The Critics of Pope Francis Are Not the Problem


One of the interesting features of Saint Blogs as of late is the near hysterical reaction in some quarters to any criticism of Pope Francis.  Even a cursory study of Catholic history reveals that criticism of Popes by faithful Catholics goes back to Saint Peter.  Yet, somehow, criticism of this Pope is verboten in the eyes of some bloggers.  (Mark Shea, that is your cue:)

The stinking, sweaty, panic-stricken hatred of the pope from the kind of “faithful conservative” Catholicism represented by Maureen Mullarkey is getting more and more palpable–and respectable among the increasingly deranged right wing.  This was not written on a bathroom wall where it belongs.  It was not published on some blog published from Ignatius Reilly’s basement.  This was published by First Freakin’ Things.

The object of Mark’s ire was a blog post on First Things by Maureen Mullarkey.  Go here to read it.  Criticism like Shea’s caused the editor of First Things to disavow the blog post.  Go here to read his comments.

The hilarious thing about this episode is that, in the age of the internet, bloggers like Shea think they can stifle critics of the Pope.  It can’t be done, and it is futile to attempt to do so.  Besides, silencing of the critics, even if by some miracle it could be accomplished, would not alleviate the underlying problems that give rise to the criticisms.  Steve Skojec at One Peter Five understands this:



Recently, in an unusually candid critique of the rumored upcoming papal encyclical on ecology, Maureen Mullarkey at First Things offered this bit of mess-making:

In the cap and bells of Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happening Now, Pope Francis is readying an encyclical on climate change. He will address the world’s latest mutation of the grail quest: human ecology. Abandoning nuance for apocalyptic alarmism (“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”), Francis has signaled the tenor of his utterance.

It comes as no surprise. Handwriting has been on the wall along the Viale Vaticano from the get-go. At the beginning of his pontificate, Francis revealed himself to be fastidiously attuned to image. He refused to give communion in public ceremonies lest he be photographed giving the sacrament to the wrong kind of sinner. So, when he agreed to pose between two well-known environmental activists and brandish an anti-fracking T-shirt, we believed what we saw.

It was a portentous image. Press toads hopped to their keyboards to correct the evidence of our lying eyes. Francis was neither for nor against fracking, you see. Nothing of the sort. He was simply using a photo-op to assert blameless solidarity with the victims of ecological injustice. (Both a decisive definition of such injustice and its particular victims went unspecified.)

If that restyling were true, then the more fool Francis. But Francis is not a fool. He is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist. His clumsy intrusion into the Middle East and covert collusion with Obama over Cuba makes that clear. Megalomania sends him galloping into geopolitical—and now meteorological—thickets, sacralizing politics and bending theology to premature, intemperate policy endorsements.

Later this year, Francis will take his sandwich board to the United Nations General Assembly, that beacon of progress toward the Kingdom. Next will come a summit of world religions—a sort of Green Assisi—organized to lend moral luster to an upcoming confederacy of world improvers in Paris. In the words of Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis means “to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

There is a muddle for you. The bishop asserts a causal relation between two undefined, imprecise phenomena. His phrasing is a sober-sounding rhetorical dodge that eludes argument because the meaning is indeterminable. Ambiguity, like nonsense, is irrefutable. What caliber of scientist speaks this way?

The intellectual difficulty of refuting such ambiguity, combined with an astonishingly strong reflex action on the part of many Catholics, has made criticism like this a dangerous venture. The tone taken in the cited article is undoubtedly pungent, but it has the odor of exasperation, not malice. Understandable frustrations notwithstanding, there is sometimes a price for taking a caustic approach, and Miss Mullarkey has paid it. The weight of her arguments, which deserved consideration, were lost in the larger tempest of response to how she made them. Her essay was sternly disavowed by her editor. She has also been raked over the coals (rather less charitably) by some of the shrillest voices of the Catholic Internet. (Voices we will not link to here.)

Mullarkey’s is only the latest thrust in a battle that has been going on for the better part of the Francis papacy. This, sadly, is what it looks like when you “make a mess” in the Church – division, bitterness, and venom. Amidst the salvos back and forth between the various camps, however, thinking Catholics are faced with a growing suspicion that the powers in Rome see the Church differently than the rest of us. Rather than an institution founded by Christ to convert the world and bring about the salvation of souls, they seem to prefer that she more closely resemble a trendy social-issues NGO. As our own Eric Sammons wrote last week, what the Church has been doing for the past half century hasn’t worked; the practice of the faith is decimated, leaving only a tiny minority of Catholics embracing their religion in an orthodox fashion. The impression that this is no accident is only enhanced when hand-picked papal advisers support communist, pro-abortion, and pro-homosexual institutions, or simply foment heresy in the pope’s name. Making matters worse, the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family produced a public work so deviant from Catholic teaching that it caused one bishop to declare it “the first time in Church history that such a heterodox text was actually published as a document of an official meeting of Catholic bishops under the guidance of a pope” and something that “will remain for the future generations and for the historians a black mark which has stained the honour of the Apostolic See.”

Go here to read the rest.  The advent of Pope Francis is bringing into the open a de facto schism within the Church that has existed since the modernists aroused the ire of Pope Saint Pius X at the beginning of the last century.  No amount of happy talk, hysterical bluster or wishing critics would shut up will change that.


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  1. I am disgusted at the photograph of the Pope holding an anti-fracking T-Shirt. I am no advocate of fossil fuel energy, but like the Pope I use fossil fuel energy. Furthermore, I would oppose with equal vigor a photograph of the Pope holding a “Go Nukes” T-Shirt even though I am a nuclear professional. The Pope’s job is the salvation of souls from the fires of hell, NOT energy and environmental policy.

  2. I might take exception to one or another thing Maureen Mullarkey said as well, but nothing she said was unreasonable. I would not blame Maureen Mullarkey if she told Reno to buzz off and try to find someone else to write the column. Reno is given to propitiating even egregious correspondents (see how he reacted to one of the more recent letters from Thomas Sieger Derr); it’s very unattractive. He’s turned the magazine in to an extension of the theological academy so it’s now boring as s***. Before that, he hired a mess of interns of dubious competence to moderate the comment boxes and masses of pixels were turned over to solicited commentary by the strangest of characters (Joshua Gonnerman, et al). He then got rid of most of the blogs and required registration. He also fired his deputy, who actually knows something about putting out a magazine.

    It was once a fine publication, but it has had trouble finding it’s way in the last 10 years and especially since Fr. Neuhaus’ death. Two of Neuhaus’ deputies were exposed as unfit for the trust he placed in them (one frankly dishonorable and the other spendthrift and unserious). If the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life cannot find someone capable to edit the publication, they need to stop sucking up scarce foundation money and shut it down.

  3. Cancelled my subscription to NCR newspaper when I found out Mark Shea was on staff. He is not the arbiter of anything Catholic for this member of the Church. He is one of the most divisive, bitter and venomous bloggers on the internet. I do not hate or dislike the man but merely choose not to have any association with his works. At one time I read his works on a daily basis until I realized my aforementioned depiction of him was true.

  4. You know, in mundane life, your motivation and energy level does decline (and some of your thinking can grow stereotyped), but I do not think in mundane life I’ve seen people deteriorate as characters bar where dementia is an issue. Watching Shea rot is unedifying.

  5. Thank you, Paul.
    When the U.N. was established, The U.N. asked for 1) An International Court, 2) A standing army, 3) The power to tax (The United States). The U.N. accomplished the International Court. The U.N. has also asked for all the mineral rights under the global waters and the ownership of the oceans, LOST, The Law of the Sea Treaty. This means that anyone sailing on the seas will have to pay a fee (or tax). All public land and water belongs to each and every person in joint and common tenancy. You own it all and I own it all. More importantly, the land and water is held in trust for all future generations. We are the stewards responsible for everything in creation to be held in trust for our posterity, God’s children.
    Pope Francis must address this issue of ownership simply, so, that the U.N. does not take stewardship to mean “possession of”. The former instances of usurpation and monopoly gives reason to suspect that the U.N. is not sovereignty neutral or people friendly.
    Was it not too long ago that the head of the U.N. stole most of their money, our money? Unicef, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund bought guns.
    Unless Pope Francis acknowledges the individual consciences of mankind, the consciences of people who have to do the work, the Pope, like the U.N., will be usurping for himself the sole stewardship of creation, that is, the possession of natural resources without authentic authority.
    Pope Francis needs to be careful that he is not presumed into the totalitarianism of the United Nations.

  6. Mark Shea has problems. He is an angry, egotistical, prideful person. He does not know how to have a civil discussion with people with whom he disagrees. Post anything he doesn’t like as a comment to his blog and he’ll ban you, lickety split. He needs to take a humility pill.

  7. “The advent of Pope Francis is bringing into the open a de facto schism within the Church”
    It was in 1907 that Maurice Blondel wrote, “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies that set Catholic against Catholic in every order–social, political, philosophical–is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite in-compatible “Catholic mentalities,” particularly in France. And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”

    He was not without optimism, however: “[U]nprecedented perhaps in depth and extent–for it is at the same time scientific, metaphysical, moral, social and political–[the crisis] is not a “dissolution” [for the spirit of faith does not die], nor even an “evolution” [for the spirit of faith does not change], it is a purification of the religious sense, and an integration of Catholic truth” (Mercure de France, June 1907)

  8. Even objective observers are considered critics in this world where fires are being stoked to burn down ‘Rome’, where the deposit of the faith was centered and where the protector/teacher is sweeping interest to worldly concerns in word and deed. The broom sweeps the pious and loyal into a corner, where the ones missed by the broom would be having conniptions. The Word and direction of Our Father being parsed is hailed by the impious. (analogous to events of world politics) Seems that goodness and loyalty are words that may be subject to interpretation, may be being redefined.

  9. While I agree that the Pope should not be free from constructive comments or even questioning the fans of the Pope themselves are being disobedient. He said himself in the la nation interview he welcomes criticism and prefers it to silent murmuring as he put it. So if the Pope himself has no problem with it why should anybody else. Even the great Leo XIII was called the RED POPE for his 1891 Encyclical ON NEWVTHINGS. Nothing new under the sun here.

  10. “At one time I read his works on a daily basis until I realized my aforementioned depiction of him was true.”

    Stopped reading him years ago, but can still follow the basic course of his ranting through the blurbs on New Advent.

  11. Sorry, folks, I can’t let this die.
    “So, when he [Pope Francis] agreed to pose between two well-known environmental activists and brandish an anti-fracking T-shirt, we believed what we saw.”
    The Pope should consult engineering experts instead of movie director and Argentinian politician Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas who has a vested interest in making money off his film, “Dirty Gold.” That was one of the two men with whom the Pope posed while holding the anti-fracking T-Shirt (see the link I posted above). As a nuclear professional, I like getting the facts. Popular Mechanics has a rather well-balanced article that seems to present such facts dispassionately – go through all 10 slides:
    As I expected, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has advantages and disadvantages, just as nuclear energy, oil and coal do. The bottom line is this: except for a handful of cosmonauts and astronauts, as well as Enoch, Elijah and Mary, ain’t none of us getting off the planet alive, but it is doubtful that the means by which that occurs – death – will be through either natural gas or nuclear.
    In the meantime, biomass burning – that is to say, burning straw, hay, and wood for cooking and heating in third world countries – results in the premature death of 4 million people (according to 2012 data – I thought the number was 2 million, but being a good engineer, I checked – did the Pope check? Oh, I forgot, he ain’t an engineer, so checking doesn’t apply to him!):
    Personally, I prefer hydraulic fracturing over the deaths of 4 million people, and uranium mining over hydraulic fracturing. But what do I know? I am just an engineer, not an Argentinian movie director and politician.
    PS, I am also a Catholic who thinks that every one of those 4 million people has the right to life, liberty and the fruit of his labor.

  12. Mark Shea has problems. He is an angry, egotistical, prideful person. He does not know how to have a civil discussion with people with whom he disagrees. Post anything he doesn’t like as a comment to his blog and he’ll ban you, lickety split. He needs to take a humility pill.

    One has only need to see how he responds to someone taking all pains to gently correct him:

    Yes, the sobbing gasps of butthurt and self-pity from people who are ready to subject others to drowning, freezing, beating, suffocation, Russian Roulette, death threats to wives and chidren and rape threats to mother, all while slandering the pope as a commie population controller are deeply moving, but my ice cold heart somehow manages to block out their pleas for pity. I am History’s Greatest Monster.

    To realize that Shea has progressed to the sensitivity point that any amount of disagreement is tantamount to the greatest insult with him. That there might be a cost or consequence to any of his ideas or prescriptions, well he’s just too happy to have others pay.

    As I’ve tried to explain to some others, Shea may disagree with liberals on a few of their policies, but in his thinking, acting, and speaking he behaves just like them.

  13. “So, Shea’s on the same path as Luther then?” Shea has always shown signs of behaving like Luther. He has a very foul mouth, he vilifies people who disagree with him even very mildly, and he willfully misinterprets Catholic teachings (the death penalty, evolution, creation, et al) that is contrary to Catholic tradition. Shea, like Ol’ Marty, will have it his way, 2000 years of Catholic tradition not withstanding.

  14. Maureen wrote a thoughtful and perspicacious piece. It is the gadfly pope that is the problem. Intemperate is the kindest characterization one might venture. He does exhibit, habitually, two of the hallmarks of the ‘Progressive’ mindset; the presumption of intellectual and moral superiority. Quite naturally these traits are in evidence by an habitual and disdainful exasperation with ‘Conservatives’.
    people with ‘Progressive’ mindsets tend naturally toward totalitarianism. Thus his attraction to the UN. One may fear that our poor church is under chastisement.

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