Do our fights over Pope Francis have to be this dumb?

(Illustration: America Media) 

Pope Francis likes to stir things up, to create debate. In this, he reminds me of nothing more than another frequently misunderstood popular figure, one Jesus of Nazareth. Just imagine Twitter’s reaction to the bit about giving back to Caesar what is owed to Caesar. Half would have denounced Jesus as a stooge of the Romans and the other half as a dangerous fanatic bent on anti-Roman war. Pharisees and Sadducees could not “process” Jesus because they tried to fit him in their political categories, while he was about something else. If the pope says “Who am I to judge?,” it is imperative that I try to use that as a culture war weapon, lest I accidentally start to ask myself how much I am judging my neighbor and what I should do about it.

It is fine to have debate within the church. I just wish the debate were a little less—what’s the theological term of art again?—oh, yes: a little less dumb.

I just wish the debate were a little less—what’s the theological term of art again?—oh, yes: a little less dumb.

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Take the latest episode in the never-gonna-die controversy around “Amoris Laetitia.” A group of Catholics has published a letter of “filial correction” asking—politely, pretty please, no offense—the pope to stop being such a heretic.

Nevermind the merits of this issue: Whose bright idea was it to include among the signatories of a document lecturing about heresy the infamous Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the breakaway traditionalist group the Society of St. Pius X? What response is any faithful Catholic, even one sympathetic to the letter’s argument, supposed to give to a letter lecturing the pope about Catholicism signed by someone whose career and vocation is dedicated to undermining communion with the See of Peter, other than peals of laughter?

After lecturing the pope in Latin (of course), the letter includes appendices denouncing “Modernism” and Protestantism (of course), in which the authors feel it necessary to remind the pope that among Catholic doctrines is the proposition that “Jesus Christ is true God and true man.” Imagine the levels of self-righteous passive aggression it takes to write a public letter about how you are sadly forced to remind the pope of Rome that Catholics believe Jesus is divine. It is like contemplating infinity.

The failure is not one of communication; it is one of charity.

Not that the “other side” (because everything must be boiled down to two sides, because everything is dumb) did much better with its response. I will take this article from the National Catholic Reporter as representative. Nobody needs to worry about this filial correction, we are helpfully informed, not because it is wrong, but because the signatories are not theologians and are ill-represented among academics and bishops. I now await the condemnation of St. Catherine of Siena for her gall to rebuke the pope despite her lack of theological credentials and ecclesiastical support and will revisit my view of the Inquisition’s condemnation of Joan of Arc. Come to think of it, that fellow Jesus of Nazareth did not have a doctorate and did not have many friends among the religious authorities of the day.

I am not being acidly sarcastic for its own sake. There is a serious theological point, which I will make despite my distinct lack of theological degrees, which is that nothing could be further from the spirit of the Christian faith than the idea that faith and morals are accessible only to the learned and or that the best way to divine them is to tally up the views of the powerful. Then there is a serious prudential point: These repeated appeals to authority seem almost purposefully designed to validate the pope’s critics’ point that the pro-Francis wing of the church cannot respond to their arguments on the merits, and so they must resort to a combination of mumbo-jumbo and appeals to authority to silence critics.

Stepping back, what is the problem? We are not just shouting at each other on social media—we are sneering at each other. The failure is not one of communication; it is one of charity. People believe what they believe for reasons that are sincere, profound and complex. The pope wants us to debate. I say: Do it better.

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Jeanne Follman
4 weeks ago

Amen! What a refreshing blast of common sense. That being said, the reality is that honest debate on certain topics can be career-destroying; Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a former editor of this very magazine, was sacked for allowing the discussion of priestly celibacy and the ordination of women. The Church has a whopping amount of work to do in this regard; when name-calling is a safer occupation than honest debate, you have a problem.

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 3 days ago

Jeanne Follman

It would have been irresponsible of the Church's authorities to have permitted the Rev. Reese to continue to undermine Church teaching in the matter of priestly celibacy and the ridiculous subject of women priests. He was clearly a moral dissenter and it was right that he went.

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 weeks 2 days ago

You prove the writers' point. Debate is healthy; name-calling, etc. is not. Celibacy is a disciplinary matter, not doctrine. Ordination, likewise, is ultimately a disciplinary matter, i.e., how we do things. If it "was right" for Reese to be fired by B16, it was "right" for B16 to retire due to lack of executive competence.

James Matthew
2 weeks 2 days ago

One side of your mouth says name-calling is unhealthy, while the other side of your mouth calls Benedict XVI an incompetent.

James Haraldson
4 weeks ago

What a ridiculous commentary. Maybe an all-time worst for the thousands of foolhardy articles in America.
Since when has Francis tolerated being questioned? When has his fire-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me attitude encouraged debate?
When has he refrained from ridiculing anyone seeking to charitably remind him of the devastating civilization destroying consequences bought about by a rejection of understanding truth as immutable?
The pope of relativism has indirectly ridiculed the moral precepts and absolutes of Jesus Christ in order to obtain the adulation of moral cowards around the world, including ravenous pro-aborts, regardless of how many lives are slaughtered in the process.
It is clear to any sane mind. Francis, and his apologists, have a serious pride problem.

Justin Ramza
4 weeks ago

You sound like a very angry man. Take a slow, deep breath. Get a massage. But calm down a little.

James Haraldson
3 weeks 6 days ago

No thanks. Aiding and abetting mass murder does provoke righteous anger. If natural law means anything it means right is right no matter who or how many are wrong. including popes, and wrong is wrong no matter who, including popes, or how few are right.

Henry George
3 weeks 6 days ago

Hi James,

We seem to have a split between those Catholics who worship at the altar of Modernity:
Humans can always reason to the right choice and the more humanity matures the less we
need Holy Scripture to guide us, let alone moral guidance via Natural Law.
We, Modern Thinkers, will decide what is true and false and we will decide what is good and what is not good.
Our Consciences can and will guide us to Heaven.

On the other side are those who want a Church that remains true to Christ and the Holy Scriptures
and does not change because it is the 1960's or the 1990's or because Francis is the coolest Pope since
John XXIII...

Why Francis has not explained why he seeks the the changes he does, only creates confusion, even among
those who wish him well. Sadly Francis does have an iron fist beneath that velvet glove the media has adorned
him with. Perhaps it is necessary given how entrenched the Vatican bureaucracy can be - but why the secrecy ?

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 weeks 1 day ago

"Sadly Francis does have an iron fist beneath that velvet glove..."

And JPII and B16 did not have their "iron fist[s]"???

Joshua DeCuir
4 weeks ago

Hear, hear!

Justin Ramza
4 weeks ago

I thought it was a pretty well-reasoned article, until I read the part about you not having any theology degrees.

Sorry, my attempt at being acridly sarcastic.

I think you are spot on. ;-)

William Bannon
4 weeks ago

No...dumb is when a Pope says the 5th commandment condemns the death penalty when that same God gives multiple death penalties in the same book of Deuteronomy that contains the 5th commandment. Jesus affirms one of those death penalties in Mark 7:10. That Amoris Laeticia is defective is shown in the birth control case. Those who practice birth control and receive Communion hopefully have arrived at their position through struggle and prayer rather than quick angry dissent. But no Pope said that priests were to become involved with them intimately to journey with them in accompaniement. The Church clergy simply have no place implicitly or explicitly enabling Communion for those acting against objective norms. It seems like a desperate attempt to move priests into an area of intimacy that is odd....Christ did not accompany the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her she had been with many men and the current one was not her real husband. Period. He didn't make Himself her everyday companion. If a second marriage person is sincere in his or her belief that God knows the nuances in their case and the annullment court missed them....then that person might or might not feel good about receiving Communion but priests have no place in that mix. There is a space where a person is alone with God if they are really sincere in seeking the moral and find that it does not conform to men's eyes. But I don't see Christ invading that space with the Samaritan woman. He tells her she is not with her real husband and he leaves her to work that out with the Father in Heaven.

Justin Ramza
4 weeks ago

Actually, he did. And he does so, for all of us. He promised he would be with us always, until the end of time, before he ascended. Where two or more are gathered in his name, he is there as well. If you really don't believe that, then I could see why you would prefer focusing on objective norms and forgoing spiritual direction. But, for what it's worth coming from an anonymous stranger online, you're missing out on a lot.

William Bannon
4 weeks ago

You're creating something that never happened between Christ and the woman...and your creating it because your narrative needs it.

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 weeks 1 day ago

You refer to "the woman." To whom are you referring in the Gospel?

James Matthew
2 weeks 2 days ago

If your argument here is that Christ sends his grace to the Samaritan woman at the well so she can co-operate with it and conform to the truth and refrain from having sex with the man who isn't her husband - that would be right. If your saying he is indifferent to her actions and just supernaturally hangs around as her buddy, then you are in error. He doesn't stop his call for her to stop sinning, to stop heaping up the misery of sin - because that is love. Pretending there is no disaster in sin is a lie and isn't mercy, even if the world applauds.

Mel Cormican
3 weeks 6 days ago

I don't think the article advanced the argument one iota. For some of the faithful, some explanation is necessary. More broadly, can we receive communion in a state of sin? Some say yes (it will help you), others No (you are condemning yourself). I am confused. Which is it?

Actually, there are those sitting on the fence such as me, waiting for clarity and genuinely not sure if what is happening can be relied on as authentic development or whether it is heresy. Because it could be the latter. (The message of Fatima foretells apostasy in the Church, so not a great time to be making radical departures from tradition.) Who signed it is irrelevant unless we judge the merits of the case solely on the credentials of who signed it. The silence of the Vatican comes across as either arrogance (the request for clarity is beneath the office of the papacy to respond to) or ignorance (they have no answer to the charge).

Justin Ramza
3 weeks 6 days ago

A third possibility? The questions for clarity may not be in a genuine spirit of charity; in which case, Homey don't play that game.

James Matthew
2 weeks 2 days ago

Perhaps you are unaware that different bishops have interpreted Amoris laetitia in radically different ways, leaving the faithful who follow developments perplexed as to which is correct. An answer would help resolve these problems for the laity even if he was suspicious of the Cardinals.

Additionally the worry is that if it is a change allowing Jesus' commands to have a work around, how is that faithful to him? Unlike the Mormons whose leader is held to be a living prophet that can alter doctrine at any moment, Catholicism holds that its the Popes job to guard what was delivered by Jesus to the apostles from any changes which would have it following the thoughts of men rather than God. Jesus asked people to Repent and be saved, if the Pope is saying you can be in a state of grave sin and it really doesn't matter, he is editing out the words of Jesus for his own. It seems he isn't repeating Jesus' call to "Repent" so that we can be saved, but that we just have to realize we are already saints no matter what behaviour we may be up to.

The worry is, that yes there is a third option, but not a "homey don't play that" one, rather his silence is due to the fact that he knows what he is doing is making a way to work around what the Church holds that Jesus commanded to the apostles and their successors. That he knows he is doing this and has no authority to try and bypass Jesus, but he figures if he doesn't admit it by answering direct questions he can get away with it. The Cardinals behind the dubia want to follow Jesus, even if it means inquiring the wrath of the Pope and the secular media.

Bruce Snowden
3 weeks 6 days ago

They called Him "a glutton and a wine drinker" and "a lover of sinners." They made him into a buffoon, a fool king crowned with thorns, but where are they today? Anyone know their names? No, but every one knows Jesus! Hang in there Holy Father Francis. You are a man after the Merciful Heart of Jesus, as was David, Jesus' Merciful Heart beating in humanity everywhere. I see them especially in those distressed beneath the whip of callous directives, some masquerading as righteous.

Justin Ramza
3 weeks 6 days ago

I second that, Pope Francis! Don't let the Pharisees wear you down !
People question if anyone who left has truly returned to the faith because of you. I can only speak for myself; and I did. Thank you for being a willing conduit of God's grace.

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 6 days ago

Count me in as one, too, and I know a few others, and what's remarkable about that is that I live in Egypt, where there are few Catholics in the first place.

William Laudeman
3 weeks 6 days ago

The Pharisees are alive and well!

Henry George
3 weeks 6 days ago

William,
Though your post is brief,
its it charitable ?

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 5 days ago

Just as Christ said, the Pharisees are always "praying" in public!

Henry George
3 weeks 4 days ago

Robert,
I guess Pope Francis should stop having large Public Masses
and saying the Angelus in public or any other prayers in public.

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 2 days ago

Henry

I wish Pope Francis would stop having public Masses because it increases 1000-fold the abuses of the Blessed Sacrament. Have you seen these lay people passing the Sacred Host from front to back as though it were just a piece of bread? And this Pope encourages that irreverence! No, less public Masses from Pope Francis would be a great blessing for the Church, unless of course you don't believe in the Real Presence or in the Church's universal norm that Catholics should kneel and receive Holy Communion on their tongue (Paul VI Memoriale Domini).

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 5 days ago

When Pope Francis made that controversial statement "who am I to judge?", he was not responding to a question about individual sinners but rather to a question about a particular sin of impurity. This changes everything and sets the Pope in opposition to Our Lord, who condemned sin outrightly and at all times. It never ceases to amaze me how many Catholics make this same mistake when they speak of mercy, confusing a forbidden condemnation of sinners with an obligatory condemnation of sin. Is it a deliberate obscuration or just an ignorant one? Either way, it's giving people the notion that sin is no big deal. One mortal sin (the sin of our first parents) was sufficient to close the gates of heaven and require the Son of God to become incarnate and die a terrible death on the Cross to pay the price. But today in this hedonistic world it's all ok, who are we to judge. This is Hell in a handcart stuff!

Henry George
3 weeks 4 days ago

A very simple question:

Why does Pope Francis keep sounding an uncertain trumpet - 1 Corinthians 14:8

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 weeks 2 days ago

"One mortal sin (the sin of our first parents) was sufficient to close the gates of heaven and require the Son of God to become incarnate and die a terrible death on the Cross to pay the price."

Typological claptrap. What a horrible notion of the Father demanding the crucifixion of the Son "to pay the price" for our redemption/salvation. This belief comes as close to heresy as I can imagine. God is Love. Love does not condemn, and Love will not allow us to condemn ourselves. We have already been saved by Jesus ("God saves").

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 2 days ago

Mr. Blackshaw's theology emphasizes "substitutionary atonement," which is more characteristic of Protestantism than of Catholicism. I think that Catholic theology in the modern age rejects the idea of a blood-thirsty, vengeful "God the Father" in favour of John Duns Scotus's emphasis on the inevitability of the Incarnation, regardless of a "Fall": https://cac.org/incarnation-instead-of-atonement-2016-02-12/

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 2 days ago

Robert Lewis

No, Mr. Blackshaw's theology represents the 2000-year teaching of the Catholic Church, which has not altered despite the rebellion of "modern theology". I think you'll find the Church still teaches the same on this subject as she did right at the beginning, yet another proof that her divine doctrine remains both infallible and indefectible even through the worst times of unbelief.

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 2 days ago

Joseph
I think you'll find upon investigation that this has been the teaching of the Church for 2000 years and remains so today. It's called 'The history of the Redemption' upon which the entire belief in the forgiveness of sin rests. Take away the Original Sin and its consequences and all of Christian doctrine collapses. Once again you show yourself to be unCatholic in your beliefs, but in this case you can't even be called a Protestant or Christian of any description. Have you ever been educated in the Catholic Faith or is it that you just reject what the Church teaches. You've come away with some crackers up to now but this one trumps everything. Incredible!

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 weeks 1 day ago

It has been the "teaching of the Church" that Jesus was not sacrificed by the Father. Jesus, in other words, sacrificed himself. I would merely add that the whole of Jesus' earthly ministry was one of self-sacrifice. It was not necessary for Jesus to appease a vengeful and demanding Father.

Martin Blackshaw
3 weeks 1 day ago

"It was not necessary for Jesus to appease a vengeful and demanding Father."

The proper understanding given by the Church is that of satisfying the divine justice for the outrages of sin. If you understood supernaturally what sin is to our sinless God then perhaps you could acquire an understanding of why the divine justice had to be satisfied by penance. Our Lord took our sins upon Himself and sacrificed Himself to pay the price for us. The Father approved of this great act of love by His Divine Son. Hence, in the Garden of Gethsemene Our Lord prays thus to His Father: "Father, if it is possible let this chalice pass from me. Yet, not my will but thine be done". You see how God the Father and God the Son are of one and the same mind that sacrifice should be made for fallen human nature to pay the price for sin. It's called the Redemption and all Christians have believed it since the year dot. What you say is alien, it's not even Christian.

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