Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dissident Catholics and Catholic Doctrinal Unity: A Contradiction?

By Dave Armstrong (8-22-06)

[Phillip Johnson's words will be in red]

Anti-Catholic Phillip Johnson wrote an article entitled "The Wrong Kind of 'Unity'". It features the same old tired, failed, oft-refuted so-called "argument" that the Catholic Church lacks (doctrinal) unity because of liberal and "traditionalist" dissidents who continue to move in Catholic circles (thus is no different from any Protestant denomination, etc.). I've refuted this many times before. The "argument" comes complete with the obligatory reference to Gerry Matatics: a man who no longer believes that there is a current pope (he thinks that Pope Pius XII was the last "real" one; that's usually how it goes with this extreme position, known as sedevacantism, which means, literally, "the seat is vacant").

Obviously, then, one who believes in such a thing is in schism from the Catholic Church, and can no longer properly be called a "Catholic." To do so would be not only illogical, but a dishonest use of terminology. Therefore, to use his case as an "argument" against Catholic doctrinal unity is a huge red herring and downright absurd: as much as it would be to call Charles Russell, who founded the Jehovah's Witnesses, a good Protestant, and his cult a Protestant denomination, because he used to be a Presbyterian.

I have argued strenuously that Jehovah's Witnesses and other non-trinitarian cults like it are not Protestant, and that it is an insult to Protestants to make such a foolish claim, because - quite obviously - Protestants as traditionally understood make belief in the Holy Trinity central to their theology. Catholics (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand) make belief in the papacy central to their ecclesiology (or, in other words, "it ain't optional"). Whoever rejects the Trinity, then, is no Protestant, and whoever rejects a validly-elected pope is no Catholic. To deny either scenario is ludicrous.

If people no longer believe in a certain doctrinal system, they have already left it, and it is no disproof of the system. To assert the contrary would be like saying that God's plan for the human race was inherently faulty and insufficient because Adam and Eve (and by extension all of us, through original sin) rebelled against it. Our rebellion has no bearing on the thing itself: it is what it is regardless of who rejects it. The truth and beauty of God's acts and revelation are not judged (as a matter of truth) based on how many may reject them. They don't cease to be what they are. The Catholic Church, by the same token, teaches certain things and a definite theology and set of doctrines that can easily be identified; and they don't change because of "far-left" liberals and "far-right" so-called "traditionalists".

Phillip Johnson seems (quite comically) to think it is an "argument" proving that Catholics have as big of a problem with denominationalism as Catholics, when he states: "Despite all the Catholic finger-wagging about the lack of unity reflected in Protestant denominationalism, there may well be more disharmony within the Roman Catholic Church than there is on the outside. . . . how has the principle of 'unity' fared in their little group? . . . Several of Keating's former employees have left Catholic Answers and joined or founded competing organizations." Wow! How compelling!

This would include folks like Patrick Madrid, who semi-regularly appears on the Catholic Answers Live radio show (e.g., 12-5-05, 1-10-06, 2-14-06, 4-25-06, 5-11-06, and 7-20-06) and who writes favorable articles about Karl Keating; or Mark Brumley, who is now the president of Ignatius Press (and was on the radio show on 1-6-06, 2-2-06, 3-2-06, 3-14-06, 4-6-06, 5-4-06, 6-1-06, 6-29-06, 7-6-06, and 8-3-06). Karl Keating wrote favorably about both of them and other former staffers such as Mark Wheeler and Matt Pinto (CA radio show: 12-9-05) in the October 1997 issue of This Rock (see another similar mention in July/August 2003). My own editor at Sophia Institute Press, Todd Aglialoro, used to work for Catholic Answers, too. It has been a tremendous breeding-ground for apologetics apostolates and other lay endeavors in the Church.

This somehow proves "Catholic denominationalism"?!!??!! What scandalous disunity, being on the radio show of one's former employer six or ten times or more! What a joke! Patrick Madrid's and Pete Vere's book, More Catholic Than the Pope: An Inside Look at Extreme Traditionalism, was favorably reviewed in the January 2005 issue of This Rock. Etc., etc., etc.

There is no "bad blood" that I know of between these people, let alone proof of some terrible dissension in Catholic ranks because someone wanted to set out with their own apologetics (Madrid) or publishing venture (Brumley, Pinto, Aglialoro), or (horror of horrors!) went to work for another Catholic company (Sophia Institute Press, Ignatius Press). So what?! Gerry Matatics' schism was a rare case, and neither Catholic Answers nor the Church can be blamed for that. This is the sort of desperate ploy that must be resorted to in order for Protestants to try to escape the dire biblical injunctions against any sort of sectarianism and doctrinal strife (rampant, of course, and ever-proliferating in their ranks). I've seen it again and again. If something is fallacious and no argument the first time it is used, it will remain so no matter how many times it is repeated. A rotten egg smells no better in six months than it did the first time.


Phillip Johnson makes his "argument" even more ridiculous by stating: "Matatics insists he remains loyal to the Catholic Church. And, in fact, not only has he remained in communion with Rome, but he has also enlisted several other influential Catholic leaders who have come to his defense against Keating's charges." Now, this article is dated 20 August 2006 (that's two days ago as of this writing), and was posted on a related blog at the same time, far as I can see. According to Mr. Johnson, then, Gerry Matatics is supposedly "in communion with Rome," while at the same time rejecting the very pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI!

Does that mean now that every Orthodox or Anglican who doesn't believe there is a pope (now or ever) is also "in communion with Rome"? That would be shocking news to them, I'm sure. Mr. Johnson is so up to speed on current events in the Catholic Church that he takes it upon himself to go to the Internet Archive and pull up an ancient article concerning Matatics from 1995 or so (see reference to it at the end of an August 1995 article by Karl Keating, cited on an SSPX website: the same original article that Johnson himself cites). So he is about eleven years behind. Keating was suggesting back then that Matatics perhaps didn't believe, or was doubtful as to whether there was a sitting pope, and caught no end of misery for it. I guess it just took a while for Gerry to figure out what he himself believed. Now Keating is a virtual prophet, and Matatics is so far out, and beyond even the fringe that even the Feeneyite St. Benedict Center canceled one of his speaking engagements.

Next time, I suggest that Phil (for his own good) go to the current blog or website of the person he is writing about, rather than searching for an ancient article from Bill Clinton's first term in office. Schismatics can move quite a bit further "out" in their erroneous viewpoints in eleven years. Matatics himself has made it abundantly clear that he is no longer "in communion with Rome." On July 27, 2006, he wrote on his website:
Ever since my conversion to Catholicism, by God's grace, on Easter of 1986, I have studied and struggled to adequately account for the prevailing heterodoxy - if not outright apostasy - of the post-Vatican II establishment.

For nearly two decades I resisted the rather troubling results of my researches. But, as all readers of these words presumably know by now, early last year I finally came to some decidedly unpopular but unavoidable conclusions regarding the un-Catholic nature of the Vatican II "Church," . . .

[note the derogatory use of quotation marks for the word Church]

. . . When we see a "Church" doing those very things, therefore, we know that we are not looking at Christ's Church (however much it might hold of the Church's former "real estate," as happened to the Church in England as a result of the English "Reformation"); we are instead looking at a clever counterfeit, the Great Whore of Babylon that St. John in his Apocalypse contrasts with the Lamb's immaculate Bride - the latter the True Church, the former a false one.

. . . the abundantly chronicled collaboration of the men sitting in the See of Peter since Pius XII's death in 1958 with the Church's historic enemies in the camps of Freemasonry, Communism, and Talmudic Judaism.

[that's right, Gerry! Pope John Paul II was obviously in league with the Communists. Who could doubt it?! And let's throw in the obligatory Masonic and Jewish conspiracies, for good measure . . . can't forget those!]
It's a curious state of affairs that would have one "in communion with" an organization that he himself calls "a clever counterfeit" and "the Great Whore of Babylon." This is as silly and foolish as imagining anti-Catholic Phil Johnson himself being "in communion with" the Catholic Church. Yet this is one of the prime "examples" he provides, and he thinks it goes a long way towards proving that the Catholic Church has a denominational problem: someone who has left and no longer thinks the Catholic Church is what it is, or claims to be. Mr. Johnson doesn't even know that the schismatic group SSPX is not "within the church." This exhibits a profound ignorance and incompetence, where facts about Catholicism are concerned.

Is it any wonder that I don't try to respond (in terms of doing a complete point-by-point dialogue) to anti-Catholics anymore (having done a ton of that in the past anyway)? This article no more deserved a response than any of the propagandistic, hackneyed, tendentious gibberish anti-Catholics write. But since it was brought up on my own blog I spent a little time tangentially dealing with it.

* * *

Here are some similar thoughts (I believe there is some overlap of material) from my book: Twin Scourges: Thoughts on Anti-Catholicism and Theological Liberalism:

121. Will anyone seriously contend that the problem of differing opinions is as serious among Catholics as it is among Protestants? Our disagreements are (maybe 95% of the time) simply matters of theological liberals refusing to submit to what everybody knows is the Catholic teaching (e.g., on contraception, divorce, or priestly celibacy). But when Protestants have a difference, they form new denominations, and sanction and institutionalize the dissent. Thus, there is a huge logical and qualitative difference between the two camps.

122. Catholic differences are nowhere near the magnitude of Protestant ones, and when an individual is radically dissident he is censured and is proclaimed to the world as no longer a Catholic theologian. On the other hand, when prominent Protestant figures are disciplined by their own denominations, they often simply up and leave: so much for Matthew 18:17 and any real possibility of excommunication. Catholics have the magisterium, a perpetual apostolic Tradition, the papacy, and the visible, hierarchical Church to decide these matters.

123. Catholics have "the books," the dogmas, the decrees, the councils, the current Catechism, the uniform, developed doctrinal history and Tradition. Everyone knows what the Catholic Church believes on any major topic. But if dissenters can't bring themselves to be honest with themselves and accept that this is what their Church holds, how is that a disproof of the oneness of Catholicism? It is none at all. They are simply straying sheep, heretical in spirit (to varying degrees). We can say they are not Catholic theologians if we so choose. But Protestants can only fight, disagree, and form a new sect when (inevitably) no resolution can be achieved. Is this not obvious?

124. Just as any theologically educated evangelical knows exactly what five-point Calvinism holds, so does anyone with the slightest acquaintance with the Catholic "books" and dogmas know what the Catholic Church believes, and requires of its members. If, then, an under-catechized man in the pews denies the Real Presence (as 70% do), or contracepts, can we then conclude that it is not known what the Catholic Church teaches on those two subjects? I conclude, far more reasonably, that these dissenters are lousy Catholics, ignorant Catholics, "cafeteria" Catholics, undereducated Catholics, lukewarm, nominal, inconsistent, hypocritical, oftentimes intellectually dishonest or duplicitous ones, possibly in mortal sin due to deliberate rebellion against the Church most claim (inexplicably) to love and respect. And if these people deny that I am an "open" or "progressive" or "tolerant" or (whatever the fashionable liberal label is) Catholic because I am orthodox and consistent, then I wear this charge as a badge of honor.

126. There is the unbroken Catholic Tradition, which is easily-enough ascertained, and then there is the dissenting opinion of dishonest liberal Catholics. The mere fact of their dissent doesn't change the verifiable fact of Catholic dogma one whit.

130. Our argument isn't: "your liberals are worse than our liberals" ("your dad's uglier than my dad . . ."), but rather: that Catholics have a self-consistent mechanism to determine orthodoxy and "bind and loose," and Protestants ultimately don't. Thus, every Protestant becomes his own pope, in the final analysis. Protestants have 600 million popes, but we acknowledge one, and everyone knows who he is.

132. Everybody knows that the Catholic Church is firmly against abortion. There is no mystery to that whatsoever. If a Catholic disagrees on this matters, it is a matter of intellectual dishonesty and rebelliousness, pure and simple. But what do Protestants do, in contrast? Practically every liberal denomination espouses abortion, and even some evangelical ones waffle on it. I was involved in the Rescue movement, and evangelicals couldn't even agree to that, while the Catholic Church accepted it, and even Catholic bishops participated in it (I sat next to one once at a rally - I was still Protestant at the time). Of course, many Protestant denominations advocate legal abortion, but all we have are renegade individuals who violate the clear teaching of their own Church. This is a world of difference.

No comments: