Pope Francis, Please Pontificate!

I’ve been quietly observing Pope Francis’s papacy over these past years, not saying much because quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Like many, I’ve been bewildered with the variety of his off-the-cuff remarks, quoted and sometimes misquoted interviews, and the controversies now escalating around his exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Here’s my apologist’s take on what is happening with Pope Francis and what, if anything, we as lay Catholics can do about it.

The Controversy

First, what is the controversy around his exhortation?

Quite simply, Pope Francis’s ambiguous statements in the exhortation regarding communion for divorced and remarried Catholics have now led to different bishops and bishops’ conferences issuing contradictory guidelines about the topic (which is a discipline and not doctrine per se, but which affects the perception of the doctrine among the faithful).

See for instance the Maltese bishops who have said if a couple feels at peace with God they can receive the Eucharist, even if they are divorced and remarried (without an annulment).

The confusion around the exhortation began quietly but has slowly grown. Last year, privately, four cardinals, including Raymond Cardinal Burke sent Pope Francis a dubia–a set of five questions seeking clarification about communion for divorced and remarried Catholics–but Pope Francis did not respond.

The cardinals eventually made their questions public, but Pope Francis has still refused to respond. Recall that one of the key benefits of being Catholic is that the Church can continually clarify her doctrines and disciplines. Pope Francis in this situation is refusing to clarify his teachings, and so the faithful are left in confusion.

The Sensus Fidelium Stirs

We are now seeing an unprecedented stirring among orthodox Catholics demanding that Pope Francis address the alleged errors and confusion in Amoris Laetitia.

Leaders are speaking out–respectfully yet insistently–from stalwart Catholic organizations like Catholic Answers, EWTN, Ignatius Press, and Catholic World Report.

Prior to Pope Francis, during the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, this was unheard of. The only voices that were yelling in opposition were from groups like the National Catholic Reporter.

These orthodox voices are speaking out, calling attention to the problematic ghost writing in the exhortation, the insanity of attempting stealth changes to the Church’s discipline and doctrine, and the crisis that is now forming due to his lack of clarification.

These voices are not demanding novelties, unheard of in the past 2,000 years, but rather pointing out that Pope Francis’s statements are at best inconsistent with previous papal teachings, and at worst contradictory to them (see, for instance, the question of whether a man and woman are capable of living together as brother and sister or not).

I see these lay voices, joined with many proven orthodox bishops and priests, as an expression of the sensus fidelium, the sense of faith of the whole people of God, from laity to episcopate, expressing universal consent on the unchanging truths of the Faith.

Why Has It Taken So Long?

Thomas Peters of American Papist and now Catholic Vote fame, made a call for “JPII and Pope Benedict-loving” Catholics to end their silence and stand together to ask Pope Francis for clarity.

It’s taken a long time for those of us whose first Pope was John Paul II to recognize and accept what is happening. With Popes John Paul II and Benedict, this kind of crisis never happened. So we have never had to make such a request of the pope.

Further, I know for me there’s a question of protocol: how does one make such a request of the bishop of Rome? Is it right to do so? How does one do it in a respectful and obedient way?

Of course, saints of the past like Catherine of Siena did just that. But, she’s a saint and I wouldn’t set my holiness next to hers in comparison. So this is uncharted territory for us.

What we are seeing now is a building groundswell of faithful voices, not condemning Pope Francis or contradicting him, but instead exhorting him to clarify his exhortation.

Liberius, Honorius, Francis?

Is Pope Francis setting himself up to go down in history as another Liberius or Honorius, popes who in some way failed to clearly and strongly uphold the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith?

That’s question Dr. Ed Feser takes up in very incisive article:

“Honorius… did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.”

It is uncontroversial that Honorius was (as the second quote indicates) at the very least guilty of failing to reaffirm orthodoxy in the face of the Monothelite heresy, and it is commonly held that, at least materially even if not formally, he was guilty of the heresy himself.

Neither Liberius or Honorius falsify papal infallibility, and I don’t believe that Pope Francis will either, but they came close enough that countless Catholics through the ages have had to explain to others how their actions did not prove infallibility false.

I don’t think that Pope Francis is overly concerned with doctrine. Hence, these ambiguities arise, not out of malice, but out of a good desire to reach out to people in a pastoral way.

If doctrine and current disciplines get in the way of what, in his view, would help more people receive the mercy and grace of God, then he wants to circumvent those disciplines and doctrines. Not necessarily change them, let alone overturn them, just, well, ignore them.

So none of the demands for clarification imply that Pope Francis is a heretic or that what he has written is heretical. Nor has what he written substantially changed Catholic doctrine. Papal infallibility is intact. But in his ambivalence for doctrine he is confusing the bishops and thus the faithful on an important matter, one that could undermine the doctrine of the Eucharist itself.

An Apologist’s Nightmare

All of this makes for a scary dream for Catholic apologists, whose mission it is to defend the Church and explain the Faith.

I’ve told people one benefit of being Catholic is the continual clarification by the Magisterium of doctrines on faith and morals. Now, the pope himself is muddying the waters. What are people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, supposed to think? It can be a stumbling block to people entering the Church. It can cause the faithful to doubt their faith.

My belief in the Church’s infallibility is strong. But that is not the case for everyone. And non-Catholic polemicists can make hay out of all this and cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt to grow in the hearts of Catholics weaker in their faith.

Pontificate, Pope Francis!

Quite simply, we need the Pope to pontificate. I think he would like all this swept under the rug, and quietly have bishops across the world interpreting his words in the exhortation in their own way, but the voices demanding him to respond and clarify are swelling, and I don’t think he’ll be able to ignore them.

We’ve been blessed recently with popes who were theologians and philosophers, orthodox and careful. But God never promised the Church that every pope would be as sagacious.

What Do We Do?

I plan to continue to pray for the pope, everyday, especially through the Rosary. I plan to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt and be respectful of him. I also plan to join my voices to the many others asking him to resolve his problematic statements.

My hope is that he sees the crisis growing in the Church, especially among the bishops, and that he will act to clarify or even correct what he wrote in Amoris Laetitia. That would show great humility, a virtue he has shown many times during his pontificate.

This post on Pope Francis has been brought to you by Pray: the Catholic Novena app. Concerned about Amoris Laetitia? Start praying a novena today!

How to Raise Chaste Catholic Men

Impossible task? Some say it is so.

With so many men, including Catholic men, addicted to pornography and lustful vices, the idea that parents can rear a chaste (read: self-mastered) Catholic young man seems impossible.

Not so, says Leila Miller, Catholic mother to many, including virtuous Catholic sons. What are her secrets? Read on!

Raising Chaste Catholic Men

Leila is an old friend of mine and sent me an early draft of her first book: Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom.

I flew through the book: it’s written in down-to-earth language with straightforward advice that is instantly applicable to your parenting. Also, as a now-Catholic man who is now-chaste, I was able to read the book from the perspective of someone who had to fight to discover the truths Leila talks about.

What are her priorities when rearing sons:

  • Make moral formation top priority
  • Logically explain beliefs and principles
  • Make discussions open to any topic

Moral Formation

Moral formation, says Leila, trumps teaching kids to be financially shrewd, socially popular, or even academically successful.

We want our children to become ultimately successful, which means they become saints, so moral formation with the truths of the Church is top priority.

Logically Explain Catholic Beliefs

Faith is supported by reason; the two go hand-in-hand. So when a child asks “why” we believe a certain dogma, do not say “that’s just the way it is, I’m not sure why.” Be ready with reasons to support the belief.

Examples include areas where the Catholic Church’s teachings contradict those of our modern secular society, e.g. contraception, divorce, pre-marital sex, etc. but also truths of divine revelation like the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.

No Holds Barred

Nothing that you children bring up is taboo. Of course, Leila wisely cautions that our responses need to be age appropriate and divulge just enough information to satisfy, but the important point is that your children grow to trust you and know they can bring up sensitive topics with you.

Later on Leila talks about respecting the latency period, or “years of innocence” as Pope St. John Paul II said: 5 years old til puberty. This means not disturbing this period with unnecessary information about sexual topics.

Being careful to guard them during this time means being vigilant not just of what they see and hear in your own home, but also via movies, television, videos, music, and their peers. They may go over to a friend’s house every week whose parents are MIA or oblivious to all of these things.

So Many Good Guidelines

Leila teaches you how to answer questions your children will face from the culture on sexuality, then also dives into uncomfortable topics like masturbation and pornography and how to help your children see through their emptiness.

She also devotes a chapter to navigating pop culture: movies, video games, school choices, and more. She isn’t dogmatic or condemning on these matters (e.g. “homeschool is the only way!” or “no movies or t.v., period!”) but also gives prudent warnings of the dangers your children will face from pop culture and society.

Finally, she interviews her sons on a range of topics related to purity, and they share their thoughts, proof that young Catholic men can grow up to be strong in chastity.

Raising Chaste Catholic Men is a must-read book for all Catholic parents. We are facing an epidemic of impurity and it is wrecking souls, marriages, children, and women. We aren’t doing near enough as the Church to combat it and reverse the direction, and too often Catholics don’t look much different than the culture when it comes to the statistics of men addicted to pornography.

After you get the book, consider buying my course for Catholic men to conquer pornography addiction.

Perhaps you weren’t blessed with wise parents like the Millers and fell into the pit of pornography and lust. An ounce of prevention is best, but sometimes you need the pound of cure. I did, but the good news is that the Church’s teachings are true and will liberate you from this evil.

Thanks Leila for a great book!

Religion No, Jesus Yes!

A non-denominational pastor thunders to his congregation: “My brothers and sisters, I used to live in bondage! I was bogged down under the weight of endless religious rules and precepts I had to painstakingly observe.”

“However, one day I came to the realization that all those things could never save me. The answer to my anguish and anxiety had been staring at me all along. Christ saves, not religion! Therefore, don’t labor in darkness anymore and see the light that only Jesus can bring. Can I get an amen?!”

This sounds a lot like what the average non-denominational Evangelical minister is preaching from the pulpit. Here we can see that familiar and quasi-rallying cry of a great portion of American Protestantism, namely religion doesn’t save, Christ does.

What are we to make of this claim so often bandied about by our Protestant friends? After all, at first blush it appears unassailable and quite pious.

All it takes is a question or two

To respond, I’d like to propose two simple questions that can help us see how the well-known quip doesn’t hold under scrutiny and ultimately becomes self-refuting when properly analyzed.

When considering the elements that constitute a religion, we can distill it down to two, namely: a worship code and a moral code. These correspond to the two following basic questions: are all forms of giving adoration to God valid and are all types of behavior valid and pleasing to God?

Is God pleased by the way I’ve chosen to worship Him?

Let’s consider number one.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life and consequently, the highest form of worship human beings, empowered by Christ, can offer to God. Such a statement is either true or false.

For the vast majority of Protestants it is categorically false. This shows that for a given person or group of people, not all forms of worship of God are valid, otherwise they would have to include the Catholic Mass. As we can see from this, from the moment a Christian makes a decision as to what one can do or not do in order to offer adoration to God, he is ipso facto practicing a religion.

Let’s consider an additional example. Some groups of charismatic Christians would see a concert with loud music, stage smoke and dazzling lights as a valid way to give adoration to God. Conversely, some other Christians, such as Quakers and some Calvinists, would look at such activity and say that it is in fact a synagogue of Satan.

In the midst of that bombardment of visual stimuli, what God would there be to offer worship to? They are not worshiping God but themselves, these other Christians would say. Here we can see again that both groups have made pronouncements as to how one ought and ought not to worship. In so doing, they are practicing different religions.

Is God pleased by the behaviors I’ve chosen to embrace?

Let’s consider number two now.

We’ll use the issue of homosexual behavior and same-sex unions as our example. Many Christians in the Episcopal tradition, for example, have no qualms about blessing the union of same-sex couples and officiating wedding ceremonies for them in church buildings. They are very clear in declaring that the love these couples have for one another is pleasing in the sight of God and we should not hinder them.

Diametrically opposed to this we find many other Christians in other traditions that strongly condemn such actions and view them as the closest thing to the Devil waltzing about in the household of God. In making judgments as to what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable moral behavior, both groups are practicing different religions.

Conclusion

In summary, in examining the two questions I’ve put forward one can clearly see how the claim in the title of this post becomes a self-refuting proposition, for we have demonstrated that all individuals and groups must make decisions as to how they ought to worship and not worship and how they ought to behave and not behave. These are undoubtedly the elements of a religion.

Hence, whether one likes it or not, as soon as one wants to follow God, one is also choosing a particular religion, with its specific rituals, beliefs, history, and practices.