Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances

Fathers have the authority to teach and discipline their children, but this authority is not absolute.  They may not teach their children to do evil, and they may not discipline them with unjust harshness.  Everyone knows this, though everyone also knows that there are fathers who do in fact abuse their children or teach them to do evil.  Everyone also knows that it is right for children under these unhappy circumstances to disobey and reprove their fathers, while still acknowledging their fathers’ authority in general and submitting to his lawful instructions.

All the same, probably no father ever says to his children: “Children, here’s what to do if I ever start to abuse you or teach you to do evil.”  The reason for this is surely that the default assumption is that children will never need to know what to do under such circumstances, and that explicitly addressing it in this way would give them a false and disturbing impression.  Children might start to wonder whether abuse or evil teaching is a likely prospect, and for that reason come to doubt their father’s wisdom and good will. 

Hence, in the typical case, what to do in such a situation is left implicit and vague.  The nature of paternal authority is such that this is the way things should be.  Because the presumption that fathers will not abuse their authority is so strong, and because children need to believe viscerally that this is extremely unlikely to happen, the matter almost never comes up in most families.  There is a downside, of course, which is that on those rare occasions when a father does abuse his authority, children are bound to be confused about how to deal with the situation.  What do you do when the man appointed by nature to be your primary teacher and guardian starts to mislead or harm you?

Now, the papacy is like this.  The Church has no official and explicitly stated policy about how to deal with a pope who teaches error or otherwise abuses his office.  That is not because such error and abuse are not possible.  On the contrary, not only has the Church always allowed for the possibility that a pope can teach error when not speaking ex cathedra and that he can make policy decisions that do grave harm to the faithful, but both of these things have in fact happened on a handful of occasions – for example, the doctrinal errors of Pope Honorius I and Pope John XXII, the ambiguous doctrinal formula temporarily accepted by Pope Liberius, the Cadaver Synod of Pope Stephen VI and its aftermath, and the mistakes of Pope Urban VI that contributed to the Great Western Schism.  (I have discussed these cases here, here, and here.)  

But there is in Catholic theology so strong a presumption against a pope making grave doctrinal and disciplinary errors that, as with a father in relation to his children, it would be potentially misleading and destabilizing explicitly to formulate a policy concerning what to in such a situation.  Hence you won’t find in the Catechism a section on what to do about a bad pope.  The very existence and expression of such a policy might give the false impression that bad popes are bound to arise with some regularity. 

The downside is that on those rare occasions when a bad pope does come along, the Church is bound to be flummoxed.  Many Catholics without theological expertise will wrongly suppose that a Catholic must absolutely always support any policy that a pope implements, or assent to any doctrinal statement that a pope issues – even when such a statement seems manifestly contrary to traditional teaching (as in the cases of Honorius I and John XXII).  This will lead to one of two outcomes, depending on the capacity of such ill-informed Catholics for cognitive dissonance. 

Those who are more prone to react emotionally and less capable of clear and logical reasoning – and thus who are comfortable with embracing contradictions – will tend to go along with the doctrinal or policy errors of such a pope.  Their own understanding and practice of the Faith is going to be impaired as a result.  They are also bound to sow discord in the Church, since they will likely accuse those Catholics who do not embrace the errors of disloyalty and dissent.  By contrast, those who cannot bear such cognitive dissonance are liable to have their faith shaken.  They will wrongly suppose that they are obliged to assent to the errors, but find that they are unable to do so given the manifest conflict with traditional teaching.  They will needlessly worry that this conflict between current and past teaching falsifies the Church’s claim to indefectibility. 

It is important, then, for Catholics to realize that the traditional teaching of the Church has always allowed for the possibility of criticism of a pope who teaches error.  Indeed, such an acknowledgment is there in the New Testament, in St. Paul’s famous public rebuke of St. Peter for conduct that “seemed to indicate a wish to compel the pagan converts to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law” (as the Catholic Encyclopedia characterizes Peter’s scandalous action).  

It is also manifest in the condemnation of Pope Honorius I by his successors Pope St. Agatho and Pope St. Leo II.  It is evident in Pope Innocent III’s statement: “Only on account of a sin committed against the faith can I be judged by the church” (quoted in J. Michael Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy, at p. 292).  It is reflected in the example of the 14th-century theologians who criticized the doctrinal error of Pope John XXII, criticism which led to his recantation.  It is obvious from the extremely negative judgments that devout Catholic historians (such as many of the authors of the Catholic Encyclopedia) have made about the worst popes.  And though you don’t find the subject raised in the Catechism, the Church under Pope St. John Paul II in fact addressed the possibility of legitimate disagreement explicitly and at some length.

The teaching of Donum Veritatis

This may seem surprising given that John Paul II and his chief doctrinal officer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) have a reputation for disciplining dissenting theologians such as Hans Küng and Charles Curran.  However, as I explained in an earlier post, and as Joe Bessette and I explain in much greater detail at pages 144-57 of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, various teaching documents issued during the last several decades make it clear that there are five categories of magisterial statement.  The first two categories (which concern divinely revealed dogmas and logical implications of dogmas, respectively) require unconditional assent on the part of Catholics; the third category (which concerns non-irreformable but still binding theological and moral teaching) entails a very strong presumption of assent; the fourth (which concerns prudential disciplinary directives) requires only obedience in behavior but not assent; and the fifth (which concerns prudential application of theological or moral principle to contingent circumstances) requires neither obedience nor assent but merely respectful consideration.  

Moreover, the Instruction Donum Veritatis, issued by the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger, makes it clear that not all disagreement with the Magisterium of the Church constitutes dissent of the objectionable kind that Küng, Curran, et al. are guilty of.  Here are the relevant passages, from sections 24-32:

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.  It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions…

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.  Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question…

Even when collaboration takes place under the best conditions, the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium…  If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue…

The preceding considerations have a particular application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him wellfounded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching…

If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented.  He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties.  His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments…

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial.  It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail…

[T]hat public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church also called “dissent”… must be distinguished from the situation of personal difficulties treated above.

End quote.  There are several important points made in these passages.  First, what is in view here is the possibility of legitimate criticism of “teaching[s] of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable” – which would include magisterial statements even in the third category referred to above, as well as the fourth and fifth categories.  As the instruction notes, assent to such statements “must be the rule,” but this strong presumption of assent can be overridden.  How?

As I argued in a recent Catholic World Report article, Catholic teaching concerning the reliability of the ordinary magisterium of the Church implies that if the Church has consistently taught some doctrine for centuries, that teaching cannot be considered reformable.  This is why liberal theologians who question the Church’s traditional teaching on matters such as contraception or the ordination of women do not have a leg to stand on.  When the Magisterium is simply reiterating such traditional teaching, disagreement cannot be justified by appeal to these passages from Donum Veritatis.  

Rather, as theologian William May notes, legitimate disagreement of the kind the Instruction has in view is most plausible when theologians “can appeal to other magisterial teachings that are more certainly and definitively taught with which they think the teaching questioned is incompatible” (An Introduction to Moral Theology, Revised edition, p. 242).  In other words, the possibility of legitimate criticism of a magisterial statement is most plausible precisely when that statement seems to conflict with long-standing past teaching, and not when it merely reiterates long-standing past teaching.  

There are, after all, strict limits on what the Church and the popes can teach, as the Church and the popes have themselves constantly affirmed.  For example, the First Vatican Council teaches:

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

Similarly, the Second Vatican Council teaches:

[T]he living teaching office of the Church… is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully.

And Pope Benedict XVI taught:

The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law.  On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word.  He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.

End quote.  So, suppose some papal statement or other magisterial document did appear to try to introduce “some new doctrine,” or appeared to “water down” the Church’s consistent past teaching, or failed to guard that teaching “scrupulously” or to explain it “faithfully.”  This would be the clearest possible case in which a theologian might raise legitimate criticisms of the kind recognized by Donum Veritatis.

A second important point to note from the passages quoted is that Donum Veritatis affirms that a theologian not only can have the right to raise objections, but in some cases even “has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented.  Indeed, the document teaches that a theologian’s “objections could then contribute to real progress” and “a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles.”  In other words, the Church doesn’t merely tolerate criticism under circumstances like the ones in question, but acknowledges that such criticism can be a good thing and a service to the Magisterium.

A third and quite remarkable acknowledgement in these passages from Donum Veritatis is that for the theologian who raises such legitimate criticisms, “such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial.  It can be a call to suffer for the truth.”  In other words, the Church explicitly acknowledges the possibility that a non-infallible act of the Magisterium can be so defective that it is the theologian who respectfully criticizes that act who is upholding “the truth,” so that this defective magisterial act is something from which the theologian will unjustly “suffer.”

A fourth point that must be emphasized is that Donum Veritatis explicitly says that legitimate criticism of deficient magisterial statements does not constitute “dissent” from Church teaching, as that term is usually understood.  As the document goes on to explain in some detail, what the Church condemns as “dissent” has to do instead with “attitudes of general opposition to Church teaching” of the kind which arose after Vatican II.  This spirit of dissent, Donum Veritatis says, has the following characteristics:

• It stems from “the ideology of philosophical liberalism, which permeates the thinking of our age,” and which pits “freedom of thought” against “the authority of tradition.”

• It regards “teaching handed on and generally received [as] a priori suspect” and claims that “doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility… have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not.”

• It often assigns a “normative value” to “models of society promoted by the ‘mass media’,” is influenced by “the weight of public opinion,” and seeks to limit magisterial statements to topics “which public opinion considers important and then only by way of agreeing with it.”

• “In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society.”

Clearly, then, the “dissent” that Donum Veritatis criticizes is the kind that is motivated by the theological liberalism of Küng, Curran, et al., which wants the Church to abandon traditional teaching and conform herself to the values prevailing in modern secular liberal society.  A theologian who criticized a pope for failing to reiterate traditional teaching (as the medieval theologians who criticized Pope John XXII did) would therefore be the opposite of a “dissenter.”

A fifth point to emphasize is that the criticism allowed by Donum Veritatis can be expressed publicly.  Speaking at a press conference about a hypothetical theologian who raises the sorts of legitimate criticism allowed by Donum Veritatis, Cardinal Ratzinger said: “We have not excluded all kinds of publication, nor have we closed him up in suffering” (quoted in Anthony J. Figueiredo, The Magisterium-Theology Relationship, at p. 370).  As William May notes:

The Instruction obviously considers it proper for theologians to publish their “questions,” for it speaks of their obligation to take seriously into account objections leveled against their views by other theologians and to revise their positions in the light of such criticism – and this is normally given only after a theologian has made his questions known by publishing them in professional theological journals (An Introduction to Moral Theology, pp. 241-42)  

Similarly, Cardinal Avery Dulles notes that Donum Veritatis “does not discountenance expression of one’s views in a scholarly manner that might be publicly reported” (The Craft of Theology, p. 115).  

This is a crucial point.  Some Catholics have falsely claimed that Donum Veritatis only permits criticism that is expressed privately to the relevant Church authorities.  Their basis for thinking this is a remark in the Instruction to the effect that “the theologian should avoid turning to the ‘mass media’, but have recourse to the responsible authority.”  But as Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement makes clear, Donum Veritatis in fact does not prohibit all publicly expressed criticism.  Furthermore, the remark about “mass media” has to be read in context, because the Instruction addresses the topic of mass media in several places, and seems concerned to criticize a very specific aspect of modern mass media, rather than the use of mass media as such.  The longer passage from which the words just quoted are taken reads as follows:

[T]he theologian should avoid turning to the "mass media", but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth

End quote.  And in the context of discussing the baneful influence of “the ideology of philosophical liberalism” and its pitting of “freedom of thought” and a “model of protest” against the “authority of tradition,” remarks like the following are made: 

The phenomenon of dissent can have diverse forms.  Its remote and proximate causes are multiple…

The weight of public opinion when manipulated and its pressure to conform also have their influence.  Often models of society promoted by the “mass media” tend to assume a normative value

Dissent sometimes also appeals to a kind of sociological argumentation which holds that the opinion of a large number of Christians would be a direct and adequate expression of the “supernatural sense of the faith”...

[But] not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith.  This is all the more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern communications media.

End quote.  Clearly, then, when Donum Veritatis expresses reservations about the mass media, what it has in view are the secular liberal values that dominate modern mass media and have reshaped public opinion by means of it, and the way that dissenting theologians have sought allies in the mass media in order to reshape Church teaching in a similar way.  It is not the use of mass media per se that is bad.  What is bad is trying to pressure the Church into conforming itself to the values that dominate modern mass media and public opinion.

Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law gives further support to the legitimacy of public expressions of criticism.  It states:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have 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.

End quote.  This passage makes it clear that Catholics may make their opinions known not only “to the sacred pastors,” but also “to the rest of the Christian faithful.”  It is also important to note, however, that the passage adds some important qualifications.  For one thing, it tells us that the opinions expressed ought to reflect a sufficient level of “knowledge, competence, and prestige.”  Neither Donum Veritatis nor canon law give a blank check to just any old yahoo with a Blogger account who wants to mouth off.  Second, Catholics must express their opinions with sufficient “reverence toward their pastors.”  More on this latter qualification presently.

The teaching of the tradition

The teaching of Donum Veritatis is not some modern novelty.  It has precedents in St. Paul’s correction of St. Peter, in Pope Innocent III’s statement that he could legitimately be judged “on account of a sin committed against the faith,” and in the correction of Pope John XXII by the theologians of his day.  It has also been given expression over the centuries by several saints and approved theologians.

St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on the subject in Summa Theologiae II-II.33.4 is worth quoting at length:

[F]raternal correction is a work of mercy.  Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected... 

A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction…

Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect…

It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him...

To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith.  But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully… 

It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.  Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

To presume oneself to be simply better than one's prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault.  We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,” as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.

End quote.  Similarly, when discussing Paul’s rebuke of Peter in his Commentary on Galatians, Aquinas says that this rebuke was “just and useful” because of “the danger to the Gospel teaching,” and that “the manner of the rebuke was fitting, i.e., public and plain… because [Peter’s] dissimulation posed a danger to all.”  Aquinas observes:

Therefore from the foregoing we have an example: to prelates, indeed, an example of humility, that they not disdain corrections from those who are lower and subject to them; to subjects, an example of zeal and freedom, that they fear not to correct their prelates, particularly if their crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude.

End quote.  Several aspects of Aquinas’s teaching here merit emphasis, because they correct a number misunderstandings that are common in Catholic circles.  First, a Catholic can correct a prelate (i.e. someone with ecclesiastical authority, such as a bishop).  Some Catholics falsely suppose otherwise, on the grounds that a subject has no authority over a prelate.  But as Aquinas points out, what a subject lacks is authority to secure justice by punishing a prelate for wrongdoing.  Only a superior can do that.  That does not entail that a subject cannot criticize a prelate, so long as the prelate really is guilty of wrongdoing, the criticism is respectful, and the subject is acting out of charity rather than pretending to exercise authority over the prelate.  Aquinas even says that the scriptural account of Paul rebuking Peter was meant precisely as “an example of zeal and freedom” to Christians so that they would “fear not to correct their prelates.”

Second, the pope is among those who can be corrected in this way.  This is obvious from the fact that Aquinas is speaking of prelates in general, and the pope is a prelate.  Furthermore, the example of correction Aquinas cites is Paul’s correction of Peter, and Peter was a pope.  The fact that the pope has no superior on Earth is irrelevant, because, again, what is in view here is not a subject punishing a pope so as to secure justice (which no subject of the pope may do), but rather merely respectfully criticizing a pope out of charity.

Third, Aquinas is clear that while such correction of a prelate should in the ordinary case take place privately, there are also cases where it can and should be done publicly.  Specifically, Aquinas says that public rebuke of a prelate would be called for “if the faith were endangered” or if his “crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude.”  

Fourth, another reason such correction of a prelate can be called for is for the sake of the prelate himself.  If a pope is guilty of serious error and of leading others into error, one does not show greater piety or loyalty to him by pretending otherwise.  On the contrary, one contributes to endangering his soul.  For precisely because of his greater responsibility, he is in “greater danger” spiritually, as Aquinas (following Augustine) puts it.  One of the things a prelate is in greater danger of is arrogance, so that, as Aquinas says, correction from a subordinate can help a prelate to develop humility.

Fifth, Aquinas’s remarks show that it is silly to accuse those who criticize a prelate of necessarily thinking themselves “more Catholic than the pope.”  For one thing, as Aquinas says, when a Catholic criticizes a prelate, “it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help.”  For another, a Catholic who criticizes a pope or other prelate might in fact be better in some respect.  As Aquinas writes, “there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault.”  The theologians who criticized Pope John XXII for his theological errors were in fact better than him with respect to their understanding of the specific theological matter at issue.  The Catholics of Pope Urban VI’s day who criticized him for his arrogance and foolish policies were in fact better than him with respect to their wisdom vis-à-vis policy.  Catholics who condemn the immoral personal lives that a number of popes of the past have had are in fact better than those popes with respect to their personal moral virtue.  And so on.  

Sixth, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that, as Aquinas notes, criticism of a prelate must be carried out “with gentleness and respect” and not with “impudence” or “insolence.”  Sometimes Catholics who raise legitimate criticisms of a pope publicly treat him with the sort of contempt and flippancy with which radio hosts and comedians typically treat politicians and other public figures in modern liberal democracies.  This is gravely wrong.  Even when your father is in error and must be rebuked, he is still your father and the Fourth Commandment is still in force.  You may not belittle him or treat him as if he were some flunky.  Now, the pope is a spiritual father, and more than that, he is the Vicar of Christ.  His subjects must always act in a way consistent with the high dignity of his office, even when he is not living up to the demands of that office.  

That does not mean that in evaluating the problematic words and actions of a pope, we must deny harsh truths.  For example, it is not disrespectful or insolent to judge that Pope Honorius abetted heresy, or that Pope Stephen VI was insane, or that Pope Urban VI was foolish, or that Popes John XII and Benedict IX lived evil lives.  These are simply straightforward factual judgments based on evidence.  The point is that the legitimacy of criticism of a pope under certain circumstances has nothing whatsoever to do with the modern liberal individualist mentality of treating authority with contempt, celebrating the rebel and the dissident, etc.  Indeed, legitimate criticism of a pope is essentially a matter of upholding his authority by helping him better to fulfill the purpose of his office, viz. passing on the deposit of faith and teaching it to his spiritual children.  The aim is to urge him to be more pope-like, more father-like, not less.

The key is to keep in mind that the papacy has a teleology or final cause.  The pope is “not an absolute monarch” and “must not proclaim his own ideas” (to quote Benedict XVI again), but rather must “religiously guard and faithfully expound the… deposit of faith” (as Vatican I put it), “teaching only what has been handed on… guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully” (as Vatican II says).  To the extent that a pope fails to do this, he is like a father who misleads his children.  Now, just as it would be perverse to defend an abusive father’s actions in the name of fatherhood, so too would it be perverse to defend an errant pope’s actions in the name of papal authority.  As the eminent 16th century Dominican theologian Melchior Cano put it:

Peter has no need of our lies or flattery.  Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See – they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations. (Quoted in George Weigel, Witness to Hope, p. 15)

At the same time, just as it would also be perverse to pretend that one is upholding fatherhood by mocking and abusing an errant father, so too would it be perverse to pretend to be upholding papal authority by criticizing a pope in a disrespectful manner.  The teleology of fatherhood shows both that a father can be criticized under certain circumstances, but also how such criticism must be conducted.  Something similar is true of the papacy.  Its final cause is to function as a doctrinal authority.  To acquiesce in papal error would undermine the “doctrinal” part of this function, but to reprove error in an impudent manner would undermine the “authority” part of the function.

As the quote from Cano indicates, Aquinas is by no means the only thinker in the tradition to recognize that there can be cases when a pope should not be followed.  Cardinal John Henry Newman speculated about the possibility of “extreme cases in which Conscience may come into collision with the word of a Pope, and is to be followed in spite of that word” though he judged such cases to be “very rare” (Newman and Gladstone: The Vatican Decrees, pp. 127 and 136).  In support, Newman cites remarks from St. Robert Bellarmine and Cardinal John de Torquemada.  Cardinal Torquemada wrote:

Although it clearly follows from the circumstance that the Pope can err at times, and command things which must not be done, that we are not to be simply obedient to him in all things, that does not show that he must not be obeyed by all when his commands are good.  To know in what cases he is to be obeyed and in what not... it is said in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘One ought to obey God rather than man;’ therefore, were the Pope to command anything against Holy Scripture, or the articles of faith, or the truth of the Sacraments, or the commands of the natural or divine law, he ought not to be obeyed, but in such commands to be passed over.  (Newman and Gladstone, p. 124)

And Bellarmine taught:

[A]s it is lawful to resist the Pope, if he assaulted a man’s person, so it is lawful to resist him, if he assaulted souls, or troubled the state, and much more if he strove to destroy the Church.  It is lawful, I say, to resist him, by not doing what he commands, and hindering the execution of his will. (Newman and Gladstone, p. 125)

We find similar remarks from other eminent theologians and churchmen of the past.  For example, Cardinal Cajetan held that in dealing with a pope who abuses his office, Catholics can legitimately “oppose the abuse of power which destroys by suitable remedies such as not obeying, not being servile in the face of evil actions, not keeping silence, [and] by arguing(quoted in Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock, p. 295).  Similarly, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val wrote:

Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards what ever [the pope] may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right…

[E]ven to-day a Bishop might… expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge, and then write to his critics that he had not hesitated to pass strictures upon the action of the successor of S. Peter… The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope.  And yet an individual Bishop does not occupy the exceptional position of S. Paul, a fellow-Apostle of the Prince of the Apostles.  Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, whilst full acknowledging all his great prerogatives.  (The Truth of Papal Claims, pp. 19 and 74)

The case of Pope Francis

I hardly need point out that these considerations have contemporary relevance.  Pope Francis has made statements that at least appear to conflict with traditional Catholic teaching on Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and non-Catholics, contraception, capital punishment, the criteria for the validity of a marriage, and other topics.  He has also studiously refused to respond even to polite requests for clarification and reaffirmation of traditional teaching on these subjects.  

For so many prominent faithful Catholics publicly to criticize a pope seems unprecedented, though perhaps the criticism Pope John XXII faced from the theologians of his day was somewhat similar.  However, for a pope to make so many problematic statements while persistently ignoring repeated respectful requests for clarification is certainly unprecedented.  Hence the criticism is not surprising.  More to the present point, it is manifest from Donum Veritatis, canon law, and the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and other approved theologians that the criticism is clearly within the bounds of what the Church permits.  Those who accuse these critics of being “dissenters” or disloyal to the Holy Father are either being intellectually dishonest or simply don’t know what they are talking about.

Moreover, the legitimacy of this criticism is clear even from the teaching of Pope Francis himself.  For one thing, the pope has explicitly said that some of his public remarks are open to legitimate criticism.  For another, in his recent exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis asserts that “doctrine, or better, our understanding and expression of it, is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries.”  Now, in my opinion this statement needs serious qualification.  But if Pope Francis believes that a Catholic can legitimately “pose questions, doubts, inquiries” about doctrines that have for millennia been consistently taught by scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes, then he cannot consistently deny that it can be legitimate to “pose questions, doubts, inquiries” about statements of his own that seem inconsistent with those doctrines.  

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  1. Wait, isn't it supposed to be prideful to consider oneself better than another person in something, especially morality?

    How can it be legitimate to do such?

    1. See the quote from Aquinas in the post:

      ‘[T]here is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault.’

    2. On the contrary, it is a sin against truth to deny oneself to possess a virtue that one knows oneself to in fact possess (a sin called irony or pusillanimity). Humility, Augustine says, is a low opinion of oneself based upon knowledge of oneself.

    3. That sounds to me like some kind of egalitarian distortion. Is JPII not better than Charles Manson where moral actions toward another are concerned? Is Edward Feser not more knowledgeable of Aristotelian metaphysics than a New Atheist fanboy who repeats simplified riffs of the errors of Daniel Dennett? While we are equals are persons, do we not differ in our endowments? There certainly are haughty ways to regard one's virtues and our qualities, but what exactly is wrong in recognizing the truth? That is the very essence of humility.

    4. @Anon 12:44

      The Eastern Orthodox would say that JPII is more spiritually "healthy" than Charles Manson, since sins are a disease and virtue and morality is health.

      And while a healthy person may consider himself more healthy and more fine than a sick man, he may not consider himself better than the sick man due to his own health.

      And as for Feser having more knowledge than an atheist, this may be seen differently when one recalls that knowledge is something on receives from the outside, similar to gifts, and it would be wrong to consider oneself "better" in terms of knowledge than another for the same reasons it would be wrong to consider oneself better than another person on the basis of having more gifts than the other.

    5. I think a healthy person could rightly consider himself better than the sick person in regards to his health, precisely because he is in a better condition than the other person, especially if the other person is sick because he refuses to take proper care of himself.

      I also disagree with your beef about superior knowledge, but it seems better to focus on the dispute over moral superiority.

    6. As if a runner, having won a race, could be prideful by holding himself better than those who lost, with respect to the race. Pride is *inordinate* self respect, not any self-respect whatsoever.

    7. @JoeD
      He is better *with respect of his health*, which is just what it *means* to be healthy.

    8. Let us recall Thomas on pride, so that we can better resolve the matter:

      "Pride [superbia] is so called because a man thereby aims higher [supra] than he is; wherefore Isidore says (Etym. x): "A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is"; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man's will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason, and this shows it to have the character of sin, because according to Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv, 4), "the soul's evil is to be opposed to reason." Therefore it is evident that pride is a sin."

    9. Humility is to recognize that all things are from God, no virtue is by yourself alone.

    10. As former world chess champion, Jose Capablanca, said, "Conceit I consider a foolish thing, but more foolish still is the false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal which all facts tend to prove."

  2. *sees new Feser post*
    *skims through - massive wall of text*
    *starts sobbing from happiness*
    *grabs six-pack IPAs, bag of chips*
    *understands less about the post topic after six-pack than before*
    *re-reads recent Feser post on theology of sobriety*
    *repeat ad nausium*

  3. "At the same time, just as it would also be perverse to pretend that one is upholding fatherhood by mocking and abusing an errant father, so too would it be perverse to pretend to be upholding papal authority by criticizing a pope in a disrespectful manner. The teleology of fatherhood shows both that a father can be criticized under certain circumstances, but also how such criticism must be conducted." Amen!

    Pope Francis has earned some criticism but I am put off by extremists who go from giving him an unrealistic benefit of the doubt to none whatsoever. The death penalty thing is not really on the radar per say since it superficially(thought not technically) resembles the two previous Pope's anti-death penalty stance(we all know the issues & what is wrong with Francis public statements on the matter and story in general so I won't rehash them).
    But on Hell for example. All the Pope's public statements taken at face value and literally do not admit any interpretation he believes the damned soul ceases to exist. That Hell exists and without God's Grace we will go there. Also Pope Francis warns us about the Devil as a literal evil spirit not just some symbol of human evil. I know too many reactionary extremist trads who will swear on a stack of Rosary beads Pope Francis is a secret universalist. That is a bridge too far.
    Salfarri made it up.

    1. “Salfarri made it up.”

      Probably @son of ya’kov.

      But why didn’t the Vatican explicitly repudiate it? Instead, it offered up a vague “distancing” statement: “it should not be considered as a faithful transcript of the Holy Father’s words.”

    2. Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that clarity simply is not part of his agenda. It's more than merely that he himself tends to be vague and fuzzy in verbal or off-the-cuff comments. No, even in "careful" documents that spend many months in preparation, he is vague and confusing, and he refuses to clarify them. This is clearly his policy.

      I submit that the Pope not only has a personal attribute of being personally careless on details (he has said this explicitly), he seems to have made a VIRTUE of this in his own mind: he repudiates the very attitude of being careful and paying attention to the dotted i's and crossed t's. He castigates those who spend effort on precision, calling them "self-absorbed promethean neopelagians" and "manualists". He thus thinks that there is a kind of sinfulness in paying attention to detail like that. And after the first 2 years or so of the Vatican press office "fixing" Francis's mistakes, they eventually seem to have gotten "the point" of not his trying to "fix" it and just let his gaffes rest where they land. At least they are much less apologetic about them than they used to be. (I suppose that this could also be because Francis has gradually removed all the people who thought the mistakes were mistakes and now whomever is left thinks they are all not a problem. Or, worse, that they actually think everything he says is simply correct, and not only see nothing to apologize for, they want to push the nutty stuff as 'the new truth (tm)".)

    3. Joe why would Pope Francis tell Schalfari (a 95 year old man who admits too not taking notes in these discussions and reconstructing them from memory) there is no eternal Hell and yet in public say that there is one? I've known Universalist heretics and JW's who deny Hell. They all do so on the grounds the doctrine itself makes God look "merciless". So if that is what he believed then logically he would never bring up Hell. Then the charge would seem more plausible. As it stands the charge is too silly to take seriously given the evidence. In spite of Pope Francis' other failings.

    4. Son of Ya’Kov, I don’t believe the Pope said this to Scalfari. I just just don’t understand why the Vatican did not come out with a clear repudiation when it had the opportunity to do so. Is it that the vagueness is an “official” policy for all communications under this pope? (Not being facetious here.)

    5. Same reason the Vatican couldn't come right out and tell us if St John Paul II like or disliked the Passion of the Christ movie back in the day. They are idiots and they have been long before Pope Francis sat in Peter's Chair and even if Pope Francis' successor is far right to Pope Benedict or even Pius XII they will still be idiots. What I don't get is why anyone still surprised by this?

    6. My impression vacillates between incompetence, cowardice and malice.

      Either some at the Vatican remain silent about errors in order permit misconceptions to do their work (toward what end, I don't know, though from what I hear, there are quite a few modernist types in the Vatican). Either that, or they fear the chatter that would result from the correction ("Actually, the Church does teach that Hell exists and that those who die in a state of mortal sin face the very real of landing there." Not words even many Catholics today want to hear.) Or, the Vatican and/or its media are simply removed from the image the press has crafted around their words. I have a difficult time believing that the Church knows nothing about how it is perceived given the vociferous reactions to Francis' statements about divorced couples and the like from the bishops.

      The latter is the more charitable interpretation perhaps.

    7. Scalfari (not Safarri) is certainly not an idiot: he's a very important and learned member of the Italian leftist environment. He's been for decades one the foremost critics and enemies of Christianity: the newspaper he founded, La Repubblica, is the most important newspaper of the country (together with the centrist Corriere della Sera), the flagship paper of the radicalish left - very similar to the NYT or the WaPo, but populated by people who have been real, hard Communists with a particular hatred for Catholicism never missing from their articles. That newapaper fuoght and won all important battles about families: divorce, abortion, euthanasia, samesex marriage, and all similar stuff.
      For such a man to be a special confident of the Pope is a very weird thing and nobody in Italy fails to understand what that (with many other acts and words) means: the Pope sympathizes with the positions held by La Repubblica, in striking opposition to what normal (not traditionalist) Catholicism is.
      Now, Scalfari as much the radical chic leftist as one can imagine, but he's not stupid, not ignorant and - pay attention - not a liar; he sincerely enjoys this Pope's confidence and the thing is reciprocal. Why should he tell lies about what the Pope said about Hell? And not one time only, but several - never contradicted by the Vatican, notwithstanding the huge scandal produced.
      I'm sorry to say that this duplicitous way of acting from the Pope is certainly not the first or only one; it's almost a constant that what he says depends on each occasion's interlocutor, but it's evident when he speaks from the heart. And the reason is that he does not care about the integrity of the faith, and does not believe that the dogmas he doesn't like too much deserve his obedience (according to his "preferred" theologian, Kasper, everything can change as regards the Faith, it changes with history); as he said about the Catholic understanding of Eucharist "these are just interpretations".
      So about Hell, he shares this idea to the effect that Hell does not really exist otherwise God would be cruel, which is held by several Jesuits (e.g. Carlo Maria Martini); frankly, it's a surprise only for you that he speaks openly about that with Scalfari, while he uses a more traditional language with "the plebs" - what he really thinks is the former, and he's been repeatedly sending a message about that to all the progressive people he likes - and they are understanding perfectly.

      Of course, I am Italian, and I am not a traditionalist or a reactionary.

    8. @Paolo

      Your conspiracy theory would be more credible if the Pope never spoke of Hell or it's eternal nature "being conscientiously separated from God" in his public addresses. But he has so it is clearly implausible. Especially given that heretics who deny Hell do so because they think it makes God look less merciful. Pope Francis is all about mercy so it beggars the imagination that he would teach such a "merciless doctrine" that he secretly denies. Also taking such an irrational charge as you lay at the Pope's feet seriously undermines all legitimate criticism of the Pope and allows the enemies of the Church. The "false Friends" Cardinal Muller says surrounds the Pope can use that as ammo for deflection against said legitimate criticism. Like the phoney "birther" conspiracy in American Politics that falsely claimed President Obama was secretly born in Kenya & not America. The American left has used that obviously false charge to discredit legitimate complaints about Obama. Others will use the phony nonsense to deflect legitimate questions about communion for the divorced. This shortsightedness is clearly fueled by a demonic hatred of the Pope and not charity at all. This Scot (who is Italian on his mother's side) is not having it laddie.

  4. various teaching documents issued during the last several decades make it clear that there are five categories of magisterial statement. The first two categories (which concern divinely revealed dogmas and logical implications of dogmas, respectively) require unconditional assent on the part of Catholics; the third category (which concerns non-irreformable but still binding theological and moral teaching) entails a very strong presumption of assent; the fourth (which concerns prudential disciplinary directives) requires only obedience in behavior but not assent; and the fifth (which concerns prudential application of theological or moral principle to contingent circumstances) requires neither obedience nor assent but merely respectful consideration.

    It is great to revisit this teaching, and reiterate that not all teachings are of the same status or demand the same kind of assent - while firmly upholding that SOME teachings do demand assent of a very definitive kind (unreserved, because they are irreformable), and others, while not per se irreformable, still require assent of a sort.

    Still, it seems to me that the Church needs to have a much more involved discussion of types 3, 4 and 5. It seems to me more and more likely, as I study this, that these descriptions have not yet hit just perfectly on what we mean or ought to mean by the categories that require respect even though not irreformable.

    Some examples. First, when a teaching X is taught year in and year out by the Church, over time it may become irreformable. But before it becomes irreformable, it may have grown to have the status of #3. But before that, it might well have been taught by this or that bishop (or Father), not because “the Church teaches it” but because “this seems to me the best understanding”. Somewhere in between the FIRST time it was proposed, and when it became a common and generally held position that binds (as a #3 type), it would have been increasing in the way it commanded respect, without yet having gotten to “binding” simply. Just as there is a development of doctrine, there is development of certainty about it, and of bindingness. The development of one by degrees seems to require the development of the other, i.e. in degrees.

    Next, as to #5: in the application of general principles to actual cases there is often a degree of uncertainty, because there are always some potentially pertinent facts we don't know, and there are simply some things of which we can only speak in the way of "probable" or "implausible" and not with certainty. This is one of the reasons why the Church cannot speak with certitude in "prudential matters" the way she can in matters of principle. However, the Church can also be uncertain about a matter of principle, if she has not yet worked it out in detail yet. Thus, it may well be the case that a prelate may choose to speak to a matter of general principle, but with a certain degree of hesitation, or "room for doubt", not intending to bind his flock to assent to it, but only to require them to ponder it and consider his words. Thus, I suggest that the categories either need a bifurcation, or #5 needs to be corrected: there are "matters of some uncertainty", either because prelates cannot be certain, in the very nature of the business, or because the Church has not yet developed certainty, and those matters need not be prudential to be matters about which they do not bind the faithful. A bishop may intend to not bind not only with respect to prudential matters.

    1. This is a very good comment, I think.

    2. Here is another example of the incompleteness of the way the 5 categories have been explained. Take #3. Dr. Feser explains some of the limits on the demand for belief, by pulling in an explanation from Donum Veritatis:

      It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions…

      All well and good. But that CDF document was addressing itself to theologians. It does not address itself to the ordinary lay person.

      But ask yourself this: why is there permission for a theologian to express difficulties and doubts about a teaching, and not for a well-educated layman? Theologians are not ordained and members of the hierarchy, they are not bishops who are, in virtue of their office as successors to the Apostles carrying a protection of the Holy Spirit in their teaching.

      Or put it another way: did not Dr. Feser and Joe Bessette, very well educated non-theologians, do something VERY MUCH (i.e. exactly) like what the CDF document allows for theologians, when they wrote and published By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed?

      We all know educated non-theologians who are at least as well educated in the faith as some (many, perhaps even most) of those with Ph.D.s in theology. We also know laymen who, while not broadly as well educated as theologians, are fully in tune with the faith and are, due to a particular interest and pursuit, as well educated in one area as a professional theologian. Does the CDF document intend to say that these are PRECLUDED from withholding full assent and raising doubts the way it allows for theologians?

      No, of course not: it addresses itself to the role of the theologian, and is not saying what is allowed or not allowed to others. Certainly Catholic medical doctors have a right to speak on matters of the faith that touch on the beginnings of human life. Catholic cosmologists have a right to speak on matters of the faith that touch on the early events of the universe. And, just IN PRINCIPLE, those whose education and training enable them to see the layers of connections of truth in a given teaching (or proposed teaching) of the #3 sort have a right to address it when they see problems with the connections that ought to be there but aren't.

  5. Pope Francis lacks precision of thought. That is a massive flaw, as is his unwillingness to directly address peoples's concerns. Also, there has been a great deal of hyperbole alongside genuine questions from people in the Catholic Blogosphere (alongside liberal media spin). Very often there have been extremely uncharitable readings (granted the pope is at fault for the way he words things) of some of what the current Pope has said.

    I certainly don't think 99.9% of the criticism has been justified from self styled 'traditionalists'.

    Is everything the pope says infallible? Certainly not. Has Pope Francis made mistakes. Absolutely.

    Not the worst Pope in the history, not by a long shot.

  6. Dr. Feser,

    Thanks for a great, detailed treatment of this subject. Two of my take-aways from this great article:

    1) "Moreover, the legitimacy of this criticism is clear even from the teaching of Pope Francis himself."

    This is often left out of the discussion when some Catholics criticize others for raising "questions, doubts, inquiries."

    2) "That does not entail that a subject cannot criticize a prelate, so long as the prelate really is guilty of wrongdoing, the criticism is respectful, and the subject is acting out of charity rather than pretending to exercise authority over the prelate."

    In any criticism, we need to act out of charity and a love for the truth. Not a prideful desire to show our superior intellect.

  7. Thanks for this, Ed. I know a lot of people who need to read this but probably won't.

  8. I love this stupidity.

    The Pope told a sex abuse survivor in Chile " “Juan Carlos, I don’t care about you being gay. God made you that way and loves you as you are and I don’t mind. The pope loves you as you are, you have to be happy with who you are.”

    The reactionary nutters over at so called Lifesite are now bitching about this! Yeh NOT HELPING idiots. My point stands. The Pope needs correction but there is too much stupid in the room that inhibits proper correction.
    There are principled & truly loyal critics of the Pope and valid criticisms. This isn't any of it. I call Lifesite out!

    1. Meh. ben Ya'kov, while the article is admittedly trenchant in its tone, overall it's thesis is more correct than not. If the pope wants openness to those hurting and damaged, he is more undermining that apostolate through his careless - nay, his aggressive disregard of detail - than he is helping. The negative gut-reaction in this article is par for the course given the pope's mis-handling of the event.

      My guess is that there are lots of other pieces you could have picked on that are more deserving of your censure. This one is not that big a deal.

    2. @Tony

      It's reading into the Pope's words what it wants to see not what is in fact there. Other orthodox Catholics and Catholic websites have noted if the word attributed to the Pope are accurate what he said is not against the Faith.

      Lifesite is like a Greek or Italian or Jewish woman. They need to complain or they die.

    3. Sure, there is a particular way of taking the phrase "God made you gay" that would allow it to be true. But in the context of the gay _community_, and the 1990's to 2000's mantra of "this is how I am made and that means it's good", there can be no doubt that what the Pope said lends itself more readily to error than to truth. If Pope Francis is that out of touch with the media and the culture, he probably needs to stay at home with a babysitter and not get into these situations.

    4. I hate to break it too ya but Pope Benedict was way more theologically precise then Pope Francis & yet the same media took him as promoting gay sex and gay condom use when he suggested male prostitutes who used condoms "showed the beginnings of a conscience and concern for others". The media will always lie about the Pope and they don't understand nueance from a hole in the head. Gay fanatics will hear what they want to hear. By your standard no Pope should speak ever. As for what the Pope said to this man. He was an abuse victim and his abusers told him because he was gay he was evil and it was a sign God abandoned him etc. and other monstrous lies that are clearly offensive to pious ears. So the Pope should stay home and let this poor man believe these lies? Pardon my Germanic Saxon but F......fudge that! I am not on board.

    5. @ Tony

      Ironically some of the liberal media get it that the Pope has not signaled some change in doctrine on homosexuality & ironically and humorously they are cheesed off about it. Awe! Poor liberal media.:-)

      As the gay man who wrote the article i cite above laments
      ". But what he has reportedly intimated to this victim is not radical, it is not new, and it belies a wider official teaching on homosexuality that is very clear – and profoundly damaging". (yeh "damaging" to the gay agenda. Cry me a river Sassanach.).
      Poor Pope Francis. Reactionary Trads are cheesed at him for "indicating homosexuality is by God's design" & this smart gay dude is cheesed cause he knows the Pope is teaching no such thing. Yo Tony. This anti-Catholic gay dude gets it. Catch up man. Just saying....;-)
      PS. Stay Scottish? What you are not Scottish? Well do it anyway. :D

    6. @ Tony,

      Exactly. And I don't think you get to be pope being that stupid or naive. Francis knows exactly what he's doing and he's doing it deliberately.

    7. The news is not an encylical. Stop using random statements "collected" by the press as any kind of guide. The Pope can tell random people vague bizzare or half thought nonsense and it wouldn't become any kind of teaching anyone has to take seriously thereby. Almost nobody reads or takes as authority stuff reported about JP II or Benedict (or they shouldn't: they should be reading the official documents) so why take it seriously while a Pope lives? The press is barely a useful guide for what date it is.

      Now of course, what this Pope has put out isn't great, but it's not press nonsense.

  9. Could somebody help me understand the hierarchical structure of causes? I'm having a hard time understanding it in the way its presented in the book 5 Proofs.

    1. Anon,

      This is way off-topic and I don't allow threadjacking, so I'd advise either saving this question for another thread, or taking it to the Classical Theism, Philosophy, and Religion forum:

  10. Thank you for this clear discussion of the issues Dr. Feser. A few questions:

    1) Granted all you have said, the practical application of these principles seems difficult. The problem is that there is no clear and definitive formula as to what Papal pronouncements are ex cathedra and when a teaching of the ordinary magisterium should be considered infallible (see Tony's comment above). It seems lie we have general marks but not strict principles. I suppose this should be expected, but it makes the practical outworking of the principles of legitimate criticism you have outlined difficult in principle. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    2) Do you think it is possible for anyone to judge a Pope to be a formal heretic except for a future Pope?

    1. Vatican I did address this in part. Also there are theologians more trained in theology that may lend some insight:

  11. Ironically the British Press Gets it right.

    1. Sorry, Son of Ya'Kov, but I cannot agree with you on this one. Pat Buchanan hit the nail on the head in this article here:

      The point is that the Pope said to a gay man, "God made you like this," not "God permitted you to be like this." In other words, according to the Pope, God intends that some people should have a homosexual orientation. This is a game-changer on three counts.

      1. It contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes homosexual tendencies (not acts) as an "inclination, which is objectively disordered" (paragraph 2358). God cannot intend that someone have a disordered inclination.

      2. It is a theological axiom that "God and Nature do nothing in vain" - a saying often quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas. Consequently, if a tendency towards homosexual acts has a purpose (as the Pope evidently thinks it does), then there must be circumstances under which the expression of that tendency is also appropriate - otherwise the tendency would indeed be in vain.

      3. Philosophically, it makes no sense whatsoever to maintain that a tendency to act in a certain way is intrinsically good, but that acts which express that tendency are intrinsically evil.

      Of course, it is possible that the Pope was speaking off the cuff. Maybe he mis-spoke. But in that case, we should expect nothing less than a full-scale clarification from the Pope, over such a serious matter: "No, I didn't mean that. I uphold the Catechism's teaching regarding homosexual tendencies." Somehow, I don't think that will happen.

      It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that most of the world's media got the story right.

    2. Vincent I not only disagree but I think you absolutely wrong with all due respect.

      "God made you like this," not "God permitted you to be like this."

      1. Did the Pope literally say this? Technically no he didn't. That is an English Translation. Reason dictates the Pope spoke in Spanish to a fellow Spanish speaker. I note Buchanan doesn't provide us with an exegesis based on the Spanish for the words reported so I already dismiss his analysis.

      2. I see no reason given the context to believe the Pope really meant "God imparted a homosexual essence too your nature because He directly wills your sexuality naturally find it's final cause in acts of sodomy which are now moral & in essence good." Yeh that is a bridge too far.

      3. When speaking to regular people you sometimes have to dumb it down. Thus I see no real difference between "made you" or "permitted you". It is the same thing in God especially if I believe in Divine Providence. God made me freely choose Good or Evil. God is the Cause of causes and God caused the reality that made this man have a persistent disordered sexual passion. Which the Almighty can bring good out of..

      "I don’t care about you being gay. God made you that way and loves you as you are and I don’t mind. The pope loves you as you are, you have to be happy with who you are.."

      Comment: Vincent what about all those verses about God loving sinners while they where still sinners? What about God saying to Moses in Exodus 4:11 " ... Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?"

      If God can "make" one type of defect in nature why not another? I would not be surprised if the Pope in spite of his other failings actually reads his bible.

      4. Finally as a bit of a poisoning of the well (which I acknowledge is not a very good way to argue but it amuses me). World Net Daily? Birther central? Seriously? Go Breitbart or go home. BTW the liberal article I quoted above gets it because it is liberal and pro-gay and even the author there gets the Pope has not said anything controversial and still knows the Pope thinks having the gay sex and the gay marriage is a sin. Which is why he is pissed.

      Cheers man.

      PS. Pope Francis is not wrong here. Even if he is likely wrong on a lot of other things. Oh and God can "make you gay". But that doesn't mean a dude can move in with Brad Pit and go antiquing in the Village.

    3. Hi Son of Ya'Kov,

      You ask: "If God can 'make' one type of defect in nature why not another?"

      Homosexuality is not like deafness: it is a positive inclination or tendency. According to the teaching of the Catechism, God could no more make a person homosexual than He could make him alcoholic.

      I would also respectfully submit that any talk of God making someone choose evil would be utterly anathema to Pope Francis.

      Have you forgotten the recent kerfuffle involving Pope Francis and the wording of the Our Father, in which the Pope strenuously insisted that God, being all-good, cannot lead anyone into temptation? If God is the author of gays' homosexual tendencies (as the Pope seems to be saying), then He would be doing just that.

      Let's face it: Pope Francis just opened a Pandora's box. It will take a very brave future Pope to close it.

    4. >Homosexuality is not like deafness..

      It pretty much could be. The science is unclear. It could be genetic or hardwired into a person via some unknown biological or neurological defect.
      That is the common wisdom these days and it could be true and if it was it would no more mandate it is moral behavior then having a brain defect that makes one a psychopath renders serial murder moral.

      The idea the Pope was somehow saying God is making a gay person "choose" evil is daft. So a brain defect that makes someone a psychopath means God wills he do evil?
      This is not Thomistic or Scholastic thinking dude.

    5. >Have you forgotten the recent kerfuffle involving Pope Francis and the wording of the Our Father, in which the Pope strenuously insisted that God, being all-good, cannot lead anyone into temptation?

      It seems reasonable to not take that ultra literally but since when is the Pope consistent?

      >If God is the author of gays' homosexual tendencies (as the Pope seems to be saying), then He would be doing just that.

      No God would via his providence be "causing" a person to have a defective nature in the sense God could "cause" a person to be blind. The Pope tries to dumb it down for people and he appears to contradict himself. As I recall St. Augustine had the same problem trying to explain Free Will and Grace? Which is why Calvinist over rely on one thing he said and ignore him appearing to"contradicte" himself.

    6. Sorry I confused Vincent with Tony.

  12. Anyway speaking about the critics Prof Feser lists here as "respectful critics"....I would agree with 99.9% of that list.:D Well done!:D I would only disagree 0.1% because if memory serves on one of those lists of theologians somebody screwed up and allowed an SSPX member to sign it. So that was a cock up. Of course I don't if they asked the person to withdraw his signature or not? If they did I would go to 100.;-)
    Hey I am a perfectionist here. If you are going to criticize the Pope you better have your sh.....poop together dude. Catholics are put off by hostile and unfair attacks on the Holy Father and people who perpetrate such attacks hurt the legitimate efforts of the principled critics.

    1. SSPX members are legitimate priests and Bishops who are no longer excommunicated and who exercise authority and office. They more than have the authority to sign such a document.

  13. The argument presented here that the Church can not formalize the procedure to criticize the Pope--exactly this argument destroys the popular (among the right-wing) argument that the Second Amendment provides for a way for the populace to oppose State tyranny. For it would be illogical for a Constitution to itself provide for a time when the Govt is tyrannical. It must assume a normal non-tyrannical Govt and can not formalize the notion of when a govt is tyrannical and how to oppose it.

    1. I agree with your point, to a degree. However, it is possible that even while the Constitution does not provide a formal mechanism (procedure) for overthrowing the government technically formed "under the Constitution", it can provide for the material means which would be necessary for overthrowing the government formed "under the Constitution" should that government cease to fulfill that Constitution. The argument of the right-wing Second Amendment supporters is not that the 2nd provides the formal procedure, but preserves in place the material means that would be necessary should the federal government become a tyranny.

      It's still not a perfect argument: the Founders could not envision tanks and jets and block-leveling high-explosive bombs, which make individual rifles, if not exactly irrelevant, certainly insufficient in a full-combat environment. Of course, as long as the federal armed forces remain focused solely on foreign threats that problem would not materialize. Anyway, it remains true that under the Constitution the state governments retain distinct elements of sovereignty, and the Founders did envision the possibility that the states would have to deal with a federal government that tried to become a tyranny over the states. They considered state militias being able to face the federal forces in battle to be a valid threat to give the federal authorities pause and to restrain themselves from arrogating to themselves tyrannical powers. Whether they were correct in their apprehension is certainly debatable. It can be argued that the Civil War shows otherwise.

    2. The New Hampshire Constitution actually guarantees the right of revolution!

    3. I don't think the argument is quite portable, actually, for the kind of legitimacy which the Church claims for the pope is very different from the kind of legitimacy which the United States claims for its elected officials. The indefectibility of the Church does not depend on the pope's never making a mistake, but for him to discharge his function it does need generally to be thought that he is prudent, etc., and his decisions should only exceptionally be subject to critique. A democratically elected government, though, claims to derive its authority precisely from its answerability to the public.

    4. Greg I have to say bringing indefectibility into the discussion is very important and often overlooked.

      People who are 'vision chasers' already had Pope Francis and even Pope Benedict written off as the anti-Christ. A lot of people are engaging in confirmation and assimilation bias, mixed in with some of the real questions, reservations and such.

      The Papal office is also intimately linked with the indefectibility of the Church. Even the worst Popes were used by God, in fact it is a really interesting topic of how God worked through bad popes to do good things.

  14. Laudator Temporis ActiMay 22, 2018 at 1:55 AM

    * Do bears listen to Beethoven in the woods?
    * Is the pope Catholic?

    The enemies of the Church have been running the Church for some time now and although I'm not a Feeneyite, I think Father Feeney was much closer the truth than most so-called Catholic conservatives.

    1. Father Feeney accused Pius IX of heresy. Pius IX! He can go the way of Luther. My advice pick another hero.

    2. He did? Wow, I never knew that. Can you give us a cite? I would love to have that reference handy.

    3. @Tony

      Seriously Tony? I think Fr. Most knew his stuff.

      Quote"I regard to the damnation of infants, tragically, Feeney cited a text of Pius IX (quoted below) saying that no one goes to hell without grave voluntary sin - babies of course have no voluntary sin. Feeney actually ridiculed the text of Pius IX and charged Pius IX with the heresy of Pelagianism, saying (in Thomas M. Sennott, They Fought the Good Fight, Catholic Treasures, Monrovia CA. 1987, pp. 305-06)"

    4. Laudator Temporis ActiMay 23, 2018 at 2:01 AM

      Father Feeney accused Pius IX of heresy. Pius IX! He can go the way of Luther. My advice[:] pick another hero.

      It's odd how one can write clear English and then have people fail to understand it. I said that I wasn't a Feeneyite and that he was "closer to the truth" than many others. Can a rational individual conclude from those statements that Feeney is a "hero" of mine or that I believe him to be an infallible guide to Church politics? No. My advice: read more carefully and think before jumping to conclusions.


    6. @Tony

      Forgive me Tony I thought you where being snarky.

    7. @Laudator

      If I over reacted I am sorry but saying "Feeney is closer to the Truth" does seem to me to be a tad off.

    8. Laudator Temporis ActiMay 24, 2018 at 2:15 AM

      @Son of Ya'Kov

      If I over reacted I am sorry

      No problem. I was too prickly in reply, so I apologize for that.

      but saying "Feeney is closer to the Truth" does seem to me to be a tad off.

      You may be right, but that's how I see it. One thing is sure: Feeney predicted dire consequences if certain tendencies went unchecked. They have indeed gone unchecked and the present pope is an example of the consequences.

  15. What do we do when the prelate is likely just hostile to the Church and the faith? If the debate isn't in good faith, then the progressives will just ignore refutations, come up with more sophistry, and abuse their power. We can respectfully refute them all day every day and it won't matter. At some point we have to just call bullshit (because it is), and name the Fag (because they are, and this is a huge part why we're in this situation). If this is gravely immoral, then what is the alternative?

    1. I think there is one alternative, assuming we can't take it to a concerned and orthodox higher-up: pray that either the prelate's heart will change, or that his situation changes so that he can't abuse his power. Of course, if we're leaving prayer as a last resort (and I'm guilty of this myself), I'd say we're in bad shape.

  16. There's also a tragic sense in which Catholics who are bent on never admitting criticism of the pope cannot accomplish their goal of respecting his authority. For what they must end up doing is constantly saying, "I know it sounds like he said not-p, but the tradition teaches p, so we must really interpret him as meaning something else." This is a fine way to be charitable in isolated cases, and it is a worthwhile polemical strategy to wage against those who insist that we must now believe not-p, but when such deflations become systematic, it is clear that the pope has ceased to function as authority in these people's minds. His words, whatever they end up being, are just raw material for reinterpretation. The office becomes otiose. This is the state of orthodox Catholics who feel compelled to insist that Amoris laetitia is entirely unproblematic.

    1. I for one do read Pope Francis charitably because:

      1) I am well aware of his influences, and thus the context of what he says (Jesuit, took the name Francis etc. etc., lived among the poor in a particular pastoral setting)

      2) He is incredibly imprecise in his use of language, the media have spun what he has said repeatedly (and then some people who want to find fault refuse to go and read the actual text) and he is usually filtered through translations whereas recent Popes were polyglots.

      Does that mean I find everything he has said or done unproblematic? No.

      Also I find many Pixie/RadTrads very confused between doctrine and discipline. I don't think that helps the discussion much.

    2. While there are RadTrads who are confused between doctrine and discipline, I find that there for every such RadTrad, there are 10 (or more) liberal Catholics who have the same problem.

  17. Great post! I would look into whether Paul rebuking St. Peter is a correct reading of Galatians, however. Vatican Catholic has a good video on their youtube channel. They're sedes, but never mind that.

  18. Pope Francis said it's not a sin to criticize him.

    So take him at his word but be flawlessly respectful or you shoot yourself in the foot.

  19. Sorry for the long post, don't have much time to edit it down.

    I may have given the Pope the benefit of the doubt the first time he hit a mine, but five years of hitting mine after mine makes it difficult for me to believe fellow passengers who reassure that Pope Francis has not steered us purposefully into a minefield.

    It seems like Feser’s post “Nudge nudge, wink wink” nails the main concern that many Catholics have concerning the lío that Pope Francis has been instigating.

    The confusion and noise caused by Pope Francis’ actions are an implicature of our doctrines. All it take is a seeming surrender to the dominant modernist narrative for an endorsement of their doctrinal innovation to be tacitly understood by rational observers. More naïve fellow passengers may be misled by the implicature and actively dispute the more rational observer’s correct interpretation. As stated in the blog post:

    “Some conservative Catholic commentators have tied themselves in knots trying to put a positive face on these sorts of remarks, usually via a pedantic emphasis on what is strictly entailed by the literal meaning of a certain remark considered in isolation, while completely ignoring the glaring implicatures.  At best this reflects an astounding naiveté about how language works; at worst it is itself a kind of intellectually dishonest spin-doctoring.  And it does real damage by giving the false impression that to be a Catholic you have to become a shill and pretend not to see the obvious.”

    It seems very difficult five years into this pontificate to not see this dynamic occurring frequently and those who are blind to it are doing a disservice to fellow Catholics who are correctly reading the sign of the times.

    The implicature can actually be canceled by immediately repudiating the dominant narrative. However, by repeatedly declining to cancel the implicature one actually reinforces the tacit message. Having established the ease that it takes for the implicature to be canceled, why would Pope Francis allow this to occur?

    There are three reasons why: (i) unintentional naïveté, (ii) cynical calculation, or (iii) cowardice rather than out of conviction.

    While the first reason might have been plausible in 2013, it is difficult to hold this after the Family Synod fiasco. “Judging from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family which ended last week, the messages churchmen send via such implicatures may not always be unintentional.”

    The third reason is also difficult to hold. There are no indications that Pope Francis suffer from defects in the virtue of courage.

    Therefore, the second reason seems the most coherent answer. Then next question maybe why is employing implicature cynically? The only obvious answer that makes any parsimonious sense is that he truly wants to change the traditional doctrinal stances of the Church. This explanation is explained particularly well by Damon Linker’s September 19, 2014 and May 23, 2018 articles.

    Does anyone else have other speculative ideas as to his strategic purposes for using this linguistic tactic?

    -Merry Zulu

    1. Speculating on Pope Francis' motives is a waste of time and plausibly impious. I remember the grievous amount of complaining that went on during the reign of Pope St. John Paul II. I am not certain how anything has changed? Thus I am suspicious of all Papal Criticism. There was a lot of crying wolf by Radtrads during St JP2's reign. I read somewhere someone evaluating the past Popes and it was pointed out that St. John Paul II thought a good teacher was a lousy administrator. Pope Benedict made some off the cuff remarks quoting a Christian Emperor insulting Muhammed and that caused a riot that lead to an orthodox Priest losing his life. Plus Benedict's remarks about male Prostitutes and condoms caused confusion.
      OTOH with the rise of social media and real time reporting any modern Pope is now in a 24 fish bowl. I wonder of instagram or twitter existed during the reign of JP2 how many off the cuff remarks he might have made that might have cheesed off the wrong people? I think the future Pope's should take all this in account. It's been suggested the Popes in general should isolate themselves in this climate and speak rarely. As they are often treated practically as the Voice of God on Earth rather then the mere Vicar of Jesus Christ.

    2. The Regensburg address wasn't off the cuff. And while people are welcome to dispute the accuracy of the offending remarks, they were hardly outrageous, and I can hardly lay blame for the riot and murder of that priest as Benedict's feet.

      I think it's true that future popes need to think more about public relations. This whole "the pope's going to talk and, of course, people will misunderstand--but that's their fault" thing goes too far. It's true that someone like the pope cannot guarantee that he will not be misunderstood. But it's also true that the popes could do a lot better than they have.

      This even goes back to John XXIII and Paul VI. Vatican II and the commission on birth control were executed in such a way that generated expectations in the non-Catholic and poorly catechized world. While the products of that council and commission were legitimate, they also had side products which have stunk up the Church ever since. The hierarchy can't excuse themselves from the scandal that their way of doing things causes just because some misunderstanding is inevitable.

      One can more easily let John XXIII and Paul VI off the hook than more recent popes and bishops, since everything was new then. Now we know: hence there is an obligation on those with great responsibility in the Church not to cause unnecessary scandal.

      There are cases where it's ok to say something true but misleading, like when there's a Nazi at your door asking about the Jews. But when you're a prominent member of the Church's hierarchy and you're asked by a secular reporter about the Church's stance on homosexuality, you're not in that kind of scenario. I completely understand that no one wants to offend liberal sensibilities. I too am a Catholic who highly esteems the opinions of his secular friends, and who is seriously afraid of their thinking me evil and backward. It is really hard.

  20. Good post.

    What should we make of someone like Dante? He is very critical of certain popes, but I wouldn't call his criticisms of the popes always respectful. Does he go too far in his tone?

    1. Pius IX laid a wreath on his tomb in 1857. Benedict XV wrote an Encyclical in praise of him in 1921 (the 6th centenary of his death).

      His Catholic credentials were defended by St. Robert Bellarmine against attempts by Zwingli to claim him as one of the proto-Protestant “Testes Veritatis”.

      Cardinal Manning said this: “No uninspired hand has ever written thoughts so high in words, so resplendent, as the last stanza of the Divina Commedia. It was said of St. Thomas, “Post Summam Thomae nihil restat nisi lumen gloriae”. It may be said of Dante, “Post Dantis Paradisum nihil restat nisi visio Dei”.

      These four witnesses, to whom more could be added, should be more than enough to vindicate the genuineness of the poet’s reputation as an orthodox Catholic, the sublime excellence of the Divina Commedia as a poem - perhaps the very greatest ever written - and the fruitfulness for Catholics of reading it.

      He is not always respectful. The same can be said of the Prophets, and Apostles and St John Baptist & St Paul - yet the words of all 26 of these are in the Bible, and all 26 men are Saints. Christ Himself could be savagely critical.

      Dante is sometimes very severe, as in Inferno 19 and Paradiso 27, but he does not go beyond these speakers. He even curbs his tongue in Inferno 19, from “reverence for the supreme keys”. He is severe against Papal corruptions such as simony, worldliness and avarice, precisely because he held the Papacy in profound veneration, and therefore hated to see it degraded. This is the man who loathed the worldliness of Boniface VIII, yet in Purgatorio 20 could describe the assault on Boniface VIII at Anagni as a second Crucifixion of Christ.

      I can’t think of a better author for Catholics troubled by the state of the Church to read.

  21. Pope Francis upholds practice of not letting gay men into the seminary.

    On this he is actually more "conservative" then Pope Benedict who allowed that persons with a homosexual disposition but who are chaste and have never lived the "gay lifestyle" could be considered.

  22. Meanwhile, Ireland has voted to repeal its ban in abortion. Perhaps Pope Francis should have gone there during the campaign to stand up for the unborn and Catholic doctrine, instead of causing confusion amongst the faithful. I don't know if it is true, but apparently the Irish Church was hesitant to get fully behind the No effort.

    1. So you are going to blame Pope Francis for Ireland? Who then was too blame for Italy making Abortion legal in May 1978 (right in the Vatican's back yard)? St Paul VI or St John Paul II?

      This isn't principled criticism. This is just being a "hater" for it's own sake. Not cool.

    2. The Irish Church was hesitant to get fully behind the "No" effort? That's an understatement. Those who have eyes to see, let them see. Abortion and sexual perversity are what the Vatican II sect is all about.

    3. I don't understand that, SoY. The 70s were very different; the notion that The Church mattered was dying out, and the papacy did not, in 1978, have the prestige JPII gained for it later. And Abortion was in the full flush, with momentum from it's early victories.

      It's a reasonable question what Francis tried to avert this. Note, that doesn't mean I know the answer, but that it's worth asking. This is not to say Francis is heretical - I know he's not, at least on this point. But he sure doesn't look

      For generations, we've been ceaselessly told that we needed to abandon doctrinal rigor, and water down the faith, to appeal to the modern world, and especially to Hooper, or, excuse me, Youth. Well, the liberals have a Pope they can love - at least that's what they say. And the result? We lost Ireland. Ireland??? Henry VIII, Cromwell, Lord John Russell, they failed. Modernism succeeded.

      The question for liberal Catholicism is, "OK, we've got the mess, but where's the pottage?"

    4. Except I didn't blame him, if you mean I said or implied it was his doing alone or even for the most part. I just said he would have been better to show leadership in Ireland than causing confusion about Church doctrine. Yours isn't a principled defense. It is just relying fallacies for the sake of defending the Pope at all costs. Not cool.

      To be frank, throughout this combox you have come across as desperate to defend Pope Francis at all costs. It isn't a very dignified look.

    5. From the Land of Saints and ScholarsMay 27, 2018 at 5:26 AM

      I am from Ireland. There has been a campaign of social engineering for decades now. We got to the point where there is basically (as a lot of Irish Catholics have pointed out) a cartel among all the party leaderships, the press and just about everything else. The Irish started losing the faith 50 years ago, because life got easy when the persecutions ended. That is the truth. You guys literally have NO IDEA the level of lies, disinformation, spin and misinformation were used to get people to vote on this. Many people probably aren't aware they have voted for abortion on demand, and many still believe Savita died because she wasn't given an abortion! That is how bad it is. There were tens of thousands of people who worked tirelessly to inform the public. Seems George Soros and his kin can buy a victory.

      Ireland sent people to every corner of the globe to deliver the Gospel.

      I can tell you, many people gave unbelievably shallow and thinly veiled justifications for why they were voting yes. Edward Feser could help us by writing about the connection between vice (or even apostasy) and moral indifference.

      I will tell you all though, there are those who have kept the faith, just as firmly as our ancestors. Do not right 'Ireland' off. People in the USA did that after the previous referendum, and you just must not get how hurtful that was.

    6. From the Land of Saints and ScholarsMay 27, 2018 at 5:29 AM

      You guys also don't seem to get that EVERY TIME one of these debates come up that they try to turn it into a Catholic Church versus 'Progress' type nonsense. How do you think the Pope intervening would have helped? People had to make sure such spin wasn't put on the referendum - we had to bring it back to the heart of the matter i.e. abortion is a moral issue to do with killing.

    7. From the Land of Saints and ScholarsMay 27, 2018 at 10:37 AM

      If you knew the effort people had to put in order to fight every type of earthly power imaginable you would feel a sense of admiration. Don't heap us all into one pile labelled 'Ireland'. You guys think your politicians and press are bad, well here there is NOTHING to keep their dishonesty in check.

      If you care about Ireland stop talking about doctrine and nit-picking with the Pope (even if there IS fault), and send people here to re-evangelise this land.

    8. @Anon

      >Except I didn't blame him, if you mean I said or implied it was his doing alone or even for the most part.

      Then you mean to partially blame him. On this I say he gets no blame. Ireland is a problem that has existed long before he became Pope. Don't be disingenuous it is unbecoming.

      >I just said he would have been better to show leadership in Ireland than causing confusion about Church doctrine.

      One area Pope Francis has not shown confusion or lack of leadership is his stance on Abortion. He has been super clear on it from the get go even if his views on Communion are obscure or his views on Capital Punishment are likely erroneous.
      As Saints& Scholars has pointed out the anti-Catholicism and unpopularity of the Church in Ireland runs deep. One might even suggest the Pro-aborts road that horse to victory.

      > Yours isn't a principled defense. It is just relying fallacies for the sake of defending the Pope at all costs. Not cool.

      No sir it is the realization that if one is going to criticize the successor to Peter then one has to be beyond reproach and above board to do it right. I note too many SSPX sympathizers and Sede's like George R take advantage of the crisis in the Church to promote their errors. I insist on being Fair to him at all costs and I will never apologize for that. Ever!

      >To be frank, throughout this combox you have come across as desperate to defend Pope Francis at all costs.

      This sounds like the refrain of the kneejerk Pope basher who for some mad reason thinks they are above criticism but canna dish it out at will to others?

      >It isn't a very dignified look.

      What care I for your personal standards of "dignity"? I would rather be fair to the Pope at all costs even if he didn't return the favor. He is the Pope. The sweet Christ on Earth and that is the end of it.
      How you think you can effectively give critical feedback without being fair is a mystery?

    9. @George L (not George R the Sede. there is nothing to say to a Protestant with Rosary beads. I will address my fellow Catholics.)

      > The 70s were very different; the notion that The Church mattered was dying out, and the papacy did not, in 1978, have the prestige JPII gained for it later.

      Which if we are being consistent is kind of an indictment of St Paul VI, St John XXIII and Pius XII is it not? Which is my point. Do you blame these men? Again, my point. I say it's not that simple.

      >It's a reasonable question what Francis tried to avert this. Note, that doesn't mean I know the answer, but that it's worth asking.

      Here I would defer to Saint& Scholars' on the ground front line testimony.

      Other then that I might say we are mostly in agreement.

    10. Ben, who said the problems in Ireland don't predayp Francis? And you're calling others disingenuous. The point was Francis was causing this confusion and didn't get publicly involved in the Irish referendum debate.

    11. SoY, yes, I do blame Paul VI. I think he did what Francis seems to be doing, let the libs run wild. And note, this fact is one reason I do have faith in the Holy Ghost's role here; despite being, IMO, a rotten Pope, he nonetheless held on Humanae Vitae. That doesn't change the fact that on his watch, with his bishops, the Church in America positively encouraged abandonment of the faith. (And it does seem to me that much of the child abuse scandal seems to lie at the door of "enlightened" bishops.)

      A bit of context: I was raised Episcopalian, and for decades defended Anglicanism. One motive for doing so is that, when I was young, it appeared that both were swirling down the same whirlpool, with Catholicism just a bit behind Anglicanism in selling out. Then JPII and B-16 were part of what changed my mind. (There were other, independent factors, which convinced me I was wrong anyway. But they undoubtedly helped there.)

      But from day one I've believed that the sedes are wrong. Even as an Anglican, I used to argue with them, that what they are doing is, at best, making the case for Orthodoxy.

    12. @Anon
      What confusion is the Pope causing in regard to abortion in Ireland? You are all over the place.

    13. @George L,

      Well at least you are consistent in blaming Pope St Paul VI.
      I am not a big believer in the myth of the "good old days".

  23. I am happy to be alive. I was driving too work today when I pulled into the parking lot the ball-joint on my front right tire gave out. I am glad that didn't happen on the parkway or while I was driving my autistic kids. I called a tow truck and got the damage fixed for less 200 bucks. I feel blessed but I can't help think about the Irish Children who are not blessed today. I am also thinking of right wing free speech activist Tommy Robinson who has been arrested for filming outside a rape trial in the UK. The UK courts put a gag order on that. Meanwhile jerks in the government spied on a rival political Champlain & the media has turned a blind eye.
    The world is in trouble and it goes deeper then Pope Francis not being accurate enough. Darkness is coming.

    BTW Dr. Feser if you think this post too dark or off topic & don't want to let it out of the filter. I will understand. Peace guy.

  24. From the Land of Saints and ScholarsMay 27, 2018 at 5:33 AM

    Can some of you stop making comments as if you have a clue what we have been through. This has been like a long drawn out martyrdom for many of us here. A true velvet glove persecution.

    Many of you didn't have to live through such a tidal change in your own countries, where many of the people themselves have become part of the destruction of truth and love (unless you lived under Communism or the Nazis etc.).

  25. From the Land of Saints and ScholarsMay 27, 2018 at 5:38 AM

    I like many others who have kept the faith see these words as prophetic (prophecy is a charism of the Papal office).

    "I will never forget that
    place, in which we stopped for a short time, in the early morning hours,
    on Sunday the 30th of September : Clonmacnoise. The ruins of the monastery
    and of the churches speak of the life that once pulsated there… it is
    difficult to look on these ruins merely as a monument of the past : whole
    generations of Europe owe to them the light of the Gospel and the structural
    framework of their culture. Those ruins are still charged with a great mission.
    They still constitute a challenge…. Here is Ireland: at the heart of the
    perennial mission of the Church, which St Patrick started." John Paul II

    1. St Patrick and St John Paul II pray for
      Éireann and America.


  26. "Fathers have the authority to(...) discipline their children, but this authority is not absolute. ...They may not discipline them with unjust harshness."

    Does spanking count as "unjust harsness"?

    1. St. John Bosco had some interesting views on this matter.

    2. I know he is opposed in practice and that it isn't necessary in order to discipline children. "The idea is ot to fail to punish, nut to obviate the need for punishment". I think it is not available for catholics to say that is morally wrong given Scripture, something like capital punishment and torture, etc.

    3. Well the scripture passage relating to to punishing children (not holding back the stick... can't remember it exactly) I have always taken as a metaphor for discipline not the means through which one must discipline.

  27. Pope Pius II, Multa hic hodie: "But even if you believe the Bishop of Rome to be in error, that does not give you the right to judge him, for only God can judge the pope. No mortal man may accuse him of faults. Oh, how wrong is the opinion of many men: though they do not allow a king’s subjects to have any say against the king, they would allow it in the case of the pope even if God has given him power over all mortal men. Those stupid men are unconcerned that the Holy Apostolic Church has, from Saint Peter to this day, never been heard to teach anything that is contrary to orthodox faith. This privilege it has received from the Lord that it shall never succumb to wrong teachings for the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Let this suffice concerning your praise of the Apostolic See."

    1. “Those stupid men are unconcerned that the Holy Apostolic Church has, from Saint Peter to this day, never been heard to teach anything that is contrary to orthodox faith.”

      Bad history is bad history, even from the Pope. And the future Adrian VI wrote, while still a theologian, that Popes had erred. So he cannot have thought the words of Pius II prevented him saying that Popes had erred. Just because Popes are not very keen on being criticised, does not make those criticisms untrue or unjust or inaccurate. Alexander VI allowed Bl. Columba of Rieti to criticise him to his face - and he said that her criticisms of him were accurate.

      For a Pope to call his critics “stupid” shows not that they are wrong, but only that he has a talent for insulting people. It is entirely unconvincing as a means of vindicating one’s character. And someone who needs to be praised, but cannot abide being criticised, has a pretty weak character. The Apostles were made of sterner stuff - they had no need of flatterers.

  28. There is a huge flaws in this post. To start, the basic Catholic apologetic argument is that without the Catholic Church defining things, we can't know very much from the Bible because of various interpretations. Therefore we should accept Matthew 16:18 as proof that the papacy is real, and be Catholic! From that verse, they say various authorities flow to Pope Francis. The problem is that we don't know if the Catholic Church has ever defined anything EVER. Trent is divided into canons and decrees. Are the decrees alone infallible and the canons disciplinary? Or are the canons alone infallible because they alone use St. Paul's word "anathema"? Who has to be addressed by an infallible decree? There is no rule here. Does the Pope have to address the bishops alone and send it to them? Does the Pope have to sign it? These questions are raised by the Galileo controversy, and there is no answer to them. Collegiality has brought another argument to the forefront. Let's say that collegiality is true and that extreme traditionalists are wrong. Then how do we know that past papal decrees were not done by Popes who did not believe in collegiality and therefore wrote their decrees illegitimately? We can switch it around. How do we know that collegiality is not actually incorrect, and that previous Popes have sent out their decrees in the spirit of collegiality and therefore their decrees are not valid? Without more information from Jesus on how to perform infallible decrees, we are left in the same spot as the Protestants. There is no decree that says "this is infallible". They CAN be interpreted as acts of ordinary magisterium actually. Finally, Matthew 18:18 doesn't say if all the bishops have to be at a Council or if they need to all approve of it, in order for the Council to be valid. Therefore the book of Matthew is worthless in trying to justify a church's authority. So, in conclusion, Catholics are in the dark as much as Protestants when it comes to theology. Recently some Mormons have been trying to convert me to their "true church" which has the "true priesthood". Don't be fooled by any church. None of their claims are valid.

  29. All those questions can be, and probably have been, at one time or another, answered. But there are too many to be dealt with in a single post. It is because such questions arise, that the Church has exegetes, Church historians, canonists, theologians.

    If no Church makes valid claims, what do you do with the Words of Christ, that “...on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” ? If one accepts they have Divine authority, and are still in force, what is one to do with them ? Or does one disregard them as megalomaniacal foolishness, or perhaps as inauthentic ?

  30. This article is a huge waste of time. The premise behind it being that Francis is a bad pope. Quite arrogant to think you know he is not guided by the Holy Spirit when in fact he may be and your problems are really with Jesus Christ not pope Francis.

  31. Hello Dr. Feser, did St. Peter teach error as Pope? If not, and he merely gave scandal in his informal behavior, could you please justify your below claim with another premise or example?:
    "...the Church has always allowed for the possibility of criticism of a pope who *teaches error* (my emphasis added). Indeed, such an acknowledgment is there in the New Testament, in St. Paul’s famous public rebuke of St. Peter for *conduct* (my emphasis added)..."

  32. I wonder how those would now consider this article in light of the host of papal talking points, synods, gestures, and Vatican covid reaction and inoculation pressure over the last few years. Surely some opinions have hardened and others reassessed.

  33. Dr Feser, it's not just non-infallible teachings which can have deficiencies and be criticized. Even infallible teachings are merely free from technical error, and can be imprudent, unhelpful, in need of more nuance, could have been taught better, etc.

  34. This clarity of the current situation is exactly what I needed. Thank you Prof. Feser.
    I'm sure many Catholics are similarly torn between assent and dissent on matters emanating from the pontificate of Pope Francis.
    I'm not sure if I'm going off-piste here, but if the Pope were to teach ex-cathedra, dogma that was contrary to the Gospel and tradition, would that mean de facto, that he is not the legitimate Pope?