Q. I am confused. Who is Catholic and who is not? There are so many little 'groups' that all claim to be Roman Catholic. 'Newsletters' must be the latest fad in underground literature even in the Catholic Church!
I have been educated in Catholic schools and hold a university degree. Well-meaning friends keep giving me things to read saying: "You've got to read this!" and shove some religious stuff in my face. I am neither agnostic nor fanatic. My professors in college were dedicated priests and adhered to all the teachings of the Church. While calling the modernized Church 'apostate,' the publishers of the many newsletters that are floating around don't appear to have any kind of authorization from the Church. This does not strike me as being normal. Am I wrong?
As an example, I am enclosing one of these newsletters called 'St. Francis Newsletter.' Some of the things in there don't sound right. Could you please advise me?
C.A., Buffalo, NY
A. Dear C.A.,
Than you for sending a copy of the newsletter in question to our office. Actually, if we saved every newsletter and pamphlet published by wannabe teachers, theologians and spiritual directors who call themselves 'Catholic,' we'd need a warehouse and a staff to keep them all in order!
The kind of people who write these newsletters are generally more bold than blessed; they hunger and thirst not for the kingdom of heaven, but to be known and admired. They are not lacking in talent; but they use their talent to bloat their ego - and make a few bucks on the side, feeding foolish women and dull-witted men with pious prattle and pious platitudes.
They are dangerous to themselves, first of all. Then, because they begin to believe the pious fancies which are the fruit of their imagination, they believe themselves inspired by an 'angel of light' to share their spiritual 'wisdom' with other like-minded straying sheep.
Because of their pride, they are easily deceived by evil spirits who know only too well the path to spiritual suicide. So, under the pious pretext of doing 'good,' these individuals actually promote the very thing they proclaim to defend: They promote the destruction of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.
While condemning the New Order Church as being 'Protestant,' they only prove that they themselves are even more so! You see, the Protestant bases his 'faith' on his own interpretation of the Bible and appeals to the subjectivity of his own conscience. What does this mean?
In order to give you something more than just a word of advice, it would be better for you and others reading this answer to your question, to consider this matter of conscience. After all, this is an essential element in moral guilt.
It is also better to deal with this subject with a clear understand of conscience so that in the event that the individuals involved here are laboring under an erroneous conscience, they can show their good will by accepting the laws of the Church.
Although it is true that the conscience is the proximate norm of moral conduct by applying the law to a concrete case, it is essential to realize that not just any kind of conscience is meant here.
As you will admit, most people claim to appeal to their conscience when they really do not. They simply do what they want to do, and then they try to justify their actions by falsifying their conscience. When the conscience has been falsified, they say to themselves: " I have nothing on my conscience." This, of course, means that through a mental process of clever rationalization, aided and abetted by an undisciplined imagination, such individuals sin and do it "with a good conscience."
Conscience is not all that mysterious nor mystical. It is simply a judgment of practical reason on the moral goodness or sinfulness of an action. The exact philosophical definition of conscience is as follows: Conscience is the immediate judgment of practical reason with respect to the character of individual acts as being permitted, commanded, or forbidden.
As such, conscience becomes the immediate, subjective norm (law) of moral conduct by applying the law to a concrete case. This does not mean that what someone wants to do is 'morally good' and 'according to one's conscience.'
'Conscience' should not be confused and mistaken for willful obstinacy. Such people do not act 'according to their conscience' but according to the obstinacy of their will. Reason and will are not the same thing.
There is an old saying that fits the case well: "A fool convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still."
A 'fool' is someone who has the ability to think and reason, but refuses by an act of will to accept the arguments of evidence and right reason.
Heretics and schismatics generally fall into this category of person because they obstinately refuse to hear the truth and even when they hear it, they stubbornly reject it. The will is so powerful in such cases that even the Church is forced to deal with such people by declaring them expelled from the Church as the only practical means to maintain right doctrine and sound discipline.
Conscience is the immediate subjective and manifestative norm of moral conduct. It is the natural guide of man in matters of moral conduct. Man must follow the dictate of his conscience, whenever he is subjectively certain of this dictate. But, the conscience must agree with the objective norm of morality. Objective truth is the norm of morality.
In the case of a conscience which is subjectively certain, but objectively erroneous, a person must also follow the dictate of conscience. This is the principle and it is clear.
Where there is error, there is a false judgment. And, where there is a false judgment, there is ignorance of the true state of affairs.
When a person's conscience is erroneous, he mistakenly considers an objectively evil action to be morally good or indifferent and thus commanded or at least permitted; or he considers an objectively good or indifferent action to be morally evil and thus forbidden.
The ignorance underlying this false judgment is, under the circumstances, invincible
Only under the supposition that ignorance is 'invincible' is it possible for an erroneous judgment to be 'certain.'
Certitude implies the exclusion of all fear of possible error, but such a state of mind can exist only when there is no doubt as to the truth of the judgment.
In the case of a conscience which is 'certain but erroneous,' the situation is this: the person's practical judgment concerning the morality of an action is contrary to the objective truth of the law, but the person's conscience is certain of the presence of the law as (erroneously) understood.
What is the person supposed to do in such a case? Even here, the person must follow the dictate of his certain conscience, even if it is erroneous. This means: The person must follow the dictate of a (subjectively) certain but (invincibly) erroneous conscience in all that it commands and forbids. Otherwise he will commit an immoral act. And, a person may follow the judgment of a conscience in all that it declares to be permitted.
This might sound like a great way to avoid responsibility: Just claim 'invincible ignorance' and you're home free! Well, even though there are people who play this game, it does not work that way. The reason why a person is permitted to follow an invincibly ignorant conscience is because the will of man is blind and in moral matters is bound to follow the guidance of the practical reason when the latter declares with certitude that something is commanded or forbidden or permitted.
Without a special revelation of God, reason is the only normal guide for the direction of human acts. In fact, reason is the only guide under ordinary conditions of life.
If, then, the conscience of a person declares with certitude that the law of God commands or forbids a certain action, even though this judgment is erroneous, then the will, in following this (erroneous) declaration of conscience, actually decides to obey the law of God as expressed by conscience.
But, the will must decide to obey the law of God as recognized by reason. Consequently, the will must follow the dictate of a certain, though erroneous, conscience.
The morality of the will depends on the object as known by reason and then proposed to the will. If the will decides on an action proposed by reason as morally evil, the will desires something considered to be morally evil and becomes itself morally evil; on the other hand, if the will decides on an action proposed by reason as morally good, the will desires something considered to be morally good and becomes itself morally good. That conscience is erroneous in its declaration is accidental, due to the invincible ignorance of the practical reason. As a result of this invincible ignorance and the subsequent error of judgment, the person following the dictate of a 'certain but erroneous' conscience commits an act that is materially evil but formally good.
Such a person must be considered objectively wrong but subjectively right.
According to the same principle, and for the same reason, one may follow the judgment of a 'certain but erroneous' conscience without sin in all that it declares to be permitted. When a person does the very best he can, he is not subject to censure in what he does.
A person is clearly bound to obey his conscience, if the conscience is certain and true. So too, a person must follow the dictates of his conscience even if the latter is certain but erroneous.
When a person is 'certain' in his moral judgment, but the judgment is 'erroneous,' then his ignorance is invincible. Such an act would be 'materially evil' but 'formally good.'
We come now to another aspect of conscience which is common, but which receives too little examination: the doubtful conscience.
The question is this: What should a person do when his conscience is in doubt as to the rightness or wrongness of a particular action?
The practical reason cannot reach a definite decision whether the contemplated action is good or evil.
The fear of possible error is present in the mind while facing the problem of making a decision.
May a person act while in a state of practical doubt as to the morality of the contemplated action?
To answer this question, we must start with a principle of correct action that is beyond any doubt. This indubitable principle is states: 'Every person is bound to avoid, as much as lies in his power, everything which is morally wrong.'
This principle is the necessary consequence of the most fundamental precept: 'Do good, avoid evil.'
Whoever commits an act while in the mental state of a practical, reasonable doubt as to its morality, violates this principle. A practical, reasonable doubt implies that reason cannot arrive at a definite judgment as to whether the contemplated act is morally good or evil: there are valid grounds for judging that the act is good, but there are also valid grounds for judging that the act is evil.
The act might be evil. But if the will decides to perform an act which conscience declares might be evil, it practically desires to do what is evil, and thereby the will itself becomes evil. This is evident from the fact that the will, in order to be and remain morally good, must desire only the good.
Consequently, a person with a conscience in a state of 'practical doubt' is not allowed to perform an act which might be evil.
What must a person with a doubtful conscience do in order to be able to act correctly?
Such a person must strive to remove the doubt and obtain certitude. 'Absolute' certitude is not required. In practical matters of conduct absolute certitude is seldom obtainable, due to the perplexity of many moral problems and the limitations of the mind in its reasoning powers.
Were absolute certitude required for every action, an unbearable burden of inquiry would be placed on the shoulders of men, because it is rarely possible for them to arrive at a conclusion which would exclude every kind of doubt.
The certitude which is required and is enough for the practical affairs of everyday moral conduct is the relative certitude which is acceptable to prudent people. That is, the certitude which excludes the prudent fear of error.
How does a person go about removing doubt? This can be done in one of two ways: 'directly' or 'indirectly.'
Doubt is directly removed by means of close examination of the principles and facts involved in the case, so that one is able to decide definitely that the contemplated action does or does not fall under a commanding or prohibiting general law.
Oftentimes, a thorough study of the case in question will reveal the truth.
In the event that an individual in unable to make such an examination himself, due to lack of the necessary knowledge or training, he should consult expert moralists on the matter. It happens frequently, however, that even experienced moralists disagree among themselves as to whether a concrete action is licit or illicit.
In that event the practical doubt must be removed indirectly before one is allowed to act. This means that when diligent research has proven to be of no avail in removing the doubt, and when experienced moralists cannot agree, one may correctly conclude that the very existence of the law is positively doubtful and therefore does not bind in conscience. In such a circumstance, the person is free in his action.
Assuming that we are dealing with people who still recognize the difference between good and evil, virtue and vice, we must conclude that no one may act without first forming a practically certain conscience, since it is never lawful to act with a practical doubt about the lawfulness of an action.
Shall we give a few examples? Fine. During hunting season, Jack B. Nimble, doubting whether that which he is aiming at be a deer or a man, is guilty of homicide if he kills, even though it turns out that he actually shot an animal We must not look at the consequences of the act to determine the morality, but to the act itself prior to any consequences. You see, it could have been a man and Jack really didn't care, did he? It just happened that the object was an animal.
The next example is closer to our original question: Is it lawful for someone to take upon himself the duty and responsibility of the teaching authority in the Church who has not been so delegated by legitimate authority?
We are not even talking yet upon the dangerous consequences that may or may not ensue: e.g., the teaching of error while using the name of the Church. It may just be that no error is taught, on the other hand. Nevertheless, these two questions are secondary to the first one.
The answer to this question is: No, no one may lawfully take upon himself the duty and responsibility of the teaching authority in the Church. To do so, is an open act of disobedience against the law and authority of the Church.
Such an action implies the violation not only of explicit Church Law, but also the rejection explicit dogmas of the Church.
When people even bother talking about 'conscience,' what do they mean? Do they really mean that which has been said above concerning conscience? Or, do they call 'conscience' their twisted judgments that 'permit' them to do what they want to do?
Especially in matters of religion, 'conscience' is a term which has been abused to justify and raise to the level of respectability whatever aberration strikes the fancy or is created in the imagination. 'Truth' then becomes whatever you want it to be; and its proof depends upon how many others a person can fool into accepting that 'truth.'
But, truth is based on objective reality. For example: Is Jesus Christ really present in the Holy Eucharist? Obviously, He either is present or is not. It cannot be both. You say He is present; the non-believer says 'He is not present.' Which is it? Is Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist because YOU say He is? And, is Jesus not present because the other fellow says 'He is not?' Does it become nothing more than a matter of personal opinion, or personal belief?
No. The correct answer to such questions is this: 'We believe that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist because He said so. The reason for believing is based on the fact that HE IS PRESENT. It is true that Jesus is preent in the Holy Eucharist whether anyone believes it or not. Just as the sun exists whether anyone recognizes it or not does not change the objective reality of the sun's existence.
Once again, assuming that these people are honest and wish to follow their conscience as they must, the next question is this: How does a person arrive at a practically certain conscience?
It is a principle of moral theology the one must try to form a practically certain conscience, since it is never lawful to act with a practical doubt about the lawfulness of an action. It was already mentioned that the reason for this finds its basis in the fact that to act otherwise is the same as admitting that one desires to do evil; thereby making the will evil. This is, you know, what we call 'sin.' Thee are the things that are displeasing to God. They are eminently displeasing to God when they are done with the pretext of pleasing God.
The formation of conscience is something that is often conveniently over-looked completely ignored. Conscience is formed in one of two ways: directly or indirectly.
The direct solution to doubts of conscience in matters of frequent occurrence and lesser importance can usually be obtained by reflection, by investigation and by asking counsel. In other words, a person has a duty to inform himself concerning the lawfulness of an action before doing it.
Whether an individual is permitted to take upon himself the duty of teaching doctrine and morals in the Church is something anyone with common sense could easily find out.
How? For one thing, it is enough to consider the custom of the Church. When has it been known that either clergymen or laymen published newsletters without the permission or approval of their local Bishop?
Pastors of parishes published little bulletins for their immediate parishioners, but no one was authorized to go beyond the confines of one's own parish limits. Religious Orders published periodicals written on religious matters because the authors were well-versed in such matters and there was always the authorization of a competent authority which monitored the content for accuracy in matters of faith and morals.
This is all based on the dogmatic position of the Church that the true shepherds of the faithful are the Pope and Bishops in their respective dioceses. This is the teaching authority in the Church. When brazen heretics attempted to ignore this rule of faith and discipline for the purpose of spreading the poison of their errors among other Catholics, the Church formally promulgated laws governing the publication by preaching or printing of anything dealing with doctrine or discipline.
That some Bishops may have been neglectful in these matters and allowed spurious doctrines to be spread does not make the law useless, it only proves that the law needs to be upheld.
If common sense and recourse to the practice of the Church are not sufficient to form a practical certain conscience in this matter, then it becomes a simple matter to consult the Church's law. Failing this, recourse to a competent authority for counsel would quickly dispel any doubts. Of course, it is preposterous to ask someone in violation of this law what he thinks about it. I would not ask the publishers of the VERITAS whether it was lawful to do what they are doing, or not. I already know their answer: They would encourage as many as they can to be disobedient to Church laws as they can. After all, misery loves company and that's why miserable devils work so hard to make more devils in their own image and likeness.
The indirect solution to doubts of conscience is had by recourse to certain and sure principles and moral systems when certainty cannot be obtained by the direct method.
In an indirect solution the theoretical doubt about the lawfulness or necessity of an action remains; but the certainty is obtained as to what one must or may do here and now.
If eternal salvation is at stake one must use those means that will certainly lead to that end. As long as certain means are available one may not employ means that are only probably sufficient.
The authors of such publications consider themselves "Traditionalist" Catholics. First of all, the publishers of the newsletters speak of 'tradition.' However, tradition would already instruct them that their approach is completely contrary to any kind of praiseworthy tradition.
As a typical example, we may use the newsletter which you so kindly provided, namely, the St. Francis Newsletter. The author of this newsletter makes no mention of any kind of legitimate ecclesiastical authority which had granted him permission to represent the Roman Catholic Church in any capacity. Has he received a mission from the Church to teach in Her name? It must be conceded that this is what he is doing.
But, since when does any individual in the Church give himself, or herself, a mission to disregard that visible authority which the Holy Ghost has provided? Isn't this the beginning of religious anarchy within the Mystical Body of Christ? Quite frankly, the world is littered with psychological cripples resulting from these self-appointed 'spiritual guides' and unauthorized 'theologians and canonists.'
Unity of faith is the first to suffer at the hands of these individuals. Second to fall is that respect and obedience due to the legitimate and orthodox hierarchy. Actually, this is a moot point: Which goes first: obedience or faith? Personally, I think the first thing to go is the obedience; then mutilation of the faith follows. Reason: If we are obedient to the word of God, we will not mutilate it nor will we impose our will upon it. This is what Protestantism does. It 'protests' against the word of God as it is authentically presented in God's Church. And, this is what 'heresy' actually is. Nevertheless, it is the will in search of its 'freedom' from lawful constraint and obedience to the visible representatives of the Church which comes first It is all contained in the simple challenge of Lucifer hurled at God: I will not serve! I will not obey!
How unreal and counter-productive it all is may be understood from the entire concept of law and authority.
In the first place, law and authority are necessary. The outstanding characteristic of those who call themselves "Traditionalists" is their attitude and actions that mark them as being absolutely free of any law and authority. Such freedom is an illusion.
The truth of the matter is not whether we will accept law and authority, but rather, which law and authority we will accept.
Think about it!
We speak of the United States as being a 'free country.' Try to disobey any of the laws of this country and you will find yourself obeying the warden of the jail house. If you don't accept the legitimate authority of the pure-food commission, then you will have to accept the authority of the undertaker. If you do not accept to obey the authority of the traffic lights, you will have to accept the authority of the judge who fines you fifty dollars.
We can continue this line of thought for hours - that is how 'free' you are of all authority.
In matters of religion, if you do not accept the authority of the Church, then you must accept the authority of public opinion. How so? Well, public opinion is what passes for wisdom of the street, and outside the true Church it almost always represents compromise with truth.
Modernized religion accepts just enough spiritual and moral truth to keep society together. Just this and no more. For example: Modern religion still says it is wrong to steal. But, it does not care about the rights of God, especially when these rights interfere with man's lying and lust.
Modern religion speaks of a part of the law - that part which it perceives to benefit its followers. It does not uphold the whole law of God.
So many of these 'Catholic Traditionalists' slip into this category of believer - if any supernatural faith can be found in them: They love to speak about the Sermon on the Mount, but seem to forget entirely that part about a last Judgment.
Modern religion strongly condemns murder, but thinks nothing of burdening society with the maintenance of the murderer for a life-time in a life-style few average citizens can afford. It sees no incongruity in all this. It has no problem with the murder of unborn children or birth control, but feels an overwhelming concern for irrational bugs and brutes.
Catholics are not even warned about their complicity in infanticide when they cast a vote in favor of candidates for public office who openly defend and vote for the murder of unborn children. Public opinion has silenced even those who call themselves 'Catholic priests.'
But why condemn 'Modernist Catholicism' when those who do the condemning, are not much better in their choice of what is right and what is wrong?
The oddest creature in today's world is the "Traditionalist" who separates himself from everything and everyone. Paranoid of even those whom he would wish to share his aberrations to the point of never being comfortable anywhere but in his own inconsistent and incongruous world.
This paranoia and hysteria reveal themselves in those who publish these 'newsletters.' The problem these individuals must face today is not so much the impossible situation which they create in their imagination so they can be 'martyrs' to their own myths, as much as it is making a choice. There's the catch: they must make a choice! It is not a question of whether or not they will obey or disobey law and authority; it's a question of which of the two he will obey, namely, the authority of popular opinion, or the authority of Christ and true tradition.
The Church will remain until the end of time and it will remain as She was established by Jesus Christ. She remains in Her laws and authority; and all this in a definite, visible form. She will always have successors of the apostles. If She does not, She ceases to either exist or ceases to be the Mystical Body of Jesus - which is actually the same thing. She and Her representative authority will insist on being right when it is popular to be wrong while appearing to be 'right.' The true Church is virile in that She promotes virtue.
This conviction is not the result of personal conscience but the fruit of supernatural faith which is as adamant in its law and authority as the Church must be when She confronts error anywhere. The Church is hierarchical and people like the publishers of these newsletters do not make up that hierarchy. The Church is right - always right; even when everyone else is wrong. Right is right even if nobody is right; and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.
Only by obedience to the highest law and authority does a man become truly free. A dictionary is an accepted standard for the use of words. It gives accepted definitions and accepted pronunciations. It is an authority concerning meanings and pronunciation of words. I can only become free to use words by submitting to the authority of the dictionary. I could use the word 'moon' and mean 'cheese.' I could also use the word 'cow' and mean 'cowslip.' Having made these personal choices, I would soon find it impossible to tell another person the story of the cow that jumped over the moon. My freedom in this case is only possible by submitting to the law and authority of the dictionary.
A man can call himself 'Catholic' but this does not make him a 'Catholic.' He may be baptized in the Catholic Church, but he cannot be considered a 'Catholic' in good standing if he rejects the laws and authority of the Catholic Church. To call oneself a 'remnant' and remain outside the law and authority of the Catholic Church is nothing but an absurdity. Such a 'remnant' is nothing more than a rag - a piece separated from the whole. A left-over and nothing to be proud of. A 'remnant' is not a part of the 'little flock' of which Jesus spoke.
Here are the laws of the Church concerning the teaching of religion:
The office of preaching the Catholic faith is entrusted chiefly to the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church, and to Bishops for their respective dioceses. Bishops are bound to preach the Gospel personally unless excused by some legitimate reason; and they should moreover employ for the proper fulfillment of this office, not only pastors, but other capable preachers as well. (c.1327). Since preaching pertains to the power of jurisdiction, not to that of order, and is conferred by canonical mission, not by ordination, this duty rests fully upon a residential Bishop when he receives his appointment. ...
No one may exercise the ministry of preaching unless he has received a mission from his lawful superior, either by special grant of the faculty to preach, or by receiving an office to which the function of preaching is attached according to canon law (c.1328). Fitness to preach is required, but it is not sufficient. The Council of Trent condemned the error that preachers might preach without being duly ordained and sent. Those who attend the "Tridentine Mass" seem deaf to anything else 'Tridentine!' Isn't this a Protestant-like 'picking and choosing?'
"It pertains to the Ordinary of the place to make regulations regarding the instruction of the people in Christian doctrine; and even exempt religious whenever they teach nonexempt persons, are bound to observe them" (c. 1336).
"The Ordinary of the place alone grants the faculty to preach in his territory to clerics of the secular clergy and to nonexempt religious" (c. 1337).
The laws of the Church on preaching are specific and bind in conscience: For example: The local Ordinary and the religious superior are bound by a grace obligation in conscience not to grant the faculty or the permission to preach, without having previously satisfied themselves of the candidate's moral character and also, by examination according to canon 877 of his sufficient training (c.1340)....."
"The faculty to preach is to be granted only to priests and deacons, not to other clerics, except for reasonable cause according to the discretion of the Ordinary in particular cases (c.1342). All laymen, even though they be religious, are forbidden to preach in the church. (c. 1342, p.2)
The local Ordinary's authority regarding religious instruction is direct: The various canons (laws) concerning this question clearly indicate that catechetical instruction to the people, is completely under the authority of the Ordinary as to the manner in which it is to be done, etc. Moreover, the religious instruction of youth in schools of whatever kind is subject to the authority and inspection of the Church. Ordinaries of places have also the right to approve teachers and textbooks of religion; and also to demand in the interest of religion and morality that either teachers or books be removed (c.1381,p.3).
Because 'preaching' and 'teaching' are closely related, we can get a good idea of the sensus ecclesiae - the intent of the Church - from the various laws promulgated for the protection of the faith and the faithful.
The Second section dealing with the teaching authority in the Church addresses the matter of publications. This is more directly touches on the question treated here.
Following the Text and Commentary of Canon Law, we can no better than to quote from its commentary concerning general principles. These principles are the guidelines for the formation of a particularly certain conscience.
Under "General Principles" the authors state: "Many people today do not know what bad literature is, or believe that there exists a sort of right to publish anything whatever in virtue of what is called the freedom of the press. Literature is morally bad if it endangers faith or morals, and no one has a 'right' to publish such literature any more than one has a right to poison wells or sell tainted food.
The freedom of speech and of the press which we cherish as part of our free system of government is a valuable compromise, but only a compromise. It does not mean that we imagine all opinions to be equally true or all moral diet equally healthy, of that would be absurd. It means that we do not wish the State to have power to suppress expressions of opinion, because we fear it might abuse that power by suppressing the true and the good along with the false and the bad. In a State which is not constitutionally bound to follow the moral and religious teaching of Christ as infallibly transmitted by His Church, this fear has some foundation; and consequently under our system of government or under any purely political system, Catholics in the same way as other citizens cherish and defend the freedom of the press as a safeguard of essential rights. But in the government of the Church of Christ there are sufficient safeguards against the abuse of the power to control, among her own members, the publication and even the reading of books which might be harmful to faith or morals; and on the other hand, such control is evidently within the scope of the Church's authority, which was given Her by Christ in order to help Christians to save their souls.
The Church exercises this control in two ways: first, by requiring that certain books be submitted for her official examination and approval before publication (previous censure); second, by prohibiting the publication, reading, retention, sale, or communication of bad books (prohibition of books).
Law: Natural and Ecclesiastical.
Natural law directly forbids the reading of bad books, and indirectly also their publication, retention, sale, etc. Holy Scripture gives indications forbidding the same thing and this constitutes divine positive law:
Matthew 7,15 condemns false prophets: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Why are they called 'false prophets' if not because they have come in their own name and have not been sent by the Apostles? They come with the outer appearance of Catholics, but their hearts are filled with the characteristics of rapacious wolves. Wolves associate with 'sheep' (the faithful) for the sole purpose of devouring them!
Ecclesiastical laws have come down to us from the early ages of the Church when the writings of various heretics were proscribed. When Gutenberg, who was a Catholic, invented the art of printing, he brought to mankind a great blessing. However, the art of printing also brought with it the usual danger of abuse.
Successive Popes in the 16th century onwards were obliged to enact laws regarding the previous censure and prohibition of books.
The Council of Trent appointed a commission to frame general rules and a specific list of forbidden books; and these were afterwards published by Pope Paul IV (1557). Later, different Popes developed or modified these laws. Leo XIII drew up a Brief with the complete legislation on the subject in 1897.
The Code of Canon Law substantially adopted these provisions and those of the two great documents of Pius X against Modernism - the Encyclical Pascendi, 8 Sept. 1907 and his Motu proprio, Sacrorum Antistitum, 1 Sept. 1910 - and later all previous general laws on this subject were revised and everything not contained in the Code was revoked.
The Church has the right to forbid the publication of books by the faithful unless she has officially examined them in advance, and for just cause to prohibit books, by whomsoever they may have been published. (Canon 1384, § 1).
The provisions of canons 1384-1405 inclusive, regarding books, are to be applied also to daily publications, periodicals, and other published writings of whatever kind, unless the contrary appear. (c.1384 § 2).
Most applicable to the example of the St. Francis Newsletter and all similar publications are those that would come under Canon 1385. This canon states that "Even though published by laymen, the following require previous approval:
Books which treat of Holy Scripture, theology, church history, canon law, natural theology, ethics, or other such religious and moral branches; also books and booklets of prayers and devotions, or of instruction and training in religion, morals, asceticism, mysticism, and the like, even though they seem to favor piety; and in general all writings which contain anything of special importance to religion and good morals."
Too much space would be required to point out the serious errors throughout this one issue of the newsletter under discussion. Perhaps a single error would suffice to show that this newsletter is a danger to faith and morals. The author apparently considers himself to have a 'well formed conscience' because this is the same thing he is urging his readers to do. He gives himself as the example. Referring to them, he writes: "Their well formed consciences rightly prompt them to avoid all the traditional groups and to stay at home. With peace of soul they endure their dry martyrdom with love for God and acceptance of the chastisement of not having Holy Mass and the sacraments."
Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church no longer exists for this man and his 'like-minded dry martyrs.' How 'well formed' is the conscience of those whom he seeks to instruct at the modest fee of $10 per annum? Since when is anarchy the result of a 'well formed conscience?
Note the pious fancies that substitute for solid theology: "While I know my Mother is in Heaven, I still miss her greatly. But that is somewhat minimized when I pray to her throughout the day."
Having condemned everyone except renegade, independent clergymen sacrilegiously peddling the Tridentine Mass, the author canonizes his mother because he has certain knowledge that she is in heaven. Like the apostate Church which this man urges his readers to avoid by not having 'anything to do with them,' he indulges himself in the same heretical mind-set of those with whom his readers should not have 'anything' (His emphasis) to do with.
How often have we not heard of clergymen telling the people gathered in a church for a funeral that the deceased is in heaven and that we should 'pray to him' and not 'for him?' Unless my knowledge of the English language is incorrect, the same idea comes through with the author of the newsletter: He knows his mother (with a capital 'M' which makes it a proper noun) is in heaven. He knows this and so he prays to her, and not for her.
The official teaching of the Church on such matters is this: "Without special Divine Revelation no one can know with the certainty of faith, if he be in the state of grace." Canonization is an ecclesiastical process involving papal infallibility.
The Church already had to settle this matter against the identical teaching of the Protestant 'Reformers' that the justified possess certainty of faith which excludes all doubt about their justification. This was done at the Council of Trent when it was declared: "If one considers his own weakness and his defective disposition, he may well be fearful and anxious as to his state of grace, as nobody knows with the certainty of faith, which permits of no error, that he has achieved the grace of God."
The author of the newsletter obviously claims that he is able to know the state of soul of his mother which is quite a thing to accomplish, when he is so mixed up in his own faith as is manifest from a reading of just one of his newsletters.
That a person may have high moral certainty supported by the testimony of his conscience is quite different. Nevertheless, it does not authorize the implicit proclamation that someone is in heaven and that there is no longer a need to pray for that soul.
Such an attitude would constitute the sin of presumption. From this flows the other extreme conclusions as to the value of sacramentals.
This matter of unauthorized newsletters that has virtually inundated the homes of Catholics has been treated here so that the reader will have a sound knowledge of conscience and the laws of the Church concerning these matters. No one with a properly formed conscience can read such newsletters, much less publish them.
All such activity is a direct violation of the laws of the Church. Conscience dictates what we must do and what we must avoid. A sound conscience cannot possibly dictate the reading of forbidden literature.
The proof of the seriousness of the dangers involved in disobeying the laws of the Church in these matters, is the fact that not only the author himself but all those whom he entices in his web sooner or later become what they have condemned in others; namely, HERETICS.
Catholics have been warned against supporting such newsletters and reading them. Those who have thought themselves wise enough to disregard such a serious warning have unfortunately followed the folly of their self-will and no longer walk with other Roman Catholics.
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