Diversity of Opinion versus Catholic Teaching

I’ve been discussing the Faith with my fellow Catholics online for many years now, about 20 years or so. And I find a common problem in many of these discussions. They take place in the vacuum of ignorance. Most Catholics are poorly catechized. They have not learned the basic teachings of the Church, nor the common opinions of theologians, on various points of faith, morals, and salvation

For example, I was discussing the passage from Matthew on the gates of Hell:

{16:17} And in response, Jesus said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.
{16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
{16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

Some Catholics opined that this means all the teachings of the Church are infallible. Well, the Magisterium actually teaches that only some teachings are infallible, and other teachings are non-infallible. Only the infallible teachings are necessarily free from all error. There are magisterial documents speaking of the non-infallible Magisterium. And it is a common point of discussion among theologians.

Other Catholics opined that the “gates of Hell” verse only means that the Church cannot be destroyed. If this were the first century A.D., not the 21st century, that might be a legitimate proposed interpretation. But the current understanding is that the gates of Hell verse implies the indefectibility of the Church:

“Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

The above quoted article from the Catholic Encyclopedia was written over 100 years ago. And it was not a new idea at that time. But many Catholics, in discussing the Faith, are starting from square one. They have not bothered to learn the Catholic Faith. And yet they feel entirely comfortable going online and publicly proclaiming their misunderstandings.

You might think that by discussing a topic with other Catholics, they are seeking knowledge. Usually not. They proclaim their own thinking on a subject they haven’t studied, but they typically do not learn from other Catholics. Quotes from magisterial documents seem to have no effect. They continue to assert their uniformed point of view. They behave according to the conventions of sinful secular society, as if everyone’s opinion were equal and as if no one needs to learn before teaching.

The same type of public proclamation of ignorance occurs on many other subjects in Catholicism. On the topic of morality, you can find innumerable discussions online among Catholics, arguing whether one act or another is moral. Yet they completely ignore the Church’s teaching on the three fonts of morality. They have never heard of the moral object. They do not understand the principles of cooperation with evil. They have heard of the principle of double effect, but they cannot state it correctly, nor apply it properly.

Ignorant Teachers

If one person misunderstands one teaching, that is one error. We are all fallen sinners, so this is unfortunate, but it happens. We can’t expect every Catholic to know every point of theology. But the problem is multiplied many time over when such persons TEACH their own uninformed ideas and grave misunderstandings on important matters of faith or morals. Many Catholics are teaching the Faith without first having learned it. They are teaching in a vacuum, as if the Magisterium had not taught on the subject they are discussing, or as if there were no relevant information in theological texts. They propose foolish ideas as if these were sound theological opinions, or as if their errors were nothing but the teaching of the Church. And they are harming many souls.

Examples can be found in Catholic discussion groups of persons teaching error based on their own ignorance, usually under cover of anonymity. They claim that their ideas are the teaching of the Church or sound theology, but they are unwilling to put their real name on these claims.

Not every Catholic in a discussion group is teaching; there are many who simply express their opinion and consider what others have to say on the subject. But in most discussion groups, there are at least several, sometimes very many, Catholics who have decided to teach, anonymously, without first having learned.

Others teach in blog posts or articles under their real names. Either way, they propose foolish misunderstandings or grave doctrinal errors, mostly due to their own ignorance on the topic under discussion. They present themselves as faithful to the Magisterium, but they have not bothered to find out what the Magisterium teaches.

And they don’t accept correction. A theological argument is treated as if it carries no weight at all. Quotes from the Magisterium to the contrary of their opinion are ignored or radically reinterpreted. Each Catholic “teacher” online offers the readers a different version of Catholicism, to some extent incompatible with many other “versions”. The Faith has become fractured by this process, occurring mostly on the internet, of everyone expressing their own uninformed opinion, with no real dialogue and no correction.

A few examples:

Taylor Marshall published a booklet on the topic of Biblical chronology over a year ago. It contains the indefensible claim that Jesus was crucified on Friday, March 25th of AD 33, on the preparation day of the Passover (Nisan 14). But it is a well-established fact in Biblical chronology that Nisan 14 fell on Friday April 3rd of that year. March 25th was not a Friday and did not coincide with Nisan 14 or Passover.

He’s been promoting this error for more than a year. The same booklet contains a number of other errors. There is no way for him to be corrected. Each Catholic “teacher” stands on his own and teaches whatever he wishes to teach, unfortunately.

Michael Voris teaches abject heresy on the topic of the most holy Trinity. He also teaches anti-Judaism, claiming that the Jewish faith (since the first century AD) is a false religion. And his claims on salvation theology are incompatible with the teachings of Second Vatican Council and Pope Saint John Paul II.

Jimmy Akin has publicly taught abject heresy on the Eucharist. Specifically, he claimed that the substance of bread and wine are annihilated, “cease to exist”, and “return to nothing”. The Council of Trent taught the contrary, the conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, respectively. Akin’s position is indefensible; it is blatant heresy. And he teaches this grave error with the claim that it is simply a correct understanding and explanation of Catholic dogma. Heresy presented with the claim that it is dogma.

The dogma of the Council of Trent has an attached anathema, excommunicating anyone who knowingly rejects this teaching (by formal heresy). But Akin claims that all past Conciliar anathemas are null and void. So Jimmy Akin publicly rejects the teaching of Trent AND the Council’s ability to excommunicate heretics. Well, if you can’t be corrected by an Ecumenical Council with its dogmatic teaching and penalty of excommunication, that’s about as uncorrectable as it gets.

The same problem occurs, to one degree or another, with other Catholic bloggers. They feel entirely comfortable saying anything they like about Catholicism, with no need to learn before expressing an opinion. Via the internet, they can quickly reach thousands or tens of thousands of persons throughout the world. Their “teachings” are very public, and have a very real effect on the members of the Church. But in this way, grave errors are spreading rapidly among the faithful.

Pat Archbold teaches a series of errors on the Magisterium in his blog. He claims that the non-infallible Magisterium is simply fallible, and that the term “non-infallible” used by the Magisterium is just a nice way to say “fallible”. He expresses a number of other errors on the topic of the papal magisterium. Ironically, he presents these errors as if he were correcting the errors of his fellow Catholics. He is teaching and correcting to the effect of leading into doctrinal error. Why? Because he teaches without first having learned.

Over at CatholicCulture.org, Phil Lawler rightly condemns torture as intrinsically evil. The problem? He does so by stating ONLY that torture is immoral regardless of circumstances. He ignores the distinction between intention (the purpose or intended end of the act) and the moral object of the act itself. His three posts on this important topic contain ZERO mention of the object of the act, and no explicit condemnation of torture regardless of intention. He states that “Motivation and intention are key factors in appraising the morality of an action — as well as the effect of that action on a human subject.” Where is his discussion, in any of his posts on the topic, of the moral object? Nowhere.

Phil Lawler publicly teaches on the subject of intrinsically evil acts without any mention of the magisterial teaching on the doctrine of the object as a source of morality. His condemnation of intrinsically evil acts lacks a proper definition of the moral object of an act. True Christian ethics pays particular attention to the moral object because, in morality, the human act depends on its object.

In fact, the vast majority of online writings by Catholics on the topic of morality ignores the teaching of the Magisterium on the three fonts of morality and the moral object. Even when the term “intrinsic evil” is used, there is no mention of the object, which is the sole determinant of whether or not an act is intrinsically evil. The three fonts of morality and the doctrine of the object is one of the most widely rejected ethical teachings of the Church.

Catholics who online rail against abortion, cannot distinguish between direct and indirect abortion, because they do not understand the moral object as the basis for the Church’s condemnation of every intrinsically evil act. Catholics who claim to be against contraception, nevertheless teach the grave error that contraception is not intrinsically evil outside of marriage, or that it is justified if the married couple lacks a contraceptive intention, or that it is justified for a medical purpose. Some have even offered the ridiculous opinion that a couple could morally use abortifacient contraception as long as they also use NFP at the same time. Others have claimed that the abortions caused by abortifacient contraception are “indirect” as long as the couple chose to use the abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose.

And none of these foolish ignorant teachers accept correction in the form of a theological argument or a set of quotes from magisterial documents. They each loudly proclaim that their understanding is the same as Church teaching, not merely an opinion. And yet they do not agree among themselves on each doctrinal question. Catholicism has become fractured by this diversity of opinion in ignorance of magisterial teaching. A vase with many fractures is in danger of being shattered.

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

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