On criticizing Pope Francis

Yesterday or the day before, a good friend sent me a link to Michael Cook’s piece over at Mercatornet entitled:

7 Reasons Why Pope Francis’ Gaffes are OK

The subtitle is:  “Some of his Catholic critics think the sky is falling. It’s not.”

Michael Cook writes:

6. THE SKY Inot falling; the sky is not falling; the sky is not falling. Just in case, that isn’t clear for all the Chicken Littles in the Catholic media, let me say it again: the sky is not falling. What the Pope says at a press conference or at a Q&A after a first communion Mass is not, to resort to theological jargon, “definitive Papal Magisterium” or even a proposition which requires “religious submission of intellect and will”. If you want to know what Pope Francis thinks, read documents which he has signed and sealed, not CNN reports.

What has been interesting for me to observe is how conservative Pope Francis from the moment he stepped onto the balcony of St Peters– Catholics, who tried very hard to give Pope Francis the benefit of a doubt, have increasingly become openly but respectfully critical.

Catholic World Report’s Carl Olsen responded to Michael Cook’s piece today with this:

10 Things Michael Cook gets wrong in his criticism of papal critics.

Point one is:

1. Cook, like many of those taking umbrage with criticisms of Pope Francis, does not offer distinctions about the various forms of criticism out there. He mentions “malcontents” who are, in some cases, calling for the Holy Father’s resignation. As far as I know, critics such as myself, Edward Peters, Phil Lawler, Jeff Mirus, Monsignor Charles Pope, Amy Welborn, Janet Smith, and Rachel Lu—just to mention some American writers who have criticized certain statements or actions of Francis—have never called for his resignation. It’s easy to highlight the most extreme or even outrageous criticisms made of Francis. Unfortunately, the conversation (if it is such a thing) over Francis within Catholic circles seems to often consist of little more than a shouting match between those who think He’s the Greatest Pope Ever (and I’m not exaggerating) and those who think He’s the Antichrist and a Communist Antichrist at That (again, not exaggerating).

But there has been a steady, if not always recognized, flow of measured, thoughtful, and insightful criticism, some of it going back to the latter part of 2013, as when one perplexed pundit wrote: “To state what should be obvious, a pope in 2013 simply needs to be as precise and clear as possible. Fuzzy language, half-formed concepts, and failure to make important distinctions will eventually result in confusion and frustration.” Yes, I am that pundit, and I do think my concerns, alas, have been borne out. The fact is, critics such as myself and those mentioned above have been focused on three main things: the scolding and abrasive tone sometimes used by Francis, oftentimes in reference to Christians; the ambiguity and imprecision which often appears in not only the now legendary off-the-cuff utterances, but also in homilies and even more formal papal documents such as Amoris Laetitia; and statements about various matters—especially relating to marriage and family life—that are either bewildering or, arguably, simply wrong. Cook never addresses or acknowledges those criticisms, which seriously undermines his arguments.


I think Michael Cook’s advice is good in this sense:  no matter what we should not let anything disturb the peace of Christ in us and that includes this or that action or saying of the Holy Father.

But those who respectfully examine what any pope says in light of what the Church has always taught, or in light of previous popes, can and should do so.  They are doing us all a service, including Pope Francis.

Where I think critics can run into danger though is when in judging the pope, they step out from under the protective headship of the Bishop of Rome, and then open themselves up for spiritual attack that could manifest in them as spite, depression, discouragement, outrage, scorn and rebellion.  The holiest people I know in the Church are serene, abiding in Christ in quietness and confidence.

We owe the Holy Father our love and our prayers.  I think we also owe him a benefit of a doubt so as not to approach everything he says and does with suspicion or putting the worst possible interpretation on it.  That does not mean, however, we should not exercise holy discernment from a respectful and prayerful perspective.

On another note related to criticism of the Pope, this piece from Crux by Ines San Martin is interesting and signals all the more reason we need to pray for Pope Francis:

ROME-As Pope Francis was celebrating a solemn Mass in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on Wednesday, in his home country of Argentina a small army of priests working in the slums issued a petition defending the pontiff against what they called a “brutal campaign against him.”

“In a world where wars, hunger and abuses over the environment endanger human life,” Francis “raises his voice in an effort to preserve the life of the weakest and to protect mother earth, putting limits to such craziness,” says the communique, inviting people to join them in prayer for the pope.

The group, together with a lay association called “Generacion Francisco,” also writes that not “by chance” there’s a “brutal campaign against him with attacks of every kind,” especially in Argentina, where local political leaders and the media continue their efforts to either claim him as their own, or discredit his every word.

On Wednesday, in a Mass celebrated by the “villero” priests to mark the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, an interreligious alliance signed a petition “ratifying our commitment to the pope’s intentions and our repudiation to the actions against him.”






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1 Response to On criticizing Pope Francis

  1. Bradley Laing says:

    I left a new commentary under “June 7.”

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