Long-time readers will recall that I tend to latch on to certain issues and ride them out for a while. Previous “obsessions” include the California homeschooling crisis, the FLDS crackdown and kidnapping, the California same-sex “marriage” saga, and not a few others. So, for a little while, your humble blogmaster tends to look like a “one trick pony”. (I was going to say “a one trick pony beating a dead horse”, but those metaphors don’t mix well.)
This style has its drawbacks, and I’m sure it gets tiresome for some readers. But it has the advantage of clarifying my own thoughts, and hopefully engaging the subject at a deeper level than you’ll find on most blogs.
With the Pope Francis crisis – yes, Pope Francis is a crisis – many issues are percolating, lots of questions are being asked, and orthodox Catholics are being forced to re-evaluate their customary approach to the papacy (and to much else besides). Therefore I decided to put together a short list of Frequently Asked Questions for the purpose of sorting through some of these issues.
1. Why are you criticizing the pope? Don’t you believe he is the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, the Supreme Pontiff to whom you owe filial respect and obedience?
This question is the 800 lb gorilla for good Catholics. The pope is our father in the Faith – the word pope literally means “father” – and to us he is also, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, our “sweet Christ on earth”. A good son always gives his father the benefit of the doubt. A good son inculcates a habit of trust and deference towards his father. If his father has certain undeniable faults, a good son tries to overlook them, to put the best possible construction on them, even to conceal them from his father’s enemies who would exploit them. That would mean not alerting his father’s other children to those same faults, which they may not have noticed. That would certainly mean not blogging about those faults to the whole world. For a Catholic blogger to publish a series of articles that is critical of the Holy Father is an extraordinary thing, to the point where it is perfectly reasonable at first glance to assume the worst of the blogger and the best of the pope.
All of the above is true. And if it’s true for ordinary families, it’s even more true for the family that is the Catholic Church. Personality defects of every kind should be overlooked in a pope. Practical incompetence in governing, if it exists, should also be overlooked in a pope (and quietly remedied by those who are in a position to help). To a fairly large extent, even moral failings should be overlooked in a pope and hidden from the public. A certain amount of doctrinal error should be overlooked in a pope – so long as these errors are few, innocently held, and not widely promulgated. Now then, it might happen that a particular fault is so public and egregious that it is impossible to ignore. Still, if a Catholic must oppose his pope in some matter, it should be done with gentleness and filial respect, with every effort to minimize the scandal and to quickly repair the Holy Father’s compromised authority.
Sometimes, though, tragic circumstances require extraordinary measures. A natural family might find itself burdened with a father whose cumulative defects pose a grave threat to its members – let’s say he gambles away the family’s livelihood and inheritance – and so a good son may need to warn his relatives, who might otherwise come to harm, while taking measures to defend the family’s inheritance. The Catholic Church, too, might be faced with a pope whose acts are similarly dangerous, and a good Catholic may need to alert his brothers, lest they too come to harm, while taking measures to protect the Church’s inheritance.
We face just such a tragedy today with Pope Francis. We should pray and fast that the Lord would prevent the worst, and that public opposition would no longer be necessary, but apart from divine intervention it seems that at least some of us should be speaking out.
2. Why are you trying to be “more Catholic than the pope”? Why don’t you just trust him and go with the flow?
It should be obvious that the Church is larger than the pope, and that Catholic dogma is larger than papal authority. If the Church could be reduced to papal authority, then popes would never bother to teach Catholic doctrine as objectively and universally true. When I became a Catholic, I made the Tridentine Profession of Faith as follows:
I, ——-, with a firm faith believe and profess all and every one of the things contained in that Creed which the holy Roman Church makes use of: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,” etc. [The Nicene Creed]
I most steadfastly admit and embrace apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions, and all other observance and constitutions of the same Church.
I also admit the holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother Church has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.
I also profess that there are truly and properly seven sacraments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, though not all for ever one, to wit: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace; and that these, baptism, confirmation, and ordination cannot be reiterated without sacrilege. I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church, used in the solemn administration of the aforesaid sacraments.
I embrace and receive all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.
I profess, likewise, that in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the eucharist there is truly, really and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a change of the whole essence of the bread into the body, and of the whole essence of the wine into the blood; which change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.
I also confess that under either kind alone [either the bread or the cup] Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.
I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful. Likewise, that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honoured and invoked, and that they offer up prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be had in veneration.
I most firmly assert that the images of Christ, and of the perpetual Virgin the Mother of God, and also of other saints, ought to be had and retained, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them. I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.
I acknowledge the holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church for the mother and mistress of all churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, successor to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and Vicar of Jesus Christ.
I likewise undoubtingly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the Sacred Canons and General Councils, particularly by the holy Council of Trent; and I condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.
I do, at this present, freely profess and truly hold this true Catholic faith, without which no one can be saved; and I promise most constantly to retain and confess the same entire and inviolate, with God’s assistance, to the end of my life. And I will take care, as far as in me lies, that it shall be held, taught, and preached by my subjects, or by those the care of whom shall appertain to me in my office. This, I promise, vow, and swear – so help me God, and these holy Gospels of God.
These are promises I intend to keep. While this Profession does include a promise of “true obedience” to the Bishop of Rome, it is assumed that “true” obedience can never mean violating any other part of this Profession, such as the vow to “… undoubtingly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the Sacred Canons and General Councils, particularly by the holy Council of Trent” and to “… condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.” If obedience to Pope Francis means that one does not condemn, reject, or anathematize the heresy of Modernism (to use just one example), then such obedience cannot be “true” obedience.
The evidence is overwhelming that not only is Pope Francis in the grip of Modernist errors, but he is aggressively communicating these errors to the Church and to the world – although, thanks be to God, without the pretense of magisterial authority. Furthermore he is effectively diminishing the Church’s doctrinal, moral, spiritual and liturgical patrimony in the lives of the faithful, and his administrative actions promise more of the same. I am not concerned with his choice of shoes, car, residence, or vestments; neither am I particularly bothered by his abrasive manners, his simple style of preaching, his lack of theological acumen, or even his garrulous “off the cuff” spontaneity. I believe that he is sincere, not malicious, and that he believes himself to be doing what is best for the Church. But the fact is that the Church is threatened with serious harm by the actions of this pontiff.
Do I think of myself as “more Catholic than the pope”? That’s the wrong question. The question is whether I am a faithful Catholic, period, and whether being a Catholic in my particular state of life justifies speaking up in a crisis like this.
3. What do you hope to accomplish by blogging about this?
I pray that God directs the right people to read it, and steers the wrong people away from it. I hope that those who do read this blog will be sufficiently alarmed to take action of some kind, to resist error and promote the truth exactly as the magisterium of the Church has taught for centuries. I hope that some will be motivated to attach themselves to orthodox parishes and chapels where enthusiasm for Pope Francis doesn’t eclipse the Church’s priority of the salvation of souls. I hope that a few men of influence will be emboldened to address these errors coming from Rome with far greater wisdom, depth, and clarity than I am capable of doing. Finally, I dare to hope that somehow this blog contributes to helping members of the hierarchy – priests and bishops – understand the magnitude of this crisis, so they can respond to these errors in their parishes and dioceses even if they cannot speak directly to the crisis in a public way.
4. Aren’t you afraid of pushing unstable readers towards sedevacantism?
I suppose that is a danger, but it doesn’t justify silence in my view. Exposing the abuses of a bad government could push unstable minds towards anarchism or libertarianism, but the problems still need to be addressed. Besides, nothing I have written suggests that sedevacantism is a viable option at this point.
5. You’re starting to sound like a Lefebvrist. What do you think of the SSPX?
We attend an SSPX chapel once or twice per month. My thinking is evolving with experience and reading. The SSPX is a mixed bag, to be sure, but their raison d’être seems entirely plausible, Bishop Fellay impresses me greatly, and I appreciate the measured tone of their recent statements. Every day that passes under this pontificate I grow more and more thankful for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.