On the Endless Second-Guessing of Pope Francis

On the Endless Second-Guessing of Pope Francis February 25, 2016


Pollyanna is a classic 1913 children’s novel by Eleanor H. Porter; the title character’s name is a popular term for someone with the same very optimistic (“unrealistic”) outlook. [You Tube image / Creative Commons license]

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These are some thoughts that I expressed in private Facebook messages or in public on Facebook, and then (following the five asterisks) a longer public comment in reply to the well-known Catholic blogger Amy Welborn’s post, Against Popesplaining (2-21-16). It’s not a developed, structured essay, but just brief reflections or “notes” or pensées: as in the famous work by Blaise Pascal. Sometimes that works; other times not.

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Now the fashionable charge is that we apologist Francis-defenders are “Pollyanna”, and denying what is thought to be manifest and obvious . . .

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The very fact that these people say it was so unclear and imprecise [re: the latest “wall on the Mexican border / contraception & Zika controversy”], shows that they don’t have a slam-dunk case of a supposed heresy or falsehood from the pope. They just don’t know and can’t prove it.

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If all the [major] supposed instances of error are shot down and shown to be tempests in a teapot, there is no reality to the “narrative” [that the pope is an inveterately imprecise — and possibly heterodox — loose cannon] in the first place: only the mistaken illusion of one.
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We have various levels of cynicism and conspiracy bandied about regarding Pope Francis. It’s very sad. The devil’s having a field day and Catholics fall right into his games and ploys.
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It should be “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” before guilt is charged. We owe the pope at least as much as any criminal and his constitutional rights in court.
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I never said no one could ever disagree with the pope, so again, this is a non sequitur in terms of my own position. If I see something where he seriously needs to be criticized, I’ll gladly speak up and out, with the proper deference to the office, trembling, and with prayer.
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I defend the Holy Father if he is the victim of a bum rap. If the pope blew it, I’ll be glad to say that, too. I think he was wrong on global warming, but that’s no big deal.
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Jesus was very misunderstood as well. Was He too imprecise in His language, too, and not careful enough? The apostles still didn’t get it, right up till Pentecost. They didn’t understand that Jesus had to die, that this was God’s plan, even though He expressly told them several times. That was the point of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t get it. They were all dejected, just as the eleven disciples were. People being dense and not understanding, or just being honestly confused, is nothing new.
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People have been clarifying and explaining Jesus’ comments for 2000 years and will continue to profitably do so. It’s called “Bible Commentary.”
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I’ll gladly be a “Pollyanna” pope-supporter any day rather than a reactionary, quasi-schismatic, Luther-like, theologically liberal-like, dissident-like pope-basher.
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As I have clarified with you about 3,876,193 times now, it’s not any criticism or rebukes that I object to, but rather the constant moaning and complaining about the pope (about things that are shown to be fallacious and non-factual time and again) and the unwillingness to grant him the benefit of the doubt. But the reactionary position can only caricature opposition to it as “papolatry” / “ultramontane” / “no criticism of the pope ever allowed ever” etc.

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We get called plenty of names. You came up with “pollyanna.” Others are “Modernists”, “Neo-Catholics” [begun by Gerry Matatics and heavily promoted by Chris Ferrara], “Novus Ordo Catholics”, “Vatican II Catholics”; “Novusordoists” [Hilary White], “ultramontanes”; “integrists” [just got called that yesterday], and “papolaters.”
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I have a problem with the ones who constantly moan and groan about the pope in public without end. I’ve defended the Holy Father and have yet to find an instance that proved he was some wild-eyed liberal. So what if he’s not the clearest, most precise person in the history of the world! That doesn’t bother me one bit, because I try to appreciate each person’s gifts for what they are. We had a brilliant Polish philosopher and brilliant German theologian, with the usual Germanic precision and articulation of ideas. Pope Francis is a different sort of mind altogether. I was there defending Pope St. John Paul the Great when the traditionalists and reactionaries were bashing him (and may thought he was incomprehensible), and Pope Benedict XVI when people (there were some!) were trashing him as well. Muckraker and rabble-rouser Michael Voris recently claimed that he exaggerated his condition in order to resign (which he called “immoral”), and in so doing he let down his flock big-time. I roundly rebuked that. It’s all poppycock. This complaining, doom-and-gloom mentality obviously isn’t confined only to the time of Pope Francis.
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Maybe the Holy Father could be more careful and prudent; but if his very words are distorted, that is hardly his fault. I know the feeling: I am regularly misrepresented, quoted out-of-context, accused of believing things that I never believed in my life: stuff that would be refuted in a half-hour if the folks doing it had wits enough to do the slightest search on my website.
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Many folks are unwilling to do the slightest research when it comes to the faith or trying to better understand Pope Francis. I’ve noted a few times that the same people will go to college for four years and spend thousands of hours learning all kinds of things. But theology? Nope; we gotta dumb that down or no one will grasp any of it . . . I don’t buy it! It’s the devil’s ploy to keep people in the dark.
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Anyone who ignores the liberal / secular media and the radical reactionaries and reads the pope himself and his defenders will be fine and far less confused.
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In my defenses of the pope I have found that almost invariably, the “problem” in the controversies (real or imagined) is one or more of three things:
1) He is taken out of context.


2) His form or mode of expression, that might be a bit different in conception, structure, or emphasis from the articulate, Germanic Pope Benedict and philosopher Pope St. John Paul II.


3) Translation issues.

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[someone wrote on a public Facebook thread: “Your defense of the pope against legitimate misrepresentations is admirable, but when he’s wrong, he’s wrong, and it’s hard to see how you’re not falling into some kind of heretical view that the pope is perfect or that no pope can ever even personally hold erroneous views.”]

My reply:

My view is that a pope can possibly be a personal heretic; he would be prohibited by God, of course, from promulgating the heresy. Some think Honorius was one such example. Others disagree. We know that Pope John XXII spoke falsely about the Beatific Vision, and was corrected en masse by the laity. So to say I’m close to the converse is poppycock. My position has always been the same, these past 25 years.

Papal impeccability [the pope being “perfect”] is too stupid of a thought to give any attention to at all.

What is under consideration is whether Pope Francis has uttered or taught heresy, here or in any other instance. I have not yet seen an example of that. If at length I determine that this is the first instance, I’ll be more than happy to say that, and note that an off-the-cuff plane interview isn’t magisterial teaching, anyway.

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Hi Amy,

Good post! I don’t disagree with it. A traditionalist friend of mine seemed to think I would. And he did because I defend Pope Francis a lot (including an entire book on the topic), and so he thinks I am “Pollyanna.”

Well, I defend him because the job of the apologist is to help the flock from being confused and lacking confidence in their faith and in this instance, in their Shepherd (thus, some “popesplaining” on my part). All of the individual “scandals” that have been brought up are either true on an individual basis or not.  As I have studied the ones that I did study, I found nothing that is contrary to the faith or orthodoxy.

Now an entire narrative has been built up about the Holy Father that I don’t buy: either that he is a relentlessly imprecise incompetent (relatively more charitable take) or heterodox conspirator loose cannon (less charitable traditionalist or radical Catholic reactionary take).

When cynical or even semi- or fully conspiratorial “narratives” are built up, then the problem is that folks start to view everything through that biased, unfocused lens rather than by the facts of any given matter.

It’s quite similar to what we see in politics now. “Trump hates Hispanics” [even though he just got more votes from them in the Nevada caucus than Hispanics Rubio and Cruz combined]. One thing is the narrative that “everyone” accepts; the other is a hard fact that would seem to weigh against it. Or we heard that Rubio is “robotic” [because of one poor debate where he repeated himself: big wow]. People start to believe a narrative and all else is interpreted based on that. But we have to determine whether it is true in the first place as a solid premise.

That’s what we have now. Everyone appears to want to join in on the fashionable bandwagon, complaining about the pope. I’m not talking about you (you seem “moderate” and reasonable about it), but the general trend.

It’s very typical postmodernist mushy subjectivism. Everything is about perception and feeling and what “everyone else” is thinking (ad populum fallacy) rather than seriously getting to the bottom of specific instances. When I have done the latter, as an apologist (or sort of temporary journalist), I have found nothing that troubled me. In a few instances, I was confused and even a little troubled at first glance, but when I looked closely into it, I no longer was.

I then try to pass on what I have found to others, to see if it is helpful to them. But more and more people don’t care at all about that. It’s almost to the point of a mass delusion now. People think Pope Francis is a certain way and facts no longer matter (if they ever did).

Now, you say that tomorrow you’ll be getting “specific about walls and contraception.” If indeed “popesplaining” is a bad thing that we shouldn’t be doing so much of, and we should ratchet down all the attention paid to the Holy Father, why not refrain from that, and just ignore it?  Be an example of what you are urging others to be: not to be so concerned about every last jot and tittle of what the pope says.

Just a thought . . . love your writing as always and I hope you are well these days and enjoying a blessed Lent.


Pope St. Pius X on Papal Obedience and Loyalty
To the priests of the Apostolic Union, 1912:
“How ought the Pope to be loved? “Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth.” (1 John 3:18). When one loves a person, one seeks to conform in all respects to his thoughts, to carry out his commands, to anticipate his desires. And if our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself: “If any one love me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23), even so to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey Him. Hence, if one loves the Pope, one does not raise discussions as to what he ordains or demands, or as to how far obedience must go ­and in what things obedience is due; when one loves the Pope, one does not say that he has not spoken with sufficient clearness, as if he were obliged to repeat to the ear of each person that desire which has been expressed clearly, so many times, not by word of mouth only but by letters and other public documents; one does not call in question his orders, by resorting to the facile pretext of those who do not wish to obey, that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; one does not oppose to the authority of the Pope that of other persons however learned who dissent from the Pope, since these if they are learned are not holy, for those who are holy cannot dissent from the Pope.”
Allocution of May 10, 1909:
“Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the cunning statements of those who persistently claim to wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight so that people do not leave Her…But judge them by their works. If they despise the shepherds of the Church and even the Pope, if they attempt all means of evading their authority in order to elude their directives and judgments…, then about which Church do these men mean to speak? Certainly not about that established on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).”

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