Sunday, September 4, 2016

Rebutting Fr. Matt Malone

Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. (a Jesuit priest) wrote a vague, confusing, and ultimately misleading piece in America Magazine, and so I decided to do a line-by-line rebuttal. 

Let's dive right in, with Fr. Malone's words in red, and my responses in black:

I can virtually guarantee you that if you attend Mass on Sunday morning in any parish in the United States, you will find yourself sitting in a pew near someone who disagrees with you about what the public policy should be on abortion. 

This is true. So far, so good.

Or same-sex marriage. 


Or the death penalty. 


While the teaching of the church on the moral dimensions of these issues is clear and consistent, there is today, as there has always been, a spirited debate about how to apply those moral principles in the public realm, one that is democratic, diverse and nonsectarian. 

Uh, not exactly. On death penalty issues, yes, a debate on how to apply public policy is allowed. But as far as the teaching of the Magisterium on abortion or gay "marriage"? There is no "spirited debate" about "how to apply those moral principles". These intrinsic evils must be opposed always and unequivocally, in the public square and everywhere. The Church is very, very clear on that.

As John Courtney Murray, S.J. once wrote, in a pluralistic society “there are circumstances in which human authority has neither mandate nor duty nor right to use its coercive power against error and evil.” In other words, it does not necessarily follow from the fact that something is immoral that it should be illegal. 

This is absolutely true, but in this case, misleading. Fr. Malone is trying to apply these words to the issues of abortion and gay "marriage" -- the very issues to which this principle cannot and does not apply.

Thus our public policy choices belong to the realm of prudential judgment. 

No. Fr. Malone is implying "all" here. But not all issues in the public square ("public policy choices") belong to the realm of prudential judgment! The Church never says this, and in fact teaches otherwise:

In his letter, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote the following as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the congregation in charge of protecting doctrinal purity):
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (emphasis mine)

To be sure, the church’s magisterium has supported specific public policy solutions in the areas of abortion, the death penalty, prostitution and other contentious issues. And not all of those issues involve the same level of moral gravity. Yet Catholics are still free to disagree with one another in good conscience, if not about the moral principles at stake, then certainly about the prudential application of those principles in the public square.

Again, utterly misleading. By lumping all those issues together (abortion, death penalty, prostitution, and "other contentious issues"), he blurs the lines, and badly.

Fr. Malone gives a nod to the truth that "not all of those issues involve the same level of moral gravity," but then he does not attempt to explain that precisely because of these different levels of moral gravity, our responses to those issues must be different. Instead, he writes as if our response to those different issues can be just the same. However, as we see from Cardinal Ratzinger's words above, these issues do not demand the same response from the faithful.

Let's go even further. In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II said much about the intrinsic evils of abortion and euthanasia, and never discussed Catholics' "freedom to disagree" in "good conscience" about the "prudential application of those principles in the public square" (Fr. Malone's words). These excerpts from EV are lengthy, but please bear with me and read them all (all emphases mine):

Civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law [i.e., civil law] must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals -- even if they are the majority of the members of society -- an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.   (#71)
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law....Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity....Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.  (#72)
Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection....In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".  (#73)
Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).  (#74)

Do you see anything there that talks about Catholics being "free to disagree" on the "prudential application of those principles in the public square"? I don't. These are intrinsic (i.e., of their very nature) evils, and we are to exercise our public square duties to always and everywhere oppose them to the greatest extent that we can.

For this reason it is both imprudent and impractical to use an individual’s position on a public policy question, even a life-and-death issue like abortion or the death penalty, as the only basis for determining whether they have a right to sit next to us in church on Sunday morning. 

What? Fr. Malone is arguing something very curious here, claiming that people don't believe pro-abortion folks "have a right" to sit in a pew on Sunday. Huh?? I've never heard such an argument in 22 years of teaching the Faith. Everyone, from the greatest saint to the greatest sinner, from Catholic to Hindu to Buddhist to atheist, is welcome to come to Mass and sit next to us in the pews! No one ever argued otherwise, and if they have, they are in such a small minority that I have never encountered them in over two decades. Anyone can come and sit in the pews at Mass!

So, why would Father say this? Let's read on....

I am pro-life. I believe that abortion should be illegal in this country in almost every circumstance. 

Abortion should be illegal in "almost every circumstance"? No, Fr. Malone, abortion should be illegal in every single circumstance. Every individual human life is sacred and inviolable. No Catholic priest should be in favor of "some" legal abortion! Fr. Malone is not in accord with Church teaching here.

But I can’t imagine saying to the person sitting next to me at Mass, the one who disagrees with me on what the public policy on abortion should be, that he or she is somehow less Catholic than I am by virtue of that simple fact. I certainly wouldn’t tell them to leave, nor would I protest their arrival at the front door of the church.

I agree with Fr. Malone on one thing: What makes a person "Catholic" is simply his baptism. The person may completely reject the Catholic Faith at some point after that, and he would still be a Catholic. He may be a hell-bound Catholic, but still a Catholic.

As we've discussed countless times here in the Bubble, we cannot judge any individual soul, because we are not God. We cannot read hearts, and we cannot know how each person is cooperating with the grace he or she receives.

But what we can judge (and are commanded to judge) are actions. If a Catholic politician, for example, votes for legal abortion, we can say without hesitation that his act is evil. If it happens again and again, and if the Catholic politician is proud and boasts of his votes for legal abortion, even abortion with no restrictions, and even having a 100% positive rating from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, we can unequivocally say that what he is doing is morally evil, not to mention scandalous.

So again, why would Father say what he's saying? Let's keep going....

Yet this is precisely what happened recently to Tim Kaine. The Democratic vice-presidential nominee was met by a small group of protestors at the parish church in Richmond, Va., where he has attended Mass for 30 years. According to WTVR-TV, “the demonstrators claim the Virginia senator’s voting record contradicts the Catholic faith on issues of abortion and gay marriage.”

Now we see. It's a defense of Hillary Clinton's Catholic running mate, Tim Kaine.

One organizer of the protest told reporters, based presumably on the fact that the senator has a lamentably near-perfect voting score from Planned Parenthood, that Mr. Kaine “is not America’s dad at all.... He’s really, all I can say, is evil.” Whatever the protester meant, that statement is manifestly uncharitable.

On this I agree with Fr. Malone. It is indeed uncharitable to say that anyone is "evil." As I mentioned above, only God can read a soul, and we cannot know if indeed Kaine is rotten inside. We can only look to his actions and say, "Those actions are pure evil." And we should.

We should note for the record that a much larger crowd enthusiastically greeted “Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, the Sunday after Clinton picked him as her running mate.” 

I'm not sure why we should "note this for the record"? Perhaps to assuage the consciences of those who would vote for a Catholic politician who goes against the moral law, the laws of God, the laws of Christ's Church, and votes to allow murder of the child in the womb? Other than that, it's not necessary to "note" this celebration of the man. But let's move on....

Prescinding from the fact that I strongly disagree with Mr. Kaine about the public policy question of abortion and that this magazine has been sharply critical of his position in a recent editorial (see: Am., 8/15), if I belonged to his parish, I would be standing with the folks who were welcoming him. 

Again, abortion is not a "public policy question" according to the Catholic Church. And please, welcome him to the parish, sit right next to him. But let's be honest. That's not really what people are upset about, is it? In truth, faithful Catholics are upset that Tim Kaine, who is flaunting the teachings of God and His Church, is presenting himself for Holy Communion each week, which is wrong at best and scandalous at worst. And since Kaine is a virulently pro-abortion, pro-gay "marriage" politician, it cannot be good for his own soul, either.

And I bet that, like the congregation itself, the welcoming crowd would be a mix of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people.

Then shame on us for not better educating our own people, wouldn't you agree, Father?

The reason is simple: Our fundamental identity and unity as Catholic Christians does not reside in our allegiance to a set of ideas, much less to some political manifesto.

Fr. Malone, your Church says that voting against legal abortion and euthanasia and gay "marriage" is not "allegiance to a set of ideas" or "some political manifesto" -- it's adherence to the very Law of God. Please, check Evangelium Vitae again for the parts you missed. This is a bizarre statement coming from a Catholic priest.

Our unity resides in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Yes. Until and unless any Catholic individual, through his own grave and unrepentant sin, has separated himself from the Person of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ. In that case, there is no unity there at all. "Unity" and "separation" are contradictory, after all.

For us, as I have often said, truth is ultimately a person—a “someone” we encounter rather than a “something” with which we beat each other over the head. In other words, jeering your fellow Catholics as they enter the church on Sunday is neither Catholic nor particularly pro-life.

And yet protesting evil, and holding our Catholic politicians accountable for the evil they proudly, openly, even enthusiastically promote, is most definitely Catholic and pro-life. Expecting that Catholics who persist in grave and public sin/scandal do not approach for Communion is also a Catholic thing.

What is not in keeping with our Catholic Faith is obfuscation, sugar-coating, misleading, and blurring lines. I hope and pray that none of that was done on purpose, because we have enough confused and ignorant Catholics in America as it is. I beg you to try for a little more clarity next time, Father.


  1. Thank you so much, Leila, for providing the words and authentic resources to understand and defend our faith from confusing articles like Fr. Malone's. If he only knew how very much we Catholics desire and need the kind of clarity your post provides.

  2. Lay Miller: 1 Clerical Malone: 0. America magazine ("The National 'Catholic' Review): -1.

    As Cardinal Ratzinger prophesied about the future of the Church: "As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…". Well done, Leila! God bless your fidelity to Christ and to His Magisterium. May the Holy Spirit bless us all with the Gift of Discernment in these dark, confused times.

  3. I suspect many justifications of intrinsic evil--however learned they may sound--are really just indirect justifications of one's own unrepented sexual sins.

  4. Kevin, I have often thought the same. Something is not right. It's like when Fulton Sheen was listening to the young man complain bitterly about the Church's riches, and how all should be sold and given to the poor, and finally Archbishop Sheen looked at him and said, "How much did you steal?"

  5. Well done, Leila! I can't imagine how long it takes you to write these posts!!

  6. You really need to send this to Fr. Malone.

  7. Shannon, sometimes it takes a long time to write a post. This one was ridiculously easy and quick. His points are so easily rebutted that it was almost effortless. That's what is just so baffling about his piece. More baffling is that some Catholic writers/bloggers who should know better liked and posted his piece.

    Nicole, I would be happy if someone did that.

  8. Recent blog post from Breadbox Letters:
    "The worst kind of heretic is the one who,
    while teaching mostly true catholic doctrine,
    adds a word of heresy,
    like a drop of poison in a cup of water." - Pope Leo X111
    Unfortunately, Fr. Malone is leading people astray with his 'drop(s)'.
    Wonderful article, Leila.

  9. Marge, yes! That is exactly right. At least with outright heresy, there is no pretense of following Catholic teaching.

  10. The protesters are normal, everyday Catholics. Ones who are obviously very frustrated by the lack of official response to these political Catholics who outright support laws and policy in contradiction to the Catholic Church's teachings. They will be forgotten in a matter of weeks.

    Kaine is running for vice president. He has numerous comments on record in support of abortion. He shows no sign he feels any shame or conflict with so publicly going against some of the Church's most fundamental beliefs. Kaine will remain in the public eye for months if not years.

    Way to go after the weak, brave Father Malone.

    This is why the Churches are emptying. This isn't leadership. This isn't guidance. This certainly isn't strength.

  11. StarFireKK, you really hit on something here! It's elitism. Plain and simple. The elites like Kaine and those who fawn on him and excuse his evil acts, are the elites. The protesters are the "unwashed masses" and can be mocked and ignored. Elitism, straight up. Thanks for bringing up that important point!

  12. So, Fr. Malone is basically saying, "be nice to pro-choicers"?

    We know that.
    The real issue is: Shouldn't we be having a conversation about this? Shouldn't we be- maybe- tabling the reasons why people have protested Kaine's presence or his stance as a public figure, alongside the teachings- despite the rudeness of protesters?

    If people are protesting, why? If people aren't happy with a Catholic public figure, why not? This is the discussion we should be having.

    It's not enough to chastise, we need to discuss.

    I agree, Father, let's all be cordial. But this goes beyond etiquette. A public figure - who is Catholic- goes against the teachings of the Church. How about we table it all for a good discussion then?

    It's the same thing when a quarterback draws attention to himself by protesting standing for the National Anthem. Just what is it you want to discuss? It's not enough to "raises awareness" -- we're all aware you're mad. It's not enough to "protest". We need to discuss and go from there.

    Why are we never discussing, never setting a goal of hashing this out, never hitting on the reality of just what it's all about, and getting active about a solution?

    Just what it is that is not lining up, what is making me people mad? It's not just "protesting for awareness". Let's get concrete.

    I wish Fr. would've taken it this far, down this route, and not stopped short with a mere rebuke on how to treat pro-choice Catholics.

  13. Nubby, YES!!!! It's all "show" and no "tell". It is like pulling teeth trying to engage anyone in discussion. Right now, I'm listening to Trent Horn & Timmerie Millington on their weekly show, "Hearts and Minds" where they DISCUSS and analyze current events in light of Church teaching. Ahh such a breath of fresh air!

    And I can't say too much, but Patrick Coffin (soon-to-be-former-host of Catholic Answers Live) is excitedly building a new media endeavor that sounds like it will also be hugely refreshing!

    And hence why I love Leila and her Bubble blog, we DISCUSS things here!

  14. Nubby, that's one of my biggest frustrations with the "other side". They cut and run. They never want to actually discuss. Very, very few of them. It's so weird, because I will be happy to discuss my views and Catholic teaching with anyone who asks. But not the other side. They run, they obfuscate, they call names. (Not in that order.)

  15. Well stated argument. I am in total agreement with you. I am concerned that many will regard the two letters "SJ" after someone's name as a de facto imprimatur. For a Jesuit, Fr. Malone's statements are in rather obvious error to one who knows the Church's position on these. Bravo citing Cardinal Ratzinger.

  16. Thank you, Rick. I would love to hear from Fr. Malone. I won't hold my breath, but wouldn't it be nice to have a dialogue about this?

  17. Leila- has anyone sent this to him? I do t know how to but would like to!

  18. I don't know. I hope someone has! It needs addressing! Not that I expect him to change his mind. But my goodness, this is so seemingly disingenuous (I don't want to malign a priest's motives, so it's only how it appears to me).

  19. This morning, I sent this with a brief request for consideration to Fr. Malone at America Media. We'll see.

  20. Thanks, Michelle!

    It seems to me that the "I am personally opposed, but..." has morphed into, "I am personally opposed, but the Church says we can differ on how we want public policy handled."


    1. Hi Leila - I'll respond here and overall, you nailed one of the current crises in the Church. Keep up the great work. SF!

  21. Hi Leila - I wanted to add how much my family and I appreciate your work and look forward to receiving your book. SF!

  22. Excellent work again, Leila. It's getting almost boring reading the words of so many "Catholic" relativists.

    I attended Franciscan University's Defending The Faith conference this summer. They had a 2-hour on-stage debate, promoting both sides of the gay marriage/relativism debate. It was most interesting. I purchased copies for local parishes, especially for the young adults who are hearing "why are you against love?" as the argument for gay marriage. The debate lays out solidly the Catholic faith's reasoning in a most compelling way. The 15000 in attendance gave it a standing ovation. You can get a copy on the university's website. It is something most Catholics need to hear, to increase their understanding of their faith on these publicly debated issues.

  23. Thank you, Luis!

    And, DNBA, I am going to look that up! Thank you! (Feel free to link it here, by the way.)

  24. Another informed blog, which accurately cites many of the relevant doctrines; however I always find it painful, and particularly difficult to explain to non-Catholics (or indeed Catholics) a doctrinal stance which is absolute on abortion and euthanasia, but not the death penalty. As you say, it is not for us to decide on another's live and I wholeheartedly disagree with assigning death penalty to public policy. Its a challenging area, thanks for your piece.

  25. Unknown, but the Church is clear, as is the moral law: Not all killing is murder. All murder is wrong. But not all killing. For example, it is permissible to kill in self-defense (never using greater force to stop an aggressor than necessary). And it is permissible (and the purview of the state) to put the guilty to death, if there is no other way to keep the populace safe. So, unlike suicide or abortion or straight up murder of innocent people, there is no "absolute" with the death penalty. Should it be practically non-existent today? Yes, it should be, if we can safeguard people from criminals effectively. But it is not intrinsically evil, as are abortion and euthanasia.

    If it still troubles you, the best course is, as always, to trust the Church on the issue. We are young and finite in our knowledge. The Church is divine, her teachings protected, and she has the wisdom not only of the ages, but of the Holy Spirit Who guides her.

  26. Will someone please respond to a commenter at the America Mag site? Here is his post: (I do not feel equipped to answer him, but feel someone should, please!)
    "Paul Lindblom | 9/6/2016 - 9:07am
    As a person who has been "searching" for God for most of my life I read this article and it only adds to my confusion about religion. The following quote is a reply to a blog post that critiques this article.

    "The worst kind of heretic is the one who,
    while teaching mostly true catholic doctrine,
    adds a word of heresy,
    like a drop of poison in a cup of water." - Pope Leo X111

    I find the sentiment of this to be true in the secular world such as a mission statement of a business. A slight change even just a word over time creates a new baseline so that when a new word is added the new baseline becomes the norm and again and again.
    To me the following blog post is interesting in how it discusses the points of this article.
    I acknowledge that I don't fully understand the arguments being made due to my lack of knowledge of the Catholic faith compared to most who post here, so my apologies in advance if questioning this was inappropriate."

  27. He gets the logic of the comment he quoted (per his analogy to a mission statement), so what, specifically, is he confused about?
    Moral load? Moral application? Doctrine itself? Fr. Malone's rebuke? His counsel? Maybe just ask him.

  28. Meeeea,I hope to get over to that page today if possible! And if not, I hope he does email me or hop on over here!


PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest. We often have meaty and long discussions -- trust me, they're worth following!