Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism



Something that has been bothering me long before the current Pontificate is what I call Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism.  This form of Catholicism consists of giving ready assent to everything that the current Pope says or does even if it conflicts with traditional teaching.  If such is pointed out, advocates of Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism usually pretend that there is no change.  Down the memory hole could be a chant for Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism as its acolytes feign amnesia to the fact that the Church has a 2000 year history and a magisterium that consists of more than the thoughts of the current Pope.  Catholicism prior to the present does not seem to matter to the adherents of Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism.  When a new Pope with new views takes office and has positions that conflict with his immediate predecessor, Loose Leaf Binder Catholics simply tear out the old pages of Loose Leaf Binder Catholic teaching and insert new pages, all the while pretending that nothing has changed.  Father John Hunwicke gives a suitable response to Loose Leaf Binder Catholicism at his blog:


Some Cardinal called Wuerl has said “There are always people who are unhappy about what is going on in the Church, but the touchstone of authentic Catholicism is adherence to the teaching of the Pope”. Sounds good; sounds obvious. But ….

Note that he says, not popes, but pope. So he must mean just the Pope, the present Pope, the pope-for-the-time-being. And note that he can’t just mean “the ex cathedra teaching of the Pope”, because in that case his words would mean nothing since Bergoglio has defined nothing and it is questionable, to put it mildly, whether Evangelii gaudium and Laudato si are in any sense Magisterial.

So, when a pontificate follows a pontificate, this strange man clears his mind of the teaching of all the previous popes (except possibly when ex cathedra), so as to have a tabula rasa upon which to inscribe whatever idiosyncrasies and obiter opinions the new pope turns out to possess. And this is what he is recommending to the rest of us. Have I got that right?

I find myself wondering how these rabid ultra-extreme fundamentalist papalists imagine their pronouncements must sound to non-Catholics. Do they seriously imagine that Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox are likely to be attracted to the idea of a Papacy in which every whimsy of the current occupant of the See of S Peter has to be swallowed without question, otherwise one has abandoned the ‘touchstone’ of ‘authentic’ doctrine? Furthermore: one of the Anglophone circuli reported that ‘one bishop’ claimed that “the pope can, in effect, twist the hands of God”. Oh yeah? Have you tried that crazy idea out on your local Presbyterians and Baptists? And are you absolutely sure you would still believe it yourself if some future ultra-regressive pope started ‘binding’ all sorts of things you yourself didn’t think ought to be bound?

Do these dubious papal extremists have no respect for the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Creeds, the Councils, the Tradition, the (plural) Popes? Are they completely indifferent to our partners in ecumenical dialogue?

Would it be cynical to suspect that the Wuerl Dogma is a convenient and plausible mantra to shout from the rooftops so as to shut other people up when one agrees with a pope, but a principle one quietly buries if one doesn’t?

Go here to read the comments.  As for myself, my Catholicism comes neither with loose leaf binders nor memory holes.

More to explorer


  1. Of a related idea:

    Could we declare the use of monthly or yearly missal/hymnals a heresy on the order of Arianism or some such.

    But on the other hand some Parrish would be stuck for 20 years with a bound piece of junk.

  2. Lol….”one bishop’ claimed that the Pope can,in effect, twist the hand of God.”

    The only Divine hand twisting coming to a disobedient clergy near you, will be in the form of Our Lord twisting the valve to the off position. This valve controls Grace.
    Once off, we will witness the abomination of desolation across all Churches. One exception. The remnant Church.
    Being faithful and remaining in obedience to our Lord, this underground Church will be protected until the cleansing is completed.

    Clear question;”When the Son of man comes, will He find Faith on Earth? ” -Luke 18:8

  3. One very clear benefit of this pontificate is that many of the heretics within the hierarchy have exposed themselves as such. However, I do not for a moment believe this was Bergoglio’s intention. Rather, God really does write straight with crooked lines.

  4. Father Hunwicke has diagnosed the clinical signs of progressivism. Cardinal Wuerl has an unflattering penchant to use Alinsky tactics attempting to label, isolate and destroy ideological opponents.

  5. Oh that article is a keeper Jonathan!

    “Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture
    , “[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
    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
    or heart. It’s very easy to make the pope into a saintly superhero when you act as his ventriloquist.

    Conservative Catholic apologists say all the right things when you press them. They say that the doctrine papal infallibility does not imply papal impeccability,
    but the bulk of their commentary about Pope John Paul II in relation to the child-abuse crisis or Pope Francis when he goes off-script seems based on the idea that the pope is irreproachable.”

  6. So, I went to the commentary on the blog. There, in regards to priests not fulfilling their Magisterial responsibilities anymore, I saw this:
    ‘Unfortunately, as evidenced in this Synod – and elsewhere – this is not always the case. As in the business world, some in the hierarchy seem to have just “risen to the level of their incompetence”.’
    Try as I might, I could not keep my rebellious mind from saying, “Ah, yes. (wait for it) The St. Peter Principle.”
    I apologize for that.

  7. I came across Father Hunwicke’s blog a few days ago. I really like his entry today about Celtic spirituality. He found an old Missal called the Stowe Missal and notes the prayer of humble access it uses: “I am unworthy because I filthily adhere to the mire of dung and all my good deeds are like a rag used by a menstural woman.” Those words were prayed around the 790s AD and may have been composed a few hundred years previoustheyIt recalls Isaiah 64:6. I would like to see such a Missal used. Oh, I forgot, Orthowiki says that the Stowe Missal has been approved for use in the Russian Orthodox Church. I will wager hell will freeze over before we hear any Post Vatican II Pope Francis style social justice common good priest pray those words from the altar. But that prayer is from 2000 years of real blood and guts Christianity – we humans are unworthy and deserve to die and only Christ’s Sacrifice can save us and we had better darn well get busy with works of real penance and start falling prostrate on our faces before the most Holy Sacrament. People back in the 790s apparently knew what their relationship was with God.

  8. Donald, your article explains a lot about how we are where we are with the Church. The Pope becomes a useful tool when it suits and reject when it doesn’t. This is how the Catholic Church has become intensely political over the last 50 years. The Pope becomes the personification of an ideology, a symbol of decisiveness, rather than a figure of Christ and a force for unity. What a long way we have come over these many years. Jesus will hardly recognize the Church when He comes again.

  9. “The Pope becomes a useful tool when it suits and reject when it doesn’t. ”

    Michael Dowd, you’ve identified the game. Watch for it in subsidiarity-that bottom first principle laid out by Pius XI.
    They are using it wrongly to devolved the hierarchy and the authority of Rome but ignoring it (a grave wrong) when they want the nations (Caesar) to distribute private wealth. (read as Marxist Liberation theology Part II)

  10. As Bl John Henry Newman put it, “At first glance, what is the history of doctrine but “pope against pope and council against council” and “Some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves; a consensus of fathers of one age against a consensus of fathers of another age; the church of one age against the church of another age.””

    Either we rely on private interpretation to tell us “what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental,” or we believe that, in Cardinal Manning’s words, “that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world.”

    If so, The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.”

    Of course, no one ever supposed that the pope’s every opinion, theological or otherwise, is binding on the faithful; the test is, does Rome exclude from its communion those who dispute a particular teaching?

  11. but the bulk of their commentary about Pope John Paul II in relation to the child-abuse crisis or Pope Francis when he goes off-script seems based on the idea that the pope is irreproachable.”

    I suspect Akin and Lawler might have an idea of the headcount in the Holy See (I believe around 4,000, from the charladies to the pope). The Holy See does not have the manpower to replace the work done by diocesan bishops. The Holy See can promulgate canon law, decide a few cases which come before its tribunals, and remove some particularly troublesome bishops, but that’s about all.

  12. We’ll stick with the hard bound book of faith, praying for grace to see it through to the end, with hope that the disconcerting events of the day are bent to God’s timeless will. The very few great Saints who were so devoted to taking up the Cross and following Christ were gifted with external marks of Christ’s passion, the Stigmata. When we decline the Cross to follow the Zeitgeist, we risk acquiring internal marks which one might call the “Pragmata”.

  13. I notice an awful lot of assumption of bad faith in these discussions– I’ve been known to make the jokes about the Pope’s teaching being authoritative if you agree with it, but it’s embarrassing to see folks saying it in earnest, as the loose leafs seem wont to do.
    Either they’re right, or they’re wrong, and there are methods to follow–it’s not purely from authority.
    In Donald’s quote, for example– the important part is the question of if he was right about the Pope having the authority to do it, not if it was a good idea. Problem being that a lot of folks take “can” as “should” and run with it.
    Sort of like every time someone asks a technical question– “how much of Mass can I miss before it doesn’t count for my Sunday obligation?”– and they get a lecture on what someone thinks is a good idea— “if you miss any, you should go again!”
    (By that measure, I’ve been to Mass exactly ONCE since my first child was born, and that’s because my dad watched the kids for an Easter Vigil. Someone always needs the potty, or cries, or some other ‘I must leave the room’ emergency.)

  14. “It’s very easy to make the pope into a saintly superhero when you act as his ventriloquist.”

    Line of the week, Donald. I may have to crib that.

  15. P.S. Ach. I see now that it was Dougherty’s line, not yours.

    Well – you’re a good enough scribe that I *thought( it was something you might come up with.

  16. The pope is not bound by liturgical law the way everyone else is. So, the Nixon analogy does not follow. That doesn’t mean the pope showing disregard for it isn’t problematic as a practical matter. If you are speaking about the washing female feet on Holy Thursday, bishops and priests have flouting it with impunity for years. So, the law was really dead letter. The pope himself flouting it was the unfortunate final pronouncement.

    But the line about Akin acting more like a party man than a churchman is spot on. But why should this be a surprise? After all, this is the same Jimmy Akin who circled the wagons for Mark Shea regarding Shea’s despicable calumnious torture remarks about a decade ago. I’m sure you remember that Donald. So, it’s no leap that Akin circle the wagons for the pope.

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