Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pope Francis and the Neo-Cons: scandal and denial

I'm still catching up on things which happened either during the Chartres Pilgrimage or during the busy period of preparation before it, so readers must forgive me for reflecting on something which happened (shock!) more than five minutes ago.

It was Pope Francis' interaction with an Italian priest, Fr. (Don) Michele de Paolis. It would seem that Fr de Paolis was invited to Rome to concelebrate with the Holy Father at one of his private Masses, and that in saying goodbye Pope Francis kissed his hand.

Fr de Paolis is well known as a campaigner for a change in the Church's teaching on homosexuality, so this, as LifeSiteNews (LSN) expressed it, 'raised eyebrows'.

It is interesting to note this little incident; it was public, intended for public consumption, it was photographed and reported and Fr de Paolis wrote the whole thing up on his Facebook page.

The really interesting thing, however, is what happened next. LSN, in the person of the hugely respected Hilary White, had written the story with a completely straight bat. That is to say, she simply reported the facts, as they were in the public domain: what happened, and why it might be thought interesting that it happened, namely a little about Fr de Paolis' work and the public perception of him in Italy. There was no speculation about Pope Francis' intentions; there was, after all, no public statement about them. This report, however, caused a sort of psychological melt-down among a group of what we must call American 'Neo Conservative' Catholic writers, who started attacking LSN and Hilary White. The crucible of this melt-down was the Facebook page of the blogger Simcha Fisher, where she was joined by her husband Damien Fisher and the blogger Mark Shea, among others. See the whole thing here. A taster of this Lord-of-the-Flies type of cyber-bullying:

Mark Shea: LSN has fulfilled the classic definition of journalism: translating complex ideas into execrable prose. Eponymous Flower as a source for something? And Hilary White tasked with writing objectively about Francis? Seriously? God save the Church from the Greatest Catholics of All Time and their endless hatred for this good and holy Pope.

Damien Fisher: How about some basic respect for the Holy Father and the faith rather than using a biased and anti-Catholic writer to cover Pope Francis? (Tell me how Hilary White, who condemns Catholics for attending the NO Mass is the right person for the job.)

AND, JJ how dare you try to lecture me about respect. Your news organization demonstrates no respect for the truth, no respect for the faith, no respect for human beings. Have you done anything to correct your exploitation of the suicide victim? Have you cone anything about the oped blaming the UCSB mass shooting on divorce? Will you retract the latest slander against the Holy Father that YOU published?

Giving LSN a little fraternal correction.
Mark Shea decided to blog about it as well, but despite the opportunity for sober reflection which (one would hope) this would afford, he came out with this:

I’m so sick of these people. The author of the piece hates Francis with a white hot passion, a fact that must be as surely known to her editors as to anyone else with a pulse capable of reading her many literary acts of voiding her rheum in the Holy Father’s face. Likewise, her main source, the deranged Eponymous Flower, hates him even more. The piece makes so many logical leaps and ill willed assumptions, it’s hard to keep count. It’s all calculated to gin up hatred for the Holy Father. God forgive them.

To which all one can say is, with Hamlet's mother: Alas, he's mad.

The claim these delightful people are making is that the story is in some sense an attack on Pope Francis. What they are not claiming is that it is in any way false or even misleading: not one of them at any point seems to have put a finger on what is actually wrong with the story in its relationship to the facts. (If there are so many 'logical leaps and ill willed assumptions', would it have cost you so much to specify just one of them, Mr Shea?) Furthermore, they feel so strongly about it that they are willing to disregard all charity, to accuse the whole of LSN as guilty by association, and to bring up everything they've ever read on the site which they didn't like as confirmation that LSN is, really, evil. Oh and Hilary White likes the Traditional Mass, that shows she's wicked too.

How could reporting Pope Francis' actions be regarded as 'slander', something only a 'biased and anti-Catholic writer' would do? The implication would seem to be that it is Pope Francis who is attacking Pope Francis, by presenting himself in a bad light, and that anyone who repeats these attacks must hate Pope Francis.

In other words, these neo-Conservatives are so deeply scandalised by what Pope Francis did, that they want to hush it up, and will engage in a sort of Hate Week against anyone who won't play along.

Why are they so scandalised? Why is it so intolerable for them to hear about Pope Francis making this gesture?

First off, here's my own thought about this action of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has a consistent policy of being friendly to people at the level of personal meetings. He's been friendly to Bishop Fellay of the SSPX. Obviously he thinks that it is good to be nice to people, it makes everything easier if one has a personal rapport. All the same, he went the extra mile with this priest and the danger of scandal is increased; it begins to look like the sort of policy I have criticised before, where the enemies of the Church are given a warmer welcome than her most loyal sons. If I were Pope, I wouldn't do this.

On the one hand, I don't expect Popes to be perfect in the formulation and application of prudential policies about how to deal with dissidents. If someone says to me: 'here's a Pope, today or in history, who made a prudential mistake', I don't immediately have a heart-attack.

On the other hand, while Catholics can criticise such policies, I don't expect my own judgement always to be superior to that of the Pope, who has more information at his disposal and the grace of his Office to aid him. The Pope is fallible on such things, and obviously I am as well.

Why can't the Neo-Cons look at the situation calmly, like this? Why are they getting so worked up? For two reasons. As I have written before, they are are very keen on the medicine of punishment. They think that the problems of the Church arise from a lack of discipline, and can be solved by an application of discipline. They want, as patriotic Americans, to kick ass. By the same token they want to stop people talking about the subtle but pervasive effects of bad liturgy: see me on Mark Shea, and on Simcha Fisher. So when the Pope tries to deal with a problem priest by kissing his hand, and not by having him publicly flogged, this is peculiarly painful for them.

More, Fisher, Houghton: Martyrs for the Papacy, but not Ultramontanists.
The other reason is that they have adopted a positivistic Ultramontanism, which says that for practical purposes the Pope cannot err. In theory they accept the standard distinctions between fallible and infallible teaching, and between dogmatic and prudential issues, but in practice they have a very strong tendency to roll all the issues together and say that we must not just accept but regard as above criticism everything the Pope says and does. They do this without abandoning all their own positions, however, so they have to engage in absurd interpretations of what the Popes do and say to make them fit in with what they, personally, want them to do and say. The most gloriously loopy of these so far must be Jimmy Akin's suggestion that, if the Pope suggested, over the phone, to a woman married to a divorcee, that she could receive Communion, he might have annulled the first marriage and validated the second right there and then, on the phone. (Akin later took this lunacy off his blog.) I suppose we can look forward to more such intellectual contortions as time goes on. But when they get the chance to deny that something ever happened, or hush it up, that is, naturally, even better.

There is a terrible danger with this kind of Ultramontanism. Not only is it false, but it is the flip side of Sede Vacantism. The Sede Vacantists think that the Popes must be pretty-well perfect, and they realise that the men elected as Pope and regarded by everyone as Pope are not perfect, so they conclude they can't be Pope after all. The Ultramontanist has only his own self-delusion to rely on to fend off the same conclusion. Heaven help anyone who punctures that self-delusion! These Neo-Cons will defend it to the death.

The greatest danger to it, however, is not Hilary White or LifeSiteNews, but Pope Francis himself, who is delightfully free of the Neo-Con ideology. The other day he made a revealing remark, in the course of defending the war record of Pope Pius XII:

I do not mean to say that Pius XII did not make mistakes - I myself make many...

St Peter doubted, but Our Lord gave him the Keys anyway. Let's not forget either.
Mosaic in the Crypt of Westminster Cathedral.


  1. Neo-con is code for anti-con i.e. anti conservative. The American Church has been foolishly sucked into this project and EWTN for example, embodies the confusion. It's a curiousity of the SNP that it is attracting Catholic voters. Perhaps they see in them strands of the 'old left' which has been purged from Mandelson and Campbell's neo-labour party.

  2. I don’t hate Francis, but I know some non-Traditionalist Spanish, Italian and German bloggers who aren’t happy with him.

    1. So they libeled (or at least insulted) you in the process, while using some of the foulest language I've ever seen Catholics use online in order to attack LSN. I would take their criticisms better if they could engage with the same charity they expect us to have.

  3. Very sad. The vitriol, hatred, rage and foul language on the Facebook page is horrible. It's this, more than the criticism of LSN per se, that's troubling.

    I smell Old Nick.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I have lived with Hilary and she is not mean or a Pope hater. She is trying to be a faithful Catholic, God bless her. I learnt a lot from her!

    It is nice to pretend that the outside world is nasty, but that the Church is cosy and safe and our Pope always says good things and acts wisely etc. Not true! We have to use our brains, unfortunately.

  5. It may well be that the Pope thought that he could 'deal with a problem priest by kissing his hand', but the impression given was that of respect and affection. Hand-kissing appears to be the new hugging (so 2013, hugging). Is it, like the hugging, just a Latino thing that uptight Northern Europeans/Americans don't get?
    The episode gave scandal. But who am I to judge?

  6. Anonymous10:18 pm

    "The Sede Vacantists think that the Popes must be pretty-well perfect, and they realise that the men elected as Pope and regarded by everyone as Pope are not perfect, so they conclude they can't be Pope after all."
    I am not a Sedevacantist.
    What they believe is that a heretic cannot be pope. They also theorize that the popes since Vatican II have expressed heresy, ergo they either ceased to be the pope, or were not the pope to begin with.
    They only look for perfection in the popes teaching office, not in the man.

    1. The Sed Vacantists take such a wide view f the teaching office that it amounts to what I say: popes have to be pretty-well perfect.

    2. The main error of the sede vacantists - which is precisely the same error held by the papolaters - is that they confuse infallibility with impeccability. To the sede vacantists folks, if they see a Pope doing something particularly outrageous or making some huge prudential error they think, erroneously, that he cannot therefore be a true Pope; in other words, they believe him to be impeccable.

      The papolaters, on the other hand (Fischers, Sheas, McClareys, et al), also believing the Pope to be impeccable, simply deny or ignore the outrageous acts altogether.

      So, in effect, though they would be horrified if you told them, the papolaters share the exact same error as the sede vacantists.

      The level of misunderstanding about the charism of infallibility among today's Catholics would fill a book.

  7. Anonymous11:19 pm

    Something diabolic in this vicious and irrational attacking of those who refuse to deny the truth. Why do they not question their own sanity when they attack the one who tells the truth?

  8. Anonymous11:22 pm

    Why are we all being forced to acquiesce by silence with the terrible scandals increasing in egregiousness and pervasiveness from the top levels of the Church? The madness (the denying of reality) seems to be highly contagious.

  9. There is a need above all these days for clarity of Catholic doctrine and teaching.

    As you say this picture is result of planning, careful timing, and is designed to send a message. As for the message well make of it what you will. Whatever else it is, it is not clear.

    Homosexual practise is grievously, mortally sinful. That is a fact. St Peter, St Paul, St Augustine and so many others have stated so explicitly, not to mention the CCC..

    Any priest who advocates homosexual practise is advocating grievous sin, probably should not be saying Mass, and certainly not with the Pope. To do that latter, is an occasion of scandal.

    For the Pope to concelebrate with, and kiss the hand of such a man, is inappropriate and demeaning, a) to the Mass and b), to the Office of the Keeper of the Keys.

    I agree that no pope is perfect but in the present Holy Father, we do indeed have an enigma – and that is the opposite of what is desperately needed in the Church at present - clarity!

  10. And the plain actions of the Pope are not even difficult to apologize for.

    St. Francis himself famously knelt and kissed the hands of a priest who was a public and manifest sinner (adulterer). Sometimes, a priest will only realize the dignity of his office when someone else (esp. a superior) graciously shows them such respect.

    1. St. Francis himself was not a pope, a bishop or even a priest.

    2. Thus, St. Francis was not a superior in his office to that priest.

  11. I think both sides have point. The pope's gestures cause much confusion mostly among Conservatives who he uses insults for many of them go to far in attacking him without ever giving him the benefit of the doubt. However the MSM of Catholics some realize he has a problem with many things he says and does. He recently praised Pius XII.

  12. I don't hate Pope Francis...he just continues to give least he's making daily contributions to the insult book.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. @ Thomas,

    Well Thomas, we shall see.

    If this priest, who advocates what others have judged to be grievously sinful, such as Peter, Paul, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine of Sienna, St Pius V, I could go on, reforms as a result of having his hand kissed, then I shall be impressed.

    There is talk here of Utramontanism of popes. Let’s not drift into the error of a sort of “ultramontanism” of St Francis. I mean he was a great saint and all that, but clearly the other great patron saint of Italy, St Catherine, might well have taken him to task on this matter of kissing hands, and would certainly, I suspect, take a dim view of our present Holy Father’s action.

  15. This is what is so confusing about the lives of the saints! Consider, for example, what St Margaret Clitherow and St John Oglvie said about the prayers of Protestants:

    St Margaret Clitherow - When asked by a Protestant minister to pray with him, she refused, stating “I will not pray with you, and you shall not pray with me; neither will I say Amen to your prayers, nor shall you to mine."

    St John Oglvie - "If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me but the prayers of heretics I will not have".

    And YET, I have been told by a traditional priest that I respect and admired and who is widely respected and admired by traditionalists in general that praying with Protestants in public is a good thing (but not to join with ecumenical 'services' and so on). What am I to do? How are we to discern what in that saints life was good and bad when we have conflicting opinions? Of course, this is relevant with our current pope but also given the recent canonisations. Often, I prefer to do nothing in these cases, as I feel I am not justified in joining in or protesting.

    1. Dear Rhoslyn,

      What you quote from the martyrs is a very common features of the stories of the martyrdoms.

      It is important to remember that in their day Protestants were very often cradle Catholics who had rejected the Faith - apostates - and even if not their presence at the execution indicated a very conscious rejection of the Faith. The martyrs could reasonably assume that they were heretics in the strict sense (those who have defected from the truth) and in a state of mortal sin. Their prayers would have no efficacy because of the state of sin; furthermore, they would take every opportunity to make any prayer in common an opportunity to press Protestant theology, try to present the martyr as repenting of the 'crime' of preaching the Faith, reject the intercession of the Saints, and so on.

      If an Anglican joined, say, a prayer vigil and joined in the Rosary we would be in a very different situation. It would be safe to assume, for example, a comprehensive ignorance, rather than a conscious rejection, of the Faith. Such a person would not necessarily be in a state of mortal sin.

      Finally, the question of 'communicatio in sacris' - joining with those outside the Faith for prayer - is actually a matter of discipline to a large extent. How strict the rules are has varied over the centuries according to conditions. It was very strict indeed in England in Penal times, because of the danger of Catholics being absorbed into Anglicanism if they went along even only for the sake of avoiding the fines. At other times it has been much more relaxed, where an opportunity to draw schismatics into the Church seemed to exist. See this on Pope Benedict attending Evensong on the Papal visit (and search that site for the keywords 'communicatio in sacris'):

      Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

    2. Gosh, thank you very much. I have been agonising over this for so long!

  16. Please wake up. If Pope Francis is nothing else he is media savvy (remember what he said to his old priest friend that he spotted in the crowd and invited to take a ride with him on the pope mobile?), He was well aware of what he was doing and his intention was to bring about the squabbles, back biting and disunity that he, somewhat bizarrely, thinks is a good thing. It is only a matter of time before the Yanks run out of wriggle room and are confronted with something from him that they cannot excuse.

    1. He certainly is media savvy. Sound instinct for a photo opportunity and the headlines. He gets his views across, on the arms industry, and the world economic system leading to war, and the environment, and the celebrities think he’s great.

      Trouble is all these views could comfortably be held by the Archbishop of Canterbury or even for that matter, Mr Al-Khalili, the president of the BHA.

      What I don’t hear him talking much about is the state of the Catholic Church, a demoralised army, confused in belief, (for example the Real Presence), and objectives, with little recruitment, riven by desertion, steadily decreasing numbers of both laity and priests.

      Personally, I just wish he would devote a little bit more attention to these issues.

  17. In the old days, Catholics did not look toward a pope, one man, although in the Apostolic Chair of Peter, as the be all and end all of Catholicism. This is the problem-too much attention on one man-a symptom of the celebrity cult of personality. My eyes are on Christ and I pray for the Pope daily.

    Those who are arch-critics may not do better in the position of a world leader.

    "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone..."