Matt C. Abbott
February 16, 2010
Two Catholic authors at odds over economics, while another grieves loss in sense of sin
By Matt C. Abbott

Catholic authors Thomas Woods and Christopher Ferrara used to be of like mind. They even co-authored a book several years ago.

But they have since parted ways, particularly over the area of Catholic teaching and economics.

First, to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2431) in regard to economic activity and the responsibility of the state:

    'The responsibility of the state. 'Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.''

In an article recently posted on the Web site of The Remnant, Christopher Ferrara wrote (the first few paragraphs are reprinted below; click here to read the full article):

    'Dear Tom:

    'When we wrote The Great Faηade together back in 2002, I was one of the most ardent supporters of your work. Indeed, I saw you as a big part of the future of the 'traditionalist' movement in America. But I did not anticipate your public dissent from the Church's social teaching in favor of the radically laissez faire 'Austrian school' of economics, whose pretensions range far beyond economics to a comprehensive 'philosophy of liberty' that cannot be reconciled with the teaching of the Magisterium on the duties of men and societies toward Christ and His Church, or even the duties of men toward each other on the level of natural justice. Nor did I anticipate that you would become a 'scholar in residence' for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a radical libertarian cult dedicated to the thought of von Mises and his 'anarcho-capitalist' disciple, Murray Rothbard, both agnostic liberals who utterly rejected the role of the Church and the Gospel in the constitution of social order.

    'Your dissent from the social teaching has spawned a host of articles against you by reputable Catholic commentators, such as those found here, here, here, here, here and here, the last being a just-published five part series in Chronicles magazine under the title 'Is Thomas Woods a Dissenter?' At this point, by my count, no fewer than a dozen Catholic scholars have denounced your dissent from Magisterial teaching on such basic principles as the just wage, the moral primacy of labor over capital, the evil of usury and price-gouging, the immorality of the so-called 'absolute right' of private property, and the necessity of government, guided by divine and natural law, for the rule of fallen men. (You have even taken recently to advancing Rothbard's 'anarcho-capitalist' fantasy of the abolition of all government and the creation of a 'stateless society.')

    'The very point of The Great Faηade was that 'traditionalist' Catholics do not dissent from Catholic doctrine as such, but rather merely exercise their right to prescind from certain liturgical and pastoral novelties unknown in the Church before the 1960s and never imposed on the faithful as binding obligations of our religion. For example, Pope Benedict's historic proclamation that the traditional Latin Mass was 'never abrogated' and was 'in principle always permitted' has demonstrated the truth of the book's basic claim. But there you were, Tom, in the months following publication of our book, declaring your dissent from teaching on faith and morals clearly enunciated as binding by numerous popes who have taught on justice in the marketplace and the right ordering of the state....'

I asked Woods if he wished to respond to Ferrara's article. He responded as follows:

    'Chris is a talented wordsmith, which gives his bulls of excommunication their plausibility, but not particularly bright or well read. I wrote a full-fledged reply the last time he did this. There's no point. He's unfortunately a petty and envious person. Any fair-minded reader can simply visit TomWoods.com, where my Articles page has a whole section devoted to this subject.

    'When it comes to Vatican II, Chris can draw every hair-splitting distinction in the world — this is binding, this isn't; this is a statement of opinion, this is infallible teaching; this is a mere statement of fact and thus not magisterial, etc. As soon as the subject turns to economics, all distinctions are out the window. There is one allowable opinion on everything. It is an absurd caricature of how intellectual life in the Church works, and a position Benedict XVI would reject out of hand.

    'Finally, consider this: I've written a book called How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, which has been translated into six languages; I've written a sympathetic study of American Catholicism published by an Ivy League press and praised in the major historical and theological journals; and I've written a well-regarded layman's guide to the old Latin Mass. There's your great enemy of mankind and the Church. What, meanwhile, apart from issuing excommunications and writing the same article over and over again, has Chris done — apart from writing a book condemning EWTN? What kind of priorities are those?'

Woods subsequently added:

    'I would add that Otto von Habsburg, who employed Mises as a close economic adviser, called Mises 'one of the truly great men of our century.' Is Ferrara planning to excommunicate the Crown Prince (who is still alive, by the way)? I would genuinely like to know.'

Meanwhile, Catholic author Peter Kelly, a friend of the late Fathers Charles Fiore (who died of natural causes in 2003) and Alfred Kunz (whose 1998 murder remains unsolved), wrote the following in regard to the post-Vatican II loss of the sense of sin:

    'We must strip from our Catholic Prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be a shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is for the Protestants.' — Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, architect of the 'New Mass.' L'Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965

    'Pope Saint Pius X said there would be days like this.

    'Last December, Pope Benedict XVI admitted to the Roman Curia (his 'cabinet' of high-ranking Church officials) that the sacrament of penance and reconciliation 'has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of Christians.' Although the pope used the word 'Christians,' he meant specifically that subset of Christians — the Catholics — which he was particularly elected to lead.

    'Everyone knows this because Protestants, for the most part, have long ago disregarded the Scriptural bases of this sacrament found in Matthew 16:18, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22-23 and convinced themselves that there was no need of such a spiritual exercise for the forgiveness of sins. The pope continued on to say that this disregarding of the sacrament 'is a symptom of a loss of truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God, a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace.'

    'I believe this 'loss of truthfulness' has come about during the same period when Catholics experienced so many other losses in the practice of their faith. That period began after the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. (See chapter 38 of my book Cleansing Fire — Welcome to the New Springtime for more detail on this Modernist-inspired corruption.) Still, the pope is quite correct about the seeming disappearance of the practice of this sacrament although it might be observed that it does still tend to hang on in those rare parishes where sin is recognized and the sacrament's absolute necessity is still preached with passion.

    'My wife, children and I have found that the confession lines are regularly quite long where we attend the old Traditional Latin Mass. However, usually we can avoid the lines altogether if we go to confession at the nearby New Order parish where the Latin Mass has been replaced by the post-Vatican II New Mass. Indeed, there is often no line at all at such parishes. That is precisely what the pope is talking about.

    'The regular parishioners at those characteristically post-conciliar (post-Vatican II) parishes have apparently embraced the new Protestant-like approach to the Faith, with its ecumenical Lenten and Advent gatherings, to say nothing of this New Mass that would make any Lutheran feel at home. Consequently, these New Order parishioners informally decided that what united them with their Protestant friends and neighbors was more important than what divided them — and what divided them was practically disregarded.

    'What always divided the Catholic faith from that of the Protestant is, basically, a day-to-day reliance on sacramental grace for salvation. It should come as no surprise, then, that the participation in the sacrament of penance 'would largely disappear from the daily life and habit of (Catholic) Christians,' as the pope observed, while they are growing ecumenically closer to Protestants.

    'There are other reasons as well for the demise of the sacrament of penance among New Order Catholics: The need for the sacrament of penance is directly related to the sense of sin of the penitent. That sense of sin results from a familiarity with what acts God would consider an offense and the self accusation that we are guilty of knowingly committing these acts. The sense of sin was usually reinforced by old sermons of 'hell-fire and brim stone' which were once common in both Protestant and Catholic churches.

    'Regrettably, such sermons are now commonly considered in both venues far too negative in a theological world that runs on feel-good, positive vibes. For any New Order priest to preach that mortal sin consists of, among other things: artificial birth control, abortion, pornography, divorce and remarriage without an annulment, sex between unmarried persons and missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without a valid reason, would probably cause a riot in the congregation and the priest's subsequent reassignment.

    'For Protestants, old revival-style, camp-meeting accusatory sermons were at least instrumental in getting the parishioner to deduce that, given their engagement in activities loudly defined as sin, the 'sinner' was required to 'accept Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior' lest they suffer the fate all such sinners deserve — an eternity in hell. Once that first and final step is taken, salvation is attained and sinful activity — past, present and future is rendered eternally irrelevant.

    'That quick-fix of the sinful soul is today accomplished for Protestants more by a general assumption of guilt without the colorful accusatory laundry list delivered in an old fashioned, negative 'turn or burn' sermon. There is no need any more to focus on the sinful actions (and reflect that always tedious 'Catholic guilt') because, as pleasant as it might be to avoid such activity for the sake of salvation, that problematic avoidance is by no means essential for Protestants as it truly is for traditional Catholics.

    'Catholics are, with the help of God's grace, to sin no more and to avoid even the near occasion of sin. All of the sacraments have as their purpose the instilling in the soul of sanctifying grace and, particularly, the worthy reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Catholics must not receive Holy Communion without properly attending to the state of their soul through the regular and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance. For this reason, Protestants — by denying even the legitimacy of the Sacrament of Penance, much less failing to participate in it — are therefore never properly prepared to receive Communion in a Catholic Church.

    'For a Catholic to receive Communion with an unconfessed, unforgiven mortal sin on his soul is yet another mortal sin. All mortal sin kills off what sanctifying grace exists in the soul. In fact, such an unworthy reception is considered a sacrilege. It follows, then, that in those Catholic Churches with no confession lines, where nevertheless everyone present still receives Holy Communion, it can only follow that on most Sundays those parishioners are sinfully receiving Holy Communion unworthily as they are not in a state of grace. This grim assessment does not even consider the spiritual state of an estimated 75 percent of Catholics who no longer even attend Mass which is, of course, mortal sin in itself.

    'This all means humanity is in real trouble now. Given the pope's own observation that the sacrament of penance and reconciliation 'has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of (Catholic) Christians,' that can only be interpreted to mean that the daily life and habits of Catholics today involves, in large measure, a persistent existence in accumulating mortal sin — with no heaven in the future of such Catholics.

    'The pope said that this 'loss of truthfulness endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace' — for whatever that is worth here on earth. But the extreme loss resulting from the disregard of this reconciling sacrament is this: It endangers our eternal life in peace with the Divine Trinity. This stunning recognition can only amount to an admission, by the Pope himself, of the great crisis we are now living through. It may also serve as an undeniable sign that the Second Vatican Council was the herald and usher of perhaps the darkest period in the history of the Catholic Church. Our Lady of Fatima — pray for us.

    'Visit my Web site, www.cleansingfire-thenovel.com.'

I should point out that I attend both the Traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass, but both parishes to which I belong — St. John Cantius and St. Mary of the Angels — are solidly orthodox and often have substantial lines for confession. Still, I realize that there are many parishes throughout the U.S. (and the world, for that matter) where such is not the case.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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