Top Ten Excuses for rejecting the teaching of Pope Francis

1. The media can’t be trusted to report what the Pope said accurately. Therefore, they claim that we can ignore any words by the Pope, reported in the media, if we disagree.

This claim is an example of intellectual dishonesty. If the media report that the Pope said something these same commentators like, they praise the Pope and his words. There is no talk of inaccuracy.

2. It must be a translation problem. The Pope probably writes his magisterial documents in Spanish, then they are translated into English and other languages. Therefore, if anything the Pope writes doesn’t seem to be correct, by comparison with our own thinking, it must be a translation error. Then they figure out a new way to translate the text to nullify or alter what the Pope wrote.

The Bible has been translated into many languages. Each believer typically studies the Bible in his own language. There is no magisterial teaching and no support in Tradition for a claim that the translation of the text cannot be trustworthy. Also, Jesus taught mainly in Aramaic, but the oldest versions of the Gospels are not in Aramaic. Truth survives translation.

3. The Pope didn’t write it. The claim is made that the Pope had help writing his Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium), or that the contents are a reflection of the myriad of views expressed by various Bishops at the last Synod. This claim tends to dilute the authority and impact of the writing, since we would then be in doubt as to whether it is the Pope’s words.

Pope Francis absolutely did not write most of his first encyclical, The light of Faith — it was mostly written by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Even so, the encyclical has the approval and carries the authority of Pope Francis. He read it, edited it, added to it, and promulgated it. So it does not matter if a Pope had assistance writing a magisterial document; it is nevertheless an act of the papal Magisterium.

4. It’s not official. The Pope wasn’t exercising the Magisterium, when he wrote a letter or made some comments during a sermon. So we aren’t required to believe what he said. He wasn’t speaking ex cathedra.

Here is another example of intellectual dishonesty. If the Pope had said something in a sermon or letter in agreement with the views of these same commentators, they would not be telling everyone there is no obligation to believe. They would use his words to buttress their views.

And even when the Pope is not exercising the Magisterium, he is still an eminent and holy leader, whose opinions on matters of concern to the faithful should be respected above the opinions of other persons. Many Catholic bloggers today are treating the views and words of the Pope as of little or no value, while at the same time they exalt their own opinions and online writings. Is it really true that these commentators understand things better than the Pope? Not bloody likely.

5. Well, we just don’t know what he meant by those words. More explanation is needed. He couldn’t possibly be taking a theological position contrary to our own understanding (they think to themselves).

Some commentators become confused when the Pope teaches an idea that they themselves reject. They can’t conceive of the sheer possibility that they themselves might be wrong and the Pope might be right. It never enters their thinking that the Pope might have a better understanding of some topic. And so, if they cannot distort his words to fit their own point of view, they become confused and fail to understand.

This happened also with the disciples of Christ. He taught them that He would have to suffer and die, and then rise from the dead. Then they tried to figure out some way to understand this teaching that was in agreement with their expectations. They thought it must be a figurative expression, because they did not understand or accept (yet) the Way of the Cross.

{9:8} And as they were descending from the mountain, he instructed them not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until after the Son of man will have risen again from the dead.
{9:9} And they kept the word to themselves, arguing about what “after he will have risen from the dead” might mean.

Some people become confused when a teacher says something contrary to their own thinking. It is difficult for us fallen sinner to realize that we are the ones who need to change.

6. Only the Latin is official, so we aren’t bound (they claim) by the text of a magisterial document in any other language.

This Latin-only view is, of course, ridiculous. If the Pope gives an order to a member of his staff, will the staff person refuse to comply unless the Pope gives the order in Latin? If the Pope were to issue an infallible dogma, like the Immaculate Conception, in some language other than Latin, would any of the faithful be justified in rejecting the dogma? It is the height of Pharisaism to speak as if a papal teaching cannot be binding on the faithful unless it is issued in Latin.

7. The Pope is just expressing the point of view of someone from South America.

This claim treats the insightful opinions and magisterial teachings of Pope Francis as if there were no perception of objective truth, but only a cultural expression. I’ve seen this same approach used to attempt to nullify some teachings of Jesus or of Saint Paul. They say that Jesus only appointed male Apostles because He was influenced by the culture around him, or that Saint Paul spoke of men and women having different roles for the same reason. But as faithful Catholics, we must believe that the teachings of Divine Revelation (Tradition and Scripture) are objective truth, and that the Magisterium is able, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to teach from that Deposit of Divine Revelation with clarity and insight.

8. The Pope is a liberal; therefore, he does not understand those truths that have been perceived by conservatives.

Evangelii Gaudium contains numerous criticisms of errors found among conservative Catholics. Instead of accepting correction from the Pope, many conservatives have discounted his words on the basis of the assumption that conservatism is truth, and liberalism is error. Many conservative Catholics wrongly assume that the correct answer to any theological question is the conservative answer. So when the Pope answers a theological question with a liberal or moderate answer, they assume he is in error. This exaltation of conservatism is a type of idolatry, as if we were not worshipping God who is Truth, but the idol of conservatism.

9. The Pope is contradicting infallible Sacred Tradition and infallible Sacred Scripture; therefore, the Pope must be wrong.

The problem with this argument is that it does not account for the necessity to interpret Tradition and Scripture. Like a fundamentalist Protestant interpreting Scripture, the fundamentalist conservative Catholic assumes that his own interpretation of Tradition or of Scripture is absolute and without possibility of error. But in Catholic teaching, the Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition and Scripture. The claim that the Pope has erred in his interpretation of Tradition or Scripture is based on the assumption that the conservative or traditionalist Catholic, or the religious subculture to which he subscribes, cannot err by misinterpretation.

Even when the Pope is teaching non-infallibly, or simply expressing a theological opinion, the greater likelihood is that he is correct and the conservative Catholic subculture is incorrect. For the Pope, as the head of the Church and the successor of Saint Peter, has the help of the Holy Spirit in teaching and guiding the Church. But Jesus promised no similar assistance to the conservative Catholic subculture. It is a grave but common error among conservative Catholics to substitute the prevailing views of the conservative Catholic subculture for the teachings of the Pope and the Magisterium.

10. This last excuse for rejecting the teaching of Pope Francis is uncommon, so far. But I think that eventually it will be the preeminent reason among conservative Catholics who reject his teaching: the claim that Pope Francis has fallen into heresy, and thereby lost his authority to teach under the Magisterium.

Many conservative or traditionalist Catholics have fallen into a grave error: the belief that the conservative Catholic subculture cannot err in its understanding of Tradition, Scripture, and the past teachings of the Magisterium. They no longer follow the doctrines and disciplines of the Catholic Church, but only of the conservative Catholic subculture. They have fallen away from the Church already in their hearts and minds. All that is left is for a liberal but orthodox Pope to teach some truths from Tradition and Scripture that conflict with the assumptions and misunderstandings of the conservative Catholic subculture. The result will be the departure of many conservative Catholics from the Church, on the basis of their claim that the Pope must have fallen into heresy by contradicting conservatism.

Can a Pope commit the sin of heresy?
Why neither the Pope, nor the body of Bishops, can commit heresy
Could Pope Francis fall into heresy?

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

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