On the Pope’s Resignation

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Pope Benedictus XVI

Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church must look to the future for a long-term pope. It was good that after the papacy of John Paul II that the church chose to maintain stability with Joseph Ratzinger. Like his predecessor, Ratzinger is an excellent scholar, and I hope that he has some time during his last years to write more.

There is always talk in the West about the Roman Catholic Church appointing a more liberal Pope. This almost certainly will not take place. Roman Catholics in Western Europe and in the United States forget that they are not the only Roman Catholics on earth. Their ignoring other Roman Catholics in the world betrays the ethnocentrism of Western elitists. The church is growing fastest in South America and in Africa, where the bishops are more theologically and morally conservative than many American and European bishops. With more cardinals coming from those regions, the possibility of an African or South American pope is real. While I am not a Roman Catholic, I believe another conservative pope would help the church continue to root out heretical bishops in the U.S. and in Europe, and perhaps make sure that Roman Catholic institutions such as the University of Notre Dame are not openly opposing the teachings of the church. The damage done by the 1960s and 1970s to the Roman Catholic Church in the West was partially reversed by John Paul and by Benedict. Much more needs to be done. Africans and South American bishops in both the Anglican and Roman communions often think of themselves as missionaries to a secular, rebellious Western society. The Roman Catholic Church in Europe and in the United States needs missionaries, and a pope from South America or Africa who does not compromise on matters of faith and morals would be a good start.

The Health and Human Services Department’s Attack on Faith-Based Organizations

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Logo of the United States Department of Health...

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The United States Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employers offer health care insurance to employees that includes payments not only for standard birth control, but also for abortificants. Faith-based organizations are not exempt from this mandate. The Roman Catholic Church is resisting this mandate, as well they should, and since abortificants are also paid for, all faith-based groups who oppose abortion are being forced to violate their beliefs. I have no doubt that the social democrats and socialists who read this post will disagree, which is their right. What about the right of a faith-based organization to establish employment benefits in line with its beliefs? H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., a bioethicist and physician at the Baylor College of Medicine, has argued for ideological pluralism in health care choices. That is, if someone accepts abortion, she can buy insurance through a company that accepts abortion. Roman Catholic groups could have what Engelhardt calls “Vaticare” or something like that. Now Engelhardt is a Classical Liberal who is consistent that pluralism be respected. What the government is doing is the equivalent of telling “Vaticare” or similar organizations that their beliefs be damned. The government will now tell you what to do, and if you don’t like it, suck it up. The result, if this rule is not overturned, will be a mass closing of faith-based organizations that help a significant number of people.

Although Mr. Obama has tended to be a friend of Wall Street and warmongers, his ideological roots are strongly Marxist, and, I would claim, totalitarian. The fact that he is no more totalitarian than Dubya does not change the fact that Obama desires as much power as did Mr. Bush. Regulatory agencies have been one way that government can gain power without legislative approval. Congress should establish a conscience clause in the health care bill in order to allow for faith-based organizations to offer insurance to their employees consistent with their own beliefs. To do otherwise would be another step toward a “social democratic benevolent” dictatorship that the most radical on the left wing desire. Although this is by now a tired cliche, it remains true that freedom of religion was never construed by the founding fathers to mean freedom from religion. I am pleased that Eastern Orthodox Bishops (The Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops) as well as conservative Protestants have joined the effort to reverse this rule change. I hope they succeed.

Should Churches Discipline Heretical Members?

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St Peter's Rome

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The word “heresy” is considered politically incorrect these days in a world in which the only “heresy” is orthodoxy. As someone in a traditional Christian church (the Anglican Catholic Church), I would hope that the church would act against the threat of heresy, including excommunicating someone who openly promulgates heresy despite warnings.

“Heresy” means “division.” It refers to doctrines, which if taught by church members, oppose the central teachings of the church. Now church members can hold heretical opinions, but they do not become heretics until they publicly espouse such opinions. So a member of the Anglican Catholic Church may not believe a central doctrine such as the bodily resurrection of Christ and happily take communion as long as he keeps his mouth shut about his position. But if he publicly proclaims his views, then he is a heretic and should be, first of all, warned to cease proclaiming heresy. If that does not work, formal church discipline, up to and including excommunication, can and should be administered.

Now what if an ACC member publicly supports the moral rightness of abortion? That person should be warned, and the rationale behind the church’s condemnation of abortion should be explained. If he still proclaims the rightness of abortion in a public setting, then the Bishop may impose other penalties, including barring the individual from taking communion. If the behavior continues, excommunication may be the only viable option.

Some bishops read the parable of the wheat and tares and figure that God will sort out the wheat from the tares at the end of time, so why discipline heretics now? The problem is that a failure to discipline a heretic becomes, in the mind of the public, evidence that the church either approves what the heretic says or at least that the church does not consider what the heretic proclaims to be that important. This sends the wrong message.

I would argue that a weak approach to dealing with heresy has harmed the Roman Catholic Church. It routinely tolerates those who openly speak of their public support of abortion. It allows heretics who deny the resurrection of Christ to openly proclaim their views while still allowing them to partake of communion. I realize that the Church may fear a societal backlash if the Bishop excommunicates heretics in his diocese, but I believe that the public would have greater respect than before for the Roman Catholic Church. A group that stands up for itself would be a group that many American people would find refreshing. I hope that the Anglican Catholic Church does not repeat Rome‘s mistake and that it will always maintain church discipline.

The Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church

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Impressionable

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I do not remember who said that “Anti-Catholicism is the antisemitism of the Left,” but that is an accurate assessment of liberal opinion leaders in the United States and Europe. The media has taken full advantage of the sex abuse scandal to bash the Roman Catholic Church as whole. This is not to say that a significant number of bishops did not adequately oversee the priests under their authority. To reassign a priest to a parish after credible allegations of sexual abuse by that priest is unconscionable. That happened in some dioceses. Those bishops who failed in their oversight should be held accountable for their actions, just as priests who violate the laws of God and man by abusing altar boys should be punished for their actions.

The problem is not with blaming where blame is due; the problem is condemning the entire Roman Catholic Church or the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy for the actions of a few perverted priests and a few irresponsible bishops. Liberals do not have problems with liberal Roman Catholics, who believe almost nothing of traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. If you put a liberal Roman Catholic, a liberal Protestant, and a Reform Jew side by side you see triplets–all three believe the same vacuous creed of tolerance but little else other than a quasi-Marxist conception of “social justice.” These Roman Catholics are no threat to liberalism. But traditional Catholicism is a threat to liberals, and if they can successfully place blame on the entire church for what a small minority of priests and bishops have done (or failed to do, in the lack of action shown by some bishops).

Another fact liberals ignore about this controversy is that most of the altar boys were older teens–sixteen or seventeen-years-old, at the time they were abused. The problem with the priests who abused them was not as much pedophilia as it was old-fashioned homosexuality. But liberals do not want to hear that since it goes against their view that homosexuality is benign and harmless, merely a different “orientation.” Calling what the guilty priests did “pedophilia” protects liberals in their support of the homosexual agenda, and it also makes the priests look as if they are guilty of even more perversion than they actually were, thus making the Roman Catholic Church look worse. What the priests did was terrible–there is no excuse, given power disparities between altar boys and priests, for priests to violate their oath of celibacy with those who may have felt powerless to resist. But for the most part, unless a priest were extremely perverted, priests were not sexually abusing eight-year-olds.

Liberals are experts in selecting only the facts that strengthen their attack on the Roman Catholic Church. They attack Rome’s position on clerical celibacy, which is issue Rome must deal with, not non-Roman Catholics. I am Anglican and believe in married deacons, priests, and bishops. If I were Roman Catholic I would encourage the Pope to rethink the rule requiring clerical celibacy, a rule that is a matter of order and not a matter of essential doctrine. But I am not Roman Catholic and am hesitant to tell that church’s leadership what it should do. Overall, despite the fact that there was failure of leadership and discipline in some dioceses and parishes, I highly respect the Roman Catholic Church. Like any institution with human beings as members, it will be not be perfect–the same follows for all other religious bodies. But humans with flaws are found in nonreligious institutions–nonreligious bodies, such as civic organizations and quilt guilds, have members who do very bad things. Christians should do better–and the Roman Catholic Church should have done better in screening potential priests, in hiring, and in assigning–that is not being an arrogant outsider, but a common sense approach that may have avoided the problems from which Rome is now suffering.

The Roman Catholic Church will get past this scandal. Bishops will be told firmly to meet stronger discipline against clergy who sexually abuse church members (this can occur with female members as well as with male members). The RC Church is a large, slow operation, lumbering around like a giant turtle, but it must (and I believe will) take steps to improve its handling of accusations of sexual misconduct by priests. I am sure the liberals will say whatever Rome does is not going far enough–and once this scandal fades into memory they will find another way to attack the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

Secular Britain

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20091223-_DSC5237_38_39_40_41 Knowlton Church

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The controversy over the Pope’s visit to the UK is linked by the media to the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. And it is true that some priests committed terrible crimes and that the church did an inadequate job in disciplining the priests involved and helping those victimized. However, the ultimate source of hostility to the Pope’s visit seems to be British secularism.

Less than 10% of the UK population attends church services on any given Sunday (as opposed to a high 30s figure in the US). A significant number of the residents of the UK are atheist/agnostic (ranging from 31-44% as opposed to 3-9% in the US according to adherents.com). While this percentage is much lower than in Scandinavia and a few other European countries, it is still very high. If one adds to that percentage pantheists and nonpracticing believers, the percentage of nonreligious people greatly outweighs the percentage of religious people in the UK. Unfortunately this has been combined, in some individuals, with a hostility to traditional Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes abortion and homosexuality activity is hated by many members of society who support such practices. There is also hostility to the Roman Church’s opposition to the ordination of women to Holy Orders (a practice only recently introduced into the Church of England). There is something ironic here: people who are anti-religious trying to tell a religious institution what to believe.

But the sad thing for traditional Christians everywhere is how Europe has, since the eighteenth century Enlightenment, thrown off its Christian heritage, beginning with the French Revolution and continuing until the present day. Although this means that the remaining practicing Christians take their religion seriously and are very dedicated, throwing out Christianity has left a hoard of people without a sense of purpose in life. Into that void comes consumerism and hedonism–if this life is all there is and there is no ultimate meaning, why not? But a people without meaning cannot maintain a stable society over time. Muslims in the UK and in other European countries understand this, and this is one of the sources of their success. A people who no longer believe anything other than “shop until you drop” will not be able to withstand Muslim believers who maintain a purpose beyond self-gratification.Muslims hold on to the idea of moral discipline formerly held by Christians, and are willing to take a stand against both legalized murder and sexual perversion. The few remaining Christians in the UK and in Europe do their best to survive in a hostile society that is much like the hostile Roman Empire prior to Constantine. History is not an inevitable march in one direction, and hopefully UK and other European Christians can make an impact on society–the Roman Catholic Church has in a small way. More UK citizens in Great Britain attend Roman Catholic services than members of the Established Church attend services in the Church of England, and the crowds who have come to see the Pope, while smaller than expected, are still large and enthusiastic. Perhaps some of the individuals in that crowd can do their small part to reverse secularization in the UK.

The US should take notice. Weekly church attendance in the US has dropped seven percentage points in the last twenty years. More and more US citizens consider themselves “spiritual,” which usually means that they want the benefits of religion without making any moral changes in their lives or paying the price that religions such as Christianity demand. The percentage of atheists and agnostics is rising in the US. The Courts have removed religion from the public square, allowing large segments of the population to only hear a secular message. The positive point is that there are millions of traditional Christians in the US, both Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant who are willing to fight the growing secular tide. It may be a losing battle (it is far easier not to be a Christian than to be one), but at least Christians can continue the fight. I pray that the US does not rapidly secularize as Europe did–I must admit I am not optimistic–but Christians always have one thing that the atheist lacks by the very nature of his lack of belief–hope.