Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Did Pope Francis Really Change Church Teaching?

I promised to comment further on the change in the Roman Catholic Catechism on the subject of capital punishment now that the official Latin text is out. So I guess I should keep my promise.  But I do not have much more to add except to say that it is not as certain as I first thought that Pope Francis has changed official R. C. Church teaching, although I remain appalled at his arbitrary tinkering with the Catechism to turn part of it into an act of political lobbying. 
However, to avoid further ranting and to focus on the presenting question – it is unclear whether official Roman Catholic teaching has changed.  I say this for two main reasons.  First, there is a lot of debate among Roman Catholics whether church teaching has changed, which is a good sign.  Second, as Fr John Hunwicke has noted, the letter that accompanied the Catechism change is hedged and “not how the Catholic Church talks about grave moral offenses.”
My best guess is that whether the Catechism change really is a change in official R. C. Church teaching depends on what future popes do with it.
Please do not mistake that for optimism. Given how Francis is stacking the College of Cardinals, I do not expect another robustly orthodox pope in my lifetime at least.  But if this bit of pessimism and my earlier posts on the capital punishment change prove alarmist and mistaken, I will be most glad to be proven wrong.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Fr. Hunwicke on Pope Francis’ “Deathgate” UPDATED

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Fr. John Hunwicke’s observations on Pope Francis apparently changing the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on capital punishment.  Hunwicke has not disappointed me.  He rarely does.
First, to my surprise, he posits that the situation might not be quite as bad as I and others have feared.  For the official text of the revised R. C. Catechism has not yet been published.  Hunwicke:
I can't see much point in making substantive comments on the "changes made to the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on the death penalty" until the new text is published. All I can so far find on the Internet are some vernacular versions.

This, in itself, I object to. The world has been given the impression that the Catholic Church has changed its teaching when nobody has the wherewithal to judge whether or not this is true. I can only call this sort of behaviour in matters of faith and morals disgracefully frivolous. Can it be that PF wants to make an immediate impression on world opinion without giving theological professionals the prior opportunity to weaken by their analyses that impact?
But Hunwicke expects that once the official Latin text is published, capital punishment won’t be so completely “inadmissible” after all. 
By the way, he is very much opposed to capital punishment, yet shares my concern about how this apparent change in teaching has come about.
…such an arbitrary change in a documentary henotikon, in which X has metamorphosed into not-X in a very few years, and without (as far as we know) a detailed collegial consultation with the whole College of Bishops (such as Pius XII conducted before defining the Assumption), leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth. It is because I have been driven to the unhappy conclusion that the present pontificate is manipulative and dishonest, that I wonder if this change in the CCC may be preparing the way for some of Senor Bergoglio's other private opinions and personal convictions to be given spurious Magisterial colouring.
That is my chief concern.  I doubt that Francis will confine himself to capital punishment in arbitrarily changing church teaching.

UPDATE: The official Latin text has been released.  I will comment at a later time.

Friday, August 03, 2018

More on Pope Francis Changing Catechism on Capital Punishment: “This. Is. Big.”

Yesterday I concluded that the arbitrary change in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Catechism on capital punishment “could be the beginning of something awful.”
Rod Dreher gets this and spells out why very well.  I highly recommend reading his whole post.  He quotes Edward Feser at length in reviewing the teaching of scripture and the Fathers on capital punishment, which teaches that it is a legitimate tool of the state even if it should be used with great restraint.
Feser, anticipating that Pope Francis might change this longstanding church teaching on capital punishment, then wrote that doing so would be “effectively saying – whether consciously or unconsciously – that previous popes, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and even divinely inspired Scripture are in error.”
Dreher rightly asserts that this is exactly what Francis did and continues:
It seems to me that the Pope has crossed a bright line. He is denying, for the first time in nearly two millennia of Catholic teaching, and in direct contradiction to the Fathers of the Church, that the state has the right to impose capital punishment. That’s a meaningful difference from saying that the state has that right, but shouldn’t use it.
Even if you disfavor the death penalty, understand what this means: this Pope has claimed forthrightly that the Catholic Church taught error, but now, at long last, he has set the Church straight. From a traditional point of view, though, this means that the Pope is teaching error.
This. Is. Big.
Indeed it is.  And to clarify further, this is not just Pope Francis giving his opinion on capital punishment.  Hey, he’s a Libpope who likes to shoot off his mouth.  His stating his opposition to the death penalty is predictable.

He has gone far beyond expressing his opinion.  He has taken his opinion, which is contradicted by scripture, the Fathers, and many faithful today, and enshrined that opinion in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, and that without the backing of a church council. (In fact, several have made that case that Vatican I forbids what Francis just did.)  Regardless of whether the subject is capital punishment, changing official church doctrine like this crosses “a bright line” that even Francis has not crossed before.
Both the tyrannical act and its implications are greatly alarming. Having pulled this doctrinal coup, does anyone think Francis will stop with only capital punishment? I fear for the damage he may do to the church in his remaining years.
This. Indeed. Is. Big.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Pope Francis Changes Roman Catholic Catechism on Death Penalty

First, the facts which Crux spells out well.
The Vatican announced on Thursday Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II.

“The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church now says on the death penalty, adding that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
This is a departure from what the document, approved under Pope John Paul II in 1992, says on the matter: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
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As it’s been re-written, the Catechism now also says that “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.”
Yet today, “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.”
“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,” says the Catechism now, as it was approved by Pope Francis.
It’s for this reason, and “in light of the Gospel,” that the Church teaches that the practice is now inadmissible.

Let me say that I consider capital punishment an issue on which faithful Christians can differ.  However, the weight of Scripture and of the Fathers leans very much for capital punishment in certain instances.  Steve Skojec reviews that background well.

Thus for the Pope to change the Catechism so that it is dead against all capital punishment is the height of arrogance, dismissing much scripture, the Fathers, and the consciences of many faithful.  That the Catechism is then twisted into a lobbying tool, e. g. the church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide” is outrageous and an attack on the consciences of those faithful who are convinced that there are times when capital punishment is appropriate. 
As Rorate Caeli points out, this is at the very least an egregious abuse of authority:
The current Pope has far exceeded his authority: his authority is to guard and protect the doctrine that was received from Christ and the Apostles, not to alter it according to his personal views. We are reaping the rewards of an unchecked hyper-clericalism: the same hyper-clericalism that allowed for abuses of people like Theodore McCarrick to go ignored and unpunished and now allows for the recklessness of the alteration of established doctrine received from Christ and the Apostles…. He is in open violation of the authority recognized to him by Christ and His Church throughout the ages: he has abused his authority by pretending to have an authority that he has not.
I cannot add much to that at this time. Well, I could rant and rave. But, looking at the bigger picture, it reveals a grave weakness of the Roman Catholic Church that such a man as Bergoglio could become pope and then be very hard, if not impossible, to depose.  I fear that he is now doubling down on his tyranny against the faithful in his final years.  This arbitrary change in RCC teaching on capital punishment, bad enough in itself, could be the beginning of something even more awful.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

World Vision Responds to Islamic Relief Agency Concerns

To their credit, World Vision has contacted me and issued a statement addressing my and others’ concerns about their role in funding the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA or IRA).
I do not have any value-added commentary to add, but I find their statement plausible at least.  I post it below in full.
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World Vision’s work in Sudan is focused on improving the lives of the most vulnerable children. In 2017, our programs reached approximately 674,000 vulnerable people, 70 percent of these were children and women.  The work sub-granted to IRA in 2014 was a very small percentage of our significant program expenditures in Sudan, less than 1% of our total at that time.
In March 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) approved World Vision’s grant proposal that clearly listed Islamic Relief Agency (IRA) as a proposed sub-grantee. At the time of selection, there was no indication that IRA had any possible ties to an alleged terrorist-supporting organisation.
There are several Islamic Relief organisations operating around the world which are not blocked, and when we searched the blocked parties lists for "Islamic Relief" in "Sudan," the searches produced no results.  That is still true today on the website of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
In May 2014, when WV applied to renew its registration with OFAC as a charity working in Sudan, it identified IRA as a sub-grantee in its application. OFAC approved the renewal in August 2014 without any comments or questions about IRA.
In November 2014, we informed OFAC and USAID that we had concerns about IRA in Sudan possibly being related to certain other organisations with “Islamic Relief” in their names, designated by the US government as organisations allegedly supporting terrorism.  Because of these concerns, we suspended further grant implementation by IRA pending clarification from OFAC.
In January 2015, OFAC responded that IRA in Sudan “appears to be the same entity” as the one on OFAC’s blocked parties list. The sub-grant by then had expired, it was not renewed, and we discontinued any future collaboration with IRA.  At this time, OFAC authorised us to pay IRA $125,000 for the humanitarian work that was verified to have already been completed under the grant.  The payment made to IRA was not a diversion of funds but payment for programming services of confirmed quality.
World Vision took its compliance obligations seriously, but respectfully asked permission to pay IRA money owing for legitimate humanitarian work (salaries, humanitarian aid and supplies for beneficiaries, travel etc.) already incurred. World Vision explained failure to do so could have exposed it to potential legal liability for breach of contract, resulted in the very real chance of Government expulsion from Sudan and as a consequence, the loss of a lifeline for tens of thousands of children and their families.
World Vision has robust controls and screening processes in place and condemns any diversion of aid funding and strongly condemn any act of terrorism or support for those activities.  
We have no evidence that any of our funds have been used for anything other than urgent humanitarian work.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Pope in the Waterloo Gallery

It is interesting what can stick in one’s mind during travel.  Pope Pius VII sticks in my memory from my visits to Windsor Castle.
That may seem odd given that the focus of Windsor Castle is the history and housing of the British Royal Family.  And the glorious Chapel of St. George certainly stands out as well.  So my focus on a pope may indeed be odd.  
Yet I remember him indeed thanks to a wonderful portrait in the Waterloo Gallery in the State Rooms of the castle.  As one may guess from the name, the Waterloo Gallery displays portraits of worthies who played a role in resisting and defeating Napoleon and in dealing with the aftermath.  Most of the subjects are in idealized stately and/or heroic poses.  But not Pius VII.
With Pius, the genius of the man who painted the portraits of the gallery, Sir Thomas Lawrence, is most evident. Pius VII is painted very honestly, in a remarkably informal sitting posture, and with few obvious trappings of the papacy.  He is elderly yet at the same time with a lot of life and personality.  His expression is almost mischievous as if saying, “Napoleon thought he had me beaten.”
An excellent video on the Waterloo Gallery with some focus on the portrait of Pius VII may be found here.
It is interesting that Pius VII is enshrined in this gallery; for he actually had a mixed record in opposing Napoleon.   His predecessor, Pius VI was dogged in opposing attacks on the church from the French Revolution and from Napoleon.  That did not work out well as he died a prisoner of Napoleon.  The papacy itself was in peril as well.
Pius VII understandably wanted a different result, so he was beyond reasonable in seeking accommodation with Napoleon. That included attending Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor in 1804, against the advice of some of his Cardinals, and enduring petty disrespectful treatment from the tyrant while in Paris for the occasion.  And it also included later agreements that reduced the papacy’s power.
But Napoleon was not nearly as flexible as the Pope.  When Pius was pushed to the point where he felt he had to say no – the appointment of bishops in the Papal States was a presenting issue, but who knows if Napoleon could have been appeased even if Pius VII gave in on that – then the furious Napoleon had him arrested on the night of June 9th, 1812 with the intention of confronting him at Fontainebleau.

In poor health, Pius barely survived the trip.  But it turned out the health of Napoleon’s regime was even more precarious.  By the time the Pope made it to Fontainebleau, Napoleon was off to fight Russia where he would eventually lose most of his army.
But Pius VII did not know this, and when Napoleon returned, he was able to badger the isolated pope into an agreement that would have greatly weakened the papacy.  After deep regret, Pius later repudiated that.  And at that point there was little Napoleon could do about it.  He abdicated on April 14th, 1814 (temporarily it turned out -- Waterloo was in June 1815). Pius VI triumphantly returned to Rome on May 24th.
Thus for all Pius’ human frailty, miscalculations, and concessions, his imprisonment and twice saying no to Napoleon rightly turned Pope Pius VII into a symbol of resistance to Napoleon’s tyranny.
And Thomas Lawrence’s portrait captures well both the human frailty and the resilient strength of character of Pius VII. It captures the little old pope who outlasted Napoleon.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

BREAKING: Obama Admin Gave Funds to Terror-listed Group . . . After Pressure from World Vision

Overnight, some attention is being given to the breaking story that the Obama Administration granted aid funds to the terror-listed Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA).  ISRA has quite a history.

By 2000, ISRA had raised $5 million for bin Laden’s group. The Treasury Department notes that ISRA officials even sought to help “relocate [bin Laden] to secure safe harbor for him.” It further reports that ISRA raised funds in 2003 in Western Europe specifically earmarked for Hamas suicide bombings.

Lovely.  But what I find most troubling about this story has not yet been given much attention – World Vision’s role in pressuring the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to make the grant to ISRA:
Despite this well-documented history, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in July 2014 awarded $723,405 to World Vision Inc., an international evangelical charity, to “improve water, sanitation and hygiene and to increase food security in Sudan’s Blue Nile state.” Of these funds, $200,000 was to be directed to a sub-grantee: ISRA.
Responding to a Middle East Forum (MEF) inquiry, a USAID official explains that World Vision had alerted it in November 2014 to the likelihood of ISRA being on the terror list. USAID instructed World Vision to “suspend all activities with ISRA” and informed the State Department, OFAC, and USAID’s Office of the Inspector General. USAID and World Vision then waited for OFAC to confirm whether ISRA was designated or not.
USAID emails obtained by the Middle East Forum reveal that in January 2015, World Vision was growing unhappy while waiting for OFAC’s assessment. Mark Smith, World Vision’s senior director of humanitarian and emergency affairs, wrote to USAID, stating that the Islamic Relief Agency “had performed excellent work” for World Vision in the past, and that “putting contractual relationships in limbo for such a long period is putting a significant strain” on World Vision’s relationship with the Sudanese regime. Smith also revealed that World Vision had submitted a notice to OFAC indicating its “intention to restart work with [ISRA] and to transact with [ISRA]” if OFAC did not respond within a week.
World Vision’s statement stunned USAID officials, who complained that World Vision’s behavior “doesn’t make sense.”

But the grant was eventually made anyway.

Then, incredibly, on May 7, 2015 — after “close collaboration and consultations with the Department of State” — OFAC issued a license to a World Vision affiliate, World Vision International, authorizing “a one-time transfer of approximately $125,000 to ISRA,” of which “$115,000 was for services performed under the sub-award with USAID” and $10,000 was “for an unrelated funding arrangement between Irish Aid and World Vision.”
An unnamed World Vision official described the decision as a “great relief as ISRA had become restive and had threatened legal action, which would have damaged our reputation and standing in Sudan.” 

I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Perhaps ISRA somehow reformed, and World Vision knew that better than bureaucrats up the line?  But World Vision has been at the very least careless about partnerships before, even (apparently without their knowledge) funding Hamas.  This ISRA story, too, is troubling and bears watching.  
If I see a response from World Vision, I will post it.