage with the latter two-thirds or your post I am willing to do so, but I suspect that you being once again brought into contact with Catholic teaching on this subject might motivate in you a desire to be more careful about what you say about what I write.

  8. There are scores of liberal Protestant denominations that already embrace the watered-down Christianity they want Catholicism to embrace.

    Of course one needs only look at the smouldering piles of rubble that mainline denominations have become by embracing progressivist hoo-haw. When the Episopals ordained a homosexual bishop, they thought throngs of people would flock to their church. Well, as Chris Johnson put it, those throngs are either stuck in traffic or showing up disguised as empty pews. It’s no mystery why. When your worldview is basically secular-progressive that you can get by turning on the TV, why waste an hour on Sunday hearing about it?

    So it is astounding that Catholics can look at that and think that it is good idea to emulate. And it is an idea already here. Rochester is the poster-diocese for dissent and no surprise it’s bottom-of-the-barrel in new vocations and mass attendance. There is hope because in 17 days, the bishop who encouraged this disaster has to submit his resignation which we can pray will be accepted subito.

    • I have confidence in the Holy Father that he will accept the resignation with embarrassing speed–within the bounds of collegiality of course. I believe, Pope Ratzinger, unlike his predecessor, truly groks how political power works… and sometimes political power is more crucial than an image of sanctity. JPII simply could not allow himself to believe that Bishops were actual sinners committing actual sins of omission and comission. Ratzinger is no romantic. If that keeps him from ever being a Blessed, so be it.

  9. “within the bounds of collegiality of course.” So does this mean I shouldn’t hope that on the last day the new bishop, the nuncio, a public notary, and a moving crew with several trucks show up at the diocesan office all with synchronized watches going: “3…2…1…NOW!!” ? :D

  10. The unanswered question for all such dissenters, and their ostensible future priestly enablers such as Seminarian Kelly, is:

    Even if you’re right; even if the Church eventually comes around, say in 20 or 200 years, to the western worlds’ late and revolutionary views on Topic X or Z; even if she does, isn’t it rather embarrassing, as faithful followers of Holy Mother Church, that She comes so late to believe and promote a truth so easily grasped so much sooner by public opinion at large?

    And if She comes to grasp this truth so late, and, at first, so unwillingly, if she is so slow to understand what it plainly obvious to hundreds of millions of people who claim to allegiance to Her, then why on earth would we trust her authority on matters in which we don’t happen to currently sense much dissent? Why in other words, should we believe Her when She speaks on the nature and dignity of the human person, or on the preferential option for the poor, or on the dignity of labor, or the nature of the Eucharist, the nature and number of the godhead, or the deity of Christ?

    And once you answer that, you, the “Faithful Dissenter”, can riddle me this: Even if all you say is true, and Progressivism is a parallel path of truth that strengthens and confirms the Christian faith (if in fact they are not synonyms); if God himself wants us all to be cultural and economic marxists… If everything the Church has ever taught has required the substantial “doctrinal development” given for our understanding since 1965… STILL… why the hell would the Catholic Church want to be just one. more. mainline. protestant. sect? You don’t even have to believe in God, much less be Catholic, to see how destructive this would be.

  11. As a new Catholic, I have the deepest admiration for those older folks who have been involved in these arguments for ten, twenty, or thirty years or more. And those are necessary, but after a certain point we must end with Matthew 7:6. Debate and ratiocination are not what fundamentally open hearts. That is the work of the Gospel and the Spirit.

    For those who desire anthropolatry, there are scores of churches which offer it to nearly every liturgical and social taste imaginable.

  12. Pingback: Three Blind Mice Accept Understudy « Vox Nova

  13. Bonald, you are to be commended for engaging the good people of Vox Nova on this matter. Having watched the site for years, however, I fear you are ultimately wasting your time. If Mr. Wilson were to peruse this site he might easily conclude the same thing about us. We are reactionaries, they are modern liberals.

    • Thank you, Aegis. Given that I threw the first punch, I’d say Mr. Wilson is comporting himself creditably. My sense is that the biggest difference between us is that we don’t share the same sense of urgency at the same things. It seems to me that huge numbers of souls are being lost because of sexual sin, and his lawyerly nit-picking is just confusing the issue. He thinks my “throw the traitors out” mentality is keeping people from the grace of Christ (or, rather, that it would if the bishops were to follow my advice instead of his).

      • Bonald,
        There is an oddity in the Bible and another oddity in Aquinas about sexual sins. Some, not all, sexual sins are punished by stoning by order of God in the Bible. Aquinas held that the death penalties for personal sins in e.g. Leviticus in the Bible perdure to this day spiritually (not physically) in that those death penalties tell modern Christians which sins are mortal. Yet Aquinas saw no parvity of matter in sexual sins even though pre marital sex is not punished in the Bible by death but by unending marriage (Exodus 22:15).
        Any sexual sin was mortal for Aquinas unless imperfection of the act reduced it to venial ( e.g. insufficient reflection) whereas in gluttony, he seems to too easily construct an exit into venial sin as its main territory despite its being one of the 7 capital or deadly sins….ie if a man would not break the law of God in order to commit gluttony, then it is venial. That is very reminiscent of our current mindset….sex is always mortal sin despite the biblical pre marital couple not being stoned to death yet every Catholic who dies from drink is sick with alchoholism rather than a biblical “drunkard”.
        Hence there is no encyclical on gluttony, no sermons on gluttony, no blogs on gluttony or envy or sloth. We have made 6 capital sins vanish somehow.
        My point to your comment on huge numbers being lost to hell on sexual sins is that God, not Aquinas, saw gradations which our later clear cut venial/ mortal may be too simplistic to cover. God wanted sodomy and adultery punished by stoning but wanted pre marital sex punished by a marriage in which divorce could never happen as it could with other Jews
        (Exodus 22:15). And no, I’m not talking my own book as they say on Wall St. I was a virgin til after the vow. But something in the Aquinas black/ grey (mortal/ venial) schema which became Church wide fails to capture the
        Biblical spectrum on sex…and by the way…is too easy on gluttony.
        Usury was once topic number one in Catholicism and had no parvity of matter like sex and had saints denouncing whole towns for being usurious in the early Renaissance. Now one needs a magnifying glass to find it in Councils or catechisms….in a world of plus 20% interest on credit cards. Do I think sodomy and adultery leads to hell? Yes. Do I think pre marital sex between two people who are aiming at the vow shortly is also pure black like sodomy and adultery? No….not with Exodus 22:15 as being inerrant and from God which the Summa T. is not.

    • There’s a really interesting personality dynamic playing out here between Bonald and Mr. Wilson, independent of the actual content of what they’re engaging over (and which, I think, is going to make dialogue totally fruitless). I’ll reserve remarking on it for now, until I see how this plays out.

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