When You’ve Lost Amy Welborn…

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When I first began to comment on blogs circa 2003, one of the Catholic blogs I frequented was Open Book run by Amy Welborn.  I liked her blog because she always struck me as fair-minded and attracted a diverse and entertaining crowd of commenters, many of whom went on to illuminate Saint Blogs with blogs of their own.  She seemed to me as being near the sensible center of Catholicism.  I did not always agree with her, but I always respected her well-reasoned opinions that reflected a deep love of the Church.  Therefore I was intrigued by a recent post of hers entitled Against Popesplaining:

Before I move on to specifics, I want to say something about discussing these issues.

It’s okay.

And it’s time.

Well, it’s been time for a while – it’s never not been time, but, well, it’s really time now.

And it’s time to do so without the spectre of  being caricatured as a a “Francis-Hater” or that you must consider yourself “One of the Greatest Catholics of All Time.” Ignore that kind of discourse. It’s lazy.

It’s time to do so without the discussion-silencing claim that any critique of the current papacy must – must  – come from a fearful identification with American capitalism rather than an embrace of Catholic social teaching.

There’s also no reason to feel guilty about engaging in this discussion or – honestly – not liking Pope Francis very much. It is awesome to be in the presence of the successor of St. Peter, and it is a great gift that Jesus gave us, Peter, the Rock. But it is just a matter of historical fact that not all popes are great, popes make mistakes and sin.  Respect for and value of the office does not mean we must feel caught up in emotion about any pope, even the present one.

Years ago, I was in intense email discussion with someone who was considering leaving the Church, so scandalized was he by the sexual abuse scandals.  He was not personally affected, but he had intimate knowledge of it all and had to write about it. I absolutely understood his pain, because it’s pain anyone would  – and should – feel.  But I made this argument to him over and over:

Look. The Church we’re in is the Church that is not confined by time or space.  The Church we’re in in the present moment is the Church of 42, of 477, of 1048, of 1684, of 1893. The institutional sins and failures of the present moment are real, but no less real are the sins, failures and general weirdness of the past 2000 years.  Look at the history of the papacy in the 9th and 10th centuries. If you can hold onto apostolic succession after studying that chaos, then nothing else is ever going to shake you. 

(Oh, it didn’t work. He left the Church. For another church, no less scandal-ridden than this one, but oh well)

This applies to the discussion at hand, as well. Frantic, defensive fear that critiquing any aspect of any recent papacy would call into question one’s faith in Christ’s gift of Petrine ministry is silly. Our discussions should be grounded in humility and an acceptance of our limited understanding, but wondering if a Pope is doing or saying the right thing does not make one an unfaithful Catholic or a sedevacantist.

The inevitable  concerntrolling respone is going to be, “Sure, you can say all that, but you know that a lot of the people speaking about Pope Francis are…”

Hey, guess what?

I don’t care. 

Go here to read the brilliant rest.

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  1. Her commentary was excellent. And as Don mentioned, she’s not someone you would necessarily expect to come out with something hard-hitting against the Pope, although I guess her commentary is aimed more at the apologists than the Pope himself.

  2. Gracias. He never “had” me. I’ve been biting my tongue (sort of – I have had a couple of posts here and there.) for three years. It’s still difficult to comment without imposing meaning and motivation because he’s so opaque.

  3. Ok, the PF-amorists will accuse me of piling-on (even though it is now Pitchers-and-Catchers time in baseball season, not football—explanatory comment for Michael Peterson-Seymour)… but like Amy W., I smelled foul odors from the start when the US media tried to claim he had an exceptional Ph.D. from Frankfort’s theologate. I thought: Wow: a Jesuit priest-friend of outstanding intellectual caliber went there, and I know it’s a thorough training.

    Of course, I could never get a “copy” forwarded to me of his Ph.D. thesis. After some time doing some “forensic thesis” research, I finally obtained confirmation from direct sources, later even publicly and notably, the southern German news source, Die Tauber-Zeitung, that PF had in fact failed to complete his thesis and didn’t even pass his comprehensive exams. Sorry, not recommending for the highest positions in the church.

    Pish-posh, say the Francis-Guard: we don’t need an “academic” pope. So that means we have a man whose last objective academic qualification was obtained about 1969, a licentiate (e.g. advanced master’s) at the Buenos Aires theologate, San Miguel. Other Jesuits have commented to me that “In those days, if you just sat there in the classroom, you would get a licentiate by the end of summer semester.” That makes one feel good.

    In all our fields, we have not just objective education requirements, but licensing, CPE (continuing professional ed, NOT clinical pastoral ed). California law requires a certain person to have about 60 hours total, after one’s degrees and fairly difficult exam-qualified licensing, annually.

    And in the case of the world’s largest organization, based entirely on a profound knowledge of systematic philosophy and theology, we have a GED running things. Would that wash at Harvard? Columbia? Stanford? But that is fine for us.

    And now you know yet again how the Visionary Pope can foul up contraception, marriage, abortion, and relativize climate-change and wealth-redistribution, all in about 3 short years. It is all simple to him. Yes. Very very simple.

  4. From Sixtus V, who died in 1590, to Leo XIII, who was elected in 1878, we had a virtually unbroken succession of popes, who had risen through the ranks of the Vatican bureaucracy and who were, by habit, taste and training, administrators. Good men, pious men, of proven ability in a lifetime of administration and with their energies stultified by a Byzantine bureaucracy.
    It is not unfair to describe the result as one of assiduous mediocrity. Even in Catholic countries, they had the same impact and the same popular appeal, as the average Secretary-General of the United Nations or President of the World Bank.
    Thirty popes and not a Leo or a Gregory, a Hildebrand or an Innocent III amongst them; the very suggestion seems absurd. Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini) can fairly be ranked with Innocent IV as a canonist and with Leo X and Clement VII for his learning and he appears as a giant in that age of pygmies.
    Meanwhile, we had the Church riven by the Thirty Years War, the Quietist controversy, the Jansenist heresy, the Gallican controversy, Josephism, the suppression of the Jesuits, the French Revolution and its aftermath, and the Risorgimento, in none of which can the Holy See be said to have distinguished itself.
    Popes who leave a lasting legacy are very rare indeed.

  5. Well, count me amongst the Catholics who absolutely LOVE Pope Francis. And no, I don’t agree with everything he says, and yes, I sometimes wish he had phrased this or that comment a bit differently. But I believe he is exactly the right person at the right time. Future Church historians will mark his reign as the moment when the current long decline of Catholicism ended and the coming period of explosive growth began.

  6. Good job to Amy.
    Apparently fantasy land is Democrat Maryland which gave us the likes of Catholyck Martin O’Malley.

  7. Amy is right.
    I have considered our good Pope Francis as being “confusing” from within months of the start of his papacy. Yes, when his written word is published days after his loose comments, we can see that in his considered thoughts he is orthodox; but in his off-the-cuff comments, he is confusing and sometimes seems heterodox.
    In recent time, I have stated in a couple of my homilies”……often what comes out of the Vatican is perplexing…….” We may have to obey the pope in any of his ex cathedra statements, but we certainly do not have to agree with the pope in his rather nebulous and often disconcerting positions WRT – for example – “Donald Trump is not Christian” , or, that capitalism has exploited the poor etc.

    It appears to only make sense to other Latinos. 😉

  8. ‘The relative formality of apostolic Christianity – for that is what Catholicism is – is about safeguarding the Faith against the temptation to allow the priorities of one particular age or individual from having too much influence and for allowing “space” as it were, underneath that highest level for various movements, influences and emphases to arise, dialogue, be refined, embraced, discarded and take their place.’
    ‘ … for allowing “space” as it were, underneath that highest level for various movements, influences and emphases to arise, dialogue, be refined, embraced, discarded and take their place.’
    ‘ … safeguarding the Faith against the temptation to allow the priorities of one particular age or individual from having too much influence and for allowing “space” …’
    The Synod of embarrassing machinations revealed the enormity of the ‘space’, as well as the empty speeches at visit venues around the world, have, and will have, no regard for what was ‘temptation’.
    Apostolic Christianity is important to God. He said so.

  9. Amy does excellent work in demystifying the cult of Pope Francis. Pope Francis with his vulgar displays of humility, his insulting remarks to faithful Catholics, his political people- pleaser personality, his confusing and ambiguous statements about the faith qualify him as one of the worst popes in history. And that’s not the worst of it. Two-thirds of the Cardinals elected this guy. God help us all. And let us say a prayer that Pope Francis reign will be short.

  10. Patricia

    There is an important distinction to be made, as the quotation you cite indicates. As Bl John Henry Newman puts it, “Revelation sets before it [the mind] certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences” That is Newman’s doctrine of development in a nutshell.

    “Apostolic Christianity” is summed up in the Apostles’ Creed. Its articles are (1) categorical, not argumentative; (2) concrete, not abstract; (3) concerned with facts and actions and, above all, with a Person; not with ideas or notions or reflections.

  11. To Bob in Maryland, ah yes, the “Francis effect”. I’ve been waiting for that too. Unfortunately, I think the actual “effect” will be more of the same, an even more rapid decline. Why would anyone listening to Francis think it necessary to enter the Catholic church? As his January prayer intention makes quite clear, there is more than one path to “love”.

  12. Here in Cajun French South Louisiana the most frequent comment I hear about the Holy Father is, “Cher, he just has the ‘hot blood!’ Bless his heart!” (Translation: “He’s a hot-headed, blowhard knot head, just like PawPaw Henri; but we’ve got to love him, since he’s family.) In the Catholic South, “Bless his heart” can mean anything from “If he drives up in the front yard, turn off all the lights, lock all the doors, and be quiet until he goes away,” to “What an idiot!” YMMV

    Incidentally, I accidentally **exited** our cathedral through the Door of Mercy after attending the Rite of Election for my catechumens last Sunday. I notice that I have been feeling particularly merciless ever since! Should I worry? What should I do?!?

  13. Michael

    That distinction is a help to explain further explain my worry.
    When you mentioned the three hundred years of thirty administrative popes and those heresies that went around the Church with no pope distinguishing himself, I wondered at the difference in this 2016 world. ‘Popes who leave a lasting legacy are very rare indeed.’ This is the main eventuality (legacy in the making) facing the Church. What I see are more and more impressions on minds which may find developmental challenges due to the lack, even derision, of definitive teaching about the Holy facts and actions which the valuable Creed can offer to do what Blessed John Henry Newman tells us about development of faith and love for God. It is more than leaving interested ones waiting for a surprise from an unknown or intangible stranger. Further, I think young and old, especially young though, could benefit from being given a Creed for their lives, as opposed to pop culture influences. Gangs offer more facts and actions to which young hold.
    It seems that our Lord is hearing a lot of the dreaded ‘crucify him’ that we will hear during the Triduum.
    It is the legacy of wayward and groundless actions while the western world degenerates – so far, anyway.

  14. Hey, Don the Kiwi, your use of quote marks around the phrase Donald Trump is not Christian is incorrect. Those were not the words of Pope Francis. It’s bad enough putting up with foot-in-mouth remarks that he really did say.

    By the way, I notice that when popes wore the traditional red slippers that Pope Francis has refused to wear there was a lot less foot-in-mouth disease among pontiffs. Please, Pope Francis, wear the shoes! (I hear the red dye tastes really, really bad!)

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