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How Do You Judge A Papacy?

I have so many questions and no answers.

How and when can we tell if the Pope Francis effect is positive or negative?

How can we tell if lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics are really looking anew at the faith? Can we use Church attendance numbers? What are the criteria?

Should we look at the number of seminarians? But what kind of seminarians are we getting?

How do you know if rather drawing people into the Church, most people are using the Francis' effect to justify their current lifestyles?

At what point can we tell if Pope Francis' approach to the papacy is a boon or a bust? Whether the college of Cardinals swung at a curve ball and missed or homered?

Are we even allowed to make such a judgement? Or do the intentions of the Pope matter more than actual results? In some circles you are not even allowed to examine critically the verifiably horrific results of the post-Council period.

Is this period of neo-aggiornamento (redundant, I know, but apropos) to be given the same assumption of infallibility?

If it is clear it is not working, are we allowed to say so without fear of anathema?

Is the only criteria we can judge a papacy is whether a Pope promulgated something contrary to the faith, meaning not at all?

To be Catholic, must we take on faith that these initiatives will bear fruit at some future date, some future date when all the hard-hearted souls impeding its wonderful achievements (me) move on to greener pastures?

How Do You Judge A Papacy?

*subhead*Questions, questions.*subhead*

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Sophia's Favorite said...

How do you judge the Popes who excommunicated people for wanting to secede from the Austro-Hungarian Empire? How do you judge the Popes who gave permission for uncles to marry nieces, since it's not expressly forbidden in Leviticus?

I think American Catholics, especially, with their national "beyond living memory is ancient times" mindset, have no perspective on what constitutes a "bad" Pope.

Michael said...

Or, how do you judge the "Great Society" since after 50 years of the "war on poverty" the poverty statistics are relatively the same in the U.S?

How about, how do you judge the Novus Ordo mass, since so few people go to mass now that it's hard to tell whether there would be even FEWER mass attendants of it were still in another language?

Mathias Thelen said...

I normally enjoy your insights. In fact, this is one of my favorite blogs. But this blog post is strange.

Two reasons. 1) Because the question, "How do you judge a Papacy" presupposes that we are in fact the ones to judge of whether or not a Pope is effective or not. Not only is that false, but it follows that if I place myself in judgment of a Pope, then I am in danger of inhibiting the Holy Spirit from speaking to me through a particular Holy Father. After all, if I am his judge according to my criteria (we're not talking about dogma since the Pope cannot teach error on faith and morals) then I can actually prevent God from leading me through Him, especially if I have judged him to be bad. This is not a small point.

Too many people have immunized themselves from being called to conversion because of their own judgmentalism of a Holy Father. Becoming an arm-chair judge of any preacher is the best way to prevent one from hearing the Word of God from that preacher. This happened with Benedict XVI and it is happening now with Pope Francis, but in different way of course.

2) The second reason why it is strange is your post, at least the way it is worded is already a judgment on Pope Francis' effectiveness or lack thereof. Casting significant public doubt (with clear allusions to what you deem not so good approaches) is actually one way of actually casting public judgment on his approach. In the end, maybe you're right....or maybe you're not.

So, how do you judge a papacy? A strange question indeed only because you just did.

Patrick Archbold said...

I suggest you did not read the post carefully since I mentioned these points already.

Siobhan said...

I'm a little confused at your response to Mathias, but will tell you unequivocally that it is way too soon to be thinking about judging the effectiveness of Pope Francis.

Capt. Morgan said...

Only time will tell Matt. I hope and pray the outcome will be good....but i am having a difficult time convincing myself of this.

Sophia's Favorite said...

Actually on further research the "Popes allowed uncles to marry nieces" thing may come under the heading of "ecclesiastic" impediments to marriage, rather than "divine"—that is, beyond the level of "within the same nuclear family", what counts as incest is not a matter purely of natural law, but partly cultural. First cousin marriages, for example, are ordinarily forbidden by Catholicism, and Anglophones tend to think they're gross, but a papal dispensation can allow them, because many societies (which otherwise have normal incest taboos) get along quite well with the occasional first-cousin marriage (preferring them, like Semitic cultures historically did—a habit Islam has exported to the rest of the world—is still probably a bad idea).

JB said...

to be charitable, he's doing the best he can i suppose. It is hard when you have a pope from an outlier formerly christian nation steeped in material class warfare. but no, i don't think his black shoe approach will yield any fruit, at all.

the person who yielded fruit was John Paul II.

David L Alexander said...

If it is too soon to "judge" a man, it is also too soon to fawn all over him. This would apply to any leader of anyone or anything.

In this case, such are the extremes as they have often been applied to this pope. A few months ago, he was only a man. At present, we act as though no pope in history has ever been remotely like him, as if no pope ever reached out to the common man, eschewed excessive ceremony, or did something differently from his predecessors.

We hear of those who return to the Faith because of this pope. All well and good, but such has been said of others as well, including the previous two popes. I for one am not a Catholic because of any one man or any one pope. I am a Catholic because it it the Truth, regardless of who is pope. In the meantime, if history is the judge of a pope, it is the judge one way or the other.

Bob the Ape said...

You wait 50 to 100 years after that particular Pope is dead and then you start to get a handle on how he did.

William said...

I think between Patrick, JB, and David that says it all. Let's wait a year and keep praying, as always.

I've seen a lot of good, a little bad, and a lot of hype. I'm sure we've all got more adjustments to be made. My two cents currently, though: very good pastoral, little below average theological. More time will tell and I do expect my opinion to change.

Cassandra said...

It's a difficult question, and I think that it is best to always be "uncomfortable" in judging a papacy. However, it that doesn't mean it should be avoided at all costs.

Take for example Pope John XXII's papal sermons on souls not enjoying the Beatific Vision until after the Last Judgment. He was opposed and forced to essentially recant. What if nobody dared to oppose that pope then or later? Would this have become "tradition"?

How is that different than opposing Francis' confusing public statements now? Are not Catholics now having to do contortions to defend "what he really means"? Must we say that it is "good" that he is causing this? Must we go with those like Jeff Mirus that say it is "good" to be made "uncomfortable" with confusing statements on doctrine, since we must have really have just been confused prior?

Is not declaring Francis' approach to be "good" also, in itself, a judgment? To approve is also to take on the role of judge.

If Francis' approach is "good", what does that say about Benedict's approach just days prior?

ProLIFEmommy said...

GREAT question, Mr. Archbold! Jesus told us, straight up, HOW we are to judge: "You will know them by their fruits!" And, so far, I think it is safe to say, that the fruit of this particular papacy is rotten... because at its' core? CONFUSION!!! In a way, I am glad this is happening early on, so we can respond to it. And to answer your question, we SHOULD respond to it, for "Fear of anathema" is NOT of God. Besides, if this Pope is as humble as he and everyone else claims he is, then his response to his flock's concern will reflect that. The true test of his humility---> when he comes out & publicy takes accountablitily for the confusion he is causing by admitting it, and setting the record straight with clarity. Until then, I judge this papacy as a complete debacle. It saddens me, because we also have the leader of the U.S. destroying our Country!!
But, I believe the answers to your questions lie in how we answer the following questions: have we not killed MILLIONS of our own children with our votes? (over 1/2 of the Catholics voted for Obama)... Were we silent in the face of those we knew were going to vote in favor of the culture of death so not to "offend" anyone? Have we not permitted the Church to become what it is today because of our blind obedience to the hierarchy in the Church &/or out of "fear of anathema?" Have we taken our Lady's words seriously when she instructed us, through the children of Fatima, to "pray & sacrifice"---especially the religious, who are greatly offending our Lord? Perhaps, therefore, it is safe to say.... that we are now tasting the fruit of our own sinfulness.....

Aaron Streeting said...

My suggestion is that rather than trying to parse the Holy Father's words or judging his papacy, would be to do what I did after the 2012 elections: take a step back and focus on something I can change--myself. Rather than focusing on the news and getting worked up about whatever abomination came out of Obama's or Harry Reid's mouth on a given day, I spent time with self-reflection, spiritual reading, adoration, prayer, and daily Mass. I realized I didn't like what I saw and I wantd to change. Christ rose from the dead and He wants to work through us, but it is hard to do His will if we are distracted or angry at a public figure. I read this blog post and the only thing I could think was, "What's the use?" Patrick, you are a good writer, a dedicated Christian, and a smart man. I pray that you use your energy and talents to bring yourself and others closer to Christ, rather than trying to stir up anger about Peter's chosen successor.

Antony said...

That's easy! Pope Francis, echoing another great thinker of the 21st century (was Jiminy Cricket a jesuit?) has the answer...

"Let your conscience be your guide!"


Bethpowell63 said...

Thank you Aaron Streeting: "I pray that you use your energy and talents to bring yourself and others closer to Christ, rather than trying to stir up anger about Peter's chosen successor." Remember Christ said: "Love one another as I have loved you". There were no caveats.

Katalina said...

My view is those who have concerns about Francis are NOT judging his Papacy so far. What they are doing is asking and thinking objectively. Any pope who causes this much confusion must be question after all he is only human. He definitely has it in for conservative Orthodox Catholics IMHO.

Radulfus said...

There are those who liked Benedict (me, a lot!) e those who don´t (isn't weird?); the same occurs with Francis. Each one of them has his own style as a manager (if I can say this way!). There are much many issues in the Church's life: one Pope will focus the matter he understands being the BIG question. The other questions are handled in ordinary way: century after century, year after year, pope after pope. The Tradition will keep the good pastoral practices. (excuse my poor english)

Mathias Thelen said...


Your response does not in any way address my points. Of course, I read your post. Again all i am simply saying is that it is a strange for you to ask "how do you judge a papacy" and I gave two reasons for saying that:

1) Because your very asking of the question (in the way you did) is itself is a form of judgment of his effectiveness or lack thereof. The casting public doubt on his methods is actually a judgment already, and this is something you have done quite clearly in recent months. So why ask the question when everyone knows where you stand on the answer? In a sense the whole post seems to be rhetorical way of getting your critique/judgment across, which is strange doublespeak if you're asking how to judge his effectiveness.

2) It is strange for a Catholic to write this because it is a form of self-immunization from hearing the Word of God from the Supreme Pontiff. As I said "becoming an arm-chair judge of any preacher is the best way to prevent one from hearing the Word of God from that preacher" This is the very thing we saw with Pope Benedict with the progressive Catholics and it is the very thing that some people are doing with Francis. This sad self-immunization from hearing the Word of God seems to be a necessary consequence of getting in the habit of judging our Catholic leaders according to our own lights. If we rightly called out liberals for being inconsistent in their quick judgment and rejection of certain parts of Pope Benedict's preaching and still call themselves Catholic, then it is quite strange to turn around and do the same with Pope Francis in the name of being Catholic.

In my judgment, your post was strange and will produce very little fruit in terms of a good answer and that's because the question itself is not a good question in the first place.

I think that other comments were perceptive, especially that of David Alexander.

Anonymous said...

JB says that he doesn't think that Pope Francis' "Black Shoe" approach will bear any fruit. He then goes on to laud JPII. Somehow he missed that JPII also wore black shoes. Personally, I'm a fan of every Pope since Leo XIII. Each one was a gift to the Church. (I'm also a fan of MANY popes before Leo XIII!)

JB said...

He also wore white shoes while hiking, yes I know. My point is that I don't think his somewhat loud displays of humility are going to bring anyone back to the Church. To say nothing of some very confusing public statements. Again, though, I think, like the rest of us, he is trying. A JP 2 is one in a million.

Nan said...

There are a lot of non-Catholics who view the Church differently now. Whether it's what Pope Francis says or does, they like him. Others have a much more favorable view. There are Catholics returning. And the most popular baby name in Italy right now? It isn't Benedetto, it's Francisco.

Sand Mama said...

I think I'm judging the Papacy on the muddy pronouncements our Holy Father seems to enjoy making. Example: today's @Pontifex tweet "Too often we participate in the globalization of indifference. May we strive instead to live global solidarity." What does this mean? Definition of terms, clarity of doctrine, policy, etc. seems completely missing. Even if he is speaking off the cuff, shouldn't it be clear what he is talking about? I wonder if he has any clue how much confusion he is sowing?

Katalina said...

The fact that non Catholics view the church differently depends on which ones. Evangelicals are complaining he does not even know the bible. Yes I know Francis is the new favorite name for boys, but you know what? That does not change the fact that he and those around him are either causing confusion or scandal. The latest is the Cardinal from Honduras saying that Italians in the curia are too greedy to stay in power. Btw his popularity means nothing it is like the large crowds who came to see and hear John Paul l.

JB said...

the college of cardinals does sound as petty as any country club at this point. it's really depressing. you have the latin americans now emboldened and mocking the italians. sad.

Amy Giglio said...

How do you judge a papacy? I think that like everything, we have to take the long view. It's not even been a year yet. It's too early to make a pronouncement on a papacy.

Rebecca Duncan said...

Judge him by what he says and does. Like anyone else. He does some good but ultimately, he causes confusion and I agree that he does not like traditional Catholics.

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