Catholic bloggers who Attack the Sacraments

Modern secular society believes in freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. This is all well and good as a starting point for a free society. But it is only a starting point because thought, speech, and religion are all properly directed toward discovering objective truth. And once you find truth, on any important matter of religion or morals, you are morally obligated to adhere to that truth. You cannot believe whatever you want, in contradiction to known truth. If you know the truth, and yet you refuse to believe and to live by that truth, then you are believing and living an empty lie.

The Roman Catholic faithful have freedom of thought, speech, and religion, but within certain limits. Like anyone else who finds truth, we are obligated to believe and live by the truths that we know. And through the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, we have a treasure-trove of truths on faith, morals, and salvation. A faithful Roman Catholic cannot think and believe whatever he likes; he must believe in the teachings of the Faith, and guide his thinking accordingly. A faithful Roman Catholic cannot say or teach whatever he likes; his words and especially his teachings must be in accord with the teachings of the Faith.

On my Catholic blog, Improperium Christi, I strive to present my readers with the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium, especially on controversial topics that are not well understood. I strive to correct common errors and to clarify common misunderstandings, on matters of faith and morals.

Unfortunately, many Catholic bloggers use the internet in order to poison the souls of the faithful with false teachings. They distort and pervert the teachings of the Magisterium. They at times openly reject magisterial teaching, offering grave heresy in its place. And yet somehow they convince their readers that all these errors and falsehoods are either a correct understanding of what the Magisterium really teaches, or a sound theological opinion in harmony with Tradition and Scripture. These supposedly-Catholic bloggers are doing grave harm to many souls, on many different questions of faith and morals.

Attacking the Sacraments

Catholic bloggers should be defending the Sacraments and the teachings of the Church. Instead, many bloggers write entertaining and unedifying posts on secular topics, or posts on religious topics that water down the Gospel and make it seem as if every question in theology is an open one.

But it is particularly grave when a Catholic blogger presents to his readers doctrinal error or outright heresy on one of the Sacraments. There are multiple examples of bloggers who are teaching their readers erroneous and even heretical ideas about the Sacraments, along with the claim that these ideas are magisterial teaching or sound theology. And few of their readers seem to mind. They like hearing new ideas, and they see no harm if an idea is contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium. After all, most Catholics behave similarly; they think and believe whatever they like, with no regard for the required beliefs of the Roman Catholic Faith. These bloggers and their readers are birds of a feather.

I’ve already covered a number of these examples in depth, so I will only make a quick review of the main points for this article.

Confession

This Sacrament is immensely important to the salvation of souls, second in importance only to Baptism. The Sacrament of Reconciliation saves souls from Hell, quite literally. So it is particularly harmful when a Catholic blogger attacks this Sacrament by teaching heresy as if it were sound theology.

The Council of Trent infallibly taught that for a valid Confession, the penitent must confess all of the actual mortal sins that can be remembered after a diligent examination of conscience, in kind and in number. No exceptions. This teaching is a dogma that falls under Conciliar Infallibility.

Jimmy Akin has a post in which he reviews this teaching, by quoting Canon law. OK, fine. Then he tells his readers: “Obviously, there are exceptions to this requirement…. ” And he goes on to assert that an extenuating circumstance can cause the need to confess the number to be removed. He is teaching his readers that they do not have to confess their mortal sins in number in some circumstances. Jimmy Akin’s claim about the Sacrament of Confession on this point is abject heresy. (Note the similarity here to Akin’s teaching on contraception and on intrinsically evil acts in general, that they may be moral in some circumstances.)

The Council of Trent taught that mortal sins must be confessed in kind and in number (as well as can be remembered). This teaching is a dogma about a Sacrament. In fact, if a person were to deliberately confess his actual mortal sins, without the kind of the mortal sin, or without the number of times that mortal sin were committed (according to memory), the confession would be invalid. Confession in kind and number is required for a valid Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Neither can this or any other requirement for the validity of a Sacrament be omitted based on good intentions. If a person does not know that you must confess in kind and number, and so he does not do so, then the Sacrament is invalid, despite the good will of the penitent. If an engaged couple marry without the intention to have a lifelong commitment in the Sacrament of marriage, then their marriage is invalid, despite their good will. Certain requirements for validity cannot be altered, even by the Church.

What Akin teaches to his readers is a grave heresy that endangers souls and is capable of making the reception of the Sacrament invalid for that person. I should also point out that Akin’s post was occasioned by the report of a priest who discourages penitents from confessing in number. That priest, whoever he might be, is also teaching and putting into practice grave heresy on this point. Here is my longer post on the topic of confessing mortal sins in number and kind.

A different priest, one who has a popular blog called The New Theological Movement, has also harmed the faithful by teaching heresy on the subject of the Sacrament of Confession, but on a different point. This priest, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, claims that the Sacrament of Confession is invalid unless the penitent resolves to do the particular penance assigned by the confessor: “This penance must be agreed to by the penitent…. If the penance is not accepted — if the penitent does not resolve to complete the penance — the sacrament will be invalid.” Fr. Ryan’s teaching on this point is a grave heresy.

The Magisterium teaches that a contrite penitent who makes a good confession (all actual mortal sins in kind and number) and receives absolution from a priest is forgiven, even if he does not do any penance. The penitent need not resolve to do, agree to do, nor actually do, any particular penance, assigned or otherwise, nor any penance at all, in order for the Sacrament to be valid and the sins to be forgiven. Here is Fr. Z.’s sound teaching on this point; he cites two of my posts on this subject as well.

But this is no mere difference of opinion. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation “Reconciliation and Penance” (n. 31, III.) teaches this same doctrine. Contrition and confession are called “essential” by the Pontiff, but the penance performed by the penitent is not said to be essential for validity, but only for completeness. The penance effects the forgiveness of any temporal punishment that might still be due, and so complete forgiveness includes this forgiveness of punishment. But the sins themselves are forgiven without any penance. Moreover, the Council of Trent taught that — sometimes, but not always — the reception of the Sacrament itself provides sufficient satisfaction, so much so that no additional temporal punishment remains (making penance unnecessary even for completeness).

Fr. Ryan Erlenbush refuses to take down his post on this subject, and he continues to assert to the whole Church, by means of his internet blog, this heretical claim that the Sacrament is invalid if the penitent does not accept the particular penance assigned by his confessor. He even goes so far as to claim that the sins confessed in that confession need to be re-confessed (because they were not forgiven). He continues to do grave harm to souls by this heretical teaching, by this attack on the Sacrament of Forgiveness.

The Eucharist

A number of Catholic bloggers have also attacked the Most Holy Eucharist, thereby attacking Christ Himself.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goad.” (Acts 9:4-5)

They teach grave doctrinal error on this Most Blessed Sacrament, without shame or reservation or remorse. Here is what Christ said about those who teach the faithful even minor doctrinal errors:

[Matthew]
{5:17} Do not think that I have come to loosen the law or the prophets. I have not come to loosen, but to fulfill.
{5:18} Amen I say to you, certainly, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota, not one dot shall pass away from the law, until all is done.
{5:19} Therefore, whoever will have loosened one of the least of these commandments, and have taught men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever will have done and taught these, such a one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What do you think our Lord would say about those who teach grave doctrinal errors? But many Catholic bloggers write as if there were no God, as if there were no Magisterium, as if freedom of thought and speech were not limited by the objective truths of faith and morals. They write as if their own thoughts were the sole determinant of what is true.

In one example of heresy on the Eucharist, Mark Shea teaches that the molecules of bread and wine do not change at the consecration of the Eucharist. This claim is heretical because bread and wine are material objects; they are made of nothing but molecules. Any material object (made only of molecules) is divided, philosophically, into substance and accidents. The Magisterium teaches that the substance of the bread and the substance of the wine change, but the accidents remain the same. The claim that the molecules do not change at all in the consecration implies that either the molecules are entirely accidents, without substance, or that there is no change of substance. Either of these claims is heresy, because each claim is incompatible with Catholic dogma on the Eucharist.

How does Shea defend this heretical claim? Like many false teachers, he simply makes the baseless assertion that his heresy is the constant teaching of the Church: “The Church has always taught that it remains bread and wine ‘at the molecular level.’ ” Why does Shea put “at the molecular level” in quotes? It is not a quote from any magisterial document. The Magisterium have never taught such an idea. The idea is incompatible with the dogma of the Council of Trent on transubstantiation.

In another example of heresy on the Eucharist, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush claims that Jesus is not physically present in the Eucharist. He goes so far as to assert that the Church will never state that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. His lengthy explanation on this point undermines the teaching of the Church that Christ is present with His whole human nature (as well as His Divine Nature), since every human nature is comprised of the physical (body) and the spiritual (soul). And it is presumptuous and arrogant for him to claim that the Church will never state that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist.

Fr. Ryan cannot understand how Christ can be physically present in Heaven as well as in every host and every tabernacle on earth, and so he denies that this is so. He thinks that it is impossible, even by means of a miracle, for Christ to be physically-present in more than one location. He believes that Christ is only physically present in Heaven, and he denies that Christ is locally or physically present on earth at all. He uses the term ‘sacramentally present’, but with a meaning that makes the term a hollow shell.

Such faithlessness in a man who presumes to teach the faithful!

Finally, we have two contradictory heresies from Jimmy Akin on the Eucharist. (1) Akin teaches that the substance of bread and wine do not change, instead they cease to exist, they are annihilated, they return to nothingness. Then he says that the body, blood, soul, and Divinity of Christ become present by “multi-location”. Both of these claims are heresy; see my explanation here. Well, at least he believes that Jesus can be present in more than one place at the same time.

(2) But in a subsequent post, Jimmy Akin contradicts himself, now saying that the substance of bread and wine do change, but then he asserts a new heresy: that the substance of bread changes into the body, blood, soul, and Divinity (not merely into the body), and that the substance of wine changes into the body, blood, soul, and Divinity (not merely into the blood). See my post on why this, too, is heresy.

It is a stunning example of the abuse of freedom of thought and freedom of speech that Akin keeps both heretical claims on the Eucharist, claims that contradict one another and contradict the Council of Trent. In effect, Jimmy Akin is teaching two contradictory heresies at the same time.

If any priest were to believe either heresy of Jimmy Akin, that priest’s consecration of the Eucharist would be invalid. For in order for a Sacrament to be valid, the Council of Trent infallibly taught that the person must intend to do what the Church does.

Most Catholic bloggers have no problem posting one article after another that is free from heresy and generally free from doctrinal error. Then there are other Catholic bloggers who post one heresy after another, one grave distortion or misunderstanding of magisterial teaching after another. And they present these errors to their readers with the false claim that it is magisterial teaching or sound theology.

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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