Friday, October 07, 2016

Credulous Catholics

It's revealing to see the gullibility of faithful Catholics, including some very intelligent Catholics. Take Feser's response to Robert George:

a major difficulty for Robbie’s assertion is that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking as head of the CDF and the Church’s chief doctrinal officer, explicitly denied that John Paul II had made any change to the Church’s teaching on capital punishment at the level of doctrinal principle (as opposed to prudential application of principle).  In a letter responding to an inquiry from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus about whether the teaching of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism represented a doctrinal change, published in First Things in October of 1995, Ratzinger said:

Clearly, the Holy Father has not altered the doctrinal principles which pertain to this issue as they are presented in the Catechism, but has simply deepened the application of such principles in the context of present-day historical circumstancesIn my statements during the presentation of the encyclical to the press, I sought to elucidate these elements, and noted the importance of taking such circumstantial considerations into account.  It is in this sense that the Catechism may be rewritten, naturally without any modification of the relevant doctrinal principles. (emphasis added) 
That’s about as clear a rejection as there could be of the thesis that the teaching of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism represents a change in doctrine rather than merely a change in prudential application of doctrine.  
Fifth, contrary to what Robbie asserts, this previous teaching is in fact infallible.  Every Catholic must assent to it.  The First Vatican Council solemnly teaches that:

[T]hat meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which Holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture.In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers. 
The Council of Trent taught the same thing.  Now, many scriptural passages teach not only that capital punishment is legitimate, but also that it is legitimate even just for purposes of securing retributive justice.  (Cf. the examples Joe Bessette and I cited in our recent Catholic World Report article.)  And the Church, from the Fathers onward, has always understood these passages this way.  The various contemporary attempts creatively to re-interpret such passages simply cannot be squared with the principle that scripture must be understood to mean what the Church has always “held” it to mean. 
This is why Cardinal Ratzinger, despite his personal opposition to capital punishment, made the statements he did about the subject during his time as head of the CDF, i.e. to the effect that John Paul II’s teaching was prudential rather than doctrinal and to the effect that a good Catholic could disagree with it.  This is what Ratzinger’s famous “hermeneutic of continuity” with past teaching – and thus the very credibility of the magisterium of the Church – strictly requires.

Feser is right to say the "very credibility of the magisterium" is at stake. And that's why you wouldn't expect the "the Church’s chief doctrinal officer" to openly accuse a sitting pope of altering doctrinal principles. Ratzinger is hardly a disinterested party. To begin with, it was JP2 who appointed him to be the CDF. He was serving at the pleasure of JP2. For that reason alone, he's not going to publicly contradict his boss.

Moreover, Ratzinger believes in the system. He's been a leading member of the Catholic establishment for decades. He's a convinced Catholic. Naturally he's not going to take a position that torpedos the authority of the magisterium. That would be self-defeating. Feser quotes Ratzinger as a witness to Feser's interpretation. But Ratzinger is hardly a nonpartisan referee. Ratzinger has a vested interest in defending the consistency of the magisterium. That's a cornerstone of his Catholic faith. 

So this is an illicit appeal to authority. You can't very well quote a member of the magisterium to prove the consistency of the magisterium when the consistency of the magisterium is the very issue in dispute. That fails to respond to George on his own level. That fails to refute his evidence. George is not alone  in this. Justice Scalia made the same point. There's a trajectory in recent papal teaching. That's easy to document. For instance:

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