Code Words of Dissension

August 30th, 2012

Written By: Lawrence Lam

As Summer is drawing to a close, students everywhere are getting ready to go back to school. You or someone close to you is getting ready to go (back) to university and one of the challenges of campus life is keeping one’s spiritual life in check. This is certainly less of a challenge for those who attend places like Christendom College or OLSWA, but a universal yearning for all Catholics no matter where they pursue studies.

On my own campus, I’m sad to say that I’ve found myself on both sides working for and working against the local Campus Ministry’s initiatives. I understand the hard work leaders put into doing their best to serve students, but one must not forget the culture war within the Church that manifests itself on campus. There are many thought patterns coming from the “hermeneutic of rupture” after the Second Vatican Council that are alive and well in Campus Ministry.

I don’t recommend selecting a school based on the quality of the chaplaincy. I’ve seen Great holiness rise in student environments that are less than friendly to orthodoxy, even in my own school.

Nonetheless, it is advisable to be on guard with the “official” ministry, or any unofficial ones for that matter. Watch out for these phrases from chaplains and ministers, lay, consecrated and ordained alike:

Era of the Laity” – When people refer to the progression of the Church as to suggest that we no longer require priests and deacons to foster a normal spiritual life, we aim to ignore the full unity of the Body of Christ.

Pope Ratzinger” – A reference to the Holy Father by his birth-name is meant to stir fear and irreverence so as to dismiss the authority of his teachings.

Institutional Church” – One of the marks of the Church is its institutional nature. There is no way to separate the institution from the Church herself. To divorce our own little community from the ties to appointed spiritual leaders is to cease to be Catholic.

Freedom of Conscience” – Yes and No. An informed conscience cannot be divorced from the teachings of the magisterium. We are called to act in conformity with God’s design. Barring the current situation where the US Government is trying to infringe on the Conscience rights of Catholic institutions, this phrase tends to come up so as to suggest that couples can legitimately disagree with the Church on artificial birth control or premarital sex.

Conservative Catholic” – while there are Catholics that have a preference to the older, the label Conservative is meant to divide as if the Church is made up of political factions. Politics are a distraction from the real issues: orthodox vs heterodox (thinking with vs apart from the Church).

Spirit of Vatican II” – The use of this phrase to justify any liturgical or doctrinal innovation is meant to distract from the real teachings promulgated at the Second Vatican Council itself. Cardinal Ambrozic often reminded people that it makes no sense to pit the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council against the actual Council.

Prophetic Dissent” – It takes a lot of chutzpah for one to label themselves as a Catholic, but dissenters often publicly disagree with the Church and believe they can lead the Church to change its doctrine. It simply doesn’t work this way. The Church changes as much as God does. And God doesn’t change.

The “Thinking” Catholic – This is meant to imply that Catholics that do agree with Church teaching are thoughtless sheep. See above regarding thinking with vs apart from the Church.

In the Catholic Tradition” – This phrase sets off a red flag with me as it is often used by schools and hospitals to acknowledge their Catholic founders but fail to stand up for what is actually true and good (i.e. in the Catholic tradition but not necessarily Catholic). Professors may be inclined to teach and advocate alternative beliefs and hospitals may be engaged in protocols that include treatments that do not respect life.

Hearing these phrases in and of themselves should not cause any student to abandon the ministry entirely, but a well-prepared Catholic can learn to respond accordingly so as not to go astray. Recently, the Vatican has threatened to remove the label “Catholic” from one of its universities that has gone past the boundaries of what can be identified even remotely as Catholic. I pray that Catholic students have an awareness of the tension created by ministers who stray from the truth that they can be a beacon of light to bring Catholicism back to these Catholic ministries.


Suggested Materials:

The Truth of Catholicism: Inside the Essential Teachings and Controversies of the Church Today

Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century

Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion

Catholic Living, Defending the Faith, by Catholic Chapter House.

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Phil Small says:

Lawrence, Meant to respond to your last message. If you had a chance to read my lengthy note to John, then you will have seen what I was having a problem with in your initial entry. My only difficulty was with what seemed like a blanket statement that went too far: “The Church changes as much as God changes.” There are areas of Church teaching where that statement is true, though even there there has been growth in the Church’s understanding of those truths. You seemed to refer to Cardinal Newman’s lengthy treatise on “The Development of Doctrine.” ( I suspect he purposely avoided the word ‘evolution’ that you used.) There are many other areas where your statement about the Church never changing is simply not true. Thanks for clarifying what you meant. God bless. Phil

Phil Small says:

Meant to get back to you sooner, John. It’s amazing how busy one can get in “retirement.” I have to disagree with your claim that JP ll was simply apologizing “for the failings of people who belong to the Church.” If you go to the list of things he apologized for (as I did just now), you will see that in large part he was apologizing for things done in the name of the Church by Church leaders in many cases. If one takes simply his apology to Galileo, I think it’s clear that he was referring here to an error the Church made when, because of too literal an interpretation of passages in Scripture, the Church thought that Galileo was wrong in his claim that the Earth revolved around the sun. And therefore condemned his teaching. This is clearly not a case of “sins of the faithful” but rather an instance where the Church leaders of the time were in error in what they were saying was true. It took the Church time to come to the realization that this was an area outside the deposit of faith and not within her jurisdiction. You would be right in saying that this had nothing to do with what the Church teaches her followers they must believe or do in order to be saved. However, this does point out that the Church did change her position in regard to Galileo’s teaching. It is clear from Pope John Paul ll’s apology that he was admitting this error in the Church’s position at the time. A much less significant example of a change in the Church’s position on an issue would be her change in regard to the burial of Catholics who have committed suicide. Because of the findings of modern psychology, the Church now permits these people to be buried in the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery, an acknowledgement that their last act may not have been a serious sin that would prevent them from being with God in eternity. There are other examples too. You might like to research the Church’s change of position in regard to usury. It is for reasons such as these that I found it unwise for Lawrence to convey the impression that the Church is immutable the way God is immutable. Far from the pope’s apology scandalizing me nor causing me to think “something dangerous,” acts like this on behalf of the Church support my faith. I find it more dangerous to pretend that there have been no changes when people know that there have. The pope’s apology makes no sense unless we accept that there has been growth in the Church’s self-understanding in certain areas. Only God is truly immutable. I thank you, John, for this chance to dialogue with you. Wish we could have done this over a cold beer on one of these hot days that never seem to end this summer. God bless.

Lawrence says:

Phil, thanks for reading and commenting. With all of these phrases, one must be careful to not overreact. Sometimes the phrases are perfectly appropriate, and “Prophetic dissent” certainly can apply to some of the great saints who have stood up to wayward faith leaders. Most recently, however, this phrase has tended to be co-opted by modernists who want the Church to adapt to modern values.

As John points out, the Church as a whole cannot err, otherwise the Lord’s promise that the Gates of Hell would not prevail would have fallen through. On matters of faith and morals, the Church cannot be said to have changed such that she contradicts herself. There is certainly change in expression as well as evolution of doctrine, but to, for example, suggest that the nature of the Eucharist changed, or that marriage can be redefined, should be a non-starter for any Catholic.

If this distinction is not clear, I will dedicate a future blog post on it.

John Baysson says:


It’s worth keeping in mind that Apologizing is done for acts of committed. The church will never apologize for what it teaches.

The church consists of the human and the divine. The divine are the sacraments, teaching etc and they will NEVER change. The human are the clergy and laity that belong to the church. They make mistakes, act rashly and imprudently and commit all sorts of mistakes in their human failings.

What JP II apologized was for the failings of people who belong to the church. Whether he explicitly needed to do that is a good question considering how it seems to have scandalized you to thinking something dangerous.

However, the point remains that the Church will always be constant. It’s teaching will always be true. It’s sacraments will always be valid.

Phil Small says:

Lawrence, You make many good points in your list of “Code Words of Dissension.” Many of these phrases you refer to do are sometimes, perhaps often, used in the way that you imply. I don’t think it’s helpful, however, to extend God’s immutability to the Church, as you seem to when you say, “The Church changes as much as God does. And God doesn’t change.” Are you referring here simply to the articles of the creed? In other areas there have certainly been changes in what the Church has either thought was true at the time or in practices that Church authorities later came to see as wrong. If you Google “Apologies of Pope John Paul 11,” you will see the list of things the pope felt the Church should apologize for. It’s difficult to read that list and say the Church never changes. Your sentence “The Church changes as much as God does” is very misleading. Only God is immutable.