As gentle reader will know, I am very timid, and could never wish to be the first to criticize a pope. Not only do I hesitate, to see who will go first (the Rorate Caeli website, here, is always a good bet), but also because I want to be sure he merits the criticism. I have some books up here in the High Doganate, to look things up; too, there are websites like The Denzinger-Bergoglio (here), wherein some better heads than mine go to the trouble of looking things up for me. They juxtapose the great written sources for our Christian doctrine, starting with the Bible, and continuing through the Fathers and Doctors, the great Councils and so forth — with the recent words of our current Bishop of Rome. Generally without comment. Verily, comment is seldom needed. And there are other places to go, of which I especially recommend The Catechism of the Catholic Church (here).
But we shouldn’t, to my mind, be hoping to criticize. And where the issue is doubtful, we should let it pass. Father Kevin Cusick, the old navy chaplain, provides a more gruff and charitably broad approach. As he writes in his Twitter account: “Join me in praying that our Holy Father will consider what he says and does in light of its effect on the universal Church before acting.”
This approach is not sufficient, however, when we find the pope teaching active and dangerous, outright heresy. For then, as Catholics, we have a solemn duty to correct him. This was the case after his homily yesterday (see here), which has already been flagged in many places. Father Hunwicke perhaps reacted most concisely this morning (here), by reminding us that popes do not make Catholic doctrine. They teach it, and are as subject to it as any of us who claim to be Catholic Christian. He quotes these plain, authoritative words from Vatican I:
“The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter so that, by His revelation, they might reveal new teaching, but so that, by His assistance, they might devoutly guard and faithfully set forth the revelation handed down through the Apostles, or in other words, the Deposit of the Faith.”
Rather than accept my paraphrase of Pope Francis’s homily, I would have gentle reader consult the official report first. In my view, the homily offered eccentric interpretations (or wilful misreadings) of several Gospel and Old Testament passages, and repeated his frequent assertion that the Holy Spirit likes to “surprise” us with His latest revelations. It concludes with a throwaway line, which allows that some fundamental things don’t change, without telling us what these might be. It leaves the faithful Catholic totally at sea about what his Church might now be teaching, and grievously insulted for having been faithful, under the world’s duress. It flatters that Catholic’s most contemptuous and vindictive enemies.
Now, in a Catholic view, the Holy Spirit does not surprise us, but conveys that same old Deposit, to each new unregenerate generation, through the ministry of priests. The conceit that we were somehow born knowing it, or have already mastered it by attending Mass occasionally, and therefore need check in only for what’s new, is itself worth pointing to with great alarm. The catastrophic failure of our Church, from the 1960s, to teach the most elementary catechism to her children, should be known to those with half a brain or more. The idea that Catholics at large are stuck in slavish adherence to “the old ways,” and therefore need a bit of tickling to wake up, is a pose so false as to be ludicrous.
I cannot understand this. Why, when a considerable portion of Catholic folk don’t know A, B, or C, does the pope preach what might come after Z? Especially when he has been told, again and again, that such reckless chatter is splitting his Church into rival camps, and causing terrible destruction all the way down to ground level in the parishes? What is he hoping to achieve?
The Deposit of the Faith became complete upon delivery by Our Lord Jesus Christ who, unlike Allah in the Koran, did not correct Himself or change His mind from one surah to another. The intellectual challenge for us is to understand what was, is, and will be there, every time we turn to it. We may see it from new angles as time passes by — that is one of the uses of Time for us — and thereby, potentially, see it more fully. But only if we can remember what we saw before. We aren’t going to find anything new, except to us. Most decidedly, the orthodox was there before, and can be orthodox only if it can be shown to have been there.
The Church in each generation is inhabited by men, and we should know by now all about men, and their need for salvation. Starting from Adam, we have been somewhat wayward, and as the Church teaches, this is not a good thing. Obedience to God would be categorically better. But men we have, for bishops in this world, and I don’t mean the pope only. One might say these are dismal days, when it comes to episcopal waywardness, though in fairness we must remember that we have had dismal days before. I tend to think that tyranny is now among the issues extending, from the top, down.
Among bishops, bound in discipline to the pope’s managerial instructions, we have always had the risk of the courtier, or “company man.” This guarantees an easy life, even a life of luxury within the company, and for at least as long as that pope reigns, there is the dangle of promotion. Even among those with their private sceptical opinions, it is easiest to salute, then pass the order down; especially when what slides down the pipe is the same smug liberal sludge that comes from most other directions. The argument, “I was only following orders,” can then be tried if circumstances change, and the bishop in question must quickly adapt to pleasing a new managerial regime, with its revised (or the old restored) “agenda.”
But the Church is not a royal court, or a multinational company, and our “big boss” is not the pope. He is himself only a line manager for our immortal Saviour, Christ the King — His “rep” on Earth for a certain short period. A wise bishop will remember this, in all moments: that he, also, answers finally to Christ. Best for bishops not to be put in positions of conflict between head and heart, as they were not by such fine popes as Saint John Paul II and beloved Benedict XVI. The worst is when their own ranks begin to fill with “yes men” for some New Age, revolutionary agenda. The extremely low quality of this pope’s appointments is compounding and extending the mess, and this gnostic heresy that, “the Holy Spirit speaks through the pope,” is spreading. It is totally wrong. The pope is not a ventriloquist’s dummy.
It is a notion not merely unCatholic, but anti-Catholic. It ignores the distinction between Holy Church and Holy Rollers. It undermines the whole fabric, and leaves the sheep, whom the Church was charged to guard, utterly confused about who are their Shepherds. Those who echo Christ? Or possible wolves who arrive with some “surprising” new marching orders?