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Irony: You’re Doing it Right

May 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

The UK Catholic blog known as Protect the Pope has been effectively shut down by his bishop. The blogger, Nick Donnelly, is a married deacon, who is by virtue of his orders under obedience. Bishop Campbell is now attempting to make the case that despite silencing the blogger, he did not, in fact, shut down the blog.

In the last couple of years, however, Protect the Pope appears to have shifted its objective from a defence of Church teaching from those outside the Church to alleged internal dissent within the Church. With this shift, Protect the Pope has come to see itself as a ‘doctrinal watchdog’ over the writings and sayings of individuals, that is, of bishops, clergy and theologians in England & Wales and throughout the Catholic world.


On several occasions, I asked Deacon Nick, through my staff, for Protect the Pope to continue its good work in promoting and teaching the Catholic Faith, but to be careful not to take on individuals in the Church of opposing views through ad hominem and personal challenges. Unfortunately, this was not taken on board. Consequently, as a last resort, on 3 March 2014 and in a personal meeting with Deacon Nick Donnelly, I requested, as his Diocesan Ordinary, that Deacon Nick ‘pause’ all posting on the Protect the Pope website so as to allow for a period of prayer and reflection upon his position as an ordained cleric with regards to Protect the Pope and his own duties towards unity, truth and charity. The fact that this decision and our personal dialogue was made public on the Protect the Pope site and then misinterpreted by third parties is a matter of great regret. In fact, new posts continued on the site after this date – the site being handed over and administered/moderated in this period by Deacon Nick’s wife Martina.

On 13 April 2014 Deacon Nick requested in writing that he be allowed to resume posting again from the date: Monday 21 April 2014. I did not accept this request as the period of discernment had not yet concluded. Again, the fact that this decision was forced, misinterpreted and then released publicly on the site – and miscommunicated by certain media outlets and blogs – claiming that I had effectively ‘closed’, ‘supressed’ or ‘gagged’ Protect the Pope was regrettable and does not represent the truth of this situation. To be clear: I have not closed down Protect the Pope.


It is with a twinge of irony that I note something of interest which Donnelly posted back in February:

In his book ‘The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations’ St John Eudes wrote that God permits bad priests as a sign that He is  thoroughly angry with His people. In Chapter 11, Qualities of a Priest St John Eudes writes:

Bad priests are a sign of God’s anger

‘THE MOST EVIDENT MARK of God’s anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics’ who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds.

Instead of nourishing those committed to their care, they rend and devour them brutally. Instead of leading their people to God, they drag Christian souls into hell in their train. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they are its innocuous poison and its murky darkness.

St. Gregory the Great says that priests and pastors will stand condemned before God as the murderers of any souls lost through neglect or silence. Tot occidimus, quot ad mortem ire tepidi et tacentes videmus. Elsewhere St. Gregory asserts that nothing more angers God than to see those whom He set aside for the correction of others, give bad example by a wicked and depraved life.’

Instead of preventing offenses against His Majesty, such priests become themselves the first to persecute Him, they lose their zeal for the salvation of souls and think only of following their own inclinations. Their affections go no farther than earthly things, they eagerly bask in the empty praises of men, using their sacred ministry to serve their ambitions, they abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world, and in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits.

When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, “Return, 0 ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart” (Jer. 3, 14-15). Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin.’

These things seem interrelated. But maybe it’s just me.

Take The Red Pill

May 3, 2014 at 11:26 am


Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; ‘and even if my head would go through,’ thought poor Alice, ‘it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.’ For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

– Morpheus

It’s time to make a choice.  We’ve got to figure out which side we’re on — the side of truth, or the side that makes us feel safe and warm in our beds.

Things have been happening which Catholics might understandably believe to be impossible. Yet here we are. I don’t want to linger in Alice’s dark hall, do you? I have other things to do.

Fortunately, the situation in the Church is changing so rapidly that much of the wake-up work is being done for me. After everything else, the reinstatement of a public heretic without the requirement of the public renunciation of his scandalous writings makes me think we’re running out of catalysts. Any fence-sitters who don’t hop off soon are likely too afraid to ever come down.

Already there are some signs in the writings of mainstream Catholic figures that at last, they are being forced to confront difficult possibilities. Even if only to tell us that there is nothing to worry about. For example, see Simcha Fisher on “the phone call“:

What is not possible is that the Pope called her and said, “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.” Much as the Catholic Franciscophobes would like to believe it, the Pope has never said or taught anything that contradicts Church doctrine. Never.

(What was that Shakespeare said about protesting too much?)


Elizabeth Scalia has a more astute observation on the pope’s phone call:

Pope Francis is not stupid. He’s media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda. That leads many to conclude that he either doesn’t care and is content to “make a mess” and let the Holy Spirit sort it out (an idea I reject because I do not believe Francis wants the destructive energy of chaos about him) or that he wants to create a buzz that will influence discussions at the Extraordinary Synod of the Family which will take place in October. That would be a manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic suggesting a pope who works in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.


Phil Lawler made a reluctant admission of his own about Francis’s penchant for obfuscation:

[I]t’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion, in ways that he should have anticipated. Some of those statements were bound to be interpreted in ways that will cause future problems for the Pope, and for countless other Catholics.


Father Dwight Longnecker, who has been very astute in his observations of the present situation, also wrote this week on the same topic. In his post, the problems which have arisen from this “papal style” (even if the pope is not “Machiavellian”)  are very cogently articulated:

When he behaves in this way he is causing confusion among the faithful. Should a pope interfere in the pastoral matters of an individual in another country? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the local pastor and bishop? Isn’t it a fair observation to ask why a pope who is all for downsizing the papacy, delegating and handing over to the people should then step in an get involved at a very local level? To ask these questions does not mean one is an arch conservative semi sedevacantist. It’s a matter of common sense.

Furthermore, shouldn’t a pope realize he is pope and behave accordingly? No matter what the pope’s personal style and personal preferences, he is now the pope and whether he likes it or not, people hang on his every word and action. Yes, yes, we all know that a chat with reporters on a plane or a personal phone call by a pope are not infallible doctrinal statements. The problem is, a huge number of people in the world don’t realize that. Pope Francis should therefore understand that he is no longer Padre Bergoglio and learn that one of the greatest things a pope can do is to not do anything.

There is another problem with Pope Francis’ style which is lurking in the background which I have not heard anyone else commenting on, and it is this: if a person in a public role trivializes that role with a very personal and informal style, then when they want to make a formal pronouncement the chances are that they will not be taken seriously. Make enough gaffes and speak off the cuff enough and soon the world will consider everything you say to be a gaffe and all your pronouncements to be inconsequential, off the cuff matters of opinion.

So when Pope Francis makes an off the cuff remark or an informal phone call that has to be “re-interpreted” and “put into context” by everyone from mommy bloggers in Iowa to the Vatican press office it cheapens all his statements. When he stands up and speaks formally about the evils of greed, the threat of war, the horrors of abortion or the crime of human trafficking–because he has made public off the cuff remarks which are matters of opinion hoi polloi and the press will treat those comments also as being no more than a matter of opinion.

When our modern relativistic society already considers most statements on everything to be no more than a matter of opinion, then the pope’s serious statements will then be dismissed as no more than one man’s opinion. He’s a nice man and everybody likes him, but his informality and off the cuff remarks have then cheapened his authority and whatever he says will be treated as no more than the opinion of that nice old codger in the white outfit in Rome. Catholics around the world are right to be alarmed at the Pope’s style.

Father Longnecker presents us with a conclusion-by-way-of-dichotomy, and it’s a doozy (emphasis mine):

The way things stand at the moment there are only two conclusions one can draw: first, that the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person or second, that in this area of personal style and communications he is an amateur and he needs to stop, take stock, listen to the experts and reign in his style.


You may have surmised which theory I subscribe to.


There is a famous quote from Sherlock Holmes in which he asks Watson the rhetorical question, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Earlier in the same book (The Sign of Four), he ascertains a great deal of information about Watson’s tragically deceased brother — much to Watson’s disbelief and dismay — merely by evaluating the condition of his watch, which remains in Watson’s possession. When confronted about the conclusions he has reached, and whether or not it was “mere guess-work”, Sherlock explains his method.

“I never guess.” Says Holmes. “It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend.”

The small facts upon which large inferences depend. These are the things that have begun to rise to the surface of this papacy. Seemingly insignificant occurrences when taken by themselves, but which add up to a tidal wave of change and misdirection. The interviews, the phone calls, the casual statements, the changing of rubrics, the breaking of traditions, the ostentatious humility, the endless stream of insults directed at traditional Catholics and Catholic piety, the cavalier attitude toward discipline, the reinstatement of unrepentant heretics, the frequent self-contradiction (making it impossible to pin down what he really believes), the praising of heterodox thinkers, the affectionate feelings expressed toward members of dangerous ideologies, the releasing of information before pulling it back, the setting of expectations long enough in advance that a course seems set, the glossing over of all manner of bad behavior under the auspices of “mercy” or “pastoral concern”…it all adds up.

It paints a picture of a man who may very well have said,  “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.”  Of a pope who is “not stupid” and is “media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda”. Of a shepherd who “doesn’t care and is content to ‘make a mess'” and is not afraid to employ a “manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic” and do so “in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.” It is true to say that “it’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion” that he not only “should have” but must have anticipated. And it is thus not at all illogical to conclude that “the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person.”

I would suggest to you that the diminishment of the papacy — or as he would call it, the Roman See — is something he will not fully embrace until he has used every last drop of that authority to change all that he can; to set an unalterable future course for the Catholic Church. He is opposed to the centralization of authority in the papacy except when he is ecstatically for it. I see it as a papal kamikaze mission, set to self-destruct the institution but still wringing from it the maximum benefit to the revolutionary agenda which animates this papacy.

Please. Take the red pill. Stop trying to find a way to tell yourself that what is happening is impossible, and start trying to understand what it means, and how we can survive it and rebuild.

“You Keep Using That Word. I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

May 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I have to admit, it’s kind of cool to have a handy rhetorical toolkit which you can apply to anything and it still works. As long as you’re of a certain mindset, it just becomes a matter of fill-in-the blanks.

Ready? I’ll try it.


The term for this is “mercy”. The essential paragraph:

Stefan Hartmann’s letter to the Vatican, which he posted on his Facebook page, requested release from the traditional oath “in acknowledgement of my weaknesses and failures, with all due humility and after long consideration of my conscience and personal situation”.

He has been a father for 25 years and is 59 years old. This is mercy – to allow him to be released from celibacy. I like a Church of mercy.


No wonder people are doing this so much these days. It’s so easy. Hardly an ounce of thought or effort required.

This Isn’t The End of the Road

April 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

“In my view, a Church which seeks above all to be attractive, is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and power. She works for Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong. She serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible…..”

– Pope Benedict XVI



Last night, as I was browsing the various commentaries on the Pope’s latest round of the Telephone Game, I came across this one by Fr. Ray Blake. The post is short, but one of his comments was, I think, quite telling of the panic inducing sense of contradiction this papacy is beginning to inflict:

The real question is, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ The only possible answer is in the affirmative, therefore any ‘strangeness’ is impossible, otherwise…, otherwise…. well, that is impossible to imagine, and millions of Catholics have been living a lie and our faith is built on sand.

Please allow me to illustrate this reaction in another way:


If you think about it, the analogy is perfect. Finding out that your father is really Darth Vader is going to give anyone a case of the Mondays.

The word “impossible” has been coming up a lot in reference to the idea that the pope could have said what he is alleged to have said on that phone call to the little missus in Argentina.

This is the thing that is troubling people. They can’t wrap their minds around the idea that a pope could really say something about faith and morals that is…wrong. Because what would that mean? Because what would happen next? BECAUSE THEN WE’D HAVE TO FACE THE FACT THAT THE WHOLE FAITH WOULD BE A LIE AND THAT WOULD BE INCONCEIVABLE!!!!

(You know I just had to.)


Later on in the comments, my ol’ pal Hilary White came riding in on the Horse of Good Sense. She wrote:

Father, I hate to correct a venerable priest, but I believe you are mistaken in your comment:

I don’t know what you mean by ‘strange’. The real question is, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ The only possible answer is in the affirmative, therefore any ‘strangeness’ is impossible, otherwise…, otherwise…. well, that is impossible to imagine, and millions of Catholics have been living a lie and our faith is built on sand.”

No, it certainly would not mean that. Not at all. This kind of thinking is what got us into this mess. The pope is not the Faith. The pope does not give us the Faith. If the pope loses the Faith, I don’t lose mine. If the pope is a heretic, an apostate, a schismatic or any of those horrible things, I don’t have to be those things too.

The Faith comes from God not Rome. The papacy is a key unit of the Church, so having such a bad one would be a terrible thing, but absolutely no reason whatever for anyone to lose their Faith.

I personally think we are in a unique situation. I have asked many smarty-smart people, who know lots of history and theology, when there has been a comparable disastrous period in the Church, and each one of them has said something like, “Well, the Arian crisis comes close, but this is probably worse.” And it is clear that the current worries about Francis are not isolated, unique or distinct from the general catastrophe that has befallen us.

Francis, if I may say something so dreadful, is a symptom – or perhaps the culmination – of the overall disaster that has become the ruling principle of the world since 1965. But again, this has no effect on the Faith. The Faith is simply the Truth. The Real. The realness of the Real does not change or fade because lots and lots of people want to deny it. Two and two still equal four. Marriage is still what it is. The Holy Eucharist is still the Holy Eucharist.

If the Papacy has been seized by bad men it does not mean that the things we believe are “built on sand”. It means only that the papacy has been seized by bad men. Bad men will do what bad men do, and we can do nothing but maintain and continue to proclaim what we know is true throughout their reign.

Facing up to the possibility that something very bad is going on does not necessitate a loss of the Faith. Fearing that the sky will fall if there is a bad pope, fearing it so much that one tries to retreat into denial of what we see plainly before us, will do nothing to help anyone.

Facing up to what is really happening is the only way to maintain the Faith. Retreating and saying, “oh, that couldn’t possibly happen and if it did then the Real is no longer the Real.” is going to allow the disaster to spread still further.

Only the Real counts. And if the pope and all the cardinals and bishops of the world try to say that something other than the Word of Christ is true, then we reject that as a wicked lie. We know what is true because we have the Faith.

As laypeople (and humble parish priests) our duty is clearly before us. We don’t have the power to stop bad men from doing bad things. But we have the power to continue to maintain the Faith, what we know. And to pray for a just solution to the terrible troubles of our times.


Father responded:

Where does it leave Christ promise to be with his Church forever, where does it leave our interpretation of ‘Tu es Petrus …’? Where does it leave the unity of the Church? If the Pope is what you suggest we have indeed built on sand.


I swear to heaven, sometimes I wish Vatican I never happened. So many problems would have been eliminated if not for the promulgation of that pesky doctrine of papal infallibility. Not that I don’t think popes are infallible. Of course there is such a thing as limited and specific papal infallibility.  But the problem with the promulgation (and Cardinal Newman saw it coming) is that now, everyone (including non-Catholics) thinks everything a pope says is infallible teaching for the Church — or at least pretty damn close. If they do not expressly believe this, it appears that they subconsciously do.  On the one hand, it gives rise to the uber-ultramontanists (or “papal positivists”, as Hilary likes to call them.) On the other, it gives us the sedevacantists, who are so bound up in their need to obey everything the Holy Father says that when he says something problematic that no reasonable person would consider binding, they say he’s a heretic and thus not the real pope. In every case, it means every papal utterance is scrutinized for meaning, for its level of authority, and for the extent to which it compels in the faithful the obligation of assent.

It makes people think that faithfulness to God’s laws and faithfulness to the pope are one and the same thing. Wrong. And if the pope does this thing that has everyone saying it isn’t possible, people are going to have to face that fact.

To paraphrase St. Thomas More — on the same bloody issue, it pains me to say– “I am the Pope’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

I also left a comment in response to Fr. Blake. So far on his blog, it is still awaiting moderation. So I’ll share it (slightly modified) with you here:


Juridically speaking, it is certainly possible. We have had both interregnums and antipopes – 30 of the latter, according to the Catholic encyclopedia.

The question is how it affects the man who is the visible head of the office. Since only the Church (most specifically in the person of the pope, who is her supreme legislator) has the authority to say that a pope is a heretic, and thus, in fact, an antipope, a pope would have to in a fit of conscience accuse himself, or a successor of his would have to accuse him posthumously.

A good treatise on this (and why the sedevacantists are wrong for arrogating to themselves the authority to make such judgments, but not wrong in recognizing that such a situation could exist) can be found here.

I would suggest that we have a unique situation on our hands. We have two popes currently living. Pope Benedict has not re-taken the title of “Cardinal Ratzinger” as those who abdicated before him did; he has not returned to his diocese or even stopped wearing his papal garb. If one were to hypothesize (and that’s all this is), one could imagine such a (far-fetched, but possible) scenario:

At the synod in October, Pope Francis fulfills our worst fears and supports this desecration of the Eucharist in the name of “mercy” and “pastoral concern”.

Those who believe that the papacy is the faith say, “If the pope wishes to change discipline, he can change it” and follow him.

But what if Pope Emeritus Benedict were to step forward, break his silence, and say that it was wrong? What if he were (to go deeper into this fantasy) admit that his abdication was coerced (thus making Francis’s election canonically invalid) because he was pressured to do some thing he could not in good conscience do and feared the very sort of schism that was now on his doorstep, and he was trying to forestall it?

Could it be possible that the Church could split into two camps, one with an anti-pope as head, and one with a real one?

I don’t see any legal reason that it could not.

I’m not aiming for plausibility here, I’m shooting for a scenario in which what might happen with this synod could make sense and yet not in any way mitigate the truth of the True Faith.

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

– Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Only a wild-ass theory? Yes. I offer no assurances that this is remotely likely, but I am trying to envision a scenario in which this thing could happen and the sky would not fall. I am looking, quite simply, for God’s contingency plan.

And as Belloc so wisely admonished, “Oh! Let us never never doubt what nobody is sure about.”

The “crisis of today” means that “the Church of tomorrow” will be smaller and have to start over. What could precipitate such a change? I think we’re seeing it taking shape right now.


People who say that what is happening in the Church right now is impossible are usually the ones who protest, “But the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church!”

And they’re right. Christ promised us.

He also promised his apostles that he would be with them “until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) And then he went and got himself crucified.

Don’t you think the apostles were maybe thinking along the same lines that many Catholics are now? Consider this passage from The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (emphasis mine):

When he found that they were asleep, he clasped his hands and fell down on his knees beside them, overcome with sorrow and anxiety, and said: ‘Simon, sleepest thou?’ They awoke, and raised him up, and he, in his desolation of spirit, said to them: ‘What? Could you not watch one hour with me?’ When they looked at him, and saw him pale and exhausted, scarcely able to support himself, bathed in sweat, trembling and shuddering,—when they heard how changed and almost inaudible his voice had become, they did not know what to think, and had he not been still surrounded by a well-known halo of light, they would never have recognised him as Jesus. John said to him: ‘Master, what has befallen thee? Must I call the other disciples? Ought we to take to flight?’ Jesus answered him: ‘Were I to live, teach, and perform miracles for thirty-three years longer, that would not suffice for the accomplishment of what must be fulfilled before this time tomorrow. Call not the eight; I did not bring them hither, because they could not see me thus agonising without being scandalised; they would yield to temptation, forget much of the past, and lose their confidence in me. But you, who have seen the Son of Man transfigured, may also see him under a cloud, and in dereliction of spirit; nevertheless, watch and pray, lest ye fall into temptation, for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’

– The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (p. 4). . Kindle Edition.


This is what is happening. Right now, seeing the Church agonizing and being compromised and the pope doing and saying unthinkable things, the faith of many is being severely challenged. And yet, even if the worst case comes to pass, even if the pope himself apostatizes, this isn’t the end of the road for us as Catholics.

This may really be the Church’s via dolorosa, but there will be a Road to Emmaus that follows. If you’re struggling with the possibilities, take heart. God is present and active in his Church in ways that we don’t see. God will find a way and keep his promises. He always does, even if he seems to take a certain delight in making us wait for it until it seems all hope is lost.

I prefer to ride the faith train. I am, by God’s grace alone, praying more these days than I ever have, and God is making his presence known to me in ways that are entirely new and incredibly comforting. Reach out to him. He sees the confusion and the hurt. He will console you. Take heart, and draw close to the Lord.

When it comes right down to it, this storm in the Church may be big, and it may be fearsome, but Jesus never let choppy seas ruffle his composure. His advice is the best advice: “Fear not, only believe.” (Mk. 5:36)

Oops, He Did it Again!

April 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm


So, the phone call happened.

Pope Francis called an Argentine woman married to a divorced man and reportedly told her that she could receive the sacrament of Communion, according to the woman’s husband, in an apparent contradiction of Catholic law.

Julio Sabetta, from San Lorenzo in the Pope’s home country, said his wife, Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona, spoke with Francis on Monday.

Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona wrote to the pontiff in September to ask for clarification on the Communion issue, according to her husband, who said his divorced status had prevented her from receiving the sacrament.

“She spoke with the Pope, and he said she was absolved of all sins and she could go and get the Holy Communion because she was not doing anything wrong,” Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario, a CNN affiliate.

A Vatican spokesman confirmed the telephone call but would not comment on the conversation’s content.

“It’s between the Pope and the woman,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant for the Vatican press office.

Rosica said that any comments made by the Pope should not be construed as a change in church doctrine. “The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls.”

Is anyone else getting really, really tired of this game?

Pope Francis consistently says things that cause serious concern among Catholics who know what the Church teaches. No sooner have the words left his mouth (and of course, been reported on far and wide) than the spin machine goes into high gear — powered in large part by Catholic bloggers who make a living promoting the status quo within the Church (no conflict of interest there!) — telling us why we should not worry about the obviously controversial thing because of one of the following reasons:

  1. It’s a translation issue
  2. It’s a contextual issue
  3. When he said “X” it’s clear that he probably meant “Y”
  4. The source is unreliable
  5. The information is not first-hand
  6. We must look at the issue through the Argentinian cultural lens
  7. The media is misrepresenting what he said
  8. He contradicted himself in another thing that he said during a homily last week
  9. Fr. Lombardi says it ain’t true

Take your pick. There are probably others. I imagine the Catholic apologists in the tank for this nonsense have a sort of flow chart they pass around every time they add a new option. “Did the Pope speak in Italian? –> IF YES, it’s not his native language. Lost in Translation. IF NO…”

It’s a spin-the-wheel sort of system. Maybe there’s a papal 8-ball out there (in white, of course) where you shake it up and it gives you a series of half-believable reasons why whatever he said wasn’t really heterodox. Across the spectrum of Catholic publications and social media, it’s become a giant excuse-making enterprise. Almost like the Pope Francis edition of whack-a-mole.

You’ll have to excuse my sarcasm. I’m starting to find this all incredibly offensive, and insulting to the collective intelligence of Catholics who see what is really going on.


The Holy Father is, for all intents and purposes, shooting a rail gun into the heart of the faith. He is undeniably causing mass division and confusion, which are not signs of God’s work, and these things are particularly afflicting the faithful Catholics who are in the tiny minority among the world’s self-professed Catholics.

You can’t simply look at each incident as an isolated issue. You have to look at the problem comprehensively. All this build up about divorce and remarriage and communion. The endless goings on about pastoral concerns trumping rubrics. The condemnations of triumphalism and neo-pelagianism. The public praising of Kasper’s dangerous speech on the topic, and of him as a theologian. The constant shaking up of the way things are done and the obvious disregard for the way things are supposed be. The false humility which masks the absolutely unilateral power with which tradition is dispensed with. The insistence on collegiality and delegating papal authority to local bishops, only for the pope to go directly to people and make these kinds of phone calls.


Disruption. Disruption. Disruption.


You have a PR and management team analyzing the media and communications around this pontificate. I once worked for one of the best PR firms in the country.  I know what they do. They see the messages, the news stories, the thematic resonance. Things are weighed and measured. Responses are planned. If these people are not doing this, what are they doing? This is their job.

The pope has been made personally aware of the way people receive his comments (with “big eyes” no less.) He has responded directly (by phone!) to some of his critics, thanking them for their criticism (isn’t he MAGNANIMOUS?!). Still, he has not become sensitive to the fallout or changed his approach. He has not, in a word, become responsible.


So this phone call happens. It is reported that the pope tells this woman something that is clearly in contradiction with Church teaching. The Vatican press office is asked about it — and the story is confirmed — thus making the inner circle aware that people want to know, especially leading up to the synod in October, which will address this issue of communion for the divorced and remarried.

And yet, we receive no clarification. We get vagueries from Fr. Lombardi, which some are choosing to interpret as a polite way of saying that lies are being spread:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.


This doesn’t mean anything. It also makes no sense. 

Why would this woman lie if she got the answer she wanted? Why make something up?

And if she didn’t get the answer she wanted and did lie about it, only the Pope himself can say, “Yes, I spoke to her, but this is not what was said.” Since he knows this is becoming a big story, it behooves him to do this if he cares about preserving doctrinal clarity and avoiding unnecessarily scandalizing the faithful. If he doesn’t want to speak to it directly, the statement that needs to be made by the press office, with his authorization, is astonishingly simple:

“The Holy Father cannot comment on the contents of a personal phone call, but suffice to say that in his discussion he did, in fact, reaffirm the Church’s longstanding teaching on divorce and remarriage, and the conditions for the reception of communion.”

That kills the noise. Instead, this continues to get bigger and spread and affect people’s perceptions of what is really going on. The pope understands by now how fast the media machine works. He should be pretty used to creating controversy at this point, and a man in his position with his obligation to safeguard the sensus fidei would, one would assume, care a great deal about setting the record straight.

And yet…nothing.

This is EXACTLY what someone trying to change Church teaching through public perception rather than doctrinal alteration would want. If this isn’t planned, it’s the most unbelievably devilish luck.

I am forced to conclude that his silence is a form of consent. Which leads to other conclusions:

It is entirely possible that in order to maintain plausible deniability, he is not telling his own press people anything. After all, he’s the only one who could know the contents of the phone call other than Mrs. Sabetta, who has already told her side of the story. If they can only deny this in vagueries, what can come of it?

On the other hand, if he were to confirm he said this, it would send many faithful Catholics over the edge and into the camp with those of who believe we have a serious pope problem. Quite a risk.

So silence is a win/win for him. By not making it clear that he didn’t say this, he is showing that he has no problem with letting everyone believe that he did. Because nothing can be proven, many faithful Catholics will, in charity, assume that he would not say such a heretical thing. Those who ring the bell on this stuff [raises hand] will simply become a greater nuisance and further marginalized because they’re “apoplectic bedwetters” (or whatever unique epithet they’ll spin up) despite not knowing anything for certain.

And the inevitable, slow march toward allowing those living objectively in mortal sin to be admitted to communion will continue. No doubt many of them are already celebrating this story and the conclusions they may draw from it.

This follows the de jure vs. de facto hypothesis of fundamental Church transformation: the pope (and his ideological fellows) changes as much as possible through insinuation and indirect action. Everything is plausibly deniable or can be contextually explained away. But everyone hears that there is a new practice. They begin to act in kind. I have little doubt some divorced and remarried Catholics, seeing the handwriting on the wall, have already taken it upon themselves to present themselves for communion, feeling certain in their hearts that the pope himself is okay with this. What starts as an abuse may become an indult or pastoral discretionary provision, and later, just the norm.

Just like communion in the hand.

And like communion in the hand, this will not only cause a great many sacrilegious acts to occur, but it will erode still further the belief in the Real Presence until such superstitious nonsense (as it will no doubt be looked upon) will be nothing but an unhappy memory.

If I’m right about any of this, you have to give him credit. It’s a remarkably effective end run around the requirements of indefectibility. Change praxis sufficiently and doctrine becomes irrelevant.


Archbishop of Dublin Condemns the Messages of Maria Divine Mercy

April 16, 2014 at 9:07 am

It has come up in the comments a number of times as the discussion of the alleged locutions of Maria Divine Mercy has unfolded here over the past few weeks: only the Archbishop of Dublin has the jurisdiction and authority to condemn her messages.

It now appears that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has done exactly that:



Requests for clarification have been coming to the Archdiocese of Dublin concerning the authenticity of alleged visions and messages received by a person who calls herself “Maria Divine Mercy” and who may live in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wishes to state that these messages and alleged visions have no ecclesiastical approval and many of the texts are in contradiction with Catholic theology.

These messages should not be promoted or made use of within Catholic Church associations.


I have already offered my own opinion that these were false, but now the competent authority has drawn a line in the sand. Some will no doubt point out that Saint Faustina’s Diary and the Divine Mercy devotion were once condemned by the CDF, and are now among the most popular approved private revelations in the Church. That something like this could happen does not mean that it will happen. For now, the spirit of obedience and docility to Church authority that is demanded of the faithful means that Catholics need to distance themselves from the messages of “Maria Divine Mercy”.

There are enough indications in the Church of some form of coming chastisement without resorting to false messages from heaven that tell us things we want to hear, even if we only want to hear them because they confirm our fears.

Truth is what matters. God’s truth, not the idea of truth we want to impose on Him.

Keep praying. Keep asking for discernment. The enemy is laying traps to ensnare those of us who are seeing his sabotage of the Church. Don’t get pulled in.


UPDATE 4/19/2014: Since the discussion was no longer fruitful, comments on this post are closed.

A Word About “Maria Divine Mercy”

April 10, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Since we’ve been waxing apocalyptic here of late, it’s not at all surprising that certain private revelations have come up which warn of dire things to come in the immediate future. Foremost among these in the comment boxes has been “Maria Divine Mercy”, whose “messages” from on high can be found here. I admit, I read with interest certain of her prophecies, particularly after she predicted the departure of Pope Benedict from the papal office a year in advance (and repeatedly so) and certain other messages that seemed interestingly timed, like warnings of coming earthquakes just a few days before LA, Yellowstone, Chile, Oklahoma, and others started experiencing earthquakes of and unusual seismic activity. There are things I can’t explain about these “messages”, things that were predicted which seem unlikely without foreknowledge of some kind. And while most of the dozen or so I read seemed compatible with Catholic life, they almost always made me feel uneasy. I certainly have no authority to confirm them or, for that matter, to condemn them. Since I know it will come up, I’ll say this: I don’t discount them because of what they say about Pope Francis; he may not be the false prophet that MDM’s “messages” say he is, but he’s doing plenty of damage either way, and I am forced to admit that if he were revealed to be this “false prophet”, my most likely reaction would be, “Well, that explains some things.” Nor do I discount them because they claim that Pope Benedict was forced out of office. I’m afraid that that’s a possibility I haven’t yet been able to fully discount — and logic demands we admit that if he was coerced, he would hardly confess it when asked if whatever danger he had been threatened with still existed. But this is all speculation. If we’re going to personally accept or reject private revelation that the Church has not yet spoken definitively on, it should be for more substantive reasons than things which can neither be proven or disproven within the contents of those “revelations”. There are certain aspects in some of the MDM messages which force me to conclude that they are most likely not genuine. The messages are supposed to be dictations from Mary, God the Father, and Jesus, but the messages themselves do not, in my opinion, reflect the sense of the way any of these heavenly figures would speak or have spoken (when taking other approved apparitions into account). Further, I find the messages like this deeply troubling, and entirely outside the realm of Catholic thought. My analysis is lifted directly from the comment boxes:

The big problem with that message … is this:

“Never interfere with the Power of the Holy Spirit for this is a very serious sin. In these messages the Voice of the Holy Spirit is being poured out to save mankind from eternal damnation. You may deny Me, your Jesus, or the Divine messages given to you by My Beloved Mother and you will be forgiven. For all of you have the right to discern such Holy Messages because of your gift of free will. However, when you reject the Holy Spirit and publicly blaspheme against it this is an eternal sin and only a miracle, sanctioned by God the Father, can save your soul.”

I have been skeptical since I first encountered the messages, but some of them confirmed my own suspicions or predicted things that seem impossible to have predicted. But it was when I read the words above that I felt strongly for the first time that these messages are fake. The Church never demands that we follow private revelation. Instead, she teaches:

“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium[collective sense of the faithful] knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 67).

God would never demand that people believe what the Church — to which He has given the power to “bind and loose” — does not compel them to believe. Nor would He say that those who are skeptical of private revelation are “blaspheming” against the Holy Spirit. This is a major red flag. First, because this is not the Church’s understanding of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church believes (see Aquinas/Augustinehttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/3014.htm ) that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is actually the act of “final impenitence” — namely, that a person has so cultivated a habit of malicious sin that he is unable to be repentant at the hour of death. It has also at times been understood to mean suicide, because again, final penitence for the mortal sin of taking one’s own life is impossible. (You could argue that these are both sins against hope, especially hope of eternal salvation, which is a virtue strongly associated with the Holy Spirit). Secondly, because this seeks to squash criticism or critical analysis of these private revelations. Truth bears every scrutiny and stands unscathed. Trying to create the fear of hell in those who might be critical of private, non-binding revelation is simply not in line with any Catholic conception of God. As much as there is something interesting happening here, I am growing very wary of it’s nature and source. That it could bear good fruit in your life may have nothing to do with the messages themselves and everything to do with God rewarding your faith in Him, even if these are not real messages *from* Him. He can certainly draw good from evil, so the experience you’ve had is not outside the realm of possibility.

Also germane to the discussion is something pointed out by a commenter named Tim, who says:

Visions are not like sacraments, which produce their effect by their own power (that is, the power of Christ working through them) in those who do not place an obstacle. One of the most approved series of visions are those of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. On one occasion, He had told her to do something, but her Superior did not approve. When He came again, she asked Him about this, and He replied: “Therefore not only do I desire that you should do what your Superior commands, but also that you should do nothing of all that I order without their consent. I love obedience, and without it no one can please me” (Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary # 47).” That’s quite a contrast from the “Jesus” of mdm who says” Obedience to Me at all times is expected of you.” (message of Oct. 13, 2011)

It always comes back to obedience. To the visible structure of the Church that God left us. We simply can’t trust any private revelation that seeks to circumvent or supercede the Church’s God-given authority. I believe that it’s possible for the man everyone thinks is pope to not truly be pope, and thus give the appearance of promulgating error, but I also believe that the only man who has the authority to address or correct this would be a legitimate successor of Saint Peter — whether he says it from Rome or from a catacomb somewhere. We don’t know what will befall the Church before Christ comes again, but there’s enough biblical prophecy and approved private revelation out there telling us it may not be pretty that it’s not unreasonable to believe that it…may not be pretty. I’m really not interested in starting a flame war in the comments, but I feel it’s important for me to address this issue since I brought it up by quoting Dr. Bowring’s work. For the time being, I’m forced to conclude that Maria Divine Mercy’s messages — whether in their entirety or in part — should not be trusted. I’ll leave it to the Church to put the nail in that coffin or not.   UPDATE (4/16/2014): The Archbishop of Dublin has now released a statement condemning the messages of Maria Divine Mercy. You can read his statement here.

Lines of Division and Convergence

April 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Yesterday, several people sent me this article by Thomas McDonald, which makes it sound as though if you’re listening to guys like me and my apocalyptic musings, you’re somewhere between a crazy person in the making and a pitiable apostate. I had some back and forth with the author on Twitter, and it got contentious, but in the end I tried to salvage the debate. I knew that there would be people who would disagree with and even malign me, and I said in advance that I don’t doubt the sincerity of their faith even if I think they’re reaching the wrong conclusions. There is no surprise here.

What is surprising is this.

Posted in the comments today or yesterday, this article is strikingly similar in its analysis and conclusions to what I wrote in “Something Wicked.” Certain specific insights — like the relationship between Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s prophecied concession that “could not be granted” with the possible move to admit the divorced and remarried to communion — are things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Then I looked at the date, and it was written a solid two weeks before I wrote mine. But today is the first time I’ve seen it.

The author, Dr. Kelly Bowring, has seemingly solid credentials. Certainly stronger bona fides than my own:

Dr. Kelly Bowring, a theologian, author and popular speaker, received his pontifical doctorate from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome), his licentiate from Dominican House and the John Paul II Institute (Washington DC), and his masters from Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), and has the Church’s mandatum to teach theology.

Dr. Bowring has been Dean of the Graduate School of Theology & Program of Catholic Studies (GST) at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Dean of Spiritual Mission and a professor of sacred theology at Southern Catholic College and an institute director and theologian at St. Mary’s College of Ave Maria University.

He has been featured as a Who’s Who among America’s teachers. He has traveled widely to international Catholic and Marian libraries and shrines and has spent years researching solid sources to utilize in his presentations, writings and books.

Known for his dynamic yet understandable teaching style, his books are sure to please any reading audience. Dr. Bowring and his wife, Diana, have eight children.

Dr. Bowring cites certain sources that are questionable, including Maria Divine Mercy (which he attempts to assess for veracity here) and reaches some bold hypotheticals. In fact, despite his obvious caution, he takes my concerns about Pope Francis further than I have felt comfortable doing:

As a Catholic theologian, I say this with great trepidation, and I ask the reader to hear me out before drawing your own conclusion. It is apparent to faithful Catholics today, and more and more so as the past year progressed, that some of Pope Francis’ actions and teachings have raised legitimate and serious concerns. This article asks you to look at the disconcerting actions and statements of Pope Francis and the “Francis effect” in the light of the potentially related prophecies about him. Of course, time will make things clearer as to his plans and agenda, as he moves beyond his now famous rhetoric toward implementation. So for now, I withhold any conclusions, instead giving Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, always remaining obedient to the Church as a faithful Catholic theologian. But, alert and investigative I shall remain, and I think that if he is a valid Pope, and the prophecies are wrong and his disturbing rhetoric is just for effect, he will be glad for my vigilance on behalf of the Church.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to present to you the reader some of the reasons that have led me to this current supposition. First, I will present the credible heavenly prophecies about the False Prophet, then what to expect from the False Prophet according to the prophecies, and finally how Catholics should respond to the possibility and growing concern that Pope Francis might be the False Prophet.

He gives extensive citations from private revelation and prophecy. He applies these to some of the disturbing things we’re seeing happening in the Church today, and it’s impossible not to see that they could fit. It’s a very compelling read. He also gives the reason why we should be talking about these things, which some people (like McDonald, cited above) can’t seem to understand:

Catholics believe that by the will and teaching of Christ, the Magisterium of the Church is protected with the charism of infallibility such that by the power of Holy Spirit the Pope cannot ever err in his official teaching on matters of faith and morals. The true Church will never err in faith and morals. As Catholics, we know this is true. So let no one tamper or interfere with the Word of God.

On the other hand, if a Pope personally embraces a heresy (false doctrine or immorality), even in secret, then he is de facto no longer Pope. So then, if a Pope teaches a false doctrine (or changes doctrine), then this is the sure “sign” he is not a valid Pope, as I have addressed in another article. In such a case, his teachings should not be obeyed and he should not be followed. Faithful Catholics must be attuned to this possibility, especially given the heavenly prophecies related to this and given the serious concerns Pope Francis continues to raise, as well as the path he seems to be leaning toward. But, due to our required obedience to the Magisterium, we cannot decide exclusively for ourselves whether he is in heresy and thus invalid. We must wait until the Church’s otherwise highest authority (like Pope Emeritus Benedict) declares it so and presents the clearest evidence.


Remain alert and investigative. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope it will all blow over. Given both the prophecies and the Pope’s track record of troubling statements, it is permitted and even proper given these circumstances to be evaluative and even somewhat critical of Pope Francis’ actions and teachings. As Catholics, it is permitted to consider the possibility that he may be the False Prophet, while not yet concluding it. Thus, at this point, it is not helpful to excessively praise everything he says and does, mistakenly thinking that this will make you a better or more faithful Catholic in the process. Instead, we should look at what he is saying and doing with a critical eye of reason, as the times call for it, while keeping our faith intact. Indeed, this situation that is brewing may scandalize us. But, let us recall St. Thomas Aquinas who quotes Gregory saying: “If people are scandalized at the truth, it is better to allow the birth of scandal, than to abandon the truth.” Remember, suspicion does not mean a conclusion of guilt, only the possibility of guilt, and thus the need for an investigation. And, as far as what we should do, just share these prophecies and papal concerns – “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Just let it loose. It will defend itself,” says St. Augustine. So be watchmen of the Church’s morals and doctrine and ambassadors of these heavenly prophecies. For a time still, even if things get worse, do not be surprised if even good Bishops and theologians are confused and misdirected in their leanings and enthusiasms. Soon enough, if things are as prophesy indicates, they will become clearer to them and to large numbers of the faithful. Be patient and persevering.

There’s much more. I recommend reading the whole thing.

So. What to make of all this? Well, I pass this along solely for your consideration, but it strikes me that multiple people may be reaching the same, unlikely conclusions for a reason. I don’t know this for a fact, but it is possible that there are certain…promptings at work. 

And it really is time for us to be critical thinkers. We should apply a healthy skepticism to everything under the guise of religious truth right now, whether it’s coming from the Vatican or from prophecy and private revelation. We know what the Church teaches, so if we stay close to the source, we shouldn’t come unmoored. Any theory (and of course, I apply that to my own) should be taken as just that. At the same time, I think it’s important to know that when there is an absence of definitive facts, we should also listen to our instincts. They’ve been given to us for a reason. We should be praying daily to God for guidance and discernment in all things. We should be spiritually preparing ourselves for battle.

All of that being said, one thing I agree with McDonald about is this: 

Those who have faith don’t fear the future. We already know the end: we win.

It’s true. But the parts between now and then get pretty dicey. Souls will be led astray, and ultimately lost. Whether the final battle is next week or next century, it’s not going to be a picnic. My faith could be a lot stronger, and so could my sacramental life.

To be perfectly honest, I’d really rather not face the Eschaton right now, or I’m in big trouble. How about you?

UPDATE 4/10/14: I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe the messages of Maria Divine Mercy (MDM) are genuine. You can read more about that here.

Putting the Torch to Straw Men

March 31, 2014 at 11:36 am


In some of the discussions I’ve been having subsequent to the post that went nuclear, there have been certain allegations of this or that thing that I must believe because of what I am saying. Then people argue with me based on those things, instead of anything that I actually believe.

There’s little I dislike more than when people tell me what I am thinking. Especially when I’m not thinking those things.

So, I’d like to address a few items:


On the Question of Papal Criticism

I hear it all the time these days: “Are you more Catholic than the pope? Who are you to criticize him? The Holy Spirit picked the pope, and I trust God!!!”

God does not pick the pope. The college of cardinals does. (And this includes men like Kasper and Mahoney and Danneels, etc.) There is nothing in Catholic teaching to even indicate this. On the contrary, we have no less an authority than a certain Cardinal-who-became-pope, Joseph Ratzinger, on this very topic (from NCR/John Allen):

Perhaps the classic expression of this idea belongs to none other than the outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

Then the clincher:

“There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

Secondly, even a pope is not above criticism. St. Catherine of Sienna certainly knew that when she was trying to encourage her own pontiff (Gregory XI) to man up and leave Avignon to come back to Rome. She wrote:

“Since [Christ] has given you authority and you have accepted it, you ought to be using the power and strength that is yours.  If you don’t intend to use it, it would be better and more to God’s honor and the good of your soul to resign….If I were in your place, I would be afraid of incurring divine judgment.”   Later in her letter she continued, “Cursed be you, for time and power were entrusted to you and you did not use them!”

Of course, it was a good deal easier to get the pope to read your letters back then. (I’ve never had a pope respond to my emails or tweets. Nor do I expect one to.)

Though not by name, Dante went so far as to put  Pope Celestine V in hell. (Anecdotally, it is believed that he wrote him into the Inferno because he abdicated — the last pope to do so before Benedict XVI — and his abdication cleared the path for Boniface VIII, who Dante was not so fond of.)

Personal correspondence and literary condemnations are two forms of papal criticism which were appropriate for their times. But theologians knew it as well. The 16th century yields us this pearl of wisdom:

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations”

– Fr. Melchior Cano O.P., Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent.

Of course, if you want to go all the way back to the beginning, Paul rebuked Peter “to the face”.

You get my point. It’s not unprecedented to be critical of a pope. And I would argue that our situation is really quite unique. Unlike any time in history, a man’s words can reach the four corners of the Earth instantaneously. We live in a very public world, and this papacy has found global resonance through the megaphone of our massive media apparatus.

This means that when the pope says something erroneous — or something that leads people to an erroneous conclusion, even if it’s not what he’s really saying — it spreads like wildfire. One needn’t change the doctrines of the Church to convince people that they’ve been changed. And really, all that matters in practical terms is the convincing. That’s what prompts changes in behavior and belief.

Because of this, it would seem that those Catholics who know their faith well enough to detect the problems have an obligation to speak up and to make sure that errors, perceived or real, are clearly refuted somewhere. Even if it’s somewhere as lowly as a blog or a Facebook post, it tends to get seen by at least a few folks who might need to know. Evangelization happens the same way: one soul at a time. You might tell a thousand people about your beliefs and only one converts. That’s effort well spent. In the same way, it seems only right that we help our fellow Catholics (especially those who are not as well catechized) to know that they should be on the lookout for certain errors, even from the highest prelates of the Church. Pope Francis and his inner circle have been saying enough that is, if not outright wrong, close enough to being wrong that it distorts the truth. Unless we know to turn up our filters, we may well imbibe some of that ourselves.

All of this doesn’t make me very popular in a faith filled with people who believe that orthodoxy and papistry are synonymous. It really is understandable that many would have reached the conclusion that something just shy of papolatry is the hallmark of faithful sons of the Church. In the turmoil that followed the Second Vatican Council, the only rock in the storm was the rock of St. Peter. Still high on the relatively-new doctrine of papal infallibility, the person of the pope became seen as the beacon of divinely-protected truth in the theological darkness and confusion. Clinging to him was safe. Defending him typically meant you were staring down someone who was no friend of Christ.

But like the Novus Ordo, the reverence of which is almost entirely dependent upon the personal piety of the celebrant, this false equivalence between ultramontanism and orthodoxy depends entirely on the character of the man on Peter’s throne. Put a Cardinal Mahoney in the papacy and suddenly everything is different. (And let’s remember that Cardinal Mahoney was specifically told to vote in the conclave, so he had his say, and he is a noted Francis fan.) Being put in this position leaves reflexive papists floundering. What do you do when you believe being a good Catholic means defending every word and action of the pope, but the pope starts doing or saying things you’re not sure you should defend? Bit of a quandry, that. It makes people cranky.

So it’s also not surprising that someone insinuated I (or at least the kind of people who would write what I wrote) needed to be told:

“[T]o claim that there is no valid pope or that Vatican II was an invalid council or that the sacraments celebrated according to the current missal as invalid is heresy and schism. And all the more satanically ironic for the fact that it’s people who claim to take a very strict view of extra ecclesiam nulla salus who are putting themselves outside of that very Church.”

I respond:

Now of course a case could be made, (cf. Bellarmine) that a pope who embraces heresy excommunicates himself and thus no longer has a valid office. It has always been theoretical, and popes who have done things along these lines have usually for various reasons been later discovered to be antipopes.

Canon law does come to bear:

“Canon 1325, §. 2 of the 1917 Code stated: “If a baptized person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy,” and Canon 2314, § 1 stated: “Such a person automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication.” (1) These two articles are still in force in the new and concessive 1983 Code (cc. 751, 1364).”

It is historically true that there have been antipopes; it is also theoretically possible that a reigning pope could, by attempting to teach heresy, vacate his own seat. I haven’t gone so far as to suggest that, but I do feel strongly that Francis is testing those waters. (Whether formally or only materially is up for debate.)

But as I recently said to a sedevacantist I was arguing with, “Even if he’s not the real pope, it’s outside our competence to judge him so. Only a successor to St. Peter can.”

This is important. We can and should be critical of and resist what’s being said and done that we believe is wrong; we can personally not like the man who holds the office;  we can even privately believe he’s a raging heretic if that’s where our research leads us. But until another vicar of Christ says otherwise, Pope Francis is the pope. My pope. Your pope. Full stop. We owe him our prayers, and we owe our assent to any authoritative teaching he makes.


On to the second point: I don’t make the case that Vatican II was an invalid council; I do think it was a damaging and unnecessary council. Pope Paul VI conceded that it was pastoral council. It introduced nothing new to the deposit of faith, and was only dogmatic where and when it reaffirmed existing dogma. It’s non-essential, and problematic, and its dangerous ambiguities could be addressed and corrected by a subsequent council. Just for clarity’s sake, let’s trot out the well-worn quotes:

Pope Benedict XVI (while Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) clearly stated the nature of the Second Vatican Council was pastoral, as the council defined no doctrine infallibly, and sought to maintain a lower profile than previous ecumenical councils….

The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI
given July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile

This echoes the words of Pope Paul VI, who concluded the Second Vatican Council, and also stated it was purely pastoral in nature, having not applied the “note of infallibility” to any particular document….

In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document.

Pope Paul VI
General Audience, 12 January 1966


Third point: I don’t make the case that the sacraments celebrated according to the current missal are invalid (though it can more easily occur because of the loss of structure and ease of improvisation in the new rubrics, as well as the general loss of belief in the real presence among priests, which could nullify intent). I instead find that the validity of the new Mass is precisely what makes it so problematic: it can’t simply be dismissed as an abuse, so it instead lingers as a Trojan horse for a protestantized anthropology of worship, horizontalism where there should be verticality, and an intentional diminishment of the sacrificial aspect of the Mass. Like tainted water, it paradoxically both nourishes and makes us sick.


Now, people do make compelling arguments in favor of all these positions I don’t actually hold. Compelling, but not convincing. Sedevacantism, for example, is a dead end, but they do their homework. Some of them are very nice people, but I get the feeling sometimes that they’ve crossed the line from sanity into a terrible, hopeless world from which they see no exit. Never get in a prooftexting fight with a sede. As Chesterton wrote:

If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.


The final charge that I will deal with is this: the assumption that if not a sedevacantist-in-the-making, I must at least be in schism. Which for most mainstream Catholics is synonymous with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

The truth is, in my ten years of “traditionalism” I have never darkened the doorstep of an SSPX chapel, let alone any of the independent ones. It is important to me to maintain visible continuity with the Church, and insofar as the Church has maintained access to her own tradition, however sparsely, I see no reason to change that.

That said, the SSPX are really not that problematic other than (at least in my experience) their grumpiness; there is not an authentic Catholic teaching to which they do not adhere, and (depending on what week it is or who you talk to at the Vatican) they are aren’t it’s so confusing might or might not be in actual schism. Personally, I strongly dislike their opinion that disobedience to a sovereign pontiff was the only way to accomplish God’s will and retain what is sacred. I think that bespeaks a lack of trust in their own argument: that God wants the Tradition of his Church preserved. If He does (and I believe it) He’ll provide a way that doesn’t involve a direct violation of the orders of the Church’s supreme legislator. (All of that being said, I am growing increasingly sympathetic to their position. There are times when obedience demands too much, and we are never bound to violate our conscience out of obligation to a superior.)

So there you have it. Just saying that you’re “Catholic” these days means very little, considering the diversity of belief within the Church. There are lots of labels floating around, but there are subcategories even within those. I think it’s important to make my positions on these things clear. I believe it’s possible to be highly critical of what is happening within the Church without ever stepping outside of the Church to do so, and still recognizing the authority structures that exist. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk, but it’s doable.


Some Resources for (Spiritual) Battle

March 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm


After yesterday’s post, and many comments and emails,  I now know there are a surprising number of you who share my concerns about what is to come. There is also a lingering sense of “Okay, but what can I do about it?”

I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. Just because I’m yelling “fire” doesn’t mean I have an extinguisher. As I muddle through, I think it’s increasingly important, though, to take stock of the weapons at our disposal for spiritual warfare.

It should go without saying that you should get to Mass and confession as often as possible. As I find going to the Novus Ordo any more than necessary rather…problematic, I haven’t been to daily Mass in a long time. I miss it. If you’ve got a good Mass you can get to, go. Make confession at least monthly. More often isn’t bad.

At home is where you’ll expend most of your efforts. If you can, try saying Saint Patrick’s Breastplate with your morning prayers. (If you’re not doing morning prayers, start. Even if it’s in the shower while you’re getting ready. That’s what memorized rote prayers are for.) I started saying this one after working for an exorcist for a while and seeing first-hand the reality of demonic activity in the world. The version I’ve always said uses the “I arise today” language, but I’ve recently become aware of a different version that says, “I bind unto myself today“.  This change may seem insignificant, but “binding” is a powerful concept in spiritual warfare, so I’m intrigued. Either way, invoking God’s power against the forces of darkness that exist in the world and are actively seeking the destruction of souls is of paramount importance. So make sure you say the long version, not the short one.

Speaking of long versions, did you know there’s one of those for the Saint Michael prayer too?

Pope Leo XIII, who wrote the Saint Michael prayer, also wrote an exorcism that can be said by the laity in their homes to keep them safe.

The rosary, as much as I find it a chore to say, is also absolutely critical. Our Lady keeps asking for it, so I’m going to have to start making myself do it. (Also the three Hail Marys devotion, asking, “Mary my Mother, Mary Immaculate, please preserve me from all mortal sin this day/night” is a big one.) 

Rounding out the catalog of prayers I take recourse to would be many found on this page. In addition to prayers renouncing particular sins that can encourage spiritual attacks and entanglements are prayers to reclaim ground from Satan, the renunciation of ancestral sins (which can have effects into the present time, thanks to the effects of covenants and curses, etc.), and prayers for the protection of self, family member, household, etc. There are even specific prayers for things like destroying occult objects (yes, these are real, and yes, they cause problems), rebuking particular spirits affecting a person or the household, etc.

In terms of sacramentals, if you don’t have them, get some Saint Benedict crucifixes. The ones that look like this:



We have them in all the bedrooms of the house, and some small ones that can be worn when needed. These are particularly powerful sacramentals, and I’d rather have them than any other kind when dealing with spiritual warfare. The reason is that the Saint Benedict medal has a secret weapon:

The back of the medal is dominated by a large cross. The letters on the cross are actually the initials for the Latin phrases: Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux (The Holy Cross be my light) and Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux (Let not the dragon be my guide).

In the four corners are circles with the letters CSPB. These letters are the initials for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict).

At the top is the word Pax (peace). Around the edge are the initials for the exorcism prayer: Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana – Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas (Begone, Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities – evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thy own poison).

Scapulars are good. They’re cheap. And they’re awesome. I have worn one for most of my life. Miraculous medals are good too.

Have blessed candles, especially those made of beeswax, in the home. Lighting them for specific intentions or during the family rosary is a good idea.

Make sure to have some holy water on hand at all times. Not just any holy water, mind you. You want some created using the old rite of blessing. You may think this is just my personal preference, but it isn’t. Just as sacramental forms, gestures, and words have meaning to us, they do similarly in the supernatural realm. I know a priest who was at a “healing Mass” when a woman began manifesting something that was clearly demonic. Another priest there ran and got water and quickly blessed it, then threw it on the woman. A voice that was clearly not hers came out and said:


My priest friend got himself an old book of blessings real quickly after that, and used nothing else to make holy water from that point forward.

Another powerful weapon is the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart. Give this one some serious thought. Read about it. It’s a big deal.

Finally, make sure you have your home blessed. Get it done by the most knowledgeable, thorough priest you know. Someone who will get all the nooks, crannies, and dark corners with holy water. I wish more priests would offer to bless homes, but most will do it if you ask them. Give them a nice dinner as a thank you.

That’s all that I have that immediately comes to mind. Many of you no doubt have devotions of your own that you would recommend. Please feel free to leave them in the comments.