The conservative Catholic subculture versus the Magisterium

Over the past several decades, the conservative Catholic subculture has slowly replaced the teachings of the Magisterium with its own distorted and false teachings. By a process of ignoring, replacing, and radically reinterpreting the true teachings of the Church, a loose-knit group of conservative Catholic theologians, priests, authors, and commentators have succeeded in convincing a vast number of Catholics in the pews to believe in a false Gospel, a false set of teachings contrary to the truths taught by the Magisterium. They have taken the teachings of the Magisterium, which are the teachings of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and changed them to suit their own preferences, opinions, and sinful desires. Then they presented that false Gospel to conservative Catholics, with the claim that these errors are merely a correct understanding of magisterial teaching.

And they have achieved great success. Their errors are now more widespread than any past heretical teachings, even those of Arianism. Their errors are now widely mistaken for Church teaching.

The Bishops have been lax in correcting these errors. The recent Popes have not been able to correct these errors, because, no matter what they teach, the conservative Catholic subculture distorts and reinterprets that teaching until it has been remade in their own image, rather than in the image of Christ.

One of the most astounding examples of this radical reinterpretation is found in their distortions of Veritatis Splendor. That landmark encyclical by Pope Saint John Paul II is the most comprehensive and in-depth presentation of the teaching of the Magisterium on the basic principles of ethics. And it begins with a direct rebuke of various teachers of theology, at Catholic seminaries and universities, for teaching grave errors on the basic principles of ethics. And yet, in the years since that encyclical, the false teachings which Veritatis Splendor corrects and condemns, have only advanced further, becoming the majority opinion among conservative Catholic leaders. They openly preach a gospel of ethics directly contradicted by Veritatis Splendor. And yet they claim that their teachings are merely the correct interpretation of magisterial teaching.

Another astounding example of this radical reinterpretation is found in their revision of Humanae Vitae. For in no specific subject area is this radical reinterpretation more clear than concerning contraception. The conservative Catholic subculture has severely distorted the teachings of the Church on the intrinsically evil acts of contraception and abortifacient contraception, so much so that their false conservative teachings are responsible for innumerable grave sins and innumerable deaths of prenatal children, by abortifacients.

A recent rumor has been making the rounds on the internet, claiming that Pope Francis has a secret commission whose goal is to change the teachings of Humanae Vitae. And, in response, the conservative Catholic subculture is loudly pretending to defend Humanae Vitae. They are pretending to be the defenders of the magisterial teaching on contraception found in Humanae Vitae and other Church documents. But in fact, the conservative Catholic subculture has fundamentally and thoroughly changed the teaching of Humanae Vitae, by radical reinterpretation, so severely as to constitute a false Gospel which promotes and approves of contraception, abortion, and grave sexual sins, in contradiction to the teaching of Christ and His Church. They are the ones with a public loose-knit “commission” whose goal to change the teachings of Humanae Vitae has already succeeded.

The hypocrisy is stunning. These modern-day Pharisees present themselves as if they were angels of light, when they are like angels of darkness, promoting and approving of many grave sins. They claim to present the teaching of Christ, when in truth they are destroying the teaching of Christ and destroying prenatal children. The basis for their false teaching is a type of revisionist ethics, which fundamentally changes the basic principles of ethics, and also misapplies the true principles of ethics, to support and approve of many grave sins. By the radical revision of Catholic moral teaching, they have changed the true gospel into a false gospel, and yet this false gospel is widely accepted by conservatives. It is not true that conservatives are faithful to Church teaching, and liberals are unfaithful, or that conservatives are orthodox and liberals are heterodox. Grave sins and false teachings are found on both sides.

The teaching of the Magisterium on intrinsically evil acts is widely and severely distorted by the conservative Catholic subculture. The true teaching of the Church is that three and only three things that make any act moral or immoral. These are called the three fonts (or sources) of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. An act with evil in the moral object is intrinsically evil and always immoral. Nothing can justify an intrinsically evil act, neither a good intention, nor a dire circumstance. Intrinsically evil acts include: lying, theft, murder, euthanasia, abortion, contraception, unnatural sexual acts, extra-marital sexual acts, apostasy, heresy, schism, as well as formal cooperation with any intrinsically evil act.

Is lying always wrong? The only answer that is in accord with Catholic teaching, in Veritatis Splendor and the CCC, is that lying is intrinsically evil and therefore always a sin. Saint Aquinas quotes Saint Augustine as teaching: wherefore Augustine says (Lib. De Mend. xxi): “Whoever thinks that there is any kind of lie that is not a sin deceives himself shamefully, since he deems himself an honest man when he deceives others.”

And yet many conservative Catholic teachers are quick to make all kinds of excuses to justify lying. They redefine lying so that some lies are renamed, being called false signification (or some other term). They justify the renamed lies, while condemning “all” lying under the new narrow definition. They claim that lying is justified to preserve justice or to save a life or when the person receiving the lie does not deserve the truth. In this way, they justify an intrinsically evil act, based on intention and circumstances, something that is contrary to magisterial teaching in Veritatis Splendor and the CCC. And they have other excuses that they use. Any port in a storm. Any excuse that justifies the sins they wish were not sins is accepted.

Some conservative Catholic teachers justify direct abortion to save the life of the mother (e.g. Germain Grisez). Many conservative Catholics justify abortifacient contraception for a good intention (e.g. a medical purpose). These are intrinsically evil acts of abortion, a type of murder. And yet the most common claim among conservative Catholics is that these acts, which kill an innocent prenatal directly, are somehow not abortion, or not abortifacient, or not intrinsically evil. The opinion that justifies the use of abortifacient contraception (for a medical purpose, while also choosing to remain sexually active) is presented as if it were magisterial teaching, when in fact it is the blatant justification of the intrinsically evil act of murdering the unborn. And this opinion which pretends to be a teaching is widely accepted and taught among conservatives.

Think about what I’m saying here. Conservative Catholics used to be defenders of magisterial teaching, defending against attacks on that teaching from the left. They used to be a bastion of pro-life teaching and action. But now the conservative Catholic subculture openly encourages Catholic spouses to use abortifacient contraception and to remain sexually active, and openly justifies the resultant deaths of prenatal children, as if approved by Jesus Christ through His Church. Every time the question of abortifacient contraception arises, there are many conservative Catholics who rush forward, anxious to convince Catholic couples to use abortifacient contraception and to thereby murder their own children. And they claim that this action is moral and approved by the Church, when in fact is it an intrinsically evil act of murder.

Some conservative Catholics have pressed this point, justifying abortifacient contraception for various reasons, so many times online (and their posts and articles remain online to be read again and again by many persons) that they are likely responsible for the deaths of more prenatals than a Planned Parenthood clinic. And yet they consider themselves to be above reproach and to be teachers of the Catholic faith.

On the subject of salvation, the conservative Catholic subculture has decided a number of points of controversy, as if their decisions were authoritative or infallible, when in fact the Magisterium teaches otherwise or has not yet decided the question. Are they few who are saved, or many? The Church has not yet decided the question, though recent magisterial documents from Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Second Vatican Council favor the idea that many persons are saved. Can non-Christians be saved, without converting to Christianity? Some conservatives hold a position which is equivalent to the heresy of Feeneyism (that only baptized Christians are saved), and others hold a position a half step away from Feeneyism. The conservative Catholic subculture has decided that few, if any, persons are saved outside of formal membership (by a baptism of water) in the Church. But the teachings of the Magisterium contradict that position. Some conservatives go so far as to claim that only baptized Christians are children of God by spiritual adoption, in direct contradiction to the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent.

Over in a particular discussion group, I posted a quote from an encyclical by Pope Saint John Paul II on the subject of salvation — but without the quotes or references. The post was quickly deleted by a moderator, who claimed that the paragraph expressed the heresy of universalism and was contrary to Church teaching, when in fact it was nothing but a quote from Church teaching by a Pope-Saint. Similarly, other posts by me which explain Church teaching in my own words have also been deleted by moderators. They have decided that they are the guardians of magisterial teaching. But when presented with actual magisterial teaching, they not only do not recognize it as Church teaching, and they do not even consider it to be a tenable theological opinion. Instead, they condemn it, mistakenly, as if it were a grave error.

And this is just a microcosm for what is happening Church-wide. The conservative Catholic subculture has decided that it is the judge of what is and is not truth. And if the Magisterium teaches otherwise, then it must be wrong. The true teaching of the Magisterium is rejected by the conservative Catholic subculture, as if it were error, because it is contrary to the distorted version of Catholicism that they accept and teach. When Pope Francis teaches, the conservative Catholic subculture judges his teaching, and if that papal teaching does not agree with their own understanding, they assume that the Pope must be wrong. They are filled with pride in their own understanding of Catholicism, and that understanding is filled with many errors.

But the conservative Catholic subculture does not merely oppose the teaching of the Magisterium. It radically reinterprets that teaching, and then presents it to the Catholics in the pews as if it were the teaching of the Church. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is radically altered, until many grave sins are justified and approved and promoted. And then that false Gospel is spread far and wide, with the claim that it is Church teaching or sound theology.

What will happen next? Pope Francis will teach on salvation, or on the ordination of women deacons, or on reception of Communion, or on some other subject, and the conservative Catholic subculture will reject that teaching. For they have long ago ceased to submit their minds and hearts to the teaching of Christ through His Church. They will cry out against the Vicar of Christ, falsely accusing him of teaching heresy, and they will depart from the one true Church.

The great conservative schism has already begun. For many conservative Catholics already see the Roman Pontiff as their opponent, not their teacher. They are calling for resistance. They view anyone who opposes the Pope as a hero or a saint. Some have already accused Pope Francis of heresy. And though most conservative Catholics still nominally claim to have Pope Francis as their Pope, it will only take one more major controversy for them to formally depart from communion with him.

Be careful whom you accept as a teacher. Many conservative teachers are not fit to teach the Catholic faith, because they teach from the majority opinion among conservatives, and not from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

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

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6 Responses to The conservative Catholic subculture versus the Magisterium

  1. Dora says:

    Ron, can you roughly give the year you started to notice this change among conservatives? Is it fairly recent? The past year, five years, ten years?

  2. turnrod says:

    You devote many of your articles to this ‘conservative schism’ and while there are many online who post uncharitable comments about Pope Francis or there are those bloggers who inadvertently promote error, I don’t see this but making up a sliver of what I would consider conservative Catholicism. Also, only a portion of this ‘sliver’ actually rejects Pope Francis’ authority. The rest seem to criticize the exercise of his office or authority, for which I think reasonable criticisms could be levied.

    While I acknowledge many of your points, to me the greater issue is the apostasy in the West that has been accerlating over the past generation, which does not originate from the conservative faction of the Church. Why do you focus so much of your attention to this group?

  3. Mr T. says:

    Matthew 23:

    25 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you make clean the outside of the cup, and of the dish, but within you are full of extortion and uncleanness.

    26 Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup, and of the dish, that the outside may become clean.

    27 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you are like to whitened sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness.

    28 So you also outwardly, indeed, appear to men just: but within, you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

    29 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the just,

    30 And say: If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them, in the blood of the prophets.

    31 Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them who killed the prophets.

    32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

    33 *Ye serpents, generation of vipers, how will you escape the judgment of hell:

    34 Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men, and Scribes: and some of them you will put to death, and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city:

    35 That upon you may come all the just blood, that hath been shed upon the earth, *from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of **Zacharias, the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.

    36 Amen, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.

    37 *Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not?

    38 Behold, your house shall be left to you desolate.

  4. senrex says:

    The term “conservative” has been drained of meaning. What, after 50 years of the conciliar and post-conciliar revolution, are the “conservatives” conserving?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes. Most conservative voices in the Church today are proposing a revised understanding of traditional teachings. They are not conserving the truths of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

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