The Church Universal

Though she might herself be universal, I would not expect the Catholic Church ever to dominate the whole planet. Why? Because if that were the divine intention, it would surely have been achieved by now, two thousand years after the mission started.

I take long walks; I think about these things. It is thinking like this that got me into the Catholic Church in the first place – slowly, though in retrospect, surely. For the Catholic Church I joined was not what existed on the 31st of December, 2003. I did not even find that Church especially attractive. It looked to me more like the Anglican one I was leaving, if writ much larger. More of a bad thing isn’t necessarily a better thing.

And note, that was the Church of Saint John Paul II, whom I unquestionably admired; and soon of beloved Benedict XVI, whom I had considered the finest living mind in Christendom, long before I became a Catholic. Yet I was fully aware from history that there could be good popes, or bad; that even the best imaginable pontificate would be passing.

Rather, it was the “Church of the Ages” into which I was received. It took me half a century to get there; would have taken me only half that time (from birth) had there not been serious obstacles to both understanding and action that delayed my crossing of the Tiber.

In retrospect, they were foolish things; the more foolish, the better I remember them. What can I say, except mea culpa? What can anyone say?

The truth is that I was driven away from the Catholic Church I vaguely intended to join, at the time of my Christian conversion, because the priests I then met were liberals. They had no time for “true believers,” only for social revolution. It had seemed the Roman Church was dead.

That was 1976, and in England – I think perhaps the spiritual and cultural nadir of Christendom. And any recovery since has felt less like true recovery than like the “dead cat bounce.”

Of course the Church, in the West, is in a bad way; she has been in continuous, visible disintegration throughout my adult life – since Vatican II, quite obviously, and less obviously before.

There was a deliciously low-budget film, made with good actors, in 1973. It was recommended to me this last week, and I am still somewhat in thrall – mostly to its imagery and voices.


Brian Moore (1921-99) wrote the screenplay and the underlying novella. He was of that last generation of talented writers who could, more or less, make a living from their loss of faith. This was because they could still remember what the faith was; and so could present real tensions; a real sense of loss.

I do not think one can lose what one has never purchased, never touched, never in some sense inhabited. Those who claim to be “recovering Catholics” today are, invariably, glib. Their revolt against the post-Conciliar Church is not against something convincing. Indeed the movie, both intentionally and unintentionally, explains this.

Though very much a product of the early 1970s, it seems strangely relevant today. It is set in what was then the future – at the end of the twentieth century, in an obscure monastery on an island in Western Ireland, that had survived the Middle Ages, largely intact, because Oliver Cromwell never got quite that far. It was still offering the Latin Mass on Sundays, to villagers on the mainland in the time after “Vatican IV” – which had apparently ruled that Catholics should no longer believe in miracles, or the Real Presence.

Thanks to the visit of a television crew, the anomaly of these Irish monks had come to the attention of the wide world. People by the thousands were flying in to participate in that Mass. This was a problem for Rome, which was in the advanced stages of ecumenical negotiations with the Buddhists. It rocked their boat, and so the Father General of the monastic order had sent out a hip young American (Martin Sheen), to put an end to it. His confrontation with the charming old abbot (played by Trevor Howard) supplies the plot.

Now, Brian Moore wrote a trick ending in which the abbot, secretly an atheist, relents. He sees himself, finally, as only a foreman: he must obey his superiors, just as his monks must obey him. He will crush their inchoate rebellion. In the last analysis, he knows how to be firm.

At a time when a parallel crisis is developing in the Church, on a much larger scale, the film feels strangely prognostic. It seizes upon the dramatic possibilities, when the monks’ vowed obedience to God comes into conflict with their vowed obedience to their duly appointed ecclesial superiors.

This happens, and is extremely painful, because extremely destructive. What would happen if, to use an extreme case, the pope told us one thing, when Christ had said another? Of course it would pull the Church apart; at least, that part of the Church inhabited by the faithful.

So what is one to do? Fast and pray is the monks’ spontaneous answer. Which, in the movie, they are ordered not to do. The screws are being turned on them. In the main frame, the screenwriter dwells only on the personalities of the two “post-Catholic” protagonists; but he has given us a good glimpse of what is happening to all the “little people” in the background. And he does allow, at the very end, the possibility that God may still sort it out.

God will, I have no doubt. In the meanwhile, this is just like the world. The struggle to maintain Catholic faith, in the face of the world and even “post-Catholic” authority, will go on. So long as the world remains, there will be no final victory here; not until Time itself unravels.

But Christ’s Church is immortal; men come and go.

David Warren

David Warren

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    The Catholic Church is not a theory, but a thing.

    Mgr Ronald Knox, when still an Anglican, asked himself this question: “Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?” He came to realise that the only really satisfactory answer is that the “Catholics” had the bishop of Rome in their party and the Nestorians did not.

    “[I]f you ask a Catholic “What is the Catholic Faith? ” and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition “the Church which holds the Catholic Faith “; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.”

    It is the only test that avoids the question-begging assumption of defining Christians by their tenets, or the Church by its teaching and it is remarkably easy of application; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

    • Michael Dowd

      I was under the impression that the Pope is to be judged by how he upholds the historic doctrine of the Catholic Church. Failure to do this means he loses his authority. This concept is our only protection aside from the grace of God.

      • veritasetgratia

        Isnt there something in Revelation about that even the elect could be led astray but God will not let the confusion last too long in order to prevent the elect being led astray? Without special Grace, Catholics will not remain Catholic today. To me, it would require a special Grace to begin from scratch and find one’s way to the Catholic faith as a young person today.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Cardinal Manning disposed of the question of the “historic doctrine,” (to which the Nestorians and the Monophysites, for example, appeal), “But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed? ‘I answer: The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening”

        And he added, “The first and final question to be asked of these controversialists is : Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine…”

    • Chris in Maryland

      Naturally, as a great Catholic priest, Mgr Knox also realized that one can be in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and simultaneously reject errors that the Bishop of Rome pronounces, and mistakes that he makes.

      • Tarzan

        I think I agree with you, but let me restate to be sure: The Bishop of Rome is infallible when he speaks to the universal church from the Chair of St. Peter on matters of faith and morals. In this regard we own the obedience of faith. But when he speaks otherwise (which is practically 99.9% of the time), he is a man like anyone else (albeit hopefully a very learned man), and can make mistakes which should be corrected. Correcting him in such an instance does not rupture communion with him on matters of established doctrine. I do believe St. Paul did correct St. Peter on such an occasion.

        • Chris in Maryland

          Yes…although I am no authority myself on the Pope’s authority. But my best sense is that Ross Douthat put it quite well in the NYT (my poor re-construction): the Pope can deepen and strengthen the deposit of faith, but he cannot eliminate or deconstruct. His role is above all to preserve and defend the deposit of faith, to confirm the faithful in it, and to unify.
          I think it is on the very last point that Pope F is falling short. He seems to enjoy “stirring the pot” and – I am sorry to see – wounding people with words.
          The whole Pharisee double-talk puts it all in a nutshell: when you think about it…Kasper and Danneels and McCarrick and the rest of the St Galens mafia…and unfortunately for the Church Pope F…knew that they were taking the Pharisee position against the words of Jesus himself – so they purposefully began their campaign for change (McCarrick at Villanova – Bergoglio will change the Church in 5 years) by calling everyone who disagreed with them Pharisees.
          Clever ruse…but to people paying attention…too clever by half.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        As Knox says elsewhere, “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome. No doubt, in the long run this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them,”

    • Rick

      Isn’t it sad how we have devolved. In 430 we were forming councils to discuss deep theological differences like should Mary be referred to as Theotokos or Christotokos, and today in 2015, there are factions that want to say that “I do” doesn’t really mean “I do”

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Michael you should know we have had Pontiffs like the heretic Honorius I who ruled the Church for 13 years and non canonically elected Popes who are listed as anti-popes. If it is possible for this to occur above all the faithful Catholic must hold fast to the Truth contained in the Deposit of the Faith specifically living the words of Christ and not what unfortunately is possibly heretical in a world that is stricken with sin. God does not provide absolute protection of truth through any person if that person is not the genuine Vicar of Christ by election or in spirit. In the tumultuous history of the Church in the world going back through the Old Testament He permitted heretics like Ahab to rule Israel because of the iniquity of the people. Can that hold true for our day? Just consider the wide lack of faith among Catholics.

      • PCB

        Dear Fr.Morello – You commented in this site several days ago how your long held reverence for “the Papacy as the visual
        and doctrinal center of Catholicism and the bishop of Rome given special power
        by the Holy Spirit to assure to the faithful of doctrinal orthodoxy”, is shaken by Pope Francis. I was strongly moved by your admission then, because
        I have been accused to the degree of ridicule, of extreme naïveté for still believing the Pontiff is Graced by the Holy Spirit, as you say, “to assure to the faithful of doctrinal orthodoxy”. I recall it again here, because this current thread of discussion seems to have a close relation. I can only speak for myself, of course, but perhaps the greatest folly of holding this (archaic?) belief is that it may overlook the role that consent of the (free-) will plays in receiving the Holy Spirit’s Grace, and the absoluteness in which it (free-will) is respected by God, even for that of the Pope. I appreciate and applaud you for speaking truthfully from your own conscience and I share your concerns about this Pope greatly. Perhaps Francis’ constant exhortations to the faithful to pray for him is less emblematic of his extreme humility and more so, an indication that even the Holy Father himself, (if only sub-consciously), appreciates the extreme gravity of his apparent willingness to reject and break, “from the Apostolic Tradition for the first time in Church history”, to quote your earlier post – Let us pray with increased fervency that he will come to reject and retreat from any ill-fated courses, either out of genuine desire to conform himself to God’s Good, Right and Just Will, or imperfectly, to avoid the eternal consequences of disobedience.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          I will pray along with you for the Church. We are correct in relying on the Deposit of the Faith and Apostolic Tradition which Pope Francis cannot formally change. The unfortunate reality is that a pontiff can hold personal views that are in error and as with Francis is seeking to implement them informally. We have absolutely no obligation to abide to his opinions in fact the opposite is true. You can tell your chiding friends that only formal universal magisterial pronouncements from the Chair of Peter are considered infallible and Francis is no way near attempting that nor can he do so in contradiction to the Apostolic Tradition. The promises of Christ will not permit it.

          • kathleen

            Thank God!

        • kathleen

          When I pray the Rosary I always add prayers for the Holy Father after the Rosary, and to gain the indulgence. I used to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions – in the old days, prior to Pope Francis. I now pray for the Pope and that he will be guided only by the Holy Spirit. I pray that prayer every day in addition to the prayers for him after the Rosary. Always that the Holy Spirit will guide him. I ask Our Lady to pray for him. He seems to have great devotion to Our Lady, and that special devotion to Our Lady Undoer (sp?) of Knots. There is a Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, and it is known to be especially powerful. Let’s pray that Novena to Our Lady for Pope Francis. I, too, have wondered about Pope Francis’ constant request asking us to pray for him. The Holy Spirit at work.

          • PCB

            A wonderful suggestion!

    • ThirstforTruth

      Your very first statement is in error. The Catholic Church is not a theory….and it is NOT a thing!
      It is a living body with all the attributes of life, fully human and fully divine. Until you get that straight, don’t bother quoting Ronald Knox. If you do not fully grasp what the Church is, you do not fully grasp its Founder, Jesus Christ….nor the meaning
      of its existence.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      My response a couple of hours ago seems to have disappeared. Just as well. I can capsulate it by saying that the Holy Spirit has protected the integrity of the Deposit of the Faith which is essential and not the integrity of all pontiffs. That entire deposit has been exclusively preserved within the body of the Catholic Church. No pontiff has ever been allowed to change that Deposit. Although I agree the papacy has been despite policy errors a mainstay for preserving the Truth.

  • Michael Dowd

    I ask myself, knowing what I know now, would I become a Catholic today. From a this world point of view the answer would be clearly NO. So I do believe it requires a very special grace to become a Catholic today as being one is significantly penitential in so many outward ways. One’s faith is under continuous test especially now with Pope Francis. Of course, the test itself could be a special grace. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.

    • Joyfully

      It is a true miracle that any of us have faith and have come to Christ.

    • kathleen

      It is a great grace to be a Catholic – to truly believe – and to live a good Catholic life. In good times and bad. Richard Burton, the late British actor, said once in an interview “to be a Catholic, and to live it, oh, how difficult, but, oh, to die a Catholic…” I read that years ago, and it has stayed with me. We don’t know the day, nor the hour, when God will call us home. My son’s college friend of 30 years just died in his sleep at age 52. St. Paul said to work out our salvation in fear and trembling – the Church helps us to do that. Pray for Pope Francis every day – God will do the rest. And pray for the enemies of the Church – inside and out. God is in charge; He is allowing all this to happen for a greater good. When the purification has ended we will have a much smaller Church, holier and more faithful, remembering what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said before he became Pope.

    • Faithful Catholic

      “…it requires a very special grace to become a Catholic today as being one is significantly penitential in so many outward ways. One’s faith is under continuous test, especially now with Pope Francis.” Michael Dowd, you have described exactly how I feel about all this. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this time of spiritual trial. Let’s continue to encourage one another to keep the Faith. God bless.

  • veritasetgratia

    As a cradle Catholic, having experienced the Change-of-Gears in the Liturgy in 1969 one Sunday..abruptly..then the absolute change of tone in homilies consequently – I remember well the dearth of knowledge-profound thinking-logic all through the 1970’s followed by the ascendency of Pope JPII in the 1980’s where learning seemed to flow from him….and for me at least the great floodgates began opening up through the skills and passion of the new Catholic converts and for me they were all in the U.S.. But none of us have ever experienced living in a Catholic culture, even a religious culture. And yet having dived into the inexhaustability of the Catholic faith, is there life anywhere else?

  • Unanimous Consent

    Ahhh… CATHOLICS.

    I am 45, and I remember seeing this in 1988, right before the Lefebvrerist ordinations. I remember thinking at the time, what must their motivations be? How could anyone find themselves in such a situation that they would not submit to the Bishop of Rome? Is this movie prescient?

    Being from Connecticut, I went and visited their seminary in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I was about 18 at the time, and curious. I asked them the some questions . The two Priests met with made three clear points.

    First, they believed this was an issue of adherence to a dogma of the faith regarding extra ecclesiam, nullus salus And its relationship to how the Declaration on Religious Freedom was interpreted.

    Second, they cited immemorial tradition , and a state of necessity .

    Third, they believed forces in Rome were trying to change the Faith. the example they gave was the question of the sacrificial priesthood

    I thought to myself, this just isn’t good enough for me. I trusted those above me – in the same way Martin Sheen was demanding the Abbot trust Rome .

    I could never have imagined that we would arrive at a point where divine positive law regarding marriage is being thrown into a synodal fora.

    Ironically, I no longer necessarily trust those above me. And, like the Lefebvrists, find myself in a situation that is similar and confusing. in fact, I now have real questions as to whether they were right in the first place .

    And, I find myself amazingly comfortable with where things are. Benedict was right,we will become the church of the mustard seed.The church will become an intentional choice.And honestlyregardless of whether any Pope or Bishop wants to break it up, change divine positive law,throw traditions under the bus, they will not succeed.

    Eventually, they will realize their position is too weak . No one will follow them But bending the church to the “needs” of modern man, which is a wholly secular man . They will ultimately be resisted to the face by the faithful that they actually depend on. .

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      “they cited immemorial tradition…”

      As Socrates said: “Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. …”

      The only alternatives are the submission of faith to a living authority, speaking now, or a reliance on private judgment. An appeal to the records of the past is always and inevitably an appeal to one’s own interpretation of them for, “ἐὰν δ᾽ ἀνέρῃ τι, σεμνῶς πάνυ σιγᾷ” – If you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence.

      • Unanimous Consent

        I will not rely on private judgement, but Divine Positive Law, which is a part of the Deposit of the Faith.

        No Pope can overturn that, period. In fact Pastor Aeternus is VERY explicit in stating thusly.

      • MSApis

        Much as I admire Socrates he is not the last word on the Catholic Faith. The Catholic Tradition has been transmitted from age to age and its writings have never been silent, because they are the Word of God.

      • “An appeal to the records of the past is always and inevitably an appeal to one’s own interpretation of them”

        “If a man puts away his wife, and marries another, he commits adultery.” It is quite clear. Yet following your logic, it could mean exactly the same as what I mean when I write “hmm, I feel like a bacon sandwich today”.

        You’re drawing a false dichotomy: either (you say) we understand a text in its entirety, independent of anything else in existence, which is the Protestant position, and which is the view Socrates was decrying. Or (you say) we can understand nothing of it, and can only appeal to our own interpretation. (In the latter case, you add, we need somebody to interpret it us for us.)

        The logical result of option 1 of the false dichotomy is making it up as you go along — ie Protestantism. The result of option 2 is never knowing anything, because everything is a ‘record of the past’, even the pope’s latest speech. You would need a constant drip feed from the pope’s brain into yours before you could understand doctrine. I can imagine certain varieties of Hegelians loving this, but it sadly ain’t an option.

        In effect, you’re pushing a Catholic version of the postmodernist attack on the impossibility of meaning, and putting up exactly the same straw man that they put up: because we can’t entirely understand a text in isolation, we can’t understand anything it says, even with some context.

        There is a perfectly valid third option: we understand something partially. And perhaps understand it better over time, if we find a new statement that accords with truths already known. This is the sane, commonsense approach to everything in life.

        It’s also how we approach the Faith, which was given by Christ to the apostles, and has not changed since. The only difference in this case is the need for an authoritative, supernatural teaching office, because the subject matter is something we can’t see or understand through unaided reason. Hence the teaching office of the Catholic Church. This office increases our understanding of something that already exists in its entirety. It doesn’t make the Faith say anything new, which is impossible. Its purpose, and all it can do, is clarify humans’ understanding of what already exists in its entirety.

        This rules out the possibility of contradiction with something infallible said previously. The Pope (or a Council) lacks the authority to contradict previous doctrine. He can’t, any more than he can make 2+2=5. He can only clarify something more fully. For example, ‘we always knew that Mary never committed sin (and I have no authority to change this), but today I teach that she was immaculately conceived’. This is the understanding of papal authority expounded at Vatican I, and it is the understanding that Catholics have always held to and hold to today, formally speaking.

        What you are writing is dangerous to souls. Please stop. God bless you.

  • Manfred

    Have Faith! TIME is a quiet but powerful weapon that Faithful, Loyal Catholics have on their side.
    Pope Bergoglio has recently fallen three times in public. He is 77(?), with one effective lung.
    Yesterday, Cdl Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C.,achieved his seventy-fifth birthday and he had to send his pro forma resignation to the Pope. This darling, a favorite of the Pope, had his fifteen minutes of fame prancing about at the recent Synod. The Cdl who demanded that all bishops obey Canon 915 which requires Catholic persons in a permanent state of serious sin be denied Communion, Cdl Burke, is only age 67.You might say he was Wuerl’s nemesis, the bearer of Truth which neither Wuerl nor Bergoglio could abide.
    No intelligent person, whether Catholic or not, has any interest in Bergoglio. He was finished the moment he was elected. His greatest lesson was to show the world exactly where the dissident priests and theologians wanted the Church to be when they met at Vaticn II.
    Salvation is very, very difficult to achieve. There are many in the Church who want you to fail. We have met a lot of them since March, 2013. God should be our only focus.

    • DeaconEdPeitler

      Much truth here.

    • mcblanc

      Canon 915 will NEVER get “legs” until the day that it demands denial of Communion for all Clergy Members in serious states of sin–first.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Your summation is where I stand. The faithful will remain a body until the end. I wish to comment on your remark “What would happen, if to use an extreme case, the Pope told us one thing, when Christ had said another.” It refers to the Deposit of the Faith, the words of Christ given to the Apostles. Nov 10 at the Florence Cathedral Pope Francis speaking to Italian Church representatives said “Christian doctrine is not a closed system. Doctrine has a face that isn’t rigid, a body that moves and develops. It has tender flesh: that of Jesus Christ.” On face value in human terms he sounds inspiring and positive. He however is referring to Divine Revelation that is the exact reflection of Eternal Truth. Insofar as a body is dynamic and always in motion toward perfection which is its end for the Church it is precisely Eternal Truth. What is dynamic in the created universe is imperfect and always moves whereas what is dynamic in the Eternal is dynamic by its Essence, and Perfect. The words of Francis are in error since they attribute change to what is Perfect and represent quintessential heresy since they misrepresent the essence of truth, Christ who is Truth. If Francis succeeds it will be by policy not formal change.

    • Tanyi Tanyi

      Yes Fr. Peter. It is pure heresy.

    • bernie

      Right on, Father. As we know, there is a difference between talk at the dinner table, instructions about organizing the Vatican offices, glib talk on an airplane, discussions with former students (BXVI),a speech at the Italian Bishop’s Conference, a Motu Proprio, an Encyclical and a definitive statement of Faith. it may not exactly be, “take it or leave it”, but each demands a different level of assent. A more practical authoritative reference as to what the Church holds to be true dogmatically, even for lay people, is Ludwig.Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. 1955, A wordier reference (in the style of the day) and, in my opinion, a sometimes more befuddling reference is the CCC. The Popes have said a lot of things which command our attention and assent. The present Pope’s opinion about “Humanism” is not one of them, nor are his opinions about economics or governmental forms. And frankly, common sense tells us we should make judgments. I’m with BXVI who, as a Cardinal and speaking about Popes, is reported to have said, “The only thing we can be sure of is that he wont destroy the whole thing.”. Warren’s hypothesis about conflict (“the pope told us one thing, when Christ had said another”) simply can’t happen.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals was highly recommended during my studies.

    • augury

      I think I agree w/ this, Fr. Morello, although I’m not sure I understand Francis’ homily which you are commenting about. It seemed like Francis might be saying that “Doctrine,” by which I assume he means things like the 10 Commandments, are subject to reinterpretation? Was I parsing his words correctly and is this what you’re reacting to? Also, what on earth is “Chritian Humanism? ” Is that a part of the Catechism I missed?

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Ambiguity is what’s at issue with him augury. The Deposit of the Faith contains the commandments of Christ [Go and teach all that I have commanded you] given to the Apostles recorded by them and preserved since. This cannot be changed. Implementing these commandments by further doctrinal clarity is permitted but not anything that alters the essential meaning of a teaching say on adultery, deviate sexual behavior. Also the positive commandments to love each other as he has loved us as defined by Jesus by forgiveness, charity. Pope Francis specifically spoke of change of “fundamental doctrine” to accommodate a changed era. That is not possible. The Holy Spirit will not permit him. He may try by informal policy. Humanism is a concept of secular philosopher Ferdinand Schiller early 20th century based on reason as opposed to religious belief. The Pope implies that kind of secular reasoning can be Christianized which in principle is not feasible, whereas John Paul II described a Christian humanism based on the impact of the Gospels throughout history.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          Also augury, and bernie, John Paul II issued Ad Tuendam Fidem theologically underwritten by then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Ad Tuendam Fidem is the best guide to understanding papal authoritative teaching. In it he gives three tiers of authority and compliance. The first is the Deposit of the Faith and Apostolic Tradition which we all must hold as Catholics. The second refers to teaching as found in Humanae Vitae on contraception which we owe a “religious assent.” The criteria here are historical consistency and gravity of pronouncement as previously stated in Lumen Gentium 25. The third is similar for example a pontiff can teach correctly and with authority outside these forums such as refers to the expected exhortation of Pope Francis on the Synod’s findings. It is clear that anything Francis exhorts the Church as valid teaching must be clear, without ambiguity and relates to a standing moral question. It is similarly clear that an exhortation cannot contradict the essence of any teaching that belongs to the first tier the Deposit of the Faith and the Apostolic Tradition.

          • MSDOTT

            Thank you for this : “Ad Tuendam Fidem. The Doctrinal Commentary issued by John Paul II and theologically underwritten by then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger adjacent to Ad Tuendam Fidem is the best guide to understanding papal authoritative teaching. In it he gives three tiers of authority and compliance. ”
            I will read it, as I really need to understand how to respond to Catholics who think their conscience is paramount.
            I have relatives, who are practising Catholics, indeed, who promote the rosary’s daily recitation, but who also condone/promote contraception. They were recently visiting me, and we were talking about the necessity of faith in today’s world. I mentioned a Catholic acquaintance of mine, who has 9 children, now grown. This acquaintance once told me – a story which I recited to them – that when her children were young, her husband lost his job for a number of years, suffered depression, and lost his faith. The last was the hardest for her to bear. She said, she could handle the job loss, and depression, but result of the loss of faith, was that they were not longer together looking to Christ who would sustain them through all. It was left to her, ‘keep the faith’. My relatives response – to me – a non-sequitur: didn’t they use contraception? But, I see that more and more, large families are being denigrated by practising Catholics, and in my own small way, I want to be able to contribute to educating those around me in the teachings of the Church. I think the documents you mention above, will help. Thank you for referencing them and your comment.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Also augury contained in the Depositum Fidei given by Christ to the Apostles is Sacred Tradition referring to the transmission of these truths throughout the ages by the bishops. Another term used here is the Apostolic Tradition. This cannot be formally changed [for example by a universal papal pronouncement from the Chair of Peter] even if the Pope wanted to. This Deposit of the Faith is promised by Christ to be protected “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”

  • “That was 1976, and in England – I think perhaps the spiritual and cultural nadir of Christendom.”

    That is your true error. England has never been particularly fond of Christendom, and by 1976, the spiritual center had moved to Latin America and the cultural center had moved to Africa.

    • Tarzan

      I am not a historian, but I think England had a lot of faithful Catholics from the 10th-16th centuries. That is one reason why there was so much blood spilled and Church land stolen by Henry VIII and his court.

  • smith

    “Then the devil said to him, If thou art the Son of God, bid this stone turn into a loaf of bread. Jesus answered him, It is written, Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words that come from God.”

  • Robert Faraci

    Thank you for the commentary and the film recommendation. A thought: If your own entry into the Church was along such a halting and crooked path, why would you expect that the Church’s “dominance” of the whole planet would be already achieved after 2000 years if that were the divine plan?

  • Cathlc Wng of the Cathlc Chrch

    Good article. So, what happens if the episcopate instructs the faithful to do something contrary to Church teaching? The bottom line is – we follow Sacred Tradition. If the pope tells us to do something contrary to this – then, yes, an informed conscience comes into play. We have to follow the teachings of the Church.

    The pope cannot change Truth. If he tried, I would feel for the priests and bishops who attempt to remain faithful to Church teaching. They will have the whole weight of the world thrown upon them. But that fact does not absolve faithful priests – and laity – from following Church teaching.

    • Dave Fladlien

      I think you are over-simplifying the problem, as are some other commentators here. If the Pope isn’t the ultimate authority on *what the Church says*, then who is? No one in particular. We will then be in exactly the same place as the Protestants: each of us deciding for ourself what the Church says. The chances that we will agree on everything are essentially zero.

      That hasn’t worked very well for the Protestants, and it won’t for us either. A few pages back, one very knowledgeable commentator suggested the interesting (and frightening) possibility that the Pope’s election might be invalid, or that he conceivably might someday be held a heretic. While any intelligent person would have to take that particular commentator very seriously, I think we are really on dangerous ground here. No one more strongly upholds the rights (and obligations) of “conscience rightly formed” than I do, but I think as far as Church authority is concerned, we must assume that the Pope was validly elected, and is the primary authority in the Church. I’m an older person, I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the world. And the Holy Spirit has always known what He is doing. I say He does now too. He is, at extreme least, permitting all this. I think we need to give Him a chance to do His work, or we might — as Gamaliel warned in Acts — find ourselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

      I have no problem with each of you who has worked hard to properly form your conscience going ahead and living it. That’s what I do. We have to. But as for who is the authority within the Church, I say it is the Pope.

      • TomD

        “If the Pope isn’t the ultimate authority on *what the Church says*, then who is? No one in particular. We will then be in exactly the same place as the Protestants: each of us deciding for oursel[ves] what the Church says. The chances that we will agree on everything are essentially zero.”

        The only ultimate authority is Christ. As for the pronouncements of men, including Popes, when those pronouncements directly undermine or contradict dogma and/or doctrine that the Church has taught through the ages, it is those teachings to which we look for “ultimate authority.” As Catholics, we must seek to understand the steady build up and development of the faith, acknowledging that it has been a development that does not directly undermine or contradict that which has preceded it. And unless the Pope clearly teaches infallibly, then it is this tradition that provides the foundation for the ultimate authority.

        We don’t “decide for ourselves” what the Church says, we learn and understand what the Church has taught, how the faith has developed, and that, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leads us to true faith.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        David none of his statements to date are official authoritative teaching. To date he is speaking unofficially. Only a universal pronouncement from the Chair of Peter clearly stated as definitive doctrine is authoritative. Only in that specific instance is a pontiff’s words considered definitive and free of error. The statements in question are opinion and opinion that is in error.

        • Dave Fladlien

          Fr. Morello and TomD: I agree that simple Papal comments don’t define anything, but I also would say that the mere fact that Catholics, even theologians and hierarchy, have long held something, doesn’t mean it is right, either. Remember the “Limbo” theory, debunked by St. Therese of Lisieux long ago, and finally put away (hopefully) for good by Benedict XVI? I gather it was around for centuries, but it was never anything but conjecture, even though many of us were taught it as dogma. It is not uncommon for people to assume that popular opinion which “sounds right” is actual doctrine.

          “It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better…” — Pope St. John XXIII. I think we need to allow for the possibility of that better understanding, especially if it doesn’t change any official position, just how we treat people. I do think it possible that the Holy Spirit wants changes in how we treat people and react to situations, though not in what we believe. To me they are not the same thing at all.

        • Faithful Catholic

          Thank you, Father, for setting the record straight on this. I also would really like to be able to trust the Pope, (as I did St. JP II and BXVI.) Unfortunately, at the present moment, that is not possible.

      • Cathlc Wng of the Cathlc Chrch

        I think you are over-complicating the issue. I never challenged the teaching that the pope is the prime governing authority within the Church and I did not suggest he wasn’t validly elected.

        The pope, under a very narrow set of circumstances, teaches infallibly when promulgating dogma. However, he cannot retract dogma. THAT is the issue that I spoke to. The pope can certainly relax discipline – potentially in error. He can make misleading verbal comments – in error. He can appoint heretical bishops – in error. He can mismanage the Church – in error. And yes, he can instruct the Church to separate practice from Sacred Tradition – in error. None of these examples, in my opinion, cross the line of violating the teaching on papal infallibility. But all of these examples, particularly separating practice from infallible teaching, are of great concern to faithful Catholics.

        Depending on the issue, any attempt to separate Church practice from teaching could seriously damage the credibility of the Church and could potentially cause a significant schism. Depending on the issue, it could potentially force faithful and good Catholics into opposing camps, which would only encourage the opponents of the Church. This would be a real mess and I am not sure this is what the cardinals had in mind when they elected Pope Francis to clean up Vatican scandals.

        In regards to giving him a chance, I personally have tried to give him the benefit of the doubt as he is the pope. But I have concerns regarding his numerous bizarre statements that go un-clarified and seem to be at odds with Church teachings. I also have concerns about how he conducted the first synod, how he attempted to stack the second synod with delegates with alarming viewpoints, and his continued appointments of what appear to be outright heterodox bishops. As he is the pope – I have to give him a chance. But that is not to say I shouldn’t be concerned about what he has done and what he could potentially do to damage the credibility and unity of the Church. I think we all need to pray for Pope Francis – and for the Church.

    • Oscar Pierce

      As I near the last days of, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” I truly know, no harm may come to my faith from ANY attack…regardless of it’s outward appearance/apparent sanctity.

  • BXVI

    There is a good article at Rorate Caeli on how to survive a calamitous pope. Search for “calamitous pope” on their site and you will find it. I recommend it highly. We are all going to need it.
    St. JPII and Pope Benedict, and what the Catechism states at par. 1650. He ruled them completely out of bounds.
    Read the Pope’s speech given in Florence on Tuesdsay. He essentially admits that both doctrine and reason defeat the Kasper proposal. But mercy now trumps both doctrine (i.e., truth) and logic (i.e., reason) and to claim otherwise is heresy (Pleagianism if you rely on doctrine or Gnosticism if you rely on logic). When you think about it, in effect, he labeled St. JPII and Pope Benedict heretics.
    In the same speech, he said we are in a “change of era” and admonished us to be prepared for change. We are in for a true revolution.

    • Quo Vadis

      When I read about the Pope’s homily in Florence and his comments about mercy with respect to Doctrine I was thinking the Pope is suffering from a mercy complex. Even Jesus knew there was a time when the money lenders needed to be thrown out of the Temple by force at the end of a whip without mercy !

      There is a time and place for mercy and a time and place for direct talk and the teaching about Doctrine and how it relates to conduct and actions that take place in everyday life.

      God’s mercy is extended to us by His willingness to forgive our sins, which in a broad sense are a violation of the teachings Jesus gave to us as now taught by His Church and its Doctrine, I suggest.

  • Faithful Catholic

    “The struggle to maintain Catholic faith, in the face of the world and even “post-Catholic” authority, will go on”. This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. I was very depressed last night, after watching The World Over on EWTN. The post-synod comments by clerics close to Pope Francis (discussed by Raymond Arroyo and Edward Pentin) definitely sounded “post-Catholic.” I too am struggling to maintain my Catholic faith in spite of near-constant disillusionment with many in the hierarchy. Thank you Mr. Warren, for a very thoughtful and timely article.

    • Alicia

      Your Catholic faith is in the Gospels, the Word of God, Jesus.
      The hierarchy are just men. Pray a lot for them.

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    All that has been written here about the current occupant of the Chair of Peter was predicted right from the very beginning of this pontificate. The only thing that has changed is that it gets worse by the day. It is so bad that a satirical website allows one to pull up the ever-increasing list of Catholics whom this Pope judges so harshly and in condemnatory language. And all this from the one who said, “Who am I to judge?”

    • bernie

      So many of us feel the same way. And yet – we must love the Pope, pray for the Pope, thank God for Popes – He gave them to us. We are all Roman Catholics because the Pope lives there. While we can share our fears, we must first tell the Holy Spirit about them and ask for his help to strengthen our Faith and say the Rosary. Pious sounding words? Yes, but it is time to turn them into a reality despite our disappointment.

      • DeaconEdPeitler

        Totally agree. In fact, I believe that Francis is what the Catholic Church needs. He forces us to declare ourselves as belonging to Christ who is Truth or denying him. Francis, by his gobbledy-gook theology helps us to clarify and give witness to what exactly we do believe. Those who declare for the Truth, will be sustained by the Holy Spirit; those who do not will perish.

        • Oscar Pierce

          …perhaps, an ever-renewing demand to reconnect with The Christ…?

  • Rene

    I do not think the Pope will try to change the indissolubility of marriage doctrine directly. One possibility is that he will leave it to the bishops and the priests, the internal forum, to decide whether the divorced and remarried will receive communion. This will accomplish the Modernist agenda without an official change in doctrine, because the many Modernist priests and bishops will decide to give them communion using “mercy” as an excuse. Moreover, if they give communion to those in adultery, it logically follows that they would give communion to those heterosexuals and homosexuals who freely fornicate, live together, or have entered into a civil gay marriage. Another possibility is for the Pope to issue a nuanced document that will allow the Modernist priests and bishops to interpret the document as allowing them to do the same thing. The Pope, of course, may surprise us and hold Catholic pastoral practice, but at this time I would not bet on it.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Unfortunately I believe you are correct Rene.

  • David Warren

    For what it’s worth, I’ve posted a second thousand words on the movie mentioned above, at my “Essays in Idleness” website, today.

    • Evangeline1031

      It will be better if he just comes out with it in his exhortation. Worse if he does not. He is turning the screws on the church and the faithful by creating this situation. To me, this is a man who uses the mask of humility to perhaps inadvertently conceal his dire need to be front and center in a power play. For a humble man, he has managed to keep us all on the edge of our seats for two years, quite an accomplishment in it’s own right. It’s all about him. Him. HIM!
      Back to the actual problem, because it may not really be him.
      The problem is he was elected by Cardinals, and not two or three.
      If heresy is whirling around in all those minds and souls, we have larger problems than one heretic in the Chair of Peter.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    I have to make an appeal here to all of us for prayer for the people of Paris, a beautiful city with a cultured people who are being murdered this night. This is a likely portent of things to come from the murderers who represent radical Islam.

    • Brad Miner

      I join Fr. Morello in prayers for the City of Light that the terrorists wish to darken but never will.

    • Rick

      I am already there praying along with you, but praying isn’t going to stop this. I am so angry tonight that I had to pour myself a scotch…forgive me.

  • A quick search reveals that this film is also up on Youtube and I will be sure to give it a good watch. This is probably unsurprising, but the comments there reveal that the film is a favorite of SSPX types. They believe their ilk to be the “obscure monastery” carrying on the faith and not the schismatic lot they are. No doubt, these are confusing times.

    • Keith

      What exactly are SSPX types?

      “Schismatic lot that they are?”

      Why do you use such proud words against the SSPX? The manner in which we speak, speaks to the nature of our hearts.

    • Chris in Maryland

      My understanding is that the Church holds that the SSPX are not in schism.
      Is there something you can point to from the Church leads you to conclude otherwise?

  • Alicia

    I love this from Frank Sheed.

    ” I was not baptized into the Pope, I do no receive the curia sacramentally. To leave because of them – even if they were worse than their worst enemy thinks them – would be to give them an importance that was not theirs, and to have missed the meaning of my memberhip of the Church and Christ’s headship of it and of me. ”

    Our Catholic faith is on Jesus, not a Pope, or a few cardinals, bishops or priests. We should pray for them. It’s what Jesus would tell us to do. It’s what Our Lady keeps asking us to do.
    I pray a daily rosary for the Church, from the Pope to the last Catholic on the planet, faithful or not.
    Pray, pray, pray !

  • Oscar Pierce

    Thank you David. Having been away from any religious affiliation for more than fifty years I’m immensely enjoying RCIA, The Symbolon Series, Bishop Barron’s productions, et al. I feel quite fortunate in entering The Faith at this, “late date,” without much in the way of preconception.

    TCT has proven very rewarding as well, with much thought provoking input and resulting commentary. Appropriately enough, I expect, I enjoy the opportunity to agree, disagree, and debate all of that input/commentary.

    While criticism of given members of the clergy are I suppose required according to one’s own beliefs, I must ponder what I perceive as a serious lack of criticism of politicians/government which is so anathemic to “our” Faith!

    By-the- bye, two thousand years cannot be particularly significant to a Trinity, “outside of time.”

  • Martha Rice Martini

    I watched “Catholics” — now called “Conflict” — yesterday. Prescient. The film raised again in my mind the question whether Kasper and company BELIEVE in the Real Presence; because if they don’t, it may explain why they are so lax about WHO receives the Blessed Sacrament and HOW. I recently stumbled on a video of Cardinal Bergoglio in a crowd scene handing out consecrated hosts as though they were party favors.