I recently posted some videos on the topic of sedevacantism. Please know I am not a sedevacantist. Still, I do find this somewhat of an interesting topic, and for some it’s particularly timely because of a plethora of criticism of Pope Francis and the current state of the Church. I imagine the sedevacantists are having a field day with all of the scandals, and perhaps getting more inquiries than normal.
John Salza is an author who has taken on the sedevacantists. Here is a two-part interview he gave to Brother André Marie on that topic, which I think is pretty good.
Again, I know very little of sedevacantism, and I’m no canon lawyer, so a lot of this is over my head. My take is to generally dismiss the sedevacantists as crackpots, but I can’t entirely deny some of their concerns, and I assume many of them have some integrity. But I just can’t accept their position. Salza and Siscoe, co-authors of the book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, have been challenged by a number of sedevacantists. I have not really examined those challenges, but you can find them online. However, me sense is that those challenges are likely rather thin or outright silly.
The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre never gave into sedevacantism speaks volumes regarding the sedevacantists’ claims. Even when Lefebvre stood in strongest opposition to Rome, he always believed the Pope sat on his chair.
Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:
I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.
On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.
So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.
First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.
Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.
I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.
Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”
But I still judge. God have mercy.
Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.
I am not talking about the warm fuzzies or the swooning that seems to follow him everywhere. There has been an awful lot of swooning. I’m not sure swooning over any pope is entirely healthy anyway. And I hope I am not inclined to illusions or delusions. I see him as a man with limitations and passions. I cannot say I agree with him on every little thing. And he and I certainly we will not share many opinions on any number of topics. But he is my Pope. And I love him.
Why do I write this? As someone who is gradually learning and appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass, I come across a lot of negative attitudes about Pope Francis. I find many of these attitudes on “traditional” Catholic websites and social media. Some would say the Holy Father is merely good at making a show of good works, but that there is no substance behind the show. Some would say he is unorthodox in his beliefs, which is to say not fully Catholic. Others condemn him for decisions he has made and signals he has sent. And even some say he is actually mean and manipulative, one daring to call him a dictator. Then, of course, there are the sedevacantists who don’t call him pope at all.
The thing is I get that. I see what others are seeing. I understand their arguments. I too am not always happy, and sometimes I am very troubled. I worry about the Pope’s agenda, and about some of those with whom he surrounds himself. I am convinced the Vatican is a hotbed of political maneuvering entirely unbecoming of churchmen. And I definitely have issues with what seems to be clear and strong (strong-armed some would say) movements in unhealthy directions regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, movements that seem encouraged by the Pope. Could the Pope be undermining the Church in some way? For how crazy this may sound, he just might be.
I am not uncritical.
But I also know or am convinced of several things:
Pope Francis loves God. This does not mean he is all wise, nor that he always acts correctly or makes the right decisions. And I do not mean he is not prone to vices. But loving God is huge. This is where it all begins. I believe I love God too, and I ask for prayers that my love is and remains true.
He is a sinner. He even says so, and he goes to confession, and asks for our prayers. Do you pray for him every day? I try too, and often fail, but I know I should.
Is he of another generation and culture with different views than I have? Certainly. His experiences are fundamentally different than mine. I have come to believe that human beings are immensely complicated. We not only have a hard time truly knowing others, but also knowing ourselves. He sees the love of the TLM as being a love of rigidity. He was schooled in the spirit of Vatican II. I disagree with him, but I cannot fault him for that. The Pope is just going to see many things differently than I will. And Perhaps rarely I will be right and he will, in fact, be wrong. What else can I do but pray and serve as best I can.
But could he actually be caught up in believing false doctrine? Of course. He is a man and a sinner. Being Pope doesn’t make him perfect. Other popes have believed and promoted false doctrine. What am I to do with this? That’s fairly easy: pray for him and the Church, also pray for my own faith, continually learn and hold fast to orthodox teaching and practice, encourage others to do the same, seek unity, be humble, offer charity, and love as Christ has love us.
If you are still reading, then I will say that I do worry somewhat about this pontificate. I love Pope Francis, but I think he may be doing a poor job at running the Church and the Holy See. I also worry he is under the sway of powerful theologians and thinkers and politicians who are pushing to further the modernist agenda begun before Vatican II, flowered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and continues today. He himself may be a through and through modernist. And he might actually be a dictator — from what I’ve read this is likely. So I have concerns.
BUT… I cannot know his heart. I do not know how the Vatican works, or most everything that goes on behind the scenes. I recognize that almost no reporting about the Pope, pro or con or apparently neutral, is without some kind of agenda and is therefore skewed regardless of which “side” it comes from. I find myself, in my “mature age” becoming skeptical of absolutes, except when it comes to dogma. I want to trust in God, and I do. I refuse to get caught up in the speculations, at least not too much. And I certainly do not know what God is up to. So I pray for the Pope, the Church, my Archbishops and priests, my family, and the world.
Simply, I am pro-Pope. I am pro-Church. I don’t think it’s a good thing for Catholics to publicly criticize the Pope. If they want to in private, with the right people open to discussion, and with thoughtful Catholics who can and might challenge their complaints, then that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be too public about it, and they shouldn’t be in an echo chamber either. Satan is the real enemy. Don’t open cracks for him. And the world, because it loves Satan, is already the enemy of the Church too. No need to give it any more ammo.
YET… I am not terribly worried. In fact, I’m not really worried at all. I have come to believe at the core of my being that God is love, that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him, and that His providence is real. I also believe that suffering is good, and that deeply knowing this is one of the reasons I came into the Church — not so that I would suffer more, but that I would be in the Church that actually embraces suffering and understands it, incorporates it. It’s just too important to go anywhere else.
Finally: I know something about what it’s like to be a Christian without a Pope. I lived many decades as a Protestant. I cling to the Pope, at least to the office itself. I sense many Catholics don’t understand this — at least they don’t see with the kind of clarity I do. My desire is first to help the Pope, not to denigrate him, to lift him up, not to bring him down. Catholics need to see how truly important it is to have a pope. Today Francis is our Pope.
Ivereigh offers some perspective on what Pope Francis is doing and why.
Yves Congar is a fascinating figure in twentieth century Catholic theology and thought. His ideas were censured and censored at one time by the Church, but then became accepted and were highly influential at Vatican II (perhaps the single most informative influence at the council).
I am inclined to think that many of the issues that some Catholics are having with the pope, namely regarding his apparently confusion-sowing manner and way of speaking, are in fact a kind of cover for deeper fears. In other words, it seems there is a protective strain within Catholicism, particularly from conservatives (but not only), that actually has problems with the three approaches to reform that Ivereigh identifies. If true, then it would follow that their frustration is actually masking a fear of reform, and the natural processes of reform as identified by Congar. (Keep in mind I say this as a recent convert from Protestantism — which may skew my perspective.)
Although I tend to identify with many aspects of conservative Catholicism (and many aspects of liberal Catholicism), I worry about a kind of Phariseeism that seems to lie just beneath much of the anti-Francis rhetoric — and I’m speaking of the even-handed stuff, not even the foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.
I too see the confusion with Pope Francis, but I can’t judge. I don’t really know what he is up to, and I believe the Church, like all of us, is always in need of reform.
Some brief, and probably uneducated personal thoughts on the Synod on the Family, but first…
…and with humility…
There is a lot of discussion and vitriol flying around these days about the family and the Church. It bothers me. Two frequently narrow-minded religio-political groups — Liberals and Conservatives — have been squaring off over questions of divorce and remarriage and the receiving of the Eucharist — and other important matters of marriage, sex, faith, and the Church. I say narrow-minded because Christ is neither liberal or conservative, and neither is the Church. As Christians we know this. At one time or another I have been in both camps (I still am I guess). Nonetheless, I wonder…
Could all this hullabaloo over these tendentious and tender issues be God’s way (perhaps by way of Pope Francis) of calling the Church to account? The Church, frequently in the actions of its members (but not in its dogma), in recent decades (maybe longer), has again and again turned away from the foundational teachings on family and sexuality. Catholics do whatever they want it seems. This is well documented. There’s a lot of interest from all “sides” in the synod and its outcome for these very reasons. What this all means and where it will lead I cannot really say — and a lot of smarter people than I have much to say about these things anyway.
The conservatives, who are people of good will, and who are worried the liberals will get their way (there’s a lot of worry going around), should at least realize the “battle” was lost a long time ago — at least on a cultural/historical level, for God, of course, has lost nothing — and they have also been part of the problem. They may be “conserving” dogma, but some concept of a past culture is probably not worth conserving in some significant sense, at least in terms of a past “golden age” of Catholicism — though I could be wrong. We live in this culture, we are culture, culture is a living, moving thing. I sense many feel the conservatives are only interested in a kind of old-fashioned mono-culture — whether this is actually true I cannot say. However, bulwarks can seem like too much Soviet architecture, and it didn’t take long for many, even good-willed Catholics (or their children), to abandon the conservative project. How did the project “lose” so quickly and so completely? I suggest the Church’s presentation of its core teachings on sexuality and marriage for the past 150 years or so has taken too much for granted, was content too much with externals, and was not sufficiently evangelical in its approach or its language, did not bring Christ first, etc. If your average Catholic cannot articulate the Church’s understanding (and I mean understanding, not merely a recitation of the “rules”) on these issues what does that say? I believe this has caused untold suffering. I could be wrong.
Bishops should bring Christ to others first. Some do. Perhaps most do, I can’t really say. But the world needs Christ and the world seems to say the Church only brings them rules and dry theological presentations of human passions. (This synod could end up being another example of this. Let’s pray it isn’t.) I get that the world rejects Christ too, but shouldn’t it be more clear the world is actually rejecting Christ and not the Church — if that’s the case? It’s complicated, but let’s not accept easy excuses.
And the liberals, who are also people of good will, should realize they are just as much a part of the problem of causing great suffering amongst the faithful as everyone else. Tenderness and mercy is good, truly very good, but they go inextricably together with truth as well. (The same could be said to conservatives.) It’s not a 50/50 proposition — trying to find a nice balance between truth and mercy, between hard reality and tender compassion. It’s a 100/100 proposition — total truth and reality along with total mercy and compassion. (Again, one could say the same to conservatives.) We cannot turn away from our human nature, from the way we are designed, and not suffer. We cannot reject God’s natural will for our lives and not suffer. [Side note: If you are a Christian then you believe God exists and is your creator. Meditate on that.] But we are all at fault, for the real problem of our society, as it has been with every society before us, is our deep and profound brokenness. We must not let our pride prevent us from seeing this. I raise my hand as a guilty offender; I am broken and prideful.
Bishops should not hide the truth from anyone, thinking that truth is too difficult to handle right now — for that person. Bishops who refuse to bring truth, keeping it hidden, are snakes. Gentle smiles and soft hugs don’t make for genuine healing if there is not also truth in those hugs and smiles. Our souls are desperate for love and truth. Tenderness without calling for repentance is a hollow emotion. I can’t say I know any bishop who does this, but I can imagine. Oh that every prince of the Church were an icon of Christ!
And I am constantly confused on these issues. It is easy for me to say, “Who am I to judge.” (Only I do judge all the time and without mercy.) I am forever figuring out how to make good and right judgements, to see clearly, to know what is true. I pray for wisdom. There are people of all stripes whom I love — and love all too poorly. We’re all carrying heavy packs on this pilgrimage. I pray we are going the same way. Pray for me, a stumbling and wayward sinner.
Consider: It is better that we are prodigal sons who eventually find salvation than older brothers and end up in Hell. Think about it.
I do believe that Christ is calling us all to Him — every one of us. We are not being called first or foremost to dogma or to rules or to tradition — even if those things are good. Honestly, I love dogma, but… We are being called to Christ. To Him alone. We must risk that, and let others have the freedom to risk that as well. We do not come to Christ if not in freedom. That includes everyone, not just you or me.
Unless we solve the problem of our brokenness, of this principle of sin within us, we cannot find true joy — and we cannot solve it. We just can’t. Only in Christ can we find the answer to our soul’s longing. That is the gospel, that is the good news. Only by His blood, by His love, in His resurrection, and through His mediation do we have hope and reality of salvation, of our own resurrection. Only by the grace of God do we live. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Neither “side”, separately or together, has the capacity to contain the radicality of the good news of Christ.
Be neither liberal or conservative, be a radical follower of Jesus Christ. This may mean being open to an encounter with Him — I’m sure it does. Is it not true that we mostly encounter Christ through encountering other people? Are you willing to take that chance? I hope I am — fear and trembling folks, fear and trembling.
I see in Pope Francis a man who brings the evangelism of encounter, and the world is crying out YES! Sadly I read and hear a number of catholics behaving like some of those baddies in the Gospel accounts — they grumble, they worry, they don’t see that their fear is blazoned on their sleeves. There is the constant parsing of the Pope’s every word, fretting over every action, and more grumbling that he is too confusing, sending the wrong message (“What will they think?!” “They’re bound to take that in the wrong direction!!” “Look who he’s meeting with, he’s sending the wrong message, doesn’t he see that?!!”). I get it, the Pope is sometimes confusing to many people — though I have yet to find him so. Some Catholics, sadly quite a lot, are saying the vilest things about the Pope. I think the Pharisees said the same things about Christ. Can’t you just hear it: “He is muddled and confused, and confusing others. Did he really say that?! My God, save us. He is leading us to schism. He wants schism. Just like a Jesuit to play a devil’s game. He’s not a real Pope. Pray for his death.” (Death?!! Yes, some “Catholics” have even said they want him dead. Can you imagine?) I’m not defending anyone, not even the Pope. His naysayers may prove to be right. I just wonder if something is happening (that’s not really the right word, not a strong enough word) according to God’s plan that is calling the Church, and its leaders to account — and in the process bringing about a renewal of sorts (perhaps a re-formation?). So the tensions are good. They point to something meaningful going on. Usually only in suffering do we gain wisdom. Only through struggle do we find the truth.
Anyway, I love this Pope. I don’t expect perfection from any man, but I do find in him a kind of icon of Christ to the world, and not just in his office, but in his words, actions, and person. Think about that. If true, what do our reactions to him say about us? We should examine our hearts if we find him displeasing. Again, I’m not defending the Pope. I could be blind.
So finally, about the synod… I suppose all this is my way of saying I sometimes (secretly) hope the Synod on the Family becomes a big, knock down, drag out fight. I hope true colors fly, and the truth emerges from the smoke. It seems about time the bishops wipe the genial smiles off their faces and they point some fingers and throw some zucchettos — maybe even overturn some tables. Of course I want them to behave with all the of the virtues in full force (love, courage, etc.). They should act always in love — sometimes not being nice is the loving thing to do; sometimes it means to stop hiding their true feelings and ideas under thick theological speak and formalisms. The Pope said to “speak clearly.” More importantly, if there is a crisis, then act like it’s a crisis. This is not, should not be, a political fight. It is a fight for the Church, for the Bride to be ready and perfect and lovely for the Groom when He returns. May Christ be glorified — and decorum be damned, if necessary.
Not to tell anyone what to do, but pray if you care.