Friday, December 29, 2017

Can good Catholics criticise the Pope?

I'm reposting this from March 2014, inspired by seeing one of the arguments I address below used on social media somewhere. (By someone who apparently hadn't heard of Savoranola, Dante, or Robert Grosseteste.) 2014 seems like a lifetime ago, but although I have criticised Pope Francis since then I stand by the principles I set out back then, which explain the on-going policy of this blog about how to handle difficult issues surrounding Pope Francis.


Michael Voris thinks not. His arguments are interesting but don't work.

First, he says that to criticise the Pope causes scandal, sharply contrasting this with criticism of bishops and Cardinals. (First silly point: there is no sharp contrast. What is true of one is to a large extent true of the other.) That there is a danger of causing scandal is true, but it is also true that, in certain circumstances, not criticising the Pope causes scandal. It is lucky for us today that St Catherine of Siena and Savoranola and Dante and Robert Grossteste criticised the popes of their day, because they prove that not all Catholics are guilty of Papolatry: that it is not necessary to have your conscience surgically removed to become a member of the Mystical Body. They are our defence against some of the most insistent and damaging polemics, developed by Protestants and re-used by Secularists, against the Church. To use a phrase of Pope Francis, when I encounter a clericalist, it makes me feel anti-clerical.

Voris then turns to the counter-argument that saints have criticised Popes. In an astonishing inversion of logic, he says that they could legitimately criticise Popes because they were saints.

First, this misses the point, which was not that only saints are widely regarded as being justified in their criticisms of Popes (see my short list above: plenty of others have been too), but that this widespread judgement can't be too off the mark because even saints criticised popes.

Secondly, it would be strange to suggest that St Catherine and St Paul and the other saints had to ask themselves if they were holy enough to carry out their obligations. That way only egomaniacs will criticise the Pope, and that won't be progress.

The wider point is well made by no less that the Supreme Legislator himself, in Canon Law: even the laity can have the right and indeed the duty to voice their concerns about their pastors. The Pope is not excepted.

Canon 212 sec. 3, the laity has "the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."

I don't say this because I am about to embark on a lot of blogging criticising the Holy Father. I just think it is important to oppose grossly distorted understandings of Catholic teaching wherever I see them, to the best of my ability, because, to coin a phrase, they cause scandal.

As far as criticising Popes is concerned, I would in practice urge great caution.

First, any criticism which comes across as personal, or as mocking or insulting, is inappropriate to a person holding his high office. That is because the office is holy, even if not all holders of the office are holy. The office is august, it commands our respect. The holder does not become impeccable - incapable of sin - but it does mean that any criticism is a serious matter, and should be undertaken, if at all, in a serious way. This of course is part of what the canon says.

I do, incidentally, think that mockery, ridicule and even invective can sometimes be appropriate: I'd be in trouble if I didn't, since Our Lord used them, and so did many prophets, Fathers of the Church, saints, and apologists down the ages. They are useful to take people worthy of ridicule down a peg or two. The Pope, however, is never ridiculous. When he is wrong, things are too serious for that.

Secondly, as with others in very exalted offices, but very much more so, it is difficult to separate what is personal to the Pope from what is the initiative of advisors and office-holders. He does have the fearful ultimate responsibility - true - but as initiatives and policies develop from day to day it is impossible, at least for those of us without inside information, to know what is the Pope's idea, what is his speechwriter, what comes from (good, bad, or indifferent) briefings given to the Pope, and what are the actions of his Cardinals and other ministers.

For example, I was astonished to read that Pope Paul VI approved the new Lectionary without giving it prolonged attention, and actually said so. He trusted his advisers. If this was an error, it was not the same error as the error (say) of deliberately excluding 1 Corinthians 11:29 (about the sin of receiving Communion unworthily) from the Lectionary, when it had previously been read on Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi. Being too trusting is not the same fault as not taking seriously the importance of being well prepared for Holy Communion. If people had laid into Pope Paul for the second thing in 1970, they would have been barking up the wrong tree.

Far better, therefore, to voice concerns, if there are legitimate concerns, about policies, about new regulations or liturgical texts or other documents, but without turning it into a personal attack on the Holy Father.

We are sometimes told that being 'over critical' of the Pope or bishops is the besetting sin of traditionalists. As a matter of fact, this is not true. Not only do liberal Catholic publications like The Tablet attack the pope all the time (yes, including Pope Francis), but many Catholic organisations down the years who had no particular connection with the Traditional Mass have, for one reason or another, ended up associated with criticisms of the hierarchy.

The classic example is Aid to the Church in Need, which used to criticise the appeasement of Communism which was the official Vatican policy under Pope Paul VI. More recently, the headline cases have been Pro Ecclesia and SPUC. Now we have Deacon Nick Donnelly being hauled over the coals, for what we can assume is the same thing. I don't say these criticisms were not justified, or that they were not expressed in the best ways: that would be a long discussion. I've just said that criticism isn't ruled out in principle, so the matter is an open one. My point is simply that the Traditional Mass was nothing to do with it.

Critics of traditionalists have become confused by the fact that until Summorum Pontifcum it was such open season on trads and any old stick was good enough to beat them. But once you take away the assumption that support for the Traditional Mass is itself an act of personal disloyalty to the Pope, then you can allow yourself to notice that established traditionalist organisations like the Latin Mass Society and the Una Voce Federation are, and always have been, models of diplomacy and restraint.

They combine this respect for the hierarchy with a complete adherence to the unchanging teaching of the Church, not out of any superficial ultramontanism (whatever the Pope said about his breakfast is the latest infallible doctrine), but because of their attachment to Tradition. This is something I want to develop in future posts.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Puer natus est nobis.

And a reminder that the Christmas season goes on till... 2nd February, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady (Candlemas). If you follow the Traditional calendar.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Islam and the Extraordinary Form

A glimpse of a transcendant mystery.
Today I am publishing a new Position Paper from FIUV, on the subject of Islam, on Rorate Caeli. Go over there to read it in full.

It sets out a very simple argument which seems difficult to deny. It goes like this.

1. Engagement with Islam (whether with a view to mutual understanding or evangelisation) is facilitated by common ground with Islam. The more common ground one has, whether cultural or theological, the better one can talk productively with people of other religions.

2. There is a great deal more common ground between Islam and that aspect of Catholicism exemplified by the Traditional liturgy, than there is between Islam and what is manifested by the reformed liturgy. In this, the Traditional Catholics are close to the situation of the ancient Christian churches in majority-Muslim countries.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Shakespeare on the Traditional Mass


The idea that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, and put coded messages into his plays about the Faith, is so attractive to me as a Catholic and a lover of Shakespeare that I have to be careful about confirmation bias. However, as I've noted before on this blog, Clare Asquith (in Shadowplay) and others have made a very serious historical case for it. Once you see it, you can't look at the plays in quite the same way again.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Pierantoni answers Buttiglione

This article by Prof Claudio Pierantoni, one of the signatories of the Filial Correction, is very helpful, certainly to me, not least because Pierantoni expresses the problem in a way slightly differently from the way I have been doing. Pierantoni is a long-term acquaintance of Rocco Buttiglione, and not only knows his thinking well and sympathetically, but has corresponded with him on these precise issues.

Here is a key passage; do go over to LifeSite to see the whole thing.
 Buttiglione writes: 
There are therefore some cases in which remarried divorcees can (through their confessor and after suitable spiritual discernment) be considered to be in God’s grace and therefore deserving of receiving the sacraments. It seems a shocking novelty, but it is a doctrine that is entirely, and I dare say rock-solidly, traditional.
Note the rush and superficiality (certainly not justified by the mitigating circumstance of a lack of intelligence) with which Buttiglione jumps to the twofold consequence: in the first passage, he draws from the general doctrine of extenuating circumstances the immediate consequence that “remarried divorces can be considered to be in God’s grace.” With this, he skips over the strong objections that we critics have raised without even responding to them.

Monday, December 11, 2017

More thoughts about the Buenos Aires letter: on ecclesial politics

With apologies to my readers, my thoughts have been particularly slow in forming on this blog in recent days. Still, further to my last post, here's a couple more: about the impact of this move on ecclesial politics.

A while ago I was asked by a journalist to comment on an article in L'Ossovertore Romano by Cardinal Ouellet, so I looked at this in some detail. Ouellet, like Cardinal Mueller, has been consistently putting out a very careful 'conservative' interpretation of Amoris laetitia. It is not so very different from the interpretation I gave on this blog when Amoris first came out.

His strategy has four parts.

1. He criticises conservatives worried about AL as misinterpreting it.
2. He also rejects those interpretations of AL which allow reception of Holy Communion, in circumstances condemned by the previous discipline, as misinterpretations ‘equally… (if not more so)’.
3. He stresses that what is really important in ‘pastoral accompaniment’ is listening and counselling, not access to the sacraments.
4. When he does turn to cases of access to the sacraments, his description of legitimate cases is such that they could be allowed under Pope St John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Some thoughts about the Buenos Aires letter

In this post I address two questions.

The first is: what does it mean for Pope Francis to promulgate his letter to the Bishops of Buenons Aires, on their guidlines for the application of Amoris laetitia, in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), the official record of Papal acts?

The second question is: does this procedure create an obligation on Catholic to believe something they were not previously obliged to believe?

So, on the first question. The Pope can speak as Pope and as a private person. In the latter capacity what he says may be of interest as an indication of his thinking, but it wouldn’t bind the faithful to believe anything. Normally private letters wouldn’t be considered part of the magisterium. Putting something in the AAS is a way of making it part of the magisterium. It is a bit surprising to do this with a private letter but I think there are precedents. Certainly many things are in the AAS which were addressed in the first place to particular groups, such as Pius XII’s famous talk to midwives authorising NFP. Putting such things in the AAS is a way of directing them to the whole Faithful.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

A reason to be cheerful

Thanks for all the prayers!

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Friday, December 01, 2017

Mgr Loftus: pro-lifers are 'terrorists'

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas
I've waited to see if there if would be any reaction in the Letters page to Mgr Basil Loftus' latest outrage: an attack on Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, in which he described the Archbishop, and any anyone like him who was actively pro-life, as a terrorist. (Catholic Times, 24th November 2017.)

His column is, as usual, both bizarre and incoherent. Remember, as you read it, that the Catholic Times is sold in the backs of Catholic churches every weekend: this is a newspaper, in other words, with ecclesiastical approval. I transcribe the key section for the record, since the paper has no online presence, even for subscribers.

No-one is more supportive [than Pope Francis] of the rights and paramountcy of all marginalised people, including the unborn - but he is totally opposed to the purportednly pro-life antics of men such as Archbishop Naumann, the recently elected head of the American bishops' 'pro-life committee'.