The Personalist Project

Last week, we talked about Pope Franics' dismissal of proselytism as “solemn nonsense.”  Many misunderstood.  They fell into three groups:

  • Anti-Catholics, crowing, “See!  Even your Pope says you should keep quiet about religion!”
  • Serious but over-hasty Catholics, gasping: “What a scandal!  Our Pope says we should keep quiet about religion!”
  • Easy-chair Catholics, sighing,

“What a relief!  Our Pope says we can keep quiet about religion!  No more uncomfortable conversations about faith and morality!  We’re called to sit back, make a reasonable attempt to be pleasant, and watch as the vast throngs (who will inevitably notice how pleasant we’ve become) spontaneously sign up for instruction in the Faith and embrace everything from the Immaculate Conception to the renunciation of birth control.”

The trouble, of course, is that the Pope was saying no such thing.  The New Evangelization is still on.  The teaching on whether we’re called to spread the Good News (we are) has not been rescinded, but we have been given a powerful nudge in the direction of reexamining how that goal is to be accomplished.

There’s really no novelty: we’re asked to respect persons, that’s all. To remember that nobody is "the sum of [his] weaknesses and failures," as Bl. John Paul used to say.  That nobody is to be reduced to a notch on your apostolic belt.  That each object of your efforts is also a unique subject, created by God for his own sake.

Because human persons matter so much, we can’t be satisfied to use "respect" for them as an excuse to leave them in a state of comfy obliviousness.  Our contact with them has to aim at something higher than leaving everybody's feathers unruffled and everybody's feelings calm and friendly.  That would be indifference, not respect.  And it would take a wild imagination indeed to believe that Francis is calling anybody to indifference.

Chastity educator Mary Beth Bonnaci has been ruminating on this question, too, and has an excellent article here ("Pope Francis makes things uncomfortable") about how we’re being asked to stretch far beyond our comfort zone.

We “purity evangelists” reach a lot of people. But there are a lot more whom we don’t reach. And plenty that we don’t even bother trying to reach, because we sense they wouldn’t be open to what we have to say. They are entrenched in their sin. They like their sin. Or at least that’s the way we see it.

But what would happen if we could really, really lead them to know and personally experience God’s deep and intense love for them? Do you think they might soften? That they might want to experience that unconditional love?

I’m the kind of person who tends to throw up my hands and think, “I could never bring them to understand that.” I honestly don’t know how. I can explain the teachings pretty persuasively to those who are open to hearing them. But to show Christ’s love, especially to those who are truly hardened, truly entrenched in sin? To make that love real and compelling to them? That’s above my pay grade. It makes me nervous. It reveals my own deficits. I understand the rules, but do I really understand God’s love for me? I live the rules, but do I truly live in His love? Am I an adequate witness to a heart open to Him? Frankly, I’m a little bit afraid to go too far down that road.

Last week, along the same lines, Al Kresta had a segment in Kresta in the Afternoon (October 30, Hour 1) about Jesus’ dealings with the Samaritan woman at the well, and how He handled someone who was, to all appearances, an unpromising prospect for evangelism--on four different fronts: her ethnic identity, her gender, her theology, and her conspicuous immorality.  Why didn't He write her off?

Their thoughts rang true as I recalled a recent coffeeshop conversation with a “recovering Catholic.”  It wasn’t unlike conversations I’ve had in the past, but this time, Pope Francis had been sitting on my shoulder, nagging me to shift my perception in inconvenient ways.

For example, when the man called himself a “recovering Catholic,” my instinct was to say, “Aha, someone with an axe to grind!”  Pope Francis suddenly made his presence felt, though, badgering me to try to find out what it was that had made him see himself that way.

Later, it emerged that he was divorced from his wife of thirty years.  “Aha!” my knee-jerk response piped up: “Someone who feels guilty about his own decisions and wants to disguise that guilt as an intellectual argument against the Truth!”  Pope Francis batted my response away and pointed out that a guy who had been married for thirty years at least had a demonstrated capacity for commitment.

Finally, it came out that he had read something called Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch.

“All eight of them!” he boasted.  My immediate impulse was to dismiss anyone who would take seriously this bogus genre (which fearlessly reveals that God happens to share every one of the author's political views and heartily seconds his antipathy for "organized religion"). But Pope Francis, deftly squashing my impulse, pointed out that anybody who was willing to read eight volumes of anything about God could hardly be dismissed as a lost cause. 

I know: some people really aren't good-faith truth-seekers.  Some people are just trying to trip you up and make excuses for themselves.  The astute evangelist knows the difference between a questioner and a scoffer.

But we're over-quick to define ourselves as the sincere ones (because there is some sincerity in us) and other people as scoffers (becasue, after all, we hear them scoffing).  We run with that grain of truth and inflate it until it looks like something it's not: a right to exempt ourselves from criticism, or a right to despise someone else.

These reactions are tempting.  But don't expect to get away with either one as long as Papa's watching.

Comments (58)

Patrick Dunn

#1, Nov 8, 2013 1:07pm

I think this analysis makes some good points, though what this blogger seems to me to be far closer to the truth of what we're witnessing. 

Patrick Dunn

#2, Nov 8, 2013 1:41pm

Also, this:

Devra Torres

#3, Nov 8, 2013 4:53pm

Patrick, thank you--I'm short on time, but have taken a look at these two articles--I'll look more carefully later and will for now refer you to this one, which seemed to me to ring true:!+Mail

Devra Torres

#4, Nov 8, 2013 4:54pm

(If that link doesn't work, this one may:

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Nov 9, 2013 6:52am

In general, I think we should try conversing with each other, rather than linking to other people's positions.  I mean, we should say what we think and why, and invite others to respond to us.

Patrick, I'd be interested in learning what point in particular you like here, and what, if any, you find unconvincing.

As for me, I'm wholly convinced.  The better I get to know Pope Francis, the more I'm persuaded that his approach is inspired by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church. And, like Devra, I'm finding in it a wholesome challenge to my own particular complacencies and bad habits.

Truth has always been "my thing".  I am learning that there are ways of wielding it that repel and backfire. There are ways of announcing truths that violate deeper truths.

Patrick Dunn

#6, Nov 11, 2013 9:15am

Thank you, Devra. 

I have taken a look at the link you posted.  In short, I think Pope Francis has given an admirable witness, at times, through personal actions he's taken - such as, to me most powerfully, embracing the man with boils last week.

That's where it ends for me.  My reservation is that his overwhelming popularity may just be that, and not the advent of new conversions that I see some Catholics taking for granted.  When people of all stripes say, "I like this Pope," to what are they really being drawn?

If I could sum up my concern with his 'witness' in the interviews and in other forums thus far, I'd do best to borrow the words (and just provide one more link for reference) of another blogger:

"The things he is saying on issues such as evangelization, liturgy, devotional practices, freedom of conscience, abortion, homosexuality, and contraception have formed an impression that is generally contrary to what the Church has traditionally taught. Since the pope can’t change Church teaching, that’s problematic."

Patrick Dunn

#7, Nov 11, 2013 9:30am

A final point I thought of when reading the blogger I linked to.  He notes, from a prior Papal encyclical, that "One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and the gainsaying of knowledge falsely so called."

I see confusion the Church and have for some time.  The devil surely, it seems to me, did have his way with the Church in the 20th Century (per Leo XIII) unlike any other.

I am familiar with Ignatian Spirituality, as I know the Holy Father is.  Ignatius has a higher 'level' if you will of discernment within his overall Exercises. Essentially, for souls have grown strong in the Lord's service, the devil tempts under the appearance of good and no longer of overt evils (for such souls would not give in to it). I have wondered at times if the seeming good that we see in the Church currently is not a deception of this nature. I'm not convinced it is all of the Holy Spirit.

Devra Torres

#8, Nov 11, 2013 10:36pm

Katie, I think you're right: let's converse, rather than trade links.  Just some quick impressions of the links referred to:

 Patrick, I did see some grains of truth in the first one you linked to, but some clear misrepresentation, too: like claiming that the Pope is saying "those who accept what the Church believes and proclaim it strongly" are driving people away.  He talks about people who make the faith an "ideology," but that's not the same thing.  I think (sorry, another link!) that Marie Meaney expresses it well in "When Faith Becomes Ideology" here.

As for the second link, it's treating the translation of a reconstruction of a conversation from the memories of an 89-year-old, presumably heavily biased source as if it were a collection of verbatim quotes.  Even then, it goes beyond the evidence--as when he jumps from Francis' idea of "what would make the world a better place" to the conclusion that the Pope has no concern about the eternal destiny of souls, a purely this-worldly view.  His own statements about not letting the Church become the equivalent of an NGO tell against that.

Devra Torres

#9, Nov 11, 2013 10:51pm

One persistent source of conflict between people with different opinions about Pope Francis is this: we all see that he's "popular."  Some see this as a red flag that can't possibly be a good sign.  ("Woe to you when all men speak well of you.")  Others see it as a confirmation that he's just what our times need.  By itself, of course, it's not irrefutable proof of one conclusion or the other.  

But then people try to look at the facts and figure out: Is he really drawing people closer to God, or is he drawing them to a counterfeit religion that allows them to feel affirmed in their sins and good about themselves?  And you can read different articles and find different quotes that seem to bolster whichever conclusion you're leaning towards anyway--on the one hand, people coming back to Confession; on the other, smarmy politicians claiming that their pro-gay-"marriage" views have the Pope's support.  

I think it's so, so important to remember right now that we can't see into people's souls--and that even if we could, it wouldn't necessarily prove anything.  Sometimes people come back to the Faith, or the sacraments, for superficial reasons...


Devra Torres

#10, Nov 11, 2013 11:02pm

...or with impure motivations.  The Holy Spirit can work with that.  Some people are just at the point where they're getting over the misunderstanding that God wouldn't want them, or that the Catholic Church teaches that there's no truth at all in any other religion.  There are plenty of people out there who are deeply, deeply confused.  If we see that some of them are just beginning to entertain the possibility of coming in out of the cold, just beginning to consider that maybe there's more to the Church than they'd assumed, that's not the time to dismiss them as secularists who just want to be told "I'm OK, you're OK."  I think there are many invisible things going on that we will miss if we become entrenched in our "anti-Francis" or even our "pro-Francis" stances--not, of course, that it's all about him, or all about us, either.  

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Nov 12, 2013 4:50am

Patrick Dunn

In short, I think Pope Francis has given an admirable witness, at times, through personal actions he's taken - such as, to me most powerfully, embracing the man with boils last week.

That's where it ends for me.  My reservation is that his overwhelming popularity may just be that, and not the advent of new conversions that I see some Catholics taking for granted. 

I guess I can't understand why Catholics wouldn't presume that his popularity has everything to do with his manifest love combined with his objective place in the Body of Christ.

Catholics are supposed to love the Pope with an ardent filial love. Its the right and natural response to the person who has been chosen (under grace) to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. When that person is so manifestly warm and lovable and faith-filled an individual at Pope Francis, it's all the easier and more natural to respond that way.

I've been reading a book about St. Catherine of Sienna, who lived in a time when Popes were hardly the Christians exemplars recent Popes have been.  She was even impelled by the Holy Spirit to admonish the Pope and urge him back to Rome.

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Nov 12, 2013 4:55am

The book describes Pope Gregory XI as a "wishy-washy character":

Elected Pope at only forty years of age, timorous and irritatingly indecisive by nature, he deserved Catherine's strong rebuke: "Act like a man!"

And yet, St. Catherine called him "the sweet Christ on earth," indicating deep reverence for his office and true affection for his person.

Patrick Dunn

#13, Nov 12, 2013 9:27am

Hi Devra,

If the conversation is not to be taken that seriously as you imply, then I wonder why it is on the Vatican website.  It gives the impression that this is the mind of the Pope.  If he has been misrepresented, then shouldn’t a clarification be issued or the interview removed?

Is the Church’s mission to make the world a better place?  If so, then what was with all the Four Last Things spirituality?  I think rather that it's this-worldly thinking, which is why the atheist had no qualms about it.  He recognizes the affinity he has with Francis’ thought.  Later, he astutely picks up on the this-worldly presuppositions that underlie Francis’ thinking: “Yes, I remember it well, you said, “all the light will be in all souls” which — if I may say so, it gives me more the impression of imminence than of transcendence.”

I do not recognize that as Catholic thinking.  It could be read as Universalism, for one, but even if not, it at least does betray the priority of “imminence” in his thinking.  Francis says: “Transcendence remains because that light, the all in all, transcends the universe and the species that will then inhabit it.”

Patrick Dunn

#14, Nov 12, 2013 9:28am

I have no idea what that actually means—it sounds like a revival of Telihardian ‘theology’—but it does not sound like a reference to the doctrine of Heaven and the belief that we have here no lasting city. 

Whatever Francis’ statements about the Church not becoming an NGO may be worth otherwise, I see no great substantial difference between that sentiment and those in this interview.  Equally troubling are the remarks of one of Francis’ closest Cardinals--Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga—in Dallas last month where he stated that “The Second Vatican Council… meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council. On the contrary: neither the world is the realm of evil and sin –these are conclusions clearly achieved in Vatican II.”

It’s unfortunate that these remarks may cause one to miss a good affirmation the Cardinal makes—“nor is the Church the sole refuge of good and virtue—or, perhaps, to only see that affirmation and to misunderstand it.

Patrick Dunn

#15, Nov 12, 2013 9:30am

For, the confusion ensues again in his discussion of Modernism: “ Modernism was, most of the time, a reaction against injustices and abuses that disparaged the dignity and the rights of the person.”

That is not how the Church defined “Modernism” in the past.  What is actually true, if anything, is that the Church’s reaction to Modernism itself was too heavy-handed, and did not properly distinguish the rights of the person even while upholding orthodox Catholic teaching.  Modernism was actually "the synthesis of all heresies.” 

As for whether this is of the Spirit or not, I think to myself: this sounds more like the hermenutic of rupture rather than that of continuity.  This is confusion.  This is not the type or "sword" that Jesus brought, for God is not in the confusion.  This is not the "oneness" that Jesus prayed for so urgently before His death.  This is the type of ‘peace’ with the ‘world’ that is not actually peace.

Patrick Dunn

#16, Nov 12, 2013 9:35am


I don't presume that his popularity has everything to do with his manifest love, etc., because, for reasons I've stated in comments just above to Devra (such as what seems to be his mind and that of his hand-picked Cardinal associate), my sense is that:

"The age, whatever be its peculiar excellences, has this serious defect, it loves an exclusively cheerful religion.  It determined to make religion bright and sunny and joyous, whatever be the form of it which it adopts.  And it will handle the Catholic doctrine in this spirit; it will skim over it; it will draw it out in mere bucketsfull; it will substitute its human cistern for the well of truth; it will be afraid of the deep well, the abyss of God's judgements and God's mercies."

J.H. Newman, "Indulgence in Religious Priveliges"

Patrick Dunn

#17, Nov 12, 2013 1:40pm

Further to my point about Maradiaga's talk, Ross Douthat writes:

"The Cardinal’s horizons seemed very worldly, his concerns were almost exclusively economic, his vision of the church’s mission in that arena had a political and left-wing and sometimes half-baked and conspiratorial flavor … and while some of his social-justice themes would have been at home in a document from either of the previous two papacies, he seemed to give short shrift to many of the issues and arenas – devotional and doctrinal, theological and liturgical, social and cultural – that lie close to the heart of Catholicism fully expressed and understood.

It felt like an address, in other words, that could have been delivered by a progressive prelate in 1965 or so, before subsequent developments exposed some of the problems with a Christianity focused too intently on the horizontal rather than the vertical, social injustice rather than personal sin, the secular rather than the transcendent. Even as Francis has been eloquently warning against seeing Catholicism as a worldly “ideology” or letting the church become an N.G.O., his friend and ally’s vision seems to risk falling into a version of exactly those traps."

Patrick Dunn

#18, Nov 14, 2013 8:59am

An update: the interview with Scalfari, it seems, has been removed from  the Vatican's website

Sam Roeble

#19, Nov 15, 2013 7:53am

@ Patrick,

Your concerns are valid, but the deeper issue beneath Francis' and Maradiaga's comments is:   VCII, rupture or continuity?

The Pope and Cardinals will come and go, but God wants this issue resolved for the whole Church: Pope Benedict said 'continuity', so does Francis and outspoken Cardinals and Bishops.  The opposing school of thought, in Bologna Italy, has postulated otherwise...namely, rupture.

So who's right? brilliant Benedict XVI and questionable Francis, or the Bologna school that denies any fruit from VCII?  Clearly, it's the former!

see also

Sam Roeble

#20, Nov 15, 2013 8:01am

Lastly,  I've been trying to formulate a 1 sentence definition of Modernist heresy, but it is difficult.  People accuse Francis of it without knowing what it is.  For example, a traditionalist came up with this:

How’s this: Modernism is an ideology that defies objective reality.

My response: I disagree. “Logic” is a more precise term.
Pius X is not completely opposed to immance/subjective reality, as he quotes St. Augustine: “The sense that God working in man is more intimately present in him than man is in even himself, and this conception, if properly understood, is free from reproach” (Pascendi,#19) Pius X warns against an immanence that verges on pantheism/ an illogical reasoning that there are no distincitions between an individual and what is beyond him. And, that both are evolving to adapt to epochal changes, etc. The modernist attempts to replace “logic” with “sentiment”. “Sentiment” cannot be experienced objectively and is merely subjective. “Logic”, on the other hand, corresponds with both subjective/immanent and objective reality. Therefore, it is a more appropriate term for what modernism opposes

Patrick Dunn

#21, Nov 15, 2013 8:40am

Hi Sam,

There is no doubt who, or more importantly what, is correct: continuity.  One of the problems that has surfaced is that comments like those of Maradiaga seem to me to give, at least, the impression of rupture.  Some of them are indefinsible as indicative of continuity no matter how one spins them: "neither the world is the realm of evil and sin – these are conclusions clearly achieved in Vatican II." 

It is one thing to say "yes, continuity" and it is another to speak otherwise in a way that suggests the contrary.  This seeming doublespeak is part of the confusion that I've stressed in prior comments.

I don't think Modernism can be defined as precisely as the "traditionalist" you spoke with suggests, for Modernism is more of a phenonmenon than it is a single heresy as we typically understand that term.  Modernism itself is a heresy of course, but what I mean is that it is not one single specific falsity that can be refuted, but a more far-reaching dynamic heresy that can take on many forms.  Maybe it's more helpful, at first, to speak of what Modernism in all manifestations tries to accomplish.

Patrick Dunn

#22, Nov 15, 2013 8:56am

One of its features is a false reconciliation with 'the world', undestood as that realm of evil and sin that Maradiaga says has denied.  On a charitable interpretation of its intentions, I think Modernism, knowing that unity is a fundamental characteristic of the Church, which is meant also to reach out to all and to extend salvation to all, tries to accomplish this in a way that empties at least some elements of what is fundamental to other fundamental characteristics of the Church - like her being Apostolic, for fellowship with the Apostles is a function of their teaching, preserved and developed as doctrine, and so being One is necessarily linked with being Apostolic (see Acts 2:42).  Doctrine is compromised in some form; it's a grasping for unity without truth. It may not be overt apostasy, for Modernists can still speak of Jesus and the Church as if they are fundamental, but the way in which they are understood is deficient. Practically, though, it is apostasy. 

I think you are right that sentimentality and Modernism can go hand in hand. Even today, there is much talk of "mercy" or "love" that is one-sided, a denial of repentance or the reality of sin.

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Nov 15, 2013 9:01am

Speaking of continuity vs. rupture: it's a helpful concept when it comes to Catholics' interpretation of the Pope.

It seems to me that we have a duty, in faith, to interpretate the Pope according to a "hermeneutic of continuity". That is to say, we should presume that what he says is consistent with what what has come before.

If he seems to say something discontinuous, we should look again. We should ask whether we might have misunderstand, and whether there's another interpretation possible.

If, on closer examination, we find that there is, in fact, a way of interpreting his words that's perfectly consistent with our Faith, then we should assume that that's what he must have meant.

We should do that because that's what faith and love do—especially in the face of a divine office and a divine charism.

The alternative is a hermaneutic of skepticism, doubt, mistrust—an attitude very unbecoming for Catholics toward the Pope.

The Pope has a duty to proclaim Truth. He doesn't have a duty to proclaim it in a way that is absolutely unambiguous and transparently clear to everyone. Not even Jesus did that. In fact, Jesus was often misunderstood. The Bible is frequently confusing.

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Nov 15, 2013 9:09am

There are at least two reasons for this:

1) The Truth (especially religious Truth) is much great, deeper, more mysterious, and more multi-faceted than anyone can comprehend. In other words, our own understanding of the Faith is, by the nature of the case, highly imperfect and limited. (This is one reason that the office of the Papacy comes with the grace of a divine charism.)

2) Faith, as Newman shows so beautifully, is meant to be a test—a test of the heart.  What we believe and don't believe reveals who we are.

So, while it's true that the Pope's every utterance is not to be taken as infallible, it's also true that Catholic ought to cultivate in ourselves an attitude of loving trust and receptivity toward the Pope as our Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

And we ought to take care to have compelling reasons before we not just harbor quietly, but openly spread doubt and mistrust about him to the world.

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Nov 15, 2013 9:22am

Cardinal Maradiaga is not the Pope. His words don't have the same force as those of the Pope, nor do Catholics owe him the same level of loving deference. But even so, if we interpret him (as I think we should) according to a hermeneutic of continuity, then I think what he said (which I know only from the comments you here quote) is not only unproblematic, but true and good.

Before Vatican II, Catholics tended see the modern world exclusively in terms of its antagonism to the Faith. (Traditionalists typically still do this.) Modernity was treated as "a bundle of errors," and as if it were synonymous with the  heresy of Modernism.  But this is false. The modern world is not exclusively a place of evil and sin (just as the Church is not exclusively holy and good). It's also full of real goods, real truths, real values—goods, truths, and values that can be and have been recognized and appropriated by the Church, helping her to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of human life and the doctrines of our Faith.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that's what the Cardinal meant to say.

Sam Roeble

#26, Nov 15, 2013 10:41am

thanks Katie, I would just add that Maradiaga intended to quote the "Aparecida Document"--overseen by BXVI and mostly Bergoglio's writing.  It's long and comprehensive but good for context


I know Modernism is 'sum of all heresies', but let's be honest and admit that it can be misused as a kind of gnosticism by those who insist on "rupture".  Folks are coming out of the woodwork worldwide calling Francis "Modernista!" just so they can be seen as elite and omniscent of tradition.  In my opinion, only the pope and magisterium are qualified to label someone or some group as 'modernist' and not the other way around.

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Nov 15, 2013 10:48am

I have been in conversation with traditionalists who openly interpret the Pope saying, "we have to be open to the modern world" as blatantly heretical. But it is they who are in error. "Modern world" is not a synonym for "Modernism."  And modernity is not evil. It is a mixed bag, like everything human.

And while it has its characteristic evils, it also has its special gifts and goods, which the Church does well to recognize and affirm.

Patrick Dunn

#28, Nov 15, 2013 12:23pm

In my understanding, the divine charism that belongs exclusively to a Pope is a negative one, which prevents the possibility of error when pronouncing, safeguarding or explaining truths revealed by God, assuming certain conditions are met and certain matters are the subject of the teaching(s): faith and morals. 

The divine charism is not a continual power, always lurking in potential, for whenever a Pope speaks on the subject of faith and morals (or any matter at that), nor should it be conflated with inspiration.  [Not that long ago, unless it was an official pronouncement from the Pope, the faithful all over the globe would not even be privy to a Pope’s ever utterance as we are today.  It is a contemporary phenomenon, which presents, I think, serious theological questions: What is the meaning of the growing attention that has been centering around the Pope for years now?  Is this a development that God’s Providence has allowed—through the means of modern technology, for instance—so as to begin governing His Church in a different way?  Has it changed the nature of the Papacy as such?  If so, what are the implications of this?]

Patrick Dunn

#29, Nov 15, 2013 12:26pm

I think we have a duty, rather, to interpret all things as charitably, though as honestly, as we can.  We should strive to see the truth—not continuity or rupture for its own sake.  Charity does not entail naiveté, or a false a priori decision that because a particular Pope is saying something it must be sound and revered without reserve.  Scripture tells us to be wise as serpents and to test everything; to beware of falsity. 

I’ve noticed how some Catholics seem to assume that one who raises concerns about what the Pope is saying is “insisting” (to use Sam’s phrase) on their framework of rupture, as if their concerns are entirely imposed upon the text or ideas in question—a foreign intrusion that is necessarily “uncharitable” or “divisive” and which prevents the “hermeneutic of continuity.”  I think such Catholics fail to realize that troubled Catholics are not out to dissent from their Holy Father.  To presume that they are spreading doubts and mistrust about him to the world seems to absolve him of any responsibility for the words he has spoken, not to mention presume that those Catholics are necessarily in bad faith, imposing the aforementioned hermeneutic of rupture falsely. 

Patrick Dunn

#30, Nov 15, 2013 12:27pm

Why is it so difficult to notice that some Catholics are searching for the Truth, or to grow deeper in their reception of it, and that the trouble they report may well be reactions to the doubts and confusions that have come from the Pope’s own words rather than from their own nebulous, “rupturous” agendas?  The Pope deserves the benefit of the doubt as we seek to “interpret.” Yet all people deserve the benefit of the doubt when voicing concerns, especially people whose love for the Pope leads them to listen to him at all in the first place. That's an implication of personalism, no?

Cardinal Maradiaga is not the Pope, though some argue he is his principal adviser, number one out of the “G8”, who came to lay out the program for us.  To understand the trouble with Maradiaga’s words in full (false dichotomies, reductionism, liberation theology-sounding calls to action, etc.), one would need to read his full address.  I’ll say in reply, granting that Catholics tended to see the world in terms of its antagonism to the Faith before VII, Modernity has been crowned as a Dogma by many since VII.  We are 180 degrees from where we were before. 

Patrick Dunn

#31, Nov 15, 2013 12:27pm

That is inbalance in the other direction.  That may be typical, in itself, and we can expect the growing pains.  What’s problematic is that some have mistaken what VII actually meant to do for some kind of revolution in the Church.  And it has been disastrous on many fronts (liturgy, religious life, moral teaching and practice, etc.).

Sam Roeble

#32, Nov 15, 2013 1:11pm

I recommend reading Bishop Nickless' Ecclesia Semper Reformanda

You're right about the availability of nearly everything the Pope does and says today.  And, if we have an argument with him, we too can make our position known.  But who is more likely, and responsible, for correcting their brother Bishop?  The bishops!  And the reality is, they are more unified than ever--thanks but no thanks to worldwide immoral legislation. 

If a majority of Bishops were raising an alarm about the pope, warning the faithful, etc. Then I think we should look even more critically than we already are and perhaps resort to Athanasius or St. Catharine of Siena-like courses of action.  But the Bishops are not fighting against the Argentinian Pope!  They are fighting against the powers and principalities that influence an argentine president to approve of gay marriage.

Patrick Dunn

#33, Nov 15, 2013 1:28pm

Hi Sam,

I've actually read it.  It's fantastic and practical.  God bless him.

Bishop Nickless' list of priorities contained therein is impressive because it points to the Church's true mission.  An even somewhat sharp eye will see that his priorities are different from those outlined by Cardinal Maradiaga.

Katie van Schaijik

#34, Nov 15, 2013 1:29pm

I can't agree that the divine charism given to the Pope is only a negative one. The charism of his office is not limited to the narrowly definied charism of papal infallibility. That, surely, is only one dimension of the graces that go with his office. Do we not believe the Holy Spirit is positively guiding the Pope as Pope—supplying everything he needs to lead the Church well? 

And further, I've said repeatedly that we are not bound to think the Pope's every utterance infallible. Rather, we are bound, in faith, to interpret what he says according to a hermenuetic of continuity. And we are bound to show him love and deference.  

That has nothing to do with being naive. It has to be with being loving and trusting, and having due humility.

Nor do all people deserve the benefit of the doubt. Nor is there always doubt. Sometimes people are just out of bounds.

I don't know any serious, faithful Catholic who treats modernity as a crowned doctrine.  Nor does the fact that people err on one side justify errors on the other, as I'm sure you'll agree.

Patrick Dunn

#35, Nov 15, 2013 1:52pm

I do not know what you mean by believing the Holy Spirit to be positively guiding the Pope as Pope.  It's an ambiguous assertion.  What do you mean by it, concretely?  It's more than papal infallibility but less than every utterance - what does it mean?

Why does everything require an "interpretation" from the faithful these days?  Vatican II, 50 years later, still being argued over and "interpreted."  The Theology of the Body - a vast arena for interpretation there too.  The Pope and Bishops are to be teaching and confirming the faithful in the Faith. 

We must always bend the Pope's word to fit the right heurmenetic but not everyone deserves the benefit of their doubt. I think that's clericalism.

People who have doubts, I assume, are necessarily "out of bounds."  I do not think that is accurate.  I'd like to know where the notion of boundless deference to the Pope's words as a duty of faith is born. I thought the Church was careful to maintain where the hierarchy's competence is and where it isn't.

Begging the question re: modernity. It is the impression that has been given for years, leading some astray. It seems to be making a comeback.

Patrick Dunn

#36, Nov 15, 2013 3:48pm

I don't know how much this represents the mind of Catholics on the whole some 500 years ago, though apparently the question was raised even then:

“Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations” – Fr. Melchior Cano O.P., Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent

Devra Torres

#37, Nov 15, 2013 9:40pm

Patrick, I don't think Katie is "blindly and indiscriminately" defending everything Pope Francis says and decides, by any stretch of the imagination.  But I think there's a fruitful conversation to be had about what kind and degree of deference we owe him.  This is something that's not altogether clear in my mind.  I have mostly focussed on clarifying the limits of the charism of infallibility, for example, to Protestant friends, with examples like "Don't worry, if the Pope declares that he thinks it will rain tomorrow, or the Red Sox will win the pennant, we're not bound to believe him."  But that's just one aspect of the question.  I remember when, as new converts, my family was trying to figure out how to respond to some decision the Pope had made that seemed imprudent--I think it was allowing female altar servers.  It was clearly not an infallible decision, and it didn't seem wise to us,  We didn't want, though, to be like those who had such a minimalistic understanding of the charism of the papacy that they felt free to disagree, loudly and insistently, with everything except those very few officially infallible dogmas. 

Devra Torres

#38, Nov 15, 2013 9:50pm

Another thing that strikes me is that the need for interpretation is hardly a recent phenomenon--from the time of Jesus Himself onward, it took a lot of wrangling and hard work to interpret exactly what the truth was, and how best to express it.  I do see a novelty in the need for interpretation that stems from the brand-new ability of people to be instantly aware of so many "unofficial" utterances of the Pope, and I don't think everyone who is disturbed is acting in bad faith, or looking for trouble--though some are!  Still, he is our "Papa," the "sweet Christ on earth," and clearly trust and deference and respect are called for, though clericalism and blind submission are not.

Katie van Schaijik

#39, Nov 16, 2013 3:35am

For some reason the quote function isn't working. 

I wouldn't say the way the Holy Spirit guides the Church is ambiguous; I'd say it's mysterious.

Consider the way he guides a couple in marriage. I know He gives Jules and me all the grace we need to live out our vocation well. Do I imagine that means we never doing anything wrong? We never make mistakes? We can always determine exactly when and how He's guiding us? No.

The objective reality of the grace of marriage doesn't imply any of those things. And yet it works, doesn't it?

Similarly, the Holy Spirit's provision of grace for the papacy doesn't mean that everything every Pope says and does is guaranteed to be divinely inspired. But it does mean that the faithful can and should put their trust in the Pope as Pope.

That has nothing to do with clericalism. 

Take another analogy. Suppose my friend is ill with various symptoms. He consults doctors, who determine that he has a particular disease.  Would it be fitting for me to say, "I don't agree with the doctors"?  

Katie van Schaijik

#40, Nov 16, 2013 3:45am

Wouldn't my friend gently remind me that I have no medical training, and therefore am in no postion to judge the merits of the doctors' opinion? 

Would my friend be treating the doctors as if they're infallible? No. He'd just be recognizing the difference between their place and expertise and mine.

Suppose the highly accomplished and respected Supreme Commander of a complicated military operation (in a just war), after consulting with his generals, studying his maps, gathering the various reports, etc. makes a decision to move a division from here to there.

Would it be right for a foot soldier in that division to say, "I disagree with the Commander; I think we should discuss this further; I'm staying here till I'm convinced otherwise."?  

Or, If he obeys that order, does it imply he's being obsequious? Does it suggest that he has no mind of his own? Is he asserting that the Commander can make no mistakes? No.

It only means that he rightly understands his place in the scheme of things. He's not the Commander. He hasn't achieved that office; he hasn't consulted with the other generals; he doesn't have the facts on the ground.

Katie van Schaijik

#41, Nov 16, 2013 4:06am

Here are some definite, unambiguous things every Catholic can know:

1) God and the Church have given us a Pope.

2) We are not him.

3) That Pope has experience, knowledge, and grace for the office that we lack.

4) The Holy Spirit protects the Pope from teaching error.

5) The Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.

6) Even though the Pope is only a man and prone to error and sin as a man, he is still our Holy Father, and the Vicar of Christ on earth. We owe him our prayers and loving trust.

7) The "job" we have been given in the Church needs all our talent and energy.  We should waste it second guessing someone else's decisions in his own zone of competence.

Katie van Schaijik

#42, Nov 16, 2013 4:49am

The editing function isn't working either.  I meant to write "we shouldn't waste it second guessing..."

Patrick Dunn

#43, Nov 18, 2013 3:06pm


I agree, of course, that there is a fruitfrul conversation to be had about what kind and degree of deference we owe him.  And so does the Pope, apparently. 

That the Holy Father is owed trust, deference and respect does not make our duty any less vague in my mind.  I actually think it’s getting murkier precisely because of the expansive access we have to the Pope, and I think it’s raised ecclesiological questions that have yet to be addressed definitively by the Church. 

Katie suggested some facets of our duty, such as the Pope’s zone of competence, though this too is vague: competent how?  Are we to believe that every administrative decision is the best?  Every pastoral initiative or disciplinary action?  Every suggested form of popular piety?  How about theological stances?  If Pope A is a Thomist and then Pope B comes along as an Augustinian, while years later, Pope C is sympathetic with the mind of Scotus, are we to be constantly shifting gears in our theological consciousness too?  And to what end?

Patrick Dunn

#44, Nov 18, 2013 3:07pm

I do not think it is minimalistic to say, at least at present, barring any declarations from the competent authority in the Church (like the Pope!) regarding an expansion in the charism that belongs to a Vicar of Christ, that nothing is required as a duty beyond the trusting in Divine Providence that we are to express in any and all circumstances that befall the Church.  The Holy Spirit did not give us this Pope nor any other in some kind of directly inspired sense—unless we believe that the Cardinals who chose him were inspired in their prayer to choose this particular man (and that’s possible).  But that would be an individual exception to the normal ‘rule’ of Providence that governs all of reality.  Human freedom was at work.  And, just because it’s in reference to a Pope, does not necessarily mean that it’s any more outstanding of an instance of Providence than when a Bishop appoints a certain priest as pastor of a parish or when a certain set of parents have a certain child or children.  I doubt anyone would defend certain nefarious Popes in history with an appeal to their zone of competence. 

Patrick Dunn

#45, Nov 18, 2013 3:08pm

We can more assuredly say, then, that the Holy Spirit gave us the teaching on Mary being assumed into Heaven than we can that He gave us a particular Pope. 

That objective grace always works is to beg the question or at least to assume only one side of the equation: that Christ is always present in every validly consecrated host is one thing; that one receiving Him is doing so in a state of grace and with a proper disposition instead of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord is another.  But, then, papal infallibility is not a sacrament. 

Popes cannot solemnly, formally teach, on matters of faith and morals, something as “truth” which is in fact error.  Beyond that, can’t Popes teach error—even when speaking on faith and morals otherwise?  And, even though Popes are infallible in certain teachings, they are infallible by virtue of something God has already revealed, and not something that could be novel or historically conditioned. 

Patrick Dunn

#46, Nov 18, 2013 3:08pm

The analogy about a medical professional too does not hold, at least regarding the Pope's words in certain contexts and the impressions of Catholic belief that he's given, for the majority of those who seek out the professional’s expertise has no knowledge of medicine whatsoever, and so is dependent upon that professional nearly completely.  But the Faith is quite different.  We’re encouraged and measures are taken to ensure, that Catholics know their Faith.  So when a Pope or Cardinal or priest or lay speaker on the Theology of the Body says something that is not in line with the Magisterial teaching of the Church, then we are able to, at least theoretically, recognize that.  And that’s a good thing.  The other option is a facet of clericalism that the Church has been trying to move past.

Katie van Schaijik

#47, Nov 19, 2013 6:00am

Patrick Dunn, Nov. 18 at 4:06pm

Katie suggested some facets of our duty, such as the Pope’s zone of competence, though this too is vague: competent how?  Are we to believe that every administrative decision is the best? 

Conscientiously refraining from second guessing (especially public second guessing) is not the same as believing every decision is for the best.

The foot soldier in my analogy is under no obligation to believe that the general is acting for the best.  He is free to have his doubts.  The relevant point is that he's not in a position to evaluate the general's decisions justly, because he lacks the necessary information and competence (in terms of office).  A duly humble foot soldier knows this.  He reminds himself of it when he's tempted to grumble and chafe. He reminds himself that as a footsoldier, it's for him to carry out orders tot he best of his ability, not to second guess the decision of the commanders.  And he knows that voicing any doubts he might have will serve to weaken morale.

To weaken morale is to hurt the overall war effort. 

Katie van Schaijik

#48, Nov 19, 2013 6:19am

About the medical analogy:

The Pope's critics (at least the ones who have credibility) are not claiming that he is teaching something opposed to the faith.  Rather, they are criticizing his prudential judgments. They are saying he shouldn't approach the papacy the way he's approaching it. He shouldn't give interviews to journalists; he should say daily mass in a more beautiful chapel, etc.

I agree with you this far: If the Pope were to speak or act outside his competence, the faithful would be perfectly free, and in some cases might have a duty, to oppose him.

So, for instance, if the Pope were tell Americans to vote Democrat, American Catholics would be well within their rights to say, "Back off, your Holiness. This is our call, not yours." 

If the Pope were to take a mistress, or host orgies (which, alas is not unprecedented in the history of the Church), the faithful would be right to decry the sin.

But in this case the Pope's critics are criticizing decisions that are completely within his competence and outside theirs.  Hence, they are out of bounds.

Katie van Schaijik

#49, Nov 19, 2013 6:27am

That the Pope, in his extraordinary goodness and charity, has nonetheless listened and responded to his critics, and even thanked them, doesn't, to my mind, change that reality, it only serves to highlight his great virtue. He is humble and large-minded and charitable enough to receive even disordered, ill-mannered and ignorant criticism as a gift and a purification.

Would that we were all like that!

Katie van Schaijik

#50, Nov 19, 2013 7:47am

"If Pope A is a Thomist and then Pope B comes along as an Augustinian, while years later, Pope C is sympathetic with the mind of Scotus, are we to be constantly shifting gears in our theological consciousness too?  And to what end?"

Why would we take anything from that but that Thomism, Augustinianism, and Scotism are all acceptable avenues to philosophical truth?
The fact that the Pope is a personalist doesn't even begin to suggest that all Catholics must now be personalists.  It DOES, however, discredit those who treat personalism as a heresy.
If a Pope, such as Benedict or JP II were to formally mention in an encyclical Scotus, say, as a "great light" for the Church, I would say Catholics who practically speaking want him treated as a heretic would be duly chastened.  
Catholics who want the Pope to practically define Thomism as THE Catholic philosophy are put in their place whe the Pope explicitly declares that there is and can be no official philosophy of the Church.

Similarly, Catholics who wanted Traditionalism identified with Catholicism—as if everyone who is not a Traditionalist is outside the pale—are duly chastened by a Pope with different emphases.

Patrick Dunn

#51, Nov 19, 2013 9:29am

As I said in one of my first set of comments on this post, my concern is that “The things he is saying on issues such as evangelization, liturgy, devotional practices, freedom of conscience, abortion, homosexuality, and contraception have formed an impression that is generally contrary to what the Church has traditionally taught. Since the Pope can’t change Church teaching, that’s problematic."

The critics who the Pope called were not ignorant or ill-mannered.  They were responding to contents in the interview which they found to be troublesome from the perspective of Catholic doctrine; they did so charitably, according to the Pope.  This is not a matter of Papal competency.  That what he said caused some to be confused is a matter of fact—their morale had been hurt.  It seems to me what has added to the confusion is the Praetorian Guard mindset that does not want to face that fact, and has instead insisted on guilt-tripping those who do with ultramontane moralizing. 

That the Pope chose to give an interview in the first place, and to whom, is within his zone of competency and so no one else is in a position to evaluate it.

Patrick Dunn

#52, Nov 19, 2013 9:30am

The questions regarding the Popes and schools of philosophy were raised rhetorically because I am trying to understand the charism that belongs to the divine office of the Papacy beyond that of what the Church—as far as I’m aware—has already articulated. 

Katie van Schaijik

#53, Nov 19, 2013 10:30am

Patrick, it's very likely that you and I have different critics in mind.  The ones I have in mind were ingnorant and ill mannered.

I have no complaint against those who respectly raise questions over wording, or who ask for clarification from the Vatican--especially if they have a particular competence regarding the point in question. (So, for instance, a Catholic economist might raise questions about the Holy Father's way of talking about banking or capitalism, out of concern that his words might be misunderstood to indicate an endorsement of government welfare.)

My complaint is mainly against those who presume to tell the Pope what he should and shouldn't do in prudential matters. I have found otherwise faithful Catholics openly sneering at the Pope, or scorning him as a "typical liberal" or a "Bernadine Catholic" or "a blatant modernist" or "liberationation theologian."  I have read others saying he should stop giving interviews; he should wear the red shoes; he should move into the papal apartments, etc.

Even so, though, I'm guessing that some criticism that you would deem "respectful", I would deem disrespectful, no matter how mildly it was worded, or how sincerely it was intended. 

Patrick Dunn

#54, Nov 21, 2013 8:54am

I am not sure why you would guess that one way or the other.

In any case, I came across an article from John Allen that touches upon the role of the Spirit in selecting a Pope.  Perhaps it is worth considering.  He says:

"…the traditional Catholic conviction [is] that a conclave unfolds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In 2005, this idea was summed up by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, who said God already knew who the new pope was, so it was simply up to the cardinals to figure out what God had already decided.

Some pious souls take that to mean that it’s inappropriate, even borderline heretical, to suggest that politics are involved. Yet Catholic theology also holds that “grace builds on nature,” meaning that the spiritual dimension of a papal election doesn’t make it any less political.

Anyway, one shouldn’t exaggerate the role of divine inspiration. As one cardinal put it to me after the election of Benedict XVI, “I was never whapped on the head by the Holy Spirit. I had to make the best choice I could based on the information available.”

Patrick Dunn

#55, Nov 21, 2013 8:55am

Perhaps the classic expression of this idea belongs to none other than the outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.

Then the clincher:

There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!"

Katie van Schaijik

#56, Nov 21, 2013 10:19am

Yes, I'd seen both John Allen's comment and Pope Benedict's.  I agree with both of them.

Patrick Dunn

#57, Dec 5, 2013 8:29am

I thought of your point 5 from post #41 (The gates of Hell not prevailing) today when reading an interview with Bishop Fellay, wherein he discusses in the section, "The Church however has promises of eternal life," how the Church is suffering today, the "climate of confusion" that makes one's head spin.  It was heartening to read, because it is the best articulation I've seen yet of the kind of confusion I mentioned above, and because he encourages the faithful to keep the faith in these trying times.

Patrick Dunn

#58, Dec 10, 2013 2:02pm

Another heartening discovery: to find that a man such as Dietrich von Hildebrand would not agree that criticism of a Pope or Bishop is necessarily uncharitable or beyond the competency of the layman, and the entryway for clericailism that such thinking produces.  DvH was prophetic. 

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