Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes it's Hard to be Pope.

As a conservative Catholic, I've been quite intrigued by the latest comments by the Pope on the use of condoms in the prevention of AIDS. Personally, I think the comments were both nuanced and overdue. The Catholic Church has received a lot of heat with regard to the subject, especially with respect to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and it's opponents frequently beat it over the head with the issue. Despite the Left wing's positive reporting on the matter, the reality is--at least in my mind--that there is nothing doctrinally new in his statements. Rather what I detect is a shift away from traditionalism to what I would call doctrinalism, applying our understanding of the faith(doctrine) to current circumstances rather than apply what previous men thought about the faith to current circumstances. There is a difference.

The Pope has not "approved" the use of condoms, rather he has simply stated that the use of them in the context of where deadly infection would be spread by the sexual act, is a lesser sin than knowingly not using a condom and infecting the other person. And a lesser sin is not a virtue. However by "considering" the welfare of another person, the Pope concedes that the "act" of using a condom shows that person may be developing the rude beginnings  of a moral conscience; something which may grow over time. Really there is nothing new over here and I've always thought that this is the way that the Church should of approached the whole AIDS in Africa issue.

What has been interesting is the public commentary with regard to the issue. The Left Wing Press has generally been highly supportive of the Pope. It's interesting to note that even the photographs used in the story have been more flattering than usual. As usual the "open minded" left wing press are happy to lay on the charm when the Pope is in "sync" with their views but the love ends soon as there is disagreement. The more interesting response has been from the very traditionalist Catholic community. The hard core Catholics seem to be having some problems with the comments. What's interesting with regard to the Conservative criticism is their arguments resemble the arguments Liberals use when dissing papal Authority.  The same guys who hold a fairly hard line with regard to Papal authority seem to have a bit of a hard time with it when the Pope says something they don't want to hear.

That's the problem with the Papacy, The liberals think you're too hard, and the trads think that you're too soft. Sometimes it's hard to be Pope.


David Collard said...

Yes, that is not a bad summary. It needs to be kept in mind that these are prudential comments from one pope, in a particular set of circumstances. They are not an infallible statement.

From what I have read, I think he is probably on the right track.

Traditionalist Catholics should know this better than Conservatives, who tend to hang off every word from Rome. Because Traditionalists should take the long view. But even some of the Trads I know seem to be having problems with it.

FWIW, I used to be a Conservative Catholic but I have trended more to Traditionalism in recent years.

David Collard said...

"Jenn Giroux, executive director of Human Life International America, which promotes Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and other moral issues, said more clarification from the Vatican was needed. "I am watching very carefully, as everyone is right now, before making a final pronouncement," said Mrs Giroux."

Someone should remind Mrs Giroux that she is not the Pope. For that matter, has she got her husband's permission to be mouthing off on these topics?

The Social Pathologist said...

@David Collard

Traditionalist Catholics should know this better than Conservatives, who tend to hang off every word from Rome. Because Traditionalists should take the long view. But even some of the Trads I know seem to be having problems with it.

It depends how you define Conservatives and Trads. In my view, Catholic Trads elevate tradition above reason, even above papal authority. While the conservatives, they seem to be resistant to any form of innovation, even those which are consistent with the "deposit of the faith". Benedict is actually a very, very, very smart man, probably one of Europe's last great intellectuals. Unlike many of the Trads and the Conservatives, he did not say Vatican II was a mistake, he supports it, because, He, like many other reflective Catholics see that it was a necessary thing. It was it's implementation that was a cock up.
He's going to piss off a lot of people both left and right.

My own views tend to align with Benedict in that tradition is good but not without its faults. Innovation is needed within the spiritual tradition.

I hope I have not caused offence.

David Collard said...

Not at all. Happy to discuss this. I used to be a "Conservative" Catholic and very much hung on every word from Rome. Then I was kind of "mugged by reality", especially as I feel that JPII went "off" in the latter part of his reign. Things like the Assisi event, altar girls, some of his feminist overtures, all put me off. I started to be a little more of a Trad, and to try to see the whole of the Church's history of teaching as the best guide.

That said, the Pope is the Pope, and he has every right to make prudential judgements. But individual Catholics have the right to form their own informed opinions. I also flatter myself that I have a good instinct for bodgy teaching; and some of the recent trends in the church seem clearly misguided to me. Not all, but some.

I was only semi-serious about Mrs Giroux. My point was that she was being incredibly presumptuous in describing her own opinions as a "final pronouncement", and some people might question who the heck she thinks she is.

So, I think there must be a balance. If a pope innovates, that is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as he is innovating broadly in line with tradition, refining a truth, developing an idea further, that kind of thing. To be honest, I think JPII came awfully close to actual error, but he wrote nothing binding.

On Vatican II, I think the jury is still out. The immediate results have not been very good, but I don't believe the council taught error (of course). There was some sloppiness in the wording. Traditionalists will point out that there have been councils in the past that were, bluntly flops. Just not very helpful. Is Vatican II in that category? I don't know.

I lived through this. I had no problem with Vatican II. But over the years I have been disappointed with its effects on the church. I still go to English masses, but I tend to prefer the Traditional Latin Mass. I started attending this form about ten years ago.

The Social Pathologist said...

@David Collard.

Interesting the effect of V2, as I had the unique experience of growing up in a "woggy" community that effectively had its social mores "frozen" in the early 60's. Whilst the form of the mass had changed the crowd were still a very pious lot. There was very little in the way of liturgical innovation amongst the priests. Certainly no liturgical dancing, altar girls or lay assistants. It don't think V2 was so much the problem as the secular interpretation of it.

Saying that, I agree that JPII did seem to go a bit liberal in his old age. What I found really hard to stomach was his opposition to the death penalty. Scalia wrote quite a good rebuttal to the papal logic. Note, He always seemed very conservative when it came to Poland. He was a patriot after all.

I never warmed to his theology of the body, though its one beneficial advantage was that it seem to papally legitimise the carnal pleasures of marriage, something which I felt that the Church had a real difficulty accepting. Marriage was for procreation and it seemed regrettable to many of the clergy that such intense pleasure was associated with the act.

I loathe the liberals in the Church and am sympathetic to the Trads. I think the Church has "issues" which need to be though out a bit more, something which the trads by their nature seem to resist. Traditionalist thinking seems to be directed towards stifling any innovation, no matter how legitimate. What I like about Benedict is that he is a trad who is able to innovate.

David Collard said...

The Trads I know are, paradoxically, very thoughtful people, in the main. There are a few who are simply reactionaries (not that they are bad people either). But many are actually rather intellectual types who have thought their way to doing the very counter-cultural thing of going Trad. I try to maintain anonymity, so I won't be too specific, but in our smallish Trad congregation we are jam-packed with political operatives, academics, scientists with Ph.Ds, senior public servants, and so on.

I have never read anything on the theology of the body, and I doubt I will. I think John Paul II was far too starry-eyed about human nature, particularly female human nature. As a husband, I find his ideas about the nature of women, the roles of the husband and wife, and the nature of love-making quite risible. He reportedly said that husbands should not "lust after" their wives. That is one of the very few times indeed that I have simply ignored a view from Rome.

It is not really an improvement for the church to go from the view that sex is something rather animalistic and undesirable, to the angelistic view that it is some kind of spiritual meeting of souls on (mutually) orgasmic clouds of bliss. Sometimes a root is just a root.

JPII also tried too hard to impose his own personal views on things like the death penalty on the entire church, even adjusting the Catechism, reportedly, to reflect his views.

The common thread in all his thinking was an unrealistic idea of human nature.

The Social Pathologist said...

Sometimes a root is just a root.

I agree, and I do think that the Church's understanding of some things is flawed. Particularly with regard to sexual and some social matters. I do think that the Church has ignored the legitimate carnal nature of our sexuality. I'm not talking about liberal free love bullshit, what I mean is the emphasis on 'angelic love' has stigmatised legitimate rumpy pumpy. Perhaps God wanted us to give our wives a good rogering every now and then? You certainly don't get that impression from the Church and yet the desire seems innate in both men and women.

More importantly, a lot of women don't want tender lovemaking, rather they want animal caveman sex, something which strengthens their love for their husbands. Is the current Church teaching making things worse for marriages by "beta-ing" a naturally alpha male?

The Trads I know are, paradoxically, very thoughtful people, in the main.

No offense, but are they "credentialed" or actually very thoughtful and reflective? I don't mean to be dismissive here, but some really smart people aren't. See, one of the problems I have with Latin crowd, is that they go for the show instead of the star. It's an aesthetic thing.

Still, nothing is more damn distracting than kum-bah-yah singing and guitar stringing during mass. The one advantage I see with a Latin mass is that it does seem to empahasise the gravity and glory of God, something that "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" doesn't.

David Collard said...

"Perhaps God wanted us to give our wives a good rogering every now and then?"

Well, I hope so, because that is what my wife gets. There is some physiological argument behind the view that many men (I seem to be one) really need to pound hard. I simply can't do PC sex.

That was my point about JPII's absurd view that a man should not "lust after" his wife. The only person who seems to have expressed a similar view is Ned Flanders.

It is classic angelism.

The whole thing reminds me of that old gag about a typical sermon being "a mild man tell a mild congregation to be milder". I am not a tough guy, but I find the tone of the advice to husbands in the Catholic Church to be extremely wimpy. (The only exceptions are some of the Traditionalist priests, the FSSPs in particular, who seem to have read some honest moral theology about women, not the fluff all the others seem to have been exposed to.)

I see your point about Trads being a bit too pleased with themselves. They (we) make jokes among ourselves about "death before charity", so we are aware of our image. But honestly they are not like that. I expected them to be. I went along to see them in action, in researching a book review for the Catholic press, and liked what I saw and "went native".

I suppose they do put a bit too much into the display. But the choir (schola) are not bad. I don't like chant much, but it is OK in situ. I like the solemnity, the quiet, and the sense of history.

Jehu said...

I'm a reactionary Protestant myself, but I've quite a bit of sympathy with my traditionalist Catholic brethren. I think the central realization that we share is twofold:
1) Our own mental faculties for the interpretation of the Faith are flawed---Fallen in fact and,
2) Our 'betters' are no better in general, and usually worse
therefore we tend to embrace tradition, because the portion of the communion of the saints that isn't living certainly made mistakes, but not generally the SAME ones we're constantly tempted to make.

David Collard said...

Yes, Jehu, I think those are both very relevant points.

Having seen intellectual fashions come and go, I am more and more suspicious of the current "wisdom of the age". And I look more to the wisdom of the ages.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Jedu

Thanks for dropping by.

I think you're quite correct. One of the great conceits of this age is the belief that there are no limits to human intelligence. However the opposite error is committed by many of trad crowd in assuming that those who went before us were inerrant.

What a man's got to try to do is get to the truth of the matter, and admittedly that's hard. Every age may have a certain proclivity towards a certain type of error, but then again it may also be prone to certain virtues.

Take interfaith tolerance for instance. Most religions were at each others throats till recently, and it's a good thing that they've put down their cudgels.

Scrooge McDuck said...

I concur with David Collard's view: Trads are no reactionaries. Well, at least, most of them are not. Innovation is perfectly all right as long as it is broadly in line with tradition and gradually implemented, and does not get out of control. It must have some veneration for the past, and respect for prescription. As long as it is no wholesale alteration, change is inevitable and is indeed a natural phenomenon (of course, we are not talking of the "change we can believe in" which is of a quite different, deranged stripe, that is change for the sake of change, which is often no change at all, by the way).

"Take interfaith tolerance for instance. Most religions were at each others throats till recently, and it's a good thing that they've put down their cudgels."

While I agree it is a good thing, I am a wee bit sceptical of the veracity behind the statement as far as Islam is concerned.

The Social Pathologist said...

While I agree it is a good thing, I am a wee bit sceptical of the veracity behind the statement as far as Islam is concerned.

Well there are limits to tolerance. Because a man who tolerates everything stands for nothing. My objection to Islam is not based on an intolerance to it, rather, my objection of Islam is based upon its cultural unassimilibilty in the West. I posit that there is such a thing as cultural entropy and states are most stable when the "entropy" is lowest. Take Yugoslavia for example. No matter what the merits of the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes etc the fact of the matter is that the state was composed of six different ethnic groups wanting to do things their own way. Stability in that region only came about because the states collapsed into entities which broadly corresponded to their cultural groups. I takes a lot of effort to keep disparate groups together, the trouble starts when the central government weakens.

People who migrate to a country should assimilate, and the people whom the country lets in should be assimilable. Look at the U.S. The blacks and whites are still at each others throats despite 200 years of close living and shared experience. Each one does not feel the other as their kin simply because each group looks and behaves differently.

Islamic culture is in opposition to western culture. The honest Muslim has to live a lie in trying to live the western way. That's why they should not be let in.

David Collard said...

In search of moral guidance on various issues, I came across some references to the newly invented idea that mutual orgasm is a Catholic virtue. News to me! This seems to be another one of John Paul II's little brainstorms.

That man was a really silly feminist underneath it all. "Mutual submission" in marriage - a total novelty really. Men not to "lust after" their wives! Mutual orgasm to be the goal.

On what planet did this man live? And why do so many Catholics buy this silliness. It has nothing to do with anything the Church ever taught previously.

The more I come across the last pope's sillier effusions, the more I am grateful for my Traditionalism, and the more determined I become that the guy was simply out to lunch on a lot of his fruitier ideas. As people say, when I consider his ideas that "What's true ain't new, and what's new ain't true."

That, and the Assisi nonsense, the Koran kissing, and the Luminous Mysteries thingie have lowered my respect for John Paul II.

The Social Pathologist said...

On what planet did this man live? And why do so many Catholics buy this silliness.

I think a fundamental problem in Catholicism is that it is officially a top down religion. The Pope says we do. Quite a few theologians have argued that the Pope's authoritative(not just infallible) teachings require intellectual submission. I think that generations of Catholics have been taught that Pope does their thinking for them when it comes to moral matters. Most of the Trads I know are very big believers in this line of thought.

Like you, I found a lot of his later "thoughts" perplexing. Still he breathed a welcome innovation in official Church teaching by actively promoting sexual pleasure within marriage as a good thing. The church, for a long time, seemed to view the whole pleasure in sex as a regrettable accessory to the business of baby making. His rambling on about mutual orgasm, at least gave sexual pleasure a legitimacy it never had in practical Catholic thought, no matter how silly the context in which it was expressed.

I had far bigger issues with the near effective banning of the death penalty. But this raises a bigger issue. How much can a man disagree with the Pope and still consider himself a Catholic?

Benedict is quite nuanced on this matter. I think his beatification of Newman is not without broader significance.

CSPB said...

I am definitely a conservative Catholic. I appreciate a orthodox Mass, but have never attended a TLM. I do appreciate ad orientem and the Novus Ordo in Latin. I also appreciate the Catholic "Anglican Use" Mass. I converted while attending a fruity parish (and the errors contributed to my divorce). I now attend more orthodox parishes (solid mass with altar boys).

I have also studied a lot of TOB, but am increasingly finding it lacking in the ways that David Collard describes.

But I'm still not quite sure where I fit. After my divorce/custody experience, learning Game and observing that most Catholics really don't have a realistic view of sexuality, it becomes hard to find a home.

The progressive Church is too feminized, but the orthodox end still promotes women as they think they should be rather than how they are. Virtually all Catholics choose to be blind to the real reasons for the declining marriage rate and the increased divorce rate.

I frequent DC's blog and usually agree with him.

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for dropping by.

After my divorce/custody experience, learning Game and observing that most Catholics really don't have a realistic view of sexuality, it becomes hard to find a home.

Welcome to the club, I too, feel exactly the same way at times.

Sexuality is but one of the issues which the Church seems to have a problem with and yet I think it is a good example of the "processes" which are ailing the Church at the moment.

The "Traditionalists" refuse to allow the Church to adapt to new insights, whilst the thinking of the "Moderns" is so bad that whenever they gain influence over a certain aspect of the Church they corrupt it thoroughly.

What is lacking in the Church at the moment is men who are faithful to the deposit of the faith, who not blind to the truth and who can think well. There are such men (and women) and like you, they feel out of place. Their time will come.

I am a reluctant admirer of Roissy. He has some quite serious character faults but there is no doubt that he cuts through both feminist and traditionalist bullshit about women with a scythe. I'm not being hyperbolic here by saying I think that he is several orders of magnitude more subversive to the modern culture than Assange. And the reason he is so is because he forcefully and convincingly illustrates the reality of female nature. JPII was operating within the traditionalist paradigm.

The Catholic Church is undergoing a great transition at the moment. I feel, that for a period of time, it may officially "die" but during its death it will be kept alive by these "Catholics that don't just fit in" and when it is reborn, it's gonna kick arse.

Everyone has taken up arms against it. It always wins.

CSPB said...

I’ve been reading Roissy for a while. I learn from him. He has a better grasp on the reasons for the demise of society and the necessity of chastity, marriage and fidelity that most Catholics. Roissy has very well captured the evils of no-fault divorce and female rationalization as harming children and the fabric of society.

With that said, Roissey exploits the current conditions and is often over the edge. But still I often have more in common with him than with "faithful Catholics."

Across the web, hedonists, atheists and agnostics see reality in ways that religious are blind to. Men can be quite crass but maintain certain integrity that would cause me to trust them as individuals even though I do not agree with ALL their actions. (Religious lesson here: men have ALWAYS been imperfect... even great Biblical patriarchs... ABRAM, JACOB, DAVID, SIMON) Most of them were given new names. What a sorry bunch! But God saw something in each that lead to GREAT legacies. (Abraham, Israel, David, Peter)

Often reform comes from the outside. As a student of Elliott Wave/Socionomics and a believer in fractal nature of advancement, things will work out over a time scale beyond my comprehension. 3 steps forward and 2 steps back on all time frames!

A “free thinking,” observer, philosopher, practical, principled man can be quite a pariah.

Subversive may be the quality to needed expose the facade of Political Correctness and the edifice of feminist tripe.

(It is fun to use words that confuse those drinking the "Kool-Aide")

David Collard said...

I seriously dispute the idea that pedestalising women and following every Papal statement in detail are Traditionalist ideas. I know the Trads well, and they do not pedestalise women (the only priests who don't are Trad priests!) and they most certainly do not believe that every word from Rome is golden. That is a Neoconservative position. Which Trads tend to call "Ultramontanism" or "papolatry".

Traditionalists believe in Tradition, not just in what the latest Pope says in a low level statement.

Every Pope who spoke on marriage over the years stressed that women should obey their husbands. Even JPII effectively did this in Familiaris Consortio. He then had a "senior liberal moment" when he wrote Mulieris Dignitatem - a low level of teaching in any case.

Trads are not feminists. Most Catholics are - either because they are liberals or because they are pedestalising conservatives.

The Social Pathologist said...

@David Collard.

You must know a different group of Trads than I do.

How is Mulieris Dignitatem different from Humanae Vitae? Both are meant to be "considered" papal teachings on the subject and hence authoritative if not infallible.

All the Conservatives and Trads that I know are of the opinion that in order for a man to be a faithful catholic, He needs to toe the line on authoritative teachings as well. Maybe it's that I move in different circles to you.


I've never aimed to be a free thinker, what I've tried to be is a right thinker. My aim has always been to gain a greater understanding of reality. Which I think is the core principal of Catholic epistemology, namely the truth setting us free.

This is why I quite like Newman. He was a man who became Catholic because of the "truth" of it. To him believing in the Pope was secondary to believing in the primacy of the truth.

This is where I think the concept of the Magisterium is flawed to a certain degree. What if the Magisterium teaches a falsehood? i.e that the sun rotates around the earth. The concept of the Magesterium (when it comes to authoritative matters at least)would have us (the faithful) deny reality.

David Collard said...

Mulieris Dignitatem was not an encylical. It was a lower level of teaching. It also taught somewhat contrary (arguably) to all other previous teaching on the issue. Casti Connubii (Pius XII I think) and Leo XIII's teaching (both quite recent in historical terms) taught the clear headship of the husband. Mulieris prevaricated. Personally, I think it was probably OK, but it lent itself to misrepresentation.

Humanae Vitae was an encylical. As I recall, it used the language of infallibility, in the same way as Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. I believe that Fr Brian Harrison has a piece on the infallibility of Humanae Vitae and its language.

Humanae Vitae was in line with all previous teaching, and merely confirmed it, probably infallibly.

Authoritative teaching is teaching that conforms with what has always been taught, or develops it. Teaching which is entirely novel in some point is not likely to be authoritative teaching.

Popes have taught error, although never have they attempted to define it. Not every papal opinion has the same weight.

The Social Pathologist said...

Mulieris Dignitatem was not an encylical

My understanding of the matter, is that papal teaching authority can be exercised through a variety of mechanisms, i.e letters, constitutions or encyclicals. JPII used it to affirm the complementarity of the sexes. It also defended the all male clergy. So the document was not without merit and it would appear to be authoritative.

What I think he was trying to do is refute the "structuralist" understanding of the sex with men being higher than women. I think he was trying to affirm that men and women have different natures and roles and whilst they may occupy different roles in life they are of equal dignity, even if one is given to command and the other to obey.

Teaching which is entirely novel in some point is not likely to be authoritative teaching.

That's what I thought, but the Pope apparently can overturn previous teaching provided it has not been infallibly taught or infallibly revealed, i.e the bible.

As for Humane Vitae's infallibility, I've heard opposing views from people I would consider doctrinally sound. Their are good arguments for both views. Personally, I regard it as a "nearly there" document. There is a little bit of wiggle room in it but not much. Anyone looking for a blanket overturn on the ban on contraception is going to be disappointed, though there may be some room for licit doctrinal innovation.