conservative Catholics incorrectly portray themselves as Orthodox

Over at OnePeterFive.com, author Steve Skojec has an article which typifies a certain problem in the Church today: The Escalating War Against Orthodox Catholicism. He says “orthodox Catholicism”, but what he really means is conservative Catholicism. And over the past several decades, conservative Catholicism has become ever less orthodox. It has reached a point now where many conservative Catholic authors openly teach heresy and other grave errors on faith, morals, and salvation, with no objection whatsoever from their conservative peers. At the same time, they loudly denounce every error found among liberal Catholic authors — even errors absurdly similar to their own.

1. Rejection of the Three fonts of morality

I am one of very few Catholic moral theologians who base their work on the three fonts of morality, as taught by Veritatis Splendor. The vast majority of conservative Catholics who write on ethics or who teach on some question of morality do not base their arguments and conclusions on those three fonts. You can find very many Catholic blog posts and articles in Catholic online magazine about questions of morality. They don’t even mention the three fonts of morality. Especially when the ethical question concerns sex.

It used to be standard teachings in Catholic moral theology: the three fonts, the moral object, intrinsically evil acts. But conservative Catholics have decided that every determination as to what is moral should be made by a consensus among conservative authors. Of course, they do not explicitly say this; it is the unconscious process that now dominates moral discussions.

We do find, strangely, quite a lot of talk about intrinsically evil acts. An act is intrinsically evil if it has evil in the moral object of the act. But intrinsic evil is mostly used as a label, for whatever the author wishes to condemn. They truly have no idea what a moral object is. Therefore, they often arrive at the wrong conclusion.

The conservative Catholic subculture has decided to quietly euthanize the three fonts of morality and the doctrine of the object as a source of morality, which is, in truth, an authentic explanation of Biblical morality, of the commandments, of charity and of the virtues.

I recall an article in which Jimmy Akin tried, with his usual combination of ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence, to explain to his readers what a moral object is. He decided that the moral object is part intention and part circumstances. The result was that the three fonts of morality — intention, moral object, circumstances — became only two: intention and circumstances. Laughable. Or maybe just sad.

2. Contraception

The conservative Catholic subculture has decided that the magisterial condemnation of contraception as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral is to be limited to its use in a valid marriage. Outside of marriage, they cannot agree on what to say. Some say it is not to be called “contraception”. Some say it is morally-neutral. Some say the Church is unable to teach on the morality of contraception for sex outside marriage, as then the Church would be giving instruction in how to sin. (Ha!) Some say that maybe someday the Church will tell us, but for now, we can only guess.

The truth is that the Church has always condemned contraception regardless of martial state, and that this condemnation is very clear from recent magisterial documents, as well as from the perennial teaching of the Magisterium. See my articles at: Catechism.cc Thus, conservatives have simply ignored many different magisterial teachings, in order to teach their own version of morality.

3. Abortion

Are not all conservative Catholics pro-life? The Catholic pro-life tree is rotting from the inside. The trunk is hollow. The leaves have turned brown in spring and have fallen to the ground in summer. Most Catholics in the pews use contraception. Many prolife Catholics use abortifacient contraception, while continuing to be sexually active, this results in a number of very early abortions. And then they go online and loudly denounce Catholic politicians, who vote to make legal what they themselves (the prolife Catholics) are quietly doing in their own lives.

Worse still, many conservative Catholic teachers falsely claim that, under the Church teaching, Catholic spouses may use abortifacient contraception, and remain sexually active, as long as the purpose for using the abortifacient is to treat a medical disorder. As a result, many prenatals are being put to death by abortifacients, used by Catholic spouses, with the public approval of conservative Catholic teachers. See my past posts on why the use of abortifacient contraception is not justified by a medical purpose.

Germain Grisez passed away recently (1 Feb 2018). His most notable work on ethics was the book “The Way of the Lord Jesus”, a book which mostly ignores the three fonts of morality and the moral object. When faced with various moral questions, Grisez uses a plethora of different approaches to determine the answer. The result is mixed. On the topic of abortion, he approves of direct abortion not only when the mother’s life is in danger, but when the pregnancy would merely burden her health, or her mental health. And he explicitly approved of the type of partial birth abortion in which the physician directly crushes the skull of the child during birth. This error is grave and reaches to the extent of abject heresy. But no one speaks out against this error by Grisez. When the same error is made by liberal Catholics, they do speak out.

Oh, and a couple of years ago, Grisez co-wrote an open letter to Pope Francis, to point out alleged errors in his magisterial document Amoris Laetitia. So we have a Catholic moral theologian, who rejects the three fonts of morality and who openly approves of direct abortion, even in cases which are not dire, and he thinks himself fit to judge and correct, not only the Pope, but the Papal Magisterium. Conservatives really do think that they are more Catholic than the Pope.

On the other hand, Grisez correctly taught that contraception is contra-life, not merely contra the marital sexual act. So, upon his recent passing, conservatives are extolling his “defense of Humanae Vitae”, while they are rejecting his actual teaching on Humanae Vitae. He saw it as condemning all contraception, not merely within marriage. The hypocrisy continues.

4. Heresy

Various conservative Catholic authors have openly taught heresy. And when they do, not a single conservative Catholic (except myself) speaks out. But if a liberal Catholic were to say the same thing, conservatives cry out in large numbers. Why does this happen? I know why. I figured it out. The conservative Catholic subculture considers itself to be above the Magisterium and the Pope. The conservative Catholic subculture considers itself to be a Magisterium unto itself. So whatever it teaches cannot be heresy, by definition. Conservatives really believe that they are necessarily orthodox, just by being conservative, so much so that when one of their own teaches heresy, they pretend it is orthodoxy.

I’ve pointed out these heresies in previous posts. See the explanations there.

Apparently, heresy is only possible when the author is liberal. Conservatives see themselves as inerrant. They think the Pope can be guilty of “propagating heresy”. But if one of their own clearly teaches heresy or other grave errors, they don’t say a word. They follow the 11th commandment, Thou shall not criticize your fellow conservatives.

5. Sexual ethics

I’ll be brief, as I’ve written at length on this in many other posts and articles. Conservative Catholics rightly speak against homosexual acts as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. They seldom say why these acts are immoral: they are inherently non-procreative, non-unitive, and non-marital. And they do not apply the three fonts of morality when evaluating questions in this subject area. If they did, they probably would realize that a Catholic can sometimes attend a same-sex wedding without sinning.

Steve Skojec has a post entitled Just How Evil is Sodomy? The Saints Weigh In. His article correctly explains that this particular sexual sin is very gravely disordered. And in a comment to his own article, he adds: “It is true that many heterosexuals now engage in these practices (largely due to the mainstreaming of pornography) and that these sins are equally grievous when committed by a man and a woman.” Well, Steve is right.

But many conservatives claim that a Catholic husband and wife can morally commit the very same sexual acts. When evaluating these acts in the marital bedroom, they abandon all the basic principles of ethics taught by the Church; they forget that these same acts are condemned as “acts of grave depravity” by the Catechism when used by same-sex couples. They give broad approval to unnatural sexual acts in marriage, supposedly as a type of foreplay. But that claim is easily refuted. See my articles on marital chastity here.

This claim is nothing but blatant hypocrisy. Conservatives very loudly denounce the sexual acts of same-sex couples, and then they quietly approve of essentially the same types of acts in Catholic marriage. These are intrinsically evil, non-procreative, non-unitive sexual acts. And the lack of completion, for the husband only, does not make them moral.

The most popular teachers on sexual ethics, who use the phrase “theology of the body”, have removed all of ethics from sexual ethics, and turned the topic into mere cheerleading for sexual pleasure, obtained in almost any way possible, along with a series of theological rationalizations for grave sexual sins. There isn’t a conservative Catholic teacher, in this subject area, who is faithful to magisterial teaching and to sound moral theology, and who has any popularity or prominence.

6. Who teaches the faithful?

One of the marks of orthodoxy among Catholics is faithfulness to the teaching of the Magisterium. But the conservative Catholic subculture has all but abandoned the Magisterium. They no longer teach from magisterial documents, unless they are presenting a radical reinterpretation of it (as in the case of Humanae Vitae).

They no longer consider the Roman Pontiff to be their teacher or shepherd. He is their opponent. His every word and deed is to be scrutinized and criticized, as one political party will treat the leader of the opposition party. Many conservatives are either in a state of abject schism, having publicly rejected the required submission to the Roman Pontiff, or they are a half step away from it.

Of course they do not submit their minds and hearts to the teaching authority of Pope Francis! They are teachers unto themselves. Most of the prominent Catholic authors, bloggers, and speakers are thoroughly unorthodox in their teachings. They present entertaining material, which is superficially Catholic. And they themselves couldn’t pass a basic test on Catholic teaching in faith, morals, or salvation. They are nice, but incompetent, like the elderly woman who taught your first grade CCD class. They have nothing to say of any import. They mostly try to entertain and please their audience. And they automatically assume that whatever ideas are in their own mind and heart are Catholicism itself. They are like gods knowing good and evil, without having to study Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. They are a divine revelation unto themselves.

7. Lots of smaller errors

This combination of ignorance of magisterial teaching, pride in their own shiny thoughts, and loyalty to the conservative Catholic subculture has led to a plethora of smaller errors, along with several remarkable heresies. They can’t tell right from wrong, even on relatively simple questions. Every heresy they accept is surrounded by a set of smaller related errors.

8. Very little teaching, lots of pseudo-political commentary

Most Catholic blogs and articles are focused on whatever political controversy relates to Catholicism. So when the U.S. government decided to mandate contraception in health plans, that became the biggest moral issue, even while contraception and abortifacient contraception are wildly popular among Catholics in the pews and widely excused by various commentators in conservative articles.

The Supreme Court should have laughed the Catholic side of those cases right out of court. “You don’t want to pay for contraception for your employees? What about the ones that are not validly married? What about employees with a medical intention? If all these uses of contraception are moral, why won’t you pay for it? You don’t want to pay for abortifacients for your employees? Then why do you approve of married Catholics using abortifacients if they have acne or painful periods?”

Catholic schools fire gay employees who obtain a same-sex marriage. But then conservative Catholic theologians openly approve of the same types of sex acts between married spouses. There’s another set of court cases doomed to failure.

Many Catholic commentators are more concerned with winning the latest political battle, than with healing the deep wounds in the side of the Church caused by the false teachings of the conservative Catholic subculture.

9. on Salvation

Many conservative Catholics have slipped into a mitigated form of Feeneyism. They don’t believe that unbaptized infants can receive a baptism of desire or of blood, and they claim that the souls of these innocent go to “the limbo of Hell”, where they will supposedly be happy forever. That claim is just not compatible with the current state of magisterial teaching on the subject.

Some also claim that only baptized Christians are children of God by spiritual adoption. That heresy is contradicted by the teaching of the Council of Trent. And you thought that the least favorite Council among conservatives was Vatican II. No, it’s Trent.

The possibility of salvation for non-Christians and non-believers is permitted, with rather wide latitude by magisterial teaching on the subject. But conservatives have deemed this idea heresy. At a particular Catholic forum, I posted a paragraph from the encyclical of Pope Saint John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio. It was immediately taken down by a moderator, who explained to me that the ideas in that post were heresy. Huh. And this is the same moderator who claims that unnatural sexual acts in marriage are moral, despite the Church’s constant teaching that all sexual acts must be unitive and procreative. Catholicism is what we say it is, regardless of what the Catholic Church actually teaches. And any teaching that gets in the way of that arrogance is radically reinterpreted or ignored.

10. the Teaching of the Saints

You would think that conservatives show great respect for the teaching of Saints and Doctors. But you’d be wrong. They treat the teaching of Saints as a teacher treats the ideas of new students, praise when they agree and derisive dismissal when they disagree. And that makes sense, since they don’t submit to magisterial teaching, why would they submit to the teachings of Saints and Doctors, which teaching is a step down from official magisterial teaching?

11. Correction

The conservative Catholic subculture thinks itself fit to judge and correct the Roman Pontiff. And conservatives are indignant that the Pope will not accept their correction. Then, when they themselves teach heresy, correction is an impossibility. They will not even discuss the possibility that they have erred. They expect Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, even Councils to fall before their judgment. They are angered when liberal Catholics will not accept correction from them. But they will not correct their own. They treat their own understanding as if infallible.

12. Schism

How do you not see this? Most conservative Catholics are already in a state of near schism. They are believers and followers of the conservative Catholic subculture. They rarely even mention the name of Jesus. They consider themselves to be judges over every magisterial teaching. They present to their readers a religion which approves of contraception, abortifacients, abortion, grave sexual sins, heresies, and which cries out in a schismatic rebuke of the Roman Pontiff. They are not orthodox Catholics. I think that many of them are not really Catholics. Some are less faithful, as mere Christians, than evangelical Protestants. And they are so filled with pride that they accept correction from no one.

Summary

Conservative Catholics are not the most faithful or most orthodox Catholics. Over the past few decades, the conservative Catholic subculture has accepted many grave errors and has exalted itself above the Magisterium. Nothing is left to do, except sit here and watch them fall away. They are branches which only seem to be connected to the vine. A close inspection finds that the branch has a wound where it should have received its life-giving connection to the vine. They are dead branches which will soon fall to the ground, to be trampled underfoot by men.

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

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5 Responses to conservative Catholics incorrectly portray themselves as Orthodox

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    I am one of very few Catholic moral theologians who base their work on the three fonts of morality, as taught by Veritatis Splendor.

    When was this system of morality first formulated? By whom?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Well, JP2 says in VS that this doctrine is an explicitation of Biblical morality. Augustine (early 400’s) wrote about acts which are in themselves sins, which JP2 says refers to intrinsically evil acts. And this is clear from the examples that Augustine gives. Thomas Aquinas (1200’s) began to organize moral theology under what was later called three fonts, but he didn’t number them. You can tell that he had not yet quite arrived at the full understanding of this concept. It becomes clearer by the time of Alphonsus Liguori (1700’s). As a system of ethics called the three fonts, it’s been taught for generations. And about the time of Vatican II, moral theologian began to search for other ways to do moral theology, other systems. Grisez represents once such attempt. He’s well aware of the three fonts of morality, and he consciously chooses not to use that system. But with the publication of VS and the Catechism, along with other recent documents on morality, the Magisterium has taught this system as doctrine. As for the doctrine of the object and intrinsic evil, I would say it falls under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The condemnation of certain acts are always wrong, by the very nature of the act, does go back to Biblical teaching.

  2. Mark P. says:

    It still seems that harsher criticism is due towards clergy who speak ambiguously or who advocate for positions that seem contrary to Church teaching. I understand the alleged hypocrisy and inadequacies of some conservative bloggers’ views. But ultimately they are just giving an opinion whereas the Church itself is to teach. Just today Cardinal Marx said he approves of “blessings” for same-sex couples. This endorsement can possibly cause just as big a riff as the AL debate unless it is clarified very quickly. Not to excuse all of the errors of particular websites, but obviously the writers feel they have to give their own (erroneous) opinion because the guidance from some in the Church itself is not clear. I would venture to guess that the average Catholic will take the advice of the Bishops and Cardinals over a website. And now some people are under the impression that a Cardinal close to the Pope implicitly endorses same-sex unions; the approval of such a blessing seems to imply “well, you cannot be sacramentally married, but your arrangement is still approved by the Church.” It seems to reduce traditional marriage as different by a mere technicality, viz. “sacramental” as opposed to “non-sacramental.”

    #8 above, is there not a difference between the possibility of scandal by having Catholic school children under the impression that a same-sex union is acceptable to the Church, as opposed to a conservative blogger who is merely in error on a website that somebody has to purposely access?

    Lastly, as I have often stated, the reason all of your points above are not understood and are misconstrued by the vast majority of the flock is because they are not taught at the parish level. It is no surprise which of the Church’s teachings are disobeyed most often. The Bishops were very quick over the summer to issue statements about racism. This topic is probably not a major problem for the vast majority of Catholics. Yet similar statements are not made when poll after poll shows Catholics in great numbers who agree with abortion, contraception, abnormal unions, etc. It is like a fire truck driving past a burning children’s hospital in order to save a cat stuck in a tree. They are good at addressing the easy problems, but reluctant to take on the hard ones.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I like the analogy of the fire truck. You’re right that it makes a big difference when a priest or esp. a Bishop or Cardinal teaches error. But priests receive their instruction from theologians. So do Bishops (before becoming Bishop, and afterward as advisors). The majority of priests don’t have the theological training to refute the errors of these theologians. Some priests are also theologians, but not most.

  3. Mark P. says:

    I suppose the problem lies with those who are both theologians and clergy, such as Fr. Chiodi. One must honestly ask and assess: is he truly advocating for a change to Humanae Vitae, or are his opinions – along with those of Cardinal Marx – merely musings of men, and Divine Providence is having them openly air them in order to expose errors and force corrections? This year, 2018, will be much more eventful than the AL debate, I am afraid. The anniversary of HV, World Meeting of Families, Synod on Youth and Discernment, possible announcement of female deacons, and continued efforts to validate abnormal unions all loom on the horizon. Where will we be at the end of this year? The AL debate will seem like a hairline crack compared to the catastrophic seismic fracture which is already rumbling with more intensity.

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