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March 5, 2021

Phil Lawler is the author of Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (2018). One can tell from the title that Phil was making some pretty serious accusations. In my many critiques of it (perhaps more than from any other Catholic), he seemed to be declaring that Pope Francis was a heretic: at least in a vague, broad way. For example, in the Introduction, he stated that Pope Francis is:

. . . leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. . . .  a source of division. . . . radical nature of the program that he is relentlessly advancing. . . . encouraged beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the prior teachings of the Church. If that complaint is justified, 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 . . .

That sure sounds to me (as an apologist) that he believed the pope was guilty of some sort of heresy (and entails even judgments of his motivations and the inner workings of his heart and mind). Wouldn’t you agree? In chapter two, p. 20, Lawler opined that “Francis . . . appeared to cast doubt on the existence of hell.” That would most certainly be heresy, if true, as the existence of hell is a de fide dogma that can’t be doubted.

In his chapter six, writing in the context of reception of the Holy Eucharist, Lawler contended that the pope “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.”

If things like these (assuming for the sake of argument that they are accurate) aren’t heresy, they certainly are an excellent impression of same.

Yet when push came to shove, and Lawler had to agree or disagree with the many “statements” or “rebukes” put out by overwhelmingly reactionary signees, Phil Lawler essentially argued that we don’t know for sure whether the pope is a heretic and so we shouldn’t claim that he is. To me, this is a very positive development in his thinking. Let’s look at what he stated in this regard. On 3 May 2019, Phil wrote the article, “Is the Pope a heretic? The danger of asking the wrong question” (Catholic Culture), in which he wrote:

Was it sheer frustration that prompted a group of Catholic scholars to issue their open letter charging Pope Francis with heresy? If so, I can understand. I share the frustration. The silence of the Catholic hierarchy, in the face of confusion that is tearing the Church apart, is maddening.

. . . Nevertheless I fear that this letter does more harm than good, compounding the problem that loyal Catholics now face.

Well, is the Pope a heretic? I am not qualified to address that question. . . . Who could make the authoritative judgment that the Pope had fallen into heresy and therefore lost his authority? Certainly not a handful of independent scholars.

To their credit, the authors of the Easter Letter recognize the need for an authoritative statement, for a judgment by the world’s bishops. But if that is their goal, should they not have approached sympathetic bishops privately, quietly, to make their case? . . .

Peter Kwasniewski, one of the principal authors of the letter, now says that the document lists “instances of heresy that cannot be denied.” This, I’m afraid, is a demonstrably false statement. The “instances of heresy” mentioned in the letter have been denied, and repeatedly. The authors of the letter are convinced of their own arguments, but they have not convinced others. In fact they have not convinced me, and if they cannot persuade a sympathetic reader, they are very unlikely to convince a skeptical world. . . .

It will be easier, now, to classify anyone who challenges the Pope as a member of the same group that is making charges of heresy. Consequently life will be more difficult for those of us who are not calling for the deposition of the Roman Pontiff, but simply for a clarification of Church teaching. . . .

Now, by asking bishops to do something that none of them is likely to do, the authors of the Easter Letter have given timid bishops one more excuse for their silence. Pleas for clarity can now conveniently be lumped together with charges of heresy, as evidence of “extremism.”

In a follow-up article of 16 May 2019, Phil added: “the authors of the open letter made a tactical mistake, because the charge of heresy is very difficult to prove . . .”

On 31 May 2019, Phil objected to the “unjust” banishment of John Rist, — one of the signees of the notorious “Easter Letter” — from the Patristic Institute Augustinianum. Phil says that “Rist’s orthodoxy is not in question” and that “He is being punished for questioning the orthodoxy of another prominent figure. And since the target of his criticism is the Bishop of Rome, a special rule applies.” Indeed it does. To his credit, Phil (almost unwittingly) illustrates the legitimacy of Rist’s censure:

In that 2018 document Veritatis Gaudium, amending the rules of the pontifical faculties, Pope Francis stipulated that the professors must be loyal to the Church. The wording of the relevant clause (26.2) is noteworthy:

Those who teach matters touching on faith and morals are to be conscious of their duty to carry out their work in full communion with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Roman Pontiff[emphasis {– Phil’s own –} added]

It looks to me like the action was perfectly justified, when we examine some of the outrageous things Rist has stated. For example:

I stop there to ask again whether harsh actions of this sort — combined with the well-documented rigging of the Synod on the Family — indicate that the Pope’s ‘paradigm shift’ should be recognized as an attempt — under cover of offering solutions to genuine social problems in Western society — to impose on the Church radical changes of doctrine, developed not by laity but largely in Germany by a group of relativist Hegelian theologians? . . .
I regard this papacy as a disaster and Bergoglio as possibly — because of his tampering with established doctrine — as possibly the worst pope we have ever had. . . .
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The whole thing amounts to a heresy on the scale of the Arian heresy. That took some 60 years to work out. I fear that this set of moral heresies may last even longer. (“Scholar stumps Cardinal Cupich, asks if Pope’s ‘paradigm shift’ means ‘radical’ doctrinal change,” Dorothy Cummings McLean, LifeSite News, 2-15-18)
Phil Lawler appears very confused. He wants to be able to object to the pope’s teachings (and/or perceived lack of actions) in very strong terms, yet when asked if he is a heretic, he hesitates. I think the hesitation is the natural reaction of a pious Catholic. But it’s inconsistent with his other rhetoric. Lawler has in effect strongly insinuated that Pope Francis is heretical, many times, including, notably, in his pathetic book.
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So what explains his hesitancy to use the “h word”? It’s pure speculation, but I think it’s plausible that he has observed the extreme reactionary nonsense of folks like Taylor Marshall and the crazed, virtual schismatic Archbishop Vigano and has stepped back a bit, so that he can still be taken seriously by serious orthodox Catholics. Perhaps an influence in this regard is his (presumed) good friend and associate at his website, Dr. Jeff Mirus, who absolutely excoriated and eviscerated Marshall’s trash-book, Infiltration: in a review published the same day as Phil’s defense of John Rist:

Infiltration is certainly an all-time classic…in the category of conspiracy theories.

It is hard to know where to begin a review, since discussing the book is rather like pointing out the absurdity of a crazy relative who always has an answer to every objection, pulled out of a world that exists only in his head. The fundamental stupidity of the book arises from the author’s felt need to explain the normal human condition in terms of a series of conspiracies. Developments and ideas the author considers bad—from the loss of the Papal States through the Second Vatican Council and right up to the current pontificate—are ascribed to the secret machinations of the Masons, the Modernists, the Communists, the gays, the St. Galen Mafia, you name it.

The technique is reminiscent of McCarthyism in America in the 1950s. If you have an idea that is similar to one held by one of the conspiratorial groups, it is a sure sign of the effectiveness of the conspiracy. If you happen to know someone in one of the conspiratorial groups, it is a sure sign that you have been successfully recruited. . . .

Infiltration, as I have indicated, displays an understanding of human history typical of your mad relative. What else can we expect from a book which makes wild assertions about plots, conspiracies and complex theological or institutional problems, each of which the author claims to treat decisively and beyond doubt in roughly three to five pages! Moreover, Marshall seems not even to realize that culture cannot be explained by conspiracy, and conspiracy cannot be proved by correlation. (Infiltration: An idiot’s guide to the problems of the Church”, Catholic Culture, 19 May 2019)

This is not to say that Mirus doesn’t take his own shots at Pope Francis, too. In an article dated 10-22-20 he referred to “the disastrous papacy of Francis.” He was reacting to one of the never-ending tempests in a teapot; this one about homosexuals and family rights. The pope’s words have been quite sufficiently explained (as having been butchered and taken out of context) , so that there is no problem here whatever:
Pope Francis and Civil Unions: Critical Context (Mike Lewis, Where Peter Is, 10-22-20)
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Those Pope Francis quotes: Video editing and media controversy” (Dr. Pedro Gabriel, Where Peter Is, 10-22-20)
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Pope Francis’s Words on Civil Unions Distorted by Editing (Fr. Matthew Schneider, Through Catholic Lenses, 10-22-20)
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Has Pope Francis changed Church teaching on same-sex civil unions? (Dawn Eden Goldstein & Robert Fastiggi, Where Peter Is, 10-22-20)
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Full Text Proves Francis Meant Civil Unions INSTEAD OF “Gay Marriage” (Fr. Matthew Schneider, Through Catholic Lenses, 10-24-20)
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Nuncio Further Clarifies Pope on Civil Unions (Fr. Matthew Schneider, Through Catholic Lenses, 11-5-20)
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Has Pope Francis changed Church’s doctrine on Homosexuality? (Francis Figuero, The Reproach of Christ, 10-22-20)
The problem, then, seems to be that folks like Jeff Mirus and Phil Lawler aren’t willing in charity to withhold scathing judgment of the pope, until the full story of any given [almost always trumped-up] “incident” is heard. They’re lightning quick to judge. Mirus was falsely judging the Holy Father on the very date that several people above were explaining (indeed, proving) that the pope had done nothing wrong; overturned no Church precedent or tradition or moral teaching at all. So he likely never even read them.
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As with so many people today, otherwise good Catholics and good men like Phil Lawler and Jeff Mirus have bought a cynical, hostile, outrageously false narrative regarding Pope Francis (a thing I’ve been strongly opposing these past eight years, as have many others): against which mere facts and reason — within this mentality — are oblivious and irrelevant, almost disallowed.
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But I’m delighted that Phil Lawler has at least the sense and wits to not proclaim that Pope Francis a heretic. Credit where due . . .
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Photo credit: An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition and the execution of sentences by burning heretics on the stake in a market place. Wood engraving by Bocort after Henty Duff Linton. This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]
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Summary: Phil Lawler, author of the hit-piece against Pope Francis, Lost Shepherd, hesitates to classify him as a heretic. This is good, but it’s inconsistent, given what he does state about the pope.
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May 6, 2020

This occurred in a public post on Patrick Coffin’s Facebook page, then later on Leila Lawler’s public Facebook page.

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Patrick Coffin: Don’t miss next week’s episode of The Patrick Coffin Show —Making Sense of Pope Francis with author Phil Lawler.

Mike Mudd: Wanna make it really interesting, have Dave Armstrong on as well. 

Lawler would never agree, even if I wanted to, so it’s a complete non-starter.

Mike Mudd: Even so, it would be a great show to discuss the opposite views.

And would be the first time — to my knowledge — that the two sides were actually heard together. But since Phil already made it clear he had no interest in dialogue with me, he certainly wouldn’t live, on-air. He wants to do all he can to utterly ignore all my critiques.

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.

Hi Phil,

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

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).

[14 minutes pass]

Is this exchange already over, too, before it begins?

[89 more minutes pass]

Phil Lawler: Don’t troll, Dave; you’re better than that.

You say you sent me a letter. I say I never received it. You say I ignored it and mischaracterize you. So send it to me. This isn’t trolling. Mike Mudd tagged me and I came and commented. Achieving further mutual understanding and desperately needed unity in the Church is a good thing, not bad.

Here’s something I heartily agree with. Phil wrote yesterday on his Facebook page: “I am angry- at the tactics of those who, while speaking in lofty terms about open dialogue and respectful debate, do their utmost to impugn the motivations and question the good faith of those who disagree with them.”

Over on Leila Lawler’s Facebook page, my name came up as well:

SK McKenna: I prefer David Armstrong’s review of this book on Amazon.

Leila Marie Lawler: Well you don’t actually know if you prefer that review, if you haven’t read the book. 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.

Thomas Berryman: Without wishing to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, or be disrespectful, I prefer to read a book myself and reach my own conclusions, especially before attempting comment on said book. Some of us adult converts (like Dave) tend to be a little zealous in our desire to protect our newfound Church, without regard for the facts. I remember meeting him once back in the early 80s here in Detroit, when we were both evangelicals. He was well-intentioned and obviously a man of faith, but even then he had a tendency to build up a head of steam and shoot off in occasionally odd directions.

He’s a good man. But he is very wrong about Phil’s book.

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?

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.

Phil refused to engage in a simple discussion with me, trying to find more common ground. He seems unwilling to send me this long private letter that he referenced. He falsely accused me of trolling, then his wife did, when I was trying to be conciliatory. So I will now block them both. I’m still accessible via email if they have second thoughts about wishing to communicate again like normal orthodox Catholic adults.

Both are now blocked, having both falsely accused me today of “trolling” when I was trying to be conciliatory and open up lines of communication. Should they change their minds and seek to talk like adult Catholics ought to, again, my email is always accessible:

apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com

And they can comment on my blog. But I’m through with the silliness with them on Facebook.

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(originally posted on 3-10-18 on Facebook)

Photo credit: book cover of Phil Lawler’s book, from its Amazon page.

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May 5, 2020

Papal nitpicker Phil Lawler (“Personally I am not a traditionalist. I love the Latin Mass, and attend it occasionally, but I do not seek it out”: 8-24-17), author of the notorious book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (2018), which I have critiqued many times, appears to expressly question the Second Vatican Council. The use of the word “ambiguities” in particular is taken straight from the playbook of reactionaries. They clearly have influenced Lawler’s thought, even though he is not one of them (since he hasn’t forsaken the ordinary form Mass).

One of the key differences between us plain old “orthodox” Catholics and those who call themselves traditionalists; and the more radical reactionaries, is in our view of Vatican II. The non-traditionalist, non-reactionary orthodox Catholic contends that the council itself was fully orthodox and in line with previous Catholic tradition (Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity”), and that its teachings were cynically distorted by liberals after the council for their own nefarious purposes (“the spirit of Vatican II”).

The traditionalist and (more so) reactionary usually argue that there are intrinsic problems with the council documents themselves, which arose from modernist influence at the council: folks who deliberately planted “ambiguous time-bombs” that could later be interpreted in a heterodox manner, in contradiction to received Catholic tradition.

One can observe Lawler below grappling with the issue and being torn between these two options. Though he doesn’t come right out and firmly espouse reactionary views, his rhetoric suggests that they are altogether respectable, honest interpretations, and worthy of consideration. And in my opinion, that is already going way too far and forsaking the uncompromising, strong view of the authority of ecumenical councils that observant Catholics have always held.

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But what about the “conservative” interpretation? Is it persuasive? Can it be reconciled with the facts? . . . the time has come for a frank—that is, uncensored—discussion of these questions.

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?

Suggesting that there could be difficulties with some Vatican II documents does not mean denying the authority of the Council’s teaching. No document drafted by human hands will ever be perfect. There may be a need for clarification, elucidation, explanation, even correction.

More to the point, while it is certainly true that the “spirit of Vatican II” that is often cited in support of radical changes cannot be reconciled with the actual teachings of the Council, it is also true that the proponents of change can cite specific passages from Council documents in support of their plans.

So are those passages being misinterpreted. Are they taken out of context? Or are 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. (“Let’s stop pretending: something DID go wrong after Vatican II,” Catholic Culture, 8-23-17)

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Related Reading

See many papers on Vatican II (via word search) on my Church web page.

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Photo credit: Pope St. Paul VI makes Joseph Ratzinger a cardinal in 1977 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

***

 

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.”

***

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

***

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

***

 

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)

*
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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December 28, 2017

TempleDestroyed2

Neither the Church nor the pope can fall away from the faith. It’s never yet happened in 2000 years, and will not. This is the doctrine of indefectibility.

Catholics believe in the indefectibility of the Church, which includes the pope, on a biblical basis, as well as a traditional one. St. Robert Bellarmine (in teaching that was reiterated by the First Vatican Council in 1870) taught that the pope could never bind the faithful to heresy; that it would and could never happen.

Yet, lo and behold, today we hear a growing loud, relentless, chorus of naysaying, faith-challenged folks who seem to think this can happen. We have people like Phil Lawler (who studied political philosophy in college and later became a prominent Catholic journalist), author of the upcoming book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock, stating in its Introduction:

I did my best to provide assurance—for my readers and sometimes for myself—that despite his sometimes alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that he was. . . .

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.

What exactly is Lawler claiming? What teaching of the Church is Pope Francis supposedly going to change? Well, we don’t know for sure yet. The book comes out next February 26th. I’m quoting these portions from the glowing review given to the book by Catholic apologist and one of the fathers of the modern apologetics movement (and my good friend), Karl Keating.

Most critics of the pope center upon Amoris Laetitia. Lawler is reluctant to say that it espouses heresy. But he claims that it “is not a revolutionary document. It is a subversive one. Francis has not overthrown the traditional teaching of the Church, as many Catholics hoped or feared that he would.” Ah, I see. Keating goes on to presumably describe how Lawler reasoned through to this conclusion:

The document gives wide pastoral latitude, enough so that, in practice, in certain areas the traditional teaching of the Church can be set aside while not being denied.

Lawler opines: “Pope Francis has not taught heresy, but the confusion he has stirred up has destabilized the universal Church.” We’ll have to see the full reasoning (or facsimile thereof) when the book comes out, but at first glance, this sure looks to me like the classic reactionary mindset of what I have described as “quasi-defectibility.”

It’s been used by radical Catholic reactionaries (see the definition of that category, which is different from traditionalists) for at least fifty years, particularly with regard to Vatican II, but also recent popes, and the Pauline (ordinary form) Mass.

The idea is that an ecumenical council and popes supposedly espoused something akin to a defection from traditional teaching, but not quite. Purveyors of this dangerous notion get right up to claims concerning the cliff and abyss of heresy and then draw back. It’s the ambiguity and fog of uncertainty that is key, you see. I’ve been closely studying and refuting the arguments of radical Catholic reactionaries for over twenty-five years, and have written two books about them. I wrote about quasi-defectibility five years ago:

I have used the term “quasi-defectibility” to describe the far more radical position of holding that the Church is still the Church, but in very dire condition and barely surviving. I’ve always agreed (closely following my mentor, Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.) that modernism is the greatest crisis in the history of the Church. Disagreement with radical Catholic reactionaries (and “traditionalists” to some extent, depending on the person) occurs regarding its exact cause and location, and the solutions to the problem.

And also as far back as 2000:

[It’s] another attempt to have it both ways, to be ambiguous and nebulous, just as Vatican II is accused of being. . . . validity is a moot point within the overall context of the radical skepticism and lack of faith (acceptance of quasi-defectibility or literal defection) of reactionaries.

In a similar way, I described the views of Catholic muckraker and sensationalistic journalist Michael Voris, in one of his innumerable videos four years ago:

This exhibits an alarming lack of faith and hope, which is highly characteristic of the modernists within the Church and also Protestants who attack the Church.

For Voris, only a tiny bit of the Catholic Church (“small remnant”) is even left. Extreme language abounds. Truth and goodness in the Church? “Almost none” is left, so he informs us, because “those first principles are gone.” . . .

Voris is not asserting defectibility, but at some point, the more pessimistic we are about the Church and her state, it can become, in some respects, a sort of “quasi-defectibility” outlook. . . .

So Voris and his many thousands of followers don’t see anything positive around them to highlight? All they can do is moan and groan and complain about the Church, and if anyone points that out, they have their head in the sand and are pretending that everything is perfect (as if that’s ever been the case at any time in the history of the Church)?

Voris is not just pointing out failings. He seems to think there is barely any Church left. It’s the same as always: if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it: the same old dangerous errors recycled again for our time. People love the gloom-and-doom message. For the life of me, I don’t know why, but something in human nature resonates with that.

I haven’t claimed that Voris is leading people into schism (someone on my Facebook page thought that I did). He’s the one who talks about a “Church within a Church,” etc. I think he’ll lead many people to despair, however, if he keeps this up, . . .

Voris wasn’t even talking about Pope Francis. But this same mentality and faith-challenged, anxiety-laden mindset has been regurgitated yet again in our times, with regard to Pope Francis. We’re now literally to the point of widespread rampant tin foil hat conspiratorialism and virtual paranoia and hysteria.

I dealt with this sort of thing in my (originally 2002) book, Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries. Nothing is new under the sun. The sort of attitudes now widely observed were taking place back then, when we had a saint as pope. They were simply confined almost exclusively to reactionaries and many traditionalists as well. Now they are rapidly branching out to those not in either camp: regular orthodox Catholics: well-meaning, sincere, but choosing to go down this wrong and destructive path.

I hope to dissuade them from it, for their own good and the good of the Church and unity and an effective witness to the dying world, but my voice is but a soft whisper compared to the avalanche of anti-Francis rhetoric now taking place every day. For some reason, people love the negative, pessimistic, despairing, “o woe is us!” outlook more than the positive, optimistic, hope-filled way of life and vision. I’ve never understood that, but it is a fact of life.

If Phil Lawler is claiming that Pope Francis is going to overturn an actual dogma of the Church, that’s an assertion of defectibility: a thing that has never happened in the history of the Church, and which faithful Catholics believe never would or could happen. I think he’s sharp enough to realize the utterly radical, alarming nature of that claim, and so he steps back and adopts the reactionary tactic of quasi-defectibility: allowing him to have it both ways, and talk out of two sides of his mouth. He can sound the alarm and play the prophet (like Voris, Sungenis, Ferrara, The Remnant, 1 Peter 5, Lifesite News, Rorate Caeli, the reactionary-dominated Correctio, and others have been doing) about how terrible things are without — like Gandalf — going over the hopeless cliff of defectibility.

But (note this closely): if the Church hasn’t defected, it hasn’t! Not A = Not A. Basic logic. If Pope Francis indeed hasn’t, and/or won’t, cause the Church to depart from any of her magisterial teaching, where’s the beef? Lawler has undercut the very heart of his alarmist “case” by refusing to assert a coming defectibility. It’s simply good ol’ reactionary doublethink and hysteria yet again: that does no one any good.

I thought it might be interesting to some of my readers, to see that I critiqued the essential nature of what is going on today, in chapter three of my 2002 book, entitled, “The Indefectibility of the Church” (again: “nothing new under the sun” as Ecclesiastes states). Most of my reasoning was directed against the reactionary attacks on Vatican II and the New Mass, but it fits perfectly into the “anti-Francis” mentality today. I did, however, allude to the attacks back then against Pope St. John Paul II, in #75 and #77. Chapters 13 and 15 of the book (about 22 pages total) were devoted to savage, slanderous attacks on Pope St. John Paul II, as well as Blessed Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John XXIII. Here it is:

III. The Indefectibility of the Church

  1. Many radical Catholic reactionaries believe that the “bitter fruits” of Vatican II have all but “destroyed” the Church. This is “quasi-defectibility.” The reactionary rarely – in mixed company — wants to assert this outright (according to their incessant doublethink), but how close they habitually come! It becomes an Orwellian situation wherein the Church can’t defect, yet it can come so close that the observer is tempted to opine that it is a distinction without a difference. Meanwhile, some reactionary pessimists continue their exodus from the “middle position” (relatively speaking) to the more logically consistent but less orthodox formally schismatic positions of sedevacantism and other similar groups. Faithful Catholics believe that God will not let the Church in any way, shape, or form be “destroyed.”
  1. G. K. Chesterton observed:

At least five times, . . . with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died. (The Everlasting Man, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1925, 254)

  1. History offers ample illustration that the heretics always eventually disappear, or at least greatly diminish in influence. The Church will survive. In fact, the beginning signs of coming revival are plain already, if one would simply maintain a little hope and optimistic faith that God is in control.
  1. The present crisis is the most serious the Church has ever faced, per Pope St. Pius X’s summation of the evils of modernism. At the same time (in contrast to reactionaries), orthodox Catholics remain total optimists as to eventual outcome — through faith, reading the signs of the times and of positive developments, and the knowledge of previous crises in Church history. We vehemently deny that the Church has defected or has been taken over by the forces of evil, and all the other pessimistic, scandalous, and pathetic scenarios that reactionaries suggest concerning causes of the crisis and institutional demise, “auto-demolition,” etc.
  1. Reactionaries think that the Church will eventually wake up and abandon the great “liberal experiment” of Vatican II. But this is the atrocious and exceedingly un-Catholic belief that a validly convoked ecumenical council, ratified by a pope, could be so heretical as to necessitate “abandonment,” as if we were talking about the Robber Council of 449. This is defectibility and nonsense — a pure hybrid of a certain strain of a-historical Protestantism and “Catholic” liberalism.
  1. The Church, we are told, has institutionally defected (or almost so). Never before (so reactionaries claim) has rampant (institutionalized, proclaimed) error run roughshod over orthodoxy for so many years after a council. Obviously, then, according to reactionaries, the Church is in dire straits. As in the view of Martin Luther, the Church has descended into darkness, and brave prophets have now been raised to bring it back to life. Luther seemed to think of himself as some sort of prophet-figure, too. As reactionaries seem to follow his example in many other ways, why not this one, also?
  1. Reactionaries contend with a straight face that the Church has collapsed, apparently mainly because of the New Mass, ecumenism, and religious liberty. If they want to see a real collapse, they should go look at the various liberalized Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ. Even the Orthodox (who pride themselves on their strict traditionalism and immunity from modernism) accept contraception and divorce. One can’t fail to note the striking contrast. All these groups have institutionalized theological errors and immorality, and now – in some instances — call evil good, and heresy, orthodoxy. I don’t think reactionaries have the slightest inkling of what real “near-spiritual death” looks like.
  1. Obviously, modernism has filtered down to reactionaries also, since they are so pessimistic about the Church, just like the most liberal, skeptical German higher critics of the 19th century. They doubt the council; they doubt the pope. The Church is practically in shambles; almost in the grips of Antichrist himself . . . What better success could the modernists achieve than to get a committed, devout Catholic to doubt those things, even while he bashes the modernists who have assisted in the promulgation of such loss of belief (though not through the council itself)?! The entire reactionary argument about the virtual downfall of the Church is based on a subjective house of cards. Once logic and consistency are introduced to it, it collapses. It has more holes in it than a pin cushion. The opposing view is based on objective facts of Church history, and the analogy of earlier councils and crises (following Newman’s methodology in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine). Pre-conciliar authorities and popes express views diametrically opposed to those espoused by reactionaries.
  1. “Auto-demolition” is a favorite reactionary expression for the alleged institutional demise of the Church. Yet is this term applied to any other troubled period of Church history? It is not. Since the Church always revived itself from very deep pits of decadence and heretical outbreaks in the past, according to the principle of indefectibility and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it obviously would make no sense to do so. But as many reactionaries apparently aren’t sure of the outcome of this crisis, seemingly lacking faith in God’s designs in the worst of circumstances (we call that providence and sovereignty in theology), they utilize a phrase that would be patently ludicrous in other historical circumstances. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about “The Great Liberal Death Wish.” I guess many reactionaries believe that Christ’s own Church — His Body — is rapidly committing suicide as well. How sad . . .
  1. If the council and popes are positively promulgating “grave” heretical error, then surely the Satanic conspiracy to overthrow the Church is complete, and the “gates of hell” have prevailed against the Church, contrary to our Lord’s promises (Matthew 16:18). This would, of course, raise further thorny difficulties for orthodox Christology.
  1. We need not start believing that the Church has self-destructed now because of the modernist crisis, since it isn’t much worse than the Arian crisis, or the “Reformation” crisis, or the Great Schism, or the rupture of 1054, or recurring periods of moral decadence.
  1. G. K. Chesterton:

I suspect that we should find several occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the fathers had been slack about it. This is obvious in the case of the transition from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. It is obvious in the case of a transition from the eighteenth century to the many Catholic revivals of our own time . . . Just as some might have thought the     Church simply a part of the Roman Empire, so others later might have thought the Church only a part of the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages ended as the Empire had ended; and the Church should have departed with them, if she had been also one of the shades of night. (The Everlasting Man, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1925, 250-252)

  1. The liberal frowns upon the institutional Church. The Protestant denies that the One True Church “subsists” in the Catholic Church, or re-defines it as invisible. The quasi-schismatic reactionary believes that the Catholic Church could somehow collapse institutionally (just as many historically sophisticated Protestants think was the case with the late medieval Catholic Church).
  1. Do reactionaries think that God will condemn anyone for having too much faith in His Church and His protection of it from error and defection into heresy?

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Photo credit: The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867) [in 70 A. D.], by Francesco Hayez (1791-1882) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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March 4, 2021

Setting the Record Straight: My Supposedly “Personal” & Unsavory Exchanges with Karl Keating, Phil & Leila Lawler, & Taylor Marshall

I ran across this curiosity piece today, in an Amazon review of Karl Keating’s book, The Francis Feud: Why and How Conservative Catholics Squabble about Pope Francis (2018). Reviewer “Pseudo D” stated:
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Keating’s book seems to be prompted by his disputes with fellow apologist Dave Armstrong and others over the appropriate way to criticize the pope. Armstrong reacted to Lawler’s book in a deeply personal way and began an endless discussion with Keating.
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Huh? First of all, I get a kick out of the description, “deeply personal.” What is that supposed to mean? I was simply doing my apologetics as I have always done, and strongly disagreed with Lawler’s book. It’s nothing “personal” at all.
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But today, it seems that every honest, principled, passionate disagreement in theology or other matters has to be couched in personal, subjective terms. This is the postmodernist society we live in. And I submit that this excessive subjectivism has deeply penetrated the thoughts of Christians, too. In the brief exchange that I actually had with Phil Lawler, I was far more respectful towards him than vice versa. I wrote:
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Thanks for replying and for the generous offer to send me your book, which you know I will likely be critical of. Thank you. Let me assure you, first of all, that none of this is personal. I have admired your work for a long time and often linked to your articles and others at Catholic Culture. And I know that you guys have always positively reviewed my website in your ratings of sites. I have another apologist friend who cares little for Pope Francis, yet we remain best of friends. For me, disagreements are no reason to end a friendship.
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But know that it is precisely out of existing profound respect for folks like you and Karl, that I am all the more distressed to see the positions you have arrived at, which I deeply, sincerely believe are erroneous.
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I expressly denied that it was “personal” at all. I always mean what I say and say what I mean. Two months later (March 2018) I had an ugly interaction with Phil and his wife Leila on Facebook (on Patrick Coffin’s and Leila’s pages):
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Me: Phil already made it clear he had no interest in dialogue with me, he certainly wouldn’t live, on-air. He wants to do all he can to utterly ignore all my critiques.
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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.
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Me: 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 . . . 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).
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[89 more minutes pass by]
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Phil Lawler: Don’t troll, Dave; you’re better than that.
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Me: You say you sent me a letter. I say I never received it. You say I ignored it and mischaracterize you. So send it to me. This isn’t trolling. [My friend] Mike Mudd tagged me and I came and commented.
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[Meanwhile, Phil wrote the day before on his Facebook page: “I am angry- at the tactics of those who, while speaking in lofty terms about open dialogue and respectful debate, do their utmost to impugn the motivations and question the good faith of those who disagree with them.” I totally agree!]
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Leila Marie Lawler: 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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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[Phil refused to engage in a simple discussion with me, trying to find more common ground. He seems unwilling to send me this long private letter that he referenced. He falsely accused me of trolling, then his wife did, when I was trying to be conciliatory. I’m still accessible via email if they have second thoughts about wishing to communicate again like normal orthodox Catholic adults]
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So now, back to the reviewer’s observation that I was engaged in “endless” discussion with Karl Keating about Phil Lawler’s and Ross Douthat’s books. Here are the papers I made of exchanges with Karl, along with dates:
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The discussions with Karl about Lawler, specifically, lasted all of nine days (that’s “endless”?). Then two months later we had one dialogue about Douthat. Three weeks after that we had a general discussion about criticizing popes. Big wow. Of course, I was busy writing many other things during this time (far more than just this stuff), per my usual modus operandi.
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Then someone informed me that they had a Kindle version of Karl’s book in June 2018 and that he literally mentioned me 99 times. He never gave me the courtesy of telling me that he would be citing me that much, using our discussions, listed above. Why? I don’t think it’s unethical; just odd and weird for a friend and fellow apologist to do that.
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Naturally, then, I made a response to that, only dealing with six representative issues that were brought up. I also wrote an Amazon review. Karl made it clear that he resented my posting of a panning review on the first day his book was released, so I removed it, with apology, in Dec. 2018. But I retained my post on my blog that contained the substance of the Amazon review. I have a right to respond to 99 mentions of myself in a book.
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Karl then claimed in July 2018 that I was “monomaniacal about Lawler.” My reply was as follows:
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Merriam-Webster Online:
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1 : mental illness especially when limited in expression to one idea or area of thought
2 : excessive concentration on a single object or idea
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Other online dictionaries use terms to describe “monomania” such as “psychosis,” “insanity,” and “Pathological obsession with one idea or subject, as in paranoia”.
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To say that I am obsessed with Phil Lawler to the point of mental illness is absolutely asinine. Here is the record: I wrote 20 posts about Lawler (regarding his unwarranted attacks upon Pope Francis) from 28 December 2017 till 30 March 2018. Given my prolific writing, that’s not much. Many of those were responding back to the arguments of others.
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I wrote one more (as an exception on 4-28-18). Then I found out that Karl had mentioned me some 99 times in his book, The Francis Feud, and so (as one might expect) I wrote one paper in response to that on 6-2-18.
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Since then I have agreed with one of Lawler’s articles. Karl classifies this as “monomaniacal about Lawler.” This is ridiculous and absurd. I usually crank out two articles a day on average (many recently have been re-postings of old stuff as I continue to reorganize papers from my old blog).
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A very rough estimate, then, of the number of my articles this year would be about 420. Of those, 22 (or 5%) had to do with Phil Lawler. And five of those were only on Facebook: not even on my blog. That’s certainly a far lower percentage than what Phil Lawler has written about Pope Francis in the same period (or even the percentage of Karl’s Facebook posts devoted to hiking in the mountains of California).
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Thus, if I am a “monomaniac” for devoting 5% of my writing this year to Lawler, how much more so is Lawler in writing about the pope? That would make him a super-duper monomaniac! And Karl (by this odd, weird, incomprehensible “reasoning”) would be far more “monomaniac” on the topic of hiking than I ever was regarding Phil Lawler and his never-ending bashing of Pope Francis.
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I haven’t written any post on my blog or Facebook about Phil Lawler since July 2018: and even that was in direct reply to Keating’s outlandish charge. My last self-generated post about him was from April 2018.
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Also, at some point during these discussions with Karl, he claimed that I was going off “half-cocked” in my critiques of Lawler. I also critically described him with regard to one particular thing (I forget the phrase I used, but it was certainly far milder than his descriptions of my imaginary attitudes). Karl objected and asked me to remove this description of him. I gladly did, and then asked if he would return the favor and remove the “half-cocked” description. He didn’t.
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I think my aims, goals, and my spirit is evident throughout these exchanges: even to the extent of removing things that offended others. My attempts to dialogue with Phil were rudely spurned, and Phil refused to send me a letter he says he wrote to me, that I never received.
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This often happens in online discussion. I was equally respectful of Taylor Marshall when I critiqued his book, Infiltration. In my very first critique (dated 5-30-19) — my most well-known one –, I made this quite clear:
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Now, before I offer my critique below, let me say that I don’t know Taylor Marshall personally, but I had been recommending his work till recently . . . And of course, none of this is personal [italics in original].
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But Taylor blocked me from his Twitter page within 24 hours, made disparaging remarks to the effect that I was trying to profit off of criticizing him, and has ignored any criticism of mine ever since. And all that, despite formerly writing about me (c. 2010 or earlier):
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Dave Armstrong’s book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism was one of the first Catholic apologetics books that I read when I was exploring Catholicism. Ever since then, I have continued to appreciate how he articulates the Catholic Faith through his blog and books. I still visit his site when I need a great quote or clarification regarding anything ranging from sacraments to sedevacantists. Dave is one of the best cyber-apologists out there.
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Taylor also thanked me (among many others), for my “friendship and encouragement along the way” in the Acknowledgments of his 2009 book, The Crucified Rabbi. He also placed a long sidebar ad for 15 books of mine that I was selling, on his website: at least as far back as 16 July 2009. It was there for several years.
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All that went out the window with one critique from me. And I’m supposed to be the one who is so “personal” and supposedly “sensitive” (as another reactionary accused me yesterday)? I don’t run from cordial, respectful criticism; I welcome it, actually love it. It creates an opportunity for dialogue and in-depth clarification.
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If people are scared to dialogue; even to clear up evident misunderstandings or miscommunications, and if they don’t take kindly to any substantive criticism, then I think that indicates something troubling and concerning about their spirit. We all have to be willing to be criticized and to retract where necessary. It’s part of being both accountable and humble. The Bible states:
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Proverbs 9:7-8 (RSV) He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. [8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
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Proverbs 15:12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved; . . .
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Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
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Exchanges with Karl Keating on this issue resumed on my Facebook page when he showed up regarding another matter (3-4 December 2020):
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Karl Keating: [A]t Amazon, he gave my book The Francis Feud a single star while admitting he hadn’t even read it. He glanced through the book, he said, to see how many times his own name appeared, and then he wrote his “review.” He just “knew” that he would disagree with my book, and that apparently was justification enough. . . . I suppose it was the Amazon episode that shattered the remaining respect I had for Dave as a commentator.
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Me: Right. I apologized for that and removed it from Amazon (even though your book mentioned me 99 times and you didn’t bother to let me know before publication), and here you are still bringing it up. I did read your whole book soon after, but as I noted to no avail, it made no difference whatever as to the points I made (or to my overall opinion), because I was responding to your massive citation of me.
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As for respect, that works both ways. You have obviously become bitter towards me. I don’t reciprocate that, and will continue to treat you with respect as the “father of modern Catholic apologetics”, and recommend your books. But I’m most unimpressed with the ethics of your behavior and moving to the far ecclesiological right over the past few years.
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Karl Keating: Contrary to your imagining, I have no bitterness against you, . . . I could say more, but there’s no point. I’m not here to argue your characterizations of me or of anyone else. You’ve done good work for the Church. I expect you will do more, and I wish you well.
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Me:  You show a note of conciliation today and I appreciate that. Tell me, then, do you now accept my apology for the review on Amazon, which I removed? If you did at the time, I don’t recall it. If you did then or now, then why are you bringing it up, publicly, on my page? Are we not supposed to forgive and forget? What more can a person do than apologize in cases of offense and/or wrongdoing? You show little sign of having accepted my apology (that’s part of that “transaction”!). But here’s your chance now.
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You mentioned me 99 times in your book, without even giving me the courtesy of letting me know beforehand. I responded with one Amazon review / one paper on my blog. You seem to think I am not entitled to give my side of things. Someone simply made me aware that you had mentioned me in your book. So I went and looked at it and replied (the usual search methods of books revealed that it was literally 99 times).
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Did you expect I wouldn’t or shouldn’t do so? You mischaracterized both my views and arguments and even several of Lawler’s. It begged for a response. You act like it’s Chicken Little that I (or anyone?) dare disagree with you and express it publicly. This is most disappointing: especially from an apologist well-used to back-and-forth argumentation. We simply could have had a good dialogue. But you have had very little interest in that ever since we disagreed on Lawler.
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Your failure to accept my apology and the acerbic, condescending nature of your words last night, including “shattered the remaining respect I had for Dave as a commentator” certainly did not, I submit, leave an impression other than unforgiveness and a seeming bitterness over that incident (and basically a shattering of whatever friendship remained).
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[still no acceptance of my apology from Karl. It was a stony silence after that]
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(originally written on 7-28-18, 2-27-20, and 3-4 December 2020 on Facebook)
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Photo credit: image of the cover of Taylor Marshall’s book, Infiltration, on its Walmart purchase page.
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Summary: I collect various public exchanges with Taylor Marshall, Karl Keating, & Phil & Leila Lawler re Pope Francis. See who was cordial & polite, & who was rude, dismissive, & contentious.
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September 25, 2020

This is a response to Ferrara’s article, “The Importance of Not Being Us” (The Remnant, 12-31-17), which was in turn a critical commentary on my post, “Dialogues with Karl Keating & Phil Lawler on Pope Francis [12-29-17]. Ferrara’s words will be in blue.
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*****
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Ferrara’s always entertaining and a stylish, colorful writer. I’ll grant him that (wholly apart from his atrocious content). It’s particularly fascinating to read his sociological analysis of what is going on today among non-reactionary orthodox Catholics, in regard to Pope Francis.
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Ferrara is scarcely more favorable towards Lawler and Keating, who (from his perspective and mine) have basically now adopted a highly critical view of the pope. He seems to consistently ignore the fact that Keating endorsed the book in his review. The main thing Ferrara cares about in his analysis is how Keating wished to distance himself and Lawler from reactionaryism.
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Note that Ferrara nonchalantly verifies my point that Lawler’s reasoning is in line with (though not identical to) reactionary reasoning about Pope Francis (which is why all the major reactionary sites are praising him). He refers to “Lawler’s exposition of what has long been obvious to traditionalists” and describes Lawler’s book as one that “essentially echoes the traditionalist view of what Lawler himself calls ‘this disastrous papacy.’ “
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Ferrara verifies my analysis of how reactionaries think, all down the line. If you want to understand the same, read this article. It’s a classic.
Note that for Ferrara and all reactionaries, their self-title is “traditionalist.” They want to co-opt that term for themselves, even though they have gone far beyond a traditionalist position. That’s exactly why I came up with “radical Catholic reactionary”: so as to separate these pretenders from legitimate traditionalists: with whom I am very close in my own opinions.
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Traditionalists themselves were loudly protesting having any association at all with what was then called “radtrads” (i.e., “radical traditionalists.”). They said “we ain’t them” and in consideration of their strong feelings of resentment over that state of affairs, I agreed, and so coined a term that would make the stark distinction clear.
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And for the reactionary, a regular old orthodox Catholic (traditionalist or not) is a “neo-Catholic.” I have studied the origins of that as well. It was a term coined by Gerry Matatics, who later became a sedevacantist (no sitting pope) and now has gone far beyond even that, to a wacky view where there are virtually no valid priests around at all. I think at length that Gerry will conclude that God isn’t here at all, either. Pray for the tragically lost man.
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Ferrara was the one who greatly popularized the term in his pathetic book (at least for a time, virtually the “Reactionary Bible”), The Great Façade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (2002). Now it’s standard usage among reactionaries. Again, I strongly urge anyone to read Ferrara’s piece to learn how reactionaries think. Don’t just take my word for it (even though everything he says here almost spectacularly verifies what I’ve been saying for at least 15 years now).
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“Always learning and never able to come to the truth . . . “
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I’m never allowed to comment at The Remnant, so these clowns will be talking about me (and Karl) for the next week, safe from my being able to have my say in the same venue. Not that I actually care to do so there, anymore (those days have long since passed), but it’s the principle of the thing. Only intellectual cowards ban someone they are writing about merely because he is of a different opinion. If the person so referenced is trolling or violating site rules, that would be one thing, but simply having another opinion, as one of the subjects of an article? That is cowardice.
I don’t know if Karl is banned there, too, or if Phil is. That would be fascinating to see, too, if they showed up. Maybe Karl will get in a playful, mischievous mood and go over there. That would be fun to see.
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This piece is also notable in that Ferrara actually makes at least a half-hearted attempt to interact (here and there) with a few actual arguments of mine. This is a brand-new development. Up till now, all he could do is mock and say that I wasn’t worth his time, since my website had a low ranking. That was my Blogspot site, which I’ve now moved to Patheos. I now get 4-5 times the traffic daily that I used to get.
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Perhaps that is why Ferrara actually minimally interacts with my reasoning now. I must have moved up to the pantheon of “neo-Catholic” gods, and am now worthy of the Great Man’s time. The last time The Remnant dealt with me, all they could (literally) come up with was “Super Dave” (some character I had never even heard of) and claims that “no one” reads my writing at all or cares about it. That means you guys out there reading don’t exist! LOL
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This time we get a clip of the Three Stooges. At least they’re actually funny, . . .
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Ferrara writes in the combox over there:
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The term “radical Catholic reactionary” pretends to be one of substance, not timing. So it doesn’t matter how long it took Lawler to reach his conclusion. The conclusion is rejected in itself, as something false. Armstrong denounces the substance, not the timing of Lawler’s claims.
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Keating, however, tries to obfuscate the issue by arguing that Lawler is not a reactionary merely because he “took his time.” But how long he took is not the issue. The issue is whether Lawler’s criticisms of the Pope, as such, make him a radical Catholic reactionary.
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Yep; this exactly echoes a point I made. We actually agree here (minus the one word, “pretends”)! I argued that it was irrelevant that Lawler took his time to come to his conclusion; in fact, that it was even worse, because he came to the wrong conclusion after studying the matter relatively more.
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But again, I have not classified Lawler as a reactionary. I have said that he argues like one in two (of the hallmark four) respects: bashing the pope and starting to seriously question Vatican II itself (not just liberal abuses of it). I also just stated in one of my Facebook threads that I thought Michael Voris was on the line of being a reactionary, but technically not one.

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The next day I clarified (on Facebook), my opinion (against pointed criticism) that reactionaries “in effect, become their own popes”:

First of all, my statement is not one that charges reactionaries with sedevacantism, nor of any schism at all. It’s a statement about how they view authority. Like Protestants, they ultimately appeal to themselves as the court of final appeal. It’s part of their outlook. This is why they are always moaning and groaning and complaining about popes (and not just this one, believe me). Otherwise, they couldn’t judge popes day in and day out. They complain infinitely more about popes than we used to complain about our local pastors, as evangelicals.
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The words, “in effect” also show that I don’t mean the statement literally. But that’s how this guy interprets it. DUH!
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Thus, his retort that most of them think there is a pope, is a complete non sequitur. I never said they didn’t. I would go beyond his opinion and say that all of them, by definition, accept the validity of the pope.
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Nor do I think they have left the Church. I don’t regard them as schismatics at all (hence the inclusion of “Catholic” in my title for them: and it was included for precisely this reason). Thus, he completely misunderstands my position, and hence, can’t grasp that there is no “calumny” here whatsoever. My term describes what they really are.
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On the same day on my Facebook page, my friend, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote:
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I honestly don’t know why you give Skojec and The Remnant people the oxygen of attention. Why put your hand into a nest of vipers? You will not convince any of them or their readers. All the attacks will do is harden their hearts further. Shake the dust from you feet man.
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1. To warn others of their errors, partially by naming them, as apologists do. If someone says, “who are these reactionaries you talk about?” I answer, “Remnant, One Peter 5, Rorate Caeli, & LifeSiteNews.” The more people who then avoid them, the better.
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2. In this case, it was entertainment.
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3. Also, in order to illustrate that folks don’t always know what someone else is saying, and should try much harder.
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4. And it gave me a chance to clarify the term I coined, which is always good.
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5. I’m not trying to convince their readers, but rather, mine who might possibly be swayed by their errors. That’s why this post is here, not there.
I mention them a lot as prime examples of reactionaries (because of #1).
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I grant that it’s somewhat of a dilemma (or partially so) to name people, because of “publicity.” Yet it protects people from their errors. Many people, for example, aren’t aware that LifeSiteNews is reactionary. The Church Fathers certainly named heretics and heresies; else they couldn’t have protected the flock.
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See also further related discussion in the combox: Uncensored Exchange at Reactionary Site, The Remnant [1-4-18]

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Related Reading
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(originally posted on 1-1-18 and 1-2-18 on Facebook; minor additions and changes on 9-25-20)
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Photo credit: [public domain / Flickr]
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