By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
“Where the Pope is, there is the Church.”
One of the reasons why this Latin adage has remained in use is that it addresses in a succinct manner a perennial struggle experienced by faithful Catholics everywhere. Human criticism of the actions of a Pope goes all the way back to St. Paul as recorded in the Scriptures. Even Christ Himself took St. Peter, the first Pope, to the woodshed over his threefold denial of the Lord in the aftermath of the crucifixion.
Struggling with the human foibles and styles of the men who accept the office of Vicar of Christ on Earth is therefore not new and one of the crosses each Pope must carry in his personal call to holiness.
Some of our readers may be aware of the ongoing fracas involving Michael Voris, the über-Catholic version of Bill O’Reilly, whose videos get heavy patronage among activist Catholics. He has come under attack from a group of other self-styled über-Catholics of a more traditionalist bent who also like to keep Pope Francis in their gun-sights.
A little war is brewing between these two camps over the issue of critiquing the Pope. Voris, on the one hand, says he will not criticize the Pope and the “Remnant-style” trads say he is being a hypocrite by excluding the Bishop of Rome from the same kind of criticism to which he frequently subjects every other prelate, on the other hand.
I think the middle ground between Voris and his critics is the very humble example of Francis when he acknowledged being reprimanded by a brother bishop over a perceived dearth of pro-life preaching. After a completely unprecedented public acknowledgment of this critique by a brother bishop, he proceeded the next day to highlight the evil of abortion in a much-publicized address to health-care professionals.
To take reasonable issue with the Pope’s words is not a problem. We must distinguish between ad hominem attacks, that is, those upon persons themselves which are never acceptable, and legitimate, reasonable debate about the words that fellow Catholics choose in our common mission to advance and promote the faith.
All of us can work toward more effectively preaching and teaching the Gospel and should not reject any help in that direction. None of us owns the Gospel, but rather have all received it as a precious gift left in our trust for universal salvation. Why don’t we all share in reasonable efforts to do as Pope Francis calls for in The Joy of the Gospel: use our gifts to support those in doubt and strengthen the faith of everyone?
Pope Francis’ unique style continues to anger or frustrate some and to delight others. That his style lends itself to abuse by those who wish to twist the faith in a vain attempt to support the un-Christian agenda of redefining marriage, promoting immorality, and manipulating the credulous is sinful on the part of those doing it, but it is nothing new. Judas was, perhaps, the first to abuse his personal relationship with Jesus Christ in an attempt to advance his well-intentioned agenda in opposition to the Gospel.
The scandal of a friend turning against Christ is one that all of us must strenuously avoid. Our fellow Catholics who are confirming heretics and abandoning the weak to the wolves are betraying the trust of Christ, and He is their judge. That avowed enemies of His Church spend every effort to separate the Pope from the Body of Christ in the public imagination should not surprise us. That we spare any effort to frustrate their mendacity should be a surprise to us.
A recent example of the agenda to separate sheep from shepherd was the publicity surrounding the Pope’s recent interview in Corriere della Sera. The media were quick to assert that his factual acknowledgment of the existence of civil unions amounted to approval or promotion of such. That the Pope is frank and intellectually honest does not now, nor will it ever, amount to approval of moral evil or an agenda of changing the truth.
Our serene and confident Catholic faith should mean that we are impervious to the manipulations of those who wish to use the Pope’s words and actions to promote an alien agenda, whether they claim to be Catholic or not. That they are working so hard to separate the Body of Christ from her head on Earth should be something of which we are always acutely aware while never allowing ourselves to be thrown off balance by it.
The only human in the Church who was without sin was never a Pope and never will be. Which is the reason why we must continue in prayer and sacrifice to entrust Pope Francis to our Lady as we do for everyone. The most effective way to entrust our Holy Father to the Mother of the Lord is to offer our Sacrifice of the Mass for him and for his intentions and to pray the rosary daily for him outside of Mass.
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(E-mail Fr. Cusick at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism.)