Itching Ears

Paul, in what is significantly known as a “pastoral epistle” (advice from an apostle to one of the bishops he is leaving behind to shepherd the Church), warns Timothy of a perennial problem such shepherds will face, not merely in the first century, but right down to the Last Day:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

It often comes as a surprise to people to learn that such words often, if not typically, apply not to progressive innovators, but to people committed to a phony narrative about the Good Old Days and “preserving tradition” that is usually anchored in a dream of their maintenance (or acquisition) of power at the cost of obedience to the Spirit.

We see it, for instance, in Acts 15 and its aftermath as a sect (in this case, the Circumcision Party) attempts the first in a long line of grabs at power and supremacy over those they regard as second class Christians (in this case, Gentile converts). It’s a natural enough temptation in a world dominated by tribal and ethnic ties for this particular sect to try to assert that blood relation to the Messiah somehow makes Jewish Christians more equal than others. But the Jerusalem Synod (and Paul in nearly all his letters) scotches this and makes clear that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Other sects will come along throughout the history of the Church, all attempting the same prideful project: figuring out some ground for a claim of being more equal than others, better, more pious, more orthodox, more loving, more pure, more extra than the ordinary slobs the sect invariably sees inhabiting the rest of the Church. Whether it’s the allegedly dreary Trinitarian dolts the Arians look down on, or the supposedly morally compromised slobs the Donatists look down, or the corrupt ordinary herd of Catholic rank and file the Jansenists look down on, or the ordinary Massgoer today’s current crop of super-duper pure hard right Reactionaries look down on, the common theme is always the same: for the Super-Duper Pure, ordinary Catholics are vermin and need to be beaten into conformity with the rigorists or else driven out of Fortress Katolicus so that the Pure, the Righteous, and the Mercilessly Orthodox can finally establish the Reich of Heaven on Earth.

Now sects thoughout the ages, like the Church herself, tend to be like tofu, taking on flavor of the times in which they exist, and our time is no exception. So in a culture deeply infected with Celebrity Worship, Reactionaries today tend to look to celebrities to create alternative Magisteria to tell them what their itching ears want to hear. So the Pope-hating sect, enraged at the Holy Father–for a host of reasons centering on their inveterate self-pity, their sociopathic conservative disregard for all suffering not their own as non-existent, contemptible, funny, and/or guilt manipulation, and fearful of the gospel demand to prioritize the least of these over their obsessions with aesthetics–have elevated a few weird theological pop stars to tell them its fine to ignore the Church and the pope if they want to indulge their spite, or paranoia, or racism, or elitist pride, or whatever else their selfishness desires.

Indeed, as they are now making clear, they increasingly don’t even hide behind the fig leaf of pretense of respect for the Pope or the Magisterium:

Now, one of the bigger fish in that pond of Reactionary hatred for the actual Magisterium has published a book specifically designed to attack the Magisterium–and the love of the neighbor who is not part of their tribe. Mike Lewis of Where Peter Is explains:

Credo: A Compendium of the Catholic Faith by Bishop Athanasius Schneider is promoted by its publisher, Sophia Institute Press, as offering “a clear and readable summary of Catholicism as a whole, given in the pastoral style of the apostles.” The marketing copy claims that the book’s author “shares a bold new articulation of timeless truths, while also engaging current issues with courage and kindness.”

The publisher of the book puts its claims of orthodoxy front-and-center, stating in the publisher’s preface that Credo is “a complete explanation of Catholicism which is both thorough and readable; true to the changeless Magisterium and captivatingly current; at once ancient and contemporary, faithful and fruitful.” Bolstering the claim is the fact that the book bears the imprimatur, dated July 7, 2023, of Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.

The book has enthusiastic endorsements from figures such as Bishop Joseph Strickland, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Scott Hahn. Although Strickland is well known for his open dissent against the living Magisterium and the teachings of Pope Francis, the endorsements of Sarah and Hahn raise questions about their views and supports the claim that both are aligned with radical traditionalists in opposition to the pope and his teachings.

Unfortunately, having read through the book and finding many troubling contradictions of the Magisterium and doctrinal errors throughout, it is clear that this book is anything but orthodox and amounts to little more than radical traditionalist propaganda. From start to finish, examples of heterodoxy abound, ranging from the explicit rejection of teachings from Vatican II documents to criticism of passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are also multiple instances in which Schneider describes the official teachings and declarations of Pope Francis as “doctrinally erroneous.”

Although we’ve come to expect radical traditionalism from both Bishop Schneider and Sophia Institute Press (they published Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration, after all), Credo is especially concerning because not only does it purport to be a catechism, but the imprimatur by Bishop Libasci is a public indication that ecclesial authority has reviewed the book and determined that it is free from error. The book does not bear a nihil obstat, so perhaps it was not reviewed thoroughly.

I reached out to Bishop Libasci on Saturday to ask that he withdraw the imprimatur and to let him know that I planned to write an article about the book. I did not receive a direct reply from Libasci, who currently stands accused of sexually abusing a minor while serving as a priest in the diocese of Rockville Centre in New York in the 1980s, but today I did receive a message from a chancery staffer “to acknowledge receipt,” noting that “The Diocese of Manchester always appreciates the vigilance of the faithful.”

What are the problems with Credo? Honestly, there are too many to count, but let’s look at a few examples. These are not exhaustive but should demonstrate that Credo is a problematic text. (Note: These quotes come from the Kindle Edition of the book, which has different pagination than the print edition and does not correspond to the page number in the index.)

Examples of Problematic Teachings in ‘Credo’

96. Then man is not a creature that the Creator has willed for its own sake?10

No. Although man should never be used as a mere means to an end, the notion that man exists simply “for his own sake” is the self-referential error of anthropocentrism, rooted in the unchristian philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).

(Footnote 10 says, “The Council of Vatican II’s document Gaudium et Spes, 24 made the ambiguous affirmation that “man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.”)

208. Then Muslims do not adore the one and merciful God “together with us” Catholics?39

No. Catholics consciously profess and adore “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,”40 not simply “the one God”; whereas one of the most famous and frequent Muslim prayers, the Al-Ikhlas Ayat, solemnly rejects this divine revelation.41

(Footnote 39 says, “For this ambiguous affirmation, see Council of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16.”)

209. Is it true to say that Muslims hold the faith of Abraham?42

No. Abraham saw three and adored one43 (see Gn 18:2–3) and rejoiced in the vision of the future Redeemer (see Jn 8:56), excluding neither Christ nor the Trinity in his faith. Conversely, the Muslim explicitly excludes faith in Christ and the Holy Trinity.

(Footnote 42 says, “See this misleading phrase in Council of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16, and repeated in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 841.”)

The section on “Human Dignity and Fraternity” contains numerous problematic assertions:

224. Is the dignity of the human person rooted in his creation in God’s image and likeness?

This was true for Adam, but with original sin the human person lost this resemblance and dignity in the eyes of God. He recovers this dignity through baptism, and keeps it as long as he does not sin mortally.

225. Then human dignity is not the same in all persons?

No. The human person loses his dignity in proportion to his free choice of error or evil; e.g., the dignity of Adolph Hitler and St. Francis of Assisi are not the same.

(Contrast these with many magisterial statements, for example CCC 1934: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.”)

There are many notable things about Schneider’s open and naked assault on the clear magisterial teaching of the Church, but for me the thing that sticks out is his triumphalist eagerness to deny, in no uncertain terms, the dignity of the human person to every unbaptized human being (a denial that, try to dodge it as he will, ultimately comes back to a denial of the Holy Grail of right wing, pelvis-obsessed morality: the dignity of unborn human life).

As is so often the case with Reactionaries, the goal is always to exclude and exile from the circle of God’s love as much of the human race as possible. The sacraments are treated, not as sure encounters with God, but as reducing valves specifically designed by God to make sure that as few people as possible are saved, with a special focus on Jews and Muslims.

Reactionaries, as usual, stunningly ignorant of the Tradition they claim to uphold, like to claim that the notion of universal human dignity is “modernist humanism” and that it was all invented by the accursed Second Vatican Council just a few years back when the Church went to hell in the 60s. But in reality, it has been affirmed by the Church from the start. As Paul tells the pagan Greeks on the Areopagus:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28)

The universality of human dignity owing both to our being made in the image and likeness of God and to the fact that (CCC 605), “The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.'” (Council of Quiercy (853): DS 624; cf. 2 Cor 5:15; 1 Jn 2:2) is an ancient feature of the Tradition, not a “modernist aberration” just as Catholic teaching on the common good and the duties of the rich to the poor date back to the Old and New Testaments, not to the Communist Manifesto. (Note to Reactionary Saviors of Traditional Catholic Faith: The Council of Quiercy was held by the flower power, tie-dyed hippies of 849.)

Likewise, that pot-smoking liberal Pope Pius XI is the one who cooked up this bit of modernism for Bp. Schneider to save the Church from:

“Patriotism—the stimulus of so many virtues and of so many noble acts of heroism when kept within the bounds of the law of Christ—becomes merely an occasion, an added incentive to grave injustice when true love of country is debased to the condition of an extreme nationalism, when we forget that ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS AND MEMBERS OF THE SAME GREAT HUMAN FAMILY, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity, that it is never lawful nor even wise, to dissociate morality from the affairs of practical life, that, in the last analysis, it is ‘justice which exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable.’”

I think what terrorizes Reactionaries (as it ought to terrorize every person who prioritizes systems over persons and every legalist who believes in his soul that man was made for the law, not the law for man), is the epoch-making teaching of Gaudium et Spes that “Man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.”

This Spirit-inspired formulation, rooted deeply in the Tradition but trumpeted by the Church in particularly loud reaction to the horrors of the 20th century in which Catholics, to our shame, contributed, was a declaration of war on the great systematizing tyrannies (whether political, economic, ideological, scientific, military, racial, capitalist, communist–or ecclesial) is absolutely radical in its implications and is one that the Church herself has only barely begun to comprehend. But comprehend it we must because the Church will not be ratcheting back on it one inch, and the efforts of Reactionaries–as of all other idolators of diagrams and systems over the living God and his beloved human beings–are doomed to dash themselves to pieces on that immovable rock of Catholic (and Spirit-inspired) teaching until they learn it.


4 Responses

  1. Wow! Thank you so much, Mr. Shea, for this insightful and impassioned post!

    Indeed, I can recall several times in my earlier rad-trad days when I was not a little befuddled in wondering why the Donatists and the Jansenists weren’t the true Catholics. I have understood for quite a while, but now I see why I was so befuddled by this: because my position as a “Traditionalist Catholic” was not so different from theirs- actually, it differed not so much in essence as in accidents. To condemn Donatism (or any of the other “traditionalist” heresies of the past), for instance, was to implicitly condemn myself for following the same principles in different circumstances! May God bless you, your family, and your writing! (I wish I had read it years ago!)

  2. Thanks Mark. What a horrendous temptation they have succumbed to. Tragic. They would be better off if they were kind hippies searching for truth with “coexist” bumper stickers.

    Don’t forget that today is the day that Pope Francis has asked us all to pray and make sacrifices for peace!

  3. I see too many occasions today where people seem to default to dividing the Church into the good Catholics (whether they be progressive or conservative or otherwise) and the bad Catholics (whether they be progressive and conservative or otherwise), and then having reached that conclusion, look for interpretations of their words and actions that fit what they decided upon.

    Just to be clear, I’m not talking about Father Altman’s post. That goes way over the line, to an entirely different level than it appears to me this new catechism and the discussion about it does.

    When there seems to be disagreement, I would far rather start by looking at whether what one person says can be reconciled with what another person say, such as when it was necessary to discern how Pope Francis teaching recourse to the death penalty is now inadmissible fits with Pope John Paul II teaching that the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty. On the other hand, if upon such examination it is seen that correction is necessary, it still needs to be done charitably.

    Starting with the part about mankind’s purpose, as far as I see, this catechism and the excerpt from Gaudium et Spes* seem to be addressing different aspects of the purpose of our creation. I don’t think this catechism simply labeling the quote from Gaudium et Spes ambiguous is an adequate way to address it, but I do think making distinctions about our purpose is important:

    Man was created for his own sake in the sense that we don’t exist to serve the need of some other. We are not like the plants, the birds, and the beasts that Genesis 1:29-30 teaches are given to man.

    Yet it is not true that we exist simply for our own sake in an absolute sense. That is indeed a very common anthropocentric fallacy that justifies each person living primarily for themselves. Rather, yet another catechism says, “God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in heaven.” And of course, as you routinely remind us based on the Church’s social teaching that serving Him in this life includes loving and caring for other people.

    I don’t want to get too deeply into the topic of Islam because it takes careful distinctions to address this well, but it is still necessary to distinguish between what we each believe in order to make clear that the fullness of Truth and an understanding of the relationship we should have with God is not found in Islam. As a sort of universalism seems to have taken hold in part of the Church, I think remains necessary to be clear that while Lumen Gentium teaches the plan for salvation includes Muslims, it also teaches the Church is the surest path to that salvation. I don’t read texts making some of those distinctions and simply assume they are telling us Muslims have no dignity or are our eternally sworn enemies.

    This is getting long, so I’ll start to wrap up by noting that while I have not seen this new catechism myself, if the above are supposed to be examples of its worst parts, I do not see a “naked assault on the clear magisterial teaching of the Church.”

    Honestly, I’m really frustrated at this site, of all places, to see those passages used as a justification to characterize those who contributed to or endorsed this catechism as a “Pope-hating sect, enraged at the Holy Father” seeking “to attack the Magisterium.”

    You often warn against calling upon our own private magisteriums for reasons to judge those we disagree with or don’t understand, but it seems like the same thing is happening by rushing to a sort of schismatic interpretation, first of all of the text of this catechism itself, and secondly of those who saw some merit in it and endorsed it. The Church does not need opposing groups of “Greatest Catholics of All Time” alternatively excommunicating the Bishop Barrons or the Scott Hahns among us over imperfect discussions of complex topics.

    * To be fair, the actual full text of Gaudium et Spes No. 24 actually addresses this more fully.

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