Are Pope-Critics Evil? Reply to Karl Keating

This exchange with my friend Karl Keating: the father of the modern Catholic apologetics movement, occurred on my Facebook page, under my recent article, “Pope’s Chilean Abuse Apology Troubles Simcha Fisher.” Karl’s words will be in blue.


The only good thing (if there is any) is that the true colors of the pope bashers are being shown (more and more) very clearly: manifest for all to see and to decide where they want to stand.

Sin has a way of doing that. It is never subtle for very long. It always becomes blatant and undeniable.

What are you saying here, Dave: “The true colors of the pope bashers are being shown . . . Sin has a way of doing that. It is never subtle for long”?

It looks as though you’re saying that people you label as “pope bashers” (a category that seems to include just about everyone who criticizes the pope, including Phil Lawler, Carl Olson, Ross Douthat, and others) have taken up their positions or have worked up their criticisms chiefly due to their own sins.

If this is what you mean, then your position is like that of the SJWs [“social justice warriors”] that Rod Dreher so often writes about: people who think that those who disagree with them not just are wrong but are wrong because they are bad people.

If this isn’t what you mean, then you need to be far more careful in how you express yourself.

I worry about the totalizing tone of more and more of your writing.

As usual, you have not been following my words and my distinctions very carefully. We go through this again and again. I am very clear as to my positions in my many writings.

None of this follows from what I have written. It’s your cynical interpretation. In particular, you seem to utterly misunderstand “prophetic”-type language: what it means, its nature, and what it intends to convey.

I don’t judge people’s hearts. I was very kind to Phil Lawler in the short time we interacted. I wrote:

Let me assure you, first of all, that none of this is personal. I have admired your work for a long time and often linked to your articles and others at Catholic Culture. And I know that you guys have always positively reviewed my website in your ratings of sites. I have another apologist friend who cares little for Pope Francis, yet we remain best of friends. For me, disagreements are no reason to end a friendship.

But know that it is precisely out of existing profound respect for folks like you and Karl, that I am all the more distressed to see the positions you have arrived at, which I deeply, sincerely believe are erroneous.

In my recent article about Carl Olson I complimented him several times as well. I already wrote in that paper, in reply to a commenter (if you actually read it, you would have seen this):

I didn’t “attack” Carl Olson. I disagreed with his position. There is a difference. In fact, I said “I like his writing a lot” and that “He’s written several great books” and that he was a “good and thoughtful writer” and a “good man and good Catholic.” That’s a lot of compliments in a critique!

All of those quotes were in my original paper, before the Addendum was added (with post-paper comments).

I say he is a good man who believes wrong things. I say the same about you and about Lawler and Douthat. Yet here you come and say that I think (or it looks more and more to you like I may think) “they are bad people.”

Now, how did Carl treat me in return (someone who is well familiar with me and my work: having glowingly reviewed my One-Minute Apologist back when Catholic apologists were all in one big happy camp)? He dismissed my critique of his article because of one (absolutely justified) sarcastic sentence (“An example of why it’s hard for me to take these sort of posts seriously”).

He had also defriended me on Facebook recently (not because of any direct encounter). Which approach is more charitable, would you say? Do you automatically take his side because he agrees with you about the pope? Can you not make these basic distinctions that you wrongly chide me for not making?

You say I need to be careful in expression. You need to be careful in interpretation, because once again you have totally misunderstood my position. I have been very careful indeed, to make these distinctions. My quote above is a plain example of that. You want to make reference to my critique of Carl Olson, yet you don’t bother to read what I wrote about him.

Just last night on Facebook, I made this crystal-clear again:

I will say in all fairness, that most of the non-reactionary folks who are now opposing (or even bashing) Pope Francis are doing so because they truly believe he is heterodox and a subversive. So their heart and intentions are in the right place, but their premises, facts, and reasoning are wrong.

I also referred to their “sincerity and good intentions.” I’m not saying they are “bad people” at all. I’m saying they are good people who believe in a thing that is wrong. That is one of the deep tragedies of this whole mess we are in now. There are all kinds of reasons besides sin that people come to believe in erroneous things.

Note that I was referring to “non-reactionary folks” who oppose the pope to one degree or another. That means that Lawler and Douthat and Olson and yourself were all included in that appraisal, since I have classified none of you as “reactionary.” I have only classified the extremist Henry Sire that way (and I explained exactly why, documenting his own views at length), and folks like Steve Skojec and Chris Ferrara and Louie Verrecchio (who also appears to be sedevacantist or nearly so).

In the same article, I precisely explained that I make distinctions among papal critics. I wrote: “Today we are blessed with both pope bashers (the usual suspect reactionaries and also non-reactionaries like Phil Lawler and Ross Douthat), and non-reactionary “papal nitpickers.” Carl is in the latter category.”

That is a distinction: the very one that you are calling for (I’d also say that you are in the nitpicker category). I went on in the article to distinguish the categories of nitpickers and bashers several times. No one could possibly miss my meaning or intent.

If I am asked whether [objective, not necessarily subjective] sin is playing a prominent role in the papal criticism going on today, I say yes, absolutely. It does not follow that I think every papal critic is a bad man. That’s a completely different proposition. I’m saying that sin is bad and will manifest itself. The main sin going on now with regard to Pope Francis is evil-speaking: a thing very often condemned in no uncertain terms in Holy Scripture. Simcha Fisher has done it again, even after the man apologized. And that made me rightfully angry.

Currently, Simcha is essentially calling the pope a liar and outwardly wondering whether he ignored what he knew for sure to be sexual abuse taking place. That’s serious sin. That’s what brought about my strong, “prophetic” language (from which you draw all sorts of unwarranted conclusions). You interpreted that incorrectly based on your existing biases. I have just shown how there is no objective basis for such an interpretation.

I write lots of actual words, which I think are fairly easily understood: which are then misinterpreted (by folks with some sort of prior bias: that we all possess in one way or another) and forced into meanings that I clearly do not intend.

The same thing is done to the pope. It’s wrong. He’s written tons of words that can be found in a search. I’ve written tons of things on this topic that can be easily searched (116 papers in defense of Pope Francis that I just compiled into a new collection yesterday). You don’t trouble yourself to do so, but instead hang on one sentence in order to dismiss my entire argument (precisely as Carl Olson did).

This whole mindset is dead wrong. We have to go by people’s 1) words, and by 2) their stated meaning and intent, clarified under fire, as presently. If we ignore those and continue the unseemly speculations and second-guessing, then no good can come of it.

Phil Lawler said that the pope is deliberately seeking to overthrow Catholic traditions and teachings. That’s the central thesis of his book, expressed in the Introduction. That is serious sin, too. But I have not said that he is an evil, wicked man. He is a sinner like all of us, who is in error.


I will agree with you on one point of language: “true colors” could indeed be plausibly misinterpreted to mean that I am saying these people are wicked through and through or whatever. Since I don’t believe that, I will change that wording to make it more precise.

It still doesn’t excuse you from so deeply misunderstanding my outlook, because I have repeatedly made it clear. I have all the more so now, in clarification, with detailed recourse to my own recent words.

I have now added a disclaimer and clarification underneath my original comment above:

NOTE: The above is a little unclear, and Karl Keating interpreted it to mean that I am saying that papal critics “have worked up their criticisms chiefly due to their own sins” and that I think folks who disagree with me about the pope “are wrong because they are bad people.”

I conceded to Karl that “true colors” could indeed be plausibly misinterpreted to mean that I am saying these people are wicked through and through or whatever. Since I don’t believe that, I will change that wording to make it more precise.

What I actually meant in writing “the true colors of the pope bashers are being shown” was something along the lines of “the besetting shortcomings and dubious methods of the pope bashers are being shown (more and more) very clearly.”

Included in my critique of their methods and shortcomings is, yes, a charge that they have committed sins against the Holy Father: serious and repeated ones. But the string that runs through all of it is lack of charity (towards the pope). That is what “true colors” is referring to.

It doesn’t follow that I am saying that they are worthless, wicked, utterly evil people. Quite the opposite. I explain at length in my reply to Karl in this same thread (see below).

Dave, your two replies (above) addressed to me total 1,213 words. My comment was 159 words. So you’ve written eight times as many words as I did–yet you didn’t answer my comment squarely. 

You went off on tangents. You wrote at length about how you have tried to distinguish particular writers’ good writings from their bad writings, their solid arguments from their weak arguments. You referred to multiple other posts you’ve written to establish your good faith. You brought up Simcha Fisher, on an unrelated topic. None of that is relevant to what I wrote.

I wrote about a single comment of yours, one in which you joined two thoughts: that “pope bashers” are showing their true colors and that sin (which is “never subtle for long”) is being revealed in the process. 

It doesn’t matter what you wrote elsewhere. What matters is what you wrote in this one comment of yours–and its implications. 

You defend yourself by saying, “If I am asked whether [objective, not necessarily subjective] sin is playing a prominent role in the papal criticism going on today, I say yes, absolutely. It does not follow that I think every papal critic is a bad man.”

Fine. But that still doesn’t address the actual words you used in the comment I referred to. Those words–taken at their natural value–certainly do suggest that “pope bashers” are moved chiefly by sin. (And, in your reply, you do say that you think “sin is playing a prominent role.”)

There may be a disjunction between what you think you’re saying and what you seem to be saying, but it does look to me as though you’re saying that the chief motivator for the “pope bashers” is sin.

. . . .

In your comment to Julian Barkin you make a snide comment about me: “Now we’ll see if Karl will respond and keep the dialogue going. At this point in our discussions, he usually decides not to do so.” 

I’m afraid I’ll have to give you more opportunity for snideness because I have to turn to today’s real work and don’t have time to continue this exchange.


I have to answer at length because you keep misrepresenting my opinions. It’s literally impossible to reply with the same amount of words when someone does that. Stop that and I will be a man of few words.

First you said (going back a few months) that I was calling everyone a “reactionary” (untrue), then, that I call everyone a “basher” (untrue). Now you are making out that I think all the critics of the pope are “bad men.” That is absolutely untrue. Before that you repeatedly claimed that I was writing a book review of a book I never read (false). You have claimed that I disallow all criticism of popes whatever (which has never been true; and I’ve had articles online for over twenty years that prove it).

You think context (and background thought even in the previous week) is irrelevant. You precisely verified what I said. As I often do with you, I made a concession. You say I “didn’t answer [your] comment squarely.” I did! I conceded in a separate reply that “‘true colors’ could indeed be plausibly misinterpreted to mean that I am saying these people are wicked through and through or whatever.”

You don’t even acknowledge my concession and act as if it wasn’t even made (instead it’s more important for you to count the number of words I write). Thus, even when I agree with you we still have problems. I thought that when someone made a concession, that lessened conflict and misunderstandings, because it means more agreement. Go figure . . .

You can’t possibly think I think Carl Olson is a “bad man” when just two days ago I explicitly stated that he is a “good man” and a “good Catholic.” All that proves is that you must not have read my paper, yet comment on my critique of Olson. But you have said all that is irrelevant anyway. It’s irrelevant that I said Carl Olson was a “good man” two days ago. You are capable of thinking I regard him as a bad man, anyway. That would make me a two-faced liar if so, and no less. I’d be lying through my teeth.

“You brought up Simcha Fisher, on an unrelated topic. None of that is relevant to what I wrote.”

What?! She is the topic. I made the remark you objected to under the article about her, above. My comboxes are always about the post and topic they are under. You are commenting in this thread about Simcha. Thus, she was the main person I had in mind. The thought was that she has advanced the pope-bashing to yet another ugly milestone: now even when the Holy Father apologizes he has to be further criticized, and it is insinuated that he is lying through his teeth.

That may not bother you (you appear more concerned about my alleged excesses in language and whether I classify someone as a pope-basher or papal nitpicker). But it bothers and deeply concerns many of us. If we’re at the place now in the Church where the pope can’t even say he’s wrong without continuing controversy and criticism, we’re in one terrific mess.

That’s what I had in mind in saying that “true colors” are coming out. The true colors — the common thread in virtually all of the pope-criticism — is lack of charity. I’m not saying it is that they are wicked, evil people. I’m saying that it is an alarming, scandalous lack of charity by otherwise good people.

And so the second part of my remark was: “Sin has a way of doing that. It is never subtle for very long. It always becomes blatant and undeniable.” In other words, this sin of uncharity that runs through the papal criticisms was made all the more manifest in that Simcha Fisher seriously took it to yet another level: questioning even a papal apology.

That’s how the sin involved (i.e., the lack of charity towards the Holy Father) went from being subtle to being blatant and undeniable: so much so that even her own commenters are calling her on it.


[further related comments and short exchanges]

I’m a SJW [“social justice warrior”] because all Catholics ought to accept the social teachings of the Church and fight for and defend them. I do both.

But I don’t demonize my opponents. Insofar as any SJWs do that (and some assuredly do), it’s wrong, and I have called them out for that myself. Demonization and caricaturing of opponents is a sin that occurs in all camps of whatever stripe, because it’s a common human failing. We all have to reprimand folks in our own “camp” when they are wrong.

Thus, I proudly wear the SJW banner, while condemning utterly any tendencies of demonization anywhere.

Karl knows me more than well enough (in 2011, he wanted to hire me at Catholic Answers, after all, and they have published a book of mine) to know better than to think I approve of demonization of folks who are different from myself. But in the current emotionally charged debate raging about the pope, people manage to believe all kinds of things. He thinks I am changing now.

I have remained exactly the same as I have always been. I defended the last two popes and I defend this one, as an apologist. The ones who have undergone a sea change (if anyone has) are Karl, Lawler, Douthat, Carl Olson, Raymond Arroyo, and some other apologists (whom I will not name, in charity): all of whom used to defend popes, and even this pope, and now have chosen to become critics instead.

Right or wrong, that is a big change. But I have undergone no such change, either in approach or in how I view my opponents (as charitably as I can, though of course, not perfectly).

I’ve never demonized “opponents” and never will. Good heavens, I’ve even defended Luther and Calvin against bum raps (the former, against charges that he thought Christ was an adulterer, and the latter against ridiculous charges of sodomy).

I’ve defended the most bitter personal anti-Catholic enemies (by their own word): like James White, who absolutely detests me and has expressed that times without number. But if I saw that he was wronged, I defended him, more than once.

So there is absolutely nothing to this charge. My record for 20 years online is consistent and clear. Even Karl knows this, so he has chosen to believe that I have somehow “changed.” After all, he wrote about me, just 20 days ago: “Dave has . . . always has been conscientious in his work, trying to dig a bit deeper than most other apologists. And he always has made an effort to be kind, even to those who might not seem to deserve much kindness.”

I appreciated that a lot, and now I would appreciate it if Karl would stop acting as if I am undergoing some tremendous transformation in my beliefs and behavior, simply because we disagree about Pope Francis and about several of his vocal critics.


I do have a very good explanation and I gave it. Now we’ll see if Karl will respond and keep the dialogue going. At this point in our discussions, he usually decides not to do so. I believe in talking things through, until unwarranted suspicions between friends (or misunderstandings where there is some blame on one or both sides) are gutted and disposed of.


Peter Francis Joseph DeFazioI generally agree with you regarding Simcha’s overstatements, and some of Phil Lawler’s implications. They presume ill-will on the part of Pope Francis. And this has not been established. It could be detraction, and that is sinful. Some authors are also uncharitable in their comments vis a vis Pope Francis—that too is sinful. But we should, in my opinion, avoid stifling honest discussion and criticism about the Pope’s actions, statements, and intentions. That’s my 2 cents worth.

I criticized him regarding the Scalfari interviews (rather strongly). I also mildly criticized him insofar as I recommended that he answer the dubia. I wrote (for National Catholic Register):

I think that the pope’s utter refusal to answer is troublesome. Many Catholics (including many bishops and priests) are clearly confused and virtually begging for guidance. Why would the shepherd of the sheep resolutely refuse to try to help them: even on a private basis, if he prefers that? It’s baffling to me.

Whether it is from irresponsible lack of knowledge, rebelliousness, or genuine sincere uncertainty, many are confused, so there is a need to correct the bishops who have been implementing the teaching wrongly, in contradiction to others who have correctly done so. I think there is confusion now just like there was chaos after Vatican II. People weren’t sure what the documents taught — even though the contents seem perfectly clear to me.

I disagreed with him on global warming when I wrote about Laudato si. I’ve also stated that he appears to be somewhat “imperious” in demeanor.

Whether stifling is occurring or not and how to properly criticize is a whole discussion in itself. I’m saying that the criticism I have seen involves a large amount of sinful uncharity. Not every jot and tittle of it is that, of course, but huge amounts of it, tarnishing such efforts as a whole.

There are relatively moderate, sensible, charitable critics like Edward Pentin and John Allen. And Karl Keating, too. Karl has arguably been harder on me than he has been against Pope Francis.


[Introduction to the cross-posting of this paper on my Facebook page]

I was massively misunderstood and clarified and explained myself at length (because it takes a lot of ink to clear up many misconceptions that keep on being sent one’s way). As I always say, “I’m the world’s greatest expert on my own opinions and what goes on in my own heart and head.” When a person explains his view, that ought to be sufficient for anyone wondering about it. The issue is settled.

The only alternative is to posit some sort of self-delusion, blindness, or deliberate deception (which basically entails “psychoanalyzing” someone rather than interacting with their arguments and their own self-report).

These are my views. I virtually never conclude that any person (not just pope-critics) is in bad faith or believes what they do because they are bad people, or that their opinion is insincere. It would take extraordinary evidence to convince me of that about anyone.

I think there are only, maybe, two or three people in 22 years online, concerning whom I was forced to reluctantly conclude (after absolutely massive and undeniable and repeated compelling evidence) that they are deliberate liars (i.e., about Catholicism). My default position is always believing the best of others (1 Corinthians 13). I am of the opinion that it is required of all Christians to do that.

I don’t demonize anyone. Anyone who has followed my writings at all (more than two weeks) surely knows that. And if someone thinks otherwise of me in this respect, then surely that person is quite unfamiliar with my voluminous writings and overall thinking and approach. They just don’t get it. And I am sick and tired of explaining it.

I do not think papal critics or pope bashers are bad people, who are doing what they do out of an evil, nefarious motive. Knowing human nature, it was inevitable that this charge would come up against me. It always does. It’s the thorn in the flesh for all apologists. If we oppose a view as false, the we get accused of hating the people who hold it.Yawn. ZZZzzzzzz . . .

Once again, then, I had to explain the elementary Christian principle: “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I don’t hate anyone.


Photo credit: photograph by Nick Youngson [The Blue Diamond GalleryCC BY-SA 3.0 license]


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