Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When's a Pope not a Pope?

"Is the Pope Catholic?" Serious question.

The world seems to love Pope Francis but for all the wrong reasons. It hasn't suddenly started loving God including Jesus, the church or its teachings. It thinks he's validating all its wrong views. (Free sex! "Who's to judge?" Believe whatever you want as long as you're nice to each other. The bland ecumenicism of apostate Christianity: "post-Christian society.") So at long last, as Vatican II seemed to promise, he'll push those dumb fishsticks into line. ("Get over yourselves; you're just a denomination in a marketplace of spirituality.") The world believes in absolute papal power that's its for the asking; the church doesn't!

"But isn't the Pope the point of being Catholic?"

There have always been Popes with wrong ideas (before modern media, we didn't hear about them); that doesn't affect the Pope's office because his views don't figure in his job, which is only to defend what's been handed down. As far as I know, Pope Francis hasn't tried to teach heresy ex cathedra. The sedevacantist scenario with a Pope turned antipope can happen but we can't presume someone's no longer Pope, although we can and should ignore a bad Pope; we have to wait for the ecclesiastical second-in-command to tell us so. That's why I'm not turning Chicken Little telling people to leave the church.
Who is the "ecclesiastical second-in-command" that you are referring to?
The answer I remember reading is "the world's bishops." Which doesn't mean the schismatics are right; the Pope's office still has God-given authority and Western Christianity is not a fraud. In this situation, the Pope effectively abdicates by stepping outside his office's authority. In practice: your bishop makes the call for you?
I came out of Orthodoxy almost 33 years ago. For the first time in all those years, I am thinking about returning. The Catholic Church I joined no longer exists; at least according to the Pope, I am one of those divining, rigid Pelagians! May God have mercy on His Church!
Of course the church still exists; Jesus said it would. But he didn't promise it would still exist in the United States, for example. Schism: been there. No way. As awful as a Pope can be, he can't change the teachings of the church, and I can't buy that Byzantium IS the church, not just part of it, so Western Catholicism's been a fraud for 1,000 years. (Even when I was trying to, I never could bring myself to defend a so-called "Orthodox Church," only "the Orthodox tradition." Their bishops and Mass are real, and their rite is better than the Novus Ordo, but what looks like Catholic traditionalism from them is only ethnic/national boosterism, no longer really serving God.) If I really believed that, I wouldn't care about Pope Francis and the state of the Catholic Church as I do.
The inconvenient truth is that one can materially hold to heresy — teach it, shouting it from rooftops even! — without ever losing one's Catholicism; that is, their ecclesiastical status of "Catholic in good standing" because it has not been declared as such formally by the institution that gave them their Catholicism in the first place when they entered the Church at Baptism. Francis is Pope. Francis is a bad Pope. We have to come to grips with that reality and work from there... speculating about whether or not he is Pope is futile.
The church is very careful about declaring someone a heretic and excommunicating him. We're not a micromanaging cult. One's weird uncle who hates the church isn't a formal heretic. A heretic 1) is in a position to know better; he's had theological training so he knows what the church teaches and rejects it; he's not ignorant; 2) is in a position of power and trust, responsible for the care and good of souls, such as a priest or a professor; and 3) has been warned.

I don't have to make excuses for a Pope because I know the teachings of the church: the church doesn't run on the Pope's opinions.

I thank God that Francis cares so little about liturgy and traditionalism he hasn't tried to revoke Pope Benedict's reform of English Novus Ordo or Summorum Pontificum. Thanks to that, to me his reign has been a cakewalk compared to Paul VI and John Paul II. That doesn't mean "a pretty Mass is all that matters"; it means, as Anglo-Catholic alumni know, "it's the Mass that matters." I have the church's teachings and unimpeded access to the grace of the Mass. So I 1) tune him out (the media's stream of reporting off-the-cuff remarks that seem to agree with the world), easy since I'm not a priest so he's not my boss; and 2) don't rattle his cage (by calling him a formal heretic or an antipope, saying Benedict's still Pope, etc.). The idea is to keep him ignoring me. He won't excommunicate me for this blog post, and arguably can't, because it doesn't attack the teachings of the church. (And if you think I'm hard on Francis, you should read Adrian Fortescue on St. Pius X.)


  1. This is the best essay on the Pope I have read in a long long time.

  2. "but what looks like Catholic traditionalism from them is only ethnic/national boosterism, no longer really serving God"

    Ok, would you also maintain that "what looks like peaceful relations with non-Catholics from Pope Francis is really quasi-heretical pandering, no longer serving God"? If not, why do you respect the religious sincerity of Pope Francis who engages in actions once condemned by all Christians as an attack on authentic service of God, but deny it to those who maintain the rites and traditions historically understood as essential for true worship of God?

    "the church doesn't run on the Pope's opinions."

    But, John, the Latin rite *does* run on the Pope's (from Paul VI onwards) opinion that the traditional Roman Rite and the historical canonical traditional is inadequate to meet the religious and social needs of modern man. This is why the Novus Ordo is the predominant rite of Mass in the Latin Church and the current canonical tradition dates only to 1983. You should parse your comment to indicate that the Pope does not control the doctrine of the Church, because his opinion certainly does control the day-to-day operation of the Latin rite. (It should also be noted that the influence of papal opinion over the Latin rites can be extended at whim to the eastern rites.)

    1. Because I know the church's teachings well enough to know that even if Pope Francis's opinions are wrong, they're not the teachings of the church. I'm not one of those Catholics who falls all over himself making excuses for him because I know I don't have to.

      ...the Pope does not control the doctrine of the Church.

      That's what I meant.

      ...his opinion certainly does control the day-to-day operation of the Latin rite. (It should also be noted that the influence of papal opinion over the Latin rites can be extended at whim to the eastern rites.)

      Yes, but. Interesting point that touches on a situation dear to me, the Johnstown group's schism from us, still barely in living memory. In theory the church authorities can completely rewrite services but until the Novus Ordo they never did. It's not normal in our practice. Likewise, regarding the Eastern rites, although it's not doctrine, the church authorities can allow or not allow the ordination of married men, but in America they shouldn't have imposed celibacy on Eastern Catholic ordinands.


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