April 28, 2018

. . . That is, He Deliberately Sows Confusion, When it Need Not Be So At All

Phil Lawler has engaged yet again in condescending rhetoric regarding Pope Francis, in his latest hit-piece: “Yes, the Pope is a Catholic. But he’s confusing other Catholics.” (4-26-18). Recently (15 days ago), I announced a self-imposed moratorium on articles about Pope Francis, because rational, calm, constructive, factual discussion about the Holy Father is (in my opinion, from now five years of experience) basically no longer possible in the present toxic environment. That’s mostly why I stopped (having done far more than my share in the first place: 119 separate articles, including this one).

An exception to a self-imposed rule or “resolution” is just that, so no one should think I have changed my mind. I may allow exceptions now and then, as occasions warrant. I was made aware of Lawler’s outrageous piece (one of many such), in a PM and I simply cannot not respond to such foolishness and hypocrisy. Lawler’s words will be in blue.

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Blogger Mark Mallett has done a real service—and I mean this sincerely—by a long list of links to statements by Pope Francis voicing clearly orthodox Catholic beliefs on topics important to conservative Catholics, including abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, population control, ideology, and the existence of hell.

At least Lawler had the sense and rudimentary fairness to link to a source that does show that Pope Francis is orthodox. He could have just as easily linked to a similar paper (from Dan Marcum that I have hosted on my blog for over three years now (material originally posted on the Catholic Answers discussion forum). Then imagine: Phil would have to agree that I (and Dan Marcum) have “done a real service”!

And Lawler could have long since compiled such a resource himself, if he is so worried and concerned about teaching the faithful that the pope is orthodox.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone would have compiled a similar set of links to demonstrate that Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II held conventionally Catholic beliefs.

I was quite busy defending them, too (in my 22 years online), against various false charges (especially in Pope St. John Paul II’s latter years, where it was virtually open season on him in certain circles, and regarding the trashing of his canonization itself). Granted, it was not as often as now, for several reasons, but the critics were assuredly out there, and they were mostly radical Catholic reactionaries.

What’s notable and surprising these days is that the papal critics have largely adopted reactionary methodologies and mentalities (I’m not saying that all papal critics agree with all aspects of reactionaryism; I do not say — and have never said — that Lawler himself is a reactionary). Error and falsehood very often have a “recycled and regurgitated” nature. Nothing new under the sun . . .

Precisely the same argument could be and has been made with regard to Blessed Pope Paul VI. All acknowledge that there was widespread confusion following Vatican II. The theological liberals / dissidents claimed that Vatican II was subversive of prior and established Catholic tradition, and they exploited this falsehood (the so-called “spirit of Vatican II”) to the hilt.

Reactionaries (who fundamentally think like both liberals and Protestants) came to believe the same thing. It was widely held then (and more so since) that Pope Paul VI was not decisive enough in clarifying and refuting all the nonsense that occurred during that troubled period (i.e., very much the same criticism we hear now about Pope Francis).

People usually didn’t dispute that he was orthodox. But they thought he was lax and should have done a lot more to lessen the widespread confusion. Whether he was or not (I actually tend to agree that he was too lax during those 13 years) is beyond our purview. My present point is the analogy to Pope Francis. Both men are orthodox, and both were or are accused of allowing (moral and/or doctrinal and/or liturgical) confusion to unnecessarily spread.

And by the way, Phil Lawler (acting like a good reactionary zealot in this instance and in his pope-bashing) has already started questioning Vatican II itself (in an article dated 8-23-17):

Did the problems that arose after Vatican II come solely because the Council’s teachings were ignored, or improperly applied? Or were there difficulties with the documents themselves? Were there enough ambiguities in the Council’s teaching to create confusion? If so, were the ambiguities intentional—the result of compromises by the Council fathers? . . . 

[A]re there troublesome elements of the Council’s teaching, with which we should now grapple honestly? One thing is certain: we will not solve the problem by pretending that it does not exist.

Why is it necessary in the case of Pope Francis?

I would say that the primary (or at least a major) reason is because of folks like Phil Lawler, who appear to want to spread far and wide the “fact” that Pope Francis is to blame for all the confusion. I submit that there would be a lot less confusion if Lawler and those like him weren’t doing the destructive, gossipy, rumormongering things they are doing now, causing all sorts of division and scandal: a shameful thing indeed.

If Lawler is so worried and concerned about the pope sowing confusion, he ought to also worry about his responsibilities as a teacher, since he, too, is sowing confusion big-time himself, when he could have been out there doing what I did: showing that the pope believes in hell, period. Full stop. Next question . . . That would help lessen confusion among the faithful, wouldn’t it? That’s what a defender of Holy Mother Church, concerned about the flock and about orthodoxy, does.

We are already seeing signs that anti-Catholic mockers of the Church love Lawler’s book, and of course, so does former Catholic Rod Dreher. Such people love books that bash the pope and in effect, also Holy Mother Church. It’s a godsend for them: confirming them in their errors; allowing them to preserve the rationalizations and the disinformation in their heads.

But instead, Lawler would rather hypocritically enter right into what he is criticizing, and help folks become more confused and more anti-Francis. There is a reason that Scripture says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1; RSV), Lawler appears to be far more interested in muckraking, National Enquirer-type journalism than he is in teaching the faithful what the pope actually believes. Instead, he helps (whether unwittingly or not) to spread confusion with these sorts of statements:

Pope Francis himself has raised the questions about his own orthodoxy, with a long series of provocative public statements. . . . 

When any Pope makes a statement that seems at odds with previous expressions of the faith, it is disquieting. When he makes such statements frequently—and, to compound the problem, declines to clarify them—the result is widespread disorientation. 

. . . not that Pope Francis is preaching heresy, but that he has spread confusion about the content of orthodox Catholic belief. . . . 

And after all what does Pope Francis believe about Hell? He has alluded to its existence on many occasions. Still it is possible that he might proclaim belief in Hell without accepting anything like the ordinary Catholic understanding of what Hell is. . . . 

Yes, the Pope is a Catholic. But he sometimes sounds like a confused Catholic, and therefore a confusing Catholic leader. To recognize that problem does not require accusing the Pope of heresy; the confusion among the faithful is trouble enough.

Like it’s a big mystery what the pope believes? Lawler has been shown over and over that the pope clearly accepts the orthodox view of hell and of Satan, but it doesn’t matter. Documented facts of this nature don’t fit into his agenda. After all, Eugenio Scalfari (the 94-year-old atheist who cites the pope’s “words” in interviews merely from his memory) says the pope doesn’t, and also that he doesn’t believe in heaven or purgatory, either, as was documented by Sandro Magister and the reactionary Lifesite News, where Scalfari “reported”:

Pope Francis has abolished the places where souls were supposed to go after death: hell, purgatory, heaven. The idea he holds is that souls dominated by evil and unrepentant cease to exist, while those that have been redeemed from evil will be taken up into beatitude, contemplating God.

So because Scalfari’s nonsense fits into Lawler’s cynical, confused, jaded narrative about the pope, he runs (the wrong way down the field) with that ball. I have wholeheartedly agreed with Karl Keating that it’s stupid for the pope to keep interviewing with Scalfari and for these controversies to keep coming up regarding him. But it’s even more stupid (exponentially more) for Lawler to keep making an issue of it when the pope clearly believes in eternal hellfire.

All he could manage to do in his book (on this topic) was cite Scalfari (regarding hell) and wonder aloud what the pope believes. He couldn’t trouble himself to spend ten minutes on Google to see what the pope has said in indisputably real, accurate quotations.

Instead, Lawler is much more motivated to crank out the lie that Pope Francis is a lying equivocator, speaking out of both sides of his mouth. This is the clear insinuation of much of his rhetoric. It was present in his book and is in subsequent articles. The lightly veiled implication is that when Pope Francis states orthodox notions, he doesn’t really mean it (wink wink nod nod). That’s just to fool people, you see.

Someone like Chris Ferrara (an extreme reactionary, not far from sedevacantism) says this quite brazenly and openly. Lawler (of much less bombastic temperament) prefers to play games and mostly insinuate it — which assuredly he does — with nuance and subtlety: which I think is even more contemptible than what Ferrara does.

At times, Lawler comes right out and says that he believes the pope is deliberately speaking out of both sides of his mouth (which amounts to deception and lying, and an evil motivation: pure and simple). Here is a typical example, from his article, “Confusion—now about hell—is the hallmark of this pontificate” (3-29-18):

In Lost Shepherd I wrote: “The confusion in Amoris Laetitia is not a bug; it is a feature.” Pope Francis realized that he cannot directly contradict the perennial teaching of the Church, put forth so clearly by St. John Paul II. But he could and did create confusion about that teaching, and thereby provided new maneuvering room for those who are unhappy with the Church’s stand.

By the same logic, Pope Francis cannot deny the existence of hell without directly contradicting the teaching of the Church. But he can create confusion, and he has done so once again. Did he deny, or at least question, the existence of hell? We don’t know.

Now I ask you directly, dear reader: is this what you wish to / choose to believe: that the Holy Father is a deliberate liar and deceiver: purposely seeking to overthrow Catholic tradition and to be a dissident “radical” modernist (yes, Phil used that word, too, in his book)? We know that this is what Phil Lawler believes, since in the Introduction to his book, Lost Shepherd, he wrote that Pope Francis:

. . . [is] leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. . . .  a source of division. . . . encouraged beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the prior teachings of the Church. . . . he has violated the sacred trust that is given to Peter’s successors. . . . a Roman pontiff who disregarded so easily what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced on such bedrock issues as the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist . . . a danger to the Faith . . .

I continue to maintain that Lawler has not proven his extraordinary accusations. He loves to repeat them. That’s what all mere propagandists and gossip-column type journalists do, because they know it works. But repetition itself is neither argument, nor does it strengthen a real and substantive, serious argument. Lawler simply hasn’t proven his case (which is one reason why he’s totally unwilling to defend it over against someone like me, who has substantively criticized it). Hence, I wrote at the end of my Amazon review of his pathetic, scandalous book:

In my opinion, he has absolutely failed to demonstrate that Pope Francis is deliberately trying to subvert or overthrow Catholic tradition. That hasn’t been even remotely proven in this book. . . .

Personally, I prefer hard facts, not “jesuitical” conspiracy theories. It was heartening, however, in the sense that if this is considered the best shot against the pope, then the fashionable “Francis is a heterodox bad pope” opinion indeed lacks a demonstrable basis.

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Photo credit: Standard You Tube License: still from EWTN Bookmark (3-2-14).

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March 30, 2018

Now there is another stink about Pope Francis supposedly not believing in hell (flat-out denying it). It’s based on the words of a 94-year-old atheist interviewer of the pope, Eugenio Scalfari, who has a very annoying habit of writing down the pope’s alleged “words” merely from memory. It’s all very familiar to me, because I wrote about the same phenomenon almost three months ago now. Here is a somewhat abridged treatment of a longer review devoted exclusively to the topic of hell, in my Amazon review of Phil Lawler’s book, Lost Shepherd:

A third instance (still in Chapter Two) is even poorer “reasoning”. It involves a 92-year-old atheist journalist who is in the habit of paraphrasing the pope’s words after the interviews he does with him.

Apparently, he has terrible lapses of memory or is deliberately deceiving his readers, since (again) the pope’s utterances elsewhere show that he believes the contrary of what he supposedly “expressed.” In Chapter Two, p. 20, Lawler writes:

In March 2015, the talkative pope again spoke with [Eugenio] Scalfari for La Repubblica. This time Francis—at least as interpreted by his favorite interviewer—appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell.

Scalfari (as reported by Sandro Magister in L’Ezpresso Magazine, 10-27-17), also thinks that the pope has denied the existence of heaven and purgatory, too. Right.

And sure enough, for the third time, Lawler doesn’t make the slightest effort to do the necessary research and see what the pope actually states elsewhere about the topic under  consideration. It’s not hard to find:

1. Pope Francis strongly asserted belief in hell in a homily of 11-12-16.

2. Talking in March 2014 to about 900 relatives of victims of the Italian mafia, the Holy Father addressed the mobsters as follows:

This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness. Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path.

“Hellfire and brimstone” preaching from a pope who supposedly denies hell? Once again, Catholic Phil Lawler is out to sea, despairing of the pope’s eschatology, yet Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager rapturously praised the pope for strongly asserting the doctrine of hellfire and judgment (National Review, 3-25-14). What is this: alternate universes?

3. Pope Francis again issued a rather striking challenge to the wealthy who exploit or ignore the poor, in his annual Lenten message, written on 10-4-15:

[T]he danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.

We have to be on-guard against terrible “liberal / heterodox” preaching like that!

4. Pope Francis was in Fatima on 5-13-17 and stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary “foresaw and warned us of the risk of hell where a godless life that profanes Him in his creatures will lead.”

My friend Pete Vere wrote a similar article today, and discussion ensued over on his Facebook page. Matthew Cox’s words will be in green; Karl Keating’s in blue.

I have no doubt that the Holy Father believes in Hell. Why Pope Francis continues to be interviewed by Scalfari who completely misrepresents what the Pope said is a scandal and it has to stop.

Why doesn’t Lawler make it clear, then, that Pope Francis believes in hell, rather than milk this bilge over and over? Is he more concerned about the truth and the faithful or about his own propagandistic agenda?

Phil is probably frustrated like a lot of us that he continually grants interviews to Scalfari, and at a certain point you have to wonder why the Pope is doing this. Also while Lawler did bring that up in his article and like I said I have no doubt that the Holy Father believes in Hell (I don’t believe that a Pope can be a heretic at all ever) it is beyond frustrating that he meets with Scalfari and interviews [with] him. That is the big issue.

I wonder that, too, but that’s a completely separate issue from whether or not he believes in hell.

If Lawler was so concerned about saying that the pope shouldn’t get interviewed by Scalfari, he could have said that and also cited the many instances where Pope Francis affirmed hell. But he refused to do the latter, because it doesn’t fit with his particular agenda. If he’s concerned about the flock, then he would show them that the pope believes in hell. Instead, he writes:

I can only conclude that Pope Francis . . . is deliberately creating confusion. . . .

Pope Francis realized that he cannot directly contradict the perennial teaching of the Church, put forth so clearly by St. John Paul II. But he could and did create confusion about that teaching, and thereby provided new maneuvering room for those who are unhappy with the Church’s stand.

By the same logic, Pope Francis cannot deny the existence of hell without directly contradicting the teaching of the Church. But he can create confusion, and he has done so once again. Did he deny, or at least question, the existence of hell? We don’t know. . . .

What possible purpose could this interview with Scalfari have served, if not to cause confusion about the Catholic faith? Confusion is the hallmark of this pontificate: not a bug but a feature.

In fairness to Phil Lawler, I think Pete has missed the point in his post at Where Peter Is. Phil’s concern was what the pope meant or didn’t mean, or seemed to mean or seemed not to mean, in the “interview” with Scalfari. I’m sure Phil knows that on multiple occasions in the past–Pete refers to some of them–that the pope spoke about hell as a real and not a mythical thing.

When writers are criticized, usually it’s best to focus on what they just have written and on its own terms. There hardly has been a piece written by Pete or Dave or me that couldn’t be misconstrued or faulted for not covering a much wider area than was intended in the piece.

Phil thinks that the pope has engendered confusion through his “interview” with Scalfari. Given what has appeared in headlines around the world, I think one has to say that that is so. The Vatican’s weak response hasn’t helped.

We all know that the pope believes in hell (as I said, it’s been quite clear from his remarks over the years), but it’s also clear that, each time Scalfari comes out with another “interview” in which he took no notes, the pope’s assistants have to rush out with clarifications and often enough with clarifications, such as the recent one, that are ham-handed.

Why does the pope keep operating this way? He now has given five “interviews” to Scalfari, a man who seems entirely incompetent as a journalist. Yes, he’s the pope’s friend, but the pope has lots of friends, not a few of them journalists, and probably all of those would be more competent than Scalfari.

Phil wonders whether the pope operates this way because it somehow is part of his desire to “make a mess.” Maybe. Others will suggest other reasons. I think it can be said that the pope is savvy enough that he hasn’t been doing this purely accidentally. He has a reason for repeatedly turning to Scalfari, but I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know that anybody knows.

Absent that knowledge, people will speculate, as Phil has done. I welcome speculation from Pete, Dave, and others. Perhaps someone will proffer a reason that neatly explains things. I hope so.

I think you make a valid point. I don’t know why he keeps interviewing with Scalfari. I would even call it “stupid.”

My point, though, directly follows from what Lawler wrote in his latest article. Therefore, I am dealing with it on its own terms (at least in one respect), as you suggest. He says there is confusion. Okay, if that is the case, then it’s not true [as a statement about the faithful as a whole] that “We all know that the pope believes in hell.”

Lawler is implying that the faithful do not know that; thus, the present confusion! We can’t have it both ways. If they knew it, there wouldn’t be confusion, right?: as to whether the pope believed the doctrine.

There would only be perplexity (which I think even all of us here agree on) as to why he keeps talking to this old fool, who has even claimed that he denies heaven and purgatory too.

So, seeing that Phil is concerned about the confusion, why doesn’t he (knowing that the pope does in fact believe in hell, as you say), give several quotes proving that he does (as I have done, and as Pete has in his article)?

He wants to speculate about the pope’s intentions (“I can only conclude that Pope Francis . . . is deliberately creating confusion”). Very well; we can give him the same treatment:

I would wonder what his agenda is: making sure the Catholic flock knows the truth about Pope Francis’ true beliefs about hell and other things, or making sure that they only hear things that fit into his agenda: that the pope deliberately wants to sow confusion and subvert the Catholic faith? Pointing out [with documentation] that he does in fact believe in hell runs contrary to that agenda, and so he omits it: both from his book and from this article.

Because I am motivated by 1) educating the flock (catechesis / apologetics), and 2) showing them what the pope actually believes [factual journalism, rather than muckraking or sensationalistic journalism], by demonstration and not cynical insinuations based on an argument from silence and 94-year-old atheists who “cite” from memory, I do provide that information, but Phil doesn’t.

Why would he not do so? You tell me, Karl. If he continues not to do that, I have every bit as much justification to question or speculate about his intentions, as he does with regard to the Holy Father’s intentions.

I wasn’t commenting on your article but on Pete’s.

I didn’t say you were commenting on mine. Now I would appreciate your thoughts in reply. You did say: “I welcome speculation from Pete, Dave, and others.” I gave mine. So how do you reply? My article and Pete’s are essentially the same, anyway. As I see it, we’re both arguing the same thing in the same way.

I started out agreeing with your main premise, but I went into a deeper analysis, too (as I habitually do).

We can have a real discussion between two orthodox Catholics who disagree about Phil Lawler’s book, or it can just abruptly end, once again (at the point where it might involve some slight criticism of Phil Lawler). I happen to like challenging dialogue. It’s a major reason why I became a Catholic.

Oddly enough, Karl seems extremely reluctant to utter any public criticism of Phil Lawler. He’s not nearly so skittish about uttering public criticisms of the Holy Father. I think an examination of proper priorities is in order.

When he was criticizing Pope Francis, he wrote at length. I’ve yet to see any criticism of him of Lawler’s reasoning and book, apart from general statements that he doesn’t agree with everything in the book. 

Here’s his chance.

[If Karl replies in due course, it’ll be posted here with further counter-reply. If it doesn’t appear here, then he has not replied at all]

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[further comments of mine on two other threads]:

Why do people “need” Pope Francis to come out and say he believes in hell when it is clear that he already has said it many times in homilies? Anyone can find that in 20 minutes on Google, as I did. It’s not difficult. But I’ve made it easier: just read one of my two articles on it.

Why are they unable to take 20 minutes and do a Google search and put it to rest? Why is that so difficult? Then they have no problem. People manage to do far more difficult things every day.

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I agree it would be good to “put his foot down.” But I also think he has made it clear many times that he believes in hell. We go by what he actually says: not by what a 94-year-old atheist reciting from memory claims that he said. The same atheist also has claimed that Pope Francis denied the existence of heaven and purgatory, too. He has no credibility. Why the pope keeps doing interviews with him, I have no idea. But it’s clear that Scalfari is off his rocker.

I do agree that the Holy Father ought to stop giving interviews to this guy altogether, and even called it “stupid” in my article [above]. It makes the weak stumble, to hear these things, even though they are easily refuted.

I’m just saying that it would be good to not interact with Scalfari in this way, or demand editorial consent or something. It’s absurd to have this happen over and over. I do agree that much with the criticisms being made.

If I did an interview with someone and then I read it later and he recited my words from memory and said I denied hell or salvation by grace or the Immaculate Conception or some other dogma, he would have hell to pay! And I’m just a lowly apologist. 

It seems that with the pope, he should be more vigilant to not allow such silly things to keep happening and make people stumble. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy or that he’s deliberately seeking to spread confusion (Lawler’s thesis), but I think it may arguably be lax and too little concern for impressions and false notions getting out into the media.

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I’m giving him every benefit of the doubt. I’m defending him! I just got accused of heresy on my page for doing so. I don’t think there is anyone out there who has defended the pope as much as I have, and have taken big hits for it, too (paid a price).

All l’m saying is that there are millions of souls involved, and it’s not helpful that they read the current idiotic press releases. Even Rush Limbaugh talked about it on his show today. That’s not good. And it could have been prevented by avoiding interviews or whatever it was with this guy, knowing that he will again publish his “recollections.” This is not the first time. The pope has done about five prior interviews with him.

None of this had to happen. In saying this, I’m not making the slightest accusation about the pope’s orthodoxy. It’s simply bad “media policy” or “public relations” or whatever one wants to call it.

The pope has not been promised infallibility in media savvy or media relations or flawless wisdom and prudence in communicating the Catholic message.

I don’t see how it is helpful for the message to go out (which is dead-wrong) that he denies hell. How in the world is that a good thing at all? Millions read that and go no further, and they have been stumbled. And it never had to happen.

The thing, too, is that it is not just “the Church-hating atheist saying” this nonsense. We now have people like Phil Lawler saying it in a best-selling book (my original reply on this topic was to that book). And we have it being sopped up uncritically by people like Raymond Arroyo, who spreads it to many more millions on TV, on a trusted Catholic station.

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The difference between a guy like Lawler and me is that he looks at this and says: “see? The pope obviously wants to deliberately spread confusion.”

I say that it was bad policy to do interviews with the wingnut, but I don’t judge the pope. I simply conclude that it is stupid and unwise PR. I don’t know why he can’t see that, but I don’t start judging his orthodoxy and motivations, even when something is inexplicable to me.

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Photo credit: Eugenio Scalfari (11-7-11) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]

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March 12, 2018

I’ve noticed these motifs coming up again and again in reviews of this book and in comments opposing critiques of it (such as my own):

Fallacy #1: Lawler’s Temperament: Phil Lawler is a mid-mannered, temperate, easy-going, moderate, non-fanatical, non-extremist, measured, deliberate, objective, non-reactionary, scholarly person.

Example: Dr. Samuel Gregg (The Catholic World Report, 3-2-18):


The power of Lawler’s narrative was derived from its calm tone, a meticulous attention to facts, a refusal to overstate or downplay how bad things were, . . . 

But one of his book’s strengths is that it tries, at every point, to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. In addition to avoiding the hyperbole, polemics, and more bizarre theories about Francis which populate some of the internet’s weirder outposts, Lawler prudently distinguishes between the pope’s words and actions, and the more flagrantly outrageous statements of some of the garrulous characters surrounding him.

This judicious approach won’t save Lawler from the barrage of insults, frenetic name-calling, splenetic tweets, conspiracy theories, and limp non sequiturs which, alas, we’re come to expect from some of Francis’s defenders.

 
Great. Glad to hear that Lawler is calm, cool, and collected. He’s the Catholic journalist equivalent of NBA star Stephen Curry. But this has exactly zero relation to the question of whether his arguments are correct or not. A person can outwardly be as mild-mannered as Clark Kent, but still believe in false things.
All this proves is that Person A has Temperament B. It doesn’t follow that Person A’s opinion on Issue X is correct because he possesses pleasant Temperament B. It’s sort of the reverse of the “poisoning the well” fallacy (Person A is wrong on Issue X because he is a scoundrel and overall rascal). That’s not true; nor is it true that a person’s opinions are true because the person may have favorable characteristics (a variant of the genetic fallacy, which is one of the large category of ad hominem attacks).

Fallacy #2: Lawler’s Reluctance: Phil Lawler took such a long time to arrive at his negative conclusions regarding Pope Francis, and was very reluctant to adopt it; therefore, his judgment is either a) true, or 2) more likely to be true.

Example: in his glowing Facebook review of Lawler’s book (12-23-17), Karl Keating stated:

Unlike some of the most vocal critics of this pope, Lawler took his time and gave him the benefit of every doubt. The result is 256 pages that lay out recent history well, without exaggeration or histrionics and with enough to substantiate Lawler’s reluctant conclusions.
This clearly has no relation to the truth of a given opinion or proposition. One could take a long time to come to any number of conclusions, and the chance that one is wrong (broadly speaking), is just as much as the chance that one is right. Cardinal Newman took about six years to become a Catholic. We Catholics obviously agree with his final judgment on that score. But of course there are Catholics who gradually forsake the faith, taking a long time to do it, and we disagree with their conclusion. In both cases, the length of time involved doesn’t in the least prove the conclusion arrived at. All it proves is that said person was careful, deliberate, and took his or her time to change their mind. We can say that that is admirable, but in any event, it doesn’t prove the correctness of the eventual conclusion.

One could turn this around, too, and say, for example, “Dave Armstrong remains unconvinced that Pope Francis is a ‘lost shepherd’ and the new Attila the Hun. He’s been studying and defending him for almost five years, and taking a great deal of time to arrive at a negative conclusion, because he is so deliberate and non-fanatical and not given to jumping to conclusions.” Thus far I haven’t come to the conclusion that Phil Lawler has. But (like what he is presently being praised to the skies for) I’m very careful in making judgments and changing my mind. Therefore, I am very much like Phil Lawler is said to be! Ergo, I should be praised for my reluctance, not excoriated for it.

After all, I may agree with Phil’s view in a few months’s time. If I do that, people will say, “See! Dave Armstrong took a long time to agree that the pope is Vlad the Impaler; therefore, his conclusion must be profoundly true!” I haven’t so concluded, but on the same basis that Lawler is lauded, I should be, too. Both views are entirely fallacious. The truthfulness of a proposition is based on evidence, reason, logic, and persuasive argumentation, not the care we may have taken to ultimately espouse the proposition.

Fallacy #3: Popularity / Currently Fashionable: Everyone and their third cousin’s banker and lawyer and psychiatrist agree with the conclusions of Lawler’s book, and the book is ripping up the Amazon Catholic charts; therefore it must be compelling and true!

This is, of course, the ad populum fallacy, or notion that a lot of people believe X; therefore it must be true. Lots of people believe lots of things, but they can still simply be wrong. People are sheep. They love to follow and believe what their friends are following and believing, so they can be popular and fit in with the crowd. It’s tough to go against the grain and be a nonconformist. That’s why very few people are that (and why we often celebrate the ones who are: as “glorious exceptions to the rule”).

It’s quite obvious and unarguable that people can be wrong en masse.  The consensus of scientists before Copernicus was that the sun went around the earth. They were wrong. The consensus of all the “smart people” and the pundits regarding the presidential election of 2016 was that Hillary Clinton would win. They were wrong. The vast majority of Germans in 1936 thought Hitler was great and was a positive influence in the future of their country. If we had polled scientists 50 years ago as to whether we would have discovered extraterrestrial life by now, I would venture to guess that 80-90% of them would have said yes. If so, they would have been wrong.

Right now, at least in certain circles, it’s very popular and fashionable to be “anti-Francis”: even though Pew Research informed us (January 2018) that Pope Francis has an 84% favorable rating in America. Just as the pope is not proven to be good and right due to the 84% approval, likewise, he’s not proven to be wrong and heretical because Phil Lawler’s book is the most popular thing since sliced bread, and because everyone’s currently jumping on the bandwagon, slobbering all over themselves, praising it. Neither thing is true, and it’s because they are both variants of the ad populum fallacy.

*****

The alternative to all these logical fallacies (and others in play, too, no doubt) is to judge the book by its actual arguments. Very few of the gushing reviews do that. They make general statements in agreement, while not providing many (or, usually, any) particulars or reasons. I’ve written a series of reviews in which the actual evidence that Lawler produces for his conclusion that the pope is deliberately seeking to subvert Catholic tradition and teaching, is scrutinized (and found wanting). See all my efforts in this regard, listed in the final section of my Papacy and Infallibility web page. One person so far (Stephen Phelan) has actually examined and attempted to interact with my arguments (and only very briefly at that, and with gratuitous insults). I replied to him at length yesterday.
Phil Lawler himself made it clear (personally, to me) that he was not interested in interacting with my critiques: even before I wrote them. Yesterday I had a random encounter with him on Patrick Coffin’s public Facebook page. Here it is:

Phil Lawler: I responded at length to you, privately, about your critiques. You ignored my response, and continued to mischaracterize my ideas. That’s why I see no point in continuing an exchange.

Me: Hi Phil,

All your responses (unless I am forgetting something) were posted publicly on my page, and I replied. Here is the last public exchange, originally posted on my site and Karl Keating’s. I recall you sending a short note when you sent me the book file.

I don’t recall any lengthy personal letter about my critiques. I certainly would have responded, as you see I have been doing many times (the latest, today, vs. Stephen Phelan). It may be, then, that I never received a private lengthy letter. Was that sent in email or in a PM? By all means, send it again, and I will reply point-by-point and post everything on my blog (with your permission).

[after 14 minutes pass] Is this exchange already over, too, before it begins?

[after 89 more minutes] Phil Lawler: Don’t troll, Dave; you’re better than that.

So he claims he has answered my critiques and that I ignored them and keep mischaracterizing him. I say, please send it again; I never received it, and he refuses to do so. How compelling . . . How indicative of a strong confidence in his own position . . .

Later in the day, his wife, Leila, on her public Facebook page, repeated the same “attack and avoidance” mentality:

Leila Marie Lawler: As it happens, Dave Armstrong misrepresents Phil and doesn’t hesitate to ascribe opinions to him that are not supported by the text. So if you prefer something that is about one man’s desperate attempt to avoid reality, well there is nothing I can do about that. . . . He’s a good man. But he is very wrong about Phil’s book.

Me: I’d be glad to be shown where I am wrong, and will modify portions of my reviews accordingly, if this is demonstrated. Phil just claimed earlier today that he sent me a long private letter in response to my critiques that I ignored, continuing to supposedly misrepresent him.

I never received such a letter. I asked him to send it to me so that I can hear his thoughts and interact with them. Now he appears reluctant to send it. Why?

Leila Marie Lawler: Frankly, Dave, your comments here and elsewhere are amounting to trolling — I’ve already had to delete a comment on a post that was downright sneering — perhaps you will remember it, as it was a mean-spirited response to my request that people leave reviews on Amazon, which you had already done and yet found it important to sort of gloat at your negativity. If you continue this way, I will block you.

It is clear to anyone who reads all the comments here and on Phil’s posts that we are fine with comments and even with arguing. But this is too much. In answer to the comment above I have tried to be evenhanded and give you the benefit of the doubt. Yet you come on the very page where I am basically defending you, to be on the attack. I’m done.

So much for serious adult discussion with Phil and his wife! So it seems that there is no dialogue to be had about the actual merits of the arguments contained in the book. I’m trying to address those (at least some of them), and no one (save Stephen Phelan in a very limited way) is willing to have that discussion, including the author, who wants to make charges against me while studiously avoiding any serious, normal discussion with me: between two orthodox Catholic writers.

President Trump can talk to the madman dictator of North Korea, but two orthodox Catholic writers and authors cannot constructively dialogue with each other, because one of them is utterly unwilling to do so. As they say, “you can take the horse to the stream, but you can’t make it drink.”

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Photo credit:  Promotional image of Leonard Nimoy as Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series (1967) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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March 10, 2018

Stephen Phelan is vice president of family initiatives for the St. John Paul II Foundation, based in Houston, Texas. He has produced three documentaries that have been broadcast on EWTN, and his articles have been published in First ThingsLay Witness Magazine, and other publications. He was replying to my Amazon review of Lost Shepherd, on a thread at The Catholic World Report, where my review was linked. His words (reproduced in their entirety) will be in blue.

*****

Mr. Armstrong’s article fails for precisely the same reasons that he says Lawler’s book fails. In citing articles that “prove” Pope Francis’s intent in Amoris Laetitia, Armstrong ignores the many, many claims from Francis’ allies that the Church’s teaching (no longer just “pastoral practice) have undergone a “paradigm shift” or “revolution”.

The first rule of logic is a=a. A book review is a book review. I was reviewing a book written by Phil Lawler: a credentialed Catholic journalist and author. Thus, I was reviewing his thoughts and particular arguments: not the opinions of who knows how many “allies” of the pope. They may or may not have false views. These would have to be examined one-by-one. But it was simply not within the purview of a book review.

I’m not a [muckraking] journalist (as I alluded to in my review). I don’t get into “who said what?” and “who did what?” and “palace intrigue”-type speculation. That’s the “stuff” and domain of journalists and/or gossips, not theologians and professional apologists like myself: who prefer to stick to theology and ascertained facts. Now, Mr. Lawler claims in the book that the pope is actively seeking to subvert Catholic teachings and traditions.

My reviews (I’ve written five; summarized or condensed in the Amazon review to which Mr. Phelan was responding) specifically dealt with the grandiose claims made by Mr. Lawler in his Introduction. Accordingly, I was looking for some serious and compelling proofs of the claims made, and I never found them. I saw no proofs documented from the pope himself; nothing remotely compelling at all.

Instead I discovered arguments from silence, conclusions based on false premises from remarks taken wildly out of context (“Who am I to judge?”), “arguments” based on paraphrases from memory of the pope’s statements, as well as flat-out absurd and unsubstantiated or fallaciously argued assertions (my favorite of those was: “[Francis] appeared to suggest that . . . St. James and . . . even St. Peter himself—were not believers”).

And now, defenders of Mr. Lawler like Mr. Phelan want me to also deal with “allies” of the pope (these include, for example, Cardinal Müller, who thinks the pope is perfectly orthodox), in a book review of a book that directly accuses Pope Francis of very grave errors. Sorry. I’m a big believer in dealing with one major issue at a time. It’s not my burden — in this context — to deal with every Tom, Dick, and Harry having to do with Pope Francis (he is, after all, supposedly the “lost shepherd”). It’s Mr. Lawler’s intellectual burden to substantiate his extraordinary accusations. I believe I have demonstrated some serious weaknesses in his attempt to do that.

Then Armstrong accuses Lawler of taking Pope Francis’s (Who am I to judge) statement out of context, and Armstrong does this by deliberately taking Lawler out of context, and dismissing his qualifications as if he hadn’t said them.

I did no such thing. I cited Mr. Lawler’s own words: “the pope’s statement seemed to suggest that the Church should move away from its clear and constant teaching that homosexual acts are gravely immoral.” I provided a link to the actual statement in context, that he or anyone else can read for themselves. Then I chided him for overlooking context (as a veteran journalist), gave examples of three concrete actions or statements, which reveal that the pope is not soft on the issue at all, and cited Jewish New York Times columnist Laurie Goodstein, who “gets” this, while Mr. Lawler doesn’t. Now I’m accused of taking Mr. Lawler out of context (an alleged instance of projection, I guess). Okay, let’s examine that.

Mr. Lawler devoted two-and-a-half pages to the question. First of all, I can hardly cite all of that. It would have taken up half of my review. So I can’t give the reader all of that context, whereas I can link to the context of the pope’s remarks. Lawler obviously set the stage for the insinuation that Pope Francis was a “liberal”; hence, soft on homosexuality as both theological and political liberals notoriously are. He wrote:

At first, Francis seemed to defy easy classification as a “liberal” or “conservative,” but as the months passed, a pattern emerged of support for causes usually associated with the political Left—environmentalism, disarmament, unrestricted immigration, income redistribution.

He qualifies a bit (but it itself is qualified by “at least initially”):

After all, on other hot-button political issues, Francis seemed to have taken a conservative position—at least initially. During his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires he had denounced a proposal for acceptance of same-sex marriage as the work of the devil. More recently, he had admitted that he was concerned about the possible influence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican.

So there is a qualification (granted). But Mr. Lawler immediately “takes it back” in the next paragraph:

But if orthodox Catholics had concluded that Francis would stand firm against homosexual influence within the Church, their confidence was shattered by his remarks to reporters on a trip to Brazil in July 2013. Asked about homosexual priests, he replied, “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?”

After that, Mr. Lawler descends to “palace intrigue” elements (as he often does in the book) and what he thinks the pope should have addressed in that interview but didn’t. Then he chided the pope for his lack of care. That’s all well and good, and reasonable people can possibly take such a stand in good faith. But in the final analysis, the impression is still undeniably left that the pope is personally soft on the issue: not just guilty of imprecise, irresponsible statements regarding it.

And Lawler still has not examined the five infamous words in their proper context: which is always a primary responsibility in dealing with others and a matter of fundamental journalistic ethics.

The book makes many such mere insinuations, yet without anything near compelling proof; whereas in my critiques I provided actual concrete examples of the pope’s stand on the issue:

  • Pope Francis opposed so-called “gay marriage” in a Slovakian referendum in February 2015.
  • He did the same in December 2015 as regards Slovenia.
  • In January 2015, the pope visited the Philippines and stated: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”

I went much more in-depth in my earlier review on this issue alone. I wrote there:

[Lawler] Why were the most famous words of his pontificate uttered in an informal question-and-answer session on an airplane ride?

To answer the last question first: obviously it was because the media / reporters from the session wanted the words taken out of context to be spread far and wide. I don’t see how the pope is to blame for that. Everyone knows that words are often taken out of context in order to suit some particular agenda of the one citing them. And everyone knows that the secular media very often does that. I need not waste any time arguing this. It’s perfectly self-evident.

The relevant question is, then (as in our previous installment): what is the pope’s true view, and what did he express in this interview, in context?

Same with his weird claim in which he quotes Lawler, including his qualification of Scalfari’s method and translation, when Lawler (rightly) says that Scalfari’s quote of Pope Francis “appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell.” Of course the quote did, and the fact that Pope Francis has many times spoken of hell does not change the fact of the Scalfari quote in question.

The claim is that my counter-argument was “weird”? I submit that it was nowhere near as weird as Mr. Lawler’s joke-of-a-pseudo-“argument” based on paraphrases of the pope’s words from memory from a 92-year-old atheist, who also recently claimed that the pope denies the existence of heaven and purgatory too (!!!). No one could make that up in imagining a novel. And to top it off, Mr. Lawler again refused to do the research himself as to what Pope Francis actually believes; so I had to do it for him, and he comes off looking quite reckless and feckless indeed: to make such charges.

So why attribute to Lawler the false claim (or implication) that he thinks the pope doesn’t believe in hell, other than his obvious point that the pope often speaks carelessly about important things, 

Again, Mr. Lawler somewhat subtly insinuates this. But that’s all he needs to do, in the present toxic, gossipy environment where many millions will eagerly eat up any suggestion (subtle and/or qualified or not) that the pope is “again” heterodox or out of line or “scandalous.” All Lawler had to (and did) say was, “This time Francis—at least as interpreted by his favorite interviewer—appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell”. Then he quoted the words (which again, are not the pope’s own) and left them hanging (like a bitter aftertaste or a frightening image in a nightmare).

He certainly must know that the typical reader of a book of this nature will interpret that as “the pope denies hell!” So why would he present this  as he did, with no effort to document what the pope actually believes (as I have done): if indeed he doesn’t think the pope actually denies it? It’s scurrilous, muckraking journalism. We expect that of Big Liberal Media. But it’s a disgrace, coming from a reputable Catholic journalist, regarding the Holy Father.

or, in the case of Scalfari, keeps giving him interviews in which he is misquoted, but does not demand a correction.

I think it’s legitimate to question the prudence and wisdom of the pope continuing to utilize Scalfari (I do, myself), but that’s a different question from whether he actually denies hell (not to mention purgatory and heaven) or not.

If this is a “defense” of Pope Francis, then let us pray he gains more able defenders, and advisors. As a critique of Lawler’s book, it fails miserably.

Mr. Phelan is entitled to his opinion. He also can choose to ignore this  critique of mine, just as all my critiques of Mr. Lawler’s books have been utterly ignored by the legions of Francis bashers, as to their substance: not touched with a ten-foot pole by anyone (including by Mr. Lawler, who informed me when he gave me a copy of his book that he had no interest in further dialogue).

As always, I am quite happy to let my readers judge the merits of my arguments. And (as above) I allow those I am critiquing to have their say in their own words, so my readers can read the arguments of both sides of a difference of opinion, expressed by both proponents, and then determine where the truth more plausibly lies.

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Photo credit: Image by geralt (12-8-15) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]

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February 26, 2018

[See the review at Amazon. Here the original italics are restored and I have added links and indentation for citations.]

 

“Peeling an Onion”: Lawler Fails to Prove His Case

Phil Lawler was kind enough to send me a review copy of his book. In the Introduction he described Pope Francis and his opinions as follows:

leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. . . .  radical nature of the program that he is relentlessly advancing. . . encouraged beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the prior teachings of the Church. . . . a Roman pontiff who disregarded so easily what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced on such bedrock issues as the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist . . . a danger to the Faith . . .

These are extraordinary claims, that certainly need very strong demonstration. The problem with the book is that the undeniable proof never came. Thus, reading it reminded me of peeling an onion and eventually discovering that it has no core (unlike an apple), or finding a treasure chest that contains nothing.

Lawler in the Introduction cites the pope’s homily from 24 February 2017 as, in effect, his final straw. He reports that “Something snapped inside me” after reading what he construes as the Holy Father’s capitalizing on “one more opportunity to promote his own view on divorce and remarriage.” He concluded:

[I]n this case, the pope turned the Gospel reading completely upside-down. . . .  I found I could no longer pretend that Francis was merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No, it was more than that. He was engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.

The homily was one of many of Pope Francis’ characteristic condemnations of legalism and “casuistic logic.” Jesus and Paul both strongly opposed the same thing. The point he’s making is that Jesus didn’t approach the question from merely a legal standpoint, which is how His critics were approaching it. They were doing their usual “straining at gnats” routine and missing the “weightier matters” about marriage and divorce.

Jesus went much more deeply into the matter, telling them that God only allowed divorce at all because of their hardness of heart. The pope, too, was trying to bring out the deeper meanings of the passage.

If Lawler claims that the pope has now denied the indissolubility of marriage, then his intellectual burden is to find direct passages where the pope did that. But he did no such thing. Therefore, I went and did his work for him, and easily found four disproofs of his negative assertion (all available online):

  1. “Francis affirms indissolubility of marriage, objectivity of annulment conditions” (Catholic News Agency / The Catholic World Report, 1-23-16). Lawler himself was editor of this magazine from 1993 to 2005.
  2. “Pope Francis Reaffirms that Catholic Marriage is Indissoluble” (John Burger, Aleteia, 9-30-15)
  3. “‘Amoris Laetitia’: A Hymn to Indissolubility and Fidelity” (Deacon Nick Donnelly, National Catholic Register,4-20-16)
  4. “Pope emphasizes ‘indissolubility of Christian matrimony’” (Catholic News Agency, 4-25-14)

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This is documentation of what the pope actually holds: not a mere argument from silence (“the pope didn’t assert particular Catholic teaching x in papal homily y; therefore, he must deny it, and wants to change x and constant Church tradition in general”). That won’t do.

In Chapter Two Lawler takes on the pope’s famous statement with regard to homosexuality: “who am I to judge?” (made to reporters in Brazil in July 2013). Lawler opines: “the pope’s statement seemed to suggest that the Church should move away from its clear and constant teaching that homosexual acts are gravely immoral.”

In this instance, the pope’s words were taken wildly out of context by the media. Lawler – as a veteran journalist — could certainly have figured that out. This is the “proof” he offers for Pope Francis being soft on homosexuality. Once again, he couldn’t trouble himself to look up what the pope has said and done about the issue elsewhere. The facts are these:

  • Pope Francis opposed so-called “gay marriage” in a Slovakian referendum in February 2015.
  • He did the same in December 2015 as regards Slovenia.
  • In January 2015, the pope visited the Philippines and stated: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”

Terrible, dangerous, anti-traditional stuff there, huh? Laurie Goodstein, a Jewish writer for the New York Times understood what Pope Francis believes about homosexuality better than longtime Catholic journalist Phil Lawler. She wrote (7-28-15): “there is also plenty of evidence that Pope Francis stands firmly on church teachings on the traditional family and opposing same-sex marriage.”

A third instance (still in Chapter Two) is even poorer “reasoning”. It involves a 92-year-old atheist journalist who is in the habit of paraphrasing the pope’s words after the interviews he does with him.

Apparently, he has terrible lapses of memory or is deliberately deceiving his readers, since (again) the pope’s utterances elsewhere show that he believes the contrary of what he supposedly “expressed.” In Chapter Two, p. 20, Lawler writes:

In March 2015, the talkative pope again spoke with [Eugenio] Scalfari for La Repubblica. This time Francis—at least as interpreted by his favorite interviewer—appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell.

Scalfari (as reported by Sandro Magister in L’Ezpresso Magazine, 10-27-17), also thinks that the pope has denied the existence of heaven and purgatory, too. Right.

And sure enough, for the third time, Lawler doesn’t make the slightest effort to do the necessary research and see what the pope actually states elsewhere about the topic under  consideration. It’s not hard to find:

1. Pope Francis strongly asserted belief in hell in a homily of 11-12-16.

2. Talking in March 2014 to about 900 relatives of victims of the Italian mafia, the Holy Father addressed the mobsters as follows:

This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness. Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path.

“Hellfire and brimstone” preaching from a pope who supposedly denies hell? Once again, Catholic Phil Lawler is out to sea, despairing of the pope’s eschatology, yet Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager rapturously praised the pope for strongly asserting the doctrine of hellfire and judgment (National Review, 3-25-14). What is this: alternate universes?

3. Pope Francis again issued a rather striking challenge to the wealthy who exploit or ignore the poor, in his annual Lenten message, written on 10-4-15:

[T]he danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.

We have to be on-guard against terrible “liberal / heterodox” preaching like that!

4. Pope Francis was in Fatima on 5-13-17 and stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary “foresaw and warned us of the risk of hell where a godless life that profanes Him in his creatures will lead.”

Lawler also engaged in a rather “inventive” interpretation of another homily and made out that Pope Francis questioned whether St. Peter and St. James were “believers.” To state the charge is its own refutation. Here is the exact quote:

[H]e appeared to suggest that the early Church leaders who disagreed with St. Paul on the enforcement of Mosaic Law— including St. James and, before the Council of Jerusalem, which settled the question, even St. Peter himself—“were not believers.

I showed at length elsewhere how this is a completely ridiculous interpretation of what Pope Francis asserted in a homily dated 5-19-17.

This is the sort of “D+ in debating class” argumentation we find again and again in the book. Phil Lawler and legions of papal critics are perfectly sincere and well-meaning (I freely grant), but that doesn’t free them from the responsibility of (at the very least) providing solid evidence in their critiques.

Most of the book was actually taken up with gossipy, National Enquirer-like “palace intrigue” and internal affairs of Cardinals and the Curia, and what Karl Keating in his glowing Facebook review called “administrative or leadership style and actions” of the pope, etc. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller commented on this sort of thing in an interview in National Catholic Register (10-9-17):

The Gospel and the words of Jesus are very strong against those who denounce their brothers and who are creating this bad atmosphere of suspicion. I’ve heard that nobody speaks; everyone is a little afraid because they can be snitched on. It’s not the behavior of adult people, but that of a boarding school.

That hits the nail on the head. I’ve never had the slightest interest in such things (I don’t watch soap operas). I was specifically looking to see how Phil would back up the extraordinary claims made in the Introduction.

In my opinion, he has absolutely failed to demonstrate that Pope Francis is deliberately trying to subvert or overthrow Catholic tradition. That hasn’t been even remotely proven in this book.

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 was heartening, however, in the sense that if this is considered the best shot against the pope, then the fashionable “Francis is a heterodox bad pope” opinion indeed lacks a demonstrable basis.

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See my original five in-depth reviews, from which most of this was drawn:

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Also:

Quasi-Defectibility and Phil Lawler vs. Pope Francis (see also more documentation of Lawler’s reactionary leanings, on the Facebook thread) [12-28-17]
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Photo credit: photograph by torbakhopper (5-29-15) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]

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February 22, 2018

Sin in the Church and Dreher’s Inadequately Explained Rejection of Catholic Doctrine

Rod Dreher, over at The American Conservative, wrote on 2-12-18:

For a TAC review, I re-read Ross Douthat’s forthcoming book To Change The Church: Pope Francis and the Future of CatholicismIt really holds up, and as this papacy falters further—now the sex abuse scandal has directly touched the Pope, in the mess with the Chilean bishop—Douthat’s book is a must-read for understanding how Francis gets into these messes, and what it may portend for the future of Catholicism.

Late last week, I received in the mail Philip Lawler’s latest book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock. I can hardly wait to jump in.

What a huge surprise, that a guy who left the Catholic Church because of the sex scandal (the fallacy of “sin in the Church disproves the theology of the Church”) — becoming Orthodox — would be thrilled and (like a kid on Christmas Eve) “can hardly wait” to read not just one, but two pope-bashing books. Well, duh! The marvel is that Catholics flock in droves to read these hit pieces, but Dreher is perfectly understandable. Phil Lawler himself somehow (inexplicably) sees this as something to be proud of and to triumphantly report on his Twitter page: the giddy excitement of the fallen-away Catholic over his book. That must be shared with his followers! What a strange world we find ourselves in (especially we Catholics) these days.

In his article, “Why I’m Not Returning To Catholicism” (The American Conservative, 9-30-13), Dreher  explained (my italics and bolding): “the primary reason I’m not a candidate for returning to Rome is because I simply do not believe Catholic doctrine any longer.” Such “Catholic doctrine” includes, of course, papal supremacy and infallibility. So of course it’s not rocket science to predict that he would love pope-bashing books, to help confirm himself in his own errors.

In his rant about American Catholicism on the ground in Time Magazine the day before, Dreher made any number of criticisms of existing Catholicism in practice: most of which I would actually agree with: as one who has always railed against religious laxity, heterodoxy, and moral compromise. But he never explains to the reader how these moral shortcomings in human beings (including bishops, who are also human, last time I checked) prove that Catholic doctrine is false.

Yet the very next day he explains that his “primary reason” for rejecting Catholicism is “I simply do not believe Catholic doctrine any longer.” Very well. I’d like to see, then, his explanations for rejecting the doctrines and the theology and ecclesiology. Noting sin does not do that, no more than St. Paul’s noting of massive sin in the Galatian and Corinthian assemblies made him stop calling and regarding them as fellow believers in the Church. Every atheist uses the fallacious “sin and hypocrisy” argument to ditch Christianity altogether: including Dreher’s Orthodoxy.

According to Dreher’s mentality, sin (adultery and murder) explained why God rejected King David and revoked His eternal covenant with him, as a prototype and ancestor of the Messiah Jesus (oh wait!: God didn’t do that . . . sorry for my slip there!). Sin — according to Dreher, were he consistent — would explain why Catholicism lost its credibility in asserting exclusive ecclesiological and papal truth claims (so we are told by many non-Catholic critics) when St. Paul rebuked St. Peter (the first pope) for hypocrisy. But oddly enough, St. Peter (who had already denied Christ three times as well) remained pope, and somehow St. Paul got to be an apostle and write much of the New Testament despite having murdered a good number of Christians before his conversion. Imagine an elected pope today who had in his past a record of persecuting and murdering Catholics!

Mark Shea was dead-on in his critique of Dreher’s forsaking of Catholicism, in a 2006 article:

Rod Dreher has posted an account of his conversion from the Catholic Church to Orthodoxy that consists, sadly, of non-reasons for converting, non-reasons that are, I fear, simply setups for further heartache in the future, not to mention unpersuasive.

For instance, I don’t believe that the personal charisma—or lack thereof–of a bishop is sufficient reason to leave the Catholic Church, just as I don’t believe the sins of bishops and priests somehow de-legitimate the nature of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church any more than Judas’ or Peter’s did.

. . . when Rod wonders if his revised view of the papacy—that the pope can never speak infallibly—is just an ex post facto justification for a choice made mostly on emotional grounds, I have to say, “Yeah.” Because I don’t buy Rod’s notion that something about Catholic teaching has suddenly been shown to be false. The fact is, the overwhelming bulk of Rod’s testimony regarding his Catholic-to-Orthodox conversion is not about his questions regarding the truth or falsity of Catholic teaching, but about ringing changes on how the sins and “self-satisfied” average-ness of Catholics drove him and his family to distraction and how the various comforts and beauties of Orthodoxy made them feel.

These are but some of the reasons I fear that the Orthodox communion will not, in the end, provide permanent sanctuary for Rod. For in the end, what Rod cites as unbearable in Catholicism is also true of Orthodoxy. . . . when Rod discovers the history of Orthodox sins that rival anything in the history of Catholic sins—such as a long habit of being in the pocket of the state to such a degree that many clergy and even some bishops in the Soviet Union were on the KGB payroll and routinely reported the contents of confessions to the Stalinist police–what will he do? When he discovers that the Orthodox have their own struggles with priestly abuse and episcopal cover-ups, how shall he find purity then? Will he content himself with the fact that his own particular parish is beyond reproach, so it doesn’t matter what happens in the larger Orthodox communion? If so, how is that different from the Protestant sectarianism he left when he became Catholic? . . .

Orthodoxy, like Catholicism, and like the rest of humanity, teems with sinners and mediocrities living ordinary and even profoundly wicked lives. That’s life outside the Garden of Eden. When the Orthodox reveal themselves to be remarkably like human beings, and just as prone to self-satisfied ignorance, not to mention corruption and wickedness to match any pedophile priest and episcopal enabler, what then?

My prayer is that Rod and his family will not continue to build on the sand of presumed human goodness, but will trust that the church is holy only because of the mercy of her head, not because of the goodness of her members.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters (on 4-7-15) also strongly criticized Dreher’s forsaking of Catholicism (after praising many of his columns):

Frankly, as a life-long Catholic who has seen pretty much anything Dreher saw and who has unquestionably put up with more than Dreher ever suffered (if only in terms of the liturgical insanity and catechetical nonsense of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which I suffered through, and Dreher didn’t), I may be forgiven for wondering why Dreher’s experience of the Church in the ‘90s excuses his departure without demanding the departure of all others for the sake of their integrity, but that verges toward soul-reading, . . .

Writing about his change of affiliation on 18 March 2011, Dreher again failed to explain why he rejected Catholic doctrine. He talks about everything but that: the beauty in Orthodoxy and its sublime liturgy, etc.  Those are all wonderful things, but, sorry, they don’t come within a million miles of explaining why Catholic distinctive doctrines should be regarded as false teaching.

So let’s try again to find the reasons why, okay, Rod? Dreher wrote “Orthodoxy and Me” (6-22-10). Let’s see if he provides any reasons there. After reiterating a litany of sexual abuse stories that all good Catholics detest and abhor, Dreher reveals that it was yet another non-doctrinal personal-type crisis that helped lead him out of the Catholic Church:

The priest in question — orthodox and personally charismatic — lied to me in a manipulative way about how he had come to Dallas (he said the liberals in his old diocese had driven him out), and lied to my catechumen friend, who is a liberal, in the same manipulative way (he told her the conservatives had driven him out).

This was too much. When I told Julie what Father’s true background was, we were both shattered. I mean shattered. Given all that had come before, and given that we finally thought we could let our guard down, that we were among orthodox Catholics now, and we could trust them — well, something broke in us.

It would be months before we realized how broken. We returned to our old parish, and spent months going through the motions. It’s hard for me to express how spiritually depressed we were. The only strong emotion I felt about faith in those days was … anger and bitterness.

After some months of this sort of thing, he and his wife decided to visit an Orthodox Church:

[I]t was a wonderful place. The liturgy was breathtakingly beautiful. The preaching orthodox. And the people — half of them Russian, most of the others converts — could hardly have been kinder and more welcoming.

Again, that’s all great and good, as far as it goes, but it has nothing whatever to do with comparative Catholic and Orthodox doctrine. At last, he finally touches on doctrine:

I had to admit that I had never seriously considered the case for Orthodoxy. Now I had to do that. And it was difficult poring through the arguments about papal primacy.

I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome’s claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn’t believe the doctrine. And if that falls, it all falls.

I know about such “accounts” because papal infallibility was my own primary objection to Catholicism as I considered its claims in 1990 (eventually converting later that year). I studied this very thing in great depth.  They are usually written by hostile observers and strong critics of papal infallibility, like Hans Kung and Joseph Dollinger, who left the Church in 1870 over this issue, and formed the Old Catholics. Those are the sources I found and devoured.

We don’t know from this threadbare account, but I would bet good money that Dreher was reading the highly skeptical stuff from Catholic liberals and dissidents like Kung and Dollinger, and not material from orthodox Catholics who explain and defend papal infallibility. If you read only one side, you’ll come out talkin’ and believing like that side. We are what we eat. For my part, I read both sides: these accounts and Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

If indeed Dreher only read one hostile side of the debate on papal primacy and infallibility (from disenchanted Catholics), then he was doomed to reject the Catholic doctrines, and already had formed strong emotional and personal motives to do just that. It would be like reading exclusively Democrat interpretations of Republican policies in the attempt to determine if the latter are believable and worthy of allegiance or not. It’s doomed from the start (from a Republican point of view: analogous to Catholicism in this instance).

If Dreher ever reads this piece (not likely), I’d love to learn about all the materials he studied when considering the truth or falsity of papal infallibility.

Ironically, when I was strongly considering leaving Protestantism I quickly ruled out Orthodoxy on moral grounds: having discovered that it forsook apostolic morality in its decision to countenance divorce and also (increasingly now), contraception, which it itself had considered grave, moral sin until very recently. I saw both of those things as caving into the modern relativist zeitgeist and the sexual revolution: exactly what I was trying to get away from, since it is rampant within Protestantism.

I wanted the morality of the Bible and the early Church, and it was quite impossible for me to believe that Orthodoxy possesses it, rather than Catholicism, in light of these two anomalous factors. I love my Orthodox brethren, and admire a lot about Orthodoxy, but those are the reasons why I am not an Orthodox Christian (I have many many more reasons for why I am a Catholic, that I have written about many times).

Dreher then adds, revealingly, as he continues to describe his spiritual odyssey:

I had made in my life till that point the fundamental error of conceiving of the Church as an end in itself, rather than a means to the end of becoming a saint in Christ.

That’s not Catholic teaching. It was Dreher’s own error. Hence, he can’t blame the Catholic Church for it. Nor can he blame the Catholic Church (not just the priests who sexually abused others, and any bishops who outergeously covered that up) for his own anger problem:

I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. . . . over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism. That is something that could happen to anybody, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or what have you. Be warned.

He continues:

Without quite realizing what was happening, I became a Professional Catholic, and got so caught up in identifying with the various controversies in the American church that I began to substitute that for an authentic spirituality. This is nobody’s fault but my own.

Again, this is no reason whatever to reject Catholic doctrine and to leave the Church, when he freely admits that it was his fault. As a fellow Christian (of whatever stripe), I am happy that Dreher has found his own personal peace, and gotten over his self-confessed pride, anger, and idolatry. That’s all good. We all have our crosses and our besetting sins, to embrace, and overcome, respectively. As a Catholic apologist, however, I am thoroughly unconvinced, for reasons explained above, that Dreher had anywhere near adequate justification to leave the Catholic Church and reject its doctrines (where they are different from Orthodoxy’s).

Lastly, in this 2011 article, Dreher wrote:

I had become the sort of Catholic who thought preoccupying himself with Church controversies and Church politics was the same thing as preoccupying himself with Christ. Me and my friends would go on for hours and hours about what was wrong with the Church, and everything we had to say was true. But if you keep on like that, it will have its effect.

How fascinating. And it is because here is Rod Dreher, now in February 2018, gushing over books that bash Pope Francis (even reading one of them twice!). He is, precisely (ignoring his former words of wisdom), “preoccupying himself with [Catholic] Church controversies and Church politics” and maybe even thinking that this is “the same thing as preoccupying himself with Christ.”

But it’s not. It’s arguably self-justification (“see! All this mess with Pope Francis confirms that I was right to leave after all!”), He claimed in this article that he was beyond all that, and had no wish to bash Catholicism (now, safe from its grasp and in the bosom of Orthodoxy). He even claimed that he liked it more and more, now that he has forsaken it. So why is he reveling in Francis-bashing (just like so many misguided Catholics are), like the proverbial dog that returns to its own vomit?

I think it would be good for him to ponder that, on the basis of his own ostensible “spiritual self-correction”.

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Photo credit: image originally uploaded on 

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January 3, 2018

Peter&Paul

This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous Installments:

#1 Critique of Introduction

#2 Homosexuality & “Judging”

#3 The Pope Annihilated Hell?

#4 Communion / Buenos Aires Letter 

***

Phil Lawler goes after yet another of the pope’s homilies in his Chapter Seven, pp. 154-155:

In a memorable homily delivered in May 2017, Francis argued that an excessive concern with doctrine is a sign of ideology rather than faith. Reflecting on the day’s Scripture reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounted the debate over enforcing Mosaic Law on Gentile Christians, the pope said that the “liberty of the Spirit” led the disciples to an accord. The dispute, however, he said was caused by “jealousies, power struggles, a certain deviousness that wanted to profit from and to buy power,” temptations against which the Church must always guard.

The disciples who insisted on the enforcement of Mosaic Law, the pope said, were “fanatics.” They “were not believers; they were ideologized.” Thus he appeared to suggest that the early Church leaders who disagreed with St. Paul on the enforcement of Mosaic Law— including St. James and, before the Council of Jerusalem, which settled the question, even St. Peter himself—“were not believers.” The Scriptural account of that council offers no evidence that those on opposite sides of the question rendered harsh judgments of one other. They met, argued vigorously over a point that was not yet clear, and with the help of the Holy Spirit reached a decision that resolved their differences. Francis acknowledged that it is “a duty of the Church to clarify doctrine,” as the apostles did at the Council of Jerusalem. But he did not acknowledge that his critics within the hierarchy were calling for precisely the same sort of clarification with respect to papal teaching on marriage and the Eucharist.

Alright. Let’s take a closer look at the homily and the scriptural passages the Holy Father was commenting upon. Lawler loves clarity. I’m happy — delighted — to do my part in helping him achieve more of that (where the pope is concerned). Here he has temporarily  gotten away from gossipy discussions of “palace intrigue” and internal Vatican politics that take up much of his book (which, personally, I have less than no interest in) and gotten down to a theological issue that can actually be objectively examined.

And as usual (like so many papal critics) he puts quite the obligatory cynical slant on a homily where I (for what it’s worth) see nothing whatsoever contrary to Scripture or good Catholic piety. But it seems that the critics invariably see what they want to see and it just so happens to so often come out as supposedly scandalous and objectionable.

The homily in question was preached on 5-19-17 and is preserved at the Vatican Radio site. Lawler characterizes the pope’s thoughts as “Francis argued that an excessive concern with doctrine is a sign of ideology rather than faith.” I don’t see this at all in the homily.  Lawler spins it as if the pope is somehow hostile to serious doctrinal discussion or examination: as if that is a bad thing, and hence, he dismisses such as mere “ideology.” These notions are not in the homily, folks (sorry, Phil!). The homily is accurately summarized at the top as: “True doctrine unites; ideology divides.” Perfectly true and uncontroversial . . . Pope Francis states:

It was at the heart of the “first Council” of the Church: the Holy Spirit and they, the Pope with the Bishops, all together,” gathered together in order “to clarify the doctrine;” and later, through the centuries – as at Ephesus or at Vatican II – because “it is a duty of the Church to clarify the doctrine,” so that “what Jesus said in the Gospels, what is the Spirit of the Gospels, would be understood well . . . this is the problem: when the doctrine of the Church, that which comes from the Gospel, that which the Holy Spirit inspires – because Jesus said, ‘He will teach us and remind you of all that I have taught’ – [when] that doctrine becomes an ideology. And this is the great error of those people.”

He’s not saying that “excessive concern with doctrine is ideology.” That’s a wholesale distortion. He’s saying that on the one hand there is true doctrine, determined by the Church, and on the other, the distortion or corruption of the true doctrine, which becomes mere “ideology.” This is essentially the same distinction that Cardinal Newman draws in his famous comparisons of true developments of doctrine vs. heretical corruptions, and how Scripture differentiates between good, apostolic tradition and bad “traditions of men.” Why can’t Lawler grasp these rather elementary distinctions? Well, you tell me (if you can figure it out).

For my part, I think it is likely one of innumerable instances where intelligent, qualified people let their passions of one sort or another, cloud their judgment and logic in ways where it normally would be clear and logical. No one is so blind as one who will not see. It happens all the time. I critique it all the time, in my capacity as an apologist. And that’s what I see here, because this homily is not difficult to understand, and there is nothing wrong with it whatsoever. The pope reiterates his clear comparison between the good thing and the bad thing at the end:

The Church, he concluded, has “its proper Magisterium, the Magisterium of the Pope, of the Bishops, of the Councils,” and we must go along the path “that comes from the preaching of Jesus, and from the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit,” which is “always open, always free,” because “doctrine unites, the Councils unite the Christian community, while, on the other hand, “ideology divides.”

See what he’s saying? It’s not (Phil’s take): “too much consideration of doctrine is bad!” It is, rather: “doctrine is good and unitive; mere ideology is bad and divisive.” It’s shameful to distort (unconsciously or not) a pope’s words and alleged thoughts like this.

If Lawler had actually cited the pope’s words at any length, readers could actually see what he meant. But instead, we get the cynical summaries. He tries to “frame” how his readers think, rather than letting them think and discern for themselves. He spoon-feeds them carefully selected aspects and phrases, that end up distorted. This is the “propagandistic” approach. One tires of this!

If someone wants to bring up some homily of the Holy Father, and object to it, let the people read it for themselves! He gives no specific date or link. I provide the date and a link, and very considerable excerpts. My readers can go read the homily (or read most of it here) and make up their own minds about whether my interpretation is accurate (or if Phil’s is). I believe that the truth always wins in the end and that knowledge is power.

In his breathtakingly erroneous analysis, Lawler claims that the pope was preaching (and believes) that “The disciples who insisted on the enforcement of Mosaic Law, . . . were ‘fanatics.’ They ‘were not believers; they were ideologized.’ ” Note the internal logic here: he is literally claiming that the pope thinks some disciples were “fanatics” and not “believers” at all (!!!). And this, in a book, one of the central themes of which is that the pope is consistently unclear and incoherent: a dim guide at best. I always appreciate irony.

Now, let’s see what the biblical passage says in the first place. In the passage about the Jerusalem Council itself, “apostles and elders” are referred to, not “disciples.” The text (RSV) refers to “some men” (not “disciples”) who disputed with Paul and Barnabas before the council:

Acts 15:1-2 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [2] And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Then during the council we see this one line:

Acts 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”

The word “disciples” never appears in the homily: at least not in this summary of it that appears to be the one Lawler referenced. Acts 15:1 doesn’t even make clear whether those teaching this legalism are Christians. 15:5 refers to “believers.” We only have these little tidbits, so they could possibly be different groups, teaching (perhaps) somewhat different things. The second group was participating in the council, after all, so it is implied that they were at least elders. It’s irrelevant that they called themselves Pharisees. Paul did that, too, and Jesus followed their ritual customs.

The pope seems to reference not only this group of “Judaizers” but the entire group of those who opposed early Church teaching. He often digresses in his talks, to make a larger “footnoted” point. I’m very familiar with such a technique, because I do it a lot, myself, and sometimes people don’t understand my meaning or reference point. The pope does specifically differentiate the apostles from others who disagree (my italics):

The group of the apostles who want to discuss the problem, and the others who go and create problems. They divide, they divide the Church, they say that what the Apostles preached is not what Jesus said, that it is not the truth. . . .

These individuals, the Pope explained, “were not believers, they were ideologized,” they had an ideology that closed the heart to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles, on the other hand, certainly discussed things forcefully, but they were not ideologized: “They had hearts open to what the Holy Spirit said. And after the discussion ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’”

As for the Judaizers themselves, respectable biblical scholars disagree amongst themselves whether they were Christians or not. Some of the most eminent ones, like F. F. Bruce, don’t even take a stand for one view or the other. If the pope took one view or another on that question it would be inconsequential and well within the thought of existing scholarship. But it’s just as likely that he is referring to the dissenters described in Acts 15:1-2, and/or generally to the much larger group who dissent from Christian teachings. But he never says that “disciples” are “fanatics” and “not believers” and “ideologized.” Lawler, however, then decides to descend into yet more absurd speculations:

[H]e appeared to suggest that the early Church leaders who disagreed with St. Paul on the enforcement of Mosaic Law— including St. James and, before the Council of Jerusalem, which settled the question, even St. Peter himself—“were not believers.”

Huh? WOW!! It’s beyond my comprehension that a learned Catholic man could include (not as some kind of joke) something so utterly ridiculous in a published book, and not only that: attribute the hyper-absurd opinion to the Holy Father, with no basis whatsoever for doing so. This exhibits a level of illogic and sloppiness (not even to mention, lack of rudimentary Christian charity) that I have rarely seen (and I’ve been around the block many times).

How he arrived at this opinion (assuming he actually would claim to have some reason for it) is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly not expressed in the homily. Anyone can go read it at the link I provide above and see that for themselves. The homily never mentions James or Peter. Lawler somehow nevertheless deduces that Pope Francis thinks as follows:

1) There were arguments at the council;

2) St. James was there, so he must have disagreed with St. Paul;

3) Therefore St. James is not a “believer.”

4) St.  Peter isn’t a believer either, because (before the council) he, too, clashed with St. Paul [who accused him of hypocrisy, not doctrinal error, readers may recall].

Oh boy. I have to really restrain myself at this point. This kind of nonsense is truly its own refutation, so I need not refute it, anyway. Suffice it to say that Paul and Peter never disagreed on Gentiles being received into the Church. It was St. Peter, after all, to whom God first revealed his plans for that. As I read the homily, the pope sure seems to be speaking about heretics in general, not just those (believers or no) who held that Gentile Christians had to observe the entire Mosaic Law.

Nor is there any basis in Scripture to conclude that Paul and James had any fundamental disagreement on this score. From what we know (the account of Acts 15): all three were in perfect agreement (see also Galatians 2:1-9). The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Judaizers”) backs up what I’m saying about Paul and Peter:

This incident [of Paul rebuking Peter] has been made much of by Baur and his school as showing the existence of two primitive forms of Christianity, Petrinism and Paulinism, at war with each other. But anyone, who will look at the facts without preconceived theory, must see that between Peter and Paul there was no difference in principles, but merely a difference as to the practical conduct to be followed under the circumstances. . . . That Peter’s principles were the same as those of Paul, is shown by his conduct at the time of Cornelius’s conversion, by the position he took at the council of Jerusalem, and by his manner of living prior to the arrival of the Judaizers. Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required (1 Corinthians 9:20). Thus he shortly after circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem (Acts 21:26 sqq.).

And the pope says nothing different in this homily. He says:

“But there were always people who without any commission go out to disturb the Christian community with speeches that upset souls: ‘Eh, no, someone who says that is a heretic, you can’t say this, or that; this is the doctrine of the Church.’ And they are fanatics of things that are not clear, like those fanatics who go there sowing weeds in order to divide the Christian community. . . .

No one in their wildest dreams, in any imaginable universe, can get out of this homily, that the pope was including St. James and St. Peter in the negative descriptions, let alone pitting Paul against both of them. They absolutely could not be part of those “fanatics”, according to what the pope said shortly after, because they were apostles, and the pope referred to that august group as follows:

The Apostles, on the other hand, certainly discussed things forcefully, but they were not ideologized: “They had hearts open to what the Holy Spirit said. And after the discussion ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’”

I suppose Lawler could “argue” next that Pope Francis denies that James and Peter were apostles, too. After all, anything goes in his mind, at this point. If he thinks the pope denies that they are Christian believers, then not being apostles would follow as a matter of course. One claim is as ludicrous as the other.

Case closed. I’d like to see someone defend this shoddy pseudo-“research” of Phil’s. It’s truly (no exaggeration at all!) some of the worst I’ve ever seen in 35 years of Christian / Catholic apologetics and intense Bible study. And remember, he’s accusing the pope (the “lost shepherd” who is “misleading his flock”) of having these views, that he — by some utterly inexplicable and mysterious chain of “reasoning” — invented in his own head.

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Photo credit: Saints Peter and Paul (c. 1608), by El Greco (1541-1614) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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January 3, 2018

Buenos Aires

This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous Installments:

#1 Critique of Introduction

#2 Homosexuality & “Judging”

#3: The Pope Annihilated Hell?

***

Phil Lawler writes in Chapter Six, p. 126 in the manuscript he sent me:

Despite his studied ambiguity, Francis has unquestionably opened a door for the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. As a practical matter, virtually every divorced and remarried Catholic can argue that his case falls into that special category— whatever it is—of those allowed to receive the Eucharist. If his pastor disagrees, he will probably move on to another parish, until he finds a pastor who accepts his argument.

Was that the pope’s intent: to leave every parish priest free to make his own interpretations of Church teaching? Having spoken frequently about decentralization of Church authority, did the pope really mean to go that far? He has playfully encouraged young Catholics to “make a mess”; was he trying to set an example by deconstructing the teaching office?

The Code of Canon Law puts priests under a solemn obligation to avoid scandal by withholding the Eucharist from those who persist in manifest grave sin (canon 915). An adulterous relationship is a manifest grave sin. The Argentine bishops appear to say—with papal approval—that in some circumstances priests should administer Communion to people who are living in objectively adulterous relationships. Has canon 915 been amended or abrogated, then? The pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, with the unquestioned power to modify canon law. But he has not done so. In fact, he has deliberately avoided the exercise of his authority, giving the impression that formal Church teachings and laws do not really matter and can safely be ignored.

It may surprise some (including Phil!) that I actually have some significant agreements with him here. It wouldn’t surprise anyone who closely follows my writings, because I have made my views quite clear, in repeated papers and statements on Facebook. I would agree this far:

1) It would be good for the pope to further clarify and make more definite, through the exercise of his papal authority the issues that are troubling and confusing to many Catholics.

2) The present confusion makes possible (and arguably encourages) “loopholes” that can and likely already have been exploited for ill by dissidents and so-called “progressives” or theological liberals in the Church.

I’ve written about this: most notably in a National Catholic Register article of 9-30-17, entitled “I Hope the Pope Will Provide Some Much-Needed Clarity”. As to #1 above, I stated:

It’s always better to clarify than not to, in instances of confusion (a well-known phenomenon that I’ve noted as an author and apologist). Probably good would result from answering, and probably only bad from not answering.

We need answers for the sake of unity. What good comes out of what we have now in the Church? If the pope answered, I think it would do a great deal of good. This is a big reason why we have the pope in the Church: to give the “final say” at times, when it is sorely needed. “The buck stops here” . . .

The more uncertainty we have, the more we will have undue and unedifying speculation, detraction, gossip, calumny, and slander taking place in our beloved social media. And that is not good at all. Confusion within the Church doesn’t help in the slightest, our witness to the world. . . .

I think that the pope’s utter refusal to answer is troublesome. Many Catholics (including many bishops and priests) are clearly confused and virtually begging for guidance. Why would the shepherd of the sheep resolutely refuse to try to help them: even on a private basis, if he prefers that? It’s baffling to me.

Regarding #2 above, I opined:

Theological liberals / dissidents / modernists / heterodox [choose your term] are already exploiting confusion and (rightly or wrongly) perceived “loopholes” as a license to depart from true Catholic practice, just as they did with Vatican II and the reform of the Mass.

I expanded upon this latter motif in a paper of mine from December 2016:

Theological liberals habitually distort [Catholic teaching] under the pretext and pretense that any loophole becomes (after being exploited and co-opted) a giant gaping hole big enough for a truck to drive through. It becomes a (by now familiar) exercise in the “slippery slope.” If rare exceptions exist [in reception of Holy Communion], and if this is in line with previous Catholic moral tradition and canon law, then it needs to be made crystal clear which scenarios constitute such exceptions and which do not. Otherwise, there is confusion and exploitation from those who are seeking to change unchanging Catholic moral tradition.

That’s why the pope (or at least a high-ranking Cardinal in effect speaking “for” him) needs to clarify, and the sooner the better. The longer the current confusion continues on, the worse it gets.

I think Phil Lawler would agree with all or virtually all of those comments of mine. I disagree with him (and alas, millions of other Francis critics) in these two respects:

1) That Pope Francis has proven he favors admitting adulterers in an ostensible but invalid second “marriage” to Holy Communion.

2) That his letter endorsing the Buenos Aires implementation of Amoris Laetitia is unquestionably heterodox and anti-traditional (i.e., radical).

To explain these two things in a way infinitely better than I could, I turn to my good friend, theologian Dr. Robert Fastiggi. Anyone who is interested in the immediate questions at hand and is willing to consider a “positive / hopeful” interpretation wherein the pope is orthodox and within Catholic tradition, absolutely must read his article, “Pastoral Charity is the Key to Pope Francis’s Endorsement of the Buenos Aires Bishops’ Document” (Vatican Insider / La Stampa, 12-8-17). For anyone who wants clarity, here it is. It’s not from the pope himself, but it is closely and comprehensively argued (by an actual orthodox systematic theologian who specializes in magisterial authority) based on the pope’s statements and actions. Here is the heart of his reasoning:

It was recently made known that Pope Francis’s September 5, 2016, letter praising the Guidelines for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris laetitia—issued by the Argentine bishops of the Buenos Aires Region—has now been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Acta or AAS for short), the “Acts of the Apostolic See.” Since 1909 the Acta have served as the official instrument for the publication of documents and decisions of the Holy Father and the Roman Curia. In addition to Francis’s letter, the AAS include the actual Guidelines of the Argentine bishops along with a rescript by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, stating that the Supreme Pontiff decrees both his letter and the Guidelines as “authentic magisterium.” With this decree, Francis is effectively saying that he considers this local episcopal interpretation of chapter eight of Amoris laetitia to be a worthy example to the global Church. . . .

The headline on LifeSiteNews was “Confusion explodes as Pope Francis throws magisterial weight behind communion for adulterers.” Most Rev. René Henry Gracida, the retired bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, wrote on his blogsite: “Francis’ heterodoxy is now official.” . . .

In contrast to the papal critics is the view of Cardinal Gerhard Müller who, in his October 9, 2017, National Catholic Register interview with Edward Pentin, said that “if you look at what the Argentine bishops wrote in their directive, you can interpret this in an orthodox way.” Cardinal Müller is absolutely correct. There is nothing in the Guidelines of the Argentine bishops that violates Catholic faith and morals.  . . .

[B]oth the papal letter and the Guidelines themselves embody a magisterium that is primarily pastoral in nature. As with Amoris laetitia itself, there are no new teachings on Catholic faith and morals that are not in harmony with prior Catholic doctrine. In his National Catholic Register interview with Edward Pentin, Cardinal Müller correctly notes that Amoris laetitia “is in the line of holy Scripture, apostolic Tradition and the definite decisions of the papal and episcopal magisterium, which is continuous up to now. Nowhere in Amoris laetitia is it demanded by the faithful to believe anything that is against the dogma because the indissolubility of marriage is very clear.” It is also important to recognize that neither Amoris laetitia nor the Buenos Aires Guidelines authorize any changes to Catholic canon law as the canonist Dr. Edward N. Peters has made clear. Therefore, the canonical rules for the worthy reception of Holy Communion articulated in canons 915 and 916 of the 1983 Code remain fully in force. . . .

[I]t’s significant that, whereas Pope Francis has chosen to endorse and include the Buenos Aires bishops’ Guidelines in the AAS, he has not chosen to do so with other bishops’ instructions concerning Amoris laetitia. This shows that he favors these Guidelines over the more permissive ones offered by the bishops of Malta and Germany.  . . .

It’s very clear that Pope Francis wishes his letter to be an expression of his authentic magisterium because it underscores the need for pastoral charity and the hard work of welcome, accompaniment, discernment, and integration on the part of priests reaching out to those who have strayed. He wants to make sure that these points have magisterial authority. . . .

It should further be noted that the Guidelines of the Argentine bishops warn about “unrestricted access to the sacraments as if it is justified in every situation.” They are aware that access to the sacraments in some cases would be “particularly scandalous.” What they propose, with the Holy Father’s encouragement, is a process of discernment on a case-by-case basis that sometimes involves denying access to the sacraments and sometimes involves possible access. If access to the sacraments is given to those who are divorced and remarried, it must always take place in a private or reserved manner in order to avoid scandal. What can never be lacking in this process of discernment is pastoral charity. This charity, however, must never involve creating confusions “about the teaching of the Church on indissoluble marriage.” This indicates that any possible access to the sacraments for the divorced and civilly remarried must be in accord the moral and sacramental teachings of the Church. This would be the “orthodox way” of understanding the Guidelines indicated by Cardinal Müller.

Understood in this orthodox way, the Guidelines of the Argentine bishops and Amoris laetitia fully conform to the teachings of St. John Paul II (Familiaris consortio, 84), Benedict XVI (Sacramentum caritatis, 29), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1650. These documents, however, assume that the civilly remarried Catholics are aware they are committing adultery and are culpable for their violation of marital indissolubility. They do not deal with the complex and exceptional cases in which—as Cardinal Müller has noted—there may be a tension between the public status of the second bond and the objective status of the bond before God.

See also Dr. Fastiggi’s article in the same magazine (11-28-17): “Recent Comments of Pope Francis Should Help to Quiet Papal Critics”.

Lawler, in effect, breezily blew off all of this sort of relevant, very helpful treatment of the subject (not to say that he read Fastiggi’s piece), in an article dated 12-15-17:

I did not—and still do not—see this story as particularly important. . . .

The Roman Pontiff can speak with authority on questions of faith and morals, but he cannot overrule the laws of logic. In his letter to the Argentine bishops, applauding their understanding of his apostolic exhortation Pope Francis declared: “There are no other interpretations.” But there are other interpretations. Some bishops say that Amoris Laetitia upholds the traditional teaching of the Church; others say that the document changes those teachings. These interpretations are incompatible. The Argentine bishops’ document, like the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, leaves crucial questions unanswered. Until those questions are answered clearly, nothing much is accomplished by the claim that the reigning confusion has “magisterial authority.”

Make your choice: you can dismiss what this meant, like Lawler did, or you can learn many helpful and practical things, that go a long way to help resolve this mess, by reading and understanding [actual theologian] Dr. Fastiggi’s analysis (which is much more in-depth than what I cited above). What I find most curious and ironic in this “surfacey” article from Lawler, is that he and many others have called over and over for the pope to clarify; to make things clearer and more definite. So Pope Francis does exactly that, and states, “There are no other interpretations.” That is, he meant, “there should not be any other interpretations.” Isn’t that what his critics want? I do, too!

And so he does it here, and Lawler comes back with, “But there are other interpretations.” Exactly! Yes, in fact, unfortunately there are other [liberal, heterodox] interpretations (when there shouldn’t be). The pope wasn’t speaking sociologically (what is), but theologically (what should be). Lawler mixes the two things. Pope Francis made his opinion magisterial and endorsed with authority one of the interpretations that is consistent with existing moral teaching, and Lawler saw that as irrelevant and not “particularly important.” Go figure . . . You can never please some people, if they are determined to be in opposition. Even if you give them exactly what they want, they dismiss it, thumb their nose, and wave it off as of no import.

But wait! On pp. 142-143 of my PDF manuscript copy of his book, Lawler wrote:

Francis endorsed the Argentine bishops’ interpretation in a private letter and Schönborn’s interpretation in an interview with the press. Obviously neither was a formal statement of the Magisterium. . . .

By now it should be clear that in Amoris Laetitia, Francis carefully avoids making the sort of authoritative statement that  would command the assent of the faithful. Catholics cannot be expected—much less commanded—to accept a new “teaching” that the pope has chosen, for his own reasons, not to make.

Well lo and behold, the pope now has included the Argentine bishops’ guidelines and his letter of approval in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, which states that he decrees both his letter and the Guidelines as “authentic magisterium.” He just did what Lawler claimed in his book that he “carefully avoids” and has “chosen . . . not to make.” And how did Lawler respond to that (in his later article)? He did with a “ho hum” and yawning judgments that this development was not “particularly important”: not even enough to bother (another long yawn + ZZZzzzzz) writing about in his regular column at Catholic Culture.

You can’t make these things up . . . Arguably, then, Lawler in this respect exhibits a “head in the sand” mentality that we Francis defenders are constantly accused of possessing (newly vocal papal critic Karl Keating recently used the term, “ostrichism”).

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Photo credit: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photograph by Maximiliano Buono (3-5-17) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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January 2, 2018

HellKilauea

This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous Installments:

#1 Critique of Introduction

#2 Homosexuality & “Judging”

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In my first review, I showed how Phil Lawler made a mere argument from silence (from what the pope didn’t say in one homily) and claimed that he denied Catholic tradition regarding marriage (which was a huge turning-point for Lawler). I demonstrated, from what Pope Francis did say in several places, that in fact he does no such thing. In the second review, Lawler (like hundreds of media outlets), made much hay out of five of the pope’s words: isolated and, taken wildly out of context, to imply that the pope supposedly espoused serious homosexual sin. Again, I found several other utterances that absolutely proved that he didn’t do that, either.

Now, in this third review, as I shall demonstrate shortly, we have a case of a 92-year-old atheist journalist who is in the habit of paraphrasing the pope’s words after the interviews he does with him. Apparently, he has terrible lapses of memory or is deliberately deceiving his readers, since (again) the pope’s utterances elsewhere show that he believes the contrary of what he supposedly “expressed.” In Chapter Two, p. 20, Lawler writes:

In March 2015, the talkative pope again spoke with [Eugenio] Scalfari for La Repubblica. This time Francis—at least as interpreted by his favorite interviewer—appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell:

What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear: there is no punishment, but the annihilation of that soul. All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are annihilated will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished.

For the third time, Lawler (a long-established, respectable, major Catholic journalist and editor, whom I myself have often cited for many years now) doesn’t make the slightest effort to do the necessary research that I have now done three straight times: to see what the pope actually states elsewhere about the topic under consideration.

LifeSiteNews: itself a radical Catholic reactionary outlet, highly critical of Pope Francis, to its credit, was fair enough to make note of the weird “paraphrasing” practices of Scalfari. Editor John-Henry Westen wrote on 3-24-15:

Scalfari admitted that his writings are reconstructions from memory, as he does not use a recorder or take notes.  . . . The most recent interview, published March 15, is no exception.  In it Scalfari has the pope denying hell. . . .

Fr. Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, told LifeSiteNews, “All official, final texts of the Holy Father are found on the Vatican website,” and since they were never published by the Holy See Press Office they “should not be considered official texts.” They were, said Fr. Rosica, “private discussions that took place and were never recorded by the journalist.”

“Mr. Scalfari reconstructed the interviews from memory,” Father Rosica added.

LifeSiteNews (reprinting an article by papal critic Sandro Magister from L’Ezpresso Magazine) also reported (10-27-17) on Scalfari’s additional goofy views as to what the pope supposedly believes about the afterlife:

Pope Francis has abolished the places where souls were supposed to go after death: hell, purgatory, heaven. The idea he holds is that souls dominated by evil and unrepentant cease to exist, while those that have been redeemed from evil will be taken up into beatitude, contemplating God. The universal judgment that is in the tradition of the Church therefore becomes devoid of meaning. It remains a simple pretext that has given rise to splendid paintings in the history of art. Nothing other than this.

Right . . . This is the guy that Lawler cited to convey what Pope Francis believes? The statement above is so outlandishly ridiculous that Magister proclaims (all bolded letters in the article): “It is seriously doubtful that Pope Francis really wants to get rid of the ‘last things’ in the terms described by Scalfari.” Now, granted, Lawler himself had just written on the page before about how Scalfari’s reports are unreliable:

Scalfari, who was ninety years old at the time, had not recorded the pope’s answers to his questions or even taken notes but had relied on his memory to reconstruct the pope’s words. The accuracy of the quotations attributed to the pontiff in La Repubblica was therefore questionable. . . . Making no claim to a photographic memory, Scalfari explained that he preferred to put the thoughts of his subject (in this case Pope Francis) into his own, presumably more elegant, words. That approach might be justified if Scalfari understood perfectly what his subject was saying, but no one understands another man perfectly. Scalfari’s reconstructed quotations, then, reflected what Scalfari understood the pope to be saying, which might have been quite different from what the pope intended. . . . helpless readers were left to guess for themselves which passages, if any, were inaccurate.

So why does Lawler quote these worthless notes, in the first place, as to the pope’s opinions? Having just exposed Scalfari as unreliable, he  nevertheless chose to end his section with one of the “bogus quotes.” He was scoring some valid points in critiquing the pope’s interviews with this journalist (I concur wholeheartedly with that). He should have left it at that.

Once again, at any rate, we find that the pope in fact believes in hell. I won’t bother spending time proving that he also believes in heaven and purgatory. In a homily on 11-22-16, Pope Francis taught:

I remember as a child, when we went to catechism we were taught four things: death, judgment, hell or glory.  After the judgment there is this possibility. ‘But Father, this is to frighten us…’ ‘No, this is the truth because if you do not take care of your heart, because the Lord is with you and (if) you always live estranged from the Lord, perhaps there is the danger, the danger of continuing to live estranged in this way from the Lord for eternity.’ And this is a terrible thing!

Talking in March 2014 to about 900 relatives of victims of the Italian mafia, the Holy Father addressed the mobsters as follows:

This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness. Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path. You have a father and a mother – think of them and convert.

“Hellfire and brimstone” preaching from a pope who supposedly denies hell? Life’s awful strange, ain’t it? Once again, Catholic Phil Lawler is out to sea, despairing of the pope’s eschatology, yet Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager (article of 3-25-14, in National Review) gets it, and is very happy about the pope’s message:

Last week Pope Francis warned Italy’s Mafia leaders that if they continue their evil ways, they will go to hell.

Hooray for the pope! More power to him for threatening evil people with hell.

I had begun to despair that in my lifetime I would hear such talk from mainstream Christian or Jewish leaders. For the past two generations, God has rarely been depicted as judging and punishing.

Pope Francis again issued a rather striking challenge to the wealthy who exploit or ignore the poor, in his annual Lenten message, written on 4 October 2015:

This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29).

As a fourth example, the Holy Father, in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2017 to canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto on the 100th anniversary of the first of six Marian apparitions there, stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary “foresaw and warned us of the risk of hell where a godless life that profanes Him in his creatures will lead.”

Four strikes and you’re out (or was that three?).

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Photo credit: Lava lake in Halema’uma’u crater. Kilauea volcano, Hawaii, photographed by Ivan Vtorov (6-5-12) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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January 2, 2018

Judge

This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous installments:

#1: Critique of Introduction

*****

Chapter Two: “The Francis Effect” includes the section, “Who Am I to Judge?” Here is what Lawler has to say about that:

[I]f orthodox Catholics had concluded that Francis would stand firm against homosexual influence within the Church, their confidence was shattered by his remarks to reporters on a trip to Brazil in July 2013. Asked about homosexual priests, he replied, “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” . . .

[T]he key words in his reply to the question—the “sound bite” that would be carried around the world and repeated for years—were “Who am I to judge?” As reported by journalists generally favorable to the homosexual cause, the pope’s statement seemed to suggest that the Church should move away from its clear and constant teaching that homosexual acts are gravely immoral. . . .

[T]he pope had made the fateful statement—“Who am I to judge?”—and the Catholic world would be forced to live with its legacy. Why did Francis allow himself to address such a controversial topic without preparing his answer carefully? Why were the most famous words of his pontificate uttered in an informal question-and-answer session on an airplane ride?

To answer the last question first: obviously it was because the media / reporters from the session wanted the words taken out of context to be spread far and wide. I don’t see how the pope is to blame for that. Everyone knows that words are often taken out of context in order to suit some particular agenda of the one citing them. And everyone knows that the secular media very often does that. I need not waste any time arguing this. It’s perfectly self-evident.

The relevant question is, then (as in our previous installment): what is the pope’s true view, and what did he express in this interview, in context? And if the radically secularist homosexual activists thought he was “on their side” and literally in favor of Church-sanctioned sodomy, have they changed their mind since this incident? First, here is the context of the remark:

[I]f a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. [see the source]

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin interpreted the above (quite sensibly) as follows:

In ordinary parlance, “being gay” can mean anything from having same-sex attraction to leading an active “gay lifestyle” to endorsing and advocating a pro-homosexual ideology. The last of these would be functioning as a member of a lobby, and he indicates that this is not what he is talking about. He then describes those he is talking about as people who “accept the Lord and have goodwill.”

He then seems to further clarify who he is talking about by saying that “The tendency [i.e., same-sex attraction] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

Taking his statements together, what emerges is a portrait of individuals who have same-sex attraction but who nevertheless accept the Lord and have goodwill, as opposed to working to advance a pro-homosexual ideology. This would definitely include people with same-sex attraction who strive to live chastely (even if they sometimes fail). . . . (“7 things you need to know about what Pope Francis said about gays”: National Catholic Register, 29 July 2013)

Akin made another great point in the same article:

The statement that they should not be marginalized is similarly in keeping with the Holy See’s approach to the subject, as 1986 Vatican document On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. . . .

Benedict himself (as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was the signer of [that document] . . ., as well as the follow-up document on non-discrimination regarding homosexual persons.  So, as usual, the press is painting a false picture by contrasting the “good” Francis and the “bad” Benedict.

See also the related sections in the Catechism: #2357-2359, 2396.

If this press conference was so incredibly momentous and signaled a change in Church policy, the pope seems to have forgotten his own alleged radical resolve. After all, he opposed so-called “gay marriage” in a Slovakian referendum in February 2015. According to one gay activist (from the same article), the pope had undergone an astonishing transformation in less than two years:

“‘It’s pretty clear that since the synod on the family last fall … the Catholic right has really gotten to the Vatican and to Pope Francis,’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in an Advocate interview. ‘It’s really crushing to a lot of people who were hoping to see policy change.’

Was that an isolated, anomalous incident? No. The Holy Father did the same thing in December 2015 as regards Slovenia (whose citizens then voted — 63.5% — to reject same-sex “marriage”). How about a third? In January 2015, the pope visited the Philippines and stated: “‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”

In an address on 1 October 2016, Pope Francis made his views very clear yet again:

You, Irina, mentioned a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonisations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonisations. [to be fair, Lawler does cite a portion of this on p. 35; though he critically added: “the very next day, in an illustration of what Sandro Magister had called the ‘two-step,’ the pope undercut his own statement.”]

Terrible, dangerous, anti-traditional stuff there, huh? A New York Times article from 28 July 2015 stated about the last statement above: “His remarks were reported in the Catholic news media, but did not make headlines in the American secular media.” Really?! What a tremendous surprise! You mean, they didn’t even report it? This article actually gets it right, for a change:

When he has spoken about homosexuality, he has tended to take a pastoral approach, calling on the church to love and care for all. Yet there is also plenty of evidence that Pope Francis stands firmly on church teachings on the traditional family and opposing same-sex marriage.

Thus, we have the spectacle of a Jewish writer for the New York Times (Laurie Goodstein) understanding what Pope Francis believes about homosexuality better than a longtime Catholic journalist named Phil Lawler. Good for her, and a big “boo” and thumbs down for Lawler. Daily Beast got it, too (article of 9-30-15):

The pope’s vision of social equality simply does not extend to LGBT people despite his famous “Who am I to judge” moment during his first apostolic trip, when he was asked what he thought about a devout gay priest. In America last week, the cheering crowds who praised his inspirational words about supporting the poor and persecuted were also cheering a pope who, by action at least, supports anti-gay discrimination. . . .

Lest we forget, despite the fact that this pope does preach acceptance for all, that acceptance clearly does have its limits. He does not actually support same-sex marriage, siding instead with the Church’s long-standing view that a family consists of a married man and woman who don’t use birth control and who spend every Sunday at Mass.

On 9 December 2016, the Express shouted out in its headline: “Pope BANS homosexuals and those promoting gay culture from being priests.” This article observed:

In a 100 page training manual signed by the pontiff, the Pope appears to have reiterated the church’s view on non heterosexuals.

It appears to outright ban anyone who identifies as being gay – even if they are celibate – to take up holy orders. . . . 

It states: “‘The Church, while deeply respecting the people concerned, cannot admit to a seminary or into holy orders those who practise homosexuality, show deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support what is called gay culture.”

Published by the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official journal the new decree appears to identify homosexuality as a “problem.”

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Photo credit: Judge Hugh Denis Macrossan (1881-1940)  in his legal dress, Brisbane, 1 February 1934 [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license]

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