A leading prelate weighs in on Pope Francis’s latest statements on good and evil…

Thus said Pope Francis to Scalfari:

“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

Contrast these words with the following declaration from a prominent bishop:

But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

The author of this last citation? Pope Francis in March this year.

 

[HT to The Sensible Bond, from who I basically plagiarized this entire set up.]

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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12 Responses to A leading prelate weighs in on Pope Francis’s latest statements on good and evil…

  1. I’m not sure where the contradiction is here.

  2. Scalfari: Your Holiness, is there a single vision of the good? And who decides what it is?

    Pope Francis 2.0: Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives of them. That in an of itself would be enough to make the world a better place.

    Pope Francis 1.0: There is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone goes by his own idea of justice, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the universal good, the good of others.

    Scalfari: Ehhmm… Your Holinesses?

    Pope Francis 2.0: Each of us has a vision, a criterion, of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards whatever they think is Good. Who am I to judge?

    Pope Francis 1.0: But there can be no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion. Everyone must also care for the Good as such, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth. The Faith isn’t negotiable. There has always been the temptation to chop a piece off the Faith, to be a bit like everyone else, not to be so very rigid. But when we start to cut down the Faith, to negotiate Faith, a little like selling it to the highest bidder, we take the path of apostasy, of disloyalty to the Lord.

    Pope Francis 2.0: Proselytism is solemn nonsense. Who am I to judge?

    Scalfari: Well, your Holinesses, if the Church becomes like Francis 2.0 and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.

  3. What? I’m sorry, you’re losing me. The world will be a better place if everybody tries to do good and follow their conscience. True. That’s not enough. Also true. So?

    I really see absolutely no issue here, and frankly I think you’re pushing to find one right now, because you’ve just been putting up post after post criticizing Pope Francis. Even your praise post is backhanded. I understand, you’re allowed to disagree with the Pope, he’s not perfect, and you’re frustrated that a lot of Catholics think he’s perfect. Okay, no problem. But he IS the Pope. As a Catholic, that should be worth something, but you’ve been going out of your way to talk about all of the ways he’s messing up.

  4. Tell me precisely how you think he’s “not perfect”, please. As far as I can tell, you’re indignant that I would dare to criticize the Pope, and especially irritated that I, and others, won’t let our disquietude float away after the Orthodox Clean-Up Crew have done their therapeutic exegeses. My prayers for Francis are tempered by my frustrations with him, as chronicled here, just as these posts are tempered by my prayers for him. I have the “humility and ambition” to do something about my genuine worry for the impact that Francis’s radically accomodationist evangelism and doctrinal historicism is having.

    Another reason I’m so irrirated? All I keep hearing from my Catholic betters is that I don’t know how to read, that I need to open my Catechism, that I don’t understand the Pope’s larger strategy, that a couple slip-ups are outweighed by the greater good of the Church not being universally hated or shut out, etc., etc., etc.

    No one seems to be willing to admit that the Pope has caused major scandal, which is not done playing itself out, simply because Pope Francis “means well” or “speaks from the heart”, etc. A classic case of cognitive dissonance.

    I have in fact taken a great deal of time parsing his interviews, and have a post organized highlighting the good contained therein. But seriously, he’s shaping up to be “the Spirit of Vatican II” all over again–and with a self-professed desire to outdo that spirit, no less. The Pope never seems to speak with one mouth. He’s a Jesuit Pope, with a reputation for incoherence and erratic teaching, and his sloppiness as a modernist communicator of the Gospel is getting a pass from the orthodox simply because he’s “changing the tone.” Preach the Gospel in season and out of season–or just reject the very idea of even desiring to convert an atheist. Take captive every thought for Christ–or just blandly write off godlessness and relativism as the best view we can each get of “the Good.” We’re being cajoled to adopt Francis’s approach to the world, but his approach is one of maddening obfuscation and baffling elision. I love what he says when he speaks to the Church, but I loathe the way he mumbles saccharine pietisms to the world.

    I fully grant that he is the Pope and honor him as our Holy Father, but, good grief, is it really so hard to grasp that we are under no obligation to untangle and defend poorly phrased opinions of his as they inevitably scratch the itching ears of the world? Have you never been embarrassed by your dad? And can’t you be filial, er, non-judgmental, enough to tolerate those of us who genuinely feel embarrassed by our Papa right now?

    Indeed, Francis, a Jesuit, has called us to discernment. As 1 Timothy 5:21-22 says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good, and abstain from every form of evil”–not, “Endorse everything; hold fast to whatever is said, and abstain from every form of criticism.”

    Good grief, I’ve never seen so much soft ultramontanism in my life, and in defense of a Pope who despises clericalism, no less! The last thing he wants is to be treated preferentially or to be deferred to by virtue of his office, and one of his aims is to have a mess: so we mouth-breathing conservatives are giving him the non-clericalist mess he wants.

    Anyway, to reiterate my opening request: Read my “I was cured, all right” post and pelase refute my opening statements there. In your opinion, how is Pope Francis not, as I just read from a layman the other day, not “the perfect Pope for our time”? If he’s right that openness to modern culture means ecumenism and dialogue, then the reverse holds: ecumenism and dialogue entail openness (i.e. vulnerability) to modernism. Sadly, we’ve seen what his idea of “dialogue” with non-believers means: do whatever you think is right, as long as you’re sincere, and, remember, the non-Catholic God loves you (see you in heaven (when God is in all (apart from our species))). Pope Francis is leading the Church, all right–sed quo?

  5. Tell me precisely how you think he’s “not perfect”, please. As far as I can tell, you’re indignant that I would dare to criticize the Pope, and especially irritated that I, and others, won’t let our disquietude float away after the Orthodox Clean-Up Crew have done their therapeutic exegeses.

    That’s a fair question. I think that the Pope talks a LOT and as a result there’s definitely some stuff coming out that sounds as if he’s breaking from tradition, when I’m not sure whether or not he meant it that way (and that I’m not sure is not a good thing). This isn’t an insult to his intelligence, just an observation that when you speak as often as he has you’re bound to make missteps, and he’s tried to toe a very fine line. Basically, if you want my position, look at Crude’s. We don’t agree on EVERYTHING, but we tend to agree on most things.

    I have the “humility and ambition” to do something about my genuine worry for the impact that Francis’s radically accomodationist evangelism and doctrinal historicism is having.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that you’re praying for Pope Francis? If so, good on you.

    Another reason I’m so irrirated? All I keep hearing from my Catholic betters is that I don’t know how to read, that I need to open my Catechism, that I don’t understand the Pope’s larger strategy, that a couple slip-ups are outweighed by the greater good of the Church not being universally hated or shut out, etc., etc., etc.

    No one seems to be willing to admit that the Pope has caused major scandal, which is not done playing itself out, simply because Pope Francis “means well” or “speaks from the heart”, etc. A classic case of cognitive dissonance.

    This is my whole issue here – this whole thing with two extremes. Either you agree with the Pope on eeeeeeeevvvveeerrrryyything, or he’s causing major scandal. You read different places than I do if you don’t see incredible conservative hostility towards Pope Francis. And yeah, I think you’re part of it. Can he be causing scandal? Sure, I’m sure for many he is. He’s taking a risk by speaking out a lot and trying to toe a fine line. How well is he doing? I think better than a lot of conservatives give him credit for.

    I’ll skip some of your complaints, because you’re rehashing.

    Have you never been embarrassed by your dad ? And can’t you be filial enough to tolerate those of us who genuinely feel embarrassed by our Papa?

    Of course I do, but I also don’t post sarcastic posts mocking him like this: https://ebougis.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/live-feed-of-popes-latest-general-audience/

    In fact, I try and support him when he speaks publicly to people. You have no obligation to defend him *every single time*. Nor did I say you did. You don’t need to comment about how badly he’s doing *every single time* either.

    Indeed, Francis, a Jesuit, has called us to discernment. As 1 Timothy 5:21-22 says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good, and abstain from every form of evil”–not, “Endorse everything; hold fast to whatever is said, and abstain from every form of criticism.”

    It’s a good thing I never said that then. The reason I seem so defensive is because right now I think it’s warranted. In calmer times, with everybody relaxed a little more, I’d be more inclined to be critical. Right now though I think the conservative reaction is way over the top, though.

    If he’s right that openness to the modern means ecumenism and dialogue, then the reverse holds: ecumenism and dialogue entail openness (i.e. vulnerability) to modernism.

    Yeah, Pope Francis is absolutely taking that risk. So let’s meet the challenge, and engage the world AND be orthodox, instead of being uncomfortable about the whole thing.

    First off, more collegiality is not, necessarily, a bad thing; believe it or not, the Orthodox had somewhat of a point. The Eastern Catholic churches, many of which are in dire shape and being treated pretty terribly by Rome, are proof of this. I remember a lot of Eastern Catholics expressing hope that Pope Francis would do more to engage the Orthodox Church and mend relations with them even more, perhaps bringing us closer to union even. We shall see.

    I think you and a lot of other conservative bloggers take this idea of “We can disagree with Pope Francis” and turn it into “We can bash Francis nearly every time he speaks.” If you want to know what I think a proper approach is from somebody like you who isn’t totally comfortable with him, take a look at how Fr. Z handles things. http://wdtprs.com/blog/

    His attitude seems to be, “Yes, he says some things I’m not necessarily comfortable with, and I’m not afraid to say that, but he’s the Pope and deserves the respect of Catholics. Stop freaking out every time he speaks and don’t talk about him like he’s some dolt or some heretic.” And even if I don’t always agree with Fr. Z I have no issue with the way he approaches things (at one time I thought even he was being a bit negative, but I’ve changed my tune on him at least).

  6. Dale Price says:

    “What? I’m sorry, you’re losing me. The world will be a better place if everybody tries to do good and follow their conscience. True.”

    Well, no, not true. There are too many malformed consciences–people of genuine ill will, whether in the corporate boardroom, the abortion clinic, or the killing fields of Syria, to name but three–for that to be said without a host of qualifications.

    I’d be a lot happier if he prefaced his interviews with “You know, I’m just spitballin’ here…”

  7. I disagree with you. A lot of people have malformed consciences, yes, but in general if everybody listened to their consciences I think the world would be a better place. Even a malformed conscience can point you, in a limited way, towards good more than evil, and I’m optimistic enough to think the majority of people in the world aren’t quite so malformed as to bring about MORE evil if they follow their consciences than not.

    The Catechism:

    1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

    This seems like an awfully sensible and straightforward way to reconcile the Pope’s comments.

  8. Codgitator (Cadgertator) :
    Since I sound like a crank, let Ches express some of my key worries for me. http://thesensiblebond.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/proselytism-conversion-and-problem-of.html

    I don’t think you sound like a crank. I do think you’re being overly disrespectful (Seriously, what is with your latest post? What does it accomplish except to mock the Pope?), and I think you’re overreacting. While I don’t necessarily agree totally with what the linked post is saying, I do think his response has been more measured, yes. But if you don’t think that conservatives have been absolutely blasting the Pope, just read some of the comments under Jimmy Akin’s articles, on Rorate Caeli, and even on some of the earlier posts in Fr. Z’s blog, then get back to me.

    And again, I think Fr. Z’s response is fairly measured. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/10/what-did-the-pope-really-say-2-proselytism/

    The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“- just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.

    – Pope Benedict XVI

  9. {It was very late when I wrote this, so I hastily left a number of typos in it, but I have now revised it for better clarity and cogency.}

    For starters, your reply to Dale is logically imprecise. The Catechism as you cite it is stating a minimal condition: no one can be saved if he willfully violates his own conscience. On top of that, your reply is radically deficient and truncated, as visualized by how #1790 is plucked out of the larger context (if I may dare use that word anymore). I will now cite and parse the fuller teaching on conscience in the Catechism (emphasis mine):

    1780 The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience.

    — [Yet the Pope has by now implied at least twice that objective uprightness is optional for human well being.]

    1781 … If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice.

    — [In one fell swoop we find both the proper answer to Scalfari’s question about the “single vision of the good” and another refutation of the freewheeling idea that conscience alone suffices for non-Christians. This is the crux of the Pope’s reported error, and yours by defending him on this point. People simply acting in accordance with their consciences does not suffice to make the world a better place. See CCC #1793, below. For, even if some objectively evil action A conforms to most people’s consciences, A in and of itself worsens the world and removes those people from God’s grace. Why did the Pope not see fit to mention these simple qualifications and more to a man as close to death as Scalfari? Oh, I forgot: the evil MSM.]

    1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom…. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

    — [This is the negative criterion, followed by a positive ballast in #1783.]

    1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful … [and acts] in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

    — [Alas, the Pope never says that the conscience *must be* informed or enlightened, never says that an ill-formed conscience is defective and false, never says that *only a well formed conscience* acts in conformity with the true good (as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, everyone’s personal conception of the good). Moreover, insofar as “education of conscience is indispensable for human beings [like Scalfari, who] prefer their own judgment and … reject authoritative teachings,” the Pope was gravely derelcit of duty by giving Scalfari, and thus every soul whom he portrays, a pass by petting the autonomy of an ill formed private conscience on the head.]

    1784 … Prudent education … prevents or cures … feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of [and thus not the mere unmitigated conformity to] the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.

    — [By what metric have the Pope’s statements about conscience even come close to preventing or curing non-Catholics’ feelings of complacency? According to the Catechism, it is the education of conscience that “guarantees” to make the world better (freedom and peace). Yet, to reiterate, Pope Francis was plainly derelict in his duty to engage and educate Scalfari and, by extension, all non-believers.]

    1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make … an erroneous judgment that departs from [reason and the divine law].

    — [Once again we see that mere conformity to conscience is no proof of objective conformity with the divine law and thus no sure path to a better world (i.e. the highest good). But you’d never know about all that from Pope Francis.]

    1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

    — [Thus, even in the passage you cited we see how erroneous, and thus harmful, choices can be made whilst completely sticking to one’s conscience. Does Pope Francis know this anymore, or does he just think it’s too much for non-believers to grasp? #seriousQuestion]

    1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. … In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

    — [Here the Catechism ups the ante by saying that a man’s heartfelt loyalty to his own conscience may be even more destructive to the world since his prior immoral actions form the basis for his objectively defective conscience, namely, a conscience that permits him, yea, with all sincerity and freedom, to commit evil. Did Scalfari get even a glimmer of this truth? Has the world? Not if the Pope’s letters and interviews are any indication.]

    1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

    — [I was wrong. Maybe *this* is the apex of the Pope’s error, all wrapped up in one sentence. For, if anything endures from his interviews, he has entrenched a mistaken notion of the autonomy of conscience, legitimized rejection of the Church’s authority, and trivialized the necessity of conversion as “solemn nonsense”.]

    1793 If … the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

    — [Cf. CCC #1781, above. Despite all this, this “humble” Pope has gone out of his way to convey the “courageous” idea that an action wrought by an ill formed conscience is not objectively and absolutely “evil,” nor, in his interviews, at least, has he spoken of the necessity “to correct the errors of moral conscience.”]

    1794 …[C]harity proceeds … “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.

    — [Game over. Contrary to this plain teaching that a good conscience is a condition for a good society, Pope Francis has, surely inadvertently, fortified the world’s idea that a “good conscience” is redundant and that the charity of a good conscience does not require faith. The Pope’s non-objective account of conscience bleaches out the difference between a conscience and a *good* conscience. Only when its conscience is formed “correctly” will society more and more turn to be guided by objective (dare I say absolute?) standards of moral conduct.]

  10. I’d give a nice reply to this right now but I’m 1) Not really in the mood and 2) Not really sure if I can say anything that would advance the discussion anyway. Maybe when I feel more like diving into this again I’ll take a whack at it.

  11. That’s fine. I’m not trying to score points, I hope you know. Now, I am bringing together a lengthyish post that contains the points I’ve made and some other pertinent citations from the Catechism, which should appear in a few days, so you can save your retorts for then. 😉 It’s just the Internet, after all. http://xkcd.com/386/

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