Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 7)

Quotes from the papal teaching document “Evangelii Gaudium”, with my commentary.

“This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.” EG 209

This excellent insight is lacking in the conservative view of economics. In that view, success and self-reliance are touted as the solution to poverty, without regard for the common knowledge that many individuals in society cannot keep pace with the competition. The small family business is out-competed by a large national or international corporation. And there is no provision in conservative economic theory for the harm done to those who fail in a highly competitive business and job market.

Pope Francis suggests a figurative (and perhaps at times a literal) investment in programs to address the more vulnerable persons and groups in society. Who would disagree? Only those persons who are blindly following conservatism, without regard for truth.

“I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all.” EG 210

Here again is a hint that Pope Francis will soon offer a salvation theology that sees the possibility of salvation, even when a non-Christian or a non-believer does not convert before death. He sees the Church as having no hard boundary, outside of which there is no salvation. So the dogmatic teaching “outside the Church, there is no salvation”, must be understood such that vast numbers of persons can be mystical (non-formal) members of the Church.

The contrary view, treated by some conservatives as an unofficial dogma, is that the vast majority of non-Catholics are not saved, since they knew about the Church and did not formally enter without Her boundaries. In my understanding of salvation theology, the conservative view — treated as dogma by the conservative Catholic subculture — is incompatible with past magisterial teachings and incompatible with Tradition and Scripture. But the view that Pope Francis seems to hold is clearly in agreement with Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, as I understand it.

“Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.” EG 213

Pope Francis does not want the Church’s pro-life position to be seen as conservative. It is a moral truth accessible to reason alone, as well as a truth made all the more clear by the light of faith. Catholicism is not conservatism. Those Catholics have gone astray from the truth who only adhere to conservative ideas, and who reject any teaching of a Pope or Council that seems liberal to them. They worship conservatism, not the one true God.

“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” EG 214

Is it only liberal Catholics and sinful secular society who are justifying abortion in order to “resolve problems”? No, it is not. Many conservative Catholics, perhaps even a majority of them, openly justify abortifacient contraception by a distortion and over-simplification of Catholic moral teaching. They wrongly claim that a good intention, such as the intention to treat a medical disorder, justifies the choice to use abortifacient contraception while also choosing to remain sexually active with one’s spouse. This choice, over time, results in actual abortions, which these conservative Catholics justify by intention and by the spurious claim that these deaths of the innocent are “indirect”. Some conservative Catholics justify the use of IUDs (an device that works mainly by causing abortion, not mainly by preventing conception) on the basis of a spurious claim of duress or of good intention. Some even justify direct abortions, by claiming that any abortion to save the life of the mother is necessarily indirect and moral. These are conservative Catholics, who rail against every aspect of a more liberal point of view within the one Church, and yet they promote and justify abortion.

The Church’s position against abortion is not conservative; it is truth, above and beyond all political categorizations.

“Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.” EG 216

Pope Francis’ concern for the environment is seen as liberal by some Catholics. They have bought into the division of liberal versus conservative found in sinful secular society, and they have so accepted all that is called conservative, and rejected all that is called liberal, so as to reject even the Pope and the Church Herself as soon as they perceive that Pope Francis is liberal and that some of the teachings of the Church are liberal.

I perceive in this papal document the starting point of the great apostasy. Pope Francis will undertake a program of reform in the Church, based in large part on this document, and many conservative Catholics will condemn him and formally depart from the Church.

“Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges.” EG 218

Many conservative Catholics have accepted conservative economic theory as if it were religious dogma. How very strange. When did Jesus teach conservative economic theory? I don’t find that type of thinking in the sermon on the mount.

In particular, the redistribution of wealth is seen by many Catholics as a liberal idea, and therefore an error. To my mind, all almsgiving is a type of redistribution of wealth, and so is the type of almsgiving in which one donates time and efforts. For that time and those efforts could have been used by the individual to enrich himself, but instead others are enriched.

But does Catholic teaching restrict redistribution of wealth to the individual and to non-profit or religious charities? Not at all. In Catholic social teaching, government is not evil; it is meant to be an expression of the concern for the common good of the members of society. As a group led by a government responsive to the will and needs of the people, we can accomplish certain goods and redress certain inequities that are not entirely solved at the level of individual efforts. Social safety net programs, funded by taxation, are a type of redistribution of wealth. As Pope Francis says [EG 202], these programs must have proper limits, as they address but do not solve larger issues (such as inequities inherent to a capitalist system). But this type of redistribution of wealth is not evil and is not contrary to Catholic social teaching.

“What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events.” EG 223

This next section of the document is highly philosophical, but with application to the practicality of action.

“This criterion also applies to evangelization, which calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long run.” EG 225

Pope Francis intends to initiate a process, with concern for its good effects in the long-run, despite some difficulties that this process, this change, will cause in the Church short term. I speculate that this change, the process, will include the ordination of women deacons, approval for a multiplicity of forms of the Mass, approval for ad hoc and ad libitum changes to liturgical form initiated by the priest-celebrant, more stringent requirements for poverty in religious orders, individual members of those orders, dioceses, and priests, as well as new definitions of doctrine in salvation theology.

The short term result of these changes will be nothing less than the initiation of the great apostasy. There are too many greedy Pharisees in the Church, who will promptly abandon Her, rather than give up the power that comes from money. There are too many members of the Church who see the conservative Catholic subculture as their Teacher, not the Magisterium. There are too many members of the Church who reject anything that smacks of liberalism or change.

The long-term result of these changes will be a better understanding of doctrine, greater poverty of spirit, and a more flexible discipline that more effectively reaches out to all souls.

“The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.” EG 225

There is a certain conservative Catholic subculture in the Church today which rejects the teaching of the Lord Jesus that there are truths that will be revealed by the Holy Spirit, through Popes and Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The conservative Catholic subculture sees the faith as static, and rejects any development of doctrine. This conservative subculture sees itself as having the rule to judge the teaching of every Pope and Council, and the role of preserving the past against any new definitions of doctrine, especially ones viewed as liberal.

“But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).” EG 227

This principle can also be applied by the Pope to conflicts within the Church. He intends to face the conflicts within the Church by making changes to the Church. He will not ignore these conflicts, but will address and resolve them, by his authority. Some Catholics imagine that conservative Popes are authoritative, and liberal Popes are not. But Pope John XIII was a liberal Pope who invoked a Council. Liberalism in religion and in politics does not turn aside from the exercise of authority.

“a resolution which takes place on higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.” EG 228

Pope Francis intends to preserve and approve of whatever is valid and useful on both sides of the current conflict between liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics. Both liberals and conservative disagree with him on that point. Liberal Catholics see little or nothing good on the conservative side, and conservative Catholics see little or nothing good on the liberal side. Pope Francis is going to upset a lot of Catholics. But he is right. There is good and truth among liberal Catholics as well as among conservative Catholics. Each side sees itself as the be-all and end-all of Catholicism, but that is a sickness in need of a cure.

“The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity. It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and promising synthesis. Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a “reconciled diversity”.” EG 230

This passage on diversity seems to be a criticism of liberal Catholics, who often tout diversity as if it were an absolute good, and without reference to God or Christ. To the contrary, Pope Francis qualifies the good of diversity by ordering it under the Spirit of God. He also sees that diversity can be a source of conflict that requires reconciliation to reach true peace and true unity.

Pope Francis is liberal and orthodox. But he does not simply accept all liberal ideas without critical evaluation. There is a certain type of error in liberal and conservative politics, which accepts every idea from one’s own side of the political spectrum, and treats every opposing idea with contempt and revulsion. This error has crept into Catholicism, on both sides. Pope Francis has not fallen into the same error. But many conservatives in particular are unwilling to accept any of his teachings, if they deem that teaching liberal. For they are behaving like political surrogates (as they are called in U.S. politics), like apologists for a political party, rather than as worshipers of God who is Truth.

“This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.” EG 231

Pope Francis is criticizing errors found among various Catholics, including the right and the left. The term ahistorical fundamentalism criticizes both sides. It refers to a tendency to view doctrine as having no relationship to the past and the future of the Church, and no relationship to the development of doctrine or a development of interpretation that would make even irreformable dogma deepen in meaning as the Church progresses in Her understanding of Divine Revelation. Conservatives reject, explicitly or implicitly, the development of doctrine and the deepening of understanding of dogma. Liberals tend to use the latest teachings as a way to nullify or radically re-interpret past teaching.

“Ideas — conceptual elaborations — are at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis.” EG 232

Some conservatives would have ignored and forgotten Vatican II, if not for its practical effect on the Church and especially the Mass. The same process is happening with EG. Conservatives are mostly ignoring the text, especially the parts that offer correction to their errors. But EG is a program for reform of the Church, including clarifications of doctrine and changes to discipline. The conservatives will not be able to ignore it for long. Pope Francis is saying that ideas must be put into practice, and he certainly will apply this principle to his own ideas in this document.

“Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue…. dialogue with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church…. This light transcends human reason, yet it can also prove meaningful and enriching to those who are not believers and it stimulates reason to broaden its perspectives.” EG 238

Pope Francis sees the good in other religions and the good in all human persons of good will, even non-believers.

“the new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life.” EG 239

Pope Francis is referring to all Christians, including non-Catholics. We Christians are all called to be peace-makers and witnesses to the Gospel.

“The principal author, the historic subject of this process, is the people as a whole and their culture, and not a single class, minority, group or elite. We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone.” EG 239

Conservative Catholics, especially those on the far right, tend to see their own particular (distorted and over-simplified) version of Catholicism as the only true religion. They are the enlightened and outspoken minority, who claim to speak for everyone.

“In her dialogue with the State and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue.” EG 241

This is true because the Church guards the deposit of Divine Revelation, which is mainly concerned with faith, morals, and salvation. But many issues of society require some contributions from science, medicine, social sciences, and other aspects of human interaction. For example, world hunger is caused by sin, so it might seem as if the Church has the solution in prayer, self-denial, and works of mercy. But since we fallen sinners cannot always avoid all sins, an effective solution in a fallen world must include science and agriculture, as well as prayer and good will.

“the Church proposes another path, which calls for a synthesis between the responsible use of methods proper to the empirical sciences and other areas of knowledge such as philosophy, theology, as well as faith itself” EG 242

Many conservative Catholics have fallen into the grave error of rejecting science and the knowledge proper to it, resulting in a type of fideism (faith-ism) that rejects reason as if it were opposed to faith. In this way, they fall into a form of fundamentalism, which rejects philosophy and any type of complex theology.

“Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that ‘they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21).” EG 244

Many conservatives have utterly rejected ecumenism as a liberal and even heretical idea. They propose that all Christians and even all non-conservative or non-traditionalist Catholics must convert to their own narrow distorted over-simplified version of Catholicism — or else they are not saved (supposedly). But Pope Francis teaches the truth in Christ that eventually all Christians will be one, and that we must respect and accept the insights of other Christians.

Some Catholics have fallen into a certain error, usually by adhering to one or another false private revelation. The error is to fear that a “one world religion”, which is said to be of the Antichrist, will be imposed on Catholics by the Pope. This error is the result of several misunderstandings. First, not every claimed private revelation is true. A claimed private revelation that encourages Catholics to avoid sin, go to Mass, go to confession, pray the Rosary, might still be false. For the devil disguises himself as an angel of light, so to speak, by baiting false private revelations with some truths and some encouragement to holiness.

[2 Cor]
{11:13} For false apostles, such as these deceitful workers, are presenting themselves as if they were Apostles of Christ.
{11:14} And no wonder, for even Satan presents himself as if he were an Angel of light.

Second, the Antichrist is not in the world today. His time is of the distant future, during the second part of the tribulation. But as of this writing in early December, 2013, even the first part of the tribulation has not yet begun.

Third, the one world religion of the Antichrist is not Catholicism, nor it is proposed through the Catholic Church. The Antichrist will not wish to be Pope. He will despite the Church, and set up a competing false religion. He will attempt to destroy all religions, especially Catholicism, so that all will worship him, not Jesus Christ.

Fourth, Jesus prayed that His disciples be one, and His prayer cannot fail. So the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that all Christians be one is not the “one world religion” of the Antichrist, but an important milestone in our journey toward Heaven, when all the faithful will truly be one.

“reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.” EG 246

Here the Pope is pointing out that the Holy Spirit is working in all persons of good will, including non-Catholic Christians and non-believers. Conservative Catholics tend to see all non-Catholics as lost sheep who will be sent to Hell if they know of Catholicism and do not convert.

“To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.” EG 246

Many conservative Catholics utterly reject the idea of episcopal collegiality, taught by Vatican II. They see all doctrine as originating with the Pope, and the Bishops as merely his mouthpieces, to repeat whatever he has taught.

“We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.” EG 247

Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Second Vatican Council all teach that Judaism is a true religion, not a false religion. They all teach that the Old Covenant has never been revoked. This teaching of the Magisterium is rejected by many conservative Catholics, who exalt their own thinking above the teaching of the Magisterium.

If the Old Covenant has never been revoked, then are there two Covenants, the Old and the New? No, there is only one Covenant. Then how can we explain the teaching of the Magisterium on this point? The answer is simple. The Old Covenant has been transfigured to become the New Covenant. The Old Covenant thereby continues in its new higher form. The New Covenant was always implicit in the Old Covenant, for the Old was a preparation for, and a foreshadowing of, the New. But similarly, the Old Covenant continues within the New Covenant, though in a higher form.

The Jews do not understand, explicitly, that their Covenant with God has been transformed into this greater Covenant. But many Jews seem to have an implicit understanding that the Old Covenant has changed. For they no longer sacrifice animals; many no longer follow the dietary precepts; and they no longer seek to enforce the Mosaic death penalty.

So the Jews can still be saved under the Old Covenant, though in its new and much greater form. There is only one Covenant between God and man, but this Covenant was transfigured by Christ to become like Him.

“the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.” EG 249

Many traditionalists reject all ideas and values found in other religions, including Judaism, non-Catholic Christianity, and even the ideas found on the left in Catholicism. They see themselves as a privileged and elite few, who even have the role of judging and correcting the Pope, any Ecumenical Council, and the Magisterium as a whole.

“An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides.” EG 250

Conservatives reject this dialog. Notice that Pope Francis sees fundamentalism “on both sides”, meaning among some Catholics as well as among other believers. But fundamentalists do not accept correction from anyone. For the fundamentalist confuses his or her own limited understanding with Divine Revelation itself.

“True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”.” EG 251

Pope Francis teaches that in our dialog with other believers, we must remain steadfast in our convictions, while finding good and truth in other religions. Unfortunately, many conservatives interpret this type of expression as implying that they should not examine and improve their own point of view. They hold their own understanding on every point as if it were a dogma.

I plan to continue this commentary on Evangelii Gaudium to a total of 8 parts. This post is part 7.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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