Dialogues with Karl Keating Regarding Pope Francis

Dialogues with Karl Keating Regarding Pope Francis December 29, 2017


Should Pope Francis be censured and corrected for teaching heresy or heterodox practices? And should it be public?

This is a direct continuation of the exchanges in my previous post, Dialogues with Karl Keating & Phil Lawler on Pope Francis. These all occurred on Karl’s public Facebook page. His words will be in blue.


My recent post about Phil Lawler’s upcoming book, “Lost Shepherd,” has generated over 300 comments and replies–and that’s just on my Facebook timeline. My post has been shared elsewhere, and even more comments and replies have been written. I admit to being surprised.

I also admit to disappointment regarding not a few of the comments. Most of the ones that disappoint me are from people I don’t know, but several have been from my friend Dave Armstrong, the well-known apologist.

Today, at his Patheos page, Dave uploaded a very long piece called “Quasi-Defectibility and Phil Lawler vs. Pope Francis.” He added a link to the piece in the thread that follows my original post. (“Quasi-defectibility” is a term Dave made up.)

I think Dave’s piece misconstrues Phil’s book (which Dave admits he hasn’t read), mischaracterizes Phil (as a reactionary out to “trash” the pope), and does a real disservice to the whole discussion.


We both have seen once-orthodox Catholics go to extremes. I’ve seen more go to the left than to the right, but I’ve seen both. That some people have done so ought not to be used to infer that anyone who changes his mind about anything is going to end up at one extreme or the other. That’s bad logic.

I completely agree. I disagree that it is my logic, because it isn’t. My position is that there are warning signs that resemble what has happened in the past with others, that suggest that a person may go down a particular path (not “will” or “must”).

I’m getting rather tired of having my positions repeatedly distorted. I don’t think you’re doing it deliberately (because I know you), but I think that your zeal is adversely affecting your logic, so that you are distorting what I am arguing.

It’s perfectly legitimate to draw comparisons to Phil’s current opinions, to those of reactionaries who are arguing in precisely the same way. If he is very much like them in two or three ways, it’s common sense and plausible as a possibility that he may come to agree with them in more respects in the future. It has happened with many people. It can possibly happen, and it might with Phil.

This position (my actual one) cannot possibly be argued against, because I’m not making a definite claim; only speculating on hypotheticals and conditional outcomes. You can’t “refute” a man who says, “I think it will likely rain because of the dark clouds above, the dropping barometer, and the winds picking up.” He is making a reasonable guess based on the analogy of past rainstorms.

The stance that you and Dave take is itself unhelpful: “move along, folks; nothing to see here.” Those “who may be struggling with Francis’s papacy” shouldn’t be told just to put things out of their minds.

If I actually believed in this caricature of a distortion of my views that you set out, how in the world could I write my [National Catholic Register] article, I Hope the Pope Will Provide Some Much-Needed Clarity? You tell me Karl, how these two things can coincide in your head.

want him to clarify, and don’t understand why he doesn’t. I simply don’t go on from that to second-guess and attack him and attribute all kinds of nefarious motives.

For my readers, I have provided a book and a collection of over 300 articles, which defend and explain what the pope believes and does. They’re confused. I’m doing all I can as an apologist to lessen that confusion.

Then you come along and ignorantly say about some imaginary view that you think I take: “move along, folks; nothing to see here. . . . just . . . put things out of [your] minds.”

Get it right! It’s not beyond you to be accurate about what I am contending.

As I noted elsewhere, neither you [Pete Vere] nor Dave has much right, at this point, to criticize Lawler’s book because neither of you has seen it. The two of you are making what truly is a kneejerk response. Every book is open to criticism (save, perhaps, my own, of course!), but legitimate criticism comes only after a book has been read. 

Well, Karl, now I will see it, so you can stop this silly rhetorical schtick. Phil has agreed to send me a copy.

Dave, there’s nothing silly or shticky about rebuking you (and others on this thread) for roundly condemning a book you haven’t even seen. I haven’t rebuked you or anyone else for siding with Pope Francis but for playing unfairly.

When I was a magazine publisher, I never would have considered running a book review by someone who hadn’t even read the book, and I couldn’t imagine any other publisher doing so.

I look forward to your review of Phil’s book, but now you unavoidably will approach it with a high level of prejudice. You’ve positioned yourself so that it will be difficult for a reader to think you’re giving the book a fair shake. That’s what happens with pre-judging. You’ve put yourself in a corner. 

Many readers of your review will suspect that you have not referred to parts of Phil’s argument that you found unexpectedly convincing and contrary to your initial prejudices and that you have given false emphasis to parts that confirm your pre-reading remarks, out of pride or stubbornness. 

Go ahead and write the review, but please know that many people–myself among them–will have to look at it in light of your preemptory condemnation.

For now the tenth time, I haven’t condemned the book. I have condemned the portions of it that I have seen.

I’ve long since stopped caring about what people think of my opinions, or their second-guessing of my motivations or attempted mind-reading. It’s not what motivates me. I believe what I do out of sincere conviction. I follow the “Rick Nelson” philosophy: “Ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yerself.” I would add God to that, of course, but we can’t be merely man-pleasers; that’s the point.

I come to my views based on thinking about them and dialoguing with those who differ. Thus, just 2-3 weeks ago, I changed my mind on capital punishment, due to an in-person wonderful dialogue with Dr. Robert Fastiggi. That’s me: I change my mind when the facts, as I can best determine them, warrant it. I did that with regard to pro-life in 1982 and Catholicism in 1990, and my earlier evangelical conversion in 1977, and on a host of lesser issues.

If I see undeniable proof that Pope Francis believes in something absolutely contrary to the Catholic faith (like some scholars think Honorius did and virtually everyone thinks John XXII temporarily did), then I’ll be right along with you, condemning it, and still believing that the Holy Spirit will prevent it from becoming magisterial. As of now I haven’t seen compelling proof of such a thing.

But if you treat any future review of mine the way you are treating my present articles and expressed opinions, you won’t grasp what I am trying to say anyway.

Just curious: when you went to review Bob Sungenis’ book on geocentrism (I reviewed your book on Amazon), did you go into that project expecting to be convinced by him of the main thesis or any other important aspect of it? And would you admit that you had a strong predisposition against the book, going in?

If you say no and yes to those questions, do you think it follows that anyone should be immediately suspicious of your review as a result? See, now there I go thinking analogically again . . .

Dave, before I read Bob Sungenis’s book I already had read lots of articles by him about geocentrism. I already knew his thesis. I hardly expected him to contradict himself in his book, and he didn’t. Still, I didn’t condemn his book before reading it. (I didn’t actually condemn it afterward either: I just refuted it, chapter by chapter.)

Likewise, I have read several articles by Phil Lawler, and I haven’t condemned his whole book. If I falsely gave that impression, then my repeated clarifications will show otherwise.

I expect to massively disagree with it when I see it (just as you did with Baghdad Bob), but there can be areas of agreement also, such as my agreement that the pope should answer the dubia, and otherwise clarify, and that he seems to be “imperious” in personal manner and management style.

Seeking agreement within an overall disagreement is also part and parcel of my approach. My books about Luther and Calvin both had long sections of points of agreement. Then I edited an entire book of Luther quotes with which I agree. So this “persona” you are trying to set forth about me is a false impression of what I am about, along with some other things you are saying. The record proves it.

So he convinced you of absolutely nothing in the book, huh? You were utterly unpersuaded by anything?

You’re referring to the Sungenis book? Well, I can’t remember anything in it that made me change my understanding of any scientific or historical matter.

Exactly. Likewise, I doubt that Lawler will persuade me of anything major, but he might very well on some minor things (probably along the lines of what I have already mentioned as existing agreements). That would mean that I’m more open-minded regarding Lawler’s book than you were with Bob’s. All I have to do is be persuaded of anything at all. Thanks for the neat little self-refutation.

Dave, I know that you are capable of changing your mind about a topic, such as capital punishment. That you have done so on that issue shouldn’t lead anyone to suggest that it’s evidence that you are moving in a theologically liberal direction and that next you’ll be endorsing contraception and women priests. 

Phil Lawler, in his book, says that on some matters he has changed his mind about Pope Francis. That shouldn’t lead anyone to suggest (as Pete has suggested) that it’s evidence that Phil is moving in a theologically “reactionary” direction and that next he will be endorsing sedevacantism or some other goofiness.

As far as whether you condemned his whole book or only extracts, I think it’s fair to say that the whole tenor of your initial remarks indicated that you disapproved of the whole book. That’s how most readers would take what you said, even if that wasn’t what you really meant. It’s how I took it. 

Even then, as I mentioned, the few sentences I quoted shouldn’t have been condemned without first understanding their context, the context in these cases being several preceding pages (or more). It would have been fine if you had said something like “At first glance, I think I have to disagree with what Lawler is saying here, though I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve read the book. Maybe I’ll end up rejecting nearly all of his argument. Maybe I’ll end up accepting nearly all of it except for these extracts. We’ll have to wait and see.”

That’s fair enough. I agree that if I wrote in that more nuanced way, my true views would have been better understood. One can always do a better job expressing, so it’s true that in any given specific situation, the general maxim applies.

Your task, too, is to understand what I am saying. I have now shown in three or four cases that your presentation of what I actually believe was a wholesale distortion.

So there’s plenty of goose and gander, pot and kettle here to go around. That’s why continued dialogue is necessary. Both sides get past the caricatures and straw men, and then some mutual understanding and something constructive is actually accomplished.


I have noted an influence of “Americanism” in some of the rhetoric about Pope Francis. We haven’t had a king in 240 years, and know little of traditional honor and protocol. We even treat our Presidents like dirt and give them virtually no honor of office.


[some exchanges from a few days ago at Karl’s earlier related Facebook thread]

Trump has gone through lots of aides. Francis likewise. 

All Presidents go through lots of aides. I don’t think this proves anything one way for the other, for them or for popes. All it proves is that the top dog was displeased with some aspect of an aide’s work, or that the aide felt unhappy or whatever, and left.


The hallmark of the Church, as an institution, is consistency, not just along a string or three or four popes but along the whole line of popes, going back to the first. That consistency chiefly is in terms of teaching: popes don’t innovate; they conserve and pass along. But it also is in terms of comportment, whether personal, behind the scenes, or public. Phil Lawler argues that Pope Francis is a marked change from previous popes in the latter regards. Lawler cites most frequently John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but he refers also to earlier popes. 

Sometimes things need to be upended a bit (emphasis on “a bit”) in order to be righted. Certainly, for example, the Roman Curia has needed reform. Lawler points to lots of upending by Francis but little of the sort people expected or hoped for. There has been almost no improvement in the Curia, for example, while an atmosphere of suspicion and worry, says Lawler, now pervades the Vatican at various levels. 

In discussing such problems (or, if you don’t quite accept their existence, such perceived problems), it’s good to compare and contrast with recent papacies. Neither Lawler nor anyone else that I’m aware of has called for, or wished for, cookie-cutter papacies, but he and others had hoped for more continuity in style, comportment, and cooperation than he thinks the present papacy has shown.

And the same complaints were made by traditionalists against recent popes: Blessed Pope Paul VI was lax on the modernists and wrecked the liturgy; ditto for Pope St. John Paul II, as to modernists, and he caught hell for kissing the Koran (if he even did) and for the Assisi ecumenical conferences. His “philosophical” writing style was criticized as dense and inexplicable. The reactionaries attacked his canonization as well.

Robert Sungenis went after Pope Benedict and JPII as supposed universalists. Michael Voris said that Pope Benedict exaggerated his illness to resign, which was a dereliction of duty. Reactionaries (and even some traditionalists) have called all popes since John XXIII modernists or “neo-Catholics.” I know (and so do you) because I defended all of them.

So, lots of folks (tending traditionalist or reactionary) were disenchanted with various aspects of those popes. Now we have another set of grumbling complaints about the present one. I don’t see any “fundamental” difference. The common ground is human nature: complaining and grumbling about our superiors. We know better. In every place that has a chain of command, this occurs. One would hope it would be different in the Church, but alas, it isn’t.

Is Francis perfect? No. Maybe he is imperious, or too scolding. He has faults like all of us. He’s confessing something . . . But that’s precisely my point. The others obviously weren’t thought to be perfect, either, or else they wouldn’t have been subject to the criticisms for alleged or real shortcomings.

But, you and Lawler say, this time a lot of people (important, high-placed ones) are complaining. That’s significant, but it’s not compelling. A “lot” of people can be and have been wrong about a lot of things.

A “lot” of people thought Pope St. John XXIII wouldn’t do anything as momentous as calling an ecumenical council. They were wrong. A lot of people (including all or virtually all of his close advisors) thought Blessed Pope Paul VI wouldn’t reaffirm teaching on contraception. They were wrong.

A “lot” of people thought Reagan was a dunce who would start World War III. He not only didn’t do that; he achieved amazing arms reductions, that virtually none of the “lot of people” would have predicted. A lot of people thought Trump (whatever one thinks of him) could never be nominated, never win the election, never succeed in office. Wrong on all counts . . . Thus, I’m not always so impressed by merely appealing to numbers of folks who think thus-and-such. That often reduces to the ad populum fallacy.

Each controversy regarding Pope Francis has to be argued on its own. And there are good defenses out there (rest assured), just as there are serious criticisms. And I personally know that many of the criticisms had no basis; were bum raps, because I dealt with them myself. A good number were entirely based on something as silly and foolish as bad translators.


I will keep on talking to Keating and Phil Lawler as long as they are willing. We have a long ways to go.

Then when I get the book I will start critiquing parts of it (not all of it: I don’t have the time or desire to do that). I have less than no interest in reading about or critiquing the pope’s “bedside manner” and comportment. I’m interested in proof of what he is supposedly changing or seeking to change, that should not be changed.

If it’s the Amoris Laetitia stuff that’s been gone over a million times pro and con. There are plenty of worthy scholars who argue that AL is perfectly orthodox; even that the leaked letter also has a plausible orthodox interpretation.


Photo credit: Image by “Mary1826” (January 2017) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


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