Are Catholics now too dazzled by the Pope? Can Popes be criticized?

Do you remember the scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited when Rex Mottram is being given his catechism lessons before he can marry Julia?  The priest and Rex have this exchange:

“Yesterday I asked [Mottram] whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

This scene figures in a piece written by Michael Brendon Dougherty for The Week “Catholics must learn to resist their popes — even Pope Francis Too many are becoming party apparatchiks”.

The writer makes the point – in a nutshell – that since the advent of rapid communications and a far greater familiarity and presence of Popes in our lives, many people now venerate them too much.  They go beyond respect for the office, and give adulation and hero-worship to the person.  On the other hand, in ages past, before this “papalotry” (my word, the writer’s) developed, people felt far freer to criticize a Pope’s actions.

Is he one to something or is he off the rails?  This is clearly something that many über-trads have bandied about in the last few decades of their defiance of authority.

I suggest that you read the article and then discuss.  I repeat: read the article first.  Don’t just jump in without thinking or looking.

Another quote:

Catholics were reminded at the Second Vatican Council of a doctrine with a foundation in the early church fathers, in St. Vincent Lerins, that the whole body of faithful Catholics in their cultivated sense of the faith, are one of the guarantors of the church’s teaching authority. Sometimes, the duty of a faithful Catholic is not just to rebuke and correct those in authority in the church like St. Catherine of Siena, but to throw rotting cabbage at them, or make them miserable, as we once did, with the connivance of worldly authorities, during the deadlocked papal election in Viterbo.

For now the members of the Catholic Party are cultivating a kind of denial, saying that Pope Francis cannot possibly endorse the line on divorce and remarriage suggested by Cardinal Kasper when very clearly this reform is being actively debated within the highest reaches of the church, and seems to have been implemented in one phone call. If adopted, it will be time for members of the Catholic Church to reach for the rotting produce and give our prelates a taste of the sensus fidelium.

That proposed, let’s us remember that the Pope has an office with a defined role.  Not everything any Pope says or does is infallible or perfect.

Rich terrain for discussion here, if people will a) think before posting and b) think before posting.  I don’t want to have to step in too much to remove comments that were just tossed out with little consideration.  Treat the question with respect and thought.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Imrahil says:

    I have been thinking before that Pope Francis – by simply doing so much, including much along his personal preferences, that everyone will have their problem at some point – is teaching us the important lesson than a Pope, when he is not infallible, is fallible.

    Put your trust into God, not into princes, not even those of the Church.

    If he succeeded with this lesson, he’d have succeeded with an important thing.

  2. Magpie says:

    I think modern Catholics lack the knowledge of the faith and have come to see the Pope as THE Catholic Faith, almost as if the Pope himself might say I AM TRADITION! On the contrary, anything the Pope says or does should be held up to the light of Tradition and if it doesn’t compute, then it should be rightly rejected, and those who have the competence to do so should call the Pope out on it.

  3. Sissy says:

    I’ve read about the so-called “American heresy”, in which certain Catholics put loyalty to the U.S.A. above loyalty to the Church’s teachings (or something like that). This article struck me as a warning against falling into a “Catholic heresy”, where one conflates the magistrates with the Magisterium.

    As a former protestant, the article worries me. Protestants are always saying things like this: Who needs the righteousness of the Bishops when we have the righteousness of Jesus; All I need is Jesus, Jesus and me, Jesus plus nothing. One of the reasons I joined the Church was because of the hierarchy, which I believed would maintain orthodoxy and prevent errors in teaching. If I lose faith in that, obedience goes out the window. I’ve known all along that any Pope can make mistakes. What I don’t anticipate is doctrine being overturned, by this Pope or any other.

  4. SimonR says:

    In his biography of Saint John Paul II, George Weigel quoted Melchior Cano

    “Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations”.

    I have been reading through the Encyclicals of John Paul II and continue to read the writings of the Pope Emeritus every day. I think I have almost without realizing it given up on the Pontificate of Francis. I have noticed that I now rarely seek out the translations of his addressess and homilies. It’s not that I made a conscious decision, but I am sure it is a reaction to everything since March 2013, and now we have Cardinal Kasper’s interventions. Pope Francis remains an enigma to me even though I have read many of his writings both before and after his election as Pope. I have never heard in my life so much criticism of a Pope from those whom I know to be orthodox and faithful Catholics.

    I remember in the 1990s and even in the early 2000s that it was difficult to obtain day-to-day updates about the Pope. Now, we are in a situation where we can have almost instant updates from numerous sources.

  5. Bosco says:

    I have read the respectfully-toned article by Michael Brendon Dougherty twice now. I cannot disagree with it and find myself drawn back to the last writings of the heroic Mario Palmaro (RIP).

    I offer only one reflection. My mother counselled me when I was a young man that the opposite of love (charity) is not hatred. It is indifference.

    One cannot be indifferent to Jesus or His Church or the Deposit of Faith or the Vicar of His Church.

  6. YorkshireStudent says:

    I’m far too impulsive to answer this very important question with the importance it deserves – but thank you so much for reminding me of the spiritual rain! I now know which book I’m going to re-read next!

  7. Cordelio says:

    Is Cardinal Kasper one of the sacred monkeys?

  8. Athelstan says:

    By and large, Dougherty makes a fair case.

    There is indeed a kind of papalotry at work in many parts of the Church, and it is most pronounced in “conservative” quarters, it seems. I think Dougherty identifies reasonable causes for why this has happened.

    But I might add another: We were spoiled by a long stretch of very holy and very effective Popes in the 19th and 20th centuries. We knew that bad and mediocre and venal Popes had existed, but we had no living memory of them. It had become instinctive to assume that we would *always* get . . . . not only decent, devout men for Popes, but ones who would be vigilantly orthodox and prudent leaders. (And Dougherty rightly notes that we had *also* gotten in the habit of assuming that every Council would be a great success, forgetting the Viennes of our history.)

    Now we must restore a balancing act: We must be obedient, but not idolatrous. Deferential, but not slavish. As Fr. Hunwicke reminds us this week, this need for balance in understanding the Papacy was a central concern to Joseph Ratzinger, who was alarmed by power taken on during the pontificate of Paul VI: “In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word.” To listen to some Catholic apologists right now, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

  9. Stu says:

    Trick question that I would often give my Sailors periodically when addressing the topic of military discipline. It went like this.

    “How many time have I been saluted during my entire career as a Naval Officer?” The question itself would elicit looks of confusion and incredulity. “Has this guy really counted each and every salute over the last 20 years?”, I’m sure of them thought. But the answer was really quite simple. Zero.

    Personally, I was never saluted but the office I held (and still do because once you are commissioned you retain that office for life even in retirement) was routinely saluted just as I have in turn saluted the offices superior to me. Easy to understand by those of us who have served in uniform but maybe a useful reflection for some others.

    Papa isn’t always gong to right on everything. But his Office obviously has some safeguards built in from Above that will keep the ship from running aground. And that is where our focus should be, the Office.

    I’ll be open that some of the things that Pope Francis has done has given me concern. At least for me, I have found comfort in praying for the Pope and his intentions every day. Not in some condescending way like, “May he see the error of his ways” but just pray for him while he is under the incredible stress of the office and his intentions for us all.

  10. slainewe says:

    “If adopted, it will be time for members of the Catholic Church to reach for the rotting produce and give our prelates a taste of the sensus fidelium.”

    I have absolutely no confidence that the sensus fidelium want to preserve the teaching of the Church on marriage. Quite the opposite. To me it seems like the birth control issue all over again. We can only pray that the Holy Ghost intervenes now as He did then.

  11. CrimsonCatholic says:

    “If adopted, it will be time for members of the Catholic Church to reach for the rotting produce and give our prelates a taste of the sensus fidelium.”

    The church would then not be the real Church because it teaches falsehood and not the truth. If the pope(s) are so heretical, then why does anyone bother being Catholic, especially when you believe that the church is about to teach hersey?

    I understand what he is saying, and he has a point to a certain degree, but he could of written this in a more charitable way instead of coming off as bitter.

  12. Robbie says:

    I’ve followed Dougherty on Twitter for some time now and it’s been interesting to watch his evolution on Pope Francis. Like many who frequent this site, he’s a liturgical traditionalist and he was quite disappointed by the election of Cardinal Bergoglio. Having said that, he seemed to warm to the Pope quite a bit last year. Then came the “interview” and the FFI and he turned the other way again. I offer this as some context for those who aren’t familiar with who Dougherty is. He’s certainly not an angry rad-trad, at least not in my view.

    As for the piece, I found myself agreeing with key points Dougherty made. In some quarters, I do think there’s an effort to spin what the current Pope or any Pope says, even if it’s really tough to see it in a conservative light. I think the two examples he cited about the phone call illustrate that point. As has been mentioned more than once before, even Paul felt the need to correct Peter. Given that, I think it’s important for people to say “hang on a minute” or “stop” when something seems to be out of whack.

    Whether it’s Francis, Benedict, or John Paul II, the benefit of the doubt should always be given. In my book though, the benefit of the doubt can’t trump correcting something that seems to be in error.

  13. ppb says:

    I think the article does raise some valid points for reflection about the instant availability of practically everything the Pope says and does on a daily basis – I’ve been thinking for some time that this situation probably isn’t too healthy, either for the Pope or for us. However, I don’t agree with the article’s suggestion that the responses given to the alleged papal phone call are evidence of party-line thinking or denial. Since none of us know what the Pope actually said, it seems to me that it’s not “denial,” but rather respect and prudence and plain old common sense, to question whether the Pope actually said what was reported, or to suggest possible interpretations of what he could have said. (If we got definite verification of what was said in the phone call, that would be a different story.) Also, I think the article suggests rather too baldly that Catholics should consider it okay to “resist” the Pope – without giving further qualification about when, how and under what conditions, that could give cover for all sorts of dissent.

  14. THREEHEARTS says:

    You quoted Vincent of Lerins, Father and used the word cultivated. You should explain what cultivated meant. I think that Informed conscience, lives of the saints, sermons by the patriarchs will be in your definitive answer. Also you may just want to explain the Miserere verse 7 and thereabouts and the last few verses of this old testament act of contrition. I often think that Luther and the reformists avoided the Book of Wisdom like the plague. Chapter one, the first few verses need an explanation to the Church in general. I will watch and see if you have an opinion on these points.

  15. THREEHEARTS says:

    Sorry Father I should have mentioned this the confusing part of Pope Francis for me is at least half of what the Pope says is very Jesuit as one who was brought up in the UK. He says things just as we were taught. Know who you are praying to and what you are praying for. If God is not listening then something else is. If one is in a state of grace and of charity then we can receive Holy Communion. If one is aware we have lost grace or committed a grave sin then go to confession and then if one is not sure of your state before God then go anyway. The most confusing part for me is why is a Jesuit acting like a Franciscan????

  16. norancor says:

    Resistance with Respect, in Charity

    Resisting heterodoxy and destructive practices is required by our Faith, even when it is the popes and a council acting as the agent of “change.”

    We aren’t superiors, so superiors have to be prayed for and respected, even when they are wrong, immoral, licentious, or heretical.

    In all things, charity.

  17. norancor says:

    That said… adulterers cannot receive Communion.

    In addition, those who want to receive Communion and commit adultery can’t be given a “peel n’ stick” annulment, which would most times be objectively invalid, even if issued by the Church. The Church backhanding Our Lord by granting baseless annulments, or allowing them to receive Communion without an annulment, amounts to the same end.

    Six of one; a half dozen of another. Either way, it wrecks Matrimony and Penance, and profanes the Eucharist.

    God will not be mocked by such game play and sophistry.

  18. MGL says:

    It seems to me that most of the comments so far (including Father Z’s, with respect) miss the central insight of Dougherty’s article:

    If the loudest and most prominent orthodox members of the church in the media treat the pope like a party leader and are so quick with clever-dick rationalizations of the massive changes to the practice of the Faith over the past 50 years, why should they be surprised that the world conceives of the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith as mere party planks or mutable policy, to be exchanged, updated, or abandoned as the times change?

    Many mainstream Catholic apologists and commentators over the past year have devoted great energy to “explaining” every inconvenient or confusing utterance by the Holy Father. I don’t doubt their fidelity, but these activities appear indistinguishable from political spin-doctoring to many people, especially when said apologists proffer highly implausible or even ludicrous speculation to make the difficulties go away. If we act like political spin doctors, we shouldn’t be surprised when the world treats us like just another political lobby group.

  19. Bressani56 says:

    Somebody said that in the days of Pius IX nobody even knew what the Pope looked like, so he could sneak around in a cassock and visit the local parishes. And the church got along just fine. That’s why his head was placed on a coin … so people could see what he looked like! A lot of this “papal obsession” reminds me of the obsession with every single thing Obama says and does: disgusting, lazy, and ridiculous. Yet these same folks criticize the British for having royalty!!!

    Regarding the recent Canonizations, the following article was an important read for me, since I had issues with certain aspects of JP2’s papacy:

  20. Imrahil says:

    Dear Bressani56,

    the majority of theologians does say, though, that canonizations are infallible.

    However, they are so w. r. t. the fact that the people canonized are in Heaven now. We would not know otherwise… But that’s great. Isn’t it great to know that a brother in Christ, and once our earthly Vicar of Christ for a time, has made It?

    The canonizations, however, do not (infallibly) mean
    – that their sins did not surpass a certain limit
    – that their were free of errors or that their errors did not surpass a certain limit
    – that the canonization itself should have been done,
    – that their pontificates were successes or even that they did the best they could, nor even
    – that they really had the attested a heroic degree of virtue or that the miracle really was a miracle (these are conditions for canonization, but the Church is fallible in determining these conditions).

  21. LeeF says:

    Is there not a distinction between:

    1) resisting things the pope and/or bishops might say publicly;
    2) resisting things the pope and/or bishops define as doctrine formally in writing, and public speech in support thereof.

    We and the author of that article should be careful here, lest we play in to the liberal dissenters hands by too firm a resistance to papal teachings, whereby they feel (even more) justified in resisting any and all teachings of the Magisterium that may be inconvenient.

    Which begs the question of whether if the Synod did endorse fully the wishes of Card. Kasper, would we then be obliged to believe those pronouncements with a religious assent of the mind and will? My take is that they will not redefine Catholic teaching on marriage per se, but only perhaps how that is dealt with in the tribunals, which would seem to me to be a matter of prudential judgment to which we are not bound to give assent.

    The Church’s pre-marriage preparation for engaged couples, and allowance of many to marry who prior to the previous six month period never attended Mass regularly or genuinely believed in the teachings of the Magisterium could indeed make the number of truly invalid marriages very high indeed. In which case that problem needs to be admitted by the bishops and fixed to the degree that is possible (What! – don’t tell me I don’t have the right to marry and not attend Mass all the time! I promise to show up on Christmas and Easter with Mom though!).

  22. Legisperitus says:

    I feel as if I’ve been reading about the spiritual rain from different Rex Mottrams my whole adult life, but the ground is still parched.

  23. mamajen says:

    I have read the article.

    I like this part:

    Between Pentecost and the launch of, most Catholics did not have access to the day-to-day musings of their pope. The Roman pontiff’s theological speculations have been of almost no interest to Catholics throughout history, and never became so unless he was a great theologian already, or there was a great controversy which the authority of the Roman Church might settle. To the average Catholic living hundreds of miles from Rome the Faith was the Faith, whether the pope was zealously orthodox like St. Benedict II or a sex criminal like Pope John XII.

    Just because information is easy to come by now doesn’t mean it actually concerns each and every one of us. If we want to restore tradition, then I think opting out of information overload and, to borrow a phrase, “riding the damn bike” is part of that.

    Overall, I am a little confused as to where he is coming from. There is most certainly quite a bit of criticism coming from conservative Catholics, much of it based on rumor and speculation. The particular conservatives he cites (whom “uber-trads” regularly refer to derisively as “neo-cons” or worse) are often responding to that, not simply toeing the party line. If knee-jerk praise and defensiveness undermines the faith, so does knee-jerk criticism and cabbage-throwing. So, I’m glad that these conservative writers are trying to keep things in check and helping people keep the Faith instead of despairing. I would rather err on the side of trusting the pope than err on the side of schism. If there was just one “Catholic party” (which there isn’t), we would probably all be better off than the situation we have now which roughly mimics the liberal vs. conservative political systems that govern many countries.

    And, unfortunately, “faithful Catholics” (whatever he means) are not the only cabbage-throwers in this day and age. You can bet there will be a lot of cabbage-throwing if nothing changes after the synod. He’s right in that people have gotten the idea that the Church is a political body, and they all want a vote. Who is a bad pope likely to listen to?

    We are inundated with information, and we are also inundated with critics, few if any of whom are the next Catherine of Siena. Each of us can choose whether or not to participate. If we didn’t have all of this information about every little happening in Rome, life would go on. The Faith would go on. I’ve realized that I am better off focusing on myself and my family and other ways in which I can make an immediate difference than fretting over things that are completely beyond my control and that I might not even understand. Popes come and go, and it doesn’t matter what I think of them.

  24. gatormom says:

    What about this line from the Bible: Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven? I was under the impression that this referred to the Pope? I am a bit uneasy about the state of the world in general and this post is making me much more so. Yes, this post makes me uneasy. If something along this lines comes to pass, God will be placing my personal discerment to a pretty rigorous test. I thought He gave us the Church as an ark to cling to through all storms; now we have to throw rotted vegetables at our ark to keep it seaworthy??? What is this about?

  25. RomualdMonk says:

    The author of this article is near to something that has bothered me about how Catholic Social Communications informs its readers. As a convert that entered The Church in the early 2000s, I have always had the opportunity to read the latest and greatest from Rome on In this sense it is a gift for all Catholics and men of good will. Setting a lot of the examples of how the Church is not a perfect institution in history by the article’s author, I am haunted by what I have for lack of a better term called “real-time Ultramontanism.” The use of social media is a neutral thing if we are using it for the greater glory of God. To know every tittle and jot coming out of Rome or your favorite blogger in real-time will not keep a person centered on Christ. This ‘real-time Ultramontanism” makes everyone feel like if they do not agree with the lone clause from the lone sentence that leaked out to the public from the fervorino/homily at Pope Francis’s daily Mass that they are somehow not in line with “the party” as the article’s author said. I confess I miss the eminently clear teaching voice of Pope Benedict and wish Francis said less so that I would not have to listen, as the author says well, to the apologists and other Catholic media personalities trying to rationalize perfectly the last thing the Pope said (or supposedly said) for 2/3 of their already short air time/article length. The apologists on most radio shows will give you a 2-3 minute answer to your question which is sometimes adequate and at times lets them off the hook from giving a thorough answer.

    Catholics would be better off reading the Scriptures via lectio divina, praying in silence, doing daily examens, and reading the Fathers of the Church and Catechism instead of lusting after the next magical statement from Rome.

  26. The Drifter says:

    I believe here is a precedent, oft forgotten today it would appear.

    “11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

    12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

    13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

    14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? ”
    (Galatians, 2: 11-14)

  27. SQ says:

    Daughtery’s article was very interesting. For a long time I have been unable to accept criticisms of Pope Francis even while I’m uncomfortable with some of the things he has done or said. It’s frightening to admit I don’t have the same confidence in him as in JPII or BXVI. For so long we looked toward Rome with unquestioning confidence in the man at the helm. That may not have been right either though, they were both just men after all. And all men (yes, I’m including women here too) have sin and error.

    I have to say though, perhaps acknowledging error in him would not be so difficult if it wasn’t accompanied by the attitude (sometimes assertions) that his pontificate is the end of the Church, all is lost, civilization has committed suicide, the sky is falling, blah. blah. blah. Um, no. I loved the part where Daughtery said, “To the average Catholic living hundreds of miles from Rome the Faith was the Faith, whether the pope was zealously orthodox like St. Benedict II or a sex criminal like Pope John XII.”

    Our Lord promised the Holy Spirit would remain with the Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail. Francis is not going to undo the Church. He is a man who loves Our Lord, loves the Church and is struggling through this vale of tears. Just like Peter, just like Karol and just like Josef.

  28. I read the article before I saw it linked here; and I shared it on Facebook.

    While some won’t be able to help it, this needs to be read without reference to Pope Francis. This isn’t really about him, as opposed to either of his two predecessors. This isn’t about that whole thing; because…it isn’t. That’s part of his point!

    He’s actually making a point connected to something I’ve observed many times in recent years, under three popes now: that we’ve had a good run of popes since the mid-1800s — i.e., since Pius IX. You can fault this one or that, but taken as a whole, it’s a good lot: all generally understood to be holy, serious, competent men whose primary mission seems to have been exalting Christ and caring for the Church.

    But his point is right: that run of good popes isn’t guaranteed. That’s never been our Faith.

    And please do not do me the discourtesy of suggesting this is any sort of comment on our current pope. My description of our extended run of good popes explicitly includes Pope Francis.

  29. Joe in Canada says:

    It seems to me like the Ultramontanists vs the Gallicans. The (contemporary) Ultramontanist say “the Pope kissed a Koran, therefore we have to kiss a Koran.” The (contemporary) Gallican says “No one in Germany really believes in marriage any more, so let’s get on with it and have it our way.” Both the Ultramontanist and the Gallican position were condemned, although I think a modified ultramontanist position is very Catholic. Modified by the fullness of the faith.

    Sometimes there is political spinning and that’s legitimate. The Holy Father, though, has also emphasized the unity of the faith, the unity of the teachings of the Church. It is my job sometimes to ‘defend’ the Pope against what he has said, or is reported to have said, especially to those outside the Church. It is also my job sometimes to cling to the one faith once handed on to the saints, and the apostles, and to us all.

  30. Cathy says:

    I pray daily for Pope Francis. I guess I take the reports of phone calls from Pope Francis much like I take the reports of Our Lady appearing to a particular group. Our Lady has appeared to visionaries, yet, every report of such visions has to be taken in accordance with the authority of the Church. Our Lady does not, herself, appear in another vision to take the matter upon herself. Pope Francis makes personal phone calls. I guess the question I have, in all of this, is, would he take it upon himself to humiliate the author of a proclaimed false report, or, equally, would he humiliate the recipient of such a call through a proclamation of public rebuke in regards to information that was, perhaps, misunderstood. Personal conversations do not change Church teaching. To be honest, if I received such a phone call, I would handle the discernment of the call in the confessional, something about this public revelation of a phone call in which the normal jurisdiction of the person’s bishop and pastor is vastly overreached simply does not compute.

  31. Priam1184 says:

    There probably is (way) too much coverage of the Holy Father and his daily thoughts and musings. I don’t need to know what he says every day in his homily at daily Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Come to think of it we never heard what Pope Benedict was saying in his daily homilies, unless I am forgetting. All of this creates confusion over when the Pope is exercising his Teaching Office and when he is not.

    They all make mistakes in their personal choices just like we all do, even the Popes who are canonized: St. John Paul II fell far too much in love with the United States early in his papacy because it was the great power in the world opposing the USSR, and how has that turned out for the Church and the general moral state of the planet? That doesn’t negate from his Teaching or from his personal holiness but where it does cause a problem is for those who see the Holy Father as the be all and end all of everything and seek to emulate him in everything he does. We should restrain ourselves at all costs from repeated, public, or ad hominem attacks on the Pope. We should generally refrain from offering public criticism of the Holy Father at all unless we are doubly and triply sure that we know what we’re talking about and we should follow him 100% when he exercises his Teaching Office. But we don’t need to follow his example for everything.

  32. J_Cathelineau says:

    I think there is a substancial difference between a “conservative” as mentioned in the article and a traditional catholic.
    The two terms might mean the same till, say, 1970. The problem, methink, is that Pope Francis belongs to that generation. So, he insults the conservatives that follows him not matter what name he puts on them (career climbers, sect numeraries), and he has no idea about the existence of real traditional ones. Not the slightest idea.

  33. Ben Kenobi says:


    “As a former protestant, the article worries me. Protestants are always saying things like this: Who needs the righteousness of the Bishops when we have the righteousness of Jesus; All I need is Jesus, Jesus and me, Jesus plus nothing. One of the reasons I joined the Church was because of the hierarchy, which I believed would maintain orthodoxy and prevent errors in teaching. If I lose faith in that, obedience goes out the window. I’ve known all along that any Pope can make mistakes. What I don’t anticipate is doctrine being overturned, by this Pope or any other.”

    Well said, ma’am. I would have commented but you spoke for me. Thank you. Why should we be surprised when Protestants condemn what they perceive as papolatry? They don’t believe in obedience to the magisterium.

  34. jhayes says:

    anything the Pope says or does should be held up to the light of Tradition and if it doesn’t compute, then it should be rightly rejected, and those who have the competence to do so should call the Pope out on it.

    Isn’t that what the SSPX did to Pope Benedict when he said that it was necessary to distinguish between what was permanent and what was contingent in the Encyclicals of prior Popes? (Christmas 2005 Address to the Curia).

    The issue is who gets to interpret Tradition.

  35. cajuncath says:

    I can agree with Dougherty and a number of others commenting here that there is a crucial distinction between the papacy and the standard deposit of Catholic faith.

    Where I might be parting company with others is that I am convinced this has not simply become a salient issue since 2013, but, from the a full traditional classical perspective, has beset us since the Second Vatican Council.

  36. Titus says:

    Bressani56 wrote, “Somebody said that in the days of Pius IX nobody even knew what the Pope looked like . . .”

    But men from all over the globe signed up to come to Rome to fight and die for the man out of personal devotion to him and to the Petrine Office.

    Devotion to the pope has been a part of the Faith since time immemorial: the man is not just a boring functionary, and our response to him as Catholics is not properly intrigued indifference. The problems today are three:

    1) Now we have instant access to everything he does. Modern communication allows anyone who comes into contact with him to make the encounter an international media event. So the Pope goes to a meeting and says “the Browns should not have picked that kid in the first round, his head isn’t on straight,” and it becomes an international incident.

    2) Problem 1 is exacerbated by the fact that the instrumentalities of the Holy See facilitate the nonsense. They don’t encourage or enforce discretion about the Pope’s words and conduct, as one might expect for the Vicar of Christ. Instead, they almost act as if he were a Twitter journalist. The Pope has very little privacy and nobody works to get him the privacy that would prevent his personal statements from becoming scandalous.

    3) There seems to be widespread confusion about the pope’s role in the magisterium. It’s exacerbated by the fact that popes today are incessantly releasing documents of some type. So people hear “the pope said” and think that automatically means something significant. This is related to Problem 2.

    4) One can’t pretend that the current problems flowing from the aforementioned situations are unrelated to current events and actions within the Leonine walls. One doesn’t want to put too fine a point on it in someone else’s combox, but Fr. Hunwicke did observe recently, in words or in substance, that the current state of affairs is intolerable.

  37. acardnal says:

    jhayes wrote, “Isn’t that what the SSPX did to Pope Benedict when he said that it was necessary to distinguish between what was permanent and what was contingent in the Encyclicals of prior Popes? (Christmas 2005 Address to the Curia).”

    That’s become one of your most overused quotes of Pope Benedict XVI’s to justify your liberal positions. It’s not applicable in this case.

  38. Pnkn says:

    Aren’t we each responsible for creating our own boundaries of privacy, by choosing with whom we speak, live, and what we say ?
    If the current pope wishes for more privacy, couldn’t he move into the papal apartments, for example ?

  39. Geoffrey says:

    “For a long time I have been unable to accept criticisms of Pope Francis even while I’m uncomfortable with some of the things he has done or said. It’s frightening to admit I don’t have the same confidence in him as in JPII or BXVI”.

    I feel pretty much the same way. I cannot help but wonder if much of the trepidation that is being felt among many has to do with the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Pope Francis’ election; his predecessor is still very much alive. In the end, it is the example of Benedict XVI that I try to embrace: “And among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is also the future pope to whom today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience” (Benedict XVI, 28 February 2013).

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  41. aquinas138 says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the article – I’ve been beating that drum myself for a while. A side effect of the increased exposure of the Pope has been a subtle (at times) shift in his practical role. The Pope is treated as a near-superhuman theologian, if not an outright oracle, whose every utterance is parsed like a canon of an ecumenical council. This “teaching” part of his office has largely displaced, beginning I think after Vatican I, but particularly in the post-Vatican II period, the “governing” part of his office, which is historically the more dominant, and I would say more important. The popes of yesteryear taught by settling controversy or condemning heresy, not by having their private speculations published daily, blurring the line between private theological speculation and ordinary magisterium. At the same time, the popes do precious little to rid the Church of notorious heretics drawing salaries at Catholic universities or spreading poison from their pulpits and deficient liturgies. Sure we hear of a case or two of an obstinately defiant priest being defrocked every few years, but these are mere drops in the bucket, noteworthy mainly for how distressingly infrequent they are. I frankly don’t want to read the Pope’s opinion on anything, really, much less economics – I want him to govern the Church. I know they can’t fix everything, and I know there has never been any point in the history of the Church where everything was great, but it sure seems like a lot more could be done.

  42. Deacon Augustine says:

    I believe that Dougherty makes some very valid points because the scenario he postulates has already occurred in history on more than one occasion. The Council of Constantinople II, whose judgment was supported by Pope St Agatho before his death, and whose words were endorsed by the reigning Pope St Leo II, condemned Pope Honorius in the following terms:

    “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, …and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.”

    We have Popes in our history like Honorius, Liberius and John XXII etc. who clearly failed to “sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition” and were justly condemned, either in their own lifetimes, or posthumously. There is no guarantee that any one Pope will not pollute the purity of the Church’s teaching unless he speaks infallibly. Under normal circumstances a Pope’s faith and judgment can fail, and they should be resisted if this is the case.

    No Pope has ever committed so grave an error as to overturn Christ’s teaching on marriage, and I pray to God that Pope Francis does not attempt to do so. Kasper is implying that the Pope wants to do exactly this – I hope he is dead wrong. However, IF he were to attempt it, then he and every prelate who sided with him would have to be resisted in the most charitable way possible.

  43. joan ellen says:

    Fr. Z, with all due respect, before I read “dazzeled” I read ‘dazed’. I, for one, am in a ‘dazed’ state from all that has ‘dazzled’ in the secular world and in the Church world today. Lincoln said “This too shall pass.” Most hopeful words.

    In trying to order/re-order the ‘dazed’ state, (from secular/Sacred info overload?) I remind myself of the Japanese when they were without priests for 200 years and kept their faith via the Rosary and the reading of the Sinner’s Guide. Most hopeful thoughts.

    I remind myself that, as noted above, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.” The fact that the Church is 2000 years old, that Catholic history includes Jewish history, that the Jewish calendar year is 5774, that the Old Jewish Bible, the Tenach, is the Catholic Old Testament.

    That the Church has a hierarchy, as noted above, that helps keep Her steady as a Rock.
    That the Triune God was from the beginning. More hopeful words and thoughts.

    That besides the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Baltimore Catechism, the Rosary…and the Mass and the Sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist which keep Peace and Joy in our hearts, sometimes with a struggle…that the hopeful provisions above, from the Holy Spirit, give us a way to work out of a ‘dazed’ state. That the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints, as also noted above, can help us back to our identity as frail human beings with souls.

    I thought the article was well written. Surely the Holy Spirit of God is present…somewhere…in the Pope’s words. I do not like a MSM article used as the basis for journalizing, unless the whole article, verbatim of the Pope, is used (Fr. Z often has us go read the whole article before commenting, as with this post.) or at least referenced. The opposing position/argument/debate with the whole article/reference from a Pope or a whole chapter from Holy Scripture…or at least a whole Reading/Gospel could help clarify words easily. Instead of sola versa as is routinely being used recently.

    Then my ‘dazed’ state is met with a real sobering thought as I was reminded years ago: “This is not Heaven. This is where we get ready for Heaven.” Perhaps that which “dazzeled” is there to ‘daze’ us out of our current state of affairs and back to God and His Church as He intends.

  44. Deacon Augustine says:

    Geoffrey, do you think Pope Benedict was wise in promising “unconditional” obedience to anybody below the rank of God? The Catholic Church does not demand that anybody promises unconditional obedience to another human being – of whatever rank. If a lawful superior issues an immoral command, then we are always obliged to disobey, therefore, obedience can never be unconditional.

  45. Joe Hebert says:

    “In truth, the most salient fact of contemporary Catholic life in the West is the way it is pervaded by the pattern of saying things and then acting as if something else were true.”

    I think this about sums up the heart of the present-day crisis. “Woe to that man!” Mt 18:7.

  46. Geoffrey says:

    Deacon Augustine,

    Benedict XVI said “I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience”. My assumption was that the adjective “unconditional” applied only to “reverence” and not necessarily “obedience”. The original Italian is “incondizionata reverenza ed obbedienza”. I suppose it is a matter for linguists to determine the nuances here!

    That being said, let us not forget the immense spiritual value of obedience. “Obedience makes us this happy exchange: renunciation of our own will for God’s will. For this reason the saints loved obedience” (Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD: Divine Intimacy, n. 120.2). “Obedience is the burden of the strong” (Ven. Pius XII, Sept. 1952).

  47. JMody says:

    I like how he mentioned the fact that some popes have been really shady characters, and that some councils have been pathetically silly — even Card. Ratzinger said one would have to admit that most have been a complete waste of time. What he’s touching on but never says is that something went terribly wrong in catechesis, starting sometime around the 1930’s

  48. Andrew_81 says:

    Indeed, the sensus fidelium should cause people to more readily reach for produce or lock prelates in a roof-less church.

    Unfortunately, people today rarely could be called “fideles”

  49. darthkorbus says:

    The reference to “papalotry” reminded me of a number of years back when I attended a different parish than the one I do now. The pastor voluntarily left for a leave of absence after revealing that he had violated his vow of chastity with an adult. The parish had an informative meeting at the request of the Bishop about Father’s leave of absence and how it affected the parish. Only one person raised any concerns regarding Father’s sexual misconduct (with an adult), while everyone else kept asking “When are we getting Father back?” Father spent 6 weeks in some sort of rehab and then came back to cheers and welcomes by all. A few years later Father was permanently removed from active ministry by the diocese after sexual abuse of a minor allegations were made.

    My point is that everyone loved Father and refused to believe that he could do any wrong. Their hero worship clouded their judgment. We as Catholics must be loyal to the Pope, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes or be wrong in non-Magisterial issues. I’m not trying to equate anything the priest in my story did to Pope Francis’ many head-scratching moments, but just trying to make the point that just because the Holy Father is loved by scores of people doesn’t mean he’s perfect.

  50. Barbara Jensen says:

    It is well worth the time to read Deitrich von Hildebrand’s explanation of obedience in light of the unfolding situation regarding our present pope. He states that our obedience is to the Faith. As Hiliary White points out, the pope did not give us the Faith , Christ did. It is to the Faith that our obeidence must cling. Von Hildebrand explains that, when any ecclesiastic attempts to change the Faith, he loses his authority. Catholics who resist clerics–even popes– who are not faithful to orthodox dogma, and who attempt to teach heresy, are being obedient to the Faith.
    It is not any one past utterance of our present pope, but the pattern of continuing confusion, of his alliance with heretical proclivities (read the Kasper debacle) which indicate a direction of leadership the is most disturbing. One wonders what is coming next. A salient example of this is the numerous times that this pope has stated that he wants to see ‘doctrianl authority’ put into the hands of bishops’ conferences. Given the blantant apostasy of many bishops, it is not hard to imagine the confusion and heretical teachings that will befall sincere Catholics if he gets his wish. Von Hildebrand’s sound explanation on the laity’s role regarding resistance to any ‘teaching’ not in keeping with our orthodox Catholic Faith it is very helpful. It be hooves anyone who treasures their Catholic Faith to understand this. We are not living in an era when we can just take any ecclesiastic’s word for what is true doctrine and what is not. Having a Catechism of the Catholic church on hand will be helpful too.

  51. Barbara Jensen says:

    I annoy myself. In the above post, the word is ‘behooves’. Also, here is how you really spell ‘doctrinal’. Forgive that in my haste I neglected to proofread. And this from an English teacher!

  52. Supertradmum says:

    This generation has had little history of the Catholic Church and get into the cult of personality, which is not something Catholics do. I suggest younger Catholics learn their history of the popes and learn what infallibility really is.

    I have tried to teach these on my blog.

    As Catholics we do not have to put all out attention in the Church on one person, who has a role in the Church which is to be respected. There is a difference between criticizing a person and criticizing programs or details.

    But, there is a huge problem of false reporting, media bites and an understanding of a new style in the Church.

    I suggest those who are without sin cast the first stone. Really, if the lay people were doing their own work of evangelization and taking care of their own turf, and becoming saints, perhaps they would have less time for criticisms.

  53. joan ellen says:

    “Really, if the lay people were doing their own work of evangelization and taking care of their own turf, and becoming saints, perhaps they would have less time for criticisms.”

    “Dr. Pinheiro’s latest interview with Gregory Wolfe – author of ” Beauty Will Save the World” –” from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids.

    This is, perhaps, the kind of direction you are encouraging, Supertradmum.

  54. mrshopey says:

    I had long ago wondered if I was trying to align the pope, then St. JPII, with my particular party line. I think it is natural, to a degree, to do. But then again, with self examination, that seems to make the party an idol (Barabbas, anyone?)
    I was like the above poster who read dazed instead of dazzled. It is possible to harm the morale of the people. It is possible to become scandalized. It is possible to become confused. It is possible for a pope to do this.
    There comes a point where you have to accept, or I did for myself, that he was chosen by God, not me. God will not let the gates of hell prevail against us, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get dizzy and throw-up along the way because of some things said/done. In other words, we should shout, “Captain, we are suffering from motion sickness and I think you can help us by turning the boat a little. Please?”

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  56. baseballmom says:

    The article actually gave me solace. I was reminded in it that my faith is in THE FAITH – not in any man. I guess I was reminded that I am a CATHOLIC.

  57. cl00bie says:

    When explaining infallibility to people, I usually tell them: “If the pope likes Raisin Bran, it doesn’t automatically become the official breakfast cereal of the Catholic Church.”

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