I recently posted some videos on the topic of sedevacantism. Please know I am not a sedevacantist. Still, I do find this somewhat of an interesting topic, and for some it’s particularly timely because of a plethora of criticism of Pope Francis and the current state of the Church. I imagine the sedevacantists are having a field day with all of the scandals, and perhaps getting more inquiries than normal.
John Salza is an author who has taken on the sedevacantists. Here is a two-part interview he gave to Brother André Marie on that topic, which I think is pretty good.
Again, I know very little of sedevacantism, and I’m no canon lawyer, so a lot of this is over my head. My take is to generally dismiss the sedevacantists as crackpots, but I can’t entirely deny some of their concerns, and I assume many of them have some integrity. But I just can’t accept their position. Salza and Siscoe, co-authors of the book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, have been challenged by a number of sedevacantists. I have not really examined those challenges, but you can find them online. However, me sense is that those challenges are likely rather thin or outright silly.
The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre never gave into sedevacantism speaks volumes regarding the sedevacantists’ claims. Even when Lefebvre stood in strongest opposition to Rome, he always believed the Pope sat on his chair.
I continue to find examples of how one might connect the message of Our Lady of Fatima to our current day. Here is Fr. Michael Rodríguez, a very traditionalist priest, providing his understanding on this topic. As I have said before, I am in no position to truly judge what he says as being true or false.
But I must be honest and say that I believe what Fr. Rodríguez says makes a great deal of sense to me.
Also, I’ve said this before, but I find it somewhat funny and predictable that the more ardent and conservative (or some might say bordering on “conspiracy theory” vibe) the message the more the aesthetics look forced and unintentionally humorous. Do we really need the smoke/clouds blowing behind him? Still, after a while one just forgets all that and tunes in to what he says. Who am I to judge anyway?
Seems to me that one can swing a sock filled with manure in a crowd of Catholic traditionalists and eventually hit at least a couple of sedevacantists.
I am not a sedevacantist, and I don’t believe I will become one — I pray I don’t. I lean towards the traditionalist camp, but even then I’m not fully a traditionalist. However, I am curious about the sedevacantist position. I hear this term frequently, especially since I’ve become curious about the traditionalist position. What is sedevacantism and why would someone go there? And what are the arguments for and against the position?
Below are some interesting videos on that topic. By no way do they represent an exhaustive take on the subject. I present them here merely as a way to broach the subject. I lean strongly to the side that says the pope is the pope, good or bad, and our duty is to show appropriate obedience, even if is a struggle. But I find each of the arguments have at least some merit, more or less, for various reasons. (I must say this topic is a complete rabbit hole of endless videos, websites, and conspiracy theory arguments.)
I agree with the video above, in that we should learn more about what sedevacantism means.
Below is a curious artifact. This is a “film” in the pro-sedevacantist camp. If what it presents are actual facts, then what it presents is truly troubling. On the other hand, it feels like a bunch of speculations and dubious claims strung together as facts by some conspiracy theory nutters. And it’s “style” is exactly what one would expect from a group of crackpots living on the fringe any social group. As an artifact it is interesting just for that. BUT… I think it is still worth considering for several reasons: 1) If it is true, then we should know these facts, 2) If not entirely true, it still represents what a number of Catholics (who are trying to be faithful, but may be apostate or nearly so) believe, and it is good to know what these folks believe, and 3) If it is patently false, then at least we can know what crazy ideas not to believe.
Still, I am a bit troubled by this video:
Perhaps someday more facts will come out and we will have a clearer picture of what happened in those conclaves. Honestly, the deeply troubling actions on the part of cardinals and bishops regarding the sexual abuse scandals on many levels that we are daily discovering makes believing in the evil shenanigans of yesteryear more plausible in my mind. It’s become less and less far-fetched to believe in the work of the devil in the Church throughout much of the 20th century.
God come to our assistance.
The perennial Catholic Answers team on more that one occasion has taken on the questions of sedevacantism. Here are a couple of responses from their shows:
I like Catholic Answers. I am not convinced by their answers here. I don’t think they are entirely on the wrong track, but I believe there are decent rebuttals to their answers. I don’t see the “gates of Hell” argument making a lot of sense here. And I don’t see the sedevacantists saying the gates of Hell have prevailed. We’ve had troubles in the past, we will in the future. I think the stories of Job and of the Babylonian captivity can both be seen as images of suffering individual Christians as well as the Church as a whole can and will experience. In both cases it would appear that God had deserted his people. None of this says that the gates of Hell will prevail. God did not abandon His people. Also, every time a pope dies the chair is empty. Sometimes the chair has been empty for years. So I think the Church can suffer through without a pope for a time.
But is it now? I doubt it. Could I and Catholic Answers be wrong? Yes.
The following video is perhaps the best answer I’ve heard from a sedevacantist on the “proper” stance that a sedevacantist should take. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a proper stance, but if there is I think this might be it:
Finally, I think this homily below perhaps says it best. Sedevacantism can be very alluring. It is a temptation to anyone who is very bothered by the fallout since Vatican II. It is a temptation to anyone who struggles with our current Holy Father. It is a temptation while in the midst of the systematic promotion and support for sexual perversion and predation on the part of priests, bishops, and cardinals. How could a good God allow all this to happen? Well… God has always allowed a great deal of evil to trouble His people at one time or another. But God is good. His will be done. Let us not fall into pride.
Still, I am curious about the whole Cardinal Siri story.
John Vennari was the editor of Catholic Family News from 1994 until his death by cancer in 2017. Here is one of his last lectures before he died. According to his obituary, “John Vennari’s single mission was to teach people how to recognize and resist the pernicious errors of Modernism, especially since Vatican II.”
I found in this lecture a great overview of the history from a Catholic traditionalist perspective of how we got to where we are today, and providing key insights as to how we should understand Pope Francis’ papacy past, present, and future. I’m am very curious about the traditionalist perspective. I don’t really know where I stand on all of it, but it is fascinating. As you will see, Vennari was no fan of Pope Francis. However, this really isn’t about the current Holy Father, rather it’s a much bigger story, in which Pope Francis plays one part of many. You may agree or disagree, but I hope you are encouraged by considering the complex and rich way the history of ideas has played out, for better or for worse, and how your prayers can become that much more focused.
The video is presented by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that has a complicated relationship with Rome, and with which I am not associated. Increasingly I find myself having strong traditionalist sympathies, but I don’t (yet) consider myself a full-blown traditionalist, and I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. But I do pray every day they may become fully reconciled with the Church. Until then I keep them at a distance. Nonetheless, I appreciate this lecture and others they have made available.
In 2002 a story that broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Most of the victims were boys and young men. Since that time many, many more stories have surfaced. The Church has paid out millions upon millions of parishioners’ dollars to victims. Church attendance numbers continue their precipitous decline. Bishops do very little, and frequently appear tone-deaf. The laity continues to cry out for more to be done, for actual repentance, for actual consequences, for any kind of actual acknowledgement of guilt and visibly genuine contrition on the part of the hierarchy.
Years of stories, years of tone-deafness, years of little action. Years of wondering: “What is the Pope going to do? How serious does he really take this? When is he going to say something?” And really everyone is getting Catholic sex abuse fatigue.
We also now know that in early June at the Honduran bishops’ conference, a letter, written by 48 (out of 180) brave seminarians, was circulated accusing widespread sexual abuse. After the letter was read aloud at the assembly, Cardinal Maradiaga immediately started attacking the letter’s authors. So far nothing of substance has been done.
What does Pope Francis think about all this? One way he is actively signaling his thoughts to the world Church is through his Twitter accounts. Nearly every day he tweets to the world. I assume these tweets represent his deepest concerns, his most important encouragements, and succinct insights of wisdom from Christ’s own Vicar on earth to the faithful and the world. Why else would a Pope tweet?
So I thought I’d take a look.
Here is a little over a month’s worth of recent tweets from Pope Francis, with a couple of newsworthy events thrown in for context:
June 18: “Let us try to express the joy of God’s Kingdom in every way possible!”
June 19: “Choosing to follow Christ helps build a more just, more friendly, more humane society, that is closer to the heart of God.”
June 20: It was announced that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick was removed from public ministry by The Holy See after “credible and substantiated” evidence was discovered that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy when he was priest in New York. Then almost daily more information spills forth out about how widespread the abuse was with many young men and seminary students, and how it was an “open secret” among many in the Church hierarchy. This information had likely been internally known for some time by the Holy See, as was the scheduled date of the news release.
And then on the same day…
June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony.”
Interesting tweet considering the day.
June 21: “Praying together, walking together, working together: this is the way that leads to Christian unity.” #WCC70
June 22: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”
June 23: “Let us ask our Lord to help us understand that love is service, love means taking care of others.”
June 24: “Like St John the Baptist, Christians have to humble themselves so that the Lord can grow in their hearts.”
June 25: “Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sadness, emptiness, isolation. It is the source of a joy that no one can ever take away.”
June 26: “Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture.”
June 27: “We are called to assist the elderly, the sick and the unborn: life must always be protected and loved, from conception to its natural conclusion.”
June 28: “Let us pray for the new Cardinals: may they assist me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the good of all God’s people.”
June 29: “Every kind of material or spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, comes from turning our backs on God and His love.”
June 30: “When we are firmly united to the God who loves and sustains us, we are able to withstand all life’s difficulties and challenges.”
July 1: “I ask all of you to join me in prayer as I travel to Bari on Saturday on a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the long-suffering Middle East.”
July 3: “We receive God’s graces to share them with others.”
July 5: “Do we know how to silence our hearts and listen to the voice of God?”
July 6: “The suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, is an urgent reminder that we Christians must be more united.”
Note: the Cardinal McCarrick story has become daily news, with article after article being published, more evidence being revealed, more stories of abuse and coverup, and social media being lit up by the Catholic faithful asking for the Church hierarchy to respond in a meaningful way.
July 7: “The God of all consolation, who heals the broken hearts and takes care of the wounds, hear our prayer: Let there be peace in the Middle East!”
July 7: “May all humanity hear the cry of the children of the Middle East. Drying their tears the world will get back it’s dignity.”
July 8: “Every occasion is a good one to spread Christ’s message!”
July 10: “You too are like the Good Samaritan when you recognize the face of Christ in those near you.”
July 11: “Europe rediscovers hope when the human person is at the heart of its institutions. St Benedict, pray for us!”
July 15: “Try reading the Gospel for at least five minutes every day. You will see how it changes your life.”
July 16: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany you on your daily journey towards the Mountain of God.”
July 18: “Jesus invites us to build the civilization of love together in the situations we are called to live every day.”
July 20: Vatican press office issues a press release that pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Pineda Fasquelle, a Honduran auxiliary bishop serving a top advisor to Pope Francis, without giving a reason. The reason, as later revealed, is specifically the sexual abuse of a seminarian, but also apparently McCarrick-like systematic abuse and coverup of many victims. Another “open secret” of sexual abuse and abuse of power by someone close to Pope Francis.
Nothing for two days, then…
July 22: “God wants us to call Him Father, with the trust of children who abandon themselves in the arms of the One who gave them life.”
July 24: “Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit.”
July 26: “Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please, take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!”
We’ll stop there.
I do not mean to be critical of the Pope. Who am I anyway? But I am curious what to think. I have not made up my mind, but here are two concerns:
Although the Pope has many things on his plate and on his mind, it seems rather stunning to me that in light of these rather staggering announcements the Pope has nothing to say about the matter on one his most active communication channels (he has 17.7 million followers on this English language Twitter account alone). I realize he may not want to address the specific stories directly on Twitter, but he has missed more than one opportunity to make serious and meaningful statements on sex abuse, on justice, on reform, on repentance and forgiveness, and more. I feel it would have been better if he had just shut down this account and said nothing. Basically he has said nothing while maintaining his stream of verbosity. This feels offensive to me. But I don’t know if I should be offended. What am I missing?
I’m a bit surprised at the vacuity of many of these tweets. Are they untrue? I don’t think so. They seem theologically sound, if theological is even a word worth applying to them. But are they deep, deeper than a fortune cookie fortune? Not often. Do they represent well the powerful and rich traditions of Catholic thought? Not at all. Do they tend, at times, towards the saccharine and sentimental. Unfortunately, yes. Do they come across as basic, rather simplistic sayings that anyone (Catholic or non-Catholic) could quickly come up with? Yes. In that sense do they seem to be talking down to us, assuming we are simple minded people? That’s how I feel. Is that what the world needs? Maybe. And maybe that’s one more reason I’m not the Pope, or the person running his Twitter account for him.
Here’s what I think is probably going on: The Pope doesn’t really use Twitter at all. He has a team of people who manage his social media. They come up with things to tweet and he approves them. He doesn’t take it that seriously because he doesn’t live in the world of social media and therefore doesn’t really know its power and importance. Therefore he somewhat blindly trusts his social media team (they are the experts, right?) to handle that for him. And social media teams tend to be cautious (which is good) and work from a planned timeline. So, in a sense, while “Rome burns” they are just doing their jobs by following their timeline, not really concerning themselves with current events, certainly not diving into hot topics without clear direction from their superiors, and the Pope just nods his head that the tweets say something he believes and don’t say something he doesn’t like. IF this all adds up to a failing, then it may be more a failing of the Pope’s administration and not the vicar himself.
Still, they are officially the Pope’s tweets. He is putting his name on them.
Basically I’m just curious. I will leave it at that.
Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:
I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.
On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.
So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.
First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.
Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.
I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.
Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”
But I still judge. God have mercy.
Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.
I am not talking about the warm fuzzies or the swooning that seems to follow him everywhere. There has been an awful lot of swooning. I’m not sure swooning over any pope is entirely healthy anyway. And I hope I am not inclined to illusions or delusions. I see him as a man with limitations and passions. I cannot say I agree with him on every little thing. And he and I certainly we will not share many opinions on any number of topics. But he is my Pope. And I love him.
Why do I write this? As someone who is gradually learning and appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass, I come across a lot of negative attitudes about Pope Francis. I find many of these attitudes on “traditional” Catholic websites and social media. Some would say the Holy Father is merely good at making a show of good works, but that there is no substance behind the show. Some would say he is unorthodox in his beliefs, which is to say not fully Catholic. Others condemn him for decisions he has made and signals he has sent. And even some say he is actually mean and manipulative, one daring to call him a dictator. Then, of course, there are the sedevacantists who don’t call him pope at all.
The thing is I get that. I see what others are seeing. I understand their arguments. I too am not always happy, and sometimes I am very troubled. I worry about the Pope’s agenda, and about some of those with whom he surrounds himself. I am convinced the Vatican is a hotbed of political maneuvering entirely unbecoming of churchmen. And I definitely have issues with what seems to be clear and strong (strong-armed some would say) movements in unhealthy directions regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, movements that seem encouraged by the Pope. Could the Pope be undermining the Church in some way? For how crazy this may sound, he just might be.
I am not uncritical.
But I also know or am convinced of several things:
Pope Francis loves God. This does not mean he is all wise, nor that he always acts correctly or makes the right decisions. And I do not mean he is not prone to vices. But loving God is huge. This is where it all begins. I believe I love God too, and I ask for prayers that my love is and remains true.
He is a sinner. He even says so, and he goes to confession, and asks for our prayers. Do you pray for him every day? I try too, and often fail, but I know I should.
Is he of another generation and culture with different views than I have? Certainly. His experiences are fundamentally different than mine. I have come to believe that human beings are immensely complicated. We not only have a hard time truly knowing others, but also knowing ourselves. He sees the love of the TLM as being a love of rigidity. He was schooled in the spirit of Vatican II. I disagree with him, but I cannot fault him for that. The Pope is just going to see many things differently than I will. And Perhaps rarely I will be right and he will, in fact, be wrong. What else can I do but pray and serve as best I can.
But could he actually be caught up in believing false doctrine? Of course. He is a man and a sinner. Being Pope doesn’t make him perfect. Other popes have believed and promoted false doctrine. What am I to do with this? That’s fairly easy: pray for him and the Church, also pray for my own faith, continually learn and hold fast to orthodox teaching and practice, encourage others to do the same, seek unity, be humble, offer charity, and love as Christ has love us.
If you are still reading, then I will say that I do worry somewhat about this pontificate. I love Pope Francis, but I think he may be doing a poor job at running the Church and the Holy See. I also worry he is under the sway of powerful theologians and thinkers and politicians who are pushing to further the modernist agenda begun before Vatican II, flowered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and continues today. He himself may be a through and through modernist. And he might actually be a dictator — from what I’ve read this is likely. So I have concerns.
BUT… I cannot know his heart. I do not know how the Vatican works, or most everything that goes on behind the scenes. I recognize that almost no reporting about the Pope, pro or con or apparently neutral, is without some kind of agenda and is therefore skewed regardless of which “side” it comes from. I find myself, in my “mature age” becoming skeptical of absolutes, except when it comes to dogma. I want to trust in God, and I do. I refuse to get caught up in the speculations, at least not too much. And I certainly do not know what God is up to. So I pray for the Pope, the Church, my Archbishops and priests, my family, and the world.
Simply, I am pro-Pope. I am pro-Church. I don’t think it’s a good thing for Catholics to publicly criticize the Pope. If they want to in private, with the right people open to discussion, and with thoughtful Catholics who can and might challenge their complaints, then that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be too public about it, and they shouldn’t be in an echo chamber either. Satan is the real enemy. Don’t open cracks for him. And the world, because it loves Satan, is already the enemy of the Church too. No need to give it any more ammo.
YET… I am not terribly worried. In fact, I’m not really worried at all. I have come to believe at the core of my being that God is love, that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him, and that His providence is real. I also believe that suffering is good, and that deeply knowing this is one of the reasons I came into the Church — not so that I would suffer more, but that I would be in the Church that actually embraces suffering and understands it, incorporates it. It’s just too important to go anywhere else.
Finally: I know something about what it’s like to be a Christian without a Pope. I lived many decades as a Protestant. I cling to the Pope, at least to the office itself. I sense many Catholics don’t understand this — at least they don’t see with the kind of clarity I do. My desire is first to help the Pope, not to denigrate him, to lift him up, not to bring him down. Catholics need to see how truly important it is to have a pope. Today Francis is our Pope.
This is one of the best (probably the best) series of lectures on Vatican II that I have come across. It is given by Fr Christopher Smith , S.T.D., who (according to OnePeterFive) “is the pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Taylors, SC. He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. In 2013 he was elected to the Society for Catholic Liturgy. In 2014 he was received into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as a Chaplain.”
I find his lectures to be extremely fair and even handed. Although he gives some opinions, he avoids taking a polemical stance. This is good, for the council, and all that has come after it, has been a complex mess involving many good and faithful people. We should base our opinions on clarity and fact whenever we can.
Interesting, and probably sad, how affected Catholics are by the Second Vatican Council and yet have little knowledge of it or little time for listening to such a lecture series. I feel this is worth more than one listen. It would be wonderful if most parishes had similar lecture series. Of course that would take time and education that many priests just don’t have.
Ivereigh offers some perspective on what Pope Francis is doing and why.
Yves Congar is a fascinating figure in twentieth century Catholic theology and thought. His ideas were censured and censored at one time by the Church, but then became accepted and were highly influential at Vatican II (perhaps the single most informative influence at the council).
I am inclined to think that many of the issues that some Catholics are having with the pope, namely regarding his apparently confusion-sowing manner and way of speaking, are in fact a kind of cover for deeper fears. In other words, it seems there is a protective strain within Catholicism, particularly from conservatives (but not only), that actually has problems with the three approaches to reform that Ivereigh identifies. If true, then it would follow that their frustration is actually masking a fear of reform, and the natural processes of reform as identified by Congar. (Keep in mind I say this as a recent convert from Protestantism — which may skew my perspective.)
Although I tend to identify with many aspects of conservative Catholicism (and many aspects of liberal Catholicism), I worry about a kind of Phariseeism that seems to lie just beneath much of the anti-Francis rhetoric — and I’m speaking of the even-handed stuff, not even the foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.
I too see the confusion with Pope Francis, but I can’t judge. I don’t really know what he is up to, and I believe the Church, like all of us, is always in need of reform.
Some brief, and probably uneducated personal thoughts on the Synod on the Family, but first…
…and with humility…
There is a lot of discussion and vitriol flying around these days about the family and the Church. It bothers me. Two frequently narrow-minded religio-political groups — Liberals and Conservatives — have been squaring off over questions of divorce and remarriage and the receiving of the Eucharist — and other important matters of marriage, sex, faith, and the Church. I say narrow-minded because Christ is neither liberal or conservative, and neither is the Church. As Christians we know this. At one time or another I have been in both camps (I still am I guess). Nonetheless, I wonder…
Could all this hullabaloo over these tendentious and tender issues be God’s way (perhaps by way of Pope Francis) of calling the Church to account? The Church, frequently in the actions of its members (but not in its dogma), in recent decades (maybe longer), has again and again turned away from the foundational teachings on family and sexuality. Catholics do whatever they want it seems. This is well documented. There’s a lot of interest from all “sides” in the synod and its outcome for these very reasons. What this all means and where it will lead I cannot really say — and a lot of smarter people than I have much to say about these things anyway.
The conservatives, who are people of good will, and who are worried the liberals will get their way (there’s a lot of worry going around), should at least realize the “battle” was lost a long time ago — at least on a cultural/historical level, for God, of course, has lost nothing — and they have also been part of the problem. They may be “conserving” dogma, but some concept of a past culture is probably not worth conserving in some significant sense, at least in terms of a past “golden age” of Catholicism — though I could be wrong. We live in this culture, we are culture, culture is a living, moving thing. I sense many feel the conservatives are only interested in a kind of old-fashioned mono-culture — whether this is actually true I cannot say. However, bulwarks can seem like too much Soviet architecture, and it didn’t take long for many, even good-willed Catholics (or their children), to abandon the conservative project. How did the project “lose” so quickly and so completely? I suggest the Church’s presentation of its core teachings on sexuality and marriage for the past 150 years or so has taken too much for granted, was content too much with externals, and was not sufficiently evangelical in its approach or its language, did not bring Christ first, etc. If your average Catholic cannot articulate the Church’s understanding (and I mean understanding, not merely a recitation of the “rules”) on these issues what does that say? I believe this has caused untold suffering. I could be wrong.
Bishops should bring Christ to others first. Some do. Perhaps most do, I can’t really say. But the world needs Christ and the world seems to say the Church only brings them rules and dry theological presentations of human passions. (This synod could end up being another example of this. Let’s pray it isn’t.) I get that the world rejects Christ too, but shouldn’t it be more clear the world is actually rejecting Christ and not the Church — if that’s the case? It’s complicated, but let’s not accept easy excuses.
And the liberals, who are also people of good will, should realize they are just as much a part of the problem of causing great suffering amongst the faithful as everyone else. Tenderness and mercy is good, truly very good, but they go inextricably together with truth as well. (The same could be said to conservatives.) It’s not a 50/50 proposition — trying to find a nice balance between truth and mercy, between hard reality and tender compassion. It’s a 100/100 proposition — total truth and reality along with total mercy and compassion. (Again, one could say the same to conservatives.) We cannot turn away from our human nature, from the way we are designed, and not suffer. We cannot reject God’s natural will for our lives and not suffer. [Side note: If you are a Christian then you believe God exists and is your creator. Meditate on that.] But we are all at fault, for the real problem of our society, as it has been with every society before us, is our deep and profound brokenness. We must not let our pride prevent us from seeing this. I raise my hand as a guilty offender; I am broken and prideful.
Bishops should not hide the truth from anyone, thinking that truth is too difficult to handle right now — for that person. Bishops who refuse to bring truth, keeping it hidden, are snakes. Gentle smiles and soft hugs don’t make for genuine healing if there is not also truth in those hugs and smiles. Our souls are desperate for love and truth. Tenderness without calling for repentance is a hollow emotion. I can’t say I know any bishop who does this, but I can imagine. Oh that every prince of the Church were an icon of Christ!
And I am constantly confused on these issues. It is easy for me to say, “Who am I to judge.” (Only I do judge all the time and without mercy.) I am forever figuring out how to make good and right judgements, to see clearly, to know what is true. I pray for wisdom. There are people of all stripes whom I love — and love all too poorly. We’re all carrying heavy packs on this pilgrimage. I pray we are going the same way. Pray for me, a stumbling and wayward sinner.
Consider: It is better that we are prodigal sons who eventually find salvation than older brothers and end up in Hell. Think about it.
I do believe that Christ is calling us all to Him — every one of us. We are not being called first or foremost to dogma or to rules or to tradition — even if those things are good. Honestly, I love dogma, but… We are being called to Christ. To Him alone. We must risk that, and let others have the freedom to risk that as well. We do not come to Christ if not in freedom. That includes everyone, not just you or me.
Unless we solve the problem of our brokenness, of this principle of sin within us, we cannot find true joy — and we cannot solve it. We just can’t. Only in Christ can we find the answer to our soul’s longing. That is the gospel, that is the good news. Only by His blood, by His love, in His resurrection, and through His mediation do we have hope and reality of salvation, of our own resurrection. Only by the grace of God do we live. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Neither “side”, separately or together, has the capacity to contain the radicality of the good news of Christ.
Be neither liberal or conservative, be a radical follower of Jesus Christ. This may mean being open to an encounter with Him — I’m sure it does. Is it not true that we mostly encounter Christ through encountering other people? Are you willing to take that chance? I hope I am — fear and trembling folks, fear and trembling.
I see in Pope Francis a man who brings the evangelism of encounter, and the world is crying out YES! Sadly I read and hear a number of catholics behaving like some of those baddies in the Gospel accounts — they grumble, they worry, they don’t see that their fear is blazoned on their sleeves. There is the constant parsing of the Pope’s every word, fretting over every action, and more grumbling that he is too confusing, sending the wrong message (“What will they think?!” “They’re bound to take that in the wrong direction!!” “Look who he’s meeting with, he’s sending the wrong message, doesn’t he see that?!!”). I get it, the Pope is sometimes confusing to many people — though I have yet to find him so. Some Catholics, sadly quite a lot, are saying the vilest things about the Pope. I think the Pharisees said the same things about Christ. Can’t you just hear it: “He is muddled and confused, and confusing others. Did he really say that?! My God, save us. He is leading us to schism. He wants schism. Just like a Jesuit to play a devil’s game. He’s not a real Pope. Pray for his death.” (Death?!! Yes, some “Catholics” have even said they want him dead. Can you imagine?) I’m not defending anyone, not even the Pope. His naysayers may prove to be right. I just wonder if something is happening (that’s not really the right word, not a strong enough word) according to God’s plan that is calling the Church, and its leaders to account — and in the process bringing about a renewal of sorts (perhaps a re-formation?). So the tensions are good. They point to something meaningful going on. Usually only in suffering do we gain wisdom. Only through struggle do we find the truth.
Anyway, I love this Pope. I don’t expect perfection from any man, but I do find in him a kind of icon of Christ to the world, and not just in his office, but in his words, actions, and person. Think about that. If true, what do our reactions to him say about us? We should examine our hearts if we find him displeasing. Again, I’m not defending the Pope. I could be blind.
So finally, about the synod… I suppose all this is my way of saying I sometimes (secretly) hope the Synod on the Family becomes a big, knock down, drag out fight. I hope true colors fly, and the truth emerges from the smoke. It seems about time the bishops wipe the genial smiles off their faces and they point some fingers and throw some zucchettos — maybe even overturn some tables. Of course I want them to behave with all the of the virtues in full force (love, courage, etc.). They should act always in love — sometimes not being nice is the loving thing to do; sometimes it means to stop hiding their true feelings and ideas under thick theological speak and formalisms. The Pope said to “speak clearly.” More importantly, if there is a crisis, then act like it’s a crisis. This is not, should not be, a political fight. It is a fight for the Church, for the Bride to be ready and perfect and lovely for the Groom when He returns. May Christ be glorified — and decorum be damned, if necessary.
Not to tell anyone what to do, but pray if you care.