Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Papacy Fails -- There's a Reason Pope Francis Drives You Crazy

It is late in the evening of December 20th, 1954. A group of expectant men and women have gathered in the home of Chicago housewife Dorothy Martin. As midnight approaches, they begin to remove zippers, bra straps, anything that might contain metal. Many have gotten rid of more than that: jobs, college, possessions, even spouses. According to Martin, the world was about to end for everyone except these few believers, who would be rescued by a flying saucer at midnight.

Those gathered are stunned when midnight comes and nothing happens. Some possible explanations are floated, and discarded. At 4 a.m. Martin begins to cry.

Then at 4:45 a.m., Martin receives a message through automatic writing. The God of Earth has taken note of their faith and has decided to spare the world.

Far from giving up, the previously reclusive cult initiates a publicity drive, and engages in fervent proselytization.

This bizarre story is the basis for a 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger, a psychologist who had actually infiltrated the cult. It was Festinger who came up with the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two incompatible beliefs at the same time. The result is an uncomfortable psychological feeling of dissonance. If we find ourselves suffering from cognitive dissonance, we will naturally take measures to reduce the dissonance, and to feel better.

In the case of the flying saucer cultists, they channeled their energy into growing their ranks, reducing their cognitive dissonance by recruiting more believers. History is full of failed doomsday cults that have bounced back with even more vigor than they previously enjoyed. (Someone should do a study on climate change!) Faithfulness and proselytization can often be psychological defense mechanisms.

Pope Francis and Cognitive Dissonance

St. Corbinian's Bear Poll
The Bear suggests many Catholics are experiencing this today, in what might be called When Papacy Fails. Pope Francis may not be driving you crazy, but there is reason to believe he might be causing you very real psychological stress.

There is nothing scientific about the blog poll to the left, of course. This is a self-selected group visiting a blog that is one of the most critical of this papacy. The Bear only added the psychological questions at the last minute, and did not suspect they would see much interest.

So imagine the Bear's surprise when he learned that nearly as many people thought the Papacy of Francis had harmed them psychologically as spiritually. But why not? Couldn't this sample, and many, many more Catholics beyond the poll's reach, be experiencing real psychological discomfort due to cognitive dissonance?

If you believe that the Church is a divine institution, carrying out God's plan of evangelization and the cure of souls, maintaining a tradition that ensures its integrity, and if you envision popes in the mold of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and even Pius XII, Pope Francis comes as much of a shock as a spaceman from Dorothy Martin's planet Clarion.

Sixty years late, but I'm finally here!

You can't shake the feeing that something is terribly wrong. It's not supposed to be this way. Popes aren't supposed to be as off-kilter as Pope Francis. The Church is not supposed to be talking about changing things as settled as Jesus' condemnation of remarriage after divorce, let alone homosexual unions. Nor should it be refereeing scientific debates, and in general showing interest in everything but the supernatural.

So, on the one hand, you have everything you believe in your core about the Catholic Church. On the other, you have the undeniable fact of Pope Francis. If a Grand Canyon sized split like that is not enough to cause cognitive dissonance, the Bear does not know what is.

Of course, if you don't hold a view of the Church similar to the one described above, then, naturally, you're not likely to experience dissonance. You can be Catholic and enjoy it, free from the slightest cognitive dissonance, no matter what happens! (Also, you have to be seriously invested in a belief before it can generate cognitive dissonance.)

By the way, cognitive dissonance is not a mental illness, but the mind's natural reaction to conflicting beliefs.

Dealing With Cognitive Dissonance

So how do we deal with cognitive dissonance? The Bear is not pretending to provide counseling, but will propose a few ideas. In general, there are four effective defense mechanisms that kick in to reducing dissonance.

The perfect example (perfect as an example, not as a model) is the sedevacantist. Get rid of the Pope and you get rid of the dissonance! They have changed one of the conflicting cognitions ("Francis is Pope"). Similarly, others may leave the Church. They have changed their cognition the opposite way from the sedevacantists by getting rid of the Church.

Another way is to keep the Pope and the Church while turning a blind eye to anything distressing that the Pope may do or say. This is the ultramontanist solution. A variation is to blame everybody in the Church but the Pope. This is the well-known position of Church Militant's Michael Voris. It's the Pope's "bad advisors," or the bishops. Both simply ignore the conflicting cognition. This means simply disregarding all evidence that Francis' Papacy is deeply flawed. The Bear, by the way, is not saying this is a bad approach. In fact, it is probably very effective for some for whom criticizing the pope is off limits as a means of relieving dissonance. (Blaming everything unfortunate on advisors and bishops might also be considered as adding another cognition, discussed two paragraphs down,)

Still others may physically stay in the Church, but just disengage. It's easier to shrug it all off than deal with the pain. "Oh, I don't follow all that." They have justified the conflicting cognition by changing it ("It's not all that important").

One might also find a way to justify a cognition by adding another cognition to it. Perhaps by telling oneself, "Pope Francis may be Pope, but is so bad that normal pope rules just don't apply to him." This is probably where St. Corbinian's Bear falls. If it were just an ordinary difference on a papal opinion or two, the Bear would not dare growl so.

These are all natural psychological defense measures that may kick in according to the individual's needs and beliefs. Some of them have very bad "side effects." What can we do consciously to help us deal with cognitive dissonance caused by Pope Francis?

Self Care for Cognitive Dissonance

If you are reading this, you are probably remaining faithful, but experience real psychological distress to a greater or lesser degree. We do not quite know what to do with a Pope who seems to have departed from the Petrine program, if not the neighborhood of reason. Even worse, we have the added stressors that we are not supposed to criticize the Pope, and that we can rely on his ordinary magisterium. The problem is exacerbated by the relentless train of unfortunate comments and visuals.

So what can we do? These are some ideas. You may find some more appealing than others. Not all of them are for everybody.

  • nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there (Holy Stubbornness)
  • seek out the pre-1960 comfort zone of the past in different ways, e.g. the traditional Latin Mass, Douay Rheims Bible, etc.
  • draw comfort from like-minded people at blogs like St. Corbinian's Bear and others (if others are with you, you will feel safer), and that may include using comment boxes
  • on the other hand, avoid, as much as possible, all news and discussion of Pope Francis
  • more Jesus, less Francis -- a regular classic prayer life (Divine Office, rosary, etc.), reading scripture (which has many examples of suffering under bad leaders)
  • recognize that this will be a relatively short papacy, and things will undoubtedly get better
  • therapy -- the biggest thing in your life is being seriously messed with; people who are particularly at risk might benefit
  • God permitted this to happen -- you don't need to know everything, but it does test our faith

In the end, perhaps the best we can do is hold on to our beliefs about the Church, while at the same time acknowledging the problems Francis poses. We don't have to have all the answers. But we know what is right, and what is wrong, and we know nothing Pope Francis can do is able to change one to the other.


  1. I keep telling myself that Honorius I and John XII were still valid Popes.

  2. I think the damage was done to me long before now with all the changes that came after Vatican II. Pope Francis, to me, is just the logical conclusion to the direction the Church has been going for the last 50 years. In many ways Pope Francis affirmed my belief that there is something wrong with the Church. If there wasn't, Francis would never have been elected pope.

    1. Yes, I agree. I don't know if the whole series of events that started in the '60s and seem to be boiling over right now can be technically termed "disconfirming events" in Festinger's sense, but they are close enough to cause cognitive dissonance. In "When Prophecy Fails," there are usually a number of disconfirming events -- failures of the belief system that temporarily shake people up -- before some "straw that broke the camel's back." I think people are shaken, and Francis is the straw. That's why there are so many Catholics scrambling to put everything back together -- and, often, failing.


  3. Thanks, Bear!


    Five times banished
    Exiled seventeen
    Excommunicated champions
    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,
    Feast day of worth
    On the second of May
    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –
    As history has charted –
    You preserved the true Mass
    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre
    And the sixties egalitarians
    Like Athanasius,
    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished
    Death by death
    Sent him to absolve
    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon
    The same sun we're all under…
    We venal rain - but Lefebvre

    Righteous thunder!!

    Follow the True Priests Our Lord has provided. Nail your foot and yes, you will die there & that's what they want.


    Nowhere to kneel
    No Tabernacle
    No candle red
    Just marble crackle

    A sepulchre
    Deathly white
    To help good souls
    Despair, take flight

    That's WHAT they want
    That is their plan
    Then mock, "You dis -
    obedient man!"

    But in the depths
    Of doctrine deep
    Sails the Ship
    That will not sleep

    Full of disobedient
    Obeying Christ
    In priests that keep

    The Barque of Peter
    On its course
    Though her bowels be bricked
    By a sinister source

    Then damn the torpedoes
    Will blast through the block
    Full speed ahead

    No sepulchre whites
    Disobedience, despairs --
    Only seas of gold Masses
    By an Archbishop's Peres!

  6. I was thinking of a crass action suit for cruel & unusual punishment, spiritual & emotional duress, undue hardship, PSTD or some such whatever.
    Just keeding.
    Keep the faith.

  7. Bear to the rescue. Very good. Pope Francis derangement syndrome is another way of putting it. Pope Francis is there because God permitted him to be there. He is a test for us. The right answer to most of what he asks and suggests is NO. In fact, the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church is a test for us since Vatican II is a test. It is a test of faith. Most folks have failed and become Protestant. My guess is there no more 5-10% of Catholics in the United States who actually believe and try to follow all the teachings of the Catholic Church found in the catechism. When Christ wondered if he would find any faith on earth when he returned he may have been referring to our time.

    So how to respond to Pope Francis? Consider him just another bad pope, resist what he says and does, militantly support Christ and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and ignore the actual praxis of the faith by Pope Francis and many of the Bishops. And last tune into the Bear as he will help us stay on the right path.

    1. I do not think we can consider him just another bad pope and move on. There is too much in private revelation pointing to the fact that there will come a time when things will be different, likely worse, than simply the times of bad popes before. Talk of a false church side by side of the real one, of diabolical disorientation, etc. to me implies that God has let us in on the fact that our reason will need to account some day for a different type of bad pope, a different type of problem in the Church. I have wondered if this is in fact such a time.

    2. Michael, the reason I try to avoid "Francis Derangement Syndrome" is that it carries the connotation that we're somehow to blame for being "deranged." It originally comes from (as I'm sure you'll recall) liberals who foamed at the mouth every time they saw Bush on TV. Also, I believe I am correct in "diagnosing" a very real psychological phenomena that is hurting people. In that sense, we're like children with an emotionally abusive Papa. That's why, among the other attributes and missions of this blog, it is International Headquarters for the Pope Francis Spiritual Abuse Survivor's Network.

    3. You are right Bear. And I love your 'Pope Francis Spiritual Abuse Survivor's Network'. It sure is needed at times such as these.

  8. So many different ways of processing this. Excellent discussion. It is hard to find much real continuity between the Church that saw itself as the sole ark of salvation and the current church that shrugs and says we're all Christians because Muslims don't distinguish when they lop heads, and, by the way, Islam is one of the three great Abrahamic religions and there is a reasonable hope that everybody goes to Heaven. Every heretic and schismatic has looked at the Church and found her wanting despite possessing the "title" of the Church in the succession of popes, apostolic succession, the Vatican, and universal acknowledgement. As bad as Francis is, and as much cognitive dissonance as he generates, I don't think he's actually crossed the line by institutionalizing heresy. He may, but I don't see it yet. The thunderstorm is rumbling in the distance, so we are wary, but it may blow over. And if I'm right, changing one of the conflicting cognitions by "getting rid of the Church," i.e. positing a pure Church elsewhere, may be a psychological defense mechanism. It's all very tricky.

    1. Hope you are right that Pope Francis won't do any serious doctrinal damage. But what he does with doctrine isn't so important as what the Church, and he in particular, has done since Vatican II with Catholic praxis. We are now in a post Catholic era where most Catholics are essentially Protestants in their behavior if not their beliefs. What we have now in the Church is harvest of Modernism, the weeds and the chaff that will be cast into the fire.

  9. You left out: "Pray, hope, and don't worry."

    1. This is good advice for some, but if someone is experiencing real cognitive dissonance, a decision not to worry will not likely truly address the dissonance. It would be like telling someone with a serious illness, "oh, don't worry!" If you can manage it, great, but many people are going to need something that actually "works" psychologically to deal with the disconfirming event, i.e. the Church throwing a Pope Francis at us. I suspect that anyone for whom this advice worked would not be experiencing cognitive dissonance in the first place.

  10. Bear, you haven't even brought up the truth as possibility. Francis is the antipope false prophet. You will have to resolve your dissonance when sin is approved during or after the synod by choosing truth and rejecting Francis or choose the one world religion straight to hell. Psychology isn't needed, faith is. Do you know your faith? Is it strong enough?

    1. I think that if at some time in the future, the Church establishes that the seat has been vacant, then indeed the cognitive dissonance will fall away in most cases. Questions would be resolved, such as how Gregory of Narek is a Doctor of the Church:

      I agree that bring some truth to light such of this would help a great deal. I am just not certain at this time that such a thing is true.

  11. Find an Eastern rite parish and until God corrects the Latin rite.
    The Pope is only over the Eastern rites in matters of Dogma and not doctrine. Nail your foot, and your wallet to the floor there.

  12. First of all, this article is about psychology and what the Bear fears is a very real problem in the realm of that discipline related to Pope Francis. For that reason, the Bear examined the four means people use to resolve cognitive dissonance, even when they don't know they're doing that. Then there were some ideas to consciously reduce dissonance in various ways. So let's revisit your post.

    Let's look at your argument that Pope Francis is "the antipope false prophet." You can see how this could be a means of reducing cognitive dissonance. The Church's real pope could not be like this, therefore Francis is not the Church's real pope. The Bear wagers you suffer not at all from cognitive dissonance, given your belief.

    The Bear, on the other hand, says this. Pope Francis may act like an antipope false prophet (worst case scenario here), but the Church COULD have a real pope like this, AND his remarks, actions and even writings must therefore be treated differently. Thus is the Bear's fundamental faith in the Church and his own membership within it preserved.

    Now it gets interesting, because you bring up "disconfirming events." In other words, if what you predict comes to pass, the divine identity of the Church in Rome would seem to be disconfirmed, and it will be revealed as just another worldly body capable of changing the truth to suit the times. That goes directly to the heart of the Catholic faith, and would send a shockwave through the Church. Now, most Catholics are not sufficiently invested in their beliefs to suffer cognitive dissonance. They will just roll merrily along. But for the faithful, this would be one minute after midnight, when the flying saucers didn't come. It will be terrible for them.

    This has already rambled too long, so in answer go your question, I hope my faith would hold, and would like to believe so, but the Bear does not want to play Peter and boast. He can tell you one thing: it would be dealt with forthrightly.

    1. What we really have is "Divine Dissonance" since God's Prophetic Word about Francis is what is truly being rejected, not merely a human opinion. But you all don't recognize that. Jesus told us When I return will I find any faith on earth? The rhetorical answer is no. Also, Jesus said "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect." Observe clearly how even the elect, like yourself, are being deceived. Hopefully you will wake up. Hopefully.

      And know that the Sin-od will promote sin but covered under the guise of a "penitential path" of "mercy", without requiring the sins to be forsaken. I will "gradually" get to the "ideal" later, which of course never comes. And besides, its only an ideal which is rarely attainable so I can settle for less.

      I had to laugh at the hint of solving the cognitive dissonance was to make Francis the false prophet. Modern psychobabble has an "explanation" for everything, but in a worldly way.

      Anyone who thinks that Francis is merely a bad pope / careless speaker / misquoted is part of the problem and not the solution, and his salvation is at risk because the assumption is that you can choose the Truth later when you "feel" there is enough "evidence." The pharisees always asked for signs too.

    2. Then, one hopes GOD who has permitted HIS one holy catholic CHURCH, displaying all His bona fides and who has permitted the CHAIR OF PETER to be occupied by the False Prophet in front of the whole world to be patient with those of us who are cautious and prudent about private revelation. There are plenty of sedes who can make excellent arguments against everyone since Pius XII. Why do you only object to Francis?

  13. I have sent this blog post to so many of my brothers. Thank you for writing this! You have no idea how many PPs are struggling with depression, and have been for over the 2 1/2 years -- especially the converts who left everyrhing, even their parents, to come into the Church. I cannot recall a single positive thing Pope Francis has ever said about priests. Not one. Don't think we haven't noticed that the current pope seems to despise his own sons. I have 2 parishes, 3000 families, 5 weekend Masses, and no help. This is typical of my diocese. I have had one week of vacation in the last three years. I have determined that the very best way to keep my spirits up is to avoid reading anything at all about what the Holy Father is saying on any particular day. I'm not a holy priest -- please pray that I may be! But I am a faithful and orthodox priest. I'm tired of fighting with my 2 parish councils about gay wedding receptions in my parish halls, and then coming home to the rectory to read articles that indicate the pope agrees that I'm a "hater." I'm just doing what I've always done -- trying to be faithful to Jesus, and my Mother, the Church.

    1. Your right, I had no idea. I will pray for you. In fact I happened to find a prayer for priests I will publish. I do think the mental health issue is the great "untold story" of the uncertainty and stress surrounding the Church; when you add it to the workload priests are facing who must constantly do more with less, it should not be a surprise. We are all in this together and God has not forgotten his faithful priests. There's one difference between the Chicago flying saucer cultists and the Holy Catholic Church: we're the real deal, God's arm is not shortened, and if we pass the test we are meeting now, there will be a reward beyond our wildest imagination.

    2. P.S. I hope depressed priests are not deterred from seeking treatment due to the stigma mental health issues still bear. It can be a lengthy and frustrating saga getting treatment that works (which should always, in my lay opinion, include talking to a therapist). But if you persevere, you can find what works for you. We all get sick, in the body, in the mind, especially if we are stressed beyond any reasonable expectations.

  14. I am very blessed to have the personal means for procuring counseling and medication. When orthodox priests have to ask for help from our chanceries, they are used as examples "pour encourager les autres" to give up the old ways, the true ways. You truly have no idea. Priest support groups are split up if too many orthodox are gathering together. Francis Church plants (almost all over 60) are put in the groups, because -- errrr, diversity and openness. Then the group dissolves.

    1. Fr. Frank ... please stay the true course and know that there are many of us laity who suffer with you, many times because of "liberal" clergy and priests and bishops... TRUST JESUS! We are experiencing, as Mother Angelica taught, a type of martyrdom in this kind of suffering. So, rejoice! Jesus is "a sign that will be contradicted"... Please hang in there, finish the race! Your reward in Heaven will be great!!! Know that there are many of us lay people who are also being martyred, too... but we do not SUFFER AS MUCH AS PRIESTS, because the devil knows we have no Jesus in the Eucharist without priests, especially good, faithful, loyal, holy priests such as you!!! Thank you for sacrificing your life for CHRIST and HIS HOLY CHURCH!

  15. God's Prophetic Word: "... know that I will raise up, within My Church, a man who will stand up and proclaim the truth. He will do this at a time when no other cardinal, bishop, priest or any sacred servant of mine will have the courage to do so. When the new false doctrine engulfs the Church, many, within it, will know in their hearts how flawed it will be. They will be alarmed, but too frightened to raise their voices. So outnumbered will they be, by those whose faith is so weak, that they will readily accept whatever heresy is placed before God’s children, in my holy name. The man I will raise is a brave soul and many will be relieved when he speaks up. When he does this, many more will rise up and speak out, thereby saving many souls. When he is raised, I have other plans to bring all those faiths together, who do not accept me, Jesus Christ, as being the son of God. All of these Divine plans have been foretold and millions and millions of people from across the world will then realise the truth. ..."

  16. Bear, you and I are shockingly in synchronization regarding Leon Festinger. I am a devotee of cognitive theory in general, and cognitive dissonance theory in particular. Thus, as you approach my underpass, I, the Troll, ask: why do you not admit that you must be in error since the Holy Father speaks contrary to your view? Do the words Vicar of Christ mean nothing? I am hungrily awaiting your reply.

    1. Well, that doesn't really go to cognitive dissonance, and I'm playing a big fast and loose with Festinger since Pope Francis is not a classic disconfirming event, but I think the principles hold. It is not that the Pope speaks contrary to my view, but that he speaks contrary to the view of the Church as handed down over centuries. He is the odd one out, not me. I am not willing to give up the truth over a principle of ultramontanism. Faithful Catholics who are well-educated in their faith and have a Catholic sense cannot help but find Pope Francis problematical. The Church simply DOES NOT push out a Pope like Francis who gives the impression that every settled teaching is now thrown open for debate. THEREFORE, the Bear's faith in the CHURCH ITSELF (especially after V2) must be shaken. As mentioned before, if the Bear has a mechanism to resolve the cognitive dissonance, it is adding a new cognition: Pope Francis is simply a bad Pope, and the Church is apparently NOT immune from such. Between choosing between the Truth and Pope Francis, the Bear must align himself with the truth, and it is a service to God and his people to expose Pope Francis for what he is (Pope, but a bad one) to mitigate in some small way the damage he causes, and bring comfort to faithful (committed, in Festinger's language) brothers and sisters.

  17. The Bear and others are not the only ones suffering from C.D.

    In 2005, Argentine President Kirchner himself replied on November 16, concerning a summary issued by the Argentine Episcopal Conference headed by Archbishop Bergoglio, that the statements of the Church “look more like those of a political party, more like earthly affairs, than like the task they should be performing”, and that the bishops were “absolutely wrong in their diagnosis of the situation of the country”.

    Conclusion: Bergoglian cognitive dissonance is hardly new or a Catholic phenomenon, only.

  18. Bear, as we know, the object of the intellect is truth, or, rather the Truth Himself--Christ. To the extent that the Holy Father shares the mind of Christ, the Holy Father is to be followed. As you state, the honor and jurisdiction of the Vicar of Christ are in view of the object of his vicarship--the Holy Catholic Church. The Church is the guarantor of Christ's revelation, not the Pope. The Pope is not alter Christus ex officio. Thus, the Pope's mind and his opinions are to be accorded no greater respect than any other man's opinions except within narrow bounds because the Deposit of Faith is the property of the Church; the Pope is its steward. We, the faithful, have been spoiled by the profound faith and sublime intellects of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for 35 years. We have been therefore lulled into thinking that the Deposit of Faith lies with the Pope. In the last two years, we have been reminded that this is not so. So, where does that leave us with respect to the opinions of the Holy Father?

    At a concrete level, we may consider the historically odd encyclical, Laudato Si. We are to accord submission of intellect to papal pronouncements based upon the intention of the Pope and the circumstances of the utterance. With respect to these considerations, the nature of the encyclical is unclear. The Pope says that the encyclical "is now added to the body of the Church's social teaching." (Para. 15). But we are also told in several places that the encyclical is a call to dialogue. It also remarks that the complexity of the issue he paints is not reducible to a single solution. Further, he calls for an ecumenical approach--going so far as to address his encyclical to all people throughout the world. These aspects make it difficult to posit that the Holy Father intends his encyclical to be binding on the Catholic faithful.

    Significantly, the encyclical is, in large part, contingent. If the Holy Father's opinion about the veracity of climate change and the relevant contribution of human activity thereto, if any, were false, what would remain? Is the entirety contingent? The Pope's factual basis of anthropomorphic climate change results in what he calls "integral ecology": "Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions." (Para. 137). This notion is a critical underpinning of his entire ecological theology: "An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics." (Para. 156). But what if he's factually wrong? If climate change is random or cyclical or the result of natural processes, can there be such a thing a "integral ecology" and can it be "inseparable from the notion of the common good"? If his view of the universal ecological seamless garment theory is not borne out by nature, is his theology of everything correct? I propose that the answer is definitively "no". (I will add parenthetically here that the encyclical author or revisor has either intentionally or inadvertently misrepresented Sacred Scripture, but that is a topic for another day).

    In sum, I have no cognitive dissonance. The intentions of the Pope are unclear to me and the circumstances make it appear to me that the Pope is proposing things without defining things. As a result, Laudato Si is a contingent theological treatise to which I need not defer.


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