Note: this article is long enough for two separate entries, but it really can't be broken up without damaging whatever sense it has. Part One introduces the strange polarization of serious Catholic opinion, and lays out the Bear's position for context of his arguments. Part Two specifically deals with the wisdom of condemning those who question Pope Francis' words and deeds, even in trying to understand him more fully. The Bear is quite close in his opinions to many people in both of the camps he describes, and his disagreement on this one issue should not imply disrespect for them or disregard for their sincerity.
The Pope Nobody Talked About
For all the hub bub, very few people are actually discussing Pope Francis at all.
Most people can't get beyond the papal brand. That's why all the chatter is coming from two opposite poles of the blogosphere, where two unlikely groups have separated and migrated to rhetorical antipodes.
It makes for some pretty strange bedfellows. Imagine Mark Shea holding a copy of The Advocate featuring a picture of Michael Voris to get a visceral sense of Ultramontanism 2014.
|Ultramontanist leaders plan strategy before a meeting at their secret South Pole base.|
At the South Pole are the conventional conservatives, liberals, and all those invested, for whatever reason, in what the Bear will call "mainstream Catholicism." Their position is that "one simply does not criticize the Pope, old boy." We'll call them the Ultramontanists for historical reasons. (European supporters of the papacy were called that because the Vatican was "beyond the mountains" -- the Alps.)
On the North Pole, you have Traditionalists, Recognize-and-Resisters and Sedevacantists. Their position is "see, we've been saying all along the Vatican II Church was up to no good."
The first is defending the position of nevernevernever questioning anything this pope says or does.
The other is defending the position that the Church has fallen ill since Vatican II, and has borne bad fruit ever since. This pope is merely "Exhibit F" in the case of Real Catholics vs. The Vatican II Church.
Neither group seems curious about actually listening to Pope Francis, or willing to set aside their positions long enough to discuss what he may be trying to accomplish. (At most, Ultramontanists will sound the trumpet every time Pope Francis says something that sounds Catholic.) Both have their fingers in their ears, one with its mouth shut, the other with its mouth open.
No doubt many of these folks would object to being lumped into two broad groups, and rightly so for most purposes. But for the purpose of actually trying to get to know Pope Francis and making sense out of his coruscating eruptions of words and deeds, it is legitimate to note that these two groups have generated 99% of the chatter without contributing much to understanding. They are defending positions that have little to do with the merits of Pope Francis' case.
This article is addressed to the first group, the Ultramontanists, who insist one must never criticize Pope Francis. It would be impractical to attempt to handle both positions in one article. Furthermore, the attempt to silence the faithful by conservative opinion-makers has a greater impact on the discussion than the squabbling among members of the other group, which in this matter, as in everything, tends to ensure they accomplish nothing anyway.
The Bear Lays His Cards On the Table
Ursus Arctos is a solitary creature who does not congregate in factions. The Bear sincerely admires many in both groups, but, being a Bear, he has a unique perspective.
The Bear is simply a conservative who accepts Vatican II documents for the propositions they stand for, whatever those may be. He has no strong personal attachment to the old Mass, but believes it has the advantage of symbolizing what it is actually doing and is objectively superior. He deplores liturgical abuses great and small, but is practical enough to know you have to pick your battles. He has learned the hard way it is better to stand your ground and fight, but that may just be a bear thing,
The Bear has successfully infiltrated the Church.
|Bears are masters of infiltration, blending invisibly into their surroundings.|
The Bear believes you should respect the Pope, but in these times, have a duty to point out where he is departing from the well-worn path of holy popes, councils and saints, and leading the sheep into a dangerous new wilderness instead of the old, safe pastures. If that's indeed what he is doing. (It's too soon to know. He may just be someone from an unfamiliar culture who has difficulties expressing himself, but nonetheless likes to talk a lot. Not the best qualities for a pope, perhaps, but hardly the "destroyer" some want to make him out to be. Time will tell, and the Bear suspects there will be no doubt one way or the other by the end of another year.)
Pulling the Wool Over the Eyes of the Sheep
Here the Bear must amble down another path for the moment. (Bears never travel in straight lines.) Why would anyone dare think any pope might lead the sheep astray?
Perhaps one might pursue a novel idea of Christianity, or wish to integrate the Church more closely with secular aims and organizations. Or be driven by a peculiar ideology that no pope before has held. There are lots of reasons a pope of good will might err, at least with a strict view of infallibility. (Ultramontanists sometime speak as though it is an infallible pronouncement when the pope says "pass the salt.")
The informal statements of the Pope do not implicate infallibility, yet today are flashed around a world that does not know how to distinguish Catholic dogma from the Pope thinking out loud. (A good argument against the Pope thinking out loud.) It seems sensible to address the novelties, infelicitous phrasing and misuse of these statements by others before they can do too much damage. As we have seen, a pope does not have to change doctrine to damage the Church's mission.
But there are two particular reasons to consider treating what now issues from the Vatican with caution: (1) the Church has not spoken forthrightly of late, and (2) the Church demolished itself in a span of fifty years.
By "the Church has not spoken forthrightly of late," the Bear means this: no pope or council has yet stepped up and frankly explained why yesterday's beliefs must change simply because it is now today.
That looks kind of shady to the Bear. Certain documents appear to have been written by weasels. Old encyclicals were models of brevity and clarity. Now documents generated by the Church are bloated and equivocal. It does not engender trust.
To take one example, no one has bothered to set forth in clear language why worshipping with non-Catholics was condemned as a great evil 100 years ago, yet is ceaselessly promoted as a great virtue today.
Why not just say that the Church tried to make a Catholic world, but that obviously was not God's plan. Now we appreciate that God is only fully expressed by combining the genius and beauty of all faiths?
Another is Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (EENS) -- no salvation outside the Church. The Bear is reading a 1916 book by a Catholic author, The Facts About Luther. EENS is casually mentioned like any other infallible dogma of the Church. Today it is "the doctrine that dare not speak its name." The Church has silently dropped it. Not officially, of course, but where it has not been suppressed it has been qualified into meaninglessness.
Would it not be more honest to say, yes, that is what they believed then, but they had no idea about the New World with millions of unevangelized souls? We understand differently now and hereby declare that previous popes and councils were wrong. Maybe EENS is a monstrous, uncharitable dogma that is an infamous stain on the Catholic Church. Bears are not learned in such things. But if it is, the Church should say so, not keep attenuating the meaning of "the Church" until everyone is encompassed in its meaningless embrace.
It is almost as if they want the power, prestige and property of the Church -- no doubt to do good -- and demand Medieval obedience. Yet they ignore whatever teachings are inconvenient to their agenda without (and this is quite troubling to Catholics who like doctrinal certainty) bothering to refute and abrogate them.
A strange new meta-dogma of disuetude trumps all. (In law, a statute loses force over time if it is not enforced. It is not "taken off the books," but merely ignored to death.)
The Bear says, let them make their case, in the open. Turning wheels and moving levers behind the emerald curtain makes us really nervous. Please do not keep changing things while pretending we're too stupid to notice. We are not really sheep, you know. We're onto the tactic of hand-waving while changing our Church out from under us. Honestly, it looks like Modernism at work, which, of course is not possible, since Modernism is a heresy. But what is it?
|The plucky little Yorkie exposes another plot.|
It would go a long way to settle everyone down to just come clean and let us all in on the plan:
Here are the encyclicals that are wrong for our time. Maybe right for theirs, but outmoded today. And here are the dogmas the Church was understandably, forgivably mistaken about. Infallibility means nothing if not admitting mistakes and correcting them. We're going to explain it all to you now, and tell you what kind of Church we would like to see a hundred years from now.
"The Church, thank God, knows how to repent," said Pope Francis on how someone can be a heretic under Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII and beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. Perhaps Pope Francis will continue that theme for us one day. For now, if you act suspiciously, you can't blame people for being suspicious.
Finally, the Bear concedes his position lacks the logical rigor of the Sedevacantists on one hand, and the rich mine of Ultramontanist quotes, on the other. It does not fully explore infallibility (although it certainly respects it for all centuries). The Bear does, however, suspect even Pope Leo XIII might be taken aback at some of his successors' acts and statements. The Bear's opinion is, like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said of the law, formed not by logic, but by experience, with a little old-fashioned bear-sense thrown in.
South Pole: Must Never Criticize the Pope
In this camp, you have liberals, "professional Catholics" and extreme Ultramontanists. Their motives vary. Respect for the papacy, investment in a kind of placid mainstream Catholicism, or, in the case of liberals (not usually recognized as staunch Papists) the perceived opportunity to push their manifold agenda. They share, however, the same fierce determination that no one speak against the deeds and words of Pope Francis.
By and large, there is little blameworthy in people defending their beliefs and interests. They are a valuable reminder to keep the discussion in the proper tone.
But when they argue that anyone who expresses legitimate concern about some of Pope Francis' antics is the same as Luther, and will soon join him in Hell, they lose all credibility. (Actually, only a few in this group believe Luther deserves to go to Hell, or that there is a Hell for him to go to.)
Why "You're Nothing But a Protestant" Fails
Apparently, some think we are actually lemmings, not sheep, and expected to jump off the cliff when ordered. But if you know about sheep and have properly read the gospel, sheep are not held up as a model of blind obedience. The point is always about the shepherd taking care of the sheep.
|Not a sheep, or a bear.|
Sheep follow the true shepherd because they joyfully recognize his voice. He puts the interests of the sheep above all, even his own life (and ideologies). He seeks the one lost sheep. He tends and feeds the sheep. You will search in vain for the parable of the wicked herd that ran away from the good shepherd. Jesus was worried about the shepherds. Why, if they could, by virtue of their position, do no wrong?
To agitate for change because one thinks he knows better than his fathers is rebellion. Those are the real Protestants. To try to preserve things the way they have been because one respects the wisdom of his fathers is faithfulness. There's already a religion based on blind submission. It's called Islam. The Bear doesn't know what to call standing with your hands in your pockets and shrugging at everything.
Follow That Pope! (Which Pope?)
The Catholic Church is not a human institution that must "evolve," and compulsively "dialogue" with anyone who will stand still long enough for a photo-op. It does not need constant pruning of old truths to make way for the luxuriant growth of novelties.
Like it or not, the Church is uniquely secured to the past by the dogma that it has been divinely protected from teaching error.
It is no longer a matter of following the Pope. It is a matter of deciding which pope to follow when they are urging the sheep in different directions. The Church is no longer a "Where," but a "When." The popes and councils of the past have carefully marked out good grazing land where the sheep are safe. They fenced off the dangerous wilderness so the sheep could not stray into harm by accident. Sadly, those ancient fences have been torn down by those who hate fences for no other reason than they are fences.