When I started ringing the alarm about Francis in October of 2013, I didn’t make a lot of friends.
In fact, over the last three years, a number of other Catholic writers had a nice little competition amongst themselves to see who could take the most pot-shots at me, and the work we do here. Of course, as the situation became more clear, our credibility waxed and theirs waned. Too many good and decent Catholics who tried as hard as they could to hold back judgment eventually threw up their hands. I was at a get together last weekend with some folks I’d never met, and the exasperation was palpable. One man said to me, “I’m done with Pope Francis at this point.”
Among the most fervent of my detractors is a little-known blogger by the name of Scott Eric Alt. He has spent quite a bit of time firing in our direction from his blog. If I’m not mistaken, he’s the fellow who coined the nickname, “OneVaderFive.” But today, he is finally singing a different tune. In a post entitled, “Sorry, But I’ve Changed My Mind About Pope Francis“, he writes:
I mean, I do like Pope Francis. I’ve defended Pope Francis. I want to believe—I really want to believe—that footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia can (and should) be read consistently with Familiaris Consortio 84. I have argued as much multiple times on this wery [sic] blog.
But then he details some of the inconsistencies. The statements by Schonborn and Spadaro. The irreconcilable differences between a Chapter 8 of AL that allows communion for the “remarried” and Familiaris Consortio. He continues:
This is why there is a problem with Amoris Laetitia–because there are sections of it, important sections, that are vague, and which scream out for clarification; but attempts to clarify have led to further vagueness (as in Schonborn’s interview with Spadaro) and inconsistent opinions about what it was that the pope wants pastors to do, and not do, with couples in an irregular union seeking to return to the Eucharist. We have had assurances that Amoris is utterly consistent with Familiaris and yet there are two problems:
- Schonborn’s words have been inconsistent and themselves not at all precise;
- None of these clarifications carry Magisterial weight.
And because they do not carry Magisterial weight, different bishops are interpreting Pope Francis to pretty much be saying what they want him to say, and doing what they want to do, and there is no uniformity or correction where there has been folly.
So four cardinals intervene with a series of questions asking the pope for clarification on footnote 351. The full text is here.
These strike me as fair questions. The cardinals are seeking a definitive, Magisterialanswer to some people’s doubts—not answers in interviews, not private lectures, not “go listen to so-and-so.” The reason a definitive answer is needed is precisely to prevent bishops in some places from running wild and doing whatever they want to the potential harm of souls. If someone in a state of mortal sin, not disposed to receive the Eucharist, receives the Eucharist anyway, that compounds the problem. It is a harm to both the individual who receives and the priest who knowingly distributes. A definitive clarification would, potentially, forestall this.
Moreover, if there has been genuine and legitimate doctrinal development, then that development needs to be spelled out in fairly precise terms. What is this development? How are we to understand it?
Only the pope has the authority to answer such questions. This is why the Church has a pope.
That Pope Francis has refused to answer these questions is a problem. It is tantamount to the pope saying, “I know there is confusion, I know people want it cleared up, but too bad. Figure it out yourself.”
Perhaps that is not an accurate representation of the pope’s thinking, but that’s what comes across. Confusion? Pshaw! Confusion upon your confusion!
And then, when the pope gives an interview attributing concerns to “legalism,” he comes across as condescending.
And now Fr. Spadaro has written another reminder that the questions have already been answered.
Really? By whom? The pope? In what context? Are these answers definitive? Are they magisterial?
Only the pope can speak with authority in answering these questions—not cardinals in interviews, not cardinals in private lectures, not theologians writing in journals, not bloggers on Patheos or One Vader Five.
The truth is, Eric is right. We’ve never claimed to speak with authority on these issues, because it’s not our job. We’ve simply refused to let the questions that this pontificate raises be buried. We’ve held feet to the fire. We’ve relentlessly pushed the discussion into the public eye so that people could at least feel that it was no longer taboo to talk about it. We’ve attempted to give cover for theologians, priests, and yes, even bishops and cardinals, to address these issues that are of significant concern to the faithful.
Only the pope can speak with authority on these questions. But he can only do so if he affirms, rather than denies, the teaching of Our Lord and his predecessors. This is what has Francis in a pickle. He can’t answer the dubia without unmaking his own program of upending the faith. Either he refutes his own obvious agenda, thus discrediting it, or he embraces it and makes himself into a public and manifest heretic. There is no winning option for him unless he has a sudden Damascus moment and stops persecuting the true followers of Christ to become a champion of orthodoxy.
[B]ecause of all this, the impression many people have is that the pope wants confusion, likes confusion, does not wish to clear up confusion, and if there is confusion he must scoff at confusion.
No, the reason we have a pope is so that the pope can provide answers to questions that arise in the Church. Questions have arisen. For the good of the body, for the unity of the Church, the pope must answer the questions. Only the pope can do so with authority. That is why we have a pope.
I want to believe Amoris Laetitia is consistent with Church teaching, but if it is, why does the pope have such a difficult time clarifying that consistency?
Roma, locuta. [sic]
Yes, Roma loquere indeed. Rome should speak. That she does not tells us a great deal.
For his part, I want to give Eric credit for being intellectually honest with his change of heart on this. I’m sure he has a long way to go, but once you start waking up in The Matrix, it’s hard to go back to sleep.
I have little doubt Eric will vociferously disagree with my assessment here. It doesn’t matter. Pretty soon, he may find himself realizing that we’re not wrong about the rest of this papacy either, whether he ever admits it or not.
May God grant him eyes to see.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.