How To Comment On The Pope, If At All

This is a topic that weighs heavily on my mind and my thoughts on the matter have developed over the past year and even over the past month. This is a discussion I have been having with my self even as others have been loudly having it on the internet.

At the center of that discussion is my friend Michael Voris. As most of you probably know by now, Michael has a blanket policy for himself and his apostolate not to publicly criticize the Pope. He has also taken the additional step of criticizing some others that don't share his point of view.

There are other people on the internet, who I also respect, that think that papal statements and actions are fair game for public commentary and critique.

For my part, I have been criticized by friend and foe alike for giving air to some of my frustrations and concerns. I take (some of) these criticisms seriously.

I truly appreciate and take to heart Michael's motivations in implementing his 'zero tolerance' policy about public papal criticism. He does not want division in the Church. Division is my main concern as well. (More on that in a moment.)

So I share Michael's concern and my phone conversation with him on the matter made me further evaluate my own policy on such commentary. I am not a big fan of 'zero tolerance' policies and I do think it is possible to respectfully and faithfully critique papal statements and actions, and I have tried to do just that. With that said, I also must admit that some of my own commentary and others' has likely fallen outside of the respectfully descriptor. That has been giving voice to my frustration rather than faithful and respectful critique.

So is it possible to offer respectful and faithful critique of the Pope? I think so. Is very easy to cross over the line to unfair criticism that cause unnecessary concern and division among the faithful? Yes again, particularly for someone like me who thinks in snark. It is because of this self-understanding that I understand Michael Voris' policy even if I don't agree with all his stated reasoning behind it.

So this brings me back to my concern about division. Division, particularly schism, is of paramount concern to me and has been the focus of much of my writing lately. Schism is a most horrible wound on the body of Christ and must be avoided if at all possible. This concern is both about past and the future. It is why I wrote about the reintegration of the SSPX, a post that was widely misunderstood and not just by those who habitually and willfully make a habit of misunderstanding me.

This concern is also why I wrote my recent post about why it is sometimes necessary to speak out (criticize) if only to avoid division that can harden into schism. I firmly believe that sometimes vocalizing criticism is necessary to bring to light excesses that can cause serious and permanent division. Because of this genuine and deep concern, the last thing I ever want to be is a source of division.

So where does this leave me with regard to Papal commentary?

On the one hand, such criticism can easily fall outside the bounds of constructiveness and respectfulness. On the other hand, I firmly believe that sometimes reasonable and vocal public critique is sometimes necessary to preserve unity and orthodoxy. History is replete with instances where the Church would have greatly benefited from greater outcry from the faithful.

While I reject the notion that all papal critique is divisive, I must acknowledge that its fire can be both illuminating and destructive and thus used with appropriate caution. As a result, I have already re-evaluated the nature of what I will comment upon and the speed in which I will do it, saving any criticism for those times it is truly necessary, reasoned, and respectful. I will try not to publicly air any general frustration I feel in my writing.

So while I do not entirely agree with Michael, I thank him for raising these important and real concerns.
*subhead*Yes or no? Or sometimes?*subhead*


  1. Good article.

    My quarrel with Michael, and the reason that I will no longer financially contribute to Church Militant TV, is their specific personal condemnations (with the claim that such opinions should not be allowed to be published). I have no objection to him not criticizing the Pope, nor to him urging caution in the matter: but his actions are pointlessly divisive.

  2. Patrick, I think you're on the right track. Mr. Joseph Shaw has an excellent piece on the topic as well. I would just add that, at times, papal criticism must be strong and uncompromising even while maintaining the necessary respect. It is precisely for the sake of unity and the salvation of souls that Pope Francis must be clearly and publicly corrected. Every good Catholic should prefer that bishops and priests do this, but unfortunately even the best of them are largely silent. For the time being, this unhappy and yes, spiritually dangerous task falls to the laity. The task is critically necessary, but it requires extreme prudence and moral certainty. I do believe this may change radically after the Synod, depending on the outcome, when silence on the part of the better clergy will no longer be an option. All will choose their side. In the meantime, we have to dispel the fog coming from Rome and fight for clarity.

  3. If I'm understanding Mr. Voris' recent string of videos correctly, he agrees with the substance of papal criticisms, but not the style in which they are delivered (or the mechanism by which they are publicized). Or he is not willing to state publicly what he thinks internally.
    Where things start to get a little off for me is when he travels from "I won't make these statements because they do more harm than good" to "anyone who criticizes the pope is doing harm."
    Although his case is reasonable, Mr. Voris' arguments are not entirely convincing. The potential for scandalizing ill-informed readers (allegorically compared to children), the limit that only saints can critique the pope (did they know they were saints at the time?) and the instruction to keep quiet and write personal letters to Rome, all strike me as just a little naïve (or maybe a bit condescending to an adult audience).
    As with most things in life, the answers aren't found in extremes (on either side) or no-tolerance policies, but in faithful, intelligent evaluations of truth and circumstances. I think we could learn from the example of Mario Palmaro in this regard:

  4. Didn't Pope Francis himself seriously reflect on the criticism of an Italian (Catholic) journalist (or religious, I don't remember exactly), calling him on the phone to respond? This would indicate that our Holy Father believes criticism of him can be legitimate. So, it would logically be internally inconsistent to hold the view that commenting on Pope Francis was illegitimate since he believes it's legitimate. (Sorry if this was mentioned before, I did not read all the previous comments on other posts.)

  5. Mundabor has taken on Michael Voris brilliantly. Check him out.
    Also, in the past Michael Voris has had no problem taking on Catholic Answers over its worthiness to be funded by faithful Catholics. Now these same faithful Catholics need to ask themselves if ChurchMilitant.TV is deserving of their financial support. If we keep our mouths shut, as Michael Voris commands us to do under pain of hell, then we could find ourselves and our Church in a much more desperate place. If our worst fears are realized with regard to papal pronouncements about adultery, sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion, and homosexual civil unions, will Voris be an apologist for these new positions, even by his silence? Just asking. What say you, Michael?

  6. This post is not about Michael Voris or anyone else and should not be used as a forum to discuss any issue other than what is addressed in the post.

  7. Fair enough, Patrick. I know you would like to keep good relations with M.V. by not allowing commenters on your blog to pile on him, and I can respect that. But you must admit that Voris has made this whole topic about himself and his organization, has he not?

  8. As one who has often criticized you for the times when you've made intemperate remarks about the pope, I really appreciate what you had to say. It comes from a good heart from a person who really wants to do the right thing. You are a person whose comments carry great weight in the blogosphere. And I think you have a greater responsibility because of that. To critique respectfully is an important task, and I would certainly want you to continue doing that. But you and others have in times past been justly outraged at the snarky comments made about Pope Benedict and I just feel that the same concern should be shown to Pope Francis. Thanks again for your comments. I always read you and I look forward to doing so in the future.

  9. I should add, too, that it is also possible correct errors without "naming names", and I fault no one for taking this approach. Especially the clergy, who risk reprisals. Prudence may demand that they be discreet so as to continue their good work where they are. Circumstances differ.

  10. All I know is Pope Francis has greatly confused me with his words and actions and I believe has give a ton of ammunition to those who hate the Church.

    Seeing as though Francis is the Pope and I'm not the brightest person in the world I'm sure he is right.

    But I have seen many use Francis as their justification for our politicians in Illinois who used Francis to justify their legalizing same-sex marriage.

  11. Episodes such as this are very useful and necessary for Catholics who find themselves trying to carefully walk a consistent path that has been drastically narrowed for us over the past half century. While our tendencies are to draw battle lines and choose sides, doing so misses a chance for personal introspection and taking stock of our own actions and approach. None of us are perfect or have the perfect answer and reaction at all times. Satan takes special pride in going after Catholics labeled "reactionary" - tempting them to despair of the Church and its hierarchy. After being told by so many laypeople, priests and bishops that we are insane, crazy, out-of-touch, delusional, we don't have clear shepherds and are susceptible to the voices of those trying to draw us out of the Church into schismatic sects. We've seen those who have fallen prey to these voices, or have given into bitterness and hardness of heart. Especially this lent, we should look in the mirror and make sure we are indeed motivated by love, fighting for truth, honor and the unchanging Catholic Faith - avoiding either extreme of being mau-maued into silence, or flying off the rails into unhinged berserker.

  12. Robert de Mattei sets out the duty and rights of a faithful knowledgeable Catholic regardings actions or statements of a Pope that conflict with the deposit of Faith and morals. This is in his letter to Fr Livio Fanzaga of Radio Maria after he was axed last month. There is a translation online, including at Rorate Coeli. It is very succinct, cogent and instructive. Remember, we are talking about grave scandal made known to millions across the world, and unaddressed. Countless souls are being lost while the scandals just grow and grow and the faithful who speak against it are silenced or otherwise persecuted. De Mattei and Mario Palmaro are great examples of faithful Catholics using their reason to defend against attacks on the deposit of Faith and morals. Popes can err grievously (and have done so) outside of the magisterial teaching. Much destruction can thereby be wrought in the Church and many souls lost. We have a duty to speak against that which damages greatly the Faith and morals. Catholicism is Faith and reason. Fides et Ratio.

  13. Maybe all our emails sent to your employer madr a difference too... Just saying

  14. All I know is, I'm not smart enough to figure out what Pope Francis is saying. I get much of my information from the bloggers. Please don't leave people like me hanging, lest we interpret these things incorrectly. No, I don't want to schism, but I also don't want to get to a point where I'm spiritually beaten dead, only going along, because of that. I need information. Please don't let me down.

  15. I agree with you and Michael when it comes to this issue. There is just one little problem. Just today at his daily Mass he once again used the same original phrase that got him in trouble WHO AM I TO JUDGE. I quote Father Z who had this info from News .VA .He said in effect Here WE GO AGAIN. The Pope was simply talking about today's readings on not judging lest we be judged and when he first said it MV did comment on that last summer. To me it was a poor choice yet again. This is what has concerned many people. I wonder what he thinks about this same phrase being used again when he means well. Father Z is also good friends with Mike. If Father Z is concerned we all should be as well.

  16. Voris knows that if the pope -- like a bishop -- is a heretic and he isn't a Catholic, nor can he be the pope... and Voris won't go down that road.

  17. Well said Pat. I have been dealing with this issue of publicly criticizing the pope on my blog myself. Through emails with CMTV I have rethought this 'issue' and come to about the same conclusion as yourself.

    I think we Catholics can ALL learn from each other and pause before we criticize anyone in the Church and reflect on TRUE reason behind the criticism- frustration? fear? anger? or honestly loving correction for the better of the Church?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue.
    God bless.

  18. If we pay attention to every little thing Popes say or do, we won't have time to work for our own Salvation.

    Our mind, our energy and our time will be busy with unrelated, unimportant things, yes, including papal businesses.

    Let's take a long break from what Popes, Cardinals, or Vatican Curia say and let's focus on living the Catholic faith instead of wasting time talking about it. We have the Bible, we have Vatican II and the Catechism.

    Popes come and go. History teach us that nobody is perfect including the Popes. Let's talk about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The rest is from Satan because it is a distraction.

  19. Patrick, what's your point? Neuroticism? If you are going to criticise Pope Francus then criticise him. I can't help but feel you are self indulging in self analyses, and mindless banter. Say your bit if you feel there is anything worthy of criticism. It's black and white.

    Just remember Patrick, He is your Pope. You are not a Priest, a Bishop or a Cardinal. And you are clearly Not a Pope. If you think you can do better in this day in age, then you should have attempted to have a shot at the top job. Please follow our beautiful Popes message and stop dissecting it.

    If you are a confused Catholic, then you obviously lack basic intelligence and self-reflection.

    Enough already!

  20. btw, an idiot could understand Pope Francis message. Stop judging others and look at yourself through Gods eyes. And fix yourself. After all, you don't want to be a condescding hypocrite under Gods eyes.

    It's not rocket science. I'm fed up with the arrogant banter.

  21. Go ahead and criticize as often as needed, just do so respectfully whenever possible. Real substantive critiques are blessings although they may not seem so at first. Correction is an act of charity and if your confusion and concerns on reading the Pope are authentic then be honest. Politely hiding the truth is Satanic. the Pope is a man and is only infallible under narrow circumstances. Paul corrected Peter - you can criticize the Pope; don't sweat it. Of course it's required that criticism be offered thoughfully and with love. Not easy but sometimes it's necessary to be honest. I have concerns about the Pope and I find it hard to defend some of his statements. Maybe I'm missing context - there's nothing wrong in saying what did you mean by that? The Apostles questioned Christ when they didn't get it - it's OK to speak up.

  22. No. If anyone is making something about themselves it's Mundabor.
    This guy is so disrespectful, is sounds like a certain monk from Germany, circa 1620

  23. I think this could be really simple.

    While the Office of the Pope is above criticism, the man occupying it is not. I think one can easily recognize that in terms of teaching on faith and morals, the occupant of the office is protected from making error but at the same time admit that in the day-to-day execution of his duties there are times he probably could use a "Mulligan." And Pope Francis would almost surely admit this. The last point is something for those self-identified people who "get Francis" to consider given the hysteria they display when anyone dare to take issue on matters of style and presentation.

    And so what if he makes some mistakes? Doesn't weaken my faith any. In fact, in only strengthens it given the demonstration of God taking imperfect men and using them for His will.

    Now on the other hand, if you are going to make a critique in the performance of the Pope, to be blunt, you better damn well understand who are talking about, make it respectful, precise and constructive. No need to go into hysterics at the other extreme.

    Bottom line is that I love the Pope, pray of the Pope and he has my support. But I don't put my faith in the man Jorge Bergoglio. It's in the Holy Spirit to keep the office on the right track in spite of us all.

  24. That was the great Mario Palmaro RIP who died just over a week ago aged 45, with young children. A very good man who loved God and His Holy Church. Read his last essays on the evil in the Church. They are brilliant. His last book with Gnocchi and another is about to be launched. He is a great example of how faithful Catholics cannot in conscience remain silent when the Pope does things or says things that conflict with the Faith or morals and spread error, endangering many many souls. When a Pope says things in error, he does much greater damage than when another bishop does so.

  25. We would be abdicating responsibility to the souls which we could help save, such as our children, our flock (if a priest), etc. the problem is the scandal caused to countless vulnerable souls who are lead astray.

  26. We are talking only about things said or done by a Pope that conflicts with the unchangeable deposit of Faith and morals to which we give assent.

  27. Are we in a position to judge fairly? Do we know all the facts? Have we been there as witnesses? We know what the media is telling us.

    How great is the saying of Jesus, "do not judge." He surely knew it all.

    Maybe we should start by judging ourselves first and lead a good exemplary life if we really worry about what others will think of our "Catholic/Christian" behavior starting with kids.

    Maybe we should read Jesus words again and think about them, maybe we can learn something.

  28. Is that it? OK. Then I'm paraphrasing Jesus, if that is OK with you.

  29. Code of Canon Law (as posted on the Vatican web site) -
    under: "Obiligations and Rights of all the Christian Faithful".

    " Can 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church
    and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. "

  30. "You judge by appearances but I do not judge anyone."

    - Jesus (John 8:15)

    “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye."

    - Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5)

  31. “Stop judging, that you may not be judged."

    "You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone."

    I know human nature. It's fun to judge, to gossip, to snoop, to find out what the other is saying or doing.

    Do I need to remind everybody about the clearest example of snooping, the NSA?

    Gossiping, snooping, judging...

    Why not start with reforming ourselves?

    It's LENT. Why not make it a PERSONAL Lent?

    If everyone starts by himself or herself and lead a Catholic Life, maybe we can be close to perfection like Jesus wants us to be.

    Let's stop the distractions and concentrate of Jesus.

    If we imitate Christ, the world and his problems, or should I say, "it's self-created problems" would mean nothing to us because our REAL world is not here but with Jesus.

  32. Jesus did not say do not judge.
    He said we must take the log out of our own eye first, before taking the splinter out of another's eye; and that we will be judged by the same measure that we use to judge.
    He clearly stated we should take the splinter out of our brother's eye.
    Mt: 7:1-5
    Jesus also said: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." Jn 7:24

  33. If you are perfect and have no sin, then judge.

    That is what Jesus is saying and again I'm paraphrasing Him.

    Note: Review your second quote.

  34. “….. let us ask ourselves if we have actually taken a few steps to get to know Christ and the truths of faith more, by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, studying the Catechism, steadily approaching the Sacraments.” Pope Francis, May 15, 2013.
    "What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE"
    When there is a conflict between anything in the CCC and a public statement, appropriate and respectful correction is in order.

  35. Pope Francis himself has said in the recent past that it has been 'important to him' that he received certain PUBLIC criticisms, 'made with love'.

    So if some commentators can offer constructive, respectful, public criticism in that spirit, then OTHER commentators shouldn't be too quick to see disloyalty or disrespect, much less schism or 'soft' sedevanantism in that.

    Traditional Catholics are often accused of hypersensitivity or rigidy with regard to supposed infractions of dogma, but that has its counterpart in the hypersensitivity exhibited by other Catholics to even *implied* criticisim of the pope.

  36. Do not paraphrase go directly to the Bible.
    He said to take the splinter out of our neighbor's eye - AFTER we take the log out of our own.

    Mt. 7:5 - ".... first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

    Never tolerate mortal sin; never condone mortal sin.

  37. By their fruits, you shall judge them.
    You are selectively cherry picking scripture to "prove" your agenda.
    Speaking the truth in love does not preclude working on our own salvation. The two do not contradict but rather are both equal parts of living out our faith

  38. If a pope wants to play fast and loose with church doctrine he should expect to be criticized. The only time he wont is when he is simply repeating the received tradition.
    Simple solution: less of the man and more of the office of pope.
    the Papacy is no place to push personal agendas - just Christ's agenda, which is well known and been firmly established from the beginning - the salvation of souls and the glory of the temple worship.

  39. Exactly! and since the pope is being intentionally provocative, justice demands a response from faithful Catholics, at least to express our concern and worry that he is going down a wrong path.
    The pope is man enough to take it, and if someone's faith is so weak they can't make a distinction between the Church and the person of the Pope, that person needs to study their faith more, not that critics need to shut up to maintain their weakness.
    This idea of Voris' is akin to a church version of politically correct self-sensorship.

  40. Agenda? You make me smile. I believe in excommunication, that is when the Catholic Community of faithful represented by the leaders of the Church decide to exclude someone who did a grave unrepentant deadly sin.

  41. You are paraphrasing incorrectly. I don't think that is okay.

  42. The entire point of the discourse in Matthew is to make sure you have your affairs in order so that you may judge the actions of other correctly.

    We can judge actions. We cannot judge culpability or intentions.

  43. Kind of judgmental of others actions, aren't you?

  44. How do you know what others are doing?
    Is that right judgment?
    JESUS - "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement" - Jn 7:24


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