Fr. Z.’s rejection of Pope Francis’ correction

There has been some commentary on Catholic blogs about Fr. Z.’s decision to make money by selling items that deride the contents of an Apostolic Exhortation of the Pope.

Patrick Archbold at Creative Minority Report publicly rebukes the Pope by accusing him of impugning and denigrating “well-meaning Catholics who adhere as best they can to the doctrine and Tradition handed down to them.” So, doctrine and Tradition were not handed down to the whole Church, under the guidance of the Magisterium, but only to conservative Catholics? This is exactly the type of error that Pope Francis is rightly criticizing and correcting.

Archbold says that the language of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium is “vague”. This is the same claim that ultra-conservatives make about Vatican II. Conservatives present themselves as if they completely understand and even own Catholicism. But as soon as the Magisterium teaches an idea that conservatives deem to be liberal or attempts to correct an error among conservatives, they claim the teaching is vague, poorly-written, and ambiguous.

Archbold says that Pope Francis has “unfairly impugned” conservatives with his Apostolic Exhortation. How is it unfair for the Supreme Pontiff to exercise his right and duty in Christ to correct errors? I notice that Jesus corrected both the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees. I notice that Pope Francis corrects both liberal errors and conservative errors in Evangelii Gaudium. Yet certain conservative bloggers are speaking as if they are above criticism and correction by the Pope. They frequently criticize and seemingly correct the Pope. But if he tries to teach, criticize, or correct them, he is being unfair somehow.

As for the “insult on a mug” — “I am a Self-Absorbed Promethean Neopelagian and proud of it.” — what would Jesus say? What would our Lord and Savior say if, when he corrected Peter …

{16:23} And turning away, Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan; you are an obstacle to me. For you are not behaving according to what is of God, but according to what is of men.”

… Peter responded by selling pins and mugs emblazoned with the expression: “An obstacle to Christ who behaves according to what is of men and proud of it” ?? Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ, and his criticism and corrections must be taken to heart, not ridiculed or derided.

And when Jesus criticized the Pharisees…

{23:14} Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you consume the houses of widows, praying long prayers. Because of this, you shall receive the greater judgment.

what would our Lord say if next they sold signs saying “Hypocrites who consume the houses of widows and proud of it”?

No Christian can say, in good conscience, that he truly believes Jesus would approve of selling item emblazoned with an expression that rejects and ridicules a correction offered to them by the Pope.

Over at Patheos.com, Mark Shea has criticized Fr. Z.

The man [i.e. Fr. Z.] needs to go do something priestly – like Francis – not make things worse by selling kitsch to help egg his readers on to still more Reactionary arrogance. This passive-aggressive BS is poison.

Shea is right. This behavior by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf is not priestly. And if Fr. Z. were a parish priest in a diocese, well, I don’t think any Bishop would permit a parish priest to sell bumper stickers that ridicule and reject the correction of the Pope. But Fr. Z. is only loosely connected to a diocese in Italy; he has no parish. He is like those itinerant preachers of past centuries, who were corrected by a Council of the Church; they went around preaching and teaching from one diocese to another, as if they were each a Magisterium unto themselves.

Thomas McDonald has a negative reaction to Fr. Z.’s swag here. McDonald makes some good points.

Sam Rocha has a more pointed criticism of Fr. Z. here: Fr. Z Defies Pope Francis, With Merch. Fr. Zuhlsdorf is “describing himself in the exact words Francis used to describe something negative and dangerous, and encouraging others to join him.”

I see from the above posts that I’m not the only one who is skeptical of Fr. Z.’s claim not to be able to understand the words of the Pope. Meanwhile, a commentator at Fr. Z.’s blog named “Mr. Green” gives a good explanation of the meaning of the phrase; scroll down to find his remarks. Fr. Z. feigns ignorance whenever the Pope tries to correct conservative errors.

Now some Catholic bloggers are devaluing the words of Pope Francis by saying that it is only an Apostolic Exhortation, not an Encyclical. Well, on the one hand, papal documents and teachings have varying levels of authority. The Pope can teach infallibly, or non-infallibly; he can also state an opinion or issue a judgment of the prudential order. On the other hand, if the words of the holy Roman Pontiff in an Apostolic Exhortation addressed to the universal Church can be discounted because it ranks (technically) below an Encyclical, what rank should we give to a post by a blogger?

These Catholic bloggers speak as if their posts rank above the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. This type of arrogance has not been seen in the Church since the Protestant reformation, when certain Catholics decided that they understand the Christian Faith better than the Pope and the Magisterium. And next they departed from the Catholic Faith to found their own heretical and schismatic Christian denominations.

I see this same type of self-exaltation frequently in the words of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. He speaks about the words of the Pope as if he were greater than the Pope, as if he understands the Faith better than the Pope, and as if every word spoken by the Pope is subject to the judgment of the conservative Catholic subculture.

Fr. Z. defended himself against complaints concerning his “self-absorbed promethean neopelagian” swag by saying that he was simply making fun of how liberals criticize conservatives. To the contrary, his own words at his café press store explain: “Inspired by Pope Francis’ phrase in Evangelii gaudium 94.” So it is disingenuous for Fr. Z. to claim that he is only directing this derision at liberals. He is in fact taking a phrase from a papal document. He is ridiculing the Pope’s own words and rejecting the Pope’s attempted criticism and correction of conservative errors. As far as Fr. Z. and his supporters are concerned, the conservative Catholic subculture is infallible and the Pope has no authority to correct them.

By the way, it was and still is common for Protestants to ridicule the Pope. Show me a group of Catholics who deride the holy Roman Pontiff, and I’ll show you a group of soon-to-be Protestants. Fr. Z. is protesting against the Pope’s authority, teaching, and correction. The next step is for him and his supporters to start their own Church.

Fr. Z. defended himself by pointing out that he also sells items saying “pray for Pope Francis”. And he has a new post asking his readers to pray for Pope Francis.

My reply is that Fr. Z. has one foot in the Church and one foot out of the Church. At times, he shows support for Pope Francis. At time, he treats Pope Francis with shameful disrespect, denigration, and ridicule, especially when Pope Francis attempts to correct errors found among conservative Catholics. Not all conservative Catholics have fallen into these errors. But by his response, it is clear that Fr. Z. self-identifies as one of those conservatives who fit the criticism of Pope Francis.

“I am a Self-Absorbed Promethean Neopelagian and proud of it.”

In other words, Fr. Z. is saying:

“I am one of those persons Pope Francis is trying to correct, and I refuse the correction.”

Soon Fr. Z. and his readers will have to choose whether to accept the correction of Pope Francis, or to depart from the Church, proudly, i.e. in the sin of pride. Presently, Fr. Z. is leaning toward departure.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to Fr. Z.’s rejection of Pope Francis’ correction

  1. Francisco says:

    At the time of Jesus, there were many phrases He used which many did not understand or found them hard to grasp, John 6:61-12 is just one example, especially the proud. Those would be calling Jesus’ words as “vague” or “weird”.

    It would be like saying (using some of the words Jesus used): “I’m a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, and proud of it”.

    On the other hand, with this attitude, these persons are giving Pope Francis the reason. In other words, Pope Francis is correct about what he is saying and that is exactly what he is referring to.

    I hope they humbly reconsider that behavior.

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