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This is What a Mess Looks Like


Pope Francis has told Catholics that he “wants a mess.” He instructed the assembled masses at World Youth Day in Brazil, “I want trouble in the dioceses! …“I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures.”

If the Church is to get closer to the people, things will get messy. People have baggage. They have sufferings, joys, misconceptions, and sins. They have opinions, too, and these can be the messiest of all.

It can be an unpleasant business, the marketplace of ideas, where good ideas survive and bad ones perish. But through free expression, Western civilization has seen much progress.

Censorship therefore, and all stifling of discussion, must not be entered into lightly. The Catholic Church has always understood that error has no rights, but people do, and therefore the suppression of uncomfortable thoughts should be reserved for the most urgent and certain of circumstances. If we will not hear the ideas we do not like, surely the best unpopular new ideas will be destroyed before they are even examined.

Christianity itself was a wildly unpopular idea. Christ challenged the status quo. Most of the apostles and many early Christians were martyred for their trouble. In the end they prevailed, however, and Christendom became synonymous with the West.

Throughout the history of civilization and the annals of science, we see numerous examples where counterintuition led to important breakthroughs. What was once unthinkable later became established fact. There is a great deal of evidence that we should often be grateful that a different approach was allowed to run its course; that openness — like that recommended by the Holy Father — prevailed.

And yet it cannot be ignored, especially on the important questions of our age, that not a few individuals or groups prefer intimidation to honest debate from those who disagree with them. We see this playing out not only in the angry and vulgar rantings of godless secularists and the blood-soaked free speech reprisals from the Islamic world, but in more than a little of our Christian discourse.

We should aspire to more.

Recently, in an unusually candid critique of the rumored upcoming papal encyclical on ecology, Maureen Mullarkey at First Things offered this bit of mess-making:

In the cap and bells of Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happening Now, Pope Francis is readying an encyclical on climate change. He will address the world’s latest mutation of the grail quest: human ecology. Abandoning nuance for apocalyptic alarmism (“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”), Francis has signaled the tenor of his utterance.

It comes as no surprise. Handwriting has been on the wall along the Viale Vaticano from the get-go. At the beginning of his pontificate, Francis revealed himself to be fastidiously attuned to image. He refused to give communion in public ceremonies lest he be photographed giving the sacrament to the wrong kind of sinner. So, when he agreed to pose between two well-known environmental activists and brandish an anti-fracking T-shirt, we believed what we saw.

It was a portentous image. Press toads hopped to their keyboards to correct the evidence of our lying eyes. Francis was neither for nor against fracking, you see. Nothing of the sort. He was simply using a photo-op to assert blameless solidarity with the victims of ecological injustice. (Both a decisive definition of such injustice and its particular victims went unspecified.)

If that restyling were true, then the more fool Francis. But Francis is not a fool. He is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist. His clumsy intrusion into the Middle East and covert collusion with Obama over Cuba makes that clear. Megalomania sends him galloping into geopolitical—and now meteorological—thickets, sacralizing politics and bending theology to premature, intemperate policy endorsements.

Later this year, Francis will take his sandwich board to the United Nations General Assembly, that beacon of progress toward the Kingdom. Next will come a summit of world religions—a sort of Green Assisi—organized to lend moral luster to an upcoming confederacy of world improvers in Paris. In the words of Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis means “to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

There is a muddle for you. The bishop asserts a causal relation between two undefined, imprecise phenomena. His phrasing is a sober-sounding rhetorical dodge that eludes argument because the meaning is indeterminable. Ambiguity, like nonsense, is irrefutable. What caliber of scientist speaks this way?

The intellectual difficulty of refuting such ambiguity, combined with an astonishingly strong reflex action on the part of many Catholics, has made criticism like this a dangerous venture. The tone taken in the cited article is undoubtedly pungent, but it has the odor of exasperation, not malice. Understandable frustrations notwithstanding, there is sometimes a price for taking a caustic approach, and Miss Mullarkey has paid it. The weight of her arguments, which deserved consideration, were lost in the larger tempest of response to how she made them. Her essay was sternly disavowed by her editor. She has also been raked over the coals (rather less charitably) by some of the shrillest voices of the Catholic Internet. (Voices we will not link to here.)

Mullarkey’s is only the latest thrust in a battle that has been going on for the better part of the Francis papacy. This, sadly, is what it looks like when you “make a mess” in the Church – division, bitterness, and venom. Amidst the salvos back and forth between the various camps, however, thinking Catholics are faced with a growing suspicion that the powers in Rome see the Church differently than the rest of us. Rather than an institution founded by Christ to convert the world and bring about the salvation of souls, they seem to prefer that she more closely resemble a trendy social-issues NGO. As our own Eric Sammons wrote last week, what the Church has been doing for the past half century hasn’t worked; the practice of the faith is decimated, leaving only a tiny minority of Catholics embracing their religion in an orthodox fashion. The impression that this is no accident is only enhanced when hand-picked papal advisers support communist, pro-abortion, and pro-homosexual institutions, or simply foment heresy in the pope’s name. Making matters worse, the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family produced a public work so deviant from Catholic teaching that it caused one bishop to declare it “the first time in Church history that such a heterodox text was actually published as a document of an official meeting of Catholic bishops under the guidance of a pope” and something that “will remain for the future generations and for the historians a black mark which has stained the honour of the Apostolic See.”

There are no signs that this unfortunate direction in Church leadership will soon abate.

Many Catholics are feeling beleaguered and set upon. They find themselves not infrequently in the position of defending the teachings of the Church from those who use the words and actions of their own prelates — and even their pontiff — against them. So why is it, exactly, that thoughtful criticism is out of bounds? Why is it advisable to drown out the voices telling us that there are things happening at the highest levels of the Church that should concern us?

If it can be demonstrated that the voices on either side of our internecine debate are wrong, should that not be a discussion that is heavy on substantive rebuttals and light on vitriol? Why must we assume that those who are most worried about the Church are doing so out of anything but love for their mother and a desire to see her integrity preserved?

It behooves us, as thinking people and Christians, to air these ideas freely, and to seek the truth above our own biases, however inconvenient.


Editor’s note: John Carriere contributed to this post.

30 thoughts on “This is What a Mess Looks Like”

  1. There is a problem today in the idea that disagreement is automatically insult.
    It used to be that people could disagree on points but this never seemed to be a problem at the end of the day. We could still be friends. Today, many say nothing to so as not to offend. Then things keep getting worse and worse.
    Kudos to Maureen Mullarkey for being brave enough to say anything at all

    • Chesterton spoke of the difference between an argument and a quarrel, and that a terrible stupidity of our age is the failure to tell the difference. Quarrels should be avoided, but arguments should be encouraged.

  2. Maureen was dead on. I’m tired of all of the apologizing, excuse making, and the assumption that those of us in the bleachers are too obtuse to see through the media obfuscation. It is hard enough to raise kids in the Faith without the clown nose crew making a mess. There are people dying brutal deaths every day for Jesus Christ and for their Catholic beliefs. And all the guys at the top care about is who gets to commit serial adultery and receive communion. Now we hear, they will take a brief hiatus from the sex talk to prop up the environmental profiteers and talk vague economies of ‘inclusion’. You know what….you can’t be left out of any economy if you are dead.
    Newsflash: It will be our kids and grandkids who will be persecuted for their beliefs, lose their jobs, be isolated, jailed Or WORSE. But I’m supposed to shut up and be patient or whatever while they get to hash out their heresy for the next 50 to 100 years. The fruits of the ruling generation is on display. I am just really disappointed that there aren’t more Maureens stepping up to the plate. God is able to right things and Francis may be God’s way of waking a sleeping giant and getting us to start engaging the enemy. Meanwhile First Things editors and the rest want us to stay asleep.

    • A post that needed to be written. And things have got a lot worse since that was written. The sooner Rome unsays its ecumenical anti-Catholic milquetoast rot about the satanic death-cult that is Islam, the religion from Hell, the better.

    • They certainly are not. Perusing through Francis biography and comparison to D’Souza’s bio on Obama, it is abundantly clear that His Holiness is no communist. He is, unfortunately, a typical Argentinean when it comes to environmental issues. Few countries have had propaganda, both factual and fantasy, so thoroughly saturated on all levels of the political spectrum. In two generations, they went from radical expansionist philosophy that threatened to turn the rainforest into a wasteland, to the most fanatically principled environmentalists in south America. One day, it will dawn on the church how unbalanced these extremes are, and that big business is at the heart of the nonsense, just as much now, as when they threatened to level the forest. The biggest industry in Argentina now is bio diesel, which has very successfully sold itself as the “salvation” of the environment. Knowing how even the most conservative thinkers in Argentina have been utterly deprived of rational alternative perspectives for the past twenty years, I feel that I can safely forgive his Holiness for his naivete on “climate change”, as he is a typical. But regarding economic theory, he is no different from his predecessors, save for a recklessness of emphasis. What the world and, sadly, most Catholics have failed to grasp is that the Popes have CONSISTENTLY preached Third Way economics against the capitalist/socialist paradigm. Yet this goes over everyones heads, unless someone tries to simplify the jargon. When a pope does this and “free market” stands out to a journalist somewhere, the silly ass proclaims that particular pope “capitalist”. If a phrase like “distributive” seems to stand out, the newspapers proclaim the pope must be a “communist”.
      The only men who were able to truly help ordinary people make sense of all this were Hilere Belloc and G.K. Chesterton when they wrote the ” ChesterBelloc mandate, or the Distributist Manifesto. Unfortunately, the noise of the Depression, then WW2, then the cold war, and now this environment extremism has deafened people to the vital message, not to mention the vested interests of the establishment in keeping people deaf. We are slaves of the Great Duopoly that will not tolerate a third option, be it a third party, or a third economy.

      • They are the same in that they seem not to bring unity and real solutions, but they live on creating discord and division. Our country certainly is not better as a result of Obama and it appears that the Church is in turmoil. According to Revelations, the only one to sort this out will be the return of Christ which may be happening sooner rather than later.

        • If I truy believed this, then I would have to join the “Vacant Seat”-ers. However, we must remember, Sevadists blame the V2 problems on the Popes starting with St. John 23rd, which is a complete misunderstood slander. The trouble was in the Italian Rite Mason and most diabolical confidence trickster the Church Has ever suffered from, Anibele Bugnini, the False Priest. Linking Pope Francis to Obama makes as much sense as linking Pope Paul to Carter. No, the link then was BUGNINI, and the link now is LYNCH, both false priests. Lynch MUST be ousted, and if it could be done to that slick weasel Bugnini, it can be done to him!

          • The Seat is not empty. But it does seem that the Pope’s teachings of “The Church” never seem to give an inkling that it’s Roman Catholic.

          • I believe in the dogma that a true pope cannot teach error as doctrine, that God would not let him. If one appears to do just that, I would have to conclude him to be an anti-pope.

          • The Lord said the gates of hell will not prevail in His Church. He did not say hell will not enter, just that it will not prevail.
            Sedevacantism is not the way to go. The pope himself is not infallible. It’s the 2000-year old papacy [the magisterium] that is infallible in matters of faith and morals. Learn to know the difference between the “pope” and the “papacy.”
            If you go sedevac, you will only have yourselves as religious authority. That’s protestantism.

          • I was speaking rhetoricaly, about “joining” the empty seaters, and perhaps I was speaking a little too simplisticly. I know the difference, between Pope and Papacy. “Born Fundimentalist, Born Again Catholic” helped me to understand infallibility better then any other book.

          • Ryan, you never speak simply, perhaps most of us are not interested in history lessons, but more about how the Church is being led by many prelates who are attempting to lead the Church towards progressive modernism. I too believe that Christ will protect the Church, but that does not mean He wants us to sit back and watch it weaken before He takes it back.

          • But – if Bugnini was that bad, isn’t it the job of the Papacy that employed him to protect the Church, her Faith, her rites, & her Liturgy against people like that ? Your post is in effect a damning indictment of the Papacy, & of Paul VI in particular. If the Papacy is so like St Peter that the Popes imitate his slumbering while His Master was in an agony in Gethsemane, what is the use of the Papacy, or of such sleepy Popes ? Popes who are so deeply asleep that they give free rein (the correct spelling BTW) to “false priests” and their wrongdoing, are not fit to be Popes; such Popes greatly endanger the Church by their negligence & sloth. A mannequin would do as well. Hell, some bright spark in Silicon Valley should come up with a SmartPope 5000, and install it in the Vatican. It would never sleep, and would be far more efficient, as well making conclaves, elections & funerals of Popes a thing of the past. And a SmartPope 5000 could not be corrupted, blackmailed, overawed, murdered or flattered, unlike the current model. What’s not to like ?

          • Please read the Chapter “The Rise and Fall, and Rise and Fall of Anibele Bugnini” in the indispensable work, “The Liturgical Time Bombs of Vatican 2”. You will find that bis Holiness DID deal with the traitor as harshly as the political climate would officially allow once the hard evidence was presented to him about Bugnini’s schemes. I personally believe that he and later Saint John Paul were working on an unassailable case (that is, one that liberals could not use to further weaken the Papal political position, and Bugnini being the darling of the “Catholic” left necessitated such caution), but then Bugnini’s devil’s luck came to his aid one last time in the form of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Ironically, his exile became an asset to his reputation. How could the Pope officially (a key word here, as Bugnini was already UNofficially excommunicated) excommunicate a man whose negotiations played a key role in freeing those hostages? It was the last chance to undo the time bombs quickly, for if Bugnini’s meddling had been expossed then, it would have left no room for debate in declaring his corrupt influence null and void. When that ploy failed, the Vatican had to resign itself to dismantaling the corruption in the slow, meticulous way it has been since.

    • That would be a very good premise for a sci-fi/horror film – though you forgot Tony Blair, who is the Pope Francis of British politics. Vatican II was the Blairification of the CC.

      The “hermeneutic of continuity” has all the reality of Hogwarts Castle – there is no reason, apart from the word of Ratzinger & his groupies & fangirls, to believe it exists. There is not even an analysis or this fabled H of C – whereas there are maps & descriptions of Hogwarts. The H of C is no more real than a creature in Dr Seuss – but at least the inventions of Dr. Seuss are amusing.

  3. Maureen Mullarkey is a brave woman. It takes guts to yell “The Emperor has no clothes” in a journal that is read by thousands who for two years have been told all about the Emperor’s exquisite wardrobe.

  4. Thanks Steve. Great comments. Couldn’t agree more. Maureen Mullarkey got it right. Eric Sammons got it right. Unfortunately, our Church leadership has got it wrong. Emphasis on climate change, income distribution and “social justice” are political issues. Pope Francis needs to concentrate on changing hearts not climate, distribution of graces not income, promotion of Church doctrine not it’s diminishment. Let us pray for Pope Francis as he asks.

  5. We have a Father who breaks the rules (washing the feet of some mahometan girl on Maundy Thursday) but we are expected to adhere to them; we have a father who routinely insults faithful Catholics (he calls them Pharisees and Pelagians) but we are expected to speak of him with respect; we have a Father whose bestest buddy is a pro-sodomite, pro-abortion, Messias-Denier but we are scolded for even being friends with a Messias-Worshipping sedevacantist.

    And M.J. calls this the hermeneutic of continuity in the Springtime of the New Pentecost in the Civilisation of Love.

    O, and that Pontifical Academy of Scientists of 80 scientists – the majority of whom are not Catholic – but who are atheists, heretics, and evolutionists – and who are sappers undermining Tradition and Revelation?

    PPffft No biggie.

  6. there was a lot of support of Maureen Mullarkey and many commenters dissed her editor. The de facto schism in our poor church is getting a lot messier with this imprudent pontiff; a know it all scourger.

    • Having followed her a long time, I do not see “a desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness.” I do see a fed-upness with the Pope’s manner of playing fast and loose with doctrine. And I can relate.

  7. And guess who taught the Church to think of itself as a “NGO” ? Paul VI, is who – with an assist from his predecessor, who opened the floodgates and let the sewage in. It cannot be uncharitable to say this about Paul VI, because the fact of his lack of a Catholic mind has been noted by authors as different as James Hitchcock, Archbishop Lefebvre, Paul Johnson, & Alice von Hildebrand. It is unquestionably Paul VI who turned the Church towards the world, by his wrecking of not one, but two, Liturgies, by his refusal to rebuke the bishops who ignored or eviscerated Humanae Vitae, by his blatant philo-Communism, etc., – and this makes some of us very angry indeed. His betrayal of Cardinal Mindszenty & of the Church of Silence are facts that nothing can obliterate.

    It is Paul VI who is the “great architect” of the diabolical disorientation in the Church, a disorientation he bewailed – and did nothing to correct. That he is for some untraceable reason regarded as fit for beatification despite the appalling harm he inflicted on the Church of Christ makes the severest possible criticism of him absolutely essential. Saints can weather any amount of criticism, however severe – it is the pseudo-Saints & the not-Saints who are mistakenly thought to be Saints, who cannot. If the Church had not dispensed with the “Devil’s Advocate”, there would be no need to criticise a dead Pope who has greatly harmed the Church.

    The one good result of the harm done by Paul VI is that it makes the antics of Francis far less shocking. They are scandalous, and Francis is at least a material heretic if he believes some things he says; but one of the blessings of having a line of bad Popes is that their badness accustoms one to being scandalised & fed false doctrine. They are disgrace to the See they have been elected to – that they are legitimate Popes does not in the slightest palliate what they have done to the Church. The salvation of souls is immeasurably more important than the ego of any Pope or Popes. Alexander VI, who was no Saint, was humble enough to accept with meekness the criticism of Blessed Columba of Rieti – his supposedly Saintly successors since 1958 should be at least as well able to take criticism as he.


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