Papal Errors

In 1986, Pope John Paul II arranged a World Day of Peace in Assisi to which he invited 160 religious leaders, including Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians, and members of African traditional religions. Some Catholics were scandalized. Subsequently, John Paul would publish the encyclicals Centesimus Annus (1991); Veritatis Splendor (1993); Evangelium Vitae (1995); and Fides et Ratio (1998). Question: If a Catholic was outraged by the prayer meeting in Assisi, is he or she still called upon to offer to the teachings of these encyclicals the “religious submission of intellect and will”?

In 1929, Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty with the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, which recognized the Vatican as an independent state and accorded the Church financial support from Mussolini’s government. There were many at the time – and ever since – who have been highly critical of this both because it was a pact made with the Fascists and because Pius had ceded the pope’s traditional authority over “the Papal States.” Are Catholics who believe Pius’s decision was a huge mistake not bound by the teachings of Quadragesimo anno, Quas primas, or Divini Redemptoris?

In 1633, Pope Urban VIII steadfastly refused the judgment of members of his own inquisition tribunal that Galileo should be pardoned for the “error” of publishing his Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems. Urban, who had earlier been a defender and patron of Galileo, seems to have been offended because Galileo had put one of the pope’s own arguments into the mouth of his character “Simplicio” (the Simpleton). The pope’s decision to put Galileo under house arrest has become notorious. Does this one decision render everything else he taught on faith and morals worthless?

Some distinctions are in order. The Church holds that popes can, in certain instances, when they explicitly intend to do so, teach infallibly in matters of faith and morals. In the entire history of the Church, there are perhaps eight proclamations that meet the stringent requirements for an infallible pronouncement. Most papal teachings are authoritative, but not infallible, calling not for an “assent of faith,” as do infallible teachings, but “the religious submission of intellect and will.”

Is it ever licit for a faithful Catholic to disagree with an authoritative, non-infallible teaching of a pope? Yes. If a person has inquired diligently into the teaching in question, and if after serious prayer and reflection, feels that fraternal correction is in order, then one may express this disagreement publicly as long as: (A) one’s reasons are serious and well-founded; (B) one’s dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church; and (C) the nature of the dissent is not such as to give rise to scandal.

I’ve often thought that these would serve as good rules-of-thumb for disagreeing with almost anybody. You should have good reasons for your position; you should strive not to impugn the integrity or good intentions of your interlocutor; and you should argue in such a way as not to give scandal. One rarely wins over others (including bystanders) by brow-beating them; you usually succeed only in making your side look bad.

Galileo (and Urban VIII) by Edmond van Hoven, c. 1885 [‪Groeningemuseum, Bruges]
Galileo (and Urban VIII) by Edmond van Hoven, c. 1885 [‪Groeningemuseum, Bruges]

So much for papal teaching.

What about papal actions? Along with the gift of infallibility, do popes have the gift of impeccability (from the Latin peccatum, meaning “sin”), a special charism guaranteeing they never make mistakes?

The Church has never made this claim. Quite the contrary, those who have been the staunchest defenders of infallibility have always distinguished it from impeccability precisely because (A) it’s clear that any number of popes have committed grievous sins, and (B) it’s a matter of faith that every pope is a sinner, just like the rest of us, in need of God’s saving grace won by the death and resurrection of Christ. We don’t worship the man; we respect the office; we have faith in Christ’s promise to be with His Church until the end of the age and to send His Holy Spirit to guide and protect her.

Years ago someone told me that John Paul II didn’t give communion in the hand, which showed that John Paul II was condemning the practice. I suggested that if the pope wanted to communicate this message, he had plenty of official channels to do so. There is a species of papal idolatry that is, in the long run, not helpful. I wonder what my friend would say now. If he is still mistaking the pope’s personal actions for official papal teaching, he’s probably confused – and angry.

Watching a pope’s every action for its political significance is the sort of foolishness that caused certain people to condemn Christ for eating with (“yucking it up with”) prostitutes and tax collectors. Such actions were said to “cause scandal,” “sow confusion,” and “show support for the Church’s enemies.” Maybe; maybe not. “Time will tell where wisdom lies.”

Some popes have made major mistakes. But every pope makes some mistakes; they’re only human after all. If you want perfection and sinlessness, you’re looking for a church that doesn’t exist, an empty promise from the Father of Lies, not the one established by Christ.

Being confused or disappointed with a pope is a common enough state of affairs in Church history. But Catholics who imagine that they have the authority to set the canonical standard by which the teaching of this or any papacy can be judged are simply showing (A) that they have really been Protestants all along, and (B) that their view of authority is the one that characterizes too much of modern American politics: authority’s job is to do what I say and to crush my opponents.

The Church hasn’t always been well served by her popes. But then again, she has always been much worse off when she has given-in to the self-righteous voices of the mob – especially when they’re shouting “Crucify him.”

Randall Smith

Randall Smith

Randall B. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His most recent book, Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, is now available at Amazon and from Emmaus Academic Press.

  • Dave Fladlien

    “Some popes have made major mistakes. But every pope makes some mistakes; they’re only human after all. If you want perfection and sinlessness, you’re looking for a church that doesn’t exist,…” How true.

    The Holy Spirit helps each of us do our job. He doesn’t do it for us by remote control as if we were robots. I think that if people would keep this in mind, and would stop insisting that any Holy Father be someone or something that no mere human can ever be, they would respect the sincere efforts of Popes to do a good job, respect the Pope for having the courage to tackle the tough questions, and live their *properly formed* consciences after appropriately thorough thought, research and prayer in the hopefully few areas where they find they have to disagree. In this way we can be in a church, while at the same time being true to our God and to ourselves.

    I think you have done the Church and Papacy a great service by this article; I only hope a lot of today’s Catholics will take it to heart (though I suspect many will disagree).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Except in their solemn definitions, even General Councils both can err and have erred, even in matters pertaining to the Faith. Thus, at the Third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus held in 431, the Council Fathers quoted in defence of the doctrine defined, an heretical document (still extant) that they believed to be a letter of Pope Julius, the friend of Athanasius. It was, in fact, an extract from a writing of Timotheus, the Apollinarian, if not of Apollinaris himself.

    This led the learned Peronne to insist that “Councils are not infallible in the reasons by which
    they are led, or on which they rely, in making their definition, nor in matters which relate to persons, nor to physical matters which have no necessary connexion with dogma.” (Præl. Theol. t. 2, p. 492.) The authority of papal pronouncements can be no greater.

    According to Tournely and Amort, a Council is not infallible, even in the prefaces and introductions to its definitions. They contend that even the capitula passed in the Council of Trent, from which the Canons with anathemas are drawn up, are not portions of the Church’s infallible teaching; only the Canons themselves. This distinction enabled Amort to reject those parts of Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam that subordinate the temporal power to the papacy.

    Turning from teaching to actions, Bl John Henry Newman asks, “Was St. Peter infallible on that occasion at Antioch when St. Paul withstood him? Was St. Victor infallible when he separated from his communion the Asiatic Churches? Or Liberius when in like manner he excommunicated Athanasius? And, to come to later times, was Gregory XIII., when he had a medal struck in honour of the Bartholomew massacre? Or Paul IV. in his conduct towards Elizabeth? Or Sextus V. when he blessed the Armada? Or Urban VIII. when he persecuted Galileo? No Catholic ever pretends that these Popes were infallible in these acts.”

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Thanks Michael for your as usual excellent knowledge and research.

    • Walt

      An inquirer reading this post would conclude that there is no one true Church founded by Christ to uphold and protect His teaching. When they are asked to proclaim ” I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God”, they would think what is it? where is it? Maybe the Protestants have it right, it all a matter of personal opinion.

    • Murray

      Excellent, Michael. Thanks.

  • Every public action carried out by the Pope, or the president, or the policeman, or the parent, has public significance.
    If dad swears, the child is likely to be influenced. If the Pope only gives Holy Communion on the tongue, the faithful can surely draw an inference.

  • Thomas Gillespie

    I think a more honest article would have started with “Ok, folks, let’s face it: Pope Francis has sown much confusion and seems to embrace a number of theological errors, at least in his personal beliefs. How do we respond to this?” It’s the elephant in the room that so many Catholic bloggers on sites like this think we can’t frankly acknowledge lest the Church fall apart.

    • Murray


  • FreemenRtrue

    I guess this is apologia for PF. On global warming nonsense, primitive economics ideas and one world government themes perhaps one may be very comfortable taking issue with the pope. Papal appointments and some apparent initiatives by European bishops to cast aside Christ’s teachings on marriage and to recognize homosexual unions has many faithful Catholics living in trepidation of the pope’s message in March. A fair question may be just who are the Protestants? That was a nasty slam to slip into the end of a column calling for temperance – seems to indicate an animus.
    Peace be with you.

  • Morton

    Excellent article Mr. Smith. That said, while I gave Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt for two and half years, I’ve come to the conclusion that confusion at the top is not serving the church well.
    Instead of building on the work of the two previous pontificates, he has gone out of his way to show the church and the world that he, Pope Francis, is different. His promoting of Cardinal Kasper’s book at his first Sunday Angelus appearance after becoming pope, his comment that he likes to debate “conservative bishops”, his general denunciations of people within the church who don’t see eye to eye with him. The hurling of the the p word, “Pharisee” to those who rightly point out that practice cannot be separated by doctrine. I don’t want to see him “crucified”, but I’ve come to the conclusion, sadly and reluctantly, that one seeks in vain to be affirmed in the faith by the pope these days.
    For a breath-taking deconstruction of his most recent encyclical Laudato si, take a look at Father McGavin’s take posted at Sandro Magister’s site. He exposes the woolly thinking that emanates from the chair of Peter these days.

  • Jerry Rhino

    ” In the entire history of the Church, there are perhaps eight proclamations that meet the stringent requirements for an infallible pronouncement.” Problem is no one agrees on which proclamations meet these stringent requirements. Many opinions on the blogs. Not one list with the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. Why require assent to papal infallibility if no one can produce a list?

  • Jon S.

    With all due respect to Professor Smith, his description of infallibility is incomplete since it seems to include only ex cathedra pronouncements but exclude the ordinary and universal Magisterium. For a more complete understanding of infallibility, see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1998 Commentary on “Ad Tuendam Fidem.”

    Professor Smith’s distinctions between papal teaching and papal action is helpful.
    We can further avoid papal idolatry by realizing that papal (and episcopal) teaching includes more than doctrine, i.e., social analysis, prudential judgments, and disciplinary matters such as liturgical rubrics and canon law. Even a pope’s statements on spirituality are not infallible doctrines. No extra-doctrinal statements are infallible.

    So while I remain faithful to the Magisterium founded by God the Son, I find Pope Francis to be an arrogant guru whom I will ignore as much as possible since I have Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other doctrinal teachings. I will assent to whatever is doctrinal in his teaching, but I will rely on better spiritual directors than he.

  • Manfred

    Cd; Raymond Burke was recently asked, what guidelines one should follow during this papacy. He replied: Follow the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacred Tradition.
    When Bernadette Soubirous was told in 1858 by the Lady in the grotto: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”, she had no idea what the term meant even though Pius IX had declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years prior. No matter. Saint Bernadette’s body lies incorrupt in her convent in Nevers, France.
    This papacy has weaned most intelligent Catholics of any papolatry.

    • William Beckman

      Wouldn’t Cardinal Burke’s advice apply during any pontificate?

      • Manfred

        The three fonts of Catholic teachings are: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. With Sacred Tradition under severe attack and the Magisterium in an apparent state of confusion, we need Sacred Scripture more now than usual.

  • gaeliclass

    However it is essential to recall that Jesus, Our Lord Himself, choose Peter and said ‘You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of….. and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed..”
    So Pope Francis sits on the Chair of St. Peter and has an enormous responsibility in teaching the Truths of our Faith and we are told cannot err in ‘Faith and Morals’.
    Unfortunately Pope Francis has brought about much confusion and worry to those who truly practise their Faith. His obvious disdain (which he continually refers to) against those who stand firm in their Faith and practise, including his own in the Episcopacy and in the very priesthood of Christ. Instead of supporting these good Cardinals, Bishops and priests, he continues in various homilies etc., to make them feel that they are ‘not loving, not merciful, not kind …..’-
    This is of course not true at all. I much prefer a priest who tells me the truth and that I need to mend my ways than someone who has acquiesced to worldly thinking.
    When past Popes’ and Holy Benedict said at the beginning of his painful but brilliant short pontificate said to us ‘pray that I do not flee from the wolves’ – he was giving us a ‘strong pointed clue’ about what was already at work in the heart of the Church. He knew ‘the wolves in the form of various Cardinals, Bishops and priests’ who were no longer faithful to Christ or the Magisterium were ‘well planted’. It is more than clear that dubious Episcopal appointments have been made in the Church thereby weakening the very heart of the Church itself.
    It has been brought to the attention of millions, thankfully, through sites like Lifesitenews and the Church Militant – the many errors being promoted even by our Cardinals, Bishops and priests themselves, and people like outstanding Vatican reporter Sandra Magister, Ed Pentin and others (who risk their careers).
    Why did Pope Francis give such accolades at the very start of his pontificate to Cardinal Emeritus Kasper who for years has worked at decentralizing the Church along with many German Bishops (not all). Benedict knew the German Bishops (most of them) were against them – look how they treated him at Regensburg where he gave that outstanding address which was all true.
    Why did Pope Francis make the comment which will haunt his papacy until it ends – on the plane back from Brazil ‘ – poor gays who I am to judge them (paraphrase) —
    Actually he is sitting on the Chair of Peter and he must speak clearly in matters of Faith and morals! Why is he shying away from it? Why did he make such a statement which then caused unbelievable ripples throughout the entire Church and will until he leaves office.
    Why did he deliberately bring up from S.America his student – a gay man and his boyfriend …
    and have photo ops in the US. Why?
    Why did he deny meeting the lady in the US (Kim..) who had stood up for Christian principles by refusing to issue a license to a same sex couple.
    Why did he bring UN gurus and population control believers to address the Vatican.
    Why did he allow one of the most left wing, pro gay English priests (a Dominican) to write most of his Laudatio Si?
    I could go on but hopefully my point has been made
    These are questions the Pope must answer, if not to us, to The Lord himself.
    I have lived through 5 Popes in my lifetime and never have I felt such pain and confusion from the Chair of Peter.
    Does he know the suffering he is causing the Catholic Faithful, I wonder.
    Is love not telling the Truth as Christ did to Mary Madgalen, a great sinner … but Jesus said to her – your sins are forgiven go and sin no more’. the ‘sin no more’ part is essential to follow Christ and to allow us one day to enter Heaven, otherwise those who are searching are being lied to.
    I continue to pray for our Pope as I believe many of us do — but I pray that he will set the record straight on our Church’s teaching and soon..

    • JGradGus

      I have lived through 7 Popes thus far and I do not share your concerns. I am one of the Catholic faithful and I am not suffering from any pain and confusion. All of the questions you posed have already been answered. (Do some digging. As Mulder used to say, ‘the truth is out there.’)

      Your comments bring to mind the ‘Church Lady’ character from Saturday Night Live. It’s funny how so many Catholics/Christians are good with faith and hope but struggle when it comes to charity.

      • EC321

        Try living in reality.

      • ForChristAlone

        This sounds mighty prideful.

  • Michael Dowd

    Have we ever had a Pope like Francis who appears bent on creating a secularized world religion?
    He is misleading millions of Catholics with his confusing statements and actions; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Let us always pray for him.

  • Richard A

    A helpful article, concluded by an unfortunate example. The Church, of course, did not exist when the mob cried, “Crucify Him!”, but she is infinitely better off because someone gave in to it. That’s why we call it “Good Friday.”

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    When both sides of a controversy do good research as you did Dr Smith we narrow the issue. That is progress and hopefully prospect of some resolution, not to imply that the matter should not be further explored for further edification. Again your research is thorough but some conclusions are not ad rem. The examples of the Concordat or Galileo do not clearly and unambiguously fall under the definition of “enunciated moral teaching” listed in the Third Proposition. The more important point however is what is it that most respondents to this site object to. So far nothing I have read comes under “enunciated moral teaching”. Rather it is off hand remarks and acts ‘suggesting’ change to Apostolic Tradition. What else if all else disintegrates do the faithful have to faithfully hold on to if not the Gospels and Truth as defined in the Tradition? Here the faithful are not obliged to adhere to the three conditions for dissent. Not at all. On what moral basis do you hold if indeed you do that they have no conscientious right to object and that you are in the position to admonish them. Clearly the majority of dissent does not meet the valid criteria you set for a very different issue in respect to the Third Proposition of the Doctrinal Commentary. If you could find some justification on their, and my part in valid dissent not the constant vilification with which I agree with you, we can arrive at some resolution.

    • Murray

      Thank you, Father. Very good.

      This article looked promising at first glance. Perhaps Dr Smith had decided to address his critics’ actual arguments on their own terms? As it turns out, no, he doesn’t. Once again, he resorts to facile “rebuttals” that don’t actually tackle the question at hand.

      The number of faithful Catholics who find themselves troubled by this papacy comprises both the great and the small, who express themselves in fora like these with varying degrees of eloquence. Some find it difficult to avoid intemperance, while others make overly simplistic arguments. But surely we should follow St Thomas’s example, and address our interlocutors’ arguments in their strongest forms, rather than their weakest?

      This is an act of charity that Dr Smith consistently falls to perform. Is anyone seriously arguing that we should disregard legitimate magisterial teaching because we don’t like certain things Pope Francis has said or done? To the contrary, many Catholics currently fear that this pope will place them in the impossible position of demanding adherence to “pastoral” accommodations that appear to contradict settled church teaching or ancient disciplines. (As an aside, I note that, once again, Dr Smith fails to identify the precise teachings of Pope Francis to date to which we are required to provide religious submission of intellect and will.)

      By the same token, is any halfway catechized Catholic laboring under the delusion that popes are impeccable? I sometimes chuckle at our Mottramist brethren who assign oracular significance or deep super-secret genius to every papal utterance, but even they would acknowledge that popes are capable of personal sin.

      And the final cardboard cutout that Dr Smith sets up for target practice is this one:

      But Catholics who imagine that they have the authority to set the canonical standard by which the teaching of this or any papacy can be judged are simply showing (A) that they have really been Protestants all along, and (B) that their view of authority is the one that characterizes too much of modern American politics: authority’s job is to do what I say and to crush my opponents.

      Come on. This is juvenile. Exactly who, among the pope’s critics, claims the authority to set canonical standards? How does one set canonical standards by adhering to the plain text of Canon Law and LG25 regarding the scope of magisterial authority? Who asserts that the pope’s job is to obey them and crush their opponents? For that matter, who are the opponents that the pope is to crush?

      I am tempted, at this point, to mutter some cliche about more heat than light, but that doesn’t quite cover the scope of the misdirection and obfuscation Dr Smith engages in here. With great fearlessness, he marshals commonplace truths to slay imaginary dragons, then standing astride his defeated enemy, cries Quod erat demonstratum!

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Following your analogy Dr Smith resembles Don Quixote attacking wind mills.

  • phranthie

    How should traditional Catholics feel when Pope Francis classifies them alongside Muslim fundamentalists, as he did on the plane back from Africa?

    It seems this present pope finds singularly unforgivable — in his otherwise ‘non-judgmental’ largesse — this group of Catholics today labelled ‘traditionalists’ . Could it be that he sees these as the only real threat to his programme for the Church of the future?

  • Mrs.A.Steden


  • Aqua

    Your conclusion is typically controversial, since it is constructed as a Straw Man; asserting “wayward, Catholics, acting as Protestants, assume authority to set canonical standards and to force everyone else to do as they say and crush their opponents”.

    That is what Luther did as a Priest, (the rebellion starting within the Priestly class) asserting his own interpretation against the Deposit of Faith. It is possible today that other Priests or even Popes (possibly like Francis) can act in similar Protestant rebellion, not just the Laity as you say.

    Those you accuse of acting as Protestants are merely trying to bridge the gap between clear Catholic canonical teaching and what we are seeing in high places of our Church today which is clearly not canonical.

    A more honest construction of your conclusion would be: Faithful Catholics are given authority and the responsibility to discern and apply canonical standards and to live in communion with all the Faithful; past, present and future, Priest or Laity, all attempting to do the same.

    EVERY Catholic is responsible to the Deposit of Faith, NOT the personal whim of any one man, be he Parish Priest or Pope; Lay person or self. If a Pope decrees or tolerates sacrilege, it is our right and our Catholic DUTY to oppose him; correct him and bring him back to the Communion of Sants.

    Most Popes through time have been in union with this Deposit, and the Faithful with him. And that is a beautiful thing; Heaven on earth. But now we have this. How we respond to this trial given to us is how we will be judged.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      “Faithful Catholics are given authority and the responsibility to discern and apply
      canonical standards and to live in communion with all the Faithful; past, present and future, Priest or Laity, all attempting to do the same.”

      For the proposition to be meaningful, the term “faithful” must have a definite meaning in
      extension. If we define “faithful Catholics” in terms of their professed tenets, we risk falling into a vicious circle: “faithful Catholics are those who hold the true faith”; “the true faith is the faith held by faithful Catholics.”

      What we require is a test, not a tautology and, as Mgr Ronald Knox explains, Catholics have a ready answer: “if 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.” Knox also notes that, “No doubt, in the long run this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them, so that unity and orthodoxy still react upon one another. But the fact remains that the Roman theory does give a test for defining the fideles without the question-begging preliminary of ascertaining who the fideles are, from an examination of their tenets. And in fact there can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

  • augury

    So, Professor Smith, exactly where does one draw the line between Protestants and mobsters calling for Francis’ crucifixion, and those who are merely “confused” or “disappointed?” Surely you have someone in mind or you wouldn’t have used such incendiary rhetoric. Pray enlighten us exactly who you meant. Personally I’m confused like I’ve never been confused before by Francis’ flirtation with Marxism, by his yen to overturn Christ’s specific teaching as to the meaning of marriage, by the grossly uncharitable “Pharisaic” accusations he levelled at his Synnod congregrants. But heaven forbid my confusion on these things make me a “Prostestant” or “Crucifier.” I just can’t tell which side of your line I’m on. Please Professor, ease my mind and say specifically who you’re calling out.

  • Michael Randolph

    In view of impressions one gets from what Pope Francis says and does publicly, the teachings of this papacy align more with Protestant beliefs than Catholic beliefs. Those who criticize those impressions act not in dissent from Catholic Faith, but in defense of it.

  • Tad

    The teachings of the Church should be presented as clear as possible. This is a duty of Catholic educators, priests, bishops, popes. Our Vicar of Christ Pope Francis should help us to be saved.

  • Alicia

    This pope talks too much. How do you talk your daughter, nieces and nephews, who are wonderful, loving, caring hard working, excellent wives, husbands, and parents, to go back to the church ? They come back at you with ” The Pope said.. ”
    This quote from Pope Francis was again shared by many on Facebook and got many ‘likes’
    ” It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a certain way, the traditional idea of God is not updated. One can be spiritual without being religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money. For many, nature can be a church. etc, etc, … ”
    Of course many atheists are good people. But, what is the updated idea of God ? Not necessary to go to church ? Nature can be a church ?
    Busy young people are not theologians and philosophers. I’m soooo tired of trying because I just get “the pope said..” Who am I , their aunt who was “brainwashed by old-fashioned nuns back in the time of black and white TV ” to know better than the Pope ?
    Several months ago, I got an email from my daughter saying “mom, the Pope said hell doesn’t exist ” I answered “Don’t believe a headline from liberal newspapers that take just one sentence out of context. Go to the Vatican website and read the whole speech.” I knew she wouldn’t do it, fortunately, because she would be as confused as I was with his strange explanation of hell.
    Why does he think he needs to explain hell ? Did he have a revelation, a vision ?
    I’ve given up trying. I can’t argue against “the pope said ” I’m nobody compared to him. So, I decided to let Our Lady take care of it. I pray daily rosaries for their return to the church. I also pray a daily rosary for my beloved church and the pope.
    Now in Mexico, he will be going to Juarez on the US border. Immigration. More controversy !
    He talks too much sometimes, and doesn’t talk enough when he should.
    I keep giving him the benefit of the doubt, and hoping for a miracle in March with his final say on the Synod.
    What’s the ‘ updated ‘ idea of God ?


    • ForChristAlone

      “” It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a certain way, the traditional idea of God is not updated. One can be spiritual without being religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money. For many, nature can be a church. etc, etc, … “”

      Alicia, is this actually a quote from what the Pope said? If so, it is disgraceful and shameful. Moreover, if he said that it’s not necessary to go to church and give money, he has once again contradicted himself since just this past week he went on about giving alms. But, then again, who am I to judge?

      • Alicia

        Yes, he said it some time ago. He went on to say that many atheists have been some of the best people in history while many believers have done horrible things in His name.
        I’m sure there are many atheists, who were never evangelized, in heaven because they followed the natural law. He should have stopped there. He didn’t need to go on about the church etc.
        The same with the Lutheran woman in Rome several weeks ago. He just doesn’t know when to stop talking. I guess he can’t help himself.
        The result is all the confusion and controversy.
        Everybody must pray for him.
        His trip to Mexico and Juarez is going to be picked up by the presidential candidates and the Catholic Church, again, is going to be at the center of ridiculous controversy.
        Pray for him.

      • Alicia

        The quote posted everywhe ends with belivers doing horrible things in His name, as I just said in my reply to you. I don’t kow what the rest of the speech said , but this is what young people are rpeating. They believe in God, all loving and embracing so the atheist part is not important. Neither is the money part because they tend to be generous. The big deal is the not having to go to church, nature, an updated God, and that being good is enough.
        It’s very frustrating.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Alicia. The quotes alleged to have been made by Pope Francis are a hoax. They were disseminated on a couple of websites instrumental in spreading falsehood confusion such as Diversity Chronicle. Pope Francis did not deny hell nor did he say what was attributed to him about a changing understanding of God and that all religions are the same. Check Edward Pentin in the Nat Cath Reg. He would have definitely noted anything as radical. Also Cardinal De Paolis noted canon law scholar and co author with Card Burke et Al of Remaining in the Truth of Christ would definitely have addressed the alleged quotes if true during his recent interview by Pentin. Certainly Raymond Arroyo would have been aware and disturbed by said allegations. In his interview with Pentin De Paolis addressed the likely prospect of decentralization and that insofar as that follows Tradition he foresees no problem. He added the maxim insofar as the Church remains cum Petro et sub Petro.

      • Alicia

        Thank you Father. Has the Vatican done anything legally against this company ? This is very serious and young people’s source of information is practically limited to internet. They share these quotes frequently and I’m sure they believe them to be true. They mean no harm to the pope or the church. It’s their way of defending their behaviour.
        This one was again on Facebook this week, but I had seen it before.
        Can’t the Church do anything about it ?

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          Yes Alicia the American hierarchy can. The difficulty will be the First Amendment Freedom of Speech clause and likely the Civil Liberties Union willingness to defend them. Lawyers will examine texts and argue defense on any wording that suggests the falsehoods. I still believe our hierarchy should address this issue because as you note it is misleading our young and the faithful in general. The litigation alone and news coverage will disseminate and confirm what the Magisterium actually teaches.

      • givelifeachance2

        The problem is that any such alleged statements are all too believable given what the pope *has* said (or not). Especially given the leviathan lapdog media, the pope’s words should ring clear as a bell. Helping our children have faith has become like a 100 mile pilgrimage crawling over gravel.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          That is a serious problem that must be addressed squarely by Church hierarchy. American bishops except for Thomas Tobin Providence Robert Morlino Madison and a few others seem hesitant likely due to their own ambivalence.

  • olhg1

    The Holy Father invited them to come to a Roman Catholic venue. If they come, it’ll save missionaries’ time and shoe leather. Wonderful times we’re living in.

  • Christophe

    Prof. Smith is the Jeb! Bush of Catholic Thing commentators- schoolmarmishly tut-tutting the faithful for being so angry at the devastation caused by their leaders. How dare you criticize your superiors for their obvious malfeasance!

    • GL29

      Great point

  • Francis Miller

    Your closing words do resonate. Certainly there is wisdom in them. The observations you make provide help regarding the actions and words of pope Francis I. I had gleaned that when Jesus taught and was present among us there were 3 results in people: a small totally energized group of believers who changed their lives for the Gospel, a sizable large group who were greatly affected and desired more and third group of the masses who were left, confused, disappointed, angry and bewildered. It seems we have the desire to move from 3 to 2 to 1. Volition can work only so far. Grace and faith are what achieves the goal. I suppose I could do without the confusion.

  • David Dickey

    Although you don’t mention him anywhere in this article, you are clearly trying to defend and promote Pope Francis. You insultingly accuse faithful Catholics of being Protestants if they disapprove of this Pope. You tried something along this same line in a previous article. But I beg to differ. If there is a “closet” Protestant, it is Pope Francis. He has made perfectly clear his disdain for the teachings and traditions of the Church. And he goes out of his way to ridicule Catholics who believe and practice those centuries old traditions and teachings. His conduct has been rude, crude, and swinish. Yet, I don’t know of any true Catholics calling for him to be “crucified”. We just want him to abdicate before it is too late.

  • Robert A Rowland

    A great article Randall. I was scandalized by the meeting at Assisi, by the VCII Decree on Ecumenism that seemed to imply that one church is as good as another, by Communion in the hand that was opposed by Pope Paul VI and rejected by the First Vatican Council. I am also scandalized by the impact that it had on the main doctrine of our faith.

    • Howard Kainz

      Paul VI did not oppose Communion in the hand, but at the request of some bishops allowed it in 1973, provided that due reverence was maintained.

      • Robert A Rowland

        I should have said he was not in favor of it. Some bishops and dissidents had continued it anyway and then blackmailed him into accepting it. Reverence was not maintained, and now because of it, only one in four still believe in the main doctrine of our faith. That is so obvious at any parish Novus Ordo Mass.

  • George

    Infallibility itself is fairly narrowly defined per Vatican I, but Pope Benedict was, ironically, quite progressive in expanding the dogma’s reach (during his own pontificate and under JP II).

    The notion of Petrine “primacy” is also fluid. JP II invited Protestants to offer proposals to redefine primacy in a manner that could further benefit Christian unity. And as I write this, Pope Francis is meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch and will likely discuss the same topic.

    So, it seems, part of the pope’s job is to define the pope’s job.

  • Murray

    Just noticed this while re-reading Dr Smith’s article:

    You should have good reasons for your position; you should strive not to impugn the integrity or good intentions of your interlocutor; and you should argue in such a way as not to give scandal. One rarely wins over others (including bystanders) by brow-beating them; you usually succeed only in making your side look bad.

    Hahahaha. Oh, the irony!

  • edith wohldmann

    “Time will tell where wisdom lies”

  • Randall B. Smith

    The Author Replies:

    Readers please take note: In this article, I haven’t defended Francis; I have defended the papacy as an institution. If you do a search, you’ll find that the name “Francis” does not appear.

    It seems the notion that Catholics are called upon to be grant a “religious submission of intellect and will” to the teachings of their Pope is simply a step too far for some Catholics, as is
    the notion that, if fraternal correction is in order, that such expressions of disagreement should make clear (A) one’s reasons are serious and well-founded; (B) one’s dissent does not intend to question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church or the Pope per se; and (C) the nature of the dissent is not such as to give rise to scandal.

    A thousand and one blog entries encourage hatred of the pope; this is one little reminder that, even if the man makes personal mistakes, as Pope his teaching authority remains. Is it
    really the latter person who is attacking the Church?

    Some of my interlocutors mention “faithfulness to Tradition” as though the Church’s tradition were a monolithic entity, not in need of authoritative interpretation. Early Protestant Reformers made an analogous mistake about “faithfulness to Scripture,” as though the Scriptures
    were not in need of authoritative interpretation.

    The question about “the tradition” has been at issue ever since the Council of Jerusalem had to decide whether one of the longest-held traditions of the faith community of which Jesus and all the apostles were a part, circumcision, needed to be continued. Later there was the question of whether the Church could use a non-Scriptural phrase (such as “homo-ousios”)
    to “define” the faith? Later yet, there was the question whether the definition of Christ as “one person” at the Holy Council of Ephesus could really coincide with the notion that Christ had two wills? (Answer: Yes, because the Holy Council of Chalcedon had later stated that Christ has “two natures,” even though there were some who in good faith opposed this point, seeing themselves as being faithful to “the tradition” of Ephesus.)

    If these questions were simple, and if everyone who was “orthodox” immediately agreed on an obvious solution, we wouldn’t need the guidance of the Spirit or a Magisterium that includes more than just one person.

    It is for these reasons that the three pillars of the Church are said to be Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium. Pulling out any one of these three would make the whole edifice collapse

    Some people are very angry. I hear you. I’m not entirely pleased. I share your concerns and disappointment. But I explicitly set out to distinguish a pope’s “actions” from “teachings.” A pope’s actions are not authoritative “teaching.” When certain Renaissance popes had illegitimate children, this wasn’t a change in the Church’s position on marriage — even when these popes turned a blind eye to other clerics and powerful men committing the same sin. It was a very grievous sin. And yes, it caused serious divisions within the Church. But it also led to crucial reforms. The Spirit can take even the mistakes we make and turn them to His purposes. I suggest prayer, fasting, and faith in the Spirit’s long-term providential care.

    If faithful Catholics wish to make fraternal corrections of things the Pope does, then they can do so, as long as they are thoughtful, well-reasoned, and respectful of the office, with a view
    to what sort of disposition they are inculcating in our fellow Catholics toward future popes and always with a view toward charity and Church unity.

    The question I would ask is whether the comments one reads repeatedly about Francis are indicative of a healthy attitude toward the papacy or expressions of a dangerous spirit of rancor and division.

    As St. Paul warns us: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31). And again in Gal 5:20: he condemns “enmities, strife, jealousies,wraths, factions, divisions.”

    If you think you are “defending the papacy” or really “helping the Church” by a steady stream of vitriolic and divisive comments about this or any pope — even taking the occasion of doing so when his name isn’t mentioned — then with all due respect, I think you’re mistaken.

    • GL29

      Here is another perspective on your points. From the very start of this pontificate we have seen grave confusion and division. Set aside the reasons for now. If the professional Catholic class had acknowledged the obvious problems and not spun every instance in an intellectually dishonest way, then perhaps there would be less vitriol.

      We constantly are told there is no problem. It is the press. It is the translation. It is that the pope is from South America. On and on. Article after article after article all claiming to explain that what we see and hear are not to be seen as a rupture.

      At some point we all must be honest
      and admit there is a problem.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      A good statement. My concern is your reference to Tradition [Apostolic] as not monolithic. Your understanding may coincide with the interpretation of Cardinal De Paolis a renowned canon lawyer, whom I find reasonable regarding possible “modification”. If you haven’t read his interview by Edward Pentin on the issues we’re all concerned with I suggest you do.

    • ForChristAlone

      I cannot believe that Francis is unaware of the spirit of disunity his various pronouncements have caused in the Body of Christ. Since his humility has been extolled as one of his primary virtues, perhaps it is time for him to acknowledge this reality publicly and push the restart buttom. After all, if Francis can go out of his way to heal the 1000 year old rift between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, perhaps he might do the same for his co-religionists with whom he is already in communion.

      What you, Professor, mistakenly describe as vitriol on the part of faithful Catholics is an expression of loving concern for the integrity of the Body.

    • Aqua

      What you call a steady stream of vitriolic and divisive comments, I call defense of Tradition. It is only divisive because the modern Church sets Tradition against Modernism and favors Modernism, innovation and cheap cultural newness over what was handed down carefully from age to age.

      The two paths are incompatible. Unity is only possible by accepting either one or the other. Pointing this out, and defending Tradition against its replacement is divisive, perhaps, but really necessary.

    • Aqua

      One last point. The key to your reasoning is this:

      “Some of my interlocutors mention “faithfulness to Tradition” as though the Church’s tradition were a monolithic entity, not in need of authoritative interpretation. Early Protestant Reformers made an analogous mistake about “faithfulness to Scripture,” as though the Scriptures were not in need of authoritative interpretation.”

      You then provide examples. But in all those cases, and in all others through time, 100% of the time, the resolution was either in line with the direct words of Christ, or were definitions and actions against attempted innovation in line with Tradition; never something new and current for the needs of the day…innovation, change. Luther innovated. He complied with and led the Revolutionary spirit of his day. The Church stood against him, defining clearly at Trent the Dogmas at stake, all of which remained faithful to Christ and Tradition.

      What we see today, however, is innovation being promoted AGAINST Tradition and the clear words of Christ from WITHIN the highest levels of our Church.

      In this day of mass apostasy and evil throughout the world, we need more than ever a Pope standing strong against the gail we can look to for strength and guidance. He should be a sign of CONTRADICTION, not affirmation, the more evil the world is around him. It is fearful for Catholics, for me personally, to live in a world like this of such confusion and evil, diabolical attacks from every side, and not have the certainty that there is a Rock I can turn to; a shepherd risen up for just such a time who does not, will not ever give in to innovation and the reasonings of a godless world. Instead we, I, hear strange doctrines and interpretations never seen before which smell strongly of something not Catholic.

  • veritasetgratia

    Randall you have hit a raw nerve for conscientious Catholics. Relativism is being remarketed as inculturation, and talk of decentralisation of the Papacy makes good Catholics anxious knowing well the spread of secular attitudes in local Bishops Conferences. Pope Benedict said the Authority rests with individual Bishops in their own dioceses. Bishops Conferences are just an administrative construct. So what are Catholics to make of the latest elevation of Bishops Conferences? Are Doctrinal and pastoral questions administrative questions ? The issue of “being in communion with the Pope” is a topic which needs a fresh and deeper look. I was told by a senior cleric here that it meant being in communion with the actual person of the Pope. He may have had a rethink on that since but he said being in communion with the Office of the Papacy was not a goer. I am happy to be in communion with St. Peter and those who shared the “faith” of St. Peter through the history of the Popes. Just at the moment, I believe it is unfair and perhaps impatient to try and simplify this issue for Catholics, and I look forward to reading well researched Church commentaries of those who are interested in this issue.

  • GL29

    The media is not responsible for the problem. The media has not suddenly changed in the past 3 years. Please.

    • samton909

      Absolving the media for their contribution to the problem is just as silly as saying they are the entirety of the problem. Once Francis showed up, the media seized on him in a way they had not done with other Popes. Other Popes they just despised and sought to belittle. This Pope they saw they could use to further certain agendas they have, such as furthering the gay agenda (“Who am I to judge”), trying to make the church ignore sin (“Francis wants a less condemning church”) etc etc. In Francis, they got a Pope who they wanted to boost in certain ways, so they completely suppress all Orthodox statements that the guy makes. Then they twist and distort any moderate or liberal sounding statements until they bear no relation to what the Pope actually said.

      Have the discipline to lay blame where it belongs, and if it belongs in more than one place then that is what we should do. All too often, I hear people getting upset because of the media’s distortion of Francis, rather than the real Francis. Francis has plenty of problems, and he bears a lot of responsibility for the distaste that people have for him. But bear in mind he is not the AntiChrist either, and half the time he is a good, competent Pope. The other half of the time, Oy vay.

      • EC321

        It is disingenuous to blame the media. The media does what it always does. The Pope is well aware of how the media acts. To keep claiming the “media” as some new and nefarious element is dishonest.

  • Colonel Burton

    The Roman church self description is catholic and the founding principle is Jesus’ anointment of Peter, the first pope. The argument about infallibility is the protestant creed. If we are admitting fallibility, then the church cannot possess authority and the notion of a catholic church is incoherent.

    • Murray

      The Church herself has clearly delineated the scope of papal infallibility, in the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ of Vatican I:

      6. For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles

      9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

      There is nothing protestant about adhering to the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church on papal infallibility. But it is necessary, once in a while, to explain that teaching to Catholics who have been led to believe that it is far more comprehensive than it actually is.

  • James

    Was not Galileo the recipient of the corrective not because of the theory of heliocentricism (Copernicus had proposed that as well with no comeuppance),
    but because he stated it 1) as fact before it could be definitively proven; 2) against the advice to propose it as theory in line with the protocol of the scientific method;, 3) brazenly, in a personal and contrarian mode against the person of the pope; and 4) implying theological consequences outside his competency to speculate. The corrective he received was not against heliocentricism, but his method of proposing it, and of proposing a theory as a fact before it could be definitively proven. The corrective was justified, though the administration of it was cast in a poor light by those who hate the Church. He was actually treated rather kindly.
    Critique the pontificates of Pius XI and John Paul II (who, despite my deep
    veneration, was not without a certain blindness) as you wish. Let us merely say
    they did not present the pattern of ecclesiastical disorientation we are presently experiencing.
    Those critical of the current occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter do not hate the Church or the papacy. They do not hate him. Quite the contrary. They are calling for a prudential administration of the authority of the Pope in line with the Magisterium of the Church – which he is personally either unwilling or unable to perform. What are we to do in a situation where the individual with a responsibility is performing inadequately, to put it kindly?
    Of even greater concern is the condition of the body responsible for the election of the pope. Every conclave is not an opportunity to change the drapes and confect a new color palette. Are the ecclesiastics of the current epoch unable to relinquish their addiction to revisioning reality according to the “lights” of their “academic” training, rather than dropping to their knees in adoration and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the treasure of the Catholic Church, gifted us through His Son, Jesus Christ?
    The substitution of hubris for humility, no matter what moniker you ascribe to it, does not make it the eighth virtue, even if it is in the spirit of an ecumenical council of dubious credential. Man up and drop the pretense. Chronological imperialism is beneath the dignity of the local associate pastor, let alone bishops who have risen to a responsibility most often out of their ability to perform.
    Those who find it necessary to sacrilegiously lay the lash of obedience on the faithful loudly mourning the current state of crisis might best turn their ire on the folks at the National Catholic Reporter liturgically dancing for joy for things as they are today. Only disciplinarians of a certain ilk are greeted well there.

    • Jon S.

      Thank you, James, for your reply to Professor Smith’s reply and for your latest comment.

      • James

        That is very kind. Thank you.

    • Murray

      Beautifully put, James. I might add that the expert Jesuit astronomers of Galileo’s time had good empirical reasons to be skeptical of his heliocentric theories. Galileo turned out to be right in the end, but that was far from obvious at the time. And by treating his interlocutors (including the pope, his friend and former patron!) as simpletons, Galileo was his own worst enemy.

      The science-fiction author (and Catholic) Michael Flynn wrote an excellent series of blog posts providing historical and scientific context to the Galileo affair. Google “the great ptolemaic smackdown” if you’re interested.

      • James

        Thank you Murray. When I learned the “untold story” years ago I was shocked, but it was a real eye opener for a young man still hesitant to believe what was put in front of you, even by “good guys,” was not always true. How many times have we heard ecclesiastics bend over and take the lash for Galileo’s infraction, instead of correcting those that perpetrate misunderstanding, black legends, and flagrant mendacity. We appear to live in the “Culture of the Lie.” All the virtues are in short supply, but you would think fortitude would manifest itself more often than it does.

  • James

    Let’s recall that that the Pope appears quite comfortable in his disarming chats with the press. His sharp witticisms bespeak an individual capable of setting the press quite straight should he wish to do so.
    Perhaps a frank and unambiguous chat with our favorite atheist, Signor Scalfari, would serve the purpose of bringing journalists to awareness that the Magisterium is being maintained, that orthodoxy is not extinct in Roman Catholicism. Apparently he does not deem that necessary, and would prefer to target the “Pharisees” among us.
    One commenter shed light on a possible cause for the Pope repetitive peculiar episodes with Scalfari – a stunted personality substituting contrarian comportment for competency and intellect; a feigned piety veiling a protestant perspective.
    The papacy and our church have been reduced to caricature. One
    person can remedy the dilemma very easily indeed.
    Long before ascending to the Chair of St. Peter, Joseph Ratzinger pointed out that the Holy Spirit always inspires. Men do not always listen.

  • Thomas Gillespie

    “A thousand and one blog entries encourage hatred of the pope”. I haven’t read a single post in this thread that meets this description. What I have read is vitriolic verbal abuse and insults directed at broad swathes of Catholics by this Pope (and some of his apologists), a pastoral “style” that you wouldn’t tolerate from your parish priest or your local postman.

    Elephant in the room: quite apart from his theological errors (sometimes called ‘heresies’), there are serious issues of character here: a rigid authoritarianism, punishment of perceived ‘enemies’, bursts of anger and abusive, insulting language. This is simply not a well-balanced man, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.

    I spent 25 years leading US Marines in a wide variety of circumstances and learned to recognize good and bad leadership. I would not willingly entrust a single person to this man’s leadership. The deficiencies of character here are too pronounced.

  • veritasetgratia

    Real Catholics know Jesus is in charge in the Church, and personally I have no intention of leaving the Church – frankly everything I yearn for and love is in the Catholic Church, so patience is important here, but also a personal answer to the question – how to live out the Gospel and teach the full truth of the Catholic faith in such an atmosphere?

  • Morton

    In response to Mr. Smith’s most recent comment, his advice to pray and trust in the Spirit is good advice. To show restraint in criticism of the Pope is also good advice.
    Here’s the thing though, the Pope says and does many problematic things, and that is, well, problematic. Apparently some of the individuals chosen by him as cardinals also hold problematic views. Like the Panamanian cardinal who said at the Synod on the Family that Moses had a more merciful view of marriage than Jesus because he allowed divorce. Apparently the Cardinal was surprised when he was made a cardinal by the Pope. So are the rest of us knowing what we now know about his tenuous grasp of basic scriptural underpinnings of the teachings of the church. He will of course be choosing Pope Francis’s successor. So as I say, we do need to heed the advice to pray and indeed double-down on prayer during the next conclave.
    Cardinal Pell has questioned the wisdom of plunging headlong into the global warming debate in Laudato si. Cardinal Pell and 12 other cardinals wrote to the Pope on the eve of the last Synod on the family to tell him flat out of their grave concerns with the preparatory Synod documents and procedure prepared by the Pope’s hand-picked prelates. I think a lot of us commenters here are therefore in pretty good company. One can go so far as to say that we have a duty to speak up. These are unusual times and it’s not business as usual in the church. It’s probably on this point where Mr. Smith and many of us disagree.

    • Faithful Catholic

      “It’s probably on this point where Mr. Smith and many of us disagree.” Morton, you nailed it. As a life long devout Catholic, I would never have imagined a papacy where I would so frequently have serious concerns. I have seen many articles over the years criticizing JPII for the ecumenical prayer meeting in Assisi. I was not concerned about this particular incident because JPII was a great pope, a very holy pope who for the most part upheld and strongly defended the teachings of the Church. One can easily overlook an occasional situation where a pope appears to have made a mistake or could have used better judgment. Unfortunately, the majority of the words and actions of Pope Francis that one hears about, fall in the above categories.

      • Morton

        You make a good point that it is the ongoing frequency of the controversial words and actions that also distinguishes this papacy from previous papacies. I should have said “…the Pope continuously says and does many problematic things…”.
        As Alicia said below – “this Pope talks too much” and though it sounds like a glib comment, it actually is dead on.

  • James

    Herewith proposing some answers to Professor Smith’s questions, which manifest a perfectly justified note of desperation about them.
    1] “None of us can “fix” everything that’s wrong with the Church.” While not a question, it presents a notion which requires a response. There is nothing wrong with the essential Roman Catholic construct of Holy Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium, but there is a lot wrong with the cast of characters who think they can tinker with it and offer us the new and improved version of Roman Catholicism according to their taste. We are called to conform to the timeless revelation of Jesus Christ handed down through the centuries.
    2] “Is it wrong, in light of that fact, to ask Catholics to pray, to be patient, and to trust in the providential care of the Spirit?” Yes it is wrong. It is wrong to ask people to be patient when they have been patient for over fifty years while they watch the Roman Catholic Church rendered deconstructed, dismantled, dismembered, rendered half dead and left dying in the gutter by those called to render tender care of the gift Christ left to us in the Church, His Mystical Body. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger rightly pointed out the Holy Spirit is always inspiring, men are not always listening.
    3] “Is it utterly ridiculous to beg Catholics to take care that what they say about the Pope so as not to provide fuel for our enemies who oppose the Church and hate the papacy? I have intended no more than that.” Yes it is utterly ridiculous. We have been watching a fifty yearlong train wreck described as everything from a work of the Holy Spirit to an art form. Chaos is not a work of the Holy Spirit. Chaos is a clear sign of the Adversary. The heterodox element in the hierarchy, particularly in the College of Cardinals, can be reasonably accused of machining a total deconstruction of Roman Catholicism to suit their purpose. Placing a man such as we presently have occupying the Chair of Peter serves the purpose of undermining the papacy and rendering the laity mute with calls to – “religious submission of intellect and will,” – long abandoned among Team Bergoglio, only employed by them silence those they regard threatening. Anyone who has been in the priesthood or religious life recognizes this. Believe me, it be déjà vu all over again.
    Be assured the only people who care about the Catholic Church and the papacy are the very people raising their voices regarding the recklessness presently manifest in Rome and throughout much of the worldwide hierarchy. The other group is comprised of the brokenhearted who perceive correctly the reality at hand but, rendered speechless by their own limitations and guilt tripped into silence by notions and articles similar to this, sit quietly in agony. If anyone believes otherwise click over to the National Catholic Reporter and witness the cannibalism manifest there.
    The theological and clerical class has an inordinate number of those I term “transcendental atheists,” cloaked in “spiritual” notions, but not accenting to the plainly stated Magisterium. Why should they jump ship when they can live out their days in a manner to which they have become accustomed?
    Regard Roman Catholicism in 1960 and compare it to the reality today. Bring this before the Holy Spirit and plead, “Why?” Listen carefully. I doubt there will be anything to do with sociology, psychology or speculative academic theology. “You lost devotion. You lost faith. You blinked during your stare down with the Devil.”
    Have we really opened our eyes to the reality before us since?

  • Randall B. Smith

    If you think Cardinals Pell or Sarah would approve of comments disrespectful of the Holy Father, you don’t know them. Speak on your own authority if you judge it necessary, but don’t claim either of them as your sponsors or as members of your company.

    Nothing I’ve written suggests a Catholic can’t “speak up.” What I have repeated are the Church’s guidelines for such disagreements. Catholics such as Charles Curran seemed to think he was in good company too and had all the arguments he needed when he called dozens of theologians and Catholic leaders around the country to sign a letter saying Pope Paul VI was seriously misleading the Church with his teaching in Humanae Vitae. He was allowed to “speak up.” The way he chose to express his disagreement and dissatisfaction did harm to the Church.

    When did you ever hear Cardinal Pell or Cardinal Sarah speak out publicly against the Holy Father? My cardinal, DiNardo, signed that letter, and you will NEVER hear him speak poorly of the Holy Father.

    Think about the spirit you are encouraging. Foolish comments by a cleric in Panama to the press do not justify divisive comments about the Pope.

    • Michael DeLorme

      Ronald Reagan followed his own 11th commandment and never spoke ill of other Republicans. Then again, he didn’t have Mitch McConnell to deal with.

      I suggest one’s station in life has a lot to do with what one allows himself to say. Call it presumption on my part but I imagine Cardinals Pell, Sarah and your own DiNardo nevertheless bite their tongues regardless of public demeanor.

      I’m not saying ordinary faithful Catholics are exempt from decorum or that they should stoop to Trump-style ridicule; but I find no example in your above article where you cite specific examples of disrespect.

      So someone mistakenly thought that John Paul’s not giving Communion in the hand meant he condemned the practice. Well? So correct him and move on. This is disrespect?

      “Watching a Pope’s every action for its political action” may be anal-retentive; it’s hardly disrespectful. Nor is cynicism when you know that the person should know better—as when the only person Francis shook hands with the day he addressed Congress was the rabidly pro-abort John Kerry.

      If my disgust needs to be hidden because it was the Pope, and not Beyonce, then you’ve lost me altogether. And if Francis doesn’t know that cozening the sinner in that context signals sympathy for Kerry’s position on abortion—which was exactly how the media played it—then it is he who needs to remember his station in life.

      “Christian, recognize your dignity!”: -Tertullian

    • sg4402

      I suggest that “silence” has been one of the great “sins” of the last 50 years—perhaps the greatest (even more so than abortion, that ‘sign’ of the present age) . Alas! Many infer that “silence means consent”. To take some license with Burke, let me say: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [remain silent]”.

      The Church crumbles, and Nero fiddles.

  • ForChristAlone

    You seem to imply that praying for this Pope and being patient are somehow contrary to many faithful Catholics voicing their objections to the Pope’s many ill-tempered remarks. They are not contradictory. We happen to pray for this Pope everytime we attend Mass. Let’s also remember that during the Mass the Pope refers to himself as the Father’s unworthy servant.

    I think it’s time for the Pope to recognize that his comments have not promoted unity among the faithful. And let’s be clear about one thing: when I refer to the “faithful” I am not implying those Catholics who have no guilt of sin, but those who DO accept all that the Catholic Church teaches. These are the ones among whom the Pope is creating confusion. The faithful here are NOT those who practice Cafeterianism.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      ForChristAlone please take a look at my reply to Prof Smith above.

  • Murray

    I’ve been asked what are we called upon to grant a “religious submission of intellect and will”?

    Yes, and you have conspicuously failed to answer this question apart from repeating, as boilerplate, a single short section from LG25. Instead of advancing the discussion, you are merely recapitulating your original point.

    But as I demonstrated at length in a comment to your previous article, the authentic magisterium of the Church is limited to matters of faith and morals. This is hammered home again and again in the very document you cite, as well as in Canon Law. By omitting this crucial definition, you lead people to believe that the magisterial scope of (say) Laudato Si is far more comprehensive than it actually is.

    This means (in the case of Laudato Si) that we can immediately remove all scientific and empirical claims from the magisterial arena. Likewise with any specific economic, social, or political remedies proposed in the encyclical.

    And so we return to my original–and persistently unanswered!–question to Dr Smith: What are the new magisterial teachings (i.e. those dealing with faith and morals) in Laudato Si to which Catholics are required to provide “religious submission of intellect and will”?

  • ForChristAlone

    You should have been the one to pen the article on the faithful’s response to what comes out of Rome and other ecclesiastical precincts these days. It’s the orthodox who are being vilified, not the Holy Father.

    Well said, indeed!

    • James

      I am humbled. Thank you.


    “The Jubilee of Mercy needed to be preceded by a year of examen, and that itself followed by a year of penance”, ….so very needed …and so very truly Catholic!

  • Morton

    At the risk of being “divisive”, I must say that I have never seen as much division in the Roman Catholic Church as we’ve seen in the last three years under Pope Francis. The last time I recall such division was 1978, the last year under Pope Paul VI. Perhaps the division has always been there and it has now just come out in the open under Francis.
    What has disappointed with Pope Francis is that he seems to stoke the divisions. Waving around Pope Benedict’s nemesis’ book at his first Sunday Angelus is but one example. Another is the absolute disregard for Pope John Paul II’s writings on the family including his encyclical at the recent Synod on the Family. Instead of building on the work of the two recent pontificates, Pope Francis appears to be undoing what was done by them. He rarely quotes his two predecessors. I appreciate he doesn’t have to be in lockstep with the two previous papacies but he has gone to, in my mind, strange lengths to distance himself from them.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Morton this is a hypothetical that I likely will be hammered for. Is it possible that someone can be raised to the pontificate whose intent is to remake the Church in his own image rather than Christ’s? Would he do it by attempting to formally change doctrine, which is not possible because he knows he can’t or would he seek to achieve it by other viable but deceptive and apparently inexorable means, as seems to be occurring, such as innuendo, suggestion, acts, offhand words, informal admonitions, opinion. Remember this is only a hypothetical. Is it possible? If it appears so whether or not it is the Pontiff’s conscious intention do we not have conscientious mandate to witness to the Truth openly, without fear of detractors, and with conviction.

      • James

        You will find no hammer here, Father. The hypothetical you present has been my great fear from the very beginning. With the Martini stories, the Daneels gossip that came out, maybe a year ago, it convinced me that there is something very credible to such speculation. Is it true? Of course, I don’t know, but given our experience in the adult matrix of business and relationships, it surely is not impossible. What could possibly brought Pope Benedict to resign? He seems reasonably fine. How is it possible to have John Paul II and Benedict XVI succeeded by a man of “this school?”
        What can be in the minds of the ordained to elect someone like this to the papacy? It does not follow from the Magisterium. It simply does not follow logically. It does not make sense.

        • edith wohldmann

          did Jesus not say “I have come in the name of the father and you have not accepted me but when he comes in his own name you will welcome him”? I am glad we have a Pope Emeritus to intercede and pray for the church. I have never prayed as much as now and I intend to increase prayer for the Pope and for the Church. thank you for all your great contributions on this website.

  • Quo Vadis

    We have our church that has been suffering through a sex abuse scandal , same-sex marriage debate, contraceptive mandate with Obamacare, illegal immigration debate, declining attendance, priest shortage, and then an administration in the US sympathetic it seems to traditional communist and other enemies etc. The last two Popes defended traditional teachings of the church and then along comes Francis.

    He speaks about, “Who am I to judge”, and encourages discussion about divorced Catholics, steps into global warming, economic policy, “Welcoming immigrants” and Cuba. (Almost without restriction), etc.

    All of these comments, while they have so far resulted in little action, (except for the Holy Thursday change of the “Washing of the Feet”), and changes in Rome, have led to confusion and upset of the Faithful. This at a time when we needed a steady and firm hand at the head of the church.

  • Dogann

    Hello, you say “In the entire history of the Church, there are
    perhaps eight proclamations that meet the stringent requirements for an
    infallible pronouncement.”
    Could you give some precise example (except Mary’s dogma’s that everyone knows) ? Thanks

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Prof Smith like our beloved [at least for me] Supr Ct Just Antonin Scalia I do not attack persons but scurrilous opinion. In fact I kind of like you if only for your persistence and good intent. As to the basis of your argument that criticisms by persons on this website are contrary to the Third Proposition which cites anything enunciated by a pontiff that is a dead argument. Therefore I’m prepared to provide bereavement counsel for your deceased opinion.

  • sg4402

    The problem with this pope goes far beyond just his person, dare I say his “idiosyncrasies”? He represents, and is a clear spokesman for, that iniquitous movement declaring itself “the spirit of Vatican ll”, which is well on its way to destroying a Tradition and Faith of 2000 years in the hearts and minds of countless unsuspecting Christians. In short, the MOVEMENT overshadows the man, and he is caught in the contradictions.

    Your comparisons are of a different time. We are in a time, I suggest, like no other. The earliest of Christians were existentially threatened, to be sure, but they had zeal and, dare I say, “rigor”?

  • Anzlyne

    Infallible, ot impeccable. The infallibility is to protect the faithful from being misled. The impeccabilty can mislead the faithful before infallibility can pull on its boots.

  • Michael DeLorme

    Of Eucharistic Adoration, Notre Dame’s Father Richard P. McBrien–the late Father McBrien—wrote: “Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.

    What respect do those words or did that man deserve?

    As a child of God, I pray he’s in Heaven. May his words rot forever!

  • Mike Hamann

    Thank you for this article, Professor Smith. I have read the comments as well and believe that this is a discussion well worth having. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • James

    Today’s (2/18) “Papal Error” headline found over at the AP:
    “Pope suggests contraception can be condoned in Zika crisis”
    The gift that keeps on giving, along with the dip into the Trump pool just publicised on the news. Term it error, miscalculation, or any other of a number of terms, it doesn’t end.

    • GL29

      Quick, blame the media.

  • Morton

    Re: the Pope’s in-flight press conference in the flight back from Mexico to Rome
    Pope Francis will leave no question unanswered, no opinion unexpressed – on pretty well any topic under the sun.
    Hence my question, is the church well served by this loquacity?

  • Nancy Lynne

    Is it utterly ridiculous to beg the Pope to take care that what he says about Catholics and Catholicism so as not to provide fuel for our enemies who oppose the Church and hate the papacy?

  • Tanyi Tanyi

    The truth is that everyone knows the Emperor in the Vatican is without robes! It is clear even to non-Catholics that Francis wants to make the Church according to his own image and likeness. He cites an article by a Jesuit to the effect that Paul VI allowed for contraceptives for nuns in the Congo – a myth that has no evidence to it, and goes far afield in answering simple questions. His verbosity has done so much damage to the Church.

    • SJ Man

      Like a nun would need contraceptives……give me a break.

  • Michael DeLorme

    Pray for this Pope.