Kwasniewski vs. Pope Francis Re “Fundamentalism”

Kwasniewski vs. Pope Francis Re “Fundamentalism” December 9, 2020

Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI Fully Concur with Pope Francis

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a radical Catholic reactionary writer and speaker. His words will be in blue. Pope Francis’ words will be in green.


In his article, “Catholics who hold fast to truths of faith are now condemned as ‘fundamentalists’” (LifeSite, 11-28-18), Dr. Kwasniewski attempts to argue that Pope Francis uses the term “fundamentalism / -ist” in a despicable way, to describe Catholics who are simply faithful, obedient, and orthodox. This is, of course, an outrageous calumny, like much of reactionary anti-papal rhetoric and polemics.

He goes on to cite a 2001 article by a Catholic bishop, about “Catholic fundamentalism.” No link is provided, so that readers can read it in context (and determine whether it is good or bad or liberal or orthodox or some mixture of the same). I found a link in about half a minute. Whatever this article says can be debated on its own (glancing at it, it seems to be dubious in several ways, from where I sit).

But that’s an entirely different question from how Pope Francis is using the same term. “Fundamentalism” is one of those “large and lumpy” words that is used in many different ways. That being the case, one must investigate how any given person (including a pope) uses it.

Broad-brushing is one technique that severe critics (which Catholic reactionaries are in relation to Pope Francis) utilize in order to paint a negative, objectionable picture of their target. It’s done all the time by Democrats against Republicans (and vice versa), anti-Catholic Protestants against Catholics, anti-theist atheists against theists and Christians, etc.  Dr. Kwasniewski has a doctorate in philosophy and apparently much formal education in theology also. It’s a disgrace for him to engage in such tactics. Note how he cleverly broad-brushes Pope Francis as identical or highly similar to this Bishop Henrici:

Instead, Henrici explained the ways in which faithful Catholics are guilty of an intellectual and spiritual vice he called “fundamentalism” — a theme Pope Francis has also made his ownHe was critical of those who want to cling to a plank of certainty, who cite the Catechism or other ecclesial documents without realizing that such things need to be “mediated” to them by their bishops.  [my bolding]

Okay, so he provides us one link to a source with Pope Francis. Of course it’s to another reactionary article by John-Henry Westen, at LifeSite. We get a few papal lines in this article, dated 11-30-15, taken from yet another article:

Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions . . . We Catholics have some — and not some, many — who believe in the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil. They do evil. I say this because it is my church. We have to combat it. Religious fundamentalism is not religious, because it lacks God. It is idolatry, like the idolatry of money.

I see nothing wrong here; nothing that any Catholic should disagree with. I suspect, however, that Dr. Kwasniewski is focusing on the reference to “absolute truth.” In my take, the pope means it in this context as “belief that one’s notions and opinions cannot be questioned by anyone; i.e., dogmatism in the objectionable, common use of the term.”

Dr. Kwasniewski is likely assuming that this indicates philosophical and moral relativism in the pope, because he has flat-out accused him of it many times (e.g., “Pope Francis in his indifferentism and relativism . . .”: 10-9-19). That’s not likely, seeing that in this cited article, the pope also says (very un-relativistically): “This is not communism, this is truth. The truth, it is not easy to see it.”

The second cited article also provides more of a clue as to what Pope Francis was referring to. To be fair, the article by Westen also cites him saying:  “Like everything, there are religious people with values and those without. But how many wars … have Christians made? The sacking of Rome was not done by Muslims, eh?” And it refers to idolatry as well. Thus, we have a clue that he is talking about moral lapses and idolatry, not mere adherence to creeds and Catholic beliefs, as Dr. Kwasniewski makes out, without proof. The second cited article, from National Catholic Reporter, provides further clues:

You cannot cancel out a religion because there are some groups, or many groups in a certain point of history, of fundamentalists . . . Idolatry is when a man, a woman loses their identity card of being a child of God and prefers to look for a God of their own measure. If humanity doesn’t change, miseries, tragedies, wars, the children that die of hunger, of injustice, will continue.

Again, idolatry and bad, negligent behavior leading to wars, hunger, etc. this has nothing to do with a supposed antipathy to doctrinal orthodoxy. We can investigate further and find corroboration of this usage of “fundamentalism” / “fundamentalists” by the pope.

Recalling a scene from the 11th-century poem, “The Song of Roland,” in which Christians threatened Muslims “to choose between baptism or death,” the pope denounced the fundamentalist mentality which “we cannot accept nor understand and cannot function anymore.”

“We must beware of fundamentalist groups; each (religion) has their own. In Argentina, there are some fundamentalist corners there,” he said. “Fundamentalism is a plague and all religions have some fundamentalist first cousin,” he said. (“Pope Francis: Religious fundamentalism is a ‘plague’”Junno Arocho Esteves – Catholic News Service / America, 11-19-19)

The meaning is the same as above and utterly clear and unambiguous: nothing to do with dogma or doctrine. No one today would endorse Muslims converting and getting baptized under the threat of death. So if that is the sort of thing the pope is referring to, no one disagrees with it. Does Dr. Kwasniewski endorse such ludicrous forced conversion tactics? I highly doubt it.

An Episcopal site noted further information from the same plane interview that Dr. Kwasniewski mentioned:

[T]hey go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. . . . Religious fundamentalism is threatening the whole planet, we saw this with the Paris attacks. 

Slander, terrorist attacks . . . nothing to do with believing in Catholic dogmas and being orthodox . . . Nothing here attacks “faithful Catholics,” as Dr. Kwasniewski unethically tries to make out. Another article from June 2014 quotes Pope Francis:

A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God.

And again, from an interview on 9-13-15:

Our God is a God who is close, who accompanies. Fundamentalists keep God away from accompanying his people, they divert their minds from him and transform him into an ideology. So in the name of this ideological god, they kill, they attack, destroy, slander. Practically speaking, they transform that God into a Baal, an idol . . . 

No religion is immune from its own fundamentalisms. In every religion there will be a small group of fundamentalists whose work is to destroy for the sake of an idea, and not reality. And reality is superior to ideas.

Now, one may quibble with the specific definition of the word used by Pope Francis. That’s fair game, and Carl E. Olson at The Catholic World Report, did exactly that in an article from 9-9-16. But what cannot be done is to pretend that he means something entirely different by it, with the intent to slander faithful, obedient, orthodox Catholics. It’s wrong. It’s bearing false witness. Dr. Kwasniewski is committing objective mortal sin in doing precisely this.

Pope Francis is completely orthodox, as has been documented by several writers:

Documentation: Pope Francis is Orthodox, Pro-Tradition and Against Modernism (Dan Marcum, Catholic Answers Forum, 1-9-15)

Is Pope Francis a Heretic?: Options and Respectful Speculations on the Synod on the Family, Amoris Laetitia and Practical Applications [yours truly, 12-13-16]

Pope Francis On . . . [31 different issues] (Mark Mallett, The Now Word, 4-24-18)

If anyone wants to discuss any particular dogma that they think the pope has denied, I’m here. Have at it. But we’re in a world now where people don’t talk to others when there are disagreements. Instead they seek endless affirmation from those who totally agree with them. This is a very dangerous and spiritually debilitating tendency.

And, as usual (I get so tired of pointing this out, with regard to many many issues), prior popes have undeniably used the same or almost the same definition of “fundamentalism” that Pope Francis uses. Pope Benedict XVI, in a plane interview on 9-14-12, stated:

“The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism,” stated the Pope. Instead, the message must be one of “education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”

Of course, he himself has been called a “fundamentalist” in the other usage of the word that skeptics and religious liberals use. On 1-1-06, Pope Benedict (sounding so much like supposed “liberal” Pope Francis) reiterated:

It becomes ever more important to work together for peace when confronting the situations of injustice and violence that continue to oppress various parts of the world, those that are the new and most insidious threats to peace: terrorism, nihilism and fanatic fundamentalism.

And again, on 1-1-11:

Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”. [section 7]

The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.

It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. [section 8]

And yet again on 11-19-11:

If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism. In her social apostolate, the Church does not make religious distinctions. She comes to the help of those in need, be they Christian, Muslim or animist. In this way she bears witness to the love of God, creator of all, and she invites the followers of other religions to demonstrate respect and to practise reciprocity in a spirit of esteem. I ask the whole Church, through patient dialogue with Muslims, to seek juridical and practical recognition of religious freedom, so that every citizen in Africa may enjoy not only the right to choose his religion freely and to engage in worship, but also the right to freedom of conscience. Religious freedom is the road to peace. [section 94]

This led Catholic Herald to proclaim in the title of an article dated 11-25-11: “Benedict XVI is the apostle of anti-fundamentalism.” Yep. So is Pope Francis. Pope Benedict, according to an article from 12-17-10, stated shortly before:

It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. 

Looks like there is plenty more to be found there. How about Pope St. John Paul II? Would he disagree with how Pope Francis construes “fundamentalism”? No. According to an article from 12-19-90, St. John Paul II wrote in his message for the upcoming World Youth Day:

Unfortunately, we are still witnessing attempts to impose a particular idea on others, either directly–by a proselytism which relies on means which are truly coercive–or indirectly, by the denial of certain civil or political rights. . . . 

A serious threat to peace is imposed by intolerance, which manifests itself in the denial of freedom of conscience to others. The excesses to which intolerance can lead us has been one of history’s most painful lessons. . . . 

Intolerance can also result from the recurring temptation to fundamentalism, which easily leads to serious abuses, such as the radical suppression of all public manifestations of diversity, or even the outright denial of freedom of expression.

In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus (5-1-91), Pope John Paul the Great observed:

[I]n some countries new forms of religious fundamentalism are emerging which covertly, or even openly, deny to citizens of faiths other than that of the majority the full exercise of their civil and religious rights, preventing them from taking part in the cultural process, and restricting both the Church’s right to preach the Gospel and the rights of those who hear this preaching to accept it and to be converted to Christ. No authentic progress is possible without respect for the natural and fundamental right to know the truth and live according to that truth. The exercise and development of this right includes the right to discover and freely to accept Jesus Christ, who is man’s true good. [section 29]

Nor does the Church close her eyes to the danger of fanaticism or fundamentalism among those who, in the name of an ideology which purports to be scientific or religious, claim the right to impose on others their own concept of what is true and good. Christian truth is not of this kind. Since it is not an ideology, the Christian faith does not presume to imprison changing socio-political realities in a rigid schema, and it recognizes that human life is realized in history in conditions that are diverse and imperfect. Furthermore, in constantly reaffirming the transcendent dignity of the person, the Church’s method is always that of respect for freedom. [section 46]

Ho-hum. Yawn . . . Nothing whatever’s changed. Next question?


Photo credit: Rvin88: Pope Benedict XVI (10-12-08) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license]


"No the greatest scandals have happen under Republican presidential administrations. Liberal mainstream media? If you ..."

Orange Beast Gone. Who Will Dems ..."
"Where did I say that? I didn't ."

Orange Beast Gone. Who Will Dems ..."
"Good to know that you're okay with Biden continuing the tradition..."

Orange Beast Gone. Who Will Dems ..."
"Trump and the other past Republican presidents have used hit and run bombings in the ..."

Orange Beast Gone. Who Will Dems ..."

Browse Our Archives