PopeWatch: Circling the Wagons

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circling the wagons


Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings, continues on with his observations regarding the reactions to Pope Francis.  I was struck by this section of his latest post:

I’ve come to the conclusion that, regardless of the actual temporal length (and may God grant Pope Francis many healthy years), this is going to be a loooooong papacy.

1. The first problem is what my crisis buddy Elliot colorfully describes as “soft ultramontanism.” To which I will add “by reflex.”

This manifests itself in instant circle-the-wagons mentality against any criticism. Sorry, Mark, but this is emblematic. The fact that Scalfari didn’t take notes is majoring in minors. No less an authority than the Vatican itself offers the interview for perusal on the official website.

That strikes me as a sotto voce endorsement of its accuracy. Not very sotto, in fact. More like a megaphone admission.

Also, it seems to me that criticism from such respectable non-fringe figures as Fr. Germain Grisez, fellow Jesuit James Schall and the very level-headed Carl Olson deserve a hearing. Ditto Robert Royal, who was clearly thrown by the first interview.

In other words, those who “get Francis” need to try to understand those of us who don’t. And, yeah, I don’t.

Frankly, the most evident fruit of the papacy thus far seems to be the willingness of orthodox Catholics to break out the cutlery and start stabbing whenever someone expresses unease over the Pope’s actions and words.

2. The substantive criticisms are worthy of consideration.

Arguments like “the Pope is acting just like Jesus” or “you’re just like the elder brother in the Prodigal Son!” aren’t really arguments: they’re declarations of the speaker’s moral superiority, QEDs that are supposed to batter the benighted sinner on the other side into repentance. Quite simply, they won’t do.

Go here to read the rest.  It is a natural, and normally praiseworthy, reaction for Catholics to leap to the defense of the Pope.  In a world where many people hate Catholicism, including some who call themselves Catholic, such a posture is not only natural, but probably essential.  However, it does no favor to the Pope or the Church to pretend that all is well when that manifestly is not the case.  Saint Catherine of Siena in her day lovingly reproved Pope Gregory XI when he was in the wrong:

Most holy and sweet father, your poor unworthy daughter Catherine in Christ sweet Jesus, commends herself to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you a manly man, free from any fear or fleshly love toward yourself, or toward any creature related to you in the flesh; since I perceive in the sweet Presence of God that nothing so hinders your holy, good desire and so serves to hinder the honour of God and the exaltation and reform of Holy Church, as this. Therefore, my soul desires with immeasurable love that God by His infinite mercy may take from you all passion and lukewarmness of heart, and re-form you another man, by forming in you anew a burning and ardent desire; for in no other way could you fulfil the will of God and the desire of His servants. Alas, alas, sweetest “Babbo” mine, pardon my presumption in what I have said to you and am saying; I am constrained by the Sweet Primal Truth to say it. His will, father, is this, and thus demands of you. It demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church; declaring that brutes should not be fed with the food of men. Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honour to God and health to your soul would it be.

Another demand that His will makes is this: He wills that you make peace with all Tuscany, with which you are at strife; securing from all your wicked sons who have rebelled against you whatever is possible to secure without war–but punishing them as a father ought to punish a son who has wronged him. Moreover, the sweet goodness of God demands from you that you give full authority to those who ask you to make ready for the Holy Crusade–that thing which appears impossible to you, and possible to the sweet goodness of God, who has ordained it, and wills that so it be. Beware, as you hold your life dear, that you commit no negligence in this, nor treat as jests the works of the Holy Spirit, which are demanded from you because you can do them. If you want justice, you can execute it. You can have peace, withdrawing from the perverse pomps and delights of the world, preserving only the honour of God and the due of Holy Church. Authority also you have to give peace to those who ask you for it. Then, since you are not poor but rich–you who bear in your hand the keys of Heaven, to whom you open it is open, and to whom you shut it is shut–if you do not do this, you would be rebuked by God. I, if I were in your place, should fear lest divine judgment come upon me. Therefore I beg you most gently on behalf of Christ crucified to be obedient to the will of God, for I know that you want and desire no other thing than to do His will, that this sharp rebuke fall not upon you: “Cursed be thou, for the time and the strength entrusted to thee thou hast not used.” I believe, father, by the goodness of God, and also taking hope from your holiness, that you will so act that this will not fall upon you.

The orthodox Catholics who are pointing out problems with the interviews given by the Pope are not his enemies, but rather friends who are sounding alarm bells to prevent confusion and chaos within the Church from being the legacy of the current pontificate.


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  1. The Devil’s gravest (most tragic) victory in his open-ended struggle to lure all souls to eternal damnation came when he convinced men that he (sin) does not exist.

  2. “Frankly, the most evident fruit of the papacy thus far seems to be the willingness of orthodox Catholics to break out the cutlery and start stabbing whenever someone expresses unease over the Pope’s actions and words.”

    To me, this has been the most disturbing part of this entire episode. It appears they have adopted the position that any questioning of the pope’s statements amounts to apostasy.

  3. Certainly, nothing makes me as inclined to consider a position crazy as that Mark Shea is taking it with all banners and fists flying, but FWIW: I think that the danger that the “loyal opposition” creates when it gets too eager to state that it’s in the “opposition” by looking for the worst way of looking at every little papal statement (or just throwing up hands and saying, “How can this possibly make any sense?”) is that it ends up lending aid and comfort to the progressive noise machine which is trying to turn this papacy into something of their own.

    That doesn’t mean that it’s necessary to run around explaining papal statements all the time, or to take an overly sunny view of things, but I do think it’s important not to end up going over the cliff like the folks at Rorati Caeli did shortly after Francis was elected and start taking the worst view of everything to the point of distorting and passing on rumors. I worry about those concerned about Francis’s approach heading in that direction.

  4. The questioning is good. Upon closer examination, the Pope’s comments are even better, if capable of being open to misinterpretation.

    What we are all dancing around, in our worship of the great trees of Catholic Social Justice and Catholic Family Values, is the inherant dignity of Jesus Christ- a dignity that cannot be denied even by atheists, a dignity shared by every child in a mother’s womb. This fraternity of humanity under a God of Love is the root of our faith, the bedrock of morality itself. It is that forgiveness, that generosity, which Pope Francis is trying to teach by example- the root hidden by two vastly different approaches to the corporal works of mercy that need to be welded into one.

  5. Moderation in all things is often not a wise maxim in this life, but in reference to opinions regarding popes it tends to be. Popes are rarely as good as their most devoted fans assume they will be, and rarely as bad as those who worry about them fear they will be. My expectations for Pope Benedict were quite high after his election, and my expectations after the interviews of Pope Francis quite modest as far as his pontificate goes. Events, as was the case with Pope Benedict, will see how my expectations of Pope Francis play out.

  6. Darwin, I’d be comforted if people simply acknowledged that the Pope has given the progressive noise machine plenty to work with–obsession, small-minded rules, rebuking traditionalists, shout-outs to the progressives’ hero Martini, etc. They aren’t hallucinating here.

    Some of the counter-apologetic spin of the Pope’s words smack of the “jihad is spiritual struggle” contortions used on behalf of Islam.

    And I doubt I’m going into the same hatefest as RC, but I suppose mileage varies.

  7. Dale,

    I think he has given the progressive noise machine material to work with, but I think it’s generally far less than some of his critics on the right would suggest.

    Goodness knows, the “OMG, listen to this new insight!!! If you don’t love this you hate puppies!!!” approach to Francis fandom drives me up the wall. It’s just that I’m also concerned that conservatives not get into the habit of looking for stuff to hate in whatever Francis says. Because at that point, we’ll always find it.

    And I do think that if we focus on reading things charitably, he has some very good things to say. Not to say that everything he says is the best thing he could have said, but that there is indeed very good stuff in there. While I wish Francis was the type to be far more judicious in what he says, I don’t think we’d be better off if he just said nothing.

  8. I’m with you, Darwin. I am uncomfortable with the salutary comments of the secular world. Perhaps that is what makes me most cautious. Christ’s message isn’t supposed to mesh with the values of this world and it makes me uncomfortable to have the world at large say “see, he is absolutely right.” Of course it was that way for Christ too as he was led into Jerusalem on an ass. Perhaps, once the secular world figures out that the Pope is still a pope, we will find ourselves in Gethsemene.

  9. Well it was better that Our Lord was riding on the ass than acting like one. If I would have raised kids with this kind of double speak and hope that they were smart enough to figure things out I doubt I would have a family right now. As it is they are all practicing Catholics, very involved with their parishes, with what I believe is a very good understanding of the “truth’s of the faith”. Did we have our problems a long the way, you bet. But they formed a conscience that even when they strayed had given them enough wisdom and discernment to make the right judgments. That’s all I ask is that in matters of faith and morals, every Catholic knows what the Church teaches and then if they don’t want to be Catholic they can leave. As a religious education teacher for over 18 years the confusion that I witnessed among the educators themselves was so disheartening. They taught what they wanted and I believe instructed without the knowledge they needed to pass on the faith. Of course one of the great carrots dangled to get teachers was and is, “you don’t need to know anything to teach CCD you just need to be present” and that’s exactly what we have as a church. Jesus taught plain and simple.

  10. I get this image of poor Jorge cum Francis being put in charge of manning the rudder, being told “just don’t steer it into the rocks” and being unable to shift his gaze away from the rocks.

  11. This to be has been a continual problem, Ever since his election almost 7 months ago he has done nothing but cause controversy, first by his dress than by his words and now his actions like the FFI fiasco which four Italian Canon lawyers have said a few weeks ago are Grave violations not only of Benedict’s wishes but even going back to ST PIUS V whose tomb he visited. Benedict himself said the actions of Francis have WOUNDED or Hurt his 2007 Moto Proprio. If you recall after his election dissidents in the Church like Mahoney among others were happy now we all know why. He seems to say one thing and then do the exact opposite. I honestly think the Cardinal from Canada would have been a better choice by instead he insisted that the Pope we have now be elected. OTOH, He did manage to stop the strike on Syria with his prayer Vigil a month ago.

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