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How Should We Regard Pope Francis?

March 21, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By JOHN YOUNG

Some Catholics think laypeople have no right to criticize Pope Francis. He is the Vicar of Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit, so he must know better than we do what should be taught and done. Even cardinals and bishops, they assert, have no right to publicly disagree with the Pope.
On the other hand, some Catholics are very vocal in their criticisms, and Pope Francis is condemned as a heretic and an antipope, with an agenda that would destroy the Church. Things are so drastic, they think, that we may be approaching the end of the world.
I believe that here, as in other matters, we should seek the truth: Intellectual honesty requires that. If the facts show that Pope Francis has made errors or bad prudential judgments, that reality should be faced. But we should be ready to give him the benefit of the doubt when there is doubt.
Catholics are often accused of being brainwashed into believing anything the Pope chooses to tell them, and we will lend credence to that fallacy it we refuse to face the facts where Pope Francis is concerned.
Further, if we are uncritical we will be led into error if the Pope in fact makes mistakes.
Besides this, if those moderate theologians and bishops are right who are asking for clarification from Pope Francis, they deserve our support for their courageous stand. We should not close our minds and remain silent in the mistaken belief that loyalty to the Pope and the Church requires this.
An important point to note is that many of the Pope’s statements are not about faith or morals, and so of their very nature they don’t require our assent: for example, his belief that global warming is a reality.
Then there are practical judgments pertaining to faith or morals where we are entitled to think the Pope’s statements lack balance. For instance, he is right in saying that health and other issues can justify parents in not having further children (provided they don’t use contraceptive methods).
But he has made hurtful statements here, as in telling a woman she was tempting God by having a further child despite her ill health. Parents of big families have enough to contend with from anti-life bigots, without the Pope making tactless comments.
Again, he has suggested there is something wrong with young people who prefer the Latin (Extraordinary Form) of the Mass; a suggestion which is not only hurtful but just plain mistaken.
He suggests we should not try to convert people to Catholicism by argumentation, an opinion I believe to be quite wrong. How can such a view be reconciled with the approach taken by Christ Himself, and by the apostles and by numerous saints and scholars ever since?
Again, his strong and repeated condemnations of the death penalty need not be accepted. Catholics are free to make up their own minds on that controversial question, as Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette show in their recent excellent book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.
The Pope’s high praise of Martin Luther is another example. The historical evidence presents a very different picture, showing Luther as a disaster.
Then there was his comment, before the presidential election, that we should not build walls: a criticism of the position of Donald Trump. Whatever we think about that position, it was the height of imprudence for Pope Francis to make such a comment when the United States was facing the dire threat of Hillary Clinton becoming president. Suppose the Pope’s comment had tipped the scales in her favor!
Much more could be said, including his appointment of modernistic bishops, his downplaying of pro-life issues, his harshness to his critics. But it is not all negative. Pope Francis rightly sees the Church as a field hospital with the mission of showing deep compassion to a sinful and confused world. He realizes that ignorance, even among practicing Catholics, often minimizes their guilt for actions that are objectively mortally sinful, and sometimes even means they are without guilt.
He has also expressed himself beautifully on the holiness of matrimony, and has stressed the need for children to have both father and mother. The apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is very clear on those questions, as on the indissolubility of marriage (nn. 52, 62), on gender ideology (n. 56) and on the evil of abortion (n. 83).
The fact remains that the Pope’s advocacy of allowing people in a state of adultery to receive Holy Communion in some cases will prove disastrous if it continues. I wrote about this in an article “Should Some People in Irregular Unions Receive Communion?” (The Wanderer, March 23, 2017).
Here I want to return to the question, also dealt with in that article, about whether the Pope’s position here implies heresy. Some hold that it does.
The Council of Trent condemned as heresy the claim that the observance of God’s Commandments is impossible. “If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one who is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep: Let him be anathema” (Decree on Justification, canon 18).
I don’t believe the Pope’s position here contradicts what the Council of Trent taught. All theologians recognize that guilt may be diminished or even removed by ignorance, fear, prejudice, and other impediments.
While the Pope’s position is erroneous, I don’t think it rises to the level of embracing the errors of the Reformers condemned by the Council of Trent.
Trent was condemning the claim by Protestants that the corruption caused by original sin took away our freedom to avoid sin. To quote canon 5 in the Decree on Justification: “If anyone says that after Adam’s sin the free will of man is lost and extinct or that it is an empty concept, a term without real foundation, indeed, a fiction introduced by Satan into the Catholic Church, let him be anathema.”
Nonetheless, the Pope needs to make his position clearer.
In conclusion. The many positive elements in Pope Francis’ pontificate shouldn’t be ignored, but neither should the shortcomings. Ever since the 1960s, confusion has spread throughout the Church about the truths of faith and morals, despite the efforts of the Popes to defend the truth. Pope Francis rightly speaks of a field hospital.
Unfortunately his approach is not helping. Instead confusion is increasing, and the Church’s enemies, within and without, are making full use of that confusion.

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