Archive for May, 2008


On either side of the “narrow gate” of Christ and His Church, there are those who see it but refuse to enter it; some of them want to enlarge it, some of them want to make it still narrower, and some want to move it altogether.
This post deals with those who wish to both displace and narrow the gate beyond what Our Lord intended. They are “sede vacantes,” those who insist that the Seat of Peter (“sede”) is vacant (“vacante”) — in plain English, those who believe in the Church and the papacy, but hold that the current pope is not validly elected and that the Catholic Church is not really, well, the Catholic Church any more. Therefore, for them, their pope-less band is the “Catholic Church,” not that group of imposters in Rome and elsewhere, and if you’re not one of the chosen few of them, you’re a heretic.
I’ve only recently become somewhat acquainted with this rather bizarre belief by reading and attempting to understand the webpages of some of its adherents. It seems that this group (small, but loud and obstinate) does not believe there has been a valid pope since Pius XII, who reigned until 1958, and dissents from anything proceeding from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, including the Ordinary Form of the Mass, recently canonized saints, recently approved Church movements, and just about any papal teaching that doesn’t directly derive from Pius XII or an earlier pope. That covers a lot of ground.
I have a hard time understanding the logical or emotional appeal of the “sede vacante” position, particularly since its adherents don’t seem interested in explaining it beyond spewing strange conspiracy theories, or in debating it, and seem to pride themselves on being a tiny “remnant” of the real Church. Additionally, I don’t see how their problems can ever be resolved. The conundrum they’ve asserted (a pope-less Church and invalid actions galore for four decades) has no solution and their habit of fault-finding/-inventing and bitter rebellion will make it hard for them to ever humble themselves and re-enter the Church. Nonetheless, I’ll attempt to identify and address their major arguments.

Sede vacantes hold that a cardinal named Siri was elected pope in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963, but was prevented from assuming power by some sort of conspiracy. Of course, as conclaves are secret, only the cardinal electors can state with any authority what occurs in them, and they are sworn not to. Furthermore, Cardinal Siri himself remained obedient to the popes of the Church until his death in 1989, so it seems hardly likely that he considered himself a pope-in-exile. The sede vacantes, like all conspiracy theorists, have their photos (in this case, inlvolving the colors of the different emissions of smoke from the conclave) and bad guys, but they are long on innuendo and short on fact or reason.

Still more illogically, sede vacantes hold that Vatican II and the popes of that time and subsequent to it have somehow been “condemned” by popes who were dead before the council even met! Essentially, the sede vacantes will cherry-pick the statements of popes whom they like and apply the words of these popes to popes who don’t suit their tastes. It’s quite a trick to assert that a dead pope condemns a successive pope from the grave! There are other serious problems with this argument. For one, when He established the papacy upon Peter, Christ assured the invincibility of the Church (Matt 16:18) and if She truly has no pope, She has been conquered and He lied, which He cannot do. Also, the Church teaches that each pope is a successor of St. Peter and holds all of the powers of that office, so the powers of the office do not “dilute” over time (that is, it is erroneous to say that St. Peter was the pope with the most authority, that each of his successors have had less authority than those before them, and that Pope Benedict XVI has still less authority than Pope John Paul II).

What the sede vacante position boils down to is a profound disagreement with the doctrines and implementation of the Second Vatican Council — “modernism,” in their catch-all term. Hence, the mental contortions to discredit the Council and recent popes. There are many legitimate complaints about the implementation of the Council, though the documents themselves are quite profound. Our Holy Father has frequently critiqued the changes-for-the-worse in liturgy and one need only look at the sad decline in practice and numbers of many religious orders to see big problems, but the spiritual-Luddite mentality of the sede vacantes and their ugly rhetoric that often smacks of anti-Semitism (for example) is not the solution!

My admittedly limited dealings with members of this group have been frustrating and, for the reasons I’ve discussed above, I doubt most Catholics will get very far in discussions with the sede vacantes. However, we always have recourse to prayer and that, frankly, is what I recommend for these souls lost in their self-made sea of errors. And, it is also important that we pray that they not lead more troubled Catholics out into the murky waters with them!

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I’m a real bookworm and I could easily recommend/loan anyone a hundred Catholic books, but I just had to recommend these two titles for the top of your reading list:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace was recently given to me by a friend and it is small and easy to read, but very powerful. Few of us can say that we have peace with any constancy, but Christ repeatedly mentions that He wants us to have it, so… Fr. Philippe’s book is cheaper than a meal out and will be with you for a lot longer! 🙂


The Better Part
provides detailed meditations on all four Gospels and a powerful primer on spiritual growth through meditative prayer. The primer is probably worth the price of the book by itself, and the meditations will easily last for years to come. Though many are “into” spiritual reading and Bible study (which is great!), Fr. Bartunek makes the point that our spiritual lives and growth will stagnate if we don’t have a vibrant life of meditative prayer. Hence, this book, which is more for meditation than study.


Finally, Fr. Bartunek mentions free daily lectionary meditations available by e-mail through Regnum Christi. They’re as good as the book and only take a few minutes! The Regnum Christi site itself is chock-full of useful stuff, and I’ve also included the direct link to the meditation subscriptions.

This is the first installment of How Do You Sleep At Night?!: Catholic answers to common objections.

(The title of this series comes from a rather heated exchange I had recently with a fallen-away Catholic on a secular news blog. He was angry that I remain Catholic and defend the Church after learning of the sex abuse scandal. So, his beef is the first topic of this series.)

The sex abuse scandal is probably the most common objection raised against the Church in the United States today. The question seems to be: If Catholic priests can abuse children, how can the Catholic Church be Christ’s Church and how can people stay in it?! Out of sheer Christian charity and honesty, this question must be addressed directly. Here’s my brief answer:

Fact 1: Many people over many years were abused by a very small minority of Catholic priests and leaders.

On a related note: The vast majority of Catholic priests and leaders are, at a minimum, upstanding citizens and, in many cases, striving heroically for holiness. Thus, it is a grave injustice to claim that all or most priests are abusers and to make jokes with that punchline! We do not lump the innocent with the guilty! Abuse is no more rampant in the Church than it is in any other religious group or secular group (teachers, mailmen, plumbers, etc.).

Also, many of the accused priests are dead and are thus unable to defend themselves, and even if they are still alive, they are forced to try to prove, often years later, that they did not do what they are accused of — the burden of proof seems to be on the defendant, not the plaintiff here; this raises the distinct possibility that people wanting to make a fast buck off of the Church at the expense of Catholic parishioners and genuine abuse victims may lie! Additionally, there are many people who hate the Church’s positions on abortion and other issues and would be more than glad to lie to harm the Church’s credibility! Furthermore, some of the accusers “recovered” their memories of abuse through highly suggestive “therapy” that may in fact convince them of the reality of some things that never even happened!

In fact, though abuse did happen, it is likely that the scandal has been inflated for malicious reasons.

Fact 2: In addition to being a violation of civil and criminal law, sex abuse is a grave violation of immortal Catholic teaching — God’s Law — against the abuse of children, homosexuality, abuse of one’s priestly authority, etc. God is the most offended party!

On a related note: The Commandments and Church teaching and law predate the civil and criminal codes — and are firmly opposed to this sort of abuse! The fact is that if the priests in question had followed the Commandments and Church teaching, there would be no sex abuse scandal! There is no problem with Church teaching, then, for it is in place to prevent these evils.

Abuse of even one person is a grave wrong done to him and to God! Sex abuse victims need proper psychological and spiritual care and are also entitled to punative damages (money from the guilty to punish them for their offenses) from those who hurt them.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to call much of the abuse “child abuse.” In reality, much of the abuse was man-on-man homosexual abuse, with boys almost at adulthood. Here again, if Church laws about celibacy and homosexuality had been followed, there would be no sex abuse scandal!

We all need to strive to eliminate the sin from our lives, then, and follow Church teachings. Those who smugly assert their moral superiority over abusive priests are often turning a blind eye to their own sinfulness and, in some cases, grave sinfulness against God!

Fact 3: Many bishops handled the scandal poorly, attempting to cover it and rehabilitate the offenders within the Church.

On a related note: Many have attributed the basest of motives to the bishops. Their motives may have indeed been bad, or they may have been doing their best to protect the Church from the very outpouring of hate that has materialized! Perhaps they also thought that it was their pastoral duty to try to rehabilitate abusive priests. Though they made mistakes, as all of us do, they are now learning from them and turning accused abusers over to the authorities, even in cases of very flimsy accusations. Who knows how many innocent priests have been ruined by false accusations?!

Furthermore, a number of those involved in groups that accuse the bishops have long had an anti-Church agenda and are less than diligent about weeding-out false abuse accusations. The same can be said about many of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have at times bragged about their efforts to eliminate the Catholic Church! Attempting to undermine the Church has become a nasty little cottage industry. Who pays the price of this profiteering off of abuse? The real abuse victims, of course, as well as the many good priests subject to public contempt, the Catholic faithful who suffer the loss of parishes and services, and the poor and others served less by the impoverished Church! This is shameful; American justice does not punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty who cannot be made to pay, let alone those whose guilt has not been proven!

The bottom line is that flawed and sinful priests do not make the Church any less Christ’s, as every last person on earth is a sinner. Sin is no “smoking gun”! Priests, though in service of the unblemished Body of Christ, need Christ’s saving power just like everyone else! Catholics, then, are obliged to stay in the Church and honor the priests who bring Christ to them in the sacraments because Christ wills us to be part of His Body! We only punish ourselves by removing ourselves from the avenues of God’s grace out of spite for His Church and priests!

“So, I’ve got these objections to the Catholic Church…”

For Catholics who don’t have all the answers (that’s about 98 percent of us!) and for all seekers hungry for the truth about the Faith, there are two really great sites that come to mind.

One of the most esteemed and helpful Catholic apologetics groups (Catholic apologists are basically people who defend and explain the Faith) is Catholic Answers. They have a number of outreaches, including a very thorough searchable webpage, a call-in radio show, and the best Catholic forums on the Web. A feast!

Another great apologetics site, especially for young adults, is PhatCatholic Apologetics. The author is a gifted writer who is studying at the Catholic powerhouse in Ohio — the Franciscan University of Stuebenville. He’s really good at finding and giving solid answers to questions he is e-mailed, and he has a set of apologetics links that cannot be matched elsewhere.

My blog cannot even approach the depth of these two fine sites, so what this blog lacks can be found there.

… when I get the time to post more:

  • Why a “Catholic Family”?
  • Least Known Tool for Lay People’s Spiritual Growth
  • Bible Study for Catholic Moms and Other Distracted People
  • On Drowning by the Page

UPDATE (5/6/08):

  • Scripture Alone v. Scripture and Tradition
  • Do You Want Everyone To Be Catholic?!
  • How Do You Sleep at Night?! (The Series)
  • Wheat (and maybe Chaff, if necessary)


I’ve sent an e-mail about this blog to the family and friends I have in my address book; please let me know if you would like to receive a notice when I update this page, otherwise I won’t annoy you with them! 🙂

Please feel free to comment. I hope not to have to moderate the comments. Disagreement is fine, but I’ll draw the line at inappropriate language and verbal abuse.

Thanks and God bless you all!

nerdy Catholic details about Bible translation and study

I’m a Catholic nerd, so when I got inspired a few months back to delve deeper into the Bible (and what a blessing it’s been, but that’s another post), I did what a Catholic nerd does: I spent hours and hours reading-up on Bible translations to find the best one. (I probably overdid it.) Unsurprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of consensus. Bottom-line, though, is that there are generally three trusted versions of the Bible for Catholics:

  • Douay-Rheims (with notes by Bishop Challoner and another version with further notes by Fr. Haydock)
  • Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (often called the RSV-CE)
  • The Jerusalem Bible

Let me give you the brief skinny — in lay-speak, as that is all I know — on each of them and then let you know what I do with each translation. Then I’ll let you know of some very, very good news for the future! Finally, I’ll explain why I don’t use the American bishops’ New American Bible that often.

The Douay-Rheims is very old (originally published in 1582) and is written in old-style English that probably appeals to the same aesthetic tastes as the Protestant King James version. The notes by Bishop Challoner are very sound, but old and obviously not reflective of even the good modern scholarship. It’s available for free online here.

Furthermore, in 1859, Fr. Haydock made extensive annotations, which are a gold-mine of thoughts of the Church Fathers and other sound commentary. Thanks to the hard work of a transcriber, these notes are also available for free online here.

I don’t use the Douay-Rheims as often as I probably should, mostly because the Challoner notes are minimal, I do not have a print version of the Haydock (which is very pricey, well over $150 most places), and I prefer not to do Bible study online. Also, I find the old English text and some of the commentary hard to digest — not impossible, but involving more effort than I usually can give. Nonetheless, if I want to really dig deeply into a particular passage or topic, this is where I go.

The RSV-CE is a modern translation that preserves much of what is sound and poetic in older versions. (I understand that it is also good for use with some Protestants, as they use a less-complete version of the same translation, the RSV.) Unfortunately, there are almost no notes and those that it does have are often printed in an appendix rather than on the proper page. There is a Second Edition, but I understand that many prefer the original. A “bootleg” copy is available online, but I don’t vouch for its reliability, let alone its legality!

This is the translation I quote from and often read from for reflection (I have the original Ignatius version, which is nicely printed and inexpensive.). I’m not alone, as it used a lot by those who explain the Catholic Faith to others (apologists). It is proper and elegant, which makes it a joy to read, and its word choices often inspire a slightly richer meditation on a passage than other versions.

The Jerusalem Bible of 1966 is not to be confused with The New Jerusalem Bible, an inferior revision. The original is an evocative modern translation with excellent modern study notes (for the most part). Like all Bible notes, these are not inspired and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, and must be read with intelligence and the mind of the Church. If you are considering purchasing the 1966 text, be sure to try to get a copy with the notes. I don’t think this translation is available online, legally or otherwise.

This is my favorite Bible! I went through a good deal of trouble and expense to buy an old and relatively rare copy with the notes online, but it has been worth it. The text, though somewhat British, makes good sense to the modern reader, and the notes provide good background and explanation.

That brings me to the good news! Ignatius Press, one of the best Catholic publishers (their most notable author is Pope Benedict!), is in the process of compiling the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, including the contributions of noted convert Scott Hahn, using the RSV-CE (Second Edition). Several books of the New Testament are already available for about $10 each (softcovers), but my understanding is that the entire Bible, in one volume, will be available in the next couple of years. Many of us are awaiting this publication with enthusiasm (and hoping that it will be more affordable than buying each individual volume)! I have the volumes that contain Matthew and Acts and I find them very good, at least as useful as my Jerusalem Bible. In addition to copious footnotes in understandable terms, they also have sets of questions in the back for study and for reflection.

Finally, regarding the American bishops’ New American Bible, which is used at Mass: It is easy to understand, but is often a clunky and (as I have read) less-than-faithful translation, so I prefer not to use it for study or meditation. I have read that many English-speaking peoples use the Jerusalem Bible at Mass, but our bishops have mandated the use of their translation, so this is not an option for us. Ditto for the RSV-CE and certainly the Douay-Rheims.

I would be glad to post more on this in the future and probably will.

UPDATED 19 December 2012

I’m Kristen, a Catholic wife and stay-at-home mom to six little ones (that is: six under the age of eight — yes, we’ve been blessed!). We live in a little farming town in the Central Valley of California, though our parish and most of our non-home life is in Clovis/Fresno. My husband is a high school social studies/math teacher and, when I was paid in currency other than children’s kisses, I worked as a journalist and a paralegal. This job is much better! I grew-up near San Diego and spent more than a decade in Arizona before returning to CA. I still miss San Diego sometimes, and I even miss Tucson a little, mostly at sunset and on weekends. I don’t miss Phoenix — it’s hotter than you imagine and is mostly paved; there’s not much within a couple of hours drive to “get away” to, etc. But, this farming town has lots of grapevines and three national parks are in our “backyard.” I like to travel, too, though when I was able to do so freely, I wanted to be more of a homebody.

I attended eight years of Catholic school in SoCal and loved it (mostly). I also attended five years of public school, plus another five at Arizona’s premier state college, the University of Arizona. (Yes, I took five years to get my degree and I’ve been running late ever since!) I was a Girl Scout for nine years and earned the Silver Award (the second-highest award) before we moved. I played the classical guitar, swam on a team, and tried most of the other sports open to girls. I’m not an athlete, but I do like to hike. I am an avid reader and writer. I was the Comment Editor of my high school paper and a columnist and news writer for the UA paper. My first real job was as the assistant editor of a Catholic newspaper; after some community college retooling, I took an entry-level paralegal job at a large civil law firm. I’m currently in on-the-job training as a mother and I do better with some parts of it than others. Does anyone have a magic wand for folding laundry?

I’m also a pro-life activist, though my activism is mostly confined to the home while the kids are small. My husband and I did make the Walk for Life West Coast in 2007, though. If it’s legal and helpful to the vulnerable and those who care for them, chances are good that I’ve done it. Before I met my husband, my late father and I led a large and productive parish pro-life group, I volunteered at a hospital, a nursing home and a crisis pregnancy center, I wrote articles and gave speeches, and I prayed at abortion centers, among other things. I always love to talk about pro-life advocacy, so feel free to chat with me about it.

I’m an only child and was blessed with parents who loved me enough to give me the best they could, most especially the Faith. My Dad died of cancer in 2005 and my Mom is in moderate but stable health. We are blessed with good friends.

I don’t have time for too many hobbies, but I continue to build a superb Catholic library (my current interest is Carmelite spirituality) and I’ve recently started to collect fountain pens and journal with them. I’ve also dropped several hobbies that I hope to pick-up again someday, including novel-writing, loom-knitting, drawing, and playing the guitar.

As for the trivia. I have a lot of “favorites”: On TV, I regularly watch NCIS. When I flip it on for reruns, I’ll watch JAG, Magnum P.I., In the Heat of the Night, Crossing Jordan, and others. I enjoy “light” movies, mostly. My favorites include Top Gun, Pretty Woman, Airplane, most of the “Brat Pack” movies of the ’80s and The Sound of Music. I read a lot of blogs, mostly Catholic ones, and follow the news pretty closely, especially politics. I once considered joining the Navy, but they wouldn’t take me because of a rather common thyroid condition.

That’s it in a nutshell.

One more thing, though. Please know that I keep all of you whom I chat with in my prayers and I always appreciate your prayers, too. Let’s talk!

If you’ve arrived here, on this brand new blog “We Are a Catholic Family,” chances are good that you’ve read a post by me on another site, perhaps a news site or a Catholic site. Thanks for coming! I hope you find something here worth your time to read.

My goal is to make posts faithful to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in places where they might reach someone who needs to read such a post (as we all do — what blogs do you think I read for encouragement?!). I post in places where most readers are ignorant of and/or hate the Church, in places where a lot of the folks are “just like me,” and in places where the readers seem to think they are more Catholic than me or even the Pope! In other words, I’ll talk with just about anyone if it will serve my one purpose in posting: I want to be a little roadside sign pointing to the narrow gate!

As you might guess, this “narrow gate” is the one Christ spoke to us about in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 7: 13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”)

Christ is that gate, which we enter by following Him through the hills and valleys of our daily life. And, Christ has given us the Catholic Church to guide us on our way. We will only be happy — imperfectly here on earth and perfectly in Heaven — if we strive for holiness, which is nothing more or less than conforming to Christ as taught by His Church, suffering and rising.

So, I would consider myself most richly blessed by God if I could be a little sign, one of many such signs along the road of your daily life, one that points to the narrow gate.

Posts to come: About me (gotta have one of those, right?!); Why Roman Catholic?; A Word About “The Word” (nerdy Catholic details about Bible translation and study)

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