Public Expressions of Contempt for the Pope

Pat Archbold, in his column at the National Catholic Register, published a sarcastic and contemptuous open letter to Pope Francis: Holy Father, Please Help!. The letter is not a sincere plea for help, but a sarcastic criticism of the way that the Apostolic See has dealt with a traditionalist order in the Church (Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate). The letter shows contempt for Pope Francis, derides him, and falsely accuses him of hypocrisy and unjust treatment of the members of that order. Such public expressions of contempt for any Pope are gravely immoral.

It is sinful to treat any fellow human person with contempt, derision, and calumny. To do so toward the Pope is more gravely immoral, since it implies contempt for the authority of the Church and for the Vicar of Christ. And to do so publicly adds the grave sin of scandal: other Catholics might be drawn into committing the same sin, especially when the person committing the sin of scandal has a large following of readers.

As for the falsity of the accusations, this report offers an objective assessment of the situation in the FFI. The situation is not as Pat Archbold describes it. But in any case, if it might seem as if the Pope has a fault or has erred in some way, should we not consider that we may have misunderstood, rather than leaping to the conclusion that the Pope is in the wrong? Rash judgment is a sin. Calumny is a sin.

To those who might reply that I am judging Pat Archbold rashly, or that I should not judge at all, I reply: his contempt for Pope Francis is public, manifest, and has been expressed on multiple occasions. We are not to judge persons, but we are to judge actions. If someone robs a bank, we should say: “Bank robbery is gravely immoral,” and not: “That person is evil.” Moreover, it is the duty of lay Catholics who use any means of social communication to bring the truth of the Gospel into that medium. So Catholics who are involved in public discourse on the internet have a moral obligation to caution others about grave sins, especially those sins that harm the Church directly.

Pat Archbold is committing an objectively grave sin against the Church and the Catholic Faith by his public contempt and ridicule of the Pope. If he had written a post somberly discussing the situation concerning the FFI, and arguing for a particular process or outcome, he would be without fault, no matter which side he took in the dispute. But even if he were correct in his assessment of the situation, his public expression of contempt and derision toward the Pope would still be gravely immoral. Furthermore, it is immoral to accuse the Pope publicly of any specific sin or fault without sufficient evidence and without a grave reason that outweighs the scandal of the accusation. One’s own perception of the situation is not enough to justify a public accusation against the Pope, that he behaved unjustly or that he has some fault or failing. And public ridicule of the Pope is never justified, even if the Pope were at fault in some way.

The National Catholic Register is guilty of formal cooperation with the above-stated sins of Pat Archbold for publishing his contemptuous sarcastic letter to the Pope. A Roman Catholic publication should not permit open contempt for the Pope, not even if the Pope is liberal and the publication is conservative.

Canon Law is not silent on this type of offense:

Can. 1369 A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.

Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Can. 1390
§2. A person who offers an ecclesiastical superior any other calumnious denunciation of a delict or who otherwise injures the good reputation of another can be punished with a just penalty, not excluding a censure.

§3. A calumniator can also be forced to make suitable reparation.

But in this case, it is unlikely that the offenders will be punished by proper authority in the Church. Pope Francis will likely turn the other cheek, and not impose the penalties that he could justly impose under Canon Law. However, all who treat the Pope with contempt and derision have sinned against the eternal moral law, regardless of Canon Law.

What would Jesus say, if a disciple were openly treating Saint Peter the Apostle with contempt and ridicule? And when the disciple explains to Jesus that this treatment is justified because Peter is a liberal and the disciple is a conservative, or vice versa, would Jesus then approve of this treatment? Not at all. The Lord himself was treated with ridicule and contempt during His Passion, for example at the crowning of thorns, when He was mocked. For a Catholic to treat the Pope in the same way that Jesus was treated by those soldiers is exceedingly shameful. No one is ever justified in mocking the Pope, not even if the Pope is perceived to be a liberal.

{18:15} But if your brother has sinned against you, go and correct him, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you will have regained your brother.
{18:16} But if he will not listen you, invite with you one or two more, so that every word may stand by the mouth of two or three witnesses.
{18:17} And if he will not listen to them, tell the Church. But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.

Many traditionalist or conservative Catholics have decided that they are above all correction, not only from their fellow Catholics, but even from the Magisterium, an Ecumenical Council, and the Pope. They have usurped the (pretended) authority to judge the Second Vatican Council, and they judge unjustly. They have usurped the (pretended) authority to judge the Pope, as long as he is perceived to be a liberal, and they judge unjustly.

The traditionalist or conservative point of view among certain Catholics is treated as if it were essentially infallible — it cannot err or be guilty of any fault. Anyone who attempts to criticize or correct a conservative or traditionalist point of view is treated with contempt, even the Pope. It is as if the conservative Catholic subculture has replaced the Magisterium, and as a result conservative Catholics feel justified in judging and condemning every word or deed by a Pope or Council that contradicts their own understanding.

Pride goeth before a fall. Soon conservative Catholics will be put to the test by the grace and providence of God and by the words and actions of Pope Francis. How many will fall away, rather than accept correction? How many will “not listen to the Church” and therefore become “like the pagan and the tax collector”?

UPDATE (12/19/13)

Archbold has written a follow-up to his open letter here. He was criticized for his open letter by many different people. But he is unrepentant. And he adds an accusation against the Church. He says that many don’t believe that “the Church could act so unjustly”, but that he disagrees. He accuses the Church Herself of injustice.

Sinful secular society “teaches” that each person’s personal opinion is paramount, that we all have a right to judge everything and everyone, that we should form and express opinions on every topic. This “teaching” has been adopted by many Catholics, and so they feel a right or even a “duty” to judge the Pope and even the Church Herself. They treat the words of the Pope as opinions, equal to (or lesser than) their own. They treat every word and action of the Pope as subject to their own judgment.

Archbold is not acting like a true conservative or a true Catholic, but like a true child of modern secular society.

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

Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
is now available in print (paperback, 510 pp.) and in Kindle format.

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