Petitioning the Pope

Anyone who “does” religion in the public square is used to getting an earful about What’s Wrong with the World. And, often, How You’re Contributing to It. Why are you so alarmist, don’t you understand Christian joy? Or, why are you so naively sappy in your “ecumenical Christian nonsense tradition,” as one commentator recently put it? And you talk way too much. Why don’t you ever DO something?

Except in rare cases (which admittedly do exist, but here shall remain nameless), most of us in this game are not under the delusion that we’re God. We don’t know everything and can’t – with just the right combination of deeds and words – save the world.

To begin with, it’s already been done. And for some reason, the Person who did it thought it best to leave lots of things to work themselves out. Which they don’t look likely to until He comes again. So facing the perennial problems of the human race, especially in an age like ours, is an exercise in daily humility.

But I along with a whole group have recently done something – something that I, at least, normally don’t. We signed this “Filial Appeal” to the Holy Father, which makes a bold claim, namely, that “a word from Your Holiness is the only way to clarify the growing confusion amongst the faithful.” When it initially came to me from my friend Roberto de Mattei, one of the great living Catholic historians, fewer than 100 people were on board. More than 100,000 are now.

I almost never sign petitions, for much the same reason that I have never joined a political party. Many human activities are team sports and can only be practiced along with others, sometimes many others. But anyone who wants to be able to get up in the morning free to speak the truth – even to call out people who have otherwise been close allies in important struggles – has to sacrifice some things, group actions of a certain kind among them.

The Filial Appeal has attracted the signatures of Cardinal Burke and two other Cardinals (Latvia and Chile) along with various bishops and archbishops, the philosopher Josef Seifert, Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, EU Parliamentarians like Anna Zaborska, our colleagues Hadley Arkes and Austin Ruse, the distinguished novelist Piers Paul Read, among many other noteworthy men and women.

Over 100,000 signatures at press time
Over 100,000 signatures at press time. Click on the banner to sign.

Looking at the other “personalities” who have been specially singled out as signers presents some problems, especially from an American perspective. The presence of royals (I’m there, but a Royal in a different sense) and members of the old European nobility does not, to my mind, help a great deal. I have nothing against hereditary nobles – in fact, the few I’ve met seem much more polite and modest than the people who reflexively mock them. But just as a matter of politics and optics, they make the petition seem partly wedded to a mostly bygone past, when it is very much pointed towards the future.

Still, the situation of marriage and family – and their place in Church teaching – is so controverted at the moment, that for once I felt an obligation to bend, not entirely break, the rule. As the petition puts it:

Catholic teaching on the Sixth Commandment of the Law of God shines like a beacon. . . .This beacon attracts many people – overwhelmed by this hedonistic propaganda – to the chaste and fecund family model taught by the Gospel and in accordance with natural law.

Your Holiness, in light of information published on the last Synod, we note with anguish that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon seems to have dimmed in face of the onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies. In fact we see widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery – by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion – and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law.

As you can see for yourself if you look at (and perhaps sign) the brief text, the petition sent to the pope is mild and respectful in language, and aims at helping the pope carry out what he himself has proclaimed, in piecemeal fashion, as his mission. He’s admitted to surprise that some of his words and deeds have been misinterpreted, and this offers him a chance to correct those misimpressions.

I don’t know if the pope will respond to the request. On the whole, I’m inclined to think not. And you could even argue that for him to do so would be to politicize the question – which would no doubt cause people on the other side of the most controversial issues to make public appeals of their own. And then, we’d be off into nonstop PR campaigns between now and the October 2015 Synod on the Family. My best guess is that we will be anyway, even if the pope doesn’t respond.

But Pope Francis has asked people in other contexts to tell him truthfully what they think, not what they think he wants to hear. Now they have. He is Peter. He’ll have to decide to do what he thinks best with this request for a clarifying “word.”

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.