Commentary: Ten tips on how to survive a calamitous Pope and remain Catholic

Over at the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, they posted an article from Dr. Francisco José Soler Gil: Ten tips on how to survive a calamitous Pope and remain Catholic. It will not help you remain Catholic. As soon as you label the Pope “calamitous”, you have one foot out the door of the Catholic Church. The article is implicitly schismatic.

“Do not follow the instructions of the Pope in that which deviates from the treasure of the Church.

“If a Pope would teach doctrines or would try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, he cannot be supported nor obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to being punished. The lay faithful must likewise insist on teaching traditional doctrine and practices in their area of influence. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.”

I say “implicitly” schismatic because the author explicitly says “Do not support any schism.” But much of the rest of his article contradicts that advice.

He assumes that the traditionalist or conservative understanding of Church teaching is infallible. He assumes that if the Pope is teaching contrary to their understanding of “perennial teaching”, then the Pope must be wrong. His position is implicitly schismatic because he is publicly rejecting the role and authority of the Pope to teach and to correct. He submits himself to the Pope’s teaching only if that teaching is judged by him to be a “perennial teaching” or “traditional doctrine” or the like. He submits himself to the Pope’s authority to change discipline only if it is to his liking. And this type of submission to the Pope is no submission at all.

He assumes that if the Pope institutes a new discipline, one that seems, in his judgment and the judgment of other traditionalists, a deviation from the treasure of the Church, then the Pope must have erred gravely. He openly asserts that he will not accept teachings or practices that are contrary to his own judgment and the judgment of like-minded Catholics. In my view, Dr. Gil is already a schismatic. And he is telling readers of Rorate to join him in rejecting — in advance — any doctrine or discipline of Pope Francis that is contrary to their judgment.

If the Church were to change discipline, by taking away the vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo), traditionalists would rejoice. It is not true that traditionalists are merely preserving doctrine and discipline. They would welcome a new definition of doctrine that was in keeping with their conservative understanding of faith and morals. It is not true that they are preserving traditional practice. If a new discipline were instituted by a conservative Pope, one to their liking, they would accept it.

What would Jesus say about this attitude? He did say that if someone refuses to accept correction from the Church, they should be treated like pagans and tax collectors. In other words, when Catholics refuse to accept the authority of the Church to teach and correct, they separate themselves from formal membership in the true Church. They become outsiders like those who believe in false religion (pagans) and those who live secular lives (tax collectors).

{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.
{18:18} Amen I say to you, whatever you will have bound on earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you will have released on earth, shall be released also in heaven.

The Pope and the body of Bishops in communion with him have THE AUTHORITY FROM CHRIST to decide what is and is not “perennial teaching” or “traditional doctrine” or a proper understanding of Divine Revelation. They have THE AUTHORITY FROM CHRIST to change discipline according to their prudential judgment. And no one else on earth has the authority to overrule them. Neither can the traditionalist appeal to Heaven, claiming that Christ in Heaven agrees with them, and they are merely suffering from a “calamitous pope”. For whatever the Pope and the body of Bishops bind on earth “shall be bound also in heaven” according to Christ himself.

Now it is certainly true, that Catholics are not bound to agree with the personal opinion or private theology of the Pope. But everyone seems to assume that, if the Pope expresses an opinion contrary to their own, that the Pope must have erred. Suppose that the Pope expresses a theological opinion, pronouncing judgment as a private person. Isn’t it possible that Pope Francis, as a man with degrees in philosophy and theology, who has taught as a professor of theology in a seminary (and served as a novice master there also), a man who served the Church for many years as a priest, then a Bishop, then a Cardinal, is it not possible that he is right in his mere opinion and you are mistaken? I’m amazed by how much weight conservative or traditionalist Catholics give to their own understanding, and how little weight they give to the understanding of the Pope.

I see this again and again in conservative commentary on Pope Francis — the unwavering assumption that if Pope Francis opines or teaches anything contrary to the prevailing conservative or traditionalist Catholic point of view, he must be mistaken. There is no trace of any consideration that the Pope might actually be right in a personal opinion or a non-infallible teaching. This lack of humility is stunning.

When the Pope speaks an opinion on a matter of faith or morals, we are not required to believe what he says. But wait. Humility and truth require us to admit that his opinion is weightier than our own opinion, and that his competence in theology is greater than the vast majority of online commentators who rudely dismiss his every remark. Consider the arrogance of assuming that the Pope is wrong, merely because he contradicts your own ideas, assumptions, and limited understanding — the sheer arrogance.

Infallible teachings of the Pope, of an Ecumenical Council, and of the ordinary and universal Magisterium require the full assent of faith. If you disagree, ACCEPT CORRECTION. Non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium, especially the Papal Magisterium, call for the religious submission of mind and will. If you disagree, SUBMIT YOUR MIND AND WILL to the Church. The Pope teaches non-infallibly and you disagree. Isn’t is possible you are wrong, and he — the Supreme Pontiff teaching as a non-infallible act of the Magisterium with the assistance of the Holy Spirit — is right? But pride goeth before a fall.

It is well-known that a faithful Catholic can disagree with the personal opinion of the Pope, can hold the opinion that his actions in matters of discipline are imprudent, and can even disagree, to a limited extent, with some points within a non-infallible teaching. But the automatic wholesale rejection of every word and deed of the Pope that contradicts your own thinking is unfaithful, unwise, imprudent, self-exalting, condescending bullshit.

Very many conservative and traditionalist Catholics have decided that their own understanding, the understanding of their little group within the Church on earth, is absolutely infallible, even in the smallest details on matters of discipline. Anyone who disagrees cannot possibly be right, and they themselves cannot possibly be wrong. They have appointed themselves as judges over all Popes and Councils. They accept correction from no one. Well, all idolatry is merely some form of self-worship.

In their hearts and minds, many of these persons are already schismatics. They have left the Church in mind and heart years ago. All that remains is for Pope Francis to teach a truth from Divine Revelation, one contrary to their assumptions and false conclusions. Then they will depart from the Church, while shouting accusations of heresy against the Pope.

Dr. Gil says that we should not support any schism, but in my view he has already committed formal schism by publicly stating, in advance of any teaching or judgment by the Pope, that he will reject anything contrary to his own understanding. And though traditionalists often accuse liberal Catholics of being essentially heretics or schismatics, many conservatives behave just as the liberals do, picking and choosing which doctrines and which discipline they will accept, and rejecting everything else.

How should a faithful Catholic Christian respond if he disagrees with an infallible teaching, or a non-infallible teaching, or a prudential judgment, or a personal theological opinion of Pope Francis? ACCEPT CORRECTION.

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

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