Papal Self-Citation

Frequent commenter FrMichael mentioned Pope Francis in a comment, referring to …

… the endless self-citation he is apt to do …

Apparently all recent popes do it. I checked the footnotes in three early papal documents, all apostolic exhortations: Familiaris Consortio, Sacramentum Caritatis, and Amoris Laetitia.

Here’s how the last three popes come out citing their own works in proportion to the total number of footnotes and references. It seems Pope Francis is the mean, not the extreme:

  • John Paul II: 29 self-citation and 182 total footnotes. 16% proportion.
  • Benedict XVI: 22 self-citations and 256 total footnotes. 9% proportion.
  • Francis: 48 self-citations and 391 total footnotes. 12% proportion.

To be clear, I didn’t scan for ibidem references in any of these documents, so all of these are low estimates.

I’m aware that FrMichael is not the sum of critics of the Holy Father. But let’s remember that every public critic is part of the overall narrative. The most common criticism I’ve read is that the Holy Father has a ghostwriter. That can be presented as bad news. God has never seemed to think so. Jesus had four, and those are only the authorized ones.

In this age of rampant and easy criticism (and I confess my own part in that) as we engage it, we can consider the questions: is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? I’d think any third party would want to apply this as she or he reads the commentary of another. Especially now in the era of President Trump, and that goes for both sides.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Papal Self-Citation

  1. Liam says:

    And self-citation (and cross-posting of the like-minded) is the general modus operandi of much of liturgical blogging at St Blog’s for many years.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    I find the complaint that Pope Francis has a ghost writer a little disingenuous. He had one for his first encyclical, aka Pope Benedict :). Should that be removed from the magisterium? I have read somewhere that John Paul II had significant input from other thinkers for his encyclicals. If the Pope is capable of reading, and putting his signature on it, he has incorporated into his teaching.

    The tactic of attacking Papal teaching through allegations of a ghost writer isn’t new. See Weigel’s take on Caritas in Veritate

  3. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    Sadly don’t have any examples to hand, but on more than one occasion in some of John Paul II’s writings the “ghost-writers” (the “ghost writers” tend to be from Pontifical Faculties in Rome, and at the formal presentations handle the questions the Curial Cardinal can’t answer), misquoted or edited Vatican II citations to suit the flow of the argument. One learns a lot if you live in the Generalate of a major Relious community, since among your colleagues you have teachers at the various Pontifical Faculties or work in the Curia.

  4. FrMichael says:

    I had the time to go through AL chapter 8 and its footnotes. Most of the footnotes refer either to Francis’ own writings or to the Synod’s Relatio Finalis. The few others refer to other sources that in no way support sacrilegious Communion (e.g. Familiaris Consortio, St. Thomas Aquinas). When push came to shove, Tradition and Scripture came up empty for the sacrilege enablers.

    Here’s a more relevant quotation from St. Thomas on this issue: (

    “And therefore it is manifest that whoever receives this sacrament while in mortal sin, is guilty of lying to this sacrament, and consequently of sacrilege, because he profanes the sacrament: and therefore he sins mortally.”

    • Todd says:

      One voice from tradition. There are others. God’s mercy is big enough, and I think the only sacrilege in many cases is the offended sensibilities of the elder siblings. The ancient Church would call us enablers for receiving murderers and apostates. But the most important factor is the salvation of souls, not our interpretation of how God “feels” about liturgy and sacraments.

      Communion for returning and repentant sinners is in no way a sacrilege. The interpretation of adultery and the proof-texting of select quotes from the Lord obscures the main thrust of the Gospel. I don’t think our Eastern sisters and brothers with their wholly valid sacraments would take kindly to your label of “enablers.”

      I appreciate your comment, and I accept that vigorous discernment is needed. But your opinion betrays an ignorance of the totality of the Catholic and Orthodox tradition. But it’s good to see you stepping back from the self-citation complaint. Well done on that.

  5. Todd says:

    I was reflecting a bit more on this issue as it applies to the divorced and remarried. How the Church treats people who are in a long-established second marriage is not the matter the Lord addressed in his preaching as we hear from the mount this weekend. Jesus speaks in the context of Jewish divorce law and custom of the 1st century. Taking his words literally, he addresses the act of divorce and that of marrying a divorced woman. He says nothing about the continuing of a relationship years and sometimes decades after the divorce.

    Orthodox practice is wholly orthodox and respectful of the Gospel tradition, yet it is different from the Roman way. Clearly, people a few months into a second marriage are not in the position to celebrate a full sacramental life. But it is different for cases where the first marriage is long dead. Such statements do not conflict with our Catholic beliefs regarding the sacraments.

    In most any divorce, there are additional sins leading up to the breaking of a relationship. The legal reality may be among the least of these. The impulse to marry again, even in part for one’s personal benefit, is not totally disordered. It is the way most human beings were made. The Church’s practice regarding second marriages is not a matter of faith and morals, but of discipline. Adultery can be forgiven. Like murder and most grave sins, it cannot be undone, once it is committed. This is where Cardinal Burke and others have fallen away from the Gospel tradition and the core value of mercy.

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