Tuesday, April 17, 2018

On Catholic In-Fighting

Social media can be useful in at least one way. It tends to reflect your own faults to you, even if it's in a funhouse mirror form.

I've been increasingly taken aback by much of the rhetoric on social media regarding Pope Francis. I'm not an ultramontanist, so I'm far from thinking that criticism of the Supreme Pontiff is illegitimate. And indeed, some of the defences of the Pope (and criticism of his critics) have been just as uncharitable, just as rancourous.

On both sides, there is a great deal of sarcasm, irony, satire, name-calling, flippancy, and so forth-- not charitable or serious discussion.

However, my contacts on social media would tend to be very conservative, and so I've been more exposed to the "anti-Francis" side of the debate.

It really bothers me that there is a contingent who increasingly seem to see themselves as "the resistance" to the Pope. When you've set yourself consciously and continuously in opposition to the Pope, surely you've lost your way.

"Name names", you might demand. Well, I'm not going to. I have no intention of getting into spats or finger-pointing.

Ross Douthat is an example of a Catholic writer whose critique of Francis is respectful and measured. Sadly, there are others who are not respectful or measured.

I'll be very frank. I've found this pontificate extremely challenging, even distressing at times. I'm often baffled by the Pope's words and actions, even while I find some of his pronouncements deeply inspiring (for instance, many passages in his latest apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad).

But docility and obedience are virtues to Catholics. I'm struck by this very often in reading the lives of the saints. St. Catherine of Siena's criticism of the Pope is often cited, but it's a rare exception. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, in his war with the Arian bishops, is another. (But let us remember that he was a bishop.) I'm not aware of many other examples.

The saintly figures of Catholic history are much more often distinguished by docility-- to their bishops and religious superiors, never mind the Pope.

Here's an example. Venerable Fulton Sheen is often hailed as an outstanding figure of old-fashioned Catholicism-- assertive, unapologetic, hard-hitting. I was watching one of his videos on YouTube and, reflecting on the fact that he died in 1979, found myself wondering what he'd said about Vatican II.

Venerable Fulton Sheen
This is what he said: "The tensions that developed after the Council are not surprising to those who know the whole history of the Church. It is a historical fact that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in a general council of the Church, there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic. Even at the beginning, immediately after Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles, there began a persecution and the murder of Stephen. If a general council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the third Person of the Trinity over the assembly."

One could hardly get more enthusiastic-- rather too enthusiastic, in my view.

Even with a figure like Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, we see this. Duff was often frustrated in his efforts by unsympathetic bishops, such as John Charles McQuaid (I admire McQuaid greatly, by the way). But he didn't air his frustrations publicly. (If I'm wrong on this, I'm happy to be corrected.)

Speaking of Vatican II, I'm continually haunted by its assertion of Papal supremacy in Lumen Gentium: "In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

There is not much ambiguity there. Certainly it seems to leave little room for many of the critics of our current Pope, whose atttidue seems to be: "Call me when he proclaims a dogma".

I'm also haunted by the fact that Pope Benedict has explicitly said that Pope Francis's pontificate is not in contradiction with his own, and that there is a "continuity" between them. (He also seems to have given moral support to Cardinal Muller and one of the dubia cardinals, so I think Pope Francis's champions should show a similiar respect towards his critics.)

I would cheer wildly if Cardinal Burke or Cardinal Sarah stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's after the next papal conclave. In fact, I look towards this conclave with considerable apprehension, especially given the number of cardinals Pope Francis has ordained.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a great man

On the other hand...the Holy Spirit knows better than me. I'm not saying that every papal election is an act of the Holy Spirit, but it might be.

And the promise of our Lord to St. Peter remains operative. No matter how bad things get, we know the Church is not going to apostasize.

I have my opinions on what "bad" is, but who's to say I'm right? Many Catholics would look askance on developments which seem reasonable to me, such as ecumenical outreach. (Which is not to say I approve of everything done in the name of ecumenism.)

What really bothers me is the amount of time Catholics spend fighting each other. In all the time I've spent reading G.K. Chesterton, I've never come across a passage where he criticizes a Catholic bishop or any development within the Catholic Church. (This is especially notable considered he was an ardent supporter of World War One, and the Pope of the time called for peace and negotiation.) I'm not saying there are no such passages, but they must be thin on the ground indeed, since I don't remember ever reading any. Belloc, too, I remember reading, made it a point not to criticise other Catholics.

From now on, I am going to avoid thinking of myself as a conservative Catholic, a JPII Catholic, a Pope Benedict Catholic, an Ordinary Form Catholic, or any other sort of Catholic. I'm just a Catholic. I'm so tired of the Catholic in-fighting. I'm sorry for any part I've played it, or any expressions of rancour or sarcasm towards the Holy Father on this blog in the past.


  1. Excellent! Couldn´t agree more in principle to the entire matter. Thanks for sharing these thoughts straight on.

    1. A timely article on a timely subject. I have found myself getting so frustrated by Francis that I needed this reminder. After one of his more questionable pronouncements my wife said: ' He's the Pope; he can say what he wants'. To which I replied: He's the Pope; this is precisely why he cannot say what he wants.' I don't doubt his faith or sincerity. I sometimes wish he would exercise more care. If the words of a scholar like Benedict could be twisted, and they frequently were, how much more those of Francis.

    2. I completely agree. I honestly don't see the virtues of "making a mess", as the Holy Father puts it. I sincerely hope I am wrong and I just don't get it.

  2. Grace Abounding To The Chief Of SinnersApril 24, 2018 at 11:31 AM

    Only a G-DLY reformation will save the so-called ""Roman Catholic"" church from well-deserved extirpation at the hands of the wrath of G-D. COME OUT OF HER MY PEOPLE THAT YE MAY BE SAVED should be the watchword of those romanists who dislike PAPISH superstition. Verily, the work of Calvin may be completed, but only by those who admit SALVATION is of FAITH and not works.

    1. Grace abounding, with all respect, I have close relatives who are presbyterian, and a sorrier mess of female pastors, gay pastors and DIY doctrine would be hard to imagine. It actually saddens me to see it.

  3. Though a bit off topic (I just found the latest post that possibly could correlate w/ it), what are your thoughts on the abortion referendum that'll happen on the 25th of May in Ireland? I learned about it through a couple of YT vids. This one gathered a few Irish creatives to voice their support of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItSxbbKp-TQ.

    I suppose it'll go the of same-sex "marriage" - it will be passed with rejoice.

    1. It will probably pass, but it's almost certainly going to be close. Some projections I've seen are 52 per cent Yes, 48 per cent No.

      I'm going to write a post on it today.