It’s no secret that the past two years have been profoundly upsetting to people who, up till recently, defined their Catholicism in terms of institutional loyalty. In addition, some of their number would define others who disagreed with them (and sometimes the pope of the day) as non-Catholic.
I do take seriously the inner anguish of people like Steve Skojec. Once serene and picturesque web sites are now punctuated with open questions like this: Can A Catholic Criticize the Pope?
Of course, if I asked that question three to fifteen years ago on a site like that, I would be called a heretic. Or worse. It’s the main reason why my wife insists on a partial anonymity for her and the young miss on this site. Even the Anchoress has admitted a similar practice in her long pseudonymity to protect her sons from the other side of the cruel divide.
As a church minister, I have to tread lightly in my criticisms. I’m a part of the institution, after all. And not everybody is prepared to listen to criticism in detail. Some people don’t get past the critic. In that case, when the critic is traditional-leaning, the opposition often smirks. When the critic is progressive-leaning, pastors and bishops are notified that a new heretic must be
burned fired criticized in turn.
On his website Mr Skojec confesses he is a married father of six. If his family life is anything like mine, I am sure he is occasionally inclined to criticize his wife or children. Some curious questions–ones I ask myself:
- Am I really right? Or does my wife have a valid stance here?
- If I am right, will my criticism help the situation or worsen it?
- Even if I think my criticism will be acted on, is my timing good? For example: if that guy didn’t call my daughter like he promised, should I mention the dishes piling up? And if I did, would the contribution to kitchen cleanliness outweigh the overall pouty mood?
Ctrl-F is a dangerous act on the web. It’s easy enough to find the words that really have meaning to people. On Mr Skojec’s link, “pope” was mentioned in the essay and comments 93 times, and “Jesus” or “Christ” 23. Does that say something? What is more important, 265 popes or the man who set it all up at the beginning? 264 popes are dead to this Earth. Jesus lives.
Can Catholics criticize the pope? Sure they can. It is not a defining point of membership or non-membership. Not even three to fifteen years ago.
I suspect what a few Catholics struggle with is twofold:
- The blogosphere, for better or mostly worse, has developed into a critic’s heaven. Or hell, if you prefer. Once a person starts in the mode of critic, it is very hard to get away from it. I take the disappearance of many bloggers over the years to be a sign that a lot of people finally got it. And thanks to a few confessors and spouses, the e-critiques came to an end.
- The very bile leveled at so many sisters and brothers didn’t stick so much to the heretics, the liberals, and the pope-critics of yesteryear. It came home to roost.
The question isn’t “Can I criticize the pope?” The real conundrum is that when bloggers in, say, 2007 felt this way, they would write up a little nasty, tack on a red emoticon, and be done with it. When the pope makes somebody feel this way, well the attack isn’t so quick and natural. And maybe that’s a good thing.
Maybe there are necessary questions to ponder when the instinct to criticize anyone wells up from our gut. Am I right? Will it help? Or is it really about me? And if so, maybe it’s been about me all along. And not any pope. And not Jesus Christ.