Advice for Pope Francis from a priest

Fr. Longenecker has written what amounts to an open letter to Pope Francis in Crisis Magazine.  I hope someone will pass this along to the Holy Father.

The Holy Father has been very good in lecturing priests and telling us what to do.


I have heard the words of my Holy Father and taken them to heart. I sincerely want to be that kind of priest.

However, I can only do this if the timeless truths of the Catholic faith are firmly defined and defended. The dogmas, doctrines and disciplines of the Catholic faith are the tools of my trade. They provide the rules for engagement, the playbook for the game, the map for the journey and the content for the mercy and compassion I wish to display. The historic teachings of the Catholic faith, founded on the teachings of Christ the Lord, revealed by divine inspiration and developed through the magisterium of the Catholic Church provide the method for my mercy, the content for my compassion and the only saving truths I have to share.

This is teamwork Holy Father. I can only do the job you want me to do if you do the job you have been called to do. With the greatest respect and love, please don’t feel that it is your job to tinker with the timeless truths. If my job is to be the compassionate pastor for those in the pew and beyond, then your job is to be the primary definer and defender of the faith. I can’t do my job if you don’t do yours.


Even from the standpoint of a lay person, I say someone has to play that role of defending timeless truths, even if we for one reason or another find our lives don’t line up with Catholic teaching.

When I was in my mid twenties, I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and turned my life over to him.   But a mere personal relationship with Jesus was not enough for me to be able to keep His commandments even if I wanted to, or thought I wanted to.

I was a big fan then and still am of the “Via Negativa” the so-called negative way of contemplatives who cast aside all their positive notions of God and approach Him with naked longing, such as recommended in The Cloud of Unknowing.   I had to understand before I could believe.

Needless to say, this approach had some upsides, in that I really got to know myself extremely well—sitting silently and allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal your sin-self to you is difficult but amazingly productive.  Have I ever learned how much I am dependent on God and how I have nothing in and of myself except a colossal propensity to sin. This I know inside and out.

But what my Christian walk lacked was consistency.  I was either in full-blown ascetic mode, or I was back wallowing in sin.  I found no happy medium.

Things only began to really change for me when I came to see St. Anselm making sense when he said, “I believe in order that I might understand.”

I began to choose to believe the truths of Scripture, the promises of God, and ultimately, the truths of the Church as handed down from the first eyewitnesses of our Lord, and to take thoughts captive to Christ instead of allowing lies or the lure of the world, the flesh and the devil to have free rein in my mind.  Only then did I start to gain any kind of consistency or a confidence that through God, and in Christ, I could be victorious over sin, rather than constantly falling for it.

Thus, I discovered the value of the Via Positiva, the positive way, where one applies the truths of the faith to bring one’s mind in line with them, and to judge one’s thinking by them.

Sometimes I wonder whether Pope Francis is trying to correct what he believes is too much stress on the Via Positiva, that people are somehow just parroting Church teaching without having the warm, beating heart of the Gospel, that people are becoming little robots or something.

All I can say as a lay woman who discovered the hard way, please do not throw out the baby with the bathwater, Your Holiness.  People need to know what the Church teaches on these matters.  They have to know the promises of God and that God gives us power through the Holy Spirit to obey Him, even if that obedience seems impossible from a human standpoint.  The truths of the faith are an antidote to the lies we are prone to believe that we use to justify our disobedience.  We need to hear more about what it looks like when we truly put on Christ and how radiant a life of obedience truly is.

I approach God these days both ways—as a silent contemplative with naked longing and as someone who also makes use of the positive affirmations of the faith to make sure I am not veering away into private judgments.




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5 Responses to Advice for Pope Francis from a priest

  1. Joe Mroz says:

    “and when you are restored, confirm your brothers.” Indeed!

  2. Rev22:17 says:


    You wrote: Even from the standpoint of a lay person, I say someone has to play that role of defending timeless truths, even if we for one reason or another find our lives don’t line up with Catholic teaching.

    Yes, indeed!

    The imperative here, however, is to distinguish between “timeless truths” (doctrine) and practice based on those timeless truths, which can adapt to circumstances of culture, time, and place. The failure to make this distinction is the heart of two forms of error.

    >> Traditionalists demand preservation of practice, as though it were immutable.

    >> And liberals demand reform of doctrinal principles, which are intrinsically infallible and thus irreformable, to suit the politic of the present day.

    Neither of these approaches is truly Catholic.


    • John Walter S. says:

      Then none of us are Catholic, mr. “No True Scotsman.”

      • Rev22:17 says:


        You wrote: Then none of us are Catholic, mr. “No True Scotsman.”

        You seem to be committing the fallacy of assuming that everybody is either a liberal or a traditionalist.

        To be truly Catholic is to be in full communion with the pope, and in submission to God’s will as manifest through the magisterium of the Catholic Church. In so doing, one does not commit either error.


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