Catholic Party?



Hattip to Dale Price.  An interesting article written by Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week.  Saint Blog’s is going to be arguing about this one for quite some time:

When you add to this the fact that the cultural formation of most engaged Catholics is primarily the ideological combat of political and cultural factions, they tend to treat the pope as their “party leader,” and to treat “the world” as an opposing party. It’s difficult to describe how distorted this mental image is to true faith, but some examples could suffice.

Look for instance at the reaction of conservative Catholics to the pope’s phone call to Jaquelina Lisbona, a woman in Argentina civilly married to a divorcée, in which Francis supposedly counseled her to practically ignore church teaching on divorce, adultery, confession, and Holy Communion.

Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture speculated, “[F]or all we know, she and her husband are now living as brother and sister, in which case there would be no reason why she could not resume receiving the sacraments.” Of course, if this were the case the parish priest could have determined this without the extraordinary phone call from Christ’s vicar.

Before deleting it (perhaps in embarrassment), Jimmy Akin reminded his readers at the National Catholic Register that the pope has the power to act as the church’s chief legislature and to execute judgments immediately, and so therefore he could annul the first marriage and radically sanction the second, implying all this could be done over the phone. That he would have short-circuited the church’s entire juridical process, undermined faith in the church’s discipline, and undercut Catholic priests seems to bother Akin not at all. This same defense was used to justify the pope’s breaking of liturgical rubrics, essentially employing the Nixon defense that “when the pope does it, it’s not illegal.”

Let me suggest that these two good Catholic men are acting not as church men but as party men, and falling into what Hillary Jane White aptly diagnosed as “papal positivism.” Lawler and Akin are not alone. The bulk of Catholic media is devoted to moon-faced speculation about how the discreet governing decisions, words, and gestures of the pope are accomplishing some larger goal that we further speculate must be in the pope’s head or heart. It’s very easy to make the pope into a saintly superhero when you act as his ventriloquist.

Go here to read the rest.  My first reaction is that Mr. Dougherty obviously does not read The American Catholic!  My more substantive reaction is that in large part he is correct.  The first impulse of most orthodox Catholics is to defend everything that a pope says.  This is usually a praiseworthy impulse since most popes have been under unremitting attack from those who despise the Catholic faith.  However, all Catholics must also recall these words of Bishop 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 assume that Pope Francis would agree with this quote based upon his criticism that some of his predecessors “have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers.”  Popes since Peter have benefited from honest criticism by faithful Catholics.  To argue otherwise is to be at war with the historical record and common sense.  The Church does not need yes-men and women or no-men and women.  She does need faithful and thinking men and women who love her teachings, handed down from the Apostles, and defend that Truth with all their hearts, souls, and lives if need be. 

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  1. Oh you better watch out, I’m pretty sure those are fighting words to Shea… 😉

  2. When it comes to matters of positive law, liturgical or juridical, it is certainly true that the pope is not bound by them, for he can make and unmake any law whatsoever.
    Ever since the 12th century, canonists have insisted on the pope’s sovereignty, borrowing the language of the Roman jurists in describing the Emperor; he is “legibus solutus” [not bound by laws] he is “lex loquens” [the living law] and, perhaps, most frequently and famously, “quod placuit principi, legis habet vigorem” [what the Prince pleases has the force of law]
    However, we should note that the most vigorous proponents of the plenitude of power were often scathing critics of its actual exercise, although they tended to employ the polite fiction that His Holiness had been “misled by his (unspecified) evil advisers &c”

  3. Donald McClarey, why did you not say the same when Pope Benedict XVI was Bishop of Rome? (“Liberals” probably said the same things you now say about Pope Francis whenever certain teachings from Pope Benedict made them “queasy”. We don’t like to be challenged, I get it.) I’m as orthodox Catholic as they can get & I don’t see why “traditionalists” & “liberals” can’t embrace both Pope Benedict & Pope Francis. As for me & my house, we love them both; long live Benedict & Francis, servants of Christ, Successors of St. Peter the Apostle. Nate Winchester, why are you so opposed to Mark Shea? Maybe because Mark Shea is guilty of being a serious orthodox Catholic who is open in mind & heart to being challenged to grow in holiness by listening to our good Pope? Nate, why are you so afraid of being faithful to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth? Trust the words spoken by our Lord Jesus on Matthew’s Gospel.

  4. “Donald McClarey, why did you not say the same when Pope Benedict XVI was Bishop of Rome?”

    Actually I did when the Vatican did something foolish under Pope Benedict:

    The difference of course is that Pope Benedict, other than the condom flap where I heavily criticized him, was a tower of orthodoxy in his pronouncements. Alas, the same cannot be said for Pope Francis.

    Any Catholic who thinks we all merely need to shut our eyes and trust any pope of the day needs to read a great deal more Catholic history.

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