Reply to Dr. Phil Blosser’s Critique of My Book, “Pope Francis Explained”

Reply to Dr. Phil Blosser’s Critique of My Book, “Pope Francis Explained” September 24, 2015
Pope Francis, 27 April 2014 (Jeffrey Bruno / Aleteia Images) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]
Dr. Blosser’s critique of my book is entitled,  A brotherly dissent: an open letter to Dave Armstrong on ‘splainin’ Pope Francis. It appeared on his site, Musings of  Pertinacious Papist, on 22 August 2014.  It will be reproduced below in its entirety, in blue, with my replies. Further dialogue is also welcome. He is a professor of philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
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I found myself a bit disappointed, Dave. You’ve written so many good things before this. I finally got around to reading your book Pope Francis Explained recently, and, I’m sorry, but I guess I was expecting something different. I don’t question for a moment your goodwill towards the Holy Father, your fidelity to the Magisterium, or your zeal for Holy Mother Church. But I’m disappointed for at least two reasons. Not bad, really, just two. 

Seems like more than two, as we read on, but whatever!

First of all, as a general overall response I’d like to note that the review is remarkable (but typical of critical reviews) insofar as it scarcely cites the words of my book or its arguments at all. The few words that it does cite have to do with the definition of radical Catholic reactionary, which is, of course, not the main focus of the book.

Accordingly, many of the beefs in the review have to do with standard “traditionalist” and/or radical Catholic reactionary arguments, rather than being directly relevant to my book. I’m happy to defend the book or admit it if I blew it here and there in my effort, but it makes little sense to me to have this broad discussion of the usual garden-variety complaints of the “traditionalist” in the context of a book that has the purpose of defending the Holy Father against what I believe to be misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Yet that is largely what we have here, and since I am replying point-by-point, I can’t avoid getting into those issues. In my opinion, that discussion would have been more relevant and on-topic with regard to my two books  that deal with those concerns and the movements and trends from which they largely derive. I’d love to interact with arguments against particular arguments I have made, but that is almost nonexistent in this review.

First, although your book purports to explain how Pope Francis has been misunderstood and show how his words can be properly understood, in many cases you do not really do this. Rather, you quote passages from the Pope’s writings and speeches where he clearly defends Church teaching. 

Exactly! To explain arguably less clear utterances, one seeks out more clear utterances elsewhere. That is helping folks to better understand the (truly or purportedly) unclear ones: especially since the fear or accusation in most of these instances that I dealt with is some heterodoxy or otherwise anti-traditional or unsavory opinion in the thinking of the Holy Father. In other words, if the suspicion is that such-and-such a statement reveals an underlying heterodoxy or departure from tradition, then showing where the Holy Father elsewhere makes such things plain, ameliorates the fear by way of undercutting it by sufficient confuting documentation.

It’s not like this is some novel methodology. It’s standard procedure; we call this “understanding a writer in immediate context and in the context of his thought as a whole” (certainly a thing that you as a philosopher and academic must understand and accept). It’s also standard biblical hermeneutics and exegesis: “interpreting less clear or unclear passages of Scripture in light of related relatively clearer ones.” You confirm this in a way below, and make my argument for me (thank you!).

It is true that I presume good will from the pope, and assume that he is orthodox, “going in.” I think that is the prerogative of popes, minus massive evidence to the contrary, and what obedient Catholics owe him in charity and on a presuppositional level, before entering into critique. If someone thinks he isn’t orthodox, in whatever issue I deal with, I think I provide enough information to eliminate any suspicion of wrong belief. That should be sufficient to put an end to the “problem” in those instances. Yet it wasn’t for you (and many others).

The problem in many circles now, however, is that we see a mentality of supposed multiple dozens of examples of the pope’s alleged muddleheadedness, so that people build up a cynical theory or “grand view” or ongoing “narrative” that he is a terribly weak reed and lousy pope. That in turn colors future interpretations of him. That is to be distinguished from a complaint that he may have been unclear in a particular statement (as all of us can be and too often are). The claims now are that he is systematically unclear. This I reject, and I do so because of what I studied, myself, in writing this book.

To your credit, such quotations might be of help to secular progressives or dissenting Catholics who actually dislike or don’t know the Church’s positions, if any of them were interested enough to read your book. But that’s not the problem that many others see here. The problem, rather, is that many of the Pope’s statements (not just their interpretations) are themselves ambiguous, and feed the fire of glee among the dissenters and alarm among the faithful; and simply smoothing over this problem by insisting on what you think the Pope surely must have meant does not address this problem.

This gets back to what I argued above, regarding my methodology. The statements must be interpreted one way or another. All agree on that. I’m saying that if something is unclear, one goes to other available statements on the same topic from the pope, to clarify things. What in the world is wrong with that? What do you suggest as an alternative? We can’t read his mind. We mustn’t assume heterodoxy without hard evidence. We shouldn’t rashly speculate against him or anyone else (as, for example, the first four persons who commented in your combox did about me, extending me little or no charity at all). My method is perfectly objective and sensible. And in applying it, I believe that I succeeding in “explaining” his thinking in these instances.

You applied the same rudimentary benefit of doubt to me, above (“I don’t question for a moment . . . your fidelity to the Magisterium”). Okay; now why wouldn’t any Catholic extend the same courtesy to the pope? Yet what we find is widespread questioning of him. I think it’s a bum rap. That is, the “grand cynical view is a bum rap. It may be that in some instances he truly was unclear. I don’t see that as any big deal. It’s like Presidents Bush or Obama making their famous mistakes in speech. But sorry; I didn’t see that in the examples I dealt with in the book.

Many of those who have expressed concern, if not alarm, over the ambiguities and confusions found in the Pope’s own words are not “reactionaries” on the “extreme right” or only “a hair’s breadth from schism,” or even “mainstream traditionalists” who “prefer the Tridentine Mass,” to quote you.

I don’t believe I have ever claimed (in the book or anywhere else) that anyone who thinks so must be a reactionary, so that is a moot point. What I have said is that it often comes from extremist camps on the right. It doesn’t follow (either logically or in my thought) that it can never come from anywhere else.

Rather, they are men and women numbered among my own colleagues and friends – people like Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Monica Miller, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, Dr. Mark Latkovic, and others. 

Again, without particular examples given, that I can actually discuss, this doesn’t advance the discussion; it is tantamount to “dropping names” for its own sake. I don’t know if these people have 30 complaints about 30 things (as some folks out there do), or just one, or three or four. For example, a person could be absolutely convinced that the pope was perfectly orthodox, but simply has a sloppy style of talking and expressing things (which is arguably almost inevitable after the high philosophical and theological precision of his two extraordinary predecessors). I was confused, myself, about one of the pope’s statements: the one on Mary that I devoted a long chapter to. I stated this frankly and plainly in the book. So I’ve done the same thing. But I reserved judgment till I could study it further. I did so, thought it through, produced the chapter, and I am satisfied with the explanation I gave there. It’s sufficient for me. I think it can be for many others, too, if they are not so biased that they are beyond any positive explanation of the pope’s words anymore.

None of them would think of accusing the Holy Father of heresy or not being the legitimate pope, but many of them have expressed (1) real concerns (especially in the beginning) as to whether he was securely “on board” with the Church’s teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and so on, although these concerns were fairly quickly allayed by emerging publications and statements showing that the Pope has stalwartly defended the Church’s perennial position on those issues (as you, too, have stressed); 

Here is what I referred to above as you making my argument for me (and you are arguing against yourself). How did they determine that the pope was “okay”  regarding “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and so on,”? It was precisely by checking out other “publications and statements showing that the Pope has stalwartly defended the Church’s perennial position on those issues.” Bingo! That was my methodology in the book! Yet for some reason, when do that you think it is an indefensible and insufficient methodology: so much so that you basically pan the book (which I love, because then I can respond).

and many of them (2) continue to be concerned about ambiguities and conflicting signals, not merely mis-communicated by irresponsible media, but resident within the Pope’s own often “off-the-cuff” remarks. Some of these concerns are summarized, for example, by Dr. Miller here and here.

At last we have an actual specific example that I can look at. Thanks! Dr. Miller provides twelve in your first link. Without seriously examining context and background and all that (you know, as I did in the book), here are my initial off-the-cuff reactions or impressions (unless I am not permitted to talk off-the-cuff as the pope apparently is not allowed to do):

1. Imprudential exaggeration in the passion of the moment. Everyone does this all the time. We make whatever we are taking about or worried about the biggest issue because it is front and center for the moment.

2. No one disagrees that there have been bad popes. So, ho hum . . .

3. Rhetorical statement: which by nature is not of the sort that should be interpreted literally, as Dr. Miller did.

4. It’s not required in any sense to immediately highlight a proper counterpart to a bad thing. Proselytizing is a bad thing. To say that does not require one to say, “evangelism is a good thing.” The latter is understood.

5. Looks like a case that must be examined in context. Dr. Miller immediately makes the accusation of “moral subjectivism and even a kind of relativism.” This is the problem: the quick accusation, rather than trying to understand in context and incorporating different modes of thought and expression into the equation.

6. The point had nothing to do with how many Jesuits are liberal, but with the worldview of the Jesuit. I resonate with this, since my mentor was Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. Thus, the criticism is a non sequitur: more interested in the quick polemical retort rather than charitable understanding of what the pope meant.

7. Not worthy of any criticism at all. It’s a mere truism and something no one would disagree with. So why include it? Just so it could add up to a dirty dozen? Thus we observe the “piling on” mentality so frequent in these criticisms.

8. The pope is making another indisputable point: that we don’t love as we should. Yet Dr. Miller tries to score polemical points.

9. This one I don’t understand prima facie and would have to examine more closely. It’s the only one so far that appears troublesome on its surface.

10. A mere matter of emphasis in his papacy, not either / or: yet Dr. Miller has to (for whatever inexplicable reason) make the non sequitur point.

11. Dr. Miller herself provides the answer: “in a sense . . .” Okay! Duh! So we interpret in that sense, which is (I think, obviously) what the pope meant.

12. On the surface, seemingly unclear or even problematic. So that is 2 out of 12 or 17% of the laundry list that prima facie bear close examination and explanation. No big deal.

I’m very unimpressed by her reasoning, so I will pass on the other link you gave from her. I gave you an answer for this one. Thanks for the opportunity of actually being able to deal with a particular argument.

In your treatment of the La Civiltà Cattolica interview, you don’t really ever address the problem of these off-the-cuff remarks and the confusion they have caused. You admit that the style of delivery might differ significantly, but that the substance remains unchanged. Yet you don’t acknowledge any sort of real problem. You cite Jimmy Akin’s hypothesis that the Pope is trying to fight against being “stereotyped” by the liberal secular media. Whether this hypothesis is plausible or not is beside the point, however. The elephant in the room is the confusion provoked by the Holy Father’s remarks among both agnostic secularists and Catholics. Even Jimmy Akin acknowledges this difficulty in a passage you quote (p. 117), where he writes: “Time will tell whether [the Pope’s] ‘fight the stereotypes, go with the central message’ approach will lead to the results he desires ….” But you don’t address this.

I addressed it throughout the entire chapter. It should have never been an issue at all. The pope makes a perfectly understandable explanation of what he meant, himself:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. . . . when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

What is so “rocket science” about that? These issues are indeed what some people want to exclusively talk about: the hot-button sexual issues. That’s all he was saying. And I say that as a pro-life activist who was in 25 rescues, was arrested five times, went through three trials, and did some jail time; also as one who was first led to the Church by the issue of contraception. I certainly talk about them, and preach hard truths. But I don’t “all the time.” This is his (rather simple) point.

This thing was blown all out of proportion by the media and alarmist hysteria of some reactionaries. I don’t see that this is the pope’s fault at all. All one had to do was read the above paragraph, calmly, with an open mind and elementary understanding of logic. It’s completely uncontroversial. You want to blame him. I don’t see anything unclear or ambiguous about this paragraph (which was the main issue and the one I dealt with) at all. I think it’s yet another of the innumerable bum raps, and rather silly and foolish at that.

In your chapter devoted to “Pro-Life” issues, for example, you offer quotation-after-quotation from Pope Francis, calling to witness words with which he has clearly defended the Church’s teaching on life issues. Not once, however, do you address the problems that provoked the serious dismay expressed by good Catholics like Dr. Monica Miller or Dr. Janet Smith, such as the Pope ostensibly dismissing pro-life concerns like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage as “obsessions” of those immersed in “small-minded rules.” 

I already did, in the discussion of the issue above. The pope is talking about over-emphasis. If he’s pro-life, he is. That’s not at issue. He’s talking about emphases and methodology, which is a legitimate issue. People simply can’t hear it properly because they are heavily involved in those issues, as they should be (and as I am).

Whatever the “strategy” that may have animated the Holy Father’s words, he has nowhere made this known, and he has left multitudes in confusion, or, worse, confirmed in their errors. And your counsel that “those who are intended to get it [his meaning], will get it,” is hardly a viable hermeneutic.

Things need to be interpreted in context and in the context of his whole thought. If even his critics in this regard agree that he is strongly pro-life, then there is no issue other than arguably some unclear language. The much larger consideration (is he pro-life?) is not in play.

Second, although your book claims to steer a path between the extremes of “progressives” on the left and “reactionaries” on the right, it also tends to group under the heading of “reactionaries” any Catholics who are publicly critical of the Holy Father’s often confusing remarks. 

Where did I do that? Why don’t you give me an actual example of something I said, for a change, besides the definition you give below, which is not one of my arguments regarding the pope. If you actually give me something I can sink my teeth into, then we can dialogue seriously, about particulars and arguments made, rather than on this silly “meta” level, where you claim I do a certain thing but refuse to give either me or your readers the consideration of documenting it.

As I already noted, in chapter four I wrote in the book that I myself was confused by some of his statements on Mary. Obviously, then, I am not contending that only radical reactionaries could ever have any such confusion. But you didn’t note that relevant point in your review. I had to do it.

Your definition of those who are “radically Catholic reactionary” is:

… a rigorist, divisive group completely separate from mainstream “traditionalism” that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically (as marked characteristic or defining trait) bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism (the “big four”): going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line of schism. In effect, they become their own popes: exercising private judgment in an unsavory fashion, much as (quite ironically) Catholic liberals do, and as Luther and Calvin did when they rebelled against the Church… [Phil Blosser: I used to think that, until I realized they were voicing the views of Popes like St. Pius X]. They must assume a condescending “superior-subordinate” orientation.

Strong language, to say the least.

Yes it is, and well-deserved, given what they say about popes and councils and the Pauline Mass and their critics like me, whom they ridiculously classify (when we examine what they mean by it) as “neo-Catholics.” They deserve every warranted criticism that I dish out to them, and more. But the discussion about them should be devoted to reviews of my two books on that topic (linked above).

The topic here is Pope Francis and whether he is relentlessly unclear to the point of scandal and mass confusion and concern. I don’t think he is, and the book provided my reasons why I have that opinion, over 127 pages.

Yet your distinction between “radical reactionary” and “mainstream traditionalist” Catholics, while well-intentioned, is anything but tidy in application.

As all classifications of people are. Simply developing a working definition in no way applies that it is easy to apply. I know that. My major was sociology, which almost (I speak cynically) reduces to the study and science of labels for groups of people.

How would you classify Michael Voris, who refuses to criticize the Pope but has produced exposés sharply critical of (a) “liturgical reforms” following Vatican II (“Weapons of MASS Destruction”), (b) the way Communion in the hand was introduced in the west (“Reception Deception”), (c) and of many other facets of the contemporary “church of nice,” and 

I classify him (as I’ve stated several times in writing) as a “traditionalist” who in some respects crosses over to the radical Catholic reactionary category. I know several “traditionalist” friends who don’t think he is a “traditionalist” at all. There are folks who have elements of both groups, precisely because people are complex, as you note. He directly attacked the Novus Ordo Mass itself, which is radical reactionary.  The way communion in the hand was “introduced” is a legitimate critique that I would agree with, but is neither dogmatic nor even technically liturgical, because the complaint is about behavior and not the thing itself. But he does go after the thing itself, too, and I responded by proving that communion in the hand, standing, was the norm for the first 6-9 centuries of the Church, depending on location. The “Church of Nice” schtick is a mixed bag. He makes some good points, but also slanderous and caricatured ones bordering on, or entering into outright slander, that help nothing.

(d) bishops like Cardinal Dolan who waffle in their public statements about gays, Muslims, etc.? 

I would say (assuming the accuracy of your report) he may be a weak, waffling bishop, of which there are many. But I haven’t studied him closely enough.

How would you classify someone who published statements like the following?

What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it — as in a manufacturing process — with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.

The passage, of course is from former Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s Reform of the Roman Liturgy, describing the Mass cobbled together by Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium, which Fr. Joseph Gelineau, S.J. famously called the “permanent workshop” of liturgical innovation. Would you classify him as “a rigorist,” “divisive,” someone who “vociferously, and vitriolically … trashes Vatican II and the New Mass?”

No (now we’re into tired boilerplate arguments). I interpret the remark in context and in light of his other statements, as Fr. Angelo Geiger, himself a “traditionalist” who performs the Tridentine Mass, does. He has clearly gone through the same process and frustration I have with regard to the “banal” quote and folks ignoring what Pope Benedict XVI stated as pope (even being called an ultramontanist). He wrote in the comments for his article, “The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum (11 March 2012), about this quote, which is always trotted out like a mantra:

Nice cut and paste out of context quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . You might actually learn something from David Armstrong’s piece [link] . . . . Context doesn’t mean anything? Read Armstrong’s piece and this, [his article above] and then come back and talk to me.

. . .  to show context and the actual nuance of thought of Ratzinger is not prooftexting. It is simply illustrat[ing] that his thought is complex and defies being used as a club, unless of course, one cherry-picks the quotes one likes and disregards those one doesn’t. The trads (not you necessarily) quote Cardinal Ratzinger (not Pope Benedict) out of context from a preface to a book (not a magisterial document) and suggest it proves something, and then when as Pope he speaks magisterially on religious liberty (see, for example 26-27), we are told not to be ultramontanists . . .

In his article on Summorum Pontificum, Fr. Geiger also commented on the famous “banal” quote:

Beyond this Cardinal Ratzinger has leveled qualified criticisms of the way in which the new liturgical books came into existence, saying that they appeared to be “put together by professors,” and not as a result of “a phase in a continual growth process.” He said: “I do regard it as unfortunate that we have been presented with the idea of a new book rather than with that of continuity within a single liturgical history” (Feast of Faith, 87). In his preface to the French edition of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Klaus Gamber (1992), Ratzinger’s criticisms are more stinging and appear to support the position of Gamber, which is that the new liturgical books could be revised to reflect more accurately the principles laid down by Vatican II, and hence, be drawn more fully within Tradition. In that preface, he contrasts the Western understanding of liturgical development with the Eastern notion that the liturgy is a “reflection of eternal light,” and then writes:

What happened after the Council was totally different: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We left the living process of growth and development to enter the realm of fabrication. There was no longer a desire to continue developing and maturing, as the centuries passed and so this was replaced—as if it were a technical production—with a construction, a banal on-the-spot product.

This statement might be taken in one of several ways: as pertaining simply to the abuses of the new Mass and not to the new books themselves; as pertaining to the very novus ordo itself as codified in the Missal of Paul VI; as pertaining to the manner of presentation of the books, as the work of professors and not as organic development. I suggest that the meaning of the Cardinal is nuanced, tending toward the third option, because his earlier statements and those of his pontificate suggest that he is not denigrating the novus ordo as such. Again, to be clear, both before and after his 1992 preface for Gamber’s book, his remarks indicate that he favors the new liturgical books, even if he hopes for some revisions.

Furthermore, your poster boy for your definition of “radical Catholic reactionary” is the blog Rorate Caeli, which, according to your definition, represents a perspective that is “completely separate from mainstream ‘traditionalism’ that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically … bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism … etc.” Yet Rorate Caeli, which you acknowledge as “one of the most influential [traditionalist] blogs” online, features numerous guest editorials by priests and other authors from all over the world, with frequent features of spiritual writing from Church history, promotions of prayer for various causes (Purgatorial Society Masses, etc.), along with many exposés of various goings-on that should concern faithful Catholics everywhere. 

Yep. So what? Radical Catholic reactionary sites always do that. If some truth and non-controversial stuff wasn’t mixed in with the massive error, no one would be taken in by them.

To suggest, because of its haste in sounding alarms or a “gotcha” moment of guilt-by-association with a source whose unrelated writings may be objectionable, that Rorate Caeli is “completely separate from the mainstream ‘traditionalism’,” or that it “continually vociferously, and vitriolically bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, ecumenism” etc., is not simply uncharitable, but untrue.

Those statements weren’t based on that alone, but by independent observation. Nice try, but no cigar. You simply assumed that my whole basis of making that judgment was this one incident. It’s but one of many.

If there is a theme of criticism of these sorts of things, it is not because of any incipient rejection or rebellion against the institution of the Papacy, or against the authority of an ecumenical council like Vatican II, or against the licitness or validity of the new Mass, or the importance of ecumenical overtures toward reunion of the Eastern Orthodox or Protestants with Rome, 

All that fits precisely with my definition of the radical Catholic reactionary (which you prove by this statement that you do not yet grasp). The RadCathR remains Catholic. He’s not canonically schismatic. But he is quasi-schismatic, because schism is a process that starts in the heart (Sermon on the Mount). It doesn’t spring from nowhere and all of a sudden a person is SSPX or a sedevacantist or even beyond that (the sad place where Gerry Matatics is now, thinking there are virtually no valid Masses anywhere). He’s pharisaically legalistic and can’t see the forest for the trees. I’ve been studying these folks for 16 years now, as part of my task as an apologist.

The game of the RadCathR is to go right up to the edge of denying the validity of Vatican II or the New Mass but not doing it, so they can always defend themselves just as you did above. This is all old news. I’ve seen it a billion times, which is why I can generalize about it and derive the definition from the constantly observed behavior. I know what I’m talking about.

but because of genuine problems that attach to the understanding and implementation of each of these in our own times. Why does a book that purports to explain Pope Francis not address these problems?

Because a book purporting to explain Pope Francis has as its topic and goal, the explanation of Pope Francis and examination of why folks think he is so difficult to understand. The topic is not Vatican II (I would leave that to professional theologians; would never tackle that myself). I’ve written a lot about ecumenism on my blog. That also is not the topic of this book. I’ve written a ton about liturgical abuse, taking positions that “traditionalists” would generally agree with, and a book in large part devoted to questions about liturgy and ecumenism both (Mass Movements). You want me to do all that in this book. Well, sorry; already did in the other one; ain’t the topic here, and I like to stay focused. I’m weird that way. One thing at a time. I have written 46 books. I hit almost every major topic in theology somewhere in my corpus. Can’t do all things in one book out of 46.

Problems like (1) the democratization of the ecclesial hierarchy that seems to have reduced the role of the Vicar of Christ to that of a rock star and public news commentator; or (2) the misunderstandings fostered by passages in Vatican II documents (like Sacrosanctum Concilium, Nostra Aetate, and Gaudium et Spes) that, according to Cardinal Kasper, include deliberate ambiguities inserted as “compromises” into the text capable of diverse interpretations, provoking Bishop Athanasius Schneider, at a conference in Rome, to call for a new “Syllabus of Errors” to clarify the proper interpretation of Vatican II; 

Not the topic of my book; sorry. This is typical boilerplate “traditionalist” criticism, as if we who don’t number ourselves among you and who do some apologetics must do all things at all times, and all the things you want us to do, because they are all your gripes and difficulties.

or (3) what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “trivialization” of the Mass, not to mention the mainstreaming of numerous innovations nowhere mandated by Vatican II, such as having the priest turn his back on God in order to face the people, tearing down magnificent altars and replacing them with tables, removing altar rails, introducing lay lectors, lay Eucharistic “ministers,” Communion in the hand while standing rather than kneeling, substituting banal “praise music” for Gregorian chant and polyphany, and the marketplace vernacular for Latin, etc.; 

I’ve written a lot about most of these things, and I think you would agree (except for standing communion in the hand). See my Eucharist and Liturgy web page. You know what parish I attend and how it approaches things. I’ve been there 23 1/2 years. I always receive kneeling on the tongue (at least in my own parish), but I don’t knock the other as intrinsically inferior or irreverent because it is impossible to do so based on the history of practices in the Church (the entire patristic period, for heaven’s sake). I agree that it often can be irreverent in practice in our particular time and age. But that goes back to interior disposition and is a very complex discussion indeed. The fact remains that we usually can’t read the hearts of others whom we look down our noses at because they do something differently than we do, that Holy Mother Church permits.

and (4) the effective sabotaging of the New Evangelization by an “ecumenism” that suggests, in effect, that all may be saved, and that there is certainly no pressing urgency to formal membership in the Catholic Church (as when the Holy Father advised Tony Palmer against converting, or when, without definition, he called proselytism “solemn nonsense”)?

I go after false ecumenism and indifferentism in my Mass Movements book and many papers. I don’t follow the “few people in hell” fashionable belief. I hold to Dr. Ralph Martin’s views. I noticed that he wasn’t included in your laundry list of colleagues who are trobled by the pope’s words. Is he not among them? Perhaps his view is more like my own. Or else he doesn’t join in on pope-bashing or troubled hand-wringing over lunch.

I’ve devoted my life (at great financial cost and sometimes considerable personal cost) to apologetics and evangelization. My approach is to get off of my butt and to do something about proclaiming the gospel and message of the fullness of Christian, apostolic truth found in Catholicism, not to simply sit around and complain that it isn’t done, as virtually all radical Catholic reactionaries and too many “traditionalists” also do. They don’t have time to defend Holy Mother Church (they’re too busy bashing and trashing it). But I do so. They don’t have time to preach the gospel or share and defend their faith to outsiders. They’re too busy complaining about how the Church and pope supposedly don’t want anyone to do that (which is nonsense). I do it; I don’t just talk about it.

I suggest that the radical Catholic reactionary crowd do the same thing and put their money where their mouth is. If the Church has gone to hell as they think, all the more reason to do it. But they don’t. They’d much rather bash and bitch and get with others of like mind to engage in endless bitchfests about Holy Mother Church and the Holy Father (sorry for my French, for more sensitive readers, but no other word fit there). God is watching. But (as I have noted) who would want to join a “church” in the first place that is like how radical Catholic reactionaries describe it to be? Perhaps this is why they don’t do any outreach to speak of, because they have no motivation to do so, given their doom-and-gloom views about the supposed nearly defected state of the Church. It’s a lack of faith and hope, bottom-line.

I would never ever have become a Catholic if I only met folks like that. Thankfully, I met a guy who took Vatican II seriously, knew his faith well, knew some apologetics, and shared the faith with me in language I could relate to. It only took nine months of serious discussion to convince me, and I was a million miles away. But if I had met people who could only complain about and lie about the Church I’d still be an evangelical Protestant today, and there would be 45 less books and 2400 less papers out there defending the Church and Christianity.

I know the “explanations” that are brought forward for all of these troubling developments, explanations intended to show how, when all is said and done, they actually conform hand-in-glove with Church teaching. I also know how the enterprise of offering such explanations has become something of a major growth industry among conservative Catholics in the United States. What I fear, however, is that these ultimately tend to “explain away” rather than “explain,” because they don’t address the real damage these problems are causing.

I do my best to hit all the bases I can. Not the topic of the book . . . I know the contrary “explanations” too. I don’t buy them, and have explained why time and again.

Hitherto when I heard accusations of “neo-Ultramontanism or “papolatry” hurled toward faithful Catholics such as yourself in the “explanation” industry, I dismissed them as excessive. 

You were right.

However, when efforts to defend the Holy Father, Vatican II, the new Mass, and ecumenism (to take what you call the “big four”) turn into an exercise in seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and saying no evil about these things (where evils in fact exist), these efforts seem a trifle disingenuous. 

Think what you will. You’re wrong (at least in my case). I’d be happy to discuss all these things in due course.

Rather than demonizing those who see problems here, 

I haven’t demonized anyone. I have accurately described the mentality of the radical Catholic reactionary, based on their own constant, droning themes.

why wouldn’t it be the more prudent and virtuous course to supplement your defense of Church teaching with an honest acknowledgment of the genuine problems where they do exist. 

have written about many of those. I just see them in somewhat different places than you do, is all.

To do so would not mean to impugn the authority of the Pope or the Second Vatican Council, or to question the legitimacy or validity of the new Mass or ecumenical initiatives (properly understood). 

back to the misconception of how I define radical Catholic reactionary.  You need to go read my chapter about that if you want to understand my view. You’ve bound yourself irrationally to these either / or categories.

In fact, it would mean a more credible and robust defense of Church authority and defense of the Holy Father. Maybe you don’t consider tackling such problems part of your apostolate, and I’d understand that. 

Not being a “traditionalist” . . . yet I do hit upon many things where “traditionalists” (but usually not the reactionaries) agree with me. I see myself as a strong ally of the “traditionalists”; I feel a fairly deep kinship. We agree on many things. But technically I am not one of them. Therefore, I will never please you, with all the usual concerns you have as a “traditionalist.” That just won’t happen. The same exact critique you make is always made. It’s nothing new. It’s just as wrongheaded now as it ever was. We can reply to it till we’re blue in the face but the same line will always keep coming back because it’s sort of parrot-talk and is boilerplate and talking points.

But even a nod of the head in recognition that there are some genuine problems here might make your efforts to “explain” Pope Francis a lot more successful and credible.

I think sometimes (a lot less times than the vocal critics think) he uses precise, confusing, or sloppy language and that that is unfortunate. I don’t draw the grand, despairing conclusions from that, that you and others draw. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I did a fair amount of research on it (the book), and have compiled scores and scores of others’ articles in defense of him. Based on all that I am not much concerned about it.

People will believe what they will. I’ve tried to do my part to counteract that, with an honest and sincere effort: calling it as I see it. It’ll help some, and others (like you) will think I failed in my task. That’s how apologetics always is, too. Win a few, lose a few. Many positive reviews are posted on my web page devoted to the book. I’ve helped those folks (whereas I guess you think I merely convinced them of a fanciful delusion). I haven’t helped you to overcome your difficulties with the Holy Father at all. I never thought otherwise; especially I never thought that I would convince “traditionalists” who already follow the fashionable “narrative” about Pope Francis that they are wrong in this regard. It’s very tough to persuade people of anything that they are dead-set against!

Kind regards, PP

Blessing on you, too!


[this is a comment I made in the Facebook posting of this paper, where additional discussion is found.]

As I wrote in the book:

For all of you out there worried about the pope: relax; chill. All is well. We have a pope who says the unexpected: a lot like Jesus. And, like Jesus, those who don’t get it and are outside looking in, will misunderstand, and those who are in the fold will grasp what is being said, in the context of historic Catholic teaching, if they look closely enough and don’t get hoodwinked by silly media wishful thinking. [italics added presently]

I’m absolutely delighted to have a pope who is like Jesus in this respect: highly provocative and original, startling and fresh, with new ways of expressing things, massively misunderstood; wrangled with by those who look at things in an excessively legalistic and nitpicky way, missing the forest for the trees.

Like Jesus, Pope Francis is greatly loved by one crowd and despised and put down by another. As a model for imitating the behavior and method of Jesus, he fits about as well as anyone I know. But no one has accused him of being possessed by a demon so far, and to my knowledge no one is seeking to kill him. So he still has a long ways to go.

Pope St. John Paul II is another example of this: loved and despised alike. Now he is a saint. Yet the radical Catholic reactionaries (and some “traditionalists”) are peeing and soiling their pants over that; it riles them so much. He used to be blasted for the Assisi ecumenical conferences (sort of like Jesus catching hell for talking to Gentiles and sinners, eating with them, etc.). I defended him at the time (more than once). He was bashed about using sloppy language (because he was supposedly heterodox) or incomprehensible words (because he was actually a philosopher and profound thinker).

Pope Benedict XVI continued the same ecumenism, but because he concentrated more so on liturgical issues “traditionalists” and radical Catholic reactionaries loved him. But they will even toss him under the bus if they don’t like something he said.

Hence, when he placed the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Latin Mass on the same plane in Summorum Pontificum in 2007, they loved the relative elevation (in permissibility) of the extraordinary form but at the same time were not nearly as enthusiastic that the ordinary form was up there with it.

Thus, now we see some folks saying that the reform of the reform of the liturgy is dead. I debated two of them (priests and academics) a few months ago. They couldn’t care less about the authority of Summorum Pontificum (they were quite willing to resist it), whereas I do accept it wholeheartedly. So who loves Pope Benedict more, judged by how they fully accept and apply what he taught, and refrain from public dissent against it?

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