Beware of BetrayedCatholics

Please allow me to write a cautionary word on BetrayedCatholics, and on its author, Teresa Stanfill Benns, a self-proclaimed teacher in the Catholic Church. I believe that such is necessary to avoid further scandal, and to put those who are open to hearing the truth, however painful it may be to hear it, on guard against publications from said website and author. 

Basing her contention that immediate jurisdiction is a Protestant heresy on her own interpretation of what Mystici Corporis teaches, Benns has set herself up as a kind of alternative to theologians. In a recent article, Benns wrote the following:  

“A friend recently shared the following quote from Cardinal Billot with me, and while it was not objectionable at the time Billot wrote it, prior to the issuance of Mystici Corporis, it is not something that remains true following Pius XII’s definition on the origin of episcopal jurisdiction.”

That “friend” was me. I am sure it has come as no surprise to many of you that Teresa and I are no longer on speaking terms. She has since told me never to email her again. While that saddens me, we must endure these injuries as best we can for the love of God. But I wish to demonstrate something of vital importance to our Catholic faith, and to surviving this apocalyptic epoch: we must be guided by the light of true Catholic doctrine, which means we must be guided by true Catholic doctors, or teachers. We cannot allow those who claim to be teachers misguide us, however good intentioned they may be, because our faith must be set on rock-solid teaching, not on speculation, supposition, or faulty argumentation. 

The question becomes, who are true Catholic teachers? Well, first and foremost, true Catholic teachers are the parents of their children, who use the catechism to teach their children the truths of the faith. As the child progresses into adulthood—where most of us reading this are—one may build a deeper understanding of the faith through other books intended for our instruction as laity. 

But let me backtrack for a second: I have never said, nor do I now say, that we should not read anything but the catechism. I only want to emphasize that we must progress from elementary knowledge to more advanced, and where the defense of the faith is concerned, it is best to utilize the elementary kind, because it is clearer and makes for a better demonstration and defense of the faith. 

Okay, now let us return to instruction books for further study. There is one such book which a friend of mine shared with me, and which I intend to study after I have at least read the Baltimore Catechism enough times to quote it from memory, and that is Rev. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. The work was written by Rev. Ott, a priest, theologian, professor, and rector of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, a research institute in Germany. The book was taken from a collection of Ott’s own lecture notes while teaching, and is intended for clergy as well as laity. TAN books considers the Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma to be an essential title, and one which is “widely recognized as one of the greatest summaries of Catholic dogma ever put between two covers.” 

All that is to say is that Ott was a real deal theologian and teacher in the Catholic Church, and his instructional book on the fundamental teachings of the Church is a sure guide for furthering our Catholic education, which I warmly and enthusiastically encourage all of us to do.

So, like I said, my friend shared a passage from Ott’s book, which I reproduce for you now, typed out for your ease of reading. The image supplied for proof of its origin is given after the text.

Excerpt from Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:  

2. Manner of Conferring

The individual bishop receives his pastoral power immediately from the Pope. (Sent. probabilior.)

In the Encyclical “Mystici Corporis” (1943) Pope Pius XII says of the Bishops: “Each of them is also, as far as his own diocese is concerned, a true Pastor, who tends and rules in the name of Christ the flock committed to his care. In discharging this function, however, they are not completely independent, but are subject to the proper authority of the Roman Pontiff, although they enjoy ordinary power of jurisdiction received directly from the Sovereign Pontiff himself” (quamvis ordinaria jurisdictionis potestate fruantur, immediate sibi ab eodem Pontifice Summo impertita). D. 2287. Cf. D 1500.

This opinion cited (Papal Theory) corresponds best to the monarchial constitution of the Church. When the Pope unites in himself the whole fullness of the pastoral power of the Church, then it corresponds to this that all incumbents of the offices subordinate to him should receive their power immediately from him, the representative of Christ on earth. This conception is favoured by the current practice, according to the which the Pope authorises the bishop nominated or ratified by him to guide the diocese, and requires the clergy and laity to obey him. 

A second opinion (Episcopal Theory) assumes that each individual bishop receives his pastoral power direct from God, as does the Pope. The activity of the Pope in the nomination or ratification of a bishop is claimed to consist simply in that he allocates to the bishop a definite territory in which he is to exercise the power received immediately from God. In order to establish this theory it is argued that the bishops, as successors of the Apostles, receive their power just as immediately from Christ, as the Apostles received their power immediately from Christ, not through the intermediation of Peter. In favor of the second view the historical fact is also exploited that in Christian antiquity and in the early Middle Ages, the choice  of bishop by clergy and people, or the nomination of a bishop by princes was not always and everywhere ratified by the Pope. It is asserted that a tacit ratification and conferring of the episcopal jurisdiction, such as is assumed by the exponents of the former view, is not demonstrable and is improbable. 

The former opinion, which was already approved by Pius VI (D 1500) received a new authoritative confirmation by the Encyclical “Mystici Corporis,” but the question still remains without a final decision. 

Addendum: Position of the Parish Priest.

Only Popes and Bishops possess ecclesiastical jurisdictional power by Divine right. All other Church offices are of Church institution. The view put forward by Gallican theologians, who taught that the office of Parish Priest was inaugurated in the seventy-two Disciples of Christ, in order to derive therefrom a claim to participation in the government of the Church (Parochianism) is without any biblical or historical foundation. Pope Pius VI rejected the doctrine and claim of the pseudo-Synod of Pistoja (1786) et seq. 

There is a lot going on in this quote, but I will only mention a few takeaways from it. First, one reads that there were two (and still are two) theories as to how jurisdiction is received by bishops, either the papal theory or the episcopal theory. Ott tells us that the former theory is more probable, but that there has not been a final decision regarding it. Also, as the addendum addresses Gallicanism, Ott is teaching us that the theories, insofar as they pertain to jurisdiction of Bishops, are not Gallican, but insofar they are applied to Parish Priests are Gallican and are erroneous. 

Benns of BetrayedCatholics would have us believe that we are left with the choice between the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and the theologians. As she says in the article linked to above: 

“‘It is not the private opinions of theologians but the official decisions of the Church by which we must be guided.’ Yet always, Traditionalists favor the opinions of these theologians even over the clear teaching of the Church.”

The problem with this is a fallacy of false dilemma, because it is false to say that I must choose the opinions of theologians or the teachings of the Church. The theologians are teachers in the Church, like Ott, who have dedicated their lives to extensive academic training in the Catholic Church, and are entrusted by the same Church to inculcate the habit of knowledge of theology in seminarians, clergy, religious, and even the laity. They work at the highest possible level of academia,—research institutes—on the highest possible subject matter, theology. The institute of which Ott was rector was founded in 1472 with the approval of the Pope Sixtus IV, who, among other things, oversaw the construction of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Archives. 

But there is a choice being made between two mutually exclusive alternatives, exclusive in this case of immediate jurisdiction from God being a Protestant heresy (Benns’s opinion) and immediate jurisdiction from God being one of two theories (Rev. Ludwig Ott’s teaching). You see, the choice is not between Ott or Pius XII. The choice is between Ott or Benns. 

Now, are you obliged by faith to believe Ott? No. That is silly. But I would submit that you are obliged to believe Ott over and against Benns by reason, which reason compels the dispassionate individual to prefer an esteemed and venerable theologian of the highest possible caliber of theological formation, tried and tested by strenuous academic training, and meriting a rectorship at an ancient Catholic institution of research, and who has authored a work on Catholic teaching which many claim is the best ever written, to the mere opinion of a laywoman with only a blog and a bunch of books and a high school diploma.

On Blind Guides

In his “Guiding Principles of the Lay Apostolate,” which Benns quotes from in her article, “Canonical mission granted to the laity,” Pope Pius XII teaches that:

“The catechist is perhaps the classic example of the lay apostle, both by the very nature of his profession and because he makes up for the shortage of priests.”

As a catechist, one is confined to use those teaching materials the Church has provided for the purpose, namely, catechisms and books of instruction for advanced teaching—like The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. I am all for “canonical mission” for the laity, though it must be understood that this canonical mission is not “granted” as Benns asserts, but is mandated by episcopal power of jurisdiction, which none of us have received. But let’s let that slide. The point is, Benns, is relying on materials that are not for the laity—such as theological treatises, the code of canon law, and their respective commentaries—to teach her readers the truths of the faith. This is unprecedented and is dangerous, as is evidenced by the latest debacle of immediate jurisdiction. She believes that she has the requisite training, but where she got that idea is beyond comprehension. Guided by the principles set forth for lay apostolates by Pius XII, Benns would never have thought she had the requisite training to be anything other than a catechist:  

“On the other hand, to acquire the necessary competence, it is obviously necessary to make the effort demanded by serious training. Such training, whose necessity for teachers no one doubts, is just as necessary for every lay apostle, and We have learned with pleasure that the meeting at Kisuba emphatically stressed intellectual formation,” (Pius XII, Guiding Principles of the Lay Apostolate.)  

And later, Pius XII teaches that this training is more than just reading some books from one’s own private library: 

“The training of lay apostles will be cared for by organizations of the lay apostolate itself. These may avail themselves of the help of the secular clergy and the apostolic religious orders. We are certain that they will also have the valuable cooperation of the secular institutes. As regards the formation of women for the lay apostolate, women Religious already have fine achievements to their credit in mission countries and elsewhere,” (Ibid.) 

The point is, that such serious training and intellectual formation must happen in Catholic society, among the clergy, religious orders, and in secular institutes. Training to be a religious teacher requires more than what we have presently, because we lack the Catholic society to pull it off. That is why I believe it is safest and most Catholic to profess and defend the truths of the Faith as they are presented in catechisms and in books of instruction written for laity. 

Benns writes:

“I have my own theological library sporting some 3,000 plus volumes, culled mainly from a seminary library, and have studied some of the best theological works available from it since 1981, often clocking in hours of study per day for decades. My friends and family can testify to this, and I don’t believe that is something most can claim to have done. This is not a boast; the fruits of study can only be judged by God. But I have done my best to “make the effort demanded by serious training” as best I could, since there were no Catholic teachers.” 

One of the bad fruits of Benns’s solitary study of theology, which anyone who is reading this article may judge for themselves, not just God Almighty, is that Benns is squarely contradicted by Ott, who was a true teacher in the Catholic Church. Benns is a blind guide who thinks she is a teacher, but who lacks even the basic self-knowledge to correct some simple mistakes she has published, and who would stand by these claims, even if it means throwing away friendships forged at a distance with fellow pray-at-home Catholics, even if these claims are controverted by exceptionally credentialed and true Catholic teachers, who have left us books to learn the faith by. Let us read these instead of those false teachers who dissent from the teachers of the Church, and who offend us with doctrines at odds with what we have learned. As St. Paul puts it:  

“Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who make dissensions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not Christ our Lord, but their own belly; and by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent,” (Romans 16:17-18).