A Clarification: Difficult Times, Difficult Thoughts

Some clarifications.

There were some who took exception to my calling the pope “wrong” yesterday. I want to be clear: I believe it was a mistake to open up a rejected proposal for debate and bring discredited theologians and leaders back into prominence. Most troubling is his personal support of Cardinal Danneels, which is inexcusable and reflects very poorly on his judgement.  The record is clear, and there is no place for men who sheltered and protected abusers, and further damaged their victims, in this debate or in this hierarchy. Period.

Of course, I don’t know the Holy Father’s mind on the issues, so I can’t know if he supports communion for the divorced or not. I do know that he’s behaved as though he supports it.  As the quote from Benedict following the 2005 synod made clear, this is not a theologically sound position.

I also know this last year has been chaotic and not good for the church. Many, many people have been distressed and hurt by the way things have unfolded, and his occasionally incautious words have not helped matters.

On the other hand, he has offered the church many beautiful and profound moments of witness that allow us to approach our faith in a fresh, open way. I’ve been genuinely moved by him to consider things anew. That’s good. We need to see other things in new ways. I know what I believe, but I also know that I’m always a student and ready, even eager, to be taught. I can both support my beliefs and be open to new approaches and the action of the spirit. I think he’s led us into a time of discernment, and that’s a good thing.

Yesterday, my friend Elizabeth Scalia was pounced on by some and embraced by others for this post, and neither side got it. Elizabeth was trying to discern what we are being called to. She was just trying to think through–and get us to think through–all the very messy and challenging things that go into this life of faith. She wasn’t either turning her back on tradition or running headlong into progressivism, and that people can’t seem to grasp this is merely another example of the triumph of tribalism over clear thinking and the life of faith.

We can grow ossified in our thinking, and Francis has been a good antidote for that. He leads me to some uncomfortable places, and that’s not a bad thing. We need to shake ourselves from our slumbers and reexamine how we do and approach things. In that way, and several others, he’s been a blessing.

We can’t be afraid to criticize church leaders in charity. Disagreement during debate is expected. Francis expects it.

What I’ve objected to for the past two years is the hard-edged, dismissive, paranoid, and even hysterical tendency of those who hold the man in contempt. This is inexcusable and intolerable, and the people who fling invective and mockery at him are despicable. This is no way to conduct the life of faith, the work of theology, and the business of the church, and they’ve given us a shining example of how not to be Christians.

It’s not easy being a traditional Catholic in a contemporary church coming to grips with new ways of spreading the gospel in a hostile and ever-changing world, and I am a traditionalist.

But whoever said the life of the Christian was supposed to be easy? Complacency is the death of faith. We have a mission: to witness the gospel and Jesus Christ, without compromise, in the world in such a way as to make the message irresistible, so people reject sin and chose a path of salvation. If we’re not doing it effectively (and we’re not: just look around you) then we need to work harder, do better, and think differently.

I don’t like that idea much, but it was never about what I liked: it’s about what I am called to do for the faithful, the Church, and the Lord.


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