I want to like Pope Francis. I want to support his statements because he is the head of the Church. However, I have a lot of problems with a lot of things he does.
I know there are a lot of people who look at Pope Francis, Catholic or not, and say “What is he doing?” Too many questions, not enough answers. I don’t have definitive answer, but I do have some ways of weighing how to respond, and this is one of them.
This article was originally published on Rorate Caeli, where you can read the full article. I am putting it here because it is worth the read in these very interesting times:
The question then is, what can be done during the time of a calamitous Pope. What behavior is conveniently adopted in times like this. Well then, since recently lists of tips have become common, to achieve joy, to lower cholesterol, to try to be more positive, to stop smoking, to get thinner, I will allow myself to propose to the reader a series of tips in order to survive a calamitous Pope without stopping being Catholic. I should not have to say that it is not a definitive list. But it may be useful anyhow. Let us begin:
(1) Keep calm. In moments of anguish, the tendency to hysteria is only too human, but it solves nothing. Calm down. Because only by way of calm can the convenient decisions for each case be taken, and the words and deeds one might soon regret can be avoided.
(2) Read good books on the history of the Church and the history of the papacy. Used that we are to a series of great Popes, living through a calamitous pontificate can be a traumatic experience, if one does not manage to put it into context. Reading good tomes on the history of the Church and on the history of the papacy helps to analyze in a better way an ongoing situation. Above all because in these books other cases are shown – numerous cases, unfortunately, or just because that is the way human nature is – in which the waters of the Roman source looked murky. The Church suffers from such weaknesses, but does not collapse because of them. It happened like this in the past, and we can expect it also to happen in the present and in the future.
(3) Do not give in to apocalyptic warnings. When some are subjected to the ravages of a calamitous pontificate, they take them as signs of the imminence of the end times. It is a concept that always comes up in such circumstances: apocalyptic passages motivated by similar evils can also be read in texts by medieval authors. But this fact should precisely serve to us as a warning. It does not make much sense to interpret each storm as if it were the Great Tribulation. The end times will come when they have to come, and it does not belong to us to know neither the day nor the hour. Our job is to fight the combat of our own age, but the global view of things belongs to Someone else.
(4) Do not stay silent, nor look away. During a calamitous pontificate, the defect that is the opposite one of adopting the behavior of an apocalyptic prophet is that of minimizing events, being silent when faced with abuse, and looking away. Some justify this attitude by recalling the image of the good sons who covered the nakedness of Noah. But what is certain is that there is no way of righting the course of a ship if the deviation is not revealed. Moreover, Sacred Scripture has an example that is much more appropriate than Noah’s: the hard yet just and loyal reproaches made by the apostle Paul to the pontiff Peter, when the latter let himself be taken in by human concerns. This episode of the Acts of the Apostles is there so that we learn to distinguish loyalty from silent complicity. The Church is not a party in which the chairman must always get unconditional applause. Neither is it a sect whose leader is acclaimed at every moment. The Pope is not the leader of a sect, but a servant of the Gospel and of the Church; a free and human servant who, as such, can occasionally adopt reprehensible decisions or attitudes. And reprehensible decisions and attitudes must be reprehended.
(5) Do not generalize. The bad example (of cowardliness, of careerism, etc) of some bishops and cardinals during a calamitous pontificate should not lead us to disqualify in a general way all bishops, cardinals, or clerics. Each person is responsible for his own words, his own actions, and his own omissions. But the hierarchical structure of the Church was instituted by her Founder, due to which it must be respected, despite every criticism. The objection to a calamitous Pope should not extend to all his words and deeds. Only those that deviate from the immemorial doctrine of the Church, or which set a direction that may compromise aspects of said doctrine. And the opinion on these points must not be based on private events, opinions, or preferences: the teaching of the Church is summarized in her catechism. When the Pope moves away from the catechism, he must be criticized. Not in other matters.
(6) Do not help initiatives for the greater glory of the calamitous pontiff. If a calamitous Pope asks for help for good works, he must be heard. But other initiatives should not be supported, such as, for instance, multitudinous meetings that serve to show him as a popular pontiff. In the case of a calamitous Pope, acclamation is unnecessary. Because, based in them, he might feel supported to deviate the course of the Church’s ship even more. It is not good enough, then, to say that it is not the Pontiff, but Peter, who is being applauded, Because the result will be that this applause will be used for the personal ends not of Peter but of the calamitous Pontiff.
(7) Do not follow the instructions of the Pope in that which deviates from the treasure of the Church. If a Pope would teach doctrines or would try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, he cannot be supported nor obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to being punished. The lay faithful must likewise insist on teaching traditional doctrine and practices in their area of influence. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.
(8) Do not financially support collaborationist dioceses. If a Pope would teach doctrines, or would impose practices, that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, diocesan Pastors should serve as a wall of contention. But history shows that bishops do not always react with sufficient energy when faced with these dangers. Even worse, they at times endorse, for whichever reasons, the efforts of the calamitous pontiff. The lay faithful who lives in a diocese ruled by such a Pastor must therefore remove his financial support to his local church while the inappropriate situation persists. Obviously, this does not apply to aids that are directly destined to charitable ends, but it does apply to all the rest. This also applies to any kind of collaboration with the diocese, whether it be for example some kind of volunteer work or institutional position.
(9) Do not support any schism. When faced with a calamitous Pope, the temptation of a radical rupture may come up. This temptation must be resisted at all costs. A Catholic has the duty to try to minimize, from within the Church, all the negative effects of a bad pontificate, but without breaking the Church or breaking with the Church. This means that even if, for instance, his resistance to adopt some theses or some practices would lead to the application for him of penalties, he must not as a consequence initiate a new schism nor support any of those already in place. It is necessary for him to keep being a Catholic under any circumstances.
(10) Pray. The permanence and salvation of the Church does not ultimately depend on ourselves, but on the One who wanted her and created her for our good. In moments of distress, it is necessary to pray, pray, and pray, so that the Master will wake up and calm the storm. This tip was placed last, not because it is the least important, but because it is the most important of all. Because ultimately what matters is that we truly believe that the Church is supported by a God who loves her, and who will not allow her to be destroyed. Let us pray, therefore, for the conversion of nefarious pontiffs, and so that calamitous pontificates may be followed by pontificates of restoration and peace. Many dry branches will have been lost during the storm, but the ones that remained united with Christ will bloom again. May God allow this to be declared also about us.