On Heresy, The New Kind

I don’t think you saw quite as much of this in the old days*, a discussion getting shut down outright instead of just banning all the liberals. Blogger Dave Armstrong asks in his title, “Is Pope Francis A Heretic?” My online friends know of my opinion on that word: it has experienced organic development to mean “a person whose opinion about religious stuff I dislike.” A condemnation by the pajama magisterium, in other words.

Mr Armstrong does a nice bit of retro-apologetical analysis and comes to a conclusion:

(T)he pope (or at least a high-ranking Cardinal in effect speaking “for” him) needs to clarify, and the sooner the better.

There’s a reason I don’t believe Pope Francis will “clarify.” In doing so, he would widen the number of people who have a legitimate means of judging the divorced and remarried. Gossip hounds, bloggers, and others would have the information not to settle their own consciences, but to settle the matter for other souls. Pope Francis is wise, and plays the long game here. He is concerned for the souls of people who were bolstered in the heady days of the curia-run-amok. And make no mistake: being a busybody is no gilded path to heaven.

Pope Francis is a pastor. Like a pastor I once worked for, he seems to be the kind of guy who, when in receipt of an anonymous letter of complaint, throws it in the trash right away. When somebody signs it, he waits for the person to request an appointment. He will listen. And he might not agree. But he will give anyone the time of day. The Footnote 351 Gang of Four are cardinals. If any of them asked for a meeting, I’m sure they would get it.

But they don’t seem to be asking for that. They seem to want marching orders. For everybody else. I’m content to let matters of Footnote 351 rest with well-trained pastors who are skilled in the craft of discernment.

The longer the current confusion continues on, the worse it gets. It’s now scandalous. Soon it will be outright disastrous, leading to defections into quasi-schismatic radical reactionary Catholicism or out of Catholicism altogether (similar to an early 70s scenario of mass defection).

“Scandal” has also been redefined as of late. It now seems to mean “Stuff that’s none of my business I found out about online that troubles me.” If one wants to search the Google high and low for troubling news, that’s not scandal. That’s being a news aggregator.

The more uncertainty we have, the more we will have undue and unedifying speculation, detraction, gossip, calumny, and slander taking place in our beloved social media.

And that is not good . . .

Beloved? I’m not so sure our social media is so beloved. It does tend to show our darker natures, that’s for sure. I think people frustrated at having no clarification could just turn off the computer. Or stick with cutecats.com or a saint-of-the-day website.

“Undue and unedifying speculation, detraction, gossip, calumny, and slander” has been taking place in the Church for millennia. Before St Blog’s there was the parish coffee hour. Before that there was Corinth, one of two New Testament communities that got a follow-up letter. Make of that what you will.

In an interview early in his papacy, Pope Francis conceded he was a sinner. That’s not a bad or untrue admission to make. We can all make it. It’s a better thing to say than “You are a sinner.” Only God gets to say that. And when that is said, God knows of what’s being talked about.

* The high water years of Catholic blogging, 2001-2013

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Church News, Commentary, Hermeneutic of Subtraction, The Blogosphere and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to On Heresy, The New Kind

  1. Liam says:

    Good stuff.

    Pope Francis doesn’t treat the faith as something that comes in chub packaging. I’ve long believed that part of his method is to encourage an approach that treats papal statements as less oracular than has been the case for the past 150 years or so. To that extent, the Four Scarlet Horsemen are doing Pope Francis’ work for him.

    • Devin Rice says:

      I am not lost to the idea that Pope Francis is creating some sort of “kick-back” and allowing for greater questioning of papal decisions. If some of the bishops and cardinals were as bold as they are now during the JP2 era, would the reforms started by Francis concerning the abuse crisis have occurred earlier?

      But as the current Pontiff shows, bold speaking bishops can be ignored.

  2. Melody says:

    So these four red-hatted gentlemen want clarification. But they want it to go in a certain direction. The question is; if they get a clarification, and it isn’t what they had in mind, will they stand down? My take is, not on your thurifer. They are forcing the issue, or trying to. Ambiguity is supposedly so terribly bad. But Scripture itself is at times ambiguous. We have Jesus’ clear-cut words in Matthew 19:8. But then we have his treatment of the woman at the well, in seeming contradiction.

  3. Devin Rice says:

    I am not sure why Pope Francis is making his job harder than it has to be. Prior to AL, JP2 gave clear guidance (whether disciplinary or doctrinally) about communion in these irregular situations. Pope Francis could have given any number of answers that would be clearer, respectful of the ambiguity/subjective nature of individual situations but without having a “false ambiguity”. See for example the statements by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Rocco Buttiglione.

    Whether or not Pope Francis wants people to pay less attention to himself or wants people to be less dependent on papal statements, does not change the fact that in end “the pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.” LG 22 (https://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2006/09/04/115591391580002936/)

    People are still under obligation to obey the teachings of the Pope including the disciplinary teachings of his predecessors unless the current Pope abrogates the prior discipline.

    Pope John Paul II gave guidance that there should be no communion for the divorced and remarried in order to help illustrate the indissolubility of the sacrament. And many priests in their counseling of couples in such situations obeyed for the sake of the sacrament, in virtue of the obedience to the Petrine Office and trusting the God could provide grace extra-sacramentally to such couples.

    Most priest and bishops today are “JP2 priests” in that they were formed in the joys, struggles and teachings of that pontificate. While I cannot to speak for the four cardinals, but due to my dealings with different priests and bishops, I suspect that they will follow Francis due to his office and trust in Holy Spirit. If he wants to change the discipline or leave such matters to local bishops’ conferences, they will follow and incorporate such matters into their pastoral accompaniment.

    But he doesn’t seem to want to do that, at least not directly. He heavily implies that he wants something along the lines of Kaspar and Schönborn but does not say that. This is ironic because Francis can speak in very direct and blunt ways and take decisive action in regards to other matters (i.e. priest sex abuse scandal).

    To use a gendered stereotype, he acts almost like a wife who wants her husband to do something but won’t come out and say it. She only uses subtle and not too subtle passive aggressive hints. Such things are not good in the life of marriage and I doubt they would be good for the Church.

    • Liam says:

      I think the answer is built into the very first sentence of your comment. It’s not about coming up with a formulation of words that makes things easy; the Pope’s seeming inaction is underscoring that looking for easy is part of the problem, not a genuine solution.

      • Devin Rice says:

        My retort is to distinguish between acknowledging and engaging in complex, ambiguous and difficult situations versus “unnecessarily/unhelpfully” adding to the difficulty of an already hard situation. For example, the path and formulation of words outlined by Cardinal Schönborn may add greater difficulty to pastoral accompaniment and allow for more shades of gray than some priests and pastoral ministers may be accustomed to in the past, but it is argumentatively both necessary and helpful. But not giving a (more) straightforward answer when one is easily capable and with no apparent downside is not particularly useful or helpful.

        Though our host does offer a potential down-side. “There’s a reason I don’t believe Pope Francis will ‘clarify’. In doing so, he would widen the number of people who have a legitimate means of judging the divorced and remarried.” I think that Pope Francis openly stating that people in irregular situations can recourse to the internal forum would actually cut down on the legitimate means of judging the divorced and remarried due to the nature of the internal forum, not increase those means. Not saying certain people would not complain but there means would be cut-off.

      • Todd says:

        I’m not sure that a general, more-straight-forward answer is possible.

        After I became Catholic, I struggled with the basics of Exodus 20:13. Granted, an adolescent sees things in more absolute terms. Vietnam, bad; WWII good. But why? Can you target Hiroshima with an atom bomb, and not a facility similar to Pearl Harbor? Can you target a city that has mostly avoided conventional air attack because you want to assess the power of an atom bomb without other damage clouding the assessment? Sounds to me of a likeness to Nazi medical experiments in concentration camps. Is that too harsh on my part? Or does Bataan justify it?

        Easy formulations not only open the door for gossips, but they excuse people from making moral judgments with their own consciences. If people don’t have to make moral judgments because popes, clergy, and national leaders have already done so, then why should they bother to be formed at all? Especially when they can just look it up in a book? Or check an expert?

        Granted, there are times when my wife and I consult each other on some moral issue involving parenting, family finances, or something personal. It’s not usually because we don’t know the right answer. We often want a second opinion, a different perspective, or a confirmation of what we already know.

        Pope Francis is dragging Catholics (some kicking and screaming) into adulthood and moral maturity. Some, it seems, don’t want that.

  4. Scott Smith says:

    The problem with saying the Pope shouldn’t answer, is his close advisors also say he has, with for example his letter to the Bishops of Buenos Aires.

    And that answer is sometimes they can, because the sin isn’t always mortal nor always public in a way which could cause scandal.

    Which is both an orthodox answer, and one which most critics accept once it is explained to them.

    And so I don’t see why decrying peoples failure to get AL, while imputing bad faith to people genuinely struggling to understand AL, is better than helping them get it (as called for by eg AL itself at para 35).

    • Todd says:

      Good points, Scott, especially your last paragraph. Thing is, I do have experiences with some people, albeit online, who seem unwilling to look deeper. The purpose seems not to understand, but to complain. Now, that may well be wrong in some cases, but the discussion on this site hasn’t attracted too many skeptical comments. People I meet in person, they seem as a person to be interested in talking about AL.

    • Devin Rice says:

      Your first paragraph point would have been my next response. When the Pope saids (albeit in private correspondence) that their can be no other interpretation to AL than the directives of the Buenos Aires Bishops, the argument that AL can’t be clarified further falls flat.

      Popes can of course communicate their intentions in whatever means they see fit. A tradition was started to have Magisterial teaching relayed via Papal or curial documents. The first few popes certainly didn’t have Apostolic Exhortations, Papal Bulls or even twitter to communicate so no Pope is tied to a particular form of address. But as with any human being, communication is a culturally bound medium and the more direct the communication in what ever form, the more authority it has to teach.

      In parish life, imagine if a group of parishioners have a question or issue for the pastor, would it be appropriate for the pastor to respond by publishing a letter in the diocesan newspaper that he wrote to another group of people?

  5. On a slightly related note, the comments on so many conservative/Traditionalist Catholic websites have become so poisonous over the past three years, it is probably best to shut them down.

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