Dialogues w Critics & Disparagers of Pope Francis

Dialogues w Critics & Disparagers of Pope Francis March 6, 2018

These exchanges occurred underneath a related post of mine, and under my review of Phil Lawler’s Lost Shepherd on Amazon. At the end I throw in a few comments made in private correspondence with two different people. Words of others will be in various colors.


Dave, you wrote that you and Karl [Keating] both defended previous popes against people from the left and right, and imply that you are doing no different here. But what makes this different is that Pope Francis appears (and I do emphasize “appears”) to be trying to alter unchangeable doctrines about marriage and the Eucharist.

Benedict and JPII as universalists? Even if they were, they didn’t cause doctrinal teachings to change in that direction. Thus, Catholics should defend these popes. Benedict exaggerating his illness? Even if true, it has no bearing on doctrine or dogma. Catholics should defend him. Popes since John XXIII as modernists? Even if true, they didn’t attempt to change the unchangeable teachings on marriage and the Eucharist. Catholics should defend the popes. Francis perhaps allowing the door to open for divorced-and-remarrieds to receive the Eucharist without a firm purpose of amendment? Catholics should not defend this.

You and I must agree that Francis can’t change unchangeable teachings — a guarantee of the Holy Spirit! So… the only problem I see here is how to reconcile his teachings (such as Amoris Laetitia) with such a promise. That’s more difficult to do lately without a lot of mental and verbal gymnastics. I’m not saying that you’re doing such gymnastics, but I wonder if you should be a wee bit more sympathetic to Lawler and his ilk.

Amoris Laetitia can easily be defended because there is nothing heterodox in it. Hence, a paper from a theology professor recently posted on my blog: Five Dubia: Answers from Amoris Laetitia Itself (Dr. Fastiggi). See also many more articles in defense of its orthodoxy in my long collection of materials on Pope Francis (just search “Amoris Laetitia“).

Why should I be sympathetic to Phil Lawler when he makes lousy, fallacious arguments: some of the worst I’ve ever seen? See my Amazon review that no one has even attempted to refute: just as they haven’t touched my earlier five blog reviews in two months.

Yes, you’ve given many quotes where Francis has reaffirmed traditional teaching. But…Quotes from here and there don’t necessarily offset other statements that contradict those quotes. For instance, a politician can tell me all day long that he’s in favor of a bill but then go into the legislative chamber and vote against it.

With AL, Pope Francis has given ambiguous direction to his flock. Yes, Dr. Fastiggi makes some good points. But a good shepherd would answer the dubia from his cardinals. The actual response? Silence. Maybe not an outright problem in itself. 

But what comes next? A heterodox interpretation from Argentina that the pope clearly endorsed. Hmm…what next? The pope enters that statement about Argentinian interpretation as official “acta” of his office.  That seems to be a refutation to your thesis that the pope is conforming perfectly to his predecessors.

Final point: I gently caution you about an air of superiority. What’s with this “No one has ever attempted to refute me? and “No one’s ever touched my five blog reviews”? I’m amicably trying to do counter your views here! Please take it in such a manner without scoffing at honest attempts at dialog.

The Buenos Aires statement (like Amoris Laetitia) is orthodox and doesn’t change anything, as both Cardinal Müller and sometimes critic of the pope, canon lawyer Edward Peters have pointed out.

As for the pope allegedly sending conflicting signals, I wrote about that in my review of Lawler on Amazon:

There were insinuations here and there that the pope is talking out of both sides of his mouth and being two-faced: not saying what he “really” means. But anyone can say that about any person at any time and attempt to “prove” any theory whatever. That would be like saying, “Armstrong really loves Lawler’s book. He’s just saying the opposite to fool all of us.” Personally, I prefer hard facts, not “jesuitical” conspiracy theories.

It’s not an “air of superiority” to note that no one has attempted to refute one’s particular arguments. It’s frustrating to me that no one seems to be willing to debate the merits of Lawler’s book. Like much discourse today, folks get into their camps and echo chambers, and never the twain shall meet. Now many think Lawler’s book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it’s getting praised to the skies, yet when I read it and critiqued it, I found it to be of a very low quality, and in my opinion his points were not proven at all.

I stated that no one has attempted to take on my specific arguments in my reviews of Lawler’s book. That’s simply a fact. You haven’t at all, either. As Dizzy Dean said, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” If anyone has an “air of superiority” it is those who criticize and scold the pope as if he were some ordinary Catholic rebel of no particular importance.

I’ll buy that — thanks for your reply. I’ll just leave it at this: Your position would indeed be bulletproof and impervious if you could supply a quote where Francis has said, “Based on our theology of the sacraments, the Church cannot ever admit to Holy Communion those who are in an objectively adulterous relationship, despite what they may believe in their consciences.”

Your quoting his beliefs on so-called gay marriage and his orthodoxy on the indissolubility of marriage are not relevant to AL. The issue lies with the Eucharist and whether it can be administered to those in mortal sin. Francis hasn’t slammed the door on that — oh how I wish you could indeed find such a quote!

People are assuming that he believes this, but they have no basis. You ask for him to deny it. I would like to see a quotation where he asserts it. That’s where the burden of proof lies. Otherwise, it’s an argument from silence. Thus, the “answer” is provided by Dr. Fastiggi in the above-cited article:

In AL there are no changes in regard to the requirements of priests and penitents with respect to the Sacrament of Penance. In AL, 3 Pope Francis indicates that the exhortation does not represent an intervention on the part of the magisterium to introduce new teachings on “doctrinal, moral or pastoral” issues. Nowhere in AL does Pope Francis give permission for divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics to receive Holy Communion who are not observing continence.


Your Verbosity is overwhelming in such a way as to demonstrate your obvious bias. Broaden your own knowledge and review some historical facts of this “Black Pope.” His reign of terror alone in far off Argentina should have been enough to discredit any claim to the papacy. 

My review is only 1636 words, or about five-and-a-half pages, but this is no rational argument (Lawler has an obvious bias, too), and you offer none against my critique. What else is new? There’s very little true dialogue online anymore. Most people don’t even attempt it at all. You read two negative books and so Pope Francis is Satan Incarnate. I’m unimpressed.

Serious question to you Armstrong, “How do you explain all the confusion that his beset the Church since Francis became pope?” 

I explain it by all the confusion that beset the Church after Vatican II and every other ecumenical council. It doesn’t make them illegitimate and it doesn’t make Pope Francis, and you are assuming the fallacy of “after Francis therefore because of Francis”: which is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Does the pope speak out of both sides of his mouth? Yes. He says something Catholic one day and then heretical the next. You are just cherry picking the moments this pope decides to play Catholic and ignoring all the times the pope propagates heresy. 

You assume that the pope is a lying deceiver. Therefore, no rational discussion can be had with you about him, as I alluded to in my review, because if he says something orthodox, you merely conclude that he is lying and deceiving. Thus (in your mentality), there is no conceivable rational way in which he can be proven to hold orthodox positions.

Interesting how you won’t respond to a simple question, Do you reject or accept the proposition ‘The pope is propagating ambiguous, incoherent, or contradictory teachings that are misleading faithful Catholics’? A simple reject or accept would suffice.” Learning from Pope Francis I see. Never give a straight answer. Matthew 5:37 

My answer to that was clear in my review. If you had read it, you would already know. Why, then, do you ask me? Since you appear to be unable to deduce the answer in my review, it’s “reject.”

Is this the famous podiatric surgeon, or the lawyer of the same name? If so, I think it would be better for you to stick to being the expert in your own profession.

No. I’d be a lot richer if so. I’m the guy who wrote three articles  (one / two / three) which are hosted by Catholic Culture: the website where Phil Lawler is Director, and a regular columnist. I’m also mentioned in four others there (one / two / three / four), by Lawler’s longtime co-worker, Dr. Jeff Mirus. In the third link, Dr. Mirus kindly writes:

Sophia Press is offering a collection of eighty short essays by Catholic convert and apologist Dave Armstrong, entitled Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical. Reading this is very like reading a collection of CatholicCulture.org’s commentaries by Phil Lawler or myself; the little essays are drawn chiefly from Armstrong’s excellent work online addressing questions that come up again and again as Protestants challenge the faith of their Catholic neighbors.


My position has been all along that it would be good for him to clarify (as to the Dubia and confusion surrounding Amoris Laetitia), and I strongly argued that in an article for National Catholic Register (September 2017). But if he doesn’t, the answers to the Dubia are already in Amoris Laetitia.

I don’t know why he doesn’t provide such clarity. But I know that he has not asserted falsehood in this regard. Why didn’t Blessed Pope Paul VI clear up a lot of the confusion that also followed Vatican II (in which liberals dishonestly exploited supposed “loopholes” just as they are doing now? The reactionaries blame him for much of that, too.


There are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around. I like to stick with ascertainable facts. I do know that Lawler’s book contains some of the worst argumentation in it that I have ever seen from an established Catholic writer. Whether Pope Francis turns out to be Attila the Hun or Vlad the Impaler or not (when history and the Church and God judge him in the end), it still remains true that this book presents no compelling argument (or much of an argument at all) for his being some kind of heretic or dissident.

You had to be given solid facts and reasons to change your mind and become a Catholic. I’m simply asking for the same with regard to the pope. If my critiques of Lawler’s book are wrong, I have to be shown how and why, or else I will retain the views, just as I do with regard to anything else. I’ve never believed things merely because “everyone else” does. That’s the ad populum fallacy.

You’re quite right that I am not right simply because no one wants to try to refute what I write about the pope. On the other hand, it sure is unimpressive — if you guys are right about this — that not a soul can be found to interact with and refute my reviews of Lawler’s book. If the case is so strong; so compelling and unarguable, don’t you think there would be someone (not a sedevacantist or extreme reactionary like the ones “replying” on Amazon) who could blow any defenses of mine out of the water?

I’m just explaining my perspective, from where I sit. If I make arguments and no one even tries to refute them, there’s no reason for me to change my mind. I have to be shown how I am wrong (just as I was shown that I was wrong to be a Protestant in 1990).


Photo credit: A Protestant Allegory, by Girolamo da Treviso the Younger (1508-1544). The four evangelists stone the pope, together with hypocrisy and avarice. Painting commissioned by King Henry VIII of England and hanging at Hampton Court Palace at his death in 1547. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


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