Sunday, October 20, 2013

In what sense Pope Francis is not a liberal

Comments on this blog have expressed some disbelief at my efforts to understand Pope Francis as not being, simply, a liberal. Well, this is what I mean.
Is this the 'believing Church'?

Mgr Basil Loftus wrote in his regular Catholic Times column on 29th Sept all about the long interview with the Jesuit journals which Pope Francis gave. He particularly liked the stuff about how, properly understood, not just the teaching Church but the believing Church could be described as infallible. Loftus elaborates:

'Too readily in the past, and the not too distant past at that, mother teaching Church has too readily presumed, rather than ascertained, that matters of doctrine and of moral behaviour are accepted by the believing Church--this has happened, for instance, with regard to birth-control, celibacy of the clergy, divorce and remarriage, and women-priests.'

Now what Pope Francis really meant about the laity being infallible isn't entirely clear on the surfaces of the interview, but we do know (as if we needed to) what he thinks about the question of 'women-priests': 'that door is closed', he says. (It is pretty obvious he's say the same about the other issues too.)

Hear that, Basil? Oh never mind.

Now remember that Mgr Basil Loftus has a weekly column in a Catholic newspaper which has ecclesiastical approval, is sold in churches and so on. What he says represents a strand of opinion which, in many practical ways, is treated as more respectable than the views of traditional Catholics. (It is inconceivable that a trad would get a column in a Catholic newspaper sold in churches in the UK.) And yet his views are so much more extreme than the Pope's, that they make the Pope look a real stick-in-the-mud. When it comes to dealing with infallible doctrine, they aren't on the same planet.

Or is this it? (Rosary Crusade of Reparation, last weekend in London)

Isn't that worth pointing out? But there is more.

Placing the Holy Father's words into this slightly wider context sheds light on what he did mean. When he says that the believing Church is infallible, he clearly doesn't mean that some cosy clique of liberal arm-chair theologians are infallible, which is what Loftus means. Nor does he mean that the morass of nominal Catholics, whose only theological formation has consisted of singing Cum By Yar and catching Catherine Pepinster on Thought for the Day, is infallible, which may be what some of Loftus' readers will be tempted to think. He means that there corresponds to the authentic magisterium an authentic body of believers, without whom we could not talk, as St Vincent of Lerins did in his famous criterion of orthodoxy, of the teaching of the Church being what has been believed 'always, everywhere, and by everyone'. Note: not taught always and everywhere, believed always and everywhere.

Well obviously that rules out not just 'women-priests' but every other liberal fancy which would have made our predecessors in the Faith choke on their beer.

This is worth pointing out, is it not?

I don't know exactly what Pope Francis would include or not include in those things believed by the Faithful in the pertinent sense. Nor am I necessarily disagreeing with those like the Sensible Bond who wonder if this was a wise thing for the Holy Father to say. What I do know is that going through the exercise above is essential if we are to find the words to defend ourselves against the use the liberals are trying to make of this Papacy. I don't think they are going to stop: they are enjoying themselves. We need something to say. And what I have just explained does actually make some sense.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.


  1. "It is inconceivable that a trad would get a column in a Catholic newspaper sold in churches in the UK."

    Not sure I agree with that 100% -- don't Fr. Tim Finegan and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf write regularly for the Catholic Herald?

  2. Neither has a weekly comment column. Fr Z hasn't got a regular slot at all.

  3. It may sound presumptous, but I think I have finally "cracked" the Francis code, and I am finalizing what I think is a total theory to explain this most disorienting Pope. Three+ words: mystical, Marthan, discernment-as-norm. If anyone"s interested:

  4. Here's my take on this turbulent Pope....He's a JESUIT....THAT SAYS IT ALL!! :)