Public Criticism of the Pope

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"Even if [the Pope were an incarnate devil], we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom. ... He who rebels against our Father is condemned to death, for that which we do to him we do to Christ: we honor Christ if we honor the Pope; we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the Pope." ~St. Catherine of Siena

We have addressed this topic in the following episodes of The Vortex:


The Church of Nice — for whom little is intolerable except fellow Catholics who embrace traditional Catholic theology, piety and liturgy — regularly and widely disapproves of Michael Voris and Church Militant for "exposing the lies and falsehoods" of the Church of Nice and its clerical enablers in the Catholic priesthood and episcopacy.

While it is simplistic to lay all blame for the current crisis in the Church at the feet of priests and bishops, the bishops and priests charged with feeding and tending the Mystical Body of Christ are the ones most responsible for the failure and devastation all around us. They have failed, spectacularly, in their mission to teach, govern and sanctify the Church. The consequences of their malfeasance are everywhere: precipitous decline in Mass attendance, vocations, catechesis and overall Catholic identity. The sheep share in the failure of their shepherds, but the shepherds must assume the greater responsibility because they are the leaders who have misled their flocks.

The mission of Church Militant is to promote the faith given to humanity by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Messiah. This faith is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church led by the successor to St. Peter, Pope Francis.

Church Militant aims to provide everyone with means to increase their personal holiness through catechesis and evangelization about the truth of the Christian faith. We aim to convert non-Catholics to the faith founded personally by Jesus Christ, and strengthen the faith of existing Catholics.

Hard sedevacantists, such as the CMRI, and soft sedevacantists, such as the SSPX, accuse Michael Voris and Church Militant of failure to criticize the Pope for doing or saying things that, if done or said by anyone of lesser ecclesiastical office, would be denounced vociferously. That's a fair criticism. Church Militant does not and will not engage in public criticism of the Pope. Other Catholic apostolates do. We believe they should not.

It is our judgment that most Catholics should neither read nor have easy access to articles and essays that could be judged critical of the Pope. Such writings should be published and reserved for those capable of engaging them without risk of damage to their faith in the Church and the Vicar of Christ. We make these recommendations for the same reasons that we discourage people from visiting sedevacantist and pornography web sites: They are potential occasions of sin, from which masters of the spiritual life are unanimous in their recommendation of "flight" rather than "fight." They lead people to think or do things they would not otherwise have thought or done and, almost without exception, those things are harmful to one's spiritual life. At least one priest has described websites containing such articles and encouraging such themes as "ecclesiastical porn" (see "Christ is the Point"). We call it "spiritual pornography."

Since this judgment is not self-evident, let's try to understand it by way of hypothetical scenarios. Assume, for the sake of argument, that everything one learns from "ecclesiastical porn" sites and articles is true. Every claim, every allegation, is true. Bad news all around for the Church. Question: How are you a better Catholic for knowing all this, and what is the proper Catholic response?

Conversely, what if everything one learns from "ecclesiastical porn" sites and articles is false? Every claim, every allegation, is false, but they are so persuasive that all is accepted as if true. Again, bad news all around for the Church. Question: How are you a better Catholic for believing what is false as if it were true, and what is the proper Catholic response to all that?

The first hypothetical scenario is more troubling and requires a response: How can it ever be a bad thing to know that something true is true? The second hypothetical scenario is more obviously harmful: believing something false to be true is always a bad thing. But for both hypotheses, the same questions arise: How is a Catholic better off believing bad things about the Church, whether those things be true or false, and how should a Catholic respond to those things?

If someone believes that the Catholic Church has become a bad place to be, what is that person supposed to do? Join another Church? Break away from the visible, corrupt Catholic Church and form an alternative, allegedly more faithful version of the Catholic Church (see CMRI and SSPX)? Leave the Catholic Church and join a more faithful Evangelical Christian assembly? Give up on religion entirely and go the "I'm spiritual but not religious" crowd? Organize "Recognize and Resist" movements within the Catholic Church and relentlessly attack Her from the inside? Seek Church reform via some kind of coup d'etat and replace current leadership with ... what?

None of these responses is authentically Catholic. Each is facilitated and encouraged by papal criticism almost indistinguishable from what is found in the writings of virulent anti-Catholic apologists. The only authentically Catholic response is the example of Our Lady who, throughout Her Son's Passion, stood by Him with full confidence, in spite of all appearances, that God's will was and would be done. No matter how bloodied, beaten and defeated Our Lord appeared throughout His Passion and death, He was still Our Lord, and neither the flight of the Apostles nor their fear is remembered as a positive example to follow.

We are called in the face of the Church's Passion to be faithful disciples close to Our Lady. To titillate ourselves with "ecclesiastical porn," to feed our anxieties and worries with doubts about Our Lord's very promise to be with His Church until the end of time, to reject Our Lord's "Peace be to you" spoken to His frightened followers after the Resurrection, is to abandon Our Lord Himself. The crisis in the Church today invites us to be saints not cowards. No matter how it appears, we are always able to be "persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). We can continue to be faithful to the duties of our state in life, to daily recitation of the Rosary, to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to the need for penance and mortification, to the need to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Faith.

Yes, there is a crisis in the Church today, possibly the worst crisis in Her history, and it makes no sense to be completely ignorant of that reality. It helps to know one's enemy so that effective strategies for daily living can be pursued. But the Church Herself cannot be our enemy, and that perception is precisely what trenchant criticism of the Pope invites and enables (see CMRI and SSPX). There may be apostasy throughout the Church, even at the very top, but the Church doesn't cease to be the Church any more than Our Lord ceased to be Our Lord during His Passion and death. We shouldn't and don't need to go looking for reasons to lose faith in the Church. We are not better for reading pornography, spiritual or otherwise. "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline: think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). "Ecclesiastical porn" sites and articles cannot be approved in light of St. Paul's words.

We recommend the following sermons as both inspiration and reinforcement of what we are saying here:

While we greatly admire and are the beneficiaries of the work of those on whose shoulders we stand in the work to help restore the Catholic Church to its authentic glory, we can neither support nor encourage their ongoing, unnecessary and harmful attacks on the Church and the Holy Father. Most Catholics are not even aware of the many disconcerting words and deeds of Pope Francis and his predecessors. Most Catholics have no idea there were ecumenical events at Assisi or that Pope St. John Paul II kissed the Koran. Most Catholics, including most bishops and priests, don't even know there is a crisis in the Church today. They do know, however, that the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and, presumably, the guardian and protector of Catholic orthodoxy. Who benefits from attacks on the Rock on whom Our Lord established His Church (Matt. 16:18)?

Faithful Catholics need help in persevering through their anxieties and doubts, not continual reinforcement and encouragement of those troubling states. Less faithful Catholics form their judgments of "traditional Catholics" through the lens of perceived dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the Church and the Holy Father. Those who relentlessly criticize the Church, Her leaders, and especially the Holy Father, risk doing immense harm to the Church Herself and discouraging both potential converts and those struggling to stay faithful through the crisis that is all around us. The sad reputation of "traditional Catholics" as angry dissidents from virtually everything in the Church today is as well deserved as the reputations of those rightly described as modernists.

A line must be drawn when it comes to criticism of the Holy Father, even when he says or does things that would invite appropriate criticism when said or done by those of lower ecclesiastical rank. Errant priests and bishops can be replaced. The Pope cannot. The Pope represents and symbolizes the unity of the Church in a way that bishops and priests do not. It may make us cringe at times, but it always was and always will be true that Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia. There have been extraordinarily awful popes in the past but, for all that, the Church not only survived but thrived. The popes immediately before, during and after the Protestant Revolt showed little recognition or understanding of the catastrophe unfolding before them (not unlike the post-conciliar popes of our own time), yet from such unpromising soil emerged an astonishing number of great saints, and the Council of Trent.

Australian Mary MacKillop became St. Mary of the Cross in circumstances similar to what is perceived as happening with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI). She founded a religious order, was replaced as Mother Superior by her local bishop, served for many years under her replacement before being restored as Mother Superior, was even unjustly excommunicated by her bishop, and the order that she founded is today a complete mess. But she became a saint through all that. She showed respect for her local bishop who truly didn't deserve it, even finding excuses for his behavior. During the time she was excommunicated, she didn't seek to start an alternative order to preserve the integrity of what she had started. She was obedient, humble, trusted God, and she became a saint.

A very poignant example of how we should treat the Holy Father is found in Genesis 9:18–27, particularly 21–23:

And the sons of Noe who came out of the ark, were Sem, Cham, and Japheth: and Cham is the father of Chanaan. These three are the sons of Noe: and from these was all mankind spread over the whole earth.

And Noe, a husbandman, began to till the ground, and planted a vineyard, and drinking of the vine was made drunk, and was uncovered in his tent. Which when Cham the father of Chanaan had seen, to wit, that his father's nakedness was uncovered, he told it to his two brethren without.

But Sem and Japheth put a cloak upon their shoulders, and going backward covered the nakedness of their father: and their faces were turned away, and they saw not their father's nakedness.

And Noe awakening from the wine, when he had learned what his younger son had done to him, he said: Cursed be Chanaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

And he said: Blessed be the Lord God of Sem; be Chanaan his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Sem; and Chanaan be his servant. (emphasis added)

A strong case can be made that "ecclesiastical porn" sites and publications, and those who write for them, are walking in the footsteps of Cham by telling others of their father's nakedness. Scripture gives us the example of Sem and Japheth who "covered the nakedness of their father, "their faces were turned away," and "they saw not their father's nakedness." The sons of Noe knew that their father was naked, but they chose to "cover" it.

We at Church Militant are as aware as anyone of what could be judged the "nakedness" of Pope Francis and his predecessors. We choose not to tell others about it. We are not ultramontanists who believe that if the Pope burps during Mass it becomes a new rubric for the liturgy. The Pope is both Vicar of Christ and a human being who, in the normal course of a day, can say things that are doctrinally ambiguous, occasionally even erroneous. The Pope is protected from error in matters of faith and morals in very precise and defined circumstances, and interviews with journalists, remarks during general audiences and homilies during his morning Mass are not among them. The Pope is the protector and guardian of the Deposit of Faith which came from Jesus and His Apostles. Dogma does not change, although articulation of dogma can become clearer as the fruit of centuries of contemplation on the truths of the Faith.

No good is served by giving people the impression that the Pope is not Catholic, even if it can be alleged that there is reason to believe that he is not. "Ecclesiastical porn," such as what is found on hard and soft sedevacantist websites and in allegedly faithful Catholic publications, discourages those struggling to remain faithful to the Catholic Church as well as those considering conversion to the Catholic Church. As noted above,

The mission of Church Militant is to promote the faith given to humanity by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Messiah. This faith is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church led by the successor to St. Peter, Pope Francis.

Church Militant aims to provide everyone with means to increase their personal holiness through catechesis and evangelization about the truth of the Christian faith. We aim to convert non-Catholics to the faith founded personally by Jesus Christ, and strengthen the faith of existing Catholics.

Church Militant will not engage in public criticism of the Pope. Period.