Armchair Pontiffs Come Out of the Woodwork

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Perhaps because it happens in sports, entertainment and politics, we knew it was bound to happen with pontificates. However, judging the accomplishments of holy leaders is a little different than judging whether a coach should have used a 4-3 defense, a President has the right tax policy, or a film director allows too little or too much dialogue.

Our friends in the mainstream media, especially those of the unabashed liberal persuasion (they seem less bashful in using that term these days) have certainly not backed away from critiquing Pope Benedict XVBI’s pontificate. However, even our friends on the political and theological right have taken their shots at the Holy Father as well.

Watching Morning Joe on MSNBC can certainly cause an orthodox minded Catholic to contemplate pulling their hair out. A recent episode in which Mika Brzezinski and Mike Barnicle, two northeast liberal Catholics, critique the current Holy Father’s pontificate and implore the upcoming conclave to change the direction of the Church by listening to the criticism of militant secularists seemed more than a little ridiculous. The Reverend Al Sharpton chimed in to tell the audience that African cardinals certainly don’t represent his views on the world (Thank God.)

The whole episode should have been a Saturday Night Live skit, but sadly they meant every word of it. The Western Left shouts from the rooftops about diversity, but when it comes right at them via the Third World, well then it really isn’t diverse. The Left preaches change but would never change their views to reflect reality, i.e. the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (among others) insisting Washington doesn’t have a spending problem. All too often they unwittingly enjoy relishing in the Dictatorship of Relativism (coined by Pope Benedict XVI.) By doing so they unknowingly echo the words of Pontius Pilate, who said, “What is truth?”

In my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, I note that the infamous American Bishop Shelby Spong dismissed his fellow African-Anglican clergy’s views on social teachings because they were in his words, “only one generation removed from Animism and their brand of Christianity was superstitious.” In rebuttal to Bishop Spong, the late Catholic priest, Father Richard John Neuhaus noted that there were a higher percentage of African-Catholic Cardinals with PhD’s than were those from Western Europe or North America.

Sadly, even some of our friends on the theological and political right have taken the opportunity to pile on what they view as the mistake prone pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. One of the more interesting critiques came from Joseph (Jody) Bottum, the former Editor of First Things. On a personal note, I owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Bottum who referenced a very early article of mine in one of his First Things article. Actually the positive reaction that stemmed from it helped convince me to right my first book. However, some of Mr. Bottum’s assertions in this Weekly Standard article on the pontificate of Benedict XVI should not go unanswered.

Mr. Bottum’s article starts off discussing the resignation of Pope Celestine V in 1294. One would think they are similar, the facts demonstrate they are not. The Holy See if far better run than it was in 1294, not all of the potential electors even knew the pontiff resigned let alone were able to make it to Rome to vote in 1294. In addition, Mr. Bottum insinuates that since a pontiff will still be alive, the new pontiff might be looking over his shoulder. What evidence does Joseph Bottum possibly have for this statement? Pope Benedict XVI never wanted to be Pope to begin with and is probably happy that the weight of the Petrine Ministry has been lifted from his shoulders. In addition, the shy man from Bavaria hardly seems like the type to hob knob with the Vatican media, or any other movers and shakers for that matter.

I was somewhat suprised and even saddened to read the even keeled National Review writer  Mike Potemra’s thoughts on the subject. He wrote that although he didn’t agree with everything that Mr. Bottum had written he too thought that the pontificate of Benedict XVI was a failure. He even noted that he thought Mr. Bottum’s article was the most “heartfelt, incisive and intelligent article” he had read about Pope Benedict suprise announcment. Now in fairness to Mr. Potemra, my last National Reveiw published article concerned the Ohio Presidential Election and the signs that I felt pointed to a Governor Romney victory. However even though I was wrong in my assertion, I did point out in the article the election night red flags that would point to a re-election victory for President Barack Obama. I didn’t see much in Mr. Bottum’s and Mr. Potemra’s article that gave Pope Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt.

Ross Douthat, a convert to the Faith, and a lonely New York Times conservative writer who often writes about religious issues also seems to lament on the State of the Church and the papacy. In The Times, he writes The Catholic Moment Has Passed. Unfortunately, he seems to have fallen for the oldest liberal trick in the book; older dead conservatives are always better than those living. Liberals now speak kindly of Pope John Paul II, but they certainly didn’t during most of his pontificate. The same goes for the late Ronald Reagan, when he was President hardly a kind word was hardly uttered about him from the Left.

Perhaps we should take some advice from the US Senator (from Texas) Ted Cruz. Recently at a National Review Summit in Washington DC, I heard the Texas Senator implore conservatives to stop worrying about what the New York Times and those who adhere to their tenets believe. For fifty plus years too many have fallen for their militant secular left’s call for social engineering via the mainstream and entertainment media.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled; The Coming Open Rebellion Against God. At the time, some thought it might be a bit over the top. Mark my words those on the militant secular left who attack the Church today, will someday attack the very words of Jesus. They will do so because they feel they can or some future biblical archeological find will make it all too clear that He does not fit their political agenda.

For example, recently Gary Wills appeared on CNN in what can only be described as a diatribe against the priesthood, the Eucharist and any traditional forms of devotion. It really has to be seen to be believed.  At one time in his life, Mr. Wills described himself as a conservative. However, too many years of ego, pride, doubt, and anger seem to have taken their toll. For a better understanding of how this can happen check out If You Want The Political Left To Run Governments, Look At What They Have Done to Churches; Left Them In Tatters. Again when I wrote this a few years ago, some questioned whether this was so. However, Father George Rutler whose words appear in the comments section and whose endorsement appears on the back cover of my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, concurred wholeheartedly. Sadly, a few short years later look at what some militant secular western governments are trying to foist upon us. Even, a few short years ago, this would have seemed impossible.

The reason I believe that the tide continues to turn in the Church’s favor is due to forces like Pope Benedict XVI who refuse to listen to armchair pontiffs. You can watch and listen to my views in this interview of me conducted by CatholicTV. Some commentators have stated that Pope Benedict couldn’t stamp out wrong doing in Vatican City. Corruption and intrigue has been in the Vatican long before the Borgia’s, simply because there are human beings in the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI like Pope John Paul II made strides against it, but Italian politics hardly fights by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. It should be noted that progress has been made and corruption is being exposed.

Many seem to lament that the world is lost to a liberal, secular onslaught. However, as evidenced by certain meteoric events recently seen in Russia, unforeseen natural events (on a much grander scale) have a habit of making believers out of the ivory tower secular elites cowering in the foxholes of life. There’s a reason Jesus started the Petrine Ministry with Peter and told him and us “that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church.” He will calm the various storms of life, if we only listen and hold fast to what we were taught. We either chose that path or the one offered by the militant secular left, which seems to throw away all we hold near and dear.



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  1. I judge Pope Benedict XVI’s term to be a success. Poep Benedict issued the motu propio Summorum Pontificum, which grants priests in the Latin Church the unfettered right to celebrate the Mass according to the Missal of 1962. Many in the church hated this, but too bad for them, as they are the one who must enjoy liturgical dancing, etc.

    The other great success is the Anglican Ordinariate. The number of Anglicans who come into the Catholic church may never be a huge amount, but the fact that this was accomplished was a success.

    I care not what the American media says, any of it, about Pope Benedict. The American media is infested with fools.

  2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, called to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was always with Pope John Paul II and John Paul II with him. I remember the day when it was announced by Pope Benedict XVI, that the Latin Mass had never been banned by Vatican II, that Latin, kneelers, altar rails and kneeling to receive Holy Eucharist had never been banned. Pope Benedict XVI wanted the kiss of Peace to be made before Consecration of the Mass, so that the consecrated hands of the priest would not be profaned by shaking hands of the laity. Some priests do not keep their index and thumb fingers solely for the Holy Eucharist as they have promised to do and go about shaking hands of parishioners as though their parishioners are not in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, WHO is on the altar after Consecration.
    Pope Benedict XVI brought the translation of the Liturgy to refect more accurately the Holy Trinity, the Persons of God.
    Pope Benedict XVI ‘s Ash Wednesday homily characterizes the devil as constantly trying “to exploit God”. The Pope advocated for more exorcisms, especially in the West. He brought ecumenism that had run rampant and roughshod over the church into confomity with orthodoxy, without heresy.
    A good exorcism would force the devil to return Gary Wills soul.

  3. If all these armchair pontiffs think they know so much, then why is it that
    they were all caught flat-footed by the Holy Father’s announcement? Now,
    if one of these self-appointed ‘experts’ could demonstrate that they’d thought
    his resignation was a possibility, then I’d be willing to give my attention to
    whatever else he/she had to say.

    I understand that most of these folks get paid to publish their expert opinions,
    but in this matter their musings should be issued with a disclaimer, something
    like “this is only idle speculation– actually, your guess is as good as mine”.

  4. Now I am no fan of Jody Bottum. In fact, I thought his being hired as editor at First Things was a huge mistake on the part of the late Fr. Neuhaus. I don’t agree with everything he says in his Weekly Standard article, but he does make some valid points.

    What I find most refreshing about his article is that is a departure from the shill fest quasi canonization we have seen from the rest of the orthodox Catholic ivory tower regarding the pope’s decision to resign.

    Mr Hartline asks for evidence that the next pontiff will be looking over his shoulder while Bendedict is still alive. Don’t you think it is rather self-evident that he will at least be tempted to do so? To be sure, the former pontiff will do everything in his power to prevent that, but, again, it will remain a natural temptation to say the least. It is at least reasonable to question the wisdom of the pope’s decision to resign. Even Benedict XVI himself seems to imply this when he, in his annoucement recognized the seriousness of this decision.

    Did Pope Benedict make the right decision? I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. What effect will this have on the Church in the long and short term? Again, it remains to be seen. I think it is premature at this point to say one way or the other.

    Now as far as whether or not Joseph Ratzinger’s pontificate has been a failure or success. In my mind, it has been something of a mixed bag, as I guess any pontificate has been. In the positive, I think he has, as pontiff, done well to remain, for the most part, silent on matters outside the Church’s competence like whether or not penal systems are adequate enough to protect society without recourse to the death penalty as one example. This is a marked improvement over the previous pontificate, which I believe created much confusion regarding this issue. I think he has done much to disabuse the rock star image that has been attributed to the papacy during the pontificate of the more charismatic John Paul II. In the negative, he appears to have failed miserably to bring much needed reform to the Roman Curia. In his pre-papal days, Ratzinger was rather critical of the over bureaucratization of the Vatican, but yet created a whole new bureaucracy with erecting the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, even though there already exists a whole Congregation for Evangelization. As important as I think the New Evagelization is, creating a whole new bureaucracy not only not helps such an effort, but in fact probably hinders it.

    While one can certainly take issue with Bottum’s assessment, it is by no means over the top.

  5. I find it interesting that the secular media wants the next pope, and therefore the Church, to model itself after the secular media’s ideals. They just don’t get it that it’s Christ we should be looking at. We do not conform our lives to the secular world. Rather, we need to conform our lives to Christ, through the Church. Ignore those people. They’re looking in the wrong direction. They truly have nothing to say to us.

  6. Instant assessments of any pontificates tend to be worthless. Case in point Pius IX. Any assessment of his pontificate immediately after his death would have emphasized the loss of the Papal States and the animosity between the Church and the new Italian state. As the decades have piled up, both of those have become increasingly insignificant in judging the lasting impact of Pio Nono’s pontificate while Vatican I looms ever larger, along with his pioneering attempts to form a direct link using modern technology between the laity and the Pope. Perspective is needed when assessing any papacy, and the most important element in forming that perspective is the element of time.

  7. I found Bottum’s article stupefying. It relied quite heavily on unsourced assessments of the Pope’s daily routine, unsourced assessments about the social dynamics of the Vatican apparat, held the Pope responsible for the obtuse and malicious character of elements of the media, and added a comment about the Institute for Religious Works, as if Bottum knew banking from bingo. Andrew Greeley used to put this sort of tripe into his columns. It is conceivable that George Weigel is acquainted with enough people employed at the Vatican to produce an assessment of this nature, not Bottum (now resident in South Dakota after the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life handed him his walking papers).

  8. The next Pontiff will stand tall on the shoulders of Pope Benedict XVI, the Servant of the Servants of God. I believe that this is one title Pope Benedict XVI will keep and epitomize ever more.

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