Instructions for Your Pope Panic Du Jour

Here’s your morning freak-out. The Pope puts out a perfectly genial call for dialog among people of different beliefs who are all children of God (obviously). The proper response is:

1. Set your hair on fire.

2. Run around screaming. Random squeals of outrage are fine, but it’s better if you pepper it with cries of “indifferentism!” A soupçon of Francis-hate is, of course, the spice that holds the dish together, but don’t overdo it or you just look crazy.

3. Copy and paste long blocks of text from previous popes anathematizing indifferentism and pointing out that Christ is the only way to salvation.

4. Post a link from a preferred traditionalist site. Rorate Caeli is optimal. They hit that sweet spot of rigid literalism without tipping over into the pure crazy of Novus Ordo Watch.

5. Take a deep breath.

6. Feel better now? Good. Then you can pause and realize that a 90 second call for religious toleration and dialog in a world riven by religious violence is not a call to indifferentism, and not a capsule summary of everything this pope thinks and believes about the Catholic faith. I’m not a fan of empty ecumenism, but we have a base line good-faith assumption with the POPE OF THE CATHOLICS that he believes what the church teaches, so when he says one thing we assume that he still believes all the other things.

Many choose not to give Francis the benefit of the doubt, even though he preaches Christ daily. People have decided to distrust his fidelity because they don’t like his politics. They’ve developed a habit of reducing everyone to their political views and sorting them into Them and Us as though they were the sheep and the goats. Our reactions to those within our faith are falling into the same knee-jerk responses we use for our political leaders and ideological others.

Christianity isn’t a philosophy or political movement, and that kind of response is not merely inappropriate, it’s poisonous to the body of Christ. As Pope Benedict said:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

We don’t fit simply into ideological boxes. We’re not a philosophy. We’re not even merely a set of dogmas and doctrines. We are so much more than that. We are the body of the living and incarnate God.

Do you think Buddhists are not children of God? If so, I’d be fascinated to hear who you think created them. We don’t invent gods by believing in them. Unless worship is of something obviously false and diabolical, then separated peoples of good will worship the One True God, even if they do so defectively or incompletely. Their salvation is in grave danger without the faith of the Catholic church, but charity should lead us to assume that their desire to encounter God is genuine if misguided.

We have to evangelize in the world we have, not the world of a hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago. Anathemas and syllabi of errors are in no short supply–and I guarantee you I’ve read more of them than you have–but while their fundamental truths remain unchanged, their form doesn’t particularly speak to every time and place. For example, trying to apply the language forged at Trent in the fires (literal, not metaphorical) of the Reformation to a different situation in a different century in a globalized, interconnected world is not always going to be practical. Truth doesn’t change, but language and expression do, and our efforts to deal with other religions in a world where those religions collide on a daily basis, in ways the Fathers did not encounter, must take those changes into account.

#LaudatoSii: Hold Your Breath, Make a Wish, Count to Three

do908 laudato siTomorrow I will begin reading Laudato Sii, and I plan to tweet as I go. I’m already seeing the overheated freakouts online and it’s a sorry spectacle. Everyone needs to cut the crap, m’kay?

It seems like all we do lately is replay the right’s reaction to Mater et Magistra and the left’s reaction to Humanae Vitae. American Catholics need to be a little less American, and a little more Catholic. In case you hadn’t noticed, America hates us. It is the Church that will survive, and we’ll need people to keep their heads.

This time around, it’s the American right’s turn in the cafeteria line, and they’ve built a strong head of Francis-hatred over the last two years to power them through any qualms they may have about dissenting from an official exercise of the ordinary magisterium.

These are the actions of children. I don’t doubt there may be much to criticize in the document. If I do disagree with the Holy Father, I try to do so on point, without slotting it into some grand statement about how the Smoke of Satan Has Entered The Church. I read way too much of that already, and it sickens me.

I am a traditionalist conservative–the kind Republicans dismiss as a Paleocon. I am also a global warming skeptic. I expect to find points in Laudato Sii I do not agree with. I will read them with an open mind. That is: I will try to be Catholic first and American or conservative second. I will try to discuss them candidly yet with charity and respect for the office. Most of all, I will not imitate the left’s Magisterium of Me and pick and choose what to accept and what to reject.  I don’t expect any of this to be easy.

Let’s remember that Lumen Gentium doesn’t just apply to contraception and abortion:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

If you try to reconcile your faith and your politics, and if it’s your faith that gives, you’re worshiping the wrong God.

And before you read the new encyclical, maybe you should review this:

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

Anyone suggesting that anything less is acceptable is the one letting the Smoke of Satan into the Church.

A Lost Papal Bust by Bernini Found


Photo: Sotheby’s

This bust of Pope Paul V by Bernini surfaced two years ago in a private collection after being lost for 100 years. Commissioned by the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1621, it was the first papal work of the 23-year-old artist. It remained in the Borghese family until 1893, when it was misidentified and auctioned off as the work of Alessandro Algardi.

It’s been acquired by the Getty Museum and goes on display this week.

What Happened at the Secret Synod Planning Session?

pentinEdward Pentin has done some first rate reporting on the factions forming to push through radical change in the Church’s unchangeable moral teaching. He has a new story in the National Catholic Register* about a secret meeting that took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Monday with “the aim of urging ‘pastoral innovations’ at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October.”

Around 50 “bishops, theologians and media representatives, took part in the gathering, at the invitation of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, Switzerland and France — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Markus Büchel and Archbishop Georges Pontier.”

It’s fairly clear that this was a strategy meeting for people aiming to change Church teaching on divorce and homosexuality at the upcoming Synod. And they didn’t like it when Pentin found out about the gathering, which was open only to hand-picked, friendly media:

No one would say why the study day was held in confidence. So secret was the meeting that even prominent Jesuits at the Gregorian were completely unaware of it. The Register learned about it when Jean-Marie Guénois leaked the information in a story in Le Figaro.

Speaking to the Register as he left the meeting, Cardinal Marx insisted the study day wasn’t secret. But he became irritated when pressed about why it wasn’t advertised, saying he had simply come to Rome in a “private capacity” and that he had every right to do so. Close to Pope Francis and part of his nine-member council of cardinals, the cardinal is known to be especially eager to reform the Church’s approach to homosexuals. During his Pentecost homily last Sunday, Cardinal Marx called for a “welcoming culture” in the Church for homosexuals, saying it’s “not the differences that count, but what unites us.”

Cardinal Marx is also not alone, among those attending the meeting, in pushing for radical changes to the Church’s life. The head of the Swiss bishops, Bishop Büchel of St. Gallen, has spoken openly in favor of women’s ordination, saying in 2011 that the Church should “pray that the Holy Spirit enables us to read the signs of the times.” Archbishop Pontier, head of the French bishops, is also known to have heterodox leanings.

The meeting’s organizers were unwilling to disclose the names of everyone who took part, but the Register has obtained a full list of participants. They included Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer, general secretary of the German bishops’ conference, who has been the leading figure behind the recent reform of German Church labor laws to controversially allow remarried divorcees and homosexual couples to work in Church institutions.

There’s a lot more, so read it all.

It’s possible the talk of same-sex union support is just a feint to cover the push to readmit divorce and remarried people to communion. Even the most rabid progressives can’t imagine the Church would change the prohibition on homosexual acts. (Just so you know where I stand on this: I would back some revisions to the way annulments are handled, but readmitting the divorced and remarried to communion is a non-starter. “Gay marriage,” being an ontological impossibility, doesn’t even rise to “non-starter,” and anyone who attempts to justify it is a theological illiterate.)

What Pentin’s reporting has shown is an ugly heterodox underbelly that is threatening to throw the Church into schism. They’re emboldened by rhetorical incaution on the part of the Holy Father and the presence of known dissenters in his inner ranks. I do not believe they will succeed, but I do think they will continue to sow dissent and confusion that damages the Church.

All of these pipers play the same tune, urging us to “read the signs of the times” and change truth. Being truth, of course, it cannot change. It can merely be denied and abandoned by cowards who choose to be led not by the Heiligen Geist (Holy Spirit), but by the Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Age). That Zeitgeist is the voice of the devil.

I think the heterodox are a minority and will be defeated in October. I do not believe we are heading for schism. Pentin’s own reporting indicates that the European bishops are hardly a monolith. And as the growing and conservative global south asserts itself, the chances for a radical change in teachings will be less likely. Smiling on divorce and gay marriage will not fill the pews. In fact, it would empty them even faster. See also: every other Church that did it.

Perhaps the dissidents are pressing now because they feel they have the wind at their back with the current papacy and the lack of a clear “Third World” (for lack of a better descriptor) block among the bishops. It’s just possible that their reckless actions will cause that block to form, and lead the global south to speak as a single, clear, prophetic voice in favor of the unchanging truths of the faith.


*Disclosure: I write for the Register.

Watch Pope Francis Speak to Children on Google Hangout

The Holy Father talked with children who have special needs or certain disabilities that they are overcoming with technology. A braille reader, a video camera, and an adaptive bike were some of the technologies highlighted by kids from around the world. Some of them asked questions, while others just talked about their lives and how they learn. The program was hosted by Scholas, an “educational entity, launched by Pope Francis, where technology, arts and sports are used to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter.”

He spoke with them for about twenty minutes. Here is the video. Turn on the closed-captioning for a translation.

Pope Threatens to Punch Aide

"One of these days, Alice!"

“One of these days, Alice!”

Oh, sorry, did I forget the #TrollSoHard tag in that headline?

On the plane from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the pope addressed the Charlie Hebdo issue, saying there were limits to free expression and that

 “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

The Holy Father and I are going to have disagree on this one.

“Should not”? Certainly.

“Cannot”? No.

“Every religion has its dignity”? Every one? Eh, not so much.

However, his illustration of his point was vividly candid. Referring to Alberto Gasparri, an aide who was by his side on the plane, he said:

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him.”


No, Pope Francis Did Not Call the Koran a “Prophetic Book of Peace”

kNQTCaJThe Moonie-owned Washington Times has a story headlined Pope Francis: Koran ‘is a prophetic book of peace’. That would indeed be a shocking thing for a pope to say, not so much for the “peace” part as the “prophetic” part, so let’s look at the quote from the story:

Pope Francis, in Rome after a three-day trip to Turkey, told reporters that Islam was a religion of peace and that those of different faiths shouldn’t be “enraged” at the Muslim community as a whole when acts of terrorism are committed.

“The Koran is a book of peace. It is a prophetic book of peace,” the pope said, United Press International reported.

Pope Francis, in Rome after a three-day trip to Turkey, told reporters that Islam was a religion of peace and that those of different faiths shouldn’t be “enraged” at the Muslim community as a whole when acts of terrorism are committed.

“The Koran is a book of peace. It is a prophetic book of peace,” the pope said, United Press International reported.

Indeed, the UPI story does include that wording.

But that’s not the full quote. Let’s look at what he really said, emphasis added:

“You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them (fundamentalists). All religions have these little groups,” he said.

They (Muslims) say: ‘No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace’.”

Not at all the same thing. He’s not saying the Koran is a prophetic book or that it is a book of peace, just that Muslims say it is.

I would not be at all surprised if Francis thinks the Koran is a “book of peace,” because there are elements of peace in Islam. It’s simply foolish and reductionist to measure an entire faith by its worst elements, even when the worst elements are pretty bad. That’s what our enemies do to us. We shouldn’t then turn around and do it to others. A critique must be both honest and generous. With Islam, violence is baked right in the cake, but so is charity and devotion to God as well. Whatever we think of it, we have to consider the real thing, not a caricature.

More problematic is the, Hey we all have our nuts, amIright? comment from Francis. Christian fundamentalists are tacky and stupid and annoying, but only very rarely violent.

When a Christian goes fundie, you get Jack Chick and bad music and, sometimes, Eric Robert Rudolph.

When a Muslim goes fundie, you get the armies of ISIS, 9/11, jihad, beheadings, Jew-hate, and the destruction of civilizations.

Of the two faiths, one has tendency to violence and extremism that is rooted in elements of the faith itself, while the other does not. It’s a false equivalence.

But I get what he was trying to do. He was encouraging Muslims to speak out against violence and appealing to the better angels of their nature. That’s what a pope should do. We’re not going to get anywhere by saying, “Gee, you’re kind of a bunch of violent idiots with a rotten holy book.” We have to share this planet with 1.6 billion Muslims, and the majority of them are peace-loving people, or the world would be far more violent than it is.

Remember that “pontiff” comes from “pontifex,” which means “bridge-builder.” Extending a hand of peace, even to our enemies, is not just the job of Peter: it’s the job of us all.

Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.


Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.


Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.


Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.


Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.


G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

St. Gregory the Great’s Bath-house Ghost

Okay, one more story from a Church Father before the weekend. This is one of the more famous tales, and it comes from Pope St. Gregory the Great’s marvelously entertaining grab bag of useful stuff, the Dialogues.

This is an example of the way the Church used ghost stories to prove the benefit of the mass and the reality of purgatory. Enjoy, and have a pleasant weekend free of spectres and spooks.

Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana. This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

The Mass of St Gregory, by Robert Campin, 15th century

The Mass of St Gregory, by Robert Campin, 15th century

After several experiences of this kind, to priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.’

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.