Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Bible in a Year: Respect Your Elders

Readings: Exodus 25-26, Leviticus 19, Psalm 79

On Day 43 of Fr. Mike Schmitz's Bible in a Year podcast, I came across a line that made me pause. 

"You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of an old man."

That's from Leviticus 19:32. 

Sometimes Leviticus is horrifying, as is much of the Old Testament. Other times you see surprising glimpses of compassion emerging from the angry deity of the Israelites. It's almost as if he's maturing as they mature as a people. (Hmm.) For example, elsewhere in Chapter 19, God reminds his people (twice) not to abuse the foreigners residing among them. Don't steal, lie, or swear false oaths. Don't rob or defraud your neighbor. Don't withhold the wages due to your workers. (In Catholicism, that's one of the sins that cries out to heaven.) Don't curse the deaf or lay stumbling blocks for the blind. Don't show injustice to the poor or partiality to the rich. Don't spread slander. Don't seek vengeance or hold a grudge. Don't cheat when using weights and measures. And most of all, love your neighbor as yourself. Shades of the Sermon on the Mount right there. All good stuff.

The people are also commanded not to get tattoos (v. 28), but that's been mostly forgotten these days. 

Then there's Verse 32. 

Now, I have a pretty big vocabulary, but I wasn't sure on first glance how many people reading this translation would understand what "hoary" means. Let's face it: It's not an everyday word. What followed "hoary," the admonition to honor the face of an old man, does give a clue to the context. And yes, it does mean, essentially, "white with age," like the hoarfrost. So, honor the gray-haired people among you. Show respect to your elders. 

As a guy with some gray on his temples and a lot on his face, I'm down with this whole idea of respecting the aged. We might ignore the ban on tattoos, but wouldn't we all be better off if we deferred to the wisdom of the aged? 

But I think this verse points to a potential problem with translations that put literalness over plain understanding. And this is why I like to have an abundance of Bible translations on hand. I thought this would present a good opportunity to do some comparisons, so let's dive in.

Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition: You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of an old man. This is the translation Mike Schmitz uses for his podcast. And this particular verse, notably, is nearly identical to what appears in the King James. I'm generally a fan of the RSV-2CE for its formal prose and its literal translation tendencies. But sometimes, I'm left needing some clarity. This was one of those times.

English Standard Version, Catholic Edition: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man. Proof that changing just a few words can make the difference between a difficult passage and one that sings. "You shall stand" is more powerful and direct than "You shall rise up," which could mean something like getting up from a reclining position, or even coming to life. (Rise, my minions.) And yes, "the gray head" just cuts to the chase and paints a clear picture. Excellent.

Douay-Rheims: Rise up before the hoary head, and honor the person of the aged man. So here it seems the RSV-2CE's King James-ish translation leaned into the traditional Catholic wording. One reason I don't often reach for the D-R (or the KJV for that matter, setting aside the problem of its incomplete Old Testament canon) is the archaic language. Scripture need not be dumbed down, but it should be immediately understandable.

Knox Bible: Rise up from thy seat in reverence for gray hairs; honor the aged. Typically beautiful prose from Msgr. Knox. Specifying "from thy seat" leaves no ambiguity about what "rise" means. "In reverence for gray hairs" is just wonderfully poetic. 

New Catholic Bible: You will stand up in the presence of those with gray hair, and honor the presence of those who are old. Not bad, but it takes a lot of words to make the point, and it's rather straightforward and bossy and, moreover, lacking in elegance. The repetition of "the presence of" suggests that the editors were trying to create some parallelism to give some good balance to the sentence structure. I'll give them points for that. Nice attention to prosaic detail. 

New American Bible: Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old. Functional and serviceable, but loses the nuance that comes with referencing the gray hair. A little bit too straightforward. Typical of the NAB to miss the mark. 

New Living Translation, Catholic Edition: Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Not much different from the NAB, but at least it makes sense in a Bible that's meant to be written in everyday prose. The NAB can't seem to decide how it wants to present itself, so it just jumbles everything up and spits it out, without any regard for grace, nuance, or stylistic consistency. (Have I mentioned I don't like the NAB?)

Jerusalem Bible: You are to rise up before gray hairs, you are to honor old age. This gives us the same unclear "rise up" as RSV-2CE. And "honor old age" is maybe a bit off: It's the aged, not age itself, that is to be honored. I normally love the Jerusalem Bible for its poetic, conversational flow, but it doesn't always hit the spot. 

I think ESV-CE and Knox are my favorites for this verse.

An aside: It's interesting that the notes in the New American Bible say the prohibition on tattoos is probably meant only to prevent slaveholders from branding their slaves. Why that would be isn't specified. If you can drive an awl through a slave's earlobe (Exodus 21:6), why couldn't you tattoo him? It also cites the Mark of Cain as an example of a tattoo. Odd. But then the NAB's notes almost always are. (I forget if I mentioned I don't like the NAB.)

Not that the ceremonial laws are in force for Christians anymore. I just find it funny when devout Christians with tattoo sleeves start lecturing people about following the Bible to the letter. 

That's all for today.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

How Fiducia Supplicans Proves the Eastern Orthodox Were Right

President.gov.ua, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

"We must obey God and not man!"
-- St. Peter, the first pope according to Catholic tradition, Acts 5:29

As a cradle Catholic, I can't help noticing the pickle that faithful Catholics find themselves in now. With Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican has once again made a proclamation that sows confusion, typical for this papacy that doesn't seem to know how to let its yes be its yes and its no be its no. Somehow we're supposed to believe that this document doesn't change church teaching on human sexuality while simultaneously authorizing the blessing of couples in so-called "irregular" situations, including same-sex couples. The Vatican's justification is predicated on the idea that a couple is in some way different and distinct from the union they make up, with the result that a priest can bless the couple without blessing the union. As any thinking person can see, that's a distinction without a difference.

As I've mentioned, my interest this discussion is primarily in observing how the church is undermining the logical consistency present in its own body of teachings. I'm fascinated by how rules, laws, and regulations make the systems that they serve function smoothly. And that's mainly where I'm coming from. There's much that I admire about the church, but it doesn't run my life. To be clear, I don't have a problem with same sex-attracted people. For me, that's not what this is about.

What I'd like to do is comment on the predictable fallout over this document. Among the Catholic faithful, you basically have three camps. The first is the typical Catholic pew-sitter who either won't give Fiducia more than a passing thought or will argue that the church has always blessed sinners, and that it would therefore be "homophobic" not to extend a blessing to same-sex couples. I'd argue that these folks make up the vast majority of Catholics. They're the "Oh, but Pope Francis is so nice!" crowd. Poorly catechized and incurious, they'll hear disingenuous church leadership say that the document changes nothing about church teaching -- which is basically the stock company line that most bishops, including ours in Idaho, are going with -- and move on with their lives. Or, conversely, they'll persist in their failure to understand the difference between blessing sinners and blessing what the church considers unrepentant sin. In any event, these people are irrelevant to this discussion, much as their own faith life is largely irrelevant, given their complete lack of understanding of what their own church teaches. (I'm not being facetious here: Almost half of U.S. Catholics don't even know what the church's teaching on Eucharistic transubstantiation is, and fully two-thirds believe that the bread and wine used at communion are just symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ.) 

So let's look at the other two factions. First you have the so-called popesplainers, who insist that the pope is always right and must never be questioned, as if he were some kind of deity. This attitude, of course, simply leads to blind obedience and cultish behavior that will excuse any manner of abuse because the leader can never be wrong. And if you object, out comes the No True Scotsman fallacy: You were never a real Catholic. That's an interesting stance to take, considering that even Peter -- the first pope, according to Catholic tradition -- was rebuked by both Paul and Jesus himself. And even Peter said in The Acts of the Apostles that "we must obey God and not man." I've heard a lot of evangelicals over the years argue that Catholics worship the pope. And while that's not true, I'm beginning to understand why they have that impression.

On the other hand, you have the trads, the well-catechized Catholics who argue -- not without reason, I might add -- that the Catholic church has been in gradual moral decline ever since the modernization of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council. The driving force behind Vatican II was ecumenism -- making Catholicism more welcoming of other faiths while being more responsive to the needs and challenges of contemporary culture. The church no longer wanted to be perceived as some kind of imperial institution stuck in the Middle Ages, declaring edicts from on high. Pope Francis is in a lot of ways the culmination of that desire to break from the old ways, which is why he’s so critical of traditionalists, which he delights in calling "rigid," and is also why he would love nothing more than to end the old Latin Mass forever and break the Catholic church once and for all from its past.
The problem is that in doing so -- in catering to contemporary cultural trends and norms -- the church is sacrificing its moral authority and becoming just another voice in the crowd. Rather than acting as a bulwark against moral and ethical decay, it bends the knee more and more to the culture. When it does that, it's no longer able to speak against the culture.

But the dilemma for trads is that they know there's nothing they can do about what's happening in the Vatican. A lot of them take a "recognize and resist" approach to the current papacy, essentially proclaiming to the world, "I don't like what Rome is doing, but I'll never leave." Well, guess what part the Vatican hears? "I'll never leave." With no consequences for its actions, the Vatican has no incentive to ever change.

So putting aside the incurious and largely oblivious pew-sitters, the two Catholic camps with regard to the papacy boil down to "we must always obey" and "I'll never leave." In the end, they amount to the same thing.

We hear a lot about talk of papal infallibility. That's a dogmatic belief that came out of the First Vatican Council in the 19th century. It also caused a schism, and the Old Catholic Church that emerged from that schism still exists. It's a misunderstood dogma and applies only to very specific situations; it was never intended to mean that the pope can never be wrong in his personal opinions. Yet it only served to underscore the existing belief that that was indeed the case, that the pope could in fact never be in error. The problem for Catholics is that they're inclined to believe this about the pope because they're also duty-bound to believe the gates of hell will never prevail against their church. Catholics are taught that Jesus himself founded their church when he renamed Simon to Peter -- "on this rock (Greek, petros) I will build my church" -- and handed his disciple the keys to the kingdom. (See Matthew 16:13-19.) So they're essentially painted into a corner when it comes to criticizing the pope over anything. And the dogma of papal infallibility only muddied the waters, inasmuch as it proclaimed that the pope enjoyed divine protection from error when speaking officially (from the chair of Peter, or ex cathedra) on matters of faith and morals. Thus, your average Catholic is inclined to believe that if the pope can't be wrong on Subject X, then he also can't be wrong on Subjects Y or Z. And your average Catholic is left with a dilemma: "I know this thing from the Vatican seems terrible, and my conscience tells me it is, but I can't question it because the church says I can't. It must be right and I must be wrong. To question it would be to question, and to disobey, God himself."

In short: Unaware that the church respects primacy of conscience and that it asks us to embrace our God-given faculty of reason, these people think they're never permitted to question their church's leadership, under any circumstances, because of their firm belief in their church's divine origin. Thus, the word of the pope is essentially the word of God.

Of course, the Eastern Orthodox also believe their church is the church of the Apostles, and they don't have this hangup over whether to obey God or man. That's in large part because the Orthodox don't constantly tinker with doctrine or add new dogmas. They believe that if the church had the fullness of faith 2,000 years ago, then there's no reason to alter it. It's hard to argue with that. People who have studied church history might find it ridiculous that a major contributor to the Catholic-Orthodox split in 1054 was the Catholic church's addition of three little words -- "and the son," or the filioque, in reference to the procession of the Holy Spirit -- to the Nicene Creed. But the issue wasn't so much the filioque in and of itself as the fact that Rome kept unilaterally changing things and expecting everyone else to follow along. The East eventually said no and went its own way, and Rome has continued on with its "development of doctrine" for the past millennium, incrementally moving it ever further from what the early fathers taught when they were establishing the church. If you ask me, that's a problem. Either eternal truth is eternal truth or it isn't. You would never get the equivalent of a Fiducia Supplicans from the Orthodox church -- and that in itself speaks volumes.

In many ways, the papacy is an anachronistic relic of the days of kings and emperors who ruled with absolute power. Although I admittedly lack the dedication necessary to go through a yearlong catechumenate process to become one of them, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Orthodox these days. Leading up to the Great Schism, Christians in the East, living far from Rome, must have been hearing the same demands people are today that everyone must proclaim their fealty to the papacy, that the pope can never be in error, and that the pope must always be obeyed. The Eastern churches' answer to Rome's de facto demands for dictatorial power was to promote a collegiality among their own bishops, and to remember that those bishops existed to serve and defend the faith and the church's teachings, not the other way around. 

The Orthodox have been warning for a thousand years now against placing submission to a man, any man, above submission to the word of God. If only Rome had ever possessed the humility to understand that, perhaps the ancient church would never have fractured in the first place.

In short: The Orthodox were right.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Pope Francis: Author of Confusion

Image by Vectorportal.comCC BY.

Anyone who follows this blog (so, you know, all one or two of you) knows that I've had a complicated relationship with the papacy of Francis. I was born into the Catholic church, the first in my family to be so, and while there is much about Catholicism that appeals to me, I've struggled since I was a kid with a lot of the things I was expected to believe. These days, I take the whole thing as a sort of symbolic expression of humanity's connection to divinity, spoken in a particular dialect. 

When I came back to the church after many years away, Francis was pope. At first I liked him. I appreciated his pastoral approach to the papacy. He seemed intent on acting more like a shepherd and less like a king. He led with compassion instead of with decrees. I thought this was just what the church needed.

But as his papacy went on, I began to see things that caused me concern. 

There was the deal he struck with China to recognize the Communist government's distorted version of the church. By doing so, he abandoned the Chinese underground church that had remained faithful to Catholic teaching.

There was his muddled response to the sex-abuse crisis. He offered some condemnatory words but otherwise advised people to fast and pray for the sake of the church -- pretty much the equivalent of offering "thoughts and prayers" after a mass shooting.

Then there was his attack on traditionalists and the Latin Mass. He condemned the supposed rigidity of traditionalists and put severe restrictions on the Mass that had existed for 400 years before the modern Novus Ordo Mass took root in the 1970s. 

That one really left me wondering: What kind of pope attacks the traditions of his own church?

Well, I think we got a pretty clear answer to what kind of pope Francis is when his Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document just before Christmas approving of the blessing of gay couples. Specifically, Fiducia Supplicans authorizes priests to bless "couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples."

Now, let me make something abundantly clear right off the bat. It bothers me not at all if two people of the same sex want to get married. The best evidence we have says that sexual orientation is immutable, not a choice, and there is thus no justifiable reason to deny two people of the same sex who love each other the same legal and civil rights that heterosexual couples enjoy, nor is there any reason to deny them the right to have their relationship civilly confirmed, recognized, and celebrated. 

The problem here is that Catholic teaching has always upheld that the only proper expression of sexual union is between two married people of the opposite sex. That definition excludes not only same-sex couples but also cohabiting couples, divorced people in a second marriage that the church doesn't recognize, people whose marriage wasn't performed in front of a priest, even adulterous pairings. In theory, Fiducia Supplicans allows for blessings of all these unions. 

Thus, the issue is not so much the blessing of gay couples as it is that the document fundamentally changes Catholic teaching on sexuality. 

The Vatican, no doubt aware of what it was doing, took pains to note in the document that the blessing was not a validation of the "irregular" union itself but a prayer offered for the couple in the union. The problem is that that's a distinction without a difference. A couple makes up a union. The union doesn't exist without the couple. Thus, if you're blessing a couple, you're de facto blessing their union. If a football team came to a priest asking for a blessing before an upcoming game, everyone would understand that it was the team being blessed, in the context of what they want to achieve collectively on the playing field. 

It has to be noted that individuals have always been able to approach a priest for a blessing. You ask for a blessing when you begin your confession to a priest. You can approach the priest at communion to receive a blessing if you don't feel you're properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. That's never been a problem. The problem with this new document is that it's going out of its way to create an entirely new category for blessing couples within a specific context. A man could approach a priest asking for a blessing to find the strength to leave his mistress and return in fidelity to his family. What he wouldn't do is approach the priest with his mistress and ask for a blessing for the two of them as a couple. That's what the new document allows for. The Vatican can claim that it's not blessing the union the couple is in, but in reality, you can't separate the couple from the union. To claim that you can is to engage in hairsplitting sophistry to an absurd degree.

The document also puts forth an entirely new category of blessing, claiming that a "pastoral" blessing, which includes the newly allowed blessings, is not the same as a "liturgical" blessing. The distinction is intended to further emphasize the point that these blessings are not to be seen as some kind of formal affirmation but as something a priest might do casually if, say, spontaneously approached on the street by a couple asking for a blessing. But all that's really doing is creating a new category to give cover for something that the church knows it otherwise couldn't justify under its own teachings.

And all you have to do is look at the reaction from those who approve of the idea to see what the Vatican has unleashed. The media has spun the document as a monumental step forward for the church, as if it were throwing off its primitive bigotry and finally getting with the times. Fr. James Martin, a priest who for years has been an outspoken advocate for gay Catholics, praised the document. He went so far as to call up a gay couple he knew and arranged a photo op with The New York Times, so that the whole world could see a Catholic priest blessing two men holding hands.

While that's happening, you have bishops -- like ours here in Idaho -- basically telling people that nothing about church teaching has changed, as if you should ignore what you can see happening right before your eyes. 

But there are also bishops -- many, many bishops worldwide -- who are flat-out rejecting the document and ordering their priests not to offer the kind of blessings that the document newly permits. A number of Eastern Catholic officials are also pointing out -- correctly, as far as I can see -- that Fiducia Supplicans doesn't even apply to their rites, only to the Latin rite. They sensibly and understandably want to distance themselves from this terrible document. 

So why are there two different reactions to the document, even from the bishops? Well, I think what you're seeing is the difference between bishops who are concerned with defending church teaching, those who want to change church teaching, those who probably just want to go along to get along and are hoping the whole thing blows over, and those who think that whatever the pope says, goes. 

More than that, there's no unified reaction to it because the document itself sows so much confusion. On one hand, it carves out an entirely new category of blessing in order to bless things that violate church teaching, and on the other it claims that couples are different from unions and that these blessings are not to be carried out in a formalized church setting, lest there be the potential for scandal and confusion.

Well, it's kind of too late not to cause confusion. And this is so very typical of Francis' papacy and his communication style. He speaks in vague generalities about things, leaving people to wonder what exactly he's even trying to say. The word salad of Fiducia Supplicans is no exception, inasmuch as it authorizes blessings of "irregular" sexual unions while simultaneously claiming not to. Thus, while the original document stated that there would be no further discussion on the matter, the dicastery has since had to offer two "clarifications," the more recent of which is almost half as long as the original document. 

Unfortunately, the clarifications don't clarify anything. They essentially insist that nothing has changed about church teaching, and that what the document states must be accepted and universally implemented. But if nothing has changed, then why was the document even needed? In 2021, this same dicastery unequivocally answered "no" when asked if the church could bless same-sex unions. So yes, everything has changed. If it hadn't, why would you feel the need to order everyone to accept and implement what the document says? 

It's also quite telling that the most recent clarification explicitly states that the document doesn't teach heresy. Funny that that would have be pointed out, isn't it? In grand Orwellian fashion, it seems that heresy is being proclaimed as sound Catholic teaching, while claiming that the heresy actually isn't heresy at all.

And yes, I'm calling Pope Francis a heretic. And I don't apologize for it.

The most charitable explanation I've heard for the existence of Fiducia Supplicans is that it was actually intended to rein in the German clergy who were well on their way toward creating liturgical frameworks for the blessing of same-sex unions in formal church settings. But I don't think that explanation flies, because the Vatican could simply have said, "Stop doing what you're doing, or you'll be excommunicated." Instead, it said,"Oh, go ahead and keep doing it, but don't make it look like a formal rite." 

The thing is, whatever you bring to a priest to be blessed has to conform to God's will, and whether anyone likes it or not, the God of the Bible is kind of unambiguous about what he thinks of homosexual acts. But it's not just homosexuality that's at issue here. For example, I could bring a rosary to a priest to be blessed, but that same priest would be right to refuse to bless, say, a Wiccan pentagram necklace. In the same way, an alcoholic or a thief could ask for a blessing to overcome their sinful ways, but not to bless their alcoholism or thievery. Nor could a woman ask a priest for a blessing that her abortion goes well. 

That's the key thing to understand here: If an individual comes to a priest seeking a blessing, it's assumed that the person is seeking to find the strength, clarity, and humility to become a better, more faithful person, in obedience to the church. And that's the problem with coming before a priest in the context of a couple in an "irregular" relationship: You can say you're only blessing the two people in the couple and not the relationship, but the couple wouldn't be presenting itself as a couple unless it was seeking validation for the relationship itself. 

Implicit in the idea of a blessing is that the recipient is working toward repentance and conformity with God's will and the will of the church. And let's be real: No couple, straight or gay, is going to approach a priest asking for the strength to end their "irregular" relationship so they can be aligned with church teaching. No, they're going to approach so the priest can validate their union. I can assure you that the two men being blessed by James Martin weren't looking to end their relationship, nor did James Martin have that in mind for them.  

Again, I don't care if two loving people of the same sex want to enter into a union. That's not even the point. The point is that the church is doing something that violates its own teachings. If you want to be conformed to the church, you have to follow its rules. It's really simple. I got a convalidation of my marriage in front of a priest when I returned to the church, because that was what the church expected. But when you have the leadership of the church itself saying you no longer have to abide by church teaching, then it's just undermined any moral authority it ever had. After all, if the church can't be bothered to enforce its own teachings, then what reason do I have to abide by them? What reason does anyone have?

No one likes to hear talk of "sin" these days, but the church teaches that certain things are indeed sins in its eyes. It should go without saying that the church cannot bless sin -- but now it's doing exactly that.  The church apparently no longer has the courage to stand by its own convictions. And yes, I do see this incident as an act of moral cowardice on the Vatican's part. My disdain for this papacy cannot be overstated. It's good at following Jesus' command to "judge not, lest you be judged," but it fails abysmally at recognizing that while Jesus showed mercy to sinners, he also told them to "go, and sin no more."

Francis wants a church that meets people where they are on their journey. That's commendable, in and of itself. But he's going about it the wrong way. What he's doing is creating a church that rubber-stamps people's current actions and never encourages them to transform their lives and grow into the faith. We have a church that wants people to feel good, and that's about it. It has drained itself of any relevance it had left. 

And that's really the bigger problem here: The church has symbolically bent the knee to the prevailing culture. It has proclaimed that what the church teaches should be subordinated to what the culture wants. It may not realize it yet, but it has just painted itself into a corner. It almost doesn't matter what the document says, because the culture has interpreted it to mean that the church is now fully on board with same-sex unions. And if any priest refuses to give a blessing, the current climate is one in which that priest could well be attacked, both physically and reputationally, for refusing to play along. And I'm not even sure the Vatican would have his back.   

The Vatican has had to do so much damage control in the wake of this document that it's resorted to grasping at straws to justify it. For example, the dicastery now says the blessing is supposed to be only "10 or 15 seconds" long. Well, what difference does the length of the blessing make? It's either in accordance with church teaching or it isn't, whether it lasts 10 seconds or an hour. That would be like saying, "Sure, we said 'Hail Satan,' but it only took a few seconds. At least we didn't perform an entire black Mass, so everything's good." 

But I think it's also important for Catholics to understand that Fiducia Supplicans isn't going to be rescinded. It's here to stay, because this papacy wants it to stay. It will blame any pushback on either "rigid traditionalists" or on a failure to understand the document. Indeed, the argument a lot of its proponents are leading with is "You clearly haven't even read the document." Well, yeah, I have. And that's the problem. Others are holding the line by essentially gaslighting the critics. "Oh, calm down," they say. "Nothing has changed." That's basically what Idaho's bishop is saying to the faithful. But again, if nothing has changed, why have the document at all? You can't have it both ways.

But even traditionalists can't blame the Vatican entirely for the fact that the document won't be taken back. It's astounding how many Catholics always say something to the effect that "I don't like this, but I'm not leaving" when controversies arise, as they so often do with this papacy. You know what part of that the Vatican hears? "I'm not leaving." That just gives Catholic leadership carte blanche to keep on doing whatever it wants to. It knows there will never be any consequences for its actions.

"Oh, but the pope can never be wrong." No, that's not true. The dogma of papal infallibility, which emerged from the First Vatican Council, states that the pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, can't be in error when speaking dogmatically on matters of faith or morals, but only in that specific context. He can still render personal opinions and be dead wrong. He's human, not a god. 

"Oh, but leaving the church is apostasy." Is it, when you have an apostate -- a heretic -- sitting in the chair of Peter? Who actually left the faith -- the person walking away or the pope? This is exactly what happens when you allow "development of doctrine" to run unchecked and you let modernists and heretics infiltrate the highest levels of the church. Over 2,000 years of history, we've seen the Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Protestant Reformers, the Old Catholics, and the sedevacantists all separate themselves from Rome. After a while, you have to wonder if maybe the ones who broke away were never the problem -- that maybe the common denominator is you.

I understand that people who sincerely believe that the Catholic church was founded by Jesus Christ himself can't allow themselves to believe that the church could be in error, let alone that it might not be the "true" church. Taking that stance, in all candor, makes you come across like someone in an abusive relationship who endlessly makes rationalizations for why he or she could never leave. It also makes the entire Catholic church sound like a cult whose leader can never be wrong about anything.   

It should be noted that the church does not reject or condemn gay people; to the contrary, it welcomes them, as Jesus welcomed all, but it also calls them to a life of celibacy. You may or may not agree with the church's teaching, but that's what it is. But now what the church is not-so-implicitly saying with Fiducia Supplicans is that if you're gay and not celibate, that's actually OK. In fact, it's so OK that we'll go ahead and bless you and your partner -- but somehow, not the union itself. When you, dear reader, can make sense of that, do let me know.

So again, the problem with this whole thing is not the sexual orientation of the people it addresses but the de facto affirmation of sexual activity that the church claims to not condone. It is therefore hard to fathom how or why the Vatican thought this declaration would be acceptable within the bounds of Catholic teaching. The dicastery emphasizes that the document shouldn't be construed as undermining the traditional Catholic position on marriage, but how else could it possibly be interpreted? That's what makes it heretical.

It is likewise difficult to overemphasize the potential damage this document can do to the church, or the slippery slope it places the church on. It's fair to say that this is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. It may not seem like much now, but all anyone has to do is look at what has happened to the Methodist Church of Great Britain, which went from affirming same-sex marriage and cohabitation in 2021 to now declaring the terms "husband" and "wife" offensive because they don't apply to everyone's situation -- like the "irregular" situations the Catholic church is now blessing. (The U.K. Methodists have gone so far off the deep end, in fact, that they don't even want anyone to say "brothers and sisters," lest some theoretical "non-binary" person somewhere take offense.) Therefore, don't be at all surprised if you see the Vatican likewise approving same-sex marriage within a few years. And when it does, don't be surprised when critics are told to stop overreacting, that you're being too "rigid," and that "nothing has changed."

Heresy is as heresy does.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Francis is destroying the Catholic church almost singlehandedly. And that makes me both very sad and very angry. 

This development has deepened my resolve to strike out on my own. I've been tossing around the idea for years now of seeking my own ordination through the online seminary that ordained me as a minister and conferred a Th.D. on me. I do enjoy going to Catholic Mass and probably always will, but I've never felt completely beholden to the church, in part because as much as it's been a significant part of my life and helped shape who I am in many ways, I also have several personal disagreements with it. I think communion should be open to everybody, I think married clergy should be permitted, I think the Orthodox do a much better job of handling situations of divorce and remarriage, and I wouldn't have a problem letting women be ordained. 

Do those views make me a heretic too? Well, the difference between me and Francis is that I don't agitate for the church to change its teachings to make me feel better. I understand that it's not all about me, while Francis caters to those who do think it's all about them and comforts and confirms them in their "irregular" relationships. Besides, I understand the church's reasoning for holding the views and teachings it does, even if I don't always agree. If it were to undermine its own teachings, it wouldn't really be the Catholic church anymore. And it's quickly getting to that point -- thanks in large part to a mealy-mouthed pope who seems incapable of letting his yes be his yes and his no be his no

It's not often you'll see me quoting the Apostle Paul. Simply put, I'm not in the Paul Fan Club. But I think it's illustrative in the current situation to note something Paul said in the the first letter to the Corinthians: "God is not the author of confusion." Implicit in that statement is that God's adversary, the devil, is the author of confusion.

Make of that what you will when you think of the current pope.