Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflections on the Anti-Francis Mindset


One thing seems clear from reading comments and articles from a certain subset of Catholics is that we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset that exists in the Church. To this mindset, the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words and is believed to have whatever motive the media attributes to their report on his words. It can be quite demoralizing for the Catholic trying to be faithful, and encountering Catholics who seem much more confident in their allegations than they are in questioning them. It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt themselves and wonder if they have perhaps missed the point because they continue to run into these allegations.

The problem with this mindset that demoralizes others and undermines trust in the Pope is it assumes two things that needs to be proven:

  1. That the media reports are accurate.
  2. That the motives attributed to the Pope are true.

Unless both can be established, it is a rash judgment to assume bad will or bad teaching from the Pope.

Thus far it turns out that every time the media has focussed a story around the Pope planning to change Church teaching by using a quote, that quote was only a part of what the Pope said and when viewed in context it shows he did not say what the the media reported. When this happens over and over again, a person should recognize that certain sources are simply unreliable. But instead, the anti-Francis mindset assumes the Pope is unreliable.

Shocking News—Arnobius of Sicca blog Denigrates the Pope… OK, not really...

Think of it this way. Look at my first paragraph. See how many quotes you can create that could make me sound like I am opposed to Pope Francis. These are the ones I found with a cursory look:

  • “we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset” (implies I am speaking of the whole Church and I am a part of it).
  • “the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words” (Hey! Even the Papal defender Arnobius of Sicca says it’s the Pope’s fault!)
  • “It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt” (when taken with the other two partial quotes, sounds like I am saying the Pope is causing the doubt)

In other words, a person looking for quotes to bolster the image they want to give could even take my own blog which defends the Pope and make it sound like I am blaming him. I did say all of these things. But I didn’t say them in the context one might be led to believe. In fact, I’d oppose all of these claims. I wouldn’t be to blame for a reporter skimming my first paragraph and grabbing a few lines that caught his eye and making a story out of it. It would, in fact, be unjust to say I should have expressed myself better to avoid such misinterpretation. 

Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs of Catholic Authenticity?

That’s how it seems to work with the Pope. For the secular news reporter who has a negative view of the Church teaching, thinking it is judgmental and harsh and wishes it would change, words that talk about loving the sinner and presenting God’s love can sound like “A CHANGE IN TEACHING!” (and there’s another quote in my blog that can be taken out of context). It isn’t any such thing of course. Then the Catholic who has an antipathy towards the Pope—and certain Catholics have been antagonistic to his election to the papacy on account of his stand as cardinal on the extraordinary form of the Mass and have been hostile ever since—see this as justifying their hostility.

Like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, this mindset affects other Catholics who equate such sites as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy. If they oppose the Pope, some are led to believe that the Pope should  be opposed . . . after all, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t have said it right? So the reputation of Pope Francis as heterodox continues to spread. Nobody asks the question as to whether these self-proclaimed watchdogs of orthodoxy are in fact orthodox themselves?

This is a problem because the individual or small group does not have such authority to teach at all—especially if they try to teach contrary to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. God has entrusted the successors of the apostles with the authority to bind and loose—not people with a blog and a laptop (and, yes, that includes me). The person who tries to advocate opposing the Pope when he teaches is a rebel, not a faithful Catholic.

Does a Political Platform Judge the Catholic Teaching? Or Does the Catholic Teaching Judge the Political Platform?

That brings us to another problem. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was easy to equate conservative politics with Catholic orthodoxy. The Church was strong on her affirmations of abortion, “gay marriage” and similar issues as morally wrong. Politicians who opposed the Church on these things were liberal. Politicians who agreed with the Church were conservative. Simple enough—or so we thought.

It was never that simple. Church teaching and conservative politics never entirely overlapped. In some cases conservatism had positions which were also incompatible with Church teaching. In others, the motives for a shared teaching were difference. The Church had positions on social justice that were sometimes confused with political liberalism. St. John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke on the social problems in capitalism that needed to be reformed—and were accused of “moving to the left.” They spoke on environmental issues—and were accused of "moving to the left.” They spoke on compassion for illegal immigrants—and… well you get the point.

So, what we see happening with Pope Francis, happened before with his predecessors (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). They were praised for things members of a political happened to agree with (even if held for different motives), and attacked when such groups disagreed. Thus the simultaneous mutual claims by right and left that the Pope supports the other side. Like the Self-Appointed watchdogs mentioned above, political platforms do not have authority to teach. Political parties can take positions that the Church must condemn as incompatible with the Christian obligation. When they do, the Church condemnation is not partisan, but a warning for us to think about where we are in relation to God.

So, when our political beliefs feel threatened by the teaching of the Church, maybe the issue is not a bad Pope. Maybe we’ve adopted a political belief incompatible with the faith.

The Either-Or Fallacy

In addition, we need to remember that there are many times that the truth is not found in the formula of “Either A or B.” Sometimes both A and B are condemnable. Sometimes neither A nor B is condemnable. Republican and Democrat parties disagree with each other, but it is not a case of one being always true and the other always false. Yes, sometimes one party is in error while the other is not. But, sometimes both can be in error. Or sometimes their disagreements are over ways and means which are both in keeping with Church teachings. So we always need to ask what is true, what is in keeping with the Church teaching. That’s not just something we ask about others. It’s what we need to ask about ourselves.


These seem to be the problems with the anti-Francis mindset in the Church. There’s a lot of motives for it, whether misunderstanding or disagreement. But each person who doubts or outright opposes the Pope needs to answer some questions: On what basis do you justify yourself? Pope Francis is not an Alexander VI or John XII. He’s not a John XXII. There’s no moral behavior to scandalize or personal belief to be corrected. Where did your doubt come from? From your own belief? Then how do you know you have not gone wrong yourself? From the assertion of another? How authoritative are they? From your politics? Remember we must “Render unto God.” Do you think he is teaching error? Remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

The fact is, the Church is led by the successors of the Apostles, not the bloggers or the people who prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass. The magisterium has the authority and the responsibility to determine whether a belief is compatible with the teaching of the Church, not the bloggers or the fans of the extraordinary form. That’s ultimately the problem with the anti-Francis mindset. It would rather deny that God protects the Pope from teaching error than admit the possibility of being wrong about what the Church teaching requires us to do.

Now not all of these people are doing this out of malice. Some have simply been deceived by the hype. Some have not thought things through. Perhaps some are acting out of Scrupulosity. But some may have fallen to pride and decided that only when the Church goes their way that it is to be obeyed. I personally won’t judge the reason or the motive. But I will say that the anti-Francis mindset is an error and must be rejected.


  1. Why did no other pope require constant clarifications to correct misunderstandings? Yes, the press is to blame.. but why every single day? I don't think it's an anti-Francis mindset. I think it is a bafflement many of us share. We have a hard time understanding how it could always be the fault of the press when it seems to happen every single time the Holy Father opens his mouth.(And God does not deny the pope from teaching error. Many popes through history have taught heresy and later recanted. The pope isn't fallible unless he is speaking ex cathedra, you know. Popes DO make mistakes in everyday teaching and speaking.)

    1. First of all, St. John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI were also often misunderstood. Caritas in veritate for example was misrepresented as pro-socialist. The book "Light of the World" was misrepresented as Benedict XVI promoting condom use. The Regensburg lecture was misrepresented. It's more noticeable now because the communications are much more rapid, with the media repeating each other.

      But *every* time the transcript comes out, it shows the secular reports have been wrong.

      Second, you are not correct about the teaching authority of the Pope.

      The Catechism points out:
      892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

      So, here's the thing. When the Pope teaches in a manner which is not ex cathedra, we are obligated to give our assent. So, here's the dilemma: either we have to give assent to error OR we can trust God to protect the Pope from teaching error when we are called to give our consent to a teaching.

      No Pope has taught error in matters of faith or morals. There are some times when a Pope has been in error in private belief (Pope John XXII). There have been some Popes who were in error in areas that do not involve faith and morals.

    2. One more point.

      I would recommend reading Bishop Gasser's "The Gift of Infallibility" (written during Vatican I) and the Vatican I document Pastor Aeternum. They show the meaning of Papal authority and protection from error.

  2. (typo- meant that pope isn't INfallible unless..)

  3. Thanks. I'm wondering why communication would be so much "more rapid" now than it was two years ago when Benedict was pope. Thanks for clarifying that the Holy Spirit is supposed to protect the Holy Father when he is teaching on faith and morals. I'm still troubled, but less troubled. At this point, I just hope he will make himself more clear and less ambiguous so that it will be harder for the media to continue distortion-mania on a scale that we have never seen before of any other pontiff.

    1. A fair question. My *personal* opinion is with all of the smart phones out there now, a greater number of people can be instantly told about a thing.

      Meanwhile the Church still moves more slowly (I won't deny they need help with becoming more internet savvy). I personally wish they would start releasing the full transcripts immediately.

      You're right that it has the appearance of "damage control." I hope and pray they learn from that.

      I recommend reading "Light of the World" an interview with Pope Benedict XVI. He tells about the debacle about one of the SSPX bishops and the pro-Nazi comments. He admitted that the Vatican completely failed to consider looking Williamson up on the internet before lifting the excommunication.

      Hope this helps. God Bless.

  4. Could it be that the pope is protected from erroneous teaching by the mere fact that Church herself is larger than he is and can clarify anything that might appear wayward? I wonder that sometimes.

    1. Hmm, there's a lot of ways this could be interpreted, so I hope I don't Misinterpret you. Karl Keating once used this analogy. "If the Pope was infallible in mathematics and was given a test with 100 problems, how many would he have to get right to be infallible?"

      The answer was "zero." The Pope could turn in a blank sheet of paper. Infallibility is primarily a negative thing. The Pope's not a prophet. It means when he teaches, it doesn't mean he gives the perfect answer. It means he doesn't give an answer which leads the Church astray.

      It may happen that an advisor of the Pope may offer advice that convinces the Pope not to make an ex cathedra decision (for example, it is reported that then Cardinal Ratzinger convinced St. John Paul II not to make an infallible declaration on sexual morality in "Evangelium vitae" because he thought it would give people the wrong idea on previous Church teaching as always been taught.

      Or Pope Pius XI was going to write an encyclical on anti-semitism before WWII. He died before it was finished. Pius XII decided not to publish it because it had some negative things to say about Jews. Perhaps another example?

      At other times a bad Pope might be too attached to his pleasures to bother teaching.

      Hope I answered your question. If not, let me know.