Pope-Criticism: Ultra-Rare, Private, & Saintly

Pope-Criticism: Ultra-Rare, Private, & Saintly January 15, 2024

Reply to Clueless Accusations That I Supposedly Think Popes Should Never be Criticized At All, & Make No Distinctions Whatsoever Concerning Papal Critics

The recent Vatican document, Fiducia Supplicans has been the trigger for many thousands of loudmouthed Catholics to engage in constant verbal diarrhea against Pope Francis: the Holy Father, supreme head of the Church, Vicar of Christ, and successor to St. Peter. I have resolved to mostly avoid this entire topic, having defended Pope Francis for over ten years, with a book, 231 articles, and a selection of 329 additional articles that defend the pope and seek to counter this quasi-schismatic madness. I need to keep my own sanity if I am to continue my vocation as an apologist. I’ve done my part. But — heaven help me — I got drawn in again a few days ago by manifestly absurd criticisms sent my way, and it afforded me an opportunity to clarify my oft-misunderstood views on this topic.

To kick the discussion off, this is how St. Paul was deferential even to the Jewish high priest:
Acts 23:1-5 (RSV) And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” [2] And the high priest Anani’as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. [3] Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” [4] Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” [5] And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, `You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'”
Paul told us many times to imitate him. And of course I am following St. Paul’s advice in no longer bothering to read relentless pope-bashers:
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Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.
1 Corinthians 5:11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, . . . not even to eat with such a one.
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. [10] As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, [11] knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Once again (not to assume that my critics have actually read anything of mine in these matters), I have frequently made the distinctions that I am accused of not making. For example:
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Here’s the actual record:
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I wrote over 23 years ago (in 2000) — because I was defending Pope St. John Paul II from the trash-talkers back then, too:
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My point is not that a pope can never be rebuked, nor that they could never be “bad” (a ludicrous opinion), but that an instance of rebuking them ought to be quite rare, exercised with the greatest prudence, and preferably by one who has some significant credentials, which is why I mentioned saints. Many make their excoriating judgments of popes as if they had no more importance or gravity than reeling off a laundry or grocery list. . . .
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Yes, one can conceivably question the pope — especially his actions (we are not ultramontanists), yet I think it must be done only with overwhelming evidence that he is doing something completely contrary to Catholic doctrine and prior practice. It is not something that a non-theologian or non-priest should do nonchalantly and as a matter of course . . .
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Even if [critics] are right about some particulars, they ought to express their opinion with the utmost respect and with fear and trembling, grieved that they are “compelled” to severely reprimand the Vicar of Christ.
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I wrote again on 1-29-15:
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My position is that popes should be accorded the proper respect of their office and criticized rarely, by the right people, in the right spirit, preferably in private Catholic venues, and for the right (and super-important) reasons. Virtually none of those characteristics hold for most of the people moaning about the pope day and night these days.

I’ve lived to see an age where an orthodox Catholic apologist defending the pope (for the right reasons) is regarded as some sort of novelty or alien from another galaxy. Truth is stranger than fiction!

Along the same lines, in November 2016, I opined:

My main objection today is the spirit in which many objections to Pope Francis are made. That has often been my critique through the years of papal criticism: which I have always maintained is quite permissible in and of itself, done in the right way, at the right time, with proper respect, by the right people, in the right venue, privately, and with the right motivation. My position is not one in which popes can never be criticized, but rather, a concern about howwhen, and who does it: the proper way to do it.

And on 12-27-17, I stated:
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Being classified as an ultramontanist is almost a boilerplate response from critics of a given pope. It’s very common to reply to defenses of a pope or papal authority by making out that one supposedly agrees with absolutely everything he says or does, or that his color of socks or what side of bed he gets out on or his favorite ice cream flavor are magisterial matters.
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It’s untrue in my case, as I will show; this has never been my position, as I’ve explained many times. But if it is erroneously thought that it is, then I can be potentially (or actually) dismissed as a muddled, simplistic irrelevancy, without my arguments being fully engaged. Nice try, but no cigar. . . .

I don’t think it means we can never ever say anything critical, but it’s talking about a spirit and outlook of respect and deference that is now widely being ignored, because people have learned to think in very un-Catholic ways, having (in my opinion) been too influenced by secular culture and theologically liberal and Protestant ways of thinking about authority and submission.

The sublimity of the office demands that we show respect and [almost always] shut up, even if the pope is wrong. If there are serious questions, bishops and theologians and canon lawyers (as I’ve always said) ought to discuss it privately, not publicly.

But today it seems that biblical and historic Catholic models alike are ignored, or not known in the first place.

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In my dialogue with Karl Keating in April 2018 (see above), I wrote:
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I make distinctions among papal critics. I wrote: “Today we are blessed with both pope bashers (the usual suspect reactionaries and also non-reactionaries like Phil Lawler and Ross Douthat), and non-reactionary “papal nitpickers.” That is a distinction: the very one that you are calling for (I’d also say that you are in the nitpicker category). I went on in the article to distinguish the categories of nitpickers and bashers several times. No one could possibly miss my meaning or intent.

If I am asked whether [objective, not necessarily subjective] sin is playing a prominent role in the papal criticism going on today, I say yes, absolutely. It doesnot follow that I think every papal critic is a bad man. That’s a completely different proposition. I’m saying that sin is bad and will manifest itself. The main sin going on now with regard to Pope Francis is evil-speaking: a thing very often condemned in no uncertain terms in Holy Scripture. . . .

Phil Lawler said that the pope is deliberately seeking to overthrow Catholic traditions and teachings. That’s the central thesis of his book, expressed in the Introduction. That is serious sin, too. But I have not said that he is an evil, wicked man. He is a sinner like all of us, who is in error. . . .

First you said (going back a few months) that I was calling everyone a “reactionary” (untrue), then, that I call everyone a “basher” (untrue). Now you are making out that I think all the critics of the pope are “bad men.” That is absolutely untrue. Before that you repeatedly claimed that I was writing a book review of a book I never read (false). You have claimed that I disallow all criticism of popes whatever (which has never been true; and I’ve had articles online for over twenty years that prove it). . . .

[then I commented on our exchange]

I have remained exactly the same as I have always been. I defended the last two popes and I defend this one, as an apologist. The ones who have undergone a sea change (if anyone has) are Karl, Lawler, Douthat, Raymond Arroyo, and some other apologists (whom I will not name, in charity): all of whom used to defend popes, and even this pope, and now have chosen to become critics instead.

Right or wrong, that is a big change. But I have undergone no such change, either in approach or in how I view my opponents (as charitably as I can, though of course, not perfectly). . . .

There are relatively moderate, sensible, charitable critics like Edward Pentin and John Allen. And Karl Keating, too. Karl has arguably been harder on me than he has been against Pope Francis.

Related Reading

Ed Feser’s “Respectful and Reserved Criticism” of the Holy Father (?) [Catholic365, 11-29-23]

Pedro Gabriel’s Masterful Heresy Disguised As Tradition [12-18-23]

So-Called “Conservative” Catholic Media and “Conservative” American Catholicism Have Gone to Hell (Big Pulpit and Fiducia Supplicans) [Facebook, 12-23-23]

Bible on the Disgraceful Attitude & Behavior of So Many Pope-Bashers [Facebook, 12-24-23]

Bible on Deference to Popes & Leaders, & Disobedience [12-26-23]

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Photo credit: lukasbieri (11-8-17) [Pixabay / Pixabay Content License]

Summary: If I had a dime for every time I’ve been falsely accused of broad-brushing papal critics or of supposedly holding a “no papal criticism whatsoever” view, I’d be rich.

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