Pope Francis “takes aim” in “Gaudete et Exsultate”—and misses?

The many good qualities and substantive passages in Gaudete et Exsultate are often overshadowed, or even undermined, by straw men, dubious arguments, and cheap shots.

Pope Francis gestures during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Well, that didn’t take long. Less than hour after Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate was presented in Rome, Fr. James Martin, S.J., posted the following Tweet:

“Taking aim at Catholics…”? Granted, it is an exhortation, but Martin’s rather giddy Tweet carried a strong whiff of “giving them what they had coming”. Would (or should) a papal text on holiness really “take aim” at certain Catholics? Meanwhile, in an online piece for America magazine about the “top five takeaways” from the papal text, Martin explained that the first key point is “Holiness means being yourself.” And what if I’m someone who has a “punctilious concern” for the Church’s liturgy and doctrine? What then?

I’ve read Gaudete et Exsultate and, as I expected, I found some of it to be challenging, engaging, and compelling. Pope Francis, as usual, is at his best when it comes to straight-forward, meat-and-potatoes teaching, such as this section near the opening of the exhortation:

A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel. That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love. (par 19)

Of course, none of this is new or unique; in fact, the best parts of the exhortation are those summarizing or revisiting the Church’s core beliefs about holiness, sainthood, and the spiritual life. There are hard truths put forth with clarity and brevity, as in this passage from Chapter 4, on signs of holiness in today’s world:

Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness. The holiness that God bestows on his Church comes through the humiliation of his Son. He is the way. Humiliation makes you resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of Christ. For “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). In turn, he reveals the humility of the Father, who condescends to journey with his people, enduring their infidelities and complaints (cf. Ex 34:6-9; Wis 11:23-12:2; Lk 6:36). For this reason, the Apostles, after suffering humiliation, rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41). (par 118)

Unfortunately, the document also contains more than a few remarks or suggestions that are either puzzling or disconcerting—and not, I think, for the right reasons. The passage quoted by Martin is certainly one of more obvious examples. Yes, there are undoubtedly a few Catholics who fixate on liturgy and doctrine in a way that can be unwise or unhealthy. But how many more Catholics obsess about “tolerance” and “openness” to certain ways of being or living—usually advanced with a lengthy, ever-evolving acronym—in a way and to a degree that is far more obvious and problematic? How many Catholics show little or no concern for liturgy and doctrine, and view “being Catholic” as either some sort of curious birthright or an embarrassing attachment to “recover” from? And how many Catholics obsess—and I don’t use the term loosely or lightly—about being accepted, embraced, and otherwise feted by those in power and in the limelight?

Francis, as has been his common practice, warns not only against having too much concern for doctrine, but also too much emphasis on rules, describing as “pelagian or semi-pelagian” those who feel superior “because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style” (par 49). He says that like “the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things.”

All of these descriptives can be parsed in an agreeable fashion, I suppose, but the overall impression is that rules, boundaries, limits, dogma, and tradition are almost always impediments. And yet, for a growing number of people in the West today—especially those who are younger—there is a recognition that the past several decades, which have witnessed full-scale assaults on many “rules and regulations” (and certainly on dogma), bear witness to the fact that some things really should hold fast and must stay put in order for goodness, order, and authentic love to survive, never mind thrive.

And, again, in a manner familiar to those who have read or heard nearly everything uttered by Francis:

It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past, since the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another. The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.

Very well. Meaning…what? Is it really true that “the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances”? There is a certain cognitive dissonance at work when we are told, on one hand, how the new gnostics and pelagians are bad because they are contrary to “the concrete simplicity of the Gospel” (par 43) and, on the other hand, how they are also rigid and harsh because they cannot appreciate the complexity and uniqueness of a world that cannot be understood in simple, clear terms.

As a quick aside, the section on gnosticism (pars 35-46), which references (at least at the start) the recent CDF letter on “Certain Aspects of Christian Salvation” (Feb 22, 2018), is a bit strange, in part because Francis describes a form of “gnosticism” that often has little, if anything, to do with ancient and perennial forms of gnosticism. So, for instance, he writes:

Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. It is another to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything. (par 39)

But this is the exact opposite of what scholars and texts tell us about gnosticism, as Sandra Miesel and I recounted in The Da Vinci Hoax:

For students of gnosticism today, the “gnostic gospels” and the ideas in them offer a more inclusive, ambiguous, accepting, and individualized version of Christianity, one free of unneeded doctrine and stifling dogma. Princeton professor and scholar Elaine Pagels, whose 1979 work The Gnostic Gospels was a watershed in popularizing gnosticism and is mentioned in The Da Vinci Code (245), writes in her recent best-seller, Beyond Belief, that gnosticism is about being a seeker—someone who seeks for God—not a believer. She laments those elements of orthodox Christianity that she “cannot love: the tendency to identify Christianity with a single, authorized set of beliefs—however these actually vary from church to church—coupled with the conviction that Christian belief alone offers access to God.” She states that orthodox Christianity is too rigid and keeps people from making their own choices about good and evil, truth and falsehood. “Orthodoxy tends to distrust our capacity to make such distinctions and insists on making them for us”, she remarks. “Many of us, wishing to be spared hard work, gladly accept what tradition teaches.” … In general, Gnosticism is dualistic, focused on hidden spiritual knowledge (gnosis), antagonistic towards or uninterested in time and history, and distrustful—even hateful—towards the physical realm and the human body. Gnosticism seeks to escape the limits of time and space, to transcend the physical and historical realm, and attempts to obtain salvation through secretive, individualistic means. (sans footnotes)

If anything, gnosticism can far better be aligned today with movements that emphasize radical individualism, freedom from physical and material limits, ability to construct one’s belief system around one’s circumstances and desires, and places final authority in the hand of the self-created and enlightened creature rather than in the doctrine and person of the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Finally, this passage caught my attention:

It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission. (par 26)

The Italian journalist Sandro Magister quips that this one passage “seems to wipe out two millennia of contemplative monasticism, male and female,” and then points to this commentary by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., who is editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and one of Francis’ most trusted advisors: “Alternatives such as ‘either God or the world’ or ‘God or nothing’ are wrong. God is at work in the world, to bring it to fulfillment, that the world may be fully in God.”

These two passages, as Magister logically surmises, appear to be swipes at The Power of Silence and God or Nothing, the two recent best-selling books by Cardinal Robert Sarah. And if you don’t think that’s likely, then I politely suggest you haven’t been really paying attention to what has transpired in over the past five years, because these sort of personal jabs are very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ personality and style.

My point, in conclusion, is that while I certainly have benefited in some ways from reading Gaudete et Exsultate, the good qualities and substantive passages in documents and texts such as this are increasingly overshadowed, or even undermined, by the grave tensions and growing conflicts within the Church. Especially since, sadly, Pope Francis and his closest collaborators have not only failed to address those tensions and conflicts, they have played a significant role in exacerbating and deepening them. They do appear to be take pleasure in “taking aim” at Catholics they deem to be too dogmatic, rigid, and focused on liturgy.  It is a shame that this has continued in this apostolic exhortation on holiness but it is not, I’m sorry to say, too much of a surprise.

(Note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of other CWR contributors or of Ignatius Press.)

About Carl E. Olson 1089 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind", co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

101 Comments

  1. Jesus: “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.”

    Pope Francis and his cohorts seem to say: “If you love Jesus you will keep SOME commandments, whichever ones you feel like.”

    In seeking a lifetime of quiet prayer, it does not follow that it means you disdain service to others. Why did Jesus go into the desert PF?

    • Look for the Pontiff’s ghostwriters to relabel the Commandments as Unattainable Suggestions. Abandon striving for holiness. Instead, strive for, at best, easily attainable low level mediocrity in which one’s well formed relative conscience allows them to remain mired in sin.

    • Traditionally interpreted as a prioritizing of the contemplative life over the material service to the Church:
      “Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
      ‭‭St Luke‬ ‭10:38-42‬ ‭DRC1752‬‬
      http://bible.com/55/luk.10.38-42.drc1752
      Pax Christi in Regno Christi

  2. “Holiness means being yourself – Martin”
    You mean my sinful self? The world is indeed upside down. Sin is now holy.

  3. “But this is the exact opposite of what scholars and texts tell us about gnosticism”
    What to do when a Pope does not even know what a major heresy is?

  4. I started to read this article, and then I tought, “No.” I’m not going to bother to read it or the document which is discussed. There’s only so much time, and when I have time I’ll read the Papal encyclicals in order, starting with the book I have about those of Leo XIII. Maybe I’ll even back up from there. I am reasonably certain I will gain more spiritual benefit that way.

    • The spiritual benefit from the writings of the bishop of Rome is minimal and perhaps negative.
      Is he truly the author? Or, are his lieutenants writing for him? The length of A/L, at close to 250 pages, makes me suspect an overwhelmingly team effort.

  5. The Pope picks fights with fellow Catholics all the while the Church is hemmoragging.

    I aliken this to a surgeon at the operating table doing a heart transplant and spending more time and attention criticizing the nurses, anesthesiologist and assisting doctors rather than noticing that the patient is bleeding out. Oops, scalpel just slipped; patient dead.

  6. “There is no selfishness in the interior life…..it is the pure and abundant source of the most generous charity for souls and for relieving human suffering. ….it is the interior life that impsrts fecundity to apostolic works.” INNER STRENGTH FOR ACTIVE APOSTLES by Dom Chautard, Trappist.

    • Oh, Louise, Louise, surely you’re not suggesting that “Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Why, of course we’re meant to emulate Martha instead…

      Needless (I hope) to say, sarcasm fully in place.

  7. Pope F, like the men he surrounds himself with, like Martin and Spadaro, is disoriented, sophomoric, combative and divisive.

    Pope Francis and the Cardinals who promoted him, led by Danneels (a sex abuse coverup artist who was forced to retire in disgrace after being exposed in the Belgian press) are living a mockery of Catholic faith.

  8. What is it we should Rejoice of and be Glad? Is it the “middle class” of holiness that is neither hot nor cold (GE 7)? Is it Cardinal DeNardo’s dismissal of Fr Thomas Weinandy? The Dubia? Is it the Conference of Faithful Resistance packed with prelates, ordinary clerics and laity, scholars shouting cheering down the block? Is it the awful “Rigid Resistance to Change” (168) and the wonderful discovery that “The discernment of spirits liberates us from Rigidity” (173)? Is it the marvelous find in St John of the Cross commenting on his own writing style in the Spiritual Canticle of avoiding “Hard and fast Rules” so as to benefit “all in his or her own way” (11)? Is that in any sense of the imagination a Saint’s affirmation of the Pontiff’s abhorrence of presumed rigidity? Is it really 2000 years of Apostolic Tradition and its replacement by the New Paradigm that is the purported cause for Rejoicing and Gladness? There is nothing new in old opposition clothed in piety to the revelation of Christ.

    • With all due respect, Father, I think you´ve missed the point of the Exhortation. While many commentators are obviousy disturbed by references to different postures within the Church (don´t we all have something of both Pelagius and the gnostic in us all? don´t we all oscillate between rigid adherence to “the rules” and flexibility? don´t we all resist change that we think inimical yet promote those changes that seem adequate to our point of view?), in my quest for holiness, I think the Exhortation contains very useful advice from a wise Spiritual Director. Thank you, Pope Francis.

      • Wajorogo. You’ve given a perfect example of relativism: “Don´t we all have something of both Pelagius and the gnostic in us all? don´t we all oscillate between rigid adherence to ‘the rules’ and flexibility? don´t we all resist change that we think inimical yet promote those changes that seem adequate to our point of view?”. There are certain offences that have no virtuous mean. An example of a virtue with a mean is courage, which is the relative median between audacity and cowardice, between an excess and a defect. Insofar as adultery, false witness, sexual child abuse, murder there is no virtuous mean because those acts and others like them are intrinsically evil, evil by their very nature. Christ came into the world to call us to repentance of evil and to a life of holiness. Exemplified uniquely in himself. And he gives us the grace to live that life not to accommodate evil.

        • Thank you, Father, but I found you reply a little wide of the mark. I don’t think that the fact that a person recognizes their own contradictions means, or even necessarily implies, relativism – as you infer from my comment. Rather it implies personal honesty and humility as that person judges their thoughts, words and actions against a standard which, in the case of a Catholic, is Christ mediated by the Church. I am aware that many people pass from a recognition of their contradictions to a state of self-justification, as your experience as a confessor probably attests. And this, I imagen, leads you to conclude prematurely that my previous comment was “a perfect example of relativism”. Rather, I do think that the honest recognition of our personal contradictions is a presupposition for growth in holiness supported, as Pope Francis has made abundantly clear, by the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

      • Dear Edward; Matthew 23:9-10a

        And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

        This man (pope) vexes me in my spirit, for I am a child of God and glorify the name above all names, Jesus the Christ, who died on a cross for mankinds sins and was dead for 3 days as scriptures state and was then resurrected back to life and now sits at the right hand of God awaiting His glorious and triumphant return.

        Amen, hallelujah to the King of Kings.

  9. Your points are all well taken, Carl. Behind them I see a bigger problem with this so-called “Apostolic Exhortation” and its alleged author, Pope Bergoglio. That is, when in the entire 2,000 years of the Church’s history has there ever been any papal document so filled with bitter invective and scathing insults against practicing Catholics, doctrinal and moral strawmen viciously attributed to defenders of Catholic dogma, bizarrely distorted misinterpretations of historical heresies like gnosticism and pelagianism, and astonishing condemnations of the sublime contemplative and monastic vocations? Is this the way a pope talks and thinks? Is this the way any pope has ever talked or thought? The answer is, at least to me, a terrifying one that is apocalyptic.

    • Not every Pope is like John Paul II or Benedict. Read up on how Pope Stephen VI treated Pope Formosus. This is not mere anti-Catholic libel; it can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06139b.htm). The point is that our faith is in the Holy Spirit, not in the wisdom or personal holiness of any particular Pope.

      • You are establishing a very low standard. Do you expect us to be satisfied if a pope is not as bad as some of the worst popes in history?

    • My considered take is that PF’s primary perceived goal as Pope is to negate the magisterial teachings given us by Pope John Paul II. Of course, that is to negate the magisterium of the Church itself. This is very serious business.

  10. These accusations of rigidity and of wanting to subject others to rules are so tiresome.

    Has it never occurred to our accusers that we, the rigid, amid the modern world’s mockery of the Church and Christ’s commandments, have discovered the beauty of the Church’s moral teachings and liturgy, and want to share the beauty we have discovered? That we have been liberated by the power of Christ’s teaching and by His sacraments and want to share this liberating power with others?

    After so many repetitions of these accusations, I’m left to conclude that the accusers do NOT believe that Christ’s teachings are liberating; rather, they find them burdensome.

    “Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Matthew 11: 28-30.

    Also, regarding holiness as being yourself, what hogwash. If that’s the case, Fr. Martin and Pope Francis should simply retire and “be themselves” and let everyone else “be themselves.” Who needs spiritual leaders, let alone salvation, if we can just be ourselves? Of course, God doesn’t want us to be ourselves. He wants us to die to ourselves and put on the “new man.”

    Ephesians 4: 17-32: “This then I say and testify in the Lord: That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Who despairing, have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness. But you have not so learned Christ; If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus: To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.

    Wherefore putting away lying, speak ;ye the truth every man with his neighbour; for we are members one of another. Be angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Give not place to the devil. He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need. Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamour, and blasphemy, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.”

  11. This from Thomas Merton still at the front end of the “paradigm shift” (1968):

    “It is characteristic of pseudo-Christianity that, while claiming to be justified by God, by faith, or by the works of faith and love [real Pelegianism?], it merely operates a machine for excusing sin instead of [both]confessing and pardoning it–a machine for producing the feeling that one is right [real Gnosticism?] and that everyone else is wrong” [bigots, rigid](Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Image, pp. 116-117).

    Pope Francis would have been less divisive if he had tapped into, say, Jean-Pierre do Caussade (Abandonment to Divine Providence) who more clearly presents what he calls for us in the world “the sacrament of the present moment.” No need to add–or allow other well-positioned fringe editors to cobble-in–the now predictable jabs at the perennial Church.

    • There is also another classic contemporaneous with Caussade’s classic, which was “The Soul of the Apostolate”, which was a favorite of Pius X, and which positions the monastic life at the center of Christian life.

    • Indeed, On reading the exhortation, I thought of Fr. Caussade and his insistence of doing God’s will every moment.

  12. It was recently reported that Catholic church attendance is down. Even amoung the over 60 persons. It is the first time that that demographic is now below 50% of those who attend mass weekly. Does the Holy Father address this in his ‘Call to Holiness’ piece? I’m just going to have to read it to find out. But if I were a bet’n man,…

    • And interesting to see that “Traditional” parishes are growing, hmmm, wonder if the beauty and revered and truth as preached in these parishes has anything to do with this. Sometimes I get frustrated at all the babies crying in my church (we had to add a 4th service on Sunday as we are over crowded with 3, each with about 400 in attendance), then I went to a NO church, half empty and few babies. From my estimation, 75% or more were over 75, this parish will likely not exist in 10 years or less. As Cardinal R said, the church may have to get smaller to grow . . .

  13. When will this madness end? I was being myself before I came back to the Church and it wasn’t pretty. It is only through tradition, dogma and the rules that I was set free.

  14. ‘Martin explained that the first key point is “Holiness means being yourself.”’

    Gee, I wonder what the good padre could mean by that?

    • I believe it means he’s gay, and desires that the Church give him permission to act on his inclinations, while he keeps all the material benefits of his Jesuit affiliation. The Jesuits don’t care, so as Fr. Martin views it, why should anybody else?

      What’s so hard to understand about that? Martin is about as subtle as a wrecking ball, which is exactly what he is.

    • Lisa, look to the end. This circus is a momentary distraction, which in his own good time, the Lord God of the Universe will correct with great clarity. Fear not. He wil not be mocked for much longer.

  15. Carl, let’s get something straight here. Martin expressly and publicly reinterprets and rejects Jesus’ explicit teachings. He is not a Christian, I don’t care if he has bibbity-bobbety-boo at the end of his name. So, whatever he has to say about anything has to be taken in that context and really is irrelevant to those of us who actually are Christians. I would really like to know what Fr. Rutler has to say about this exhortation, instead.

    • Thanks, Jo, for the comment. I think you may have missed the point of quoting Martin. It’s connected directly with the conclusion of my editorial.

  16. @Carl Olsen

    >Yes, there are undoubtedly a few Catholics who fixate on liturgy and doctrine in a way that can be unwise or unhealthy. But how many more Catholics obsess about “tolerance” and “openness” to certain ways of being or living—usually advanced with a lengthy, ever-evolving acronym—in a way and to a degree that is far more obvious and problematic?

    I remember when I used to post on your Envoy blog under my nomenclature “BenYachov”. I haven’t forgotten it but it seems you have. Especially all the arguments we had with persons who thought Pope St John Paul II was worst then the devil and Vatican II was “destroying the Church” and the Koran kissing incident was the end of history for the Church. Let us not forget their tolerant views of holocaust denial and deniers. All of these people had one thing in common they fixate on liturgy and doctrine in a way that was unwise or unhealthy.

    These people haven’t gone away if anything they have gotten worst. They are out for their own questionable agenda. Like the author of DICTATOR POPE who is an SSPX sympathizer.
    So the Pope is completely right here and I don’t see how you can be with all due respect?

    > They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking.

    Well that is true. I read reactionary Traditionalist polemics against the Charismatic movement and others who act as if the Traditional Rite is the pinacle of the liturgy which is a dubious view.

    So I disagree on these specific criticisms. Here are some more.

    >The Italian journalist Sandro Magister quips that this one passage “seems to wipe out two millennia of contemplative monasticism, male and female,” and then points to this commentary by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., who is editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and one of Francis’ most trusted advisors: “Alternatives such as ‘either God or the world’ or ‘God or nothing’ are wrong. God is at work in the world, to bring it to fulfillment, that the world may be fully in God.”

    >These two passages, as Magister logically surmises, appear to be swipes at The Power of Silence and God or Nothing, the two recent best-selling books by Cardinal Robert Sarah. And if you don’t think that’s likely, then I politely suggest you haven’t been really paying attention to what has transpired in over the past five years, because these sort of personal jabs are very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ personality and style.

    OTOH it’s no different then Pope St John Paul II’s councils on why we should get rid of the death penalty. One can certainly disagree(I tend to go with Ed Feser on this) but if a case can be made for or against the death penalty then the case can be made in today’s modern climate that there should be an emphasis on engaging the world.

    I’ve read numerous criticisms of “The Benedict Option” in this publication and elsewhere so why can’t the Pope pick a side in that debate? It’s not like we HAVE TOO take his side?

    BTW people who feel the Pope is personally attacking them have a guilty conscience in my view. I am pro-death penalty and anti-illegal immigration and I don’t have a problem with him.

    • Cardinal Sarah does not advocate for disengaging from the world. So it’s not a “debate”. It’s a sophomoric and effeminate swipe that is unbecoming of a man, certainly one occupying the Chair of Peter.

    • “These people haven’t gone away if anything they have gotten worst.”

      Possibly. I’ve not forgotten (have you followed everything I’ve written since 2004?), and I’ve had my little dust-ups here and there will various radical traditionalists. But I’d be more concerned, frankly, if they controlled large swaths of Catholic media and publishing, not to mention parishes and chancelleries.

      “BTW people who feel the Pope is personally attacking them have a guilty conscience in my view.”

      That’s very discerning of you.

      • @Carl

        >Possibly. I’ve not forgotten (have you followed everything I’ve written since 2004?), and I’ve had my little dust-ups here and there will various radical traditionalists.

        Well I did notice you calling a few posters out on the goofy claim AL teaches Universalism. However Reactionary Trads are still around, there are enough of them that they get conflated with ordinary Trads or orthodox Catholics and I don’t see why it’s wrong for the Pope too call it out?

        >But I’d be more concerned, frankly, if they controlled large swaths of Catholic media and publishing, not to mention parishes and chancelleries.

        So why not nip them in bud before they do? Liberalism & modernism wasn’t as bad by a long shot in St Pius X’s day but he did warn about it. So why is it wrong to warn about extremist reactionaries?
        They are the ones hampring your principled criticism of the Pope with their extremist nonsense?

        >“BTW people who feel the Pope is personally attacking them have a guilty conscience in my view.”

        >That’s very discerning of you.

        But it’s OK for others posters here and on other threads to do it too the Pope?

        Cheers Carl.

      • >“BTW people who feel the Pope is personally attacking them have a guilty conscience in my view.”

        Pope Francis would be much more efffective and persuasive if he stopped criticizing vaguely defined groups of Catholics but rather focused on the substance of the issue at hand. For example, consider his statement that “Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. It is another to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.”

        That language immediately makes you ask, “Who exactly is ‘they’? Could I be in this category?” On the one hand, his allegations are so severe that most people can say they don’t fall under them: I doubt anyone would say that they can make the faith “perfectly comprehensible” or that they “teach a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.” But if that’s true, why would the Pope make these charges? He must be talking about a signficiant phenomenon to write an entire exhortation about it. So people think, “maybe he’s talking about me?” But they can’t really know for sure whether they fall under his vague charge or not, and they can’t know whether or how they need to reform their lives. Instead, they just get defensive, and understandably so.

        How much more effective the Pope would be if he just focused on the issue at hand, instead of personalizing his criticisms. For example, what if he had just written, “we can never make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. We must resist the temptation to absolutize our theories about the Gospel, and we must instead apply the healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel.”

        The same points are made, but in a way that persuades, rather than attacks.

    • A pope, or any other bishop, should, ideally, never say anything in public that a Catholic is at liberty to reject. Any time a pope or other bishop violates this rule, the odds are overwhelming that he is exploiting his office and prominence to push his personal opinions.

      Bergoglio’s highest priorities are all of this nature: the carbon/climate hoax, Muslim invasion and conquest, complacency about abortion, euthanasia, and sodomy, etc.

      Of about 100 public policy positions on the USCCB website, only three or four are positions that a Catholic is obligated to agree with.

      The hierarchy, top to bottom, is full of men who abuse th

    • Except the Pope’s comments weren’t limited to the SSPX and there’s no reason to assume they are who he had in mind. Concerns about the liturgy and doctrine aren’t so narrowly limited. Many faithful Catholics, who appreciate the Extraordinary Form but who regularly worship in the Ordinary Form are also greatly concerned about the state of the liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI was greatly concerned as well. He wished to bring about some measure of liturgical reform but regrettably did relatively little. As for doctrine, all Catholics should be concerned about that. Many will understandably take the Pope’s comments as minimizing the importance of both sound liturgy and sound doctrine, however unintended that may be.

    • If you read Sire, such as in ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’, he is hardly a JPII basher.

      Any more than Phil Lawler or Douthat.

      And I for one remember BenY. At least you are consistent!

    • It is not the job the pope to pick sides in theological debates, just as it is to the job of a referee to take sides in a game. As for Pope John Paul II, there were some things he did which were certainly open to criticism whilst others were certainly not. He was human and capable of making mistaken judgments. As for Vatican II, it is not beyond criticism and the more one knows about how it was carried out the more one realizes that certain criticisms are more than justified. It purported to be a “pastoral council” and not to define any dogma. I as much as it contains dogma, it is only a reiteration of previously defined teaching. So, its novelties are to be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the traditional rules for the interpretation of magisterial texts according to Cardinal Felici, General Secretary of the Council during it. Archbishop Lefebvre approved of all the documents of Vatican II except two, the one on religious liberty and Gaudium et Spes.The first of these clearly contradicts the teaching of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, and it is clear to anyone who makes a close examination of Gaudium et Spes that it is problematic. The fact that the council was hijacked by the German, French, Dutch, and Belgian bishops together with their large troupe of theologians is common knowledge. The fact that the liturgical reform under the aegis of the Consilium and controlled by Bugnini is not in accordance with what the conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium contains is clear to anyone who takes the trouble to read it. The Vatican II teaching has to be accepted by Catholics with religious assent of the mind and will. It is not De fide and can be examined critically.

  17. I truly grow very tired of this bishop and his lieutenants such a Martin, SJ and the other cast of characters.
    This pope truly dispises those who have respect for orthodoxy and tradition and clarity. He never passes on an opportunity to let this be known.
    Not good.

  18. we must read a message in context and not in isolation. seems to me some readers just went through the sub-titles and browsed the minimum. thus, the enter into the same danger warned by the pope;Gnosticism and pelegianism!! take aim,in this context has no meaning to injure harm but to protect from. be yourself has the meaning of dont run away, go through all that comes to you in trust and faith. guard yourself in the name of the saviour. we are not not superhuman, so trials and failures are there.

    • I’m through paragraph 60 and see all sort of issues. I’m sure that Mr. Olsen has read through the document as well.

      • I have. Twice. And I was not going to attempt to engage with ever single section and passage in the 2,000 word editorial. This piece was trying to get at a Big Picture problem. Whether I succeeded or not is open to charitable, non-pelagian debate.

  19. I have seen more than one commentator say that “the pope has now responded to the dubia.”

    They wish.

    The dubia are five yes-or-no questions. The Pope has not answered them. (All educated Catholics know that the answers are no, yes, yes, yes, yes.)

    To answer the dubia correctly would undo much of the destruction Bergoglio was installed in the papacy to accomplish. Therefore, he will never answer them.

  20. Wow! Sacred liturgy with it’s sacred music and Cardinal Sarah apparently really get under their skin. I found this quote from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape letters…(Major demon speaking to minor demon)…. Music and silence–how I detest them both!….[Hell] has been occupied by Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile–Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end….The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. (The Screwtape Letters, 119-120)

  21. I am actually grateful to Fr. Martin. I am so sick and tired of reading and hearing from this pope… I am inclined to just let his friends and allies interpret him with their giddy heterodoxy. You can pretty judge someone by the company they keep,anyway.

    • Your critique of the article is pathetic. What sort of neurotic egomaniac would advertise his infantile tantrum on this web site?

        • The same old same old, when anyone dares to disagree in a combox, right Jim? Only Fr. Peter (who graciously gave me my first break as a Catholic writer in 1993) disagreed with me without personal attack.

          I didn’t “attack” Carl Olson. I disagreed with his position. There is a difference. In fact, I said “I like his writing a lot” and that “He’s written several great books” and that he was a “good and thoughtful writer” and a “good man and good Catholic.” That’s a lot of compliments in a critique!

    • I am afraid to have to disagree with you mightily. Francis missed a golden opportunity to build a bridge with this document: 90% of it is good and solid traditional Catholic spirituality. Then, like Trump, he can’t resist broadsides on his real/perceived enemies and goes on the attack. The Left will have no truck with the traditional spirituality; the Right will dismiss it all because of his dismissive attitude toward them/us.

      • Hi Fr. Peter,

        Always good to hear from you! Hope you are well these days.

        I don’t see that he is attacking people; rather, false ideas and tendencies. He’d have a long, long way to go to equal the vehemence in which St. Paul criticized the Galatians and Corinthians, or the fiery sarcastic rebukes of our Lord towards the scribes and Pharisees. So I see it as simply following the biblical model.

        Such rebukes were controversial then and remain so today because no one likes to be criticized or told they are wrong. It’s almost the cardinal sin in our current postmodern secular society.

        I don’t view the Holy Father as “against” myself or anyone else as people. I see him as on my side: telling me hard truths and timeless truths in a fresh way.

        God bless,

        Dave

        • ‘I don’t view the Holy Father as “against” myself or anyone else as people. I see him as on my side: telling me hard truths and timeless truths in a fresh way.’

          I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you David.

      • Not because of “his dismissive attitude toward them/us,” but because of his intentional subverting of the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

        There is a difference.

      • Why do you have to mention Trump?

        And you repeat the tired old trope that Trump “goes off” impulsively.

        Trump is the most professional persuader and strategist in the WH in living memory. He is an educator, a master of the “slow reveal.” He knows how to lead people (stuffed with the lies of the Deep State) to the truth, without triggering intolerable levels of cognitive dissonance.

      • >narcissist… like all the Patheticos “writers”…

        Says the anti-intellectual Radtrad who can’t defend his nonsense.

      • Hi Timothy,

        That’s very rich, coming from a guy who is on record saying that adherence to Vatican II (which you regard as a “complete failure”) is the equivalent of belief (complete with intransigent dogmatism) in a flat earth.

    • I read it. The title says all one needs to know about what to expect. Whereas Carl’s piece is a serious attempt at an objective critique of the Pope’s work, the “review” by Dave is replete with personal barbs and ad hominem and little else. One won’t actually find an accurate and fair portrayal of Carl’s work in it.

  22. I appreciate your interpretation, Carl.
    The inner peace that comes from being confirmed in the faith one thought they had known from their baptism, has been challenged in some areas for many of us. Like Matthew Schmitz, I was excited (and wept) when Francis stepped onto the loggia…

    https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/12/how-i-changed-my-mind-about-pope-francis

    …but have suffered the same concerns in time as well-documented others.

    Laying aside concerns for which I have no control over other than to question the exact nature of the Church for my children, I’m choosing to think of Francis at one of his best addresses: the Angelus of All Saints on Nov. 1, 2015, where he presents the core of the gospel and the “root of holiness” currently under discussion…our adoptive filiation…divinization…theosis effected by grace…

    https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2015/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20151101.html

  23. 85. Certainly there can be no love without works of love, but this Beatitude reminds us that the Lord expects a commitment to our brothers and sisters that comes from the heart. For “if I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have no love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). In Matthew’s Gospel too, we see that what proceeds from the heart is what defiles a person (cf. 15:18), for from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds (cf. 15:19). From the heart’s intentions come the desires and the deepest decisions that determine our actions.
    ————
    Anyone else notice that he skips over “Adultery and unchastity” from Mt. 15:18? (Is there something Freudian going on here?)
    Also, Pope Francis tells us that he is prescinding from talking about the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance when talking about holiness. But……., Ah…., well, he is going to talk about holiness without referring to the Sacrament of Penance? He doesn’t mention “sin” until number 164. But, towards the end he throws in something about the Eucharist.

    He cherry picks various quotes from various Saints and throws a bone to women and their genius. Women, particularly religious women, should be rightly upset by his pandering. However, if I were one of the saints quoted within I would be exhibiting righteous anger.

    The whole piece is disjointed and towards the end he is just throwing things in. While I am a personal believer in the quote from G.K. Chesterton, “If its worth doing, its worth doing poorly.”
    This was done poorly and not worthy of the Church’s call to holiness.

  24. Thanks Carl, for an excellent assessment of the Pope’s latest work. Indeed much to like in it, but a great deal that is highly contentious and potentially quite divisive. Your actual description of the heresy of Gnosticism and the questionable application of it in the Pope’s work was particularly helpful.

  25. I am about halfway through with it (the holiness letter) and I am very impressed with what I read. It would be wonderful however if the Holy Father would address the Dubia and put a lot of this confusion behind us.

  26. No surprise that this narcissist of a pope spends his time attacking traditional catholics in his so-called Exhortation! What a disastrous Pontificate!

  27. Scripture. Tradition. Magisterium. Bedrock to build a house, or a life, or a church, on. All the rest will pass away. Truth is Truth, in the name of Jesus Christ.

  28. A common slur thrown at pro-life vigils and marches is that being “clear, firm and passionate” about the sanctity of unborn human life hypocritically disregards the child after it is born, and the mother, and their circumstances and future well-being.
    Pope Francis seems to suggest that the threat of vulnerability to “those already born” of poverty, abandonment, infirmity, victimization “and every form of rejection” has credibility as a moral standard, even “equally sacred.”

  29. So, in effect, what the pope is saying is that Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden even Ted Kennedy et al are just a good Catholics as Fr. Pavone.

  30. Should the young priests and nuns of FFI rejoice and be glad after their experience exile and the abusive destruction of their order by Bishop Jose Carballo, done at the behest if Pope F?

    Should the family of the aged Fr. Manelli, the founder of the FFI, rejoice and be glad, that his good name was smeared by Carballo’s agent Rev. Volpi? Should they rejoice that their petitions for justice to Bishop Carballo and Pope F were ignored? Should the Manelli family rejoice that they had to seek justice outside of the Church, winning a law suit against Rev. Volpi for slandering Fr. Manelli?

    Should the Franciscan Irder of Friars Minor (OFM) rejoice, that their new Minister General, Bro. Michael Perry, felt it his duty in Dec 2015 to write an open letter to the OFM, reporting that he discovered that the OFM was in “a grave, I underscore ‘grave’ financial condition,” reporting the discovery of $37Million of previously undisclosed debt, resulting from “irregularities” during the 10-yr governance of his predecessor, the same (now Bishop by the hand of Pope F) Jose Carballo, who was whisked away to Rome in 2013 by Pope F, to “govern” all priests and religious subordinated to the Congregation for Consecrated Life?

    (Cue crickets here…)

  31. People are always telling us what’s wrong with some of the teachings of Pope Francis.

    And I don’t doubt that these commentators are correct in saying that Pope Francis is teaching some doubtful or erroneous things.

    But I’ve never heard any really satisfactory explanation of how Catholics are to deal with the fact that a Pope is teaching some things are are doubtful or erroneous.

    The talk about “ordinary magisterium” vs. “infallible statements,” etc., seems, to me, unsatisfactory.

  32. Can we all just finally drop the “Gnostic” metaphor? The orthodox are not Gnostic because they use right-reason. The progressives are not Gnostic because they glorify the body and the material. The orthodox are not esoteric because they reason out-in- -the-open. The progressives are not esoteric because they are superficial. If there is any Gnosticism here it is evident in what is cited in this column as a “hard truth”, e.g. that there is no holiness without humiliation. If God had not condescended would he still be Holy? Is humiliation the cause of his holiness? Even if this is meant only for man then is there any case, say with the Holy Virgin, that holiness is first present as the formal cause of humility. Gnosticism begins with theological individualism – in our time this is the search for clever expressions that cannot be supported by tradition or reason. And where is the encouragement? If this an exhortation, it is not by way of lifting-up, but via chewing-out.

    • Indigo,
      “”The progressives are not Gnostic because they glorify the body and the material. “.
      Progressives do not honour the body which can be seen by their support for transgender mutilation and homosexual behaviour that denies the natural law. They think the body can be usurped by the the mind or a certain kind of enlightened knowledge “gnosis “. Thus they do not respect to goodness of God creating us male and female as Christ did when he humbled Himself to take human form.

      Genesis 1:31 (“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”)

      I think it is also fair to say that “Enlightenment “ progressives are Pelagian in their denial of original sin and minimizing of actual sin.

      So I am confused when PF uses these terms to describe faithful even traditionally minded Catholics. Surely Pelagian Gnostics are overwhelmingly better represented by nominal “progressive “ Catholics and the masses of secularists who think there is no such thing as sin and the body can be deformed and its purposes disrespected as they will because matter is “below” knowledge and spirit.

  33. For those on both sides of this stream of debate: Do you claim that the Apostle Paul preached a “Law Free Gospel?” A second question: What do you claim, if you make such a claim, the Apostle Paul, himself, and only himself, meant by a “Law Free Gospel?” A third question: What does your claim, if you make that claim, mean to you, today, if anything? A caveat: Irrespective of your position, if you make no such claim, there is no real need to answer; indeed, no one need answer. I am just wondering.

  34. I guess I am just confused. It seems like the “cheap shots” are coming from those on social media, etc. I’ve read AL. I have read GE. I find nothing against the faith in the Holy Father’s writings. I feel I am well formed in the faith. Yet there is so much vitriol directed towards the Pope in comboxes I reread. I’ve come to the conclusion that the internet just feeds the poison that I saw present with the previous pontificates. (Remember the controversies were present even with our previous Popes.) So. There will be fodder for a new controversy tomorrow…

    • Then you are safely unaware of the pacifist/ inspiration problem of all three Popes…the previous two late in life. It goes to the undermining of the inspiration of all scripture when Benedict condemned the herem massacres ( first Pope in history) and says in Verbum Domini 42 that the “ prophets challenged…every form of violence…communal and individual”.
      Elijah killed over 400 Baal worshippers; the prophet Samuel for God killed Agag; and here’s Jeremiah telling the Chaldeans they are mandated by God to kill the Moabites in Jeremiah 48:10…. “ A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work! A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!” The error on inspiration is far bigger than all three men and can have offshoot mistakes in areas other than the death penalty. It’s bigger than they are. Once a first person imperative command of God is undermined….they are all undermined. The issues at stake become multiple. Ergo….non infallible documents should be read with greater care.

  35. Speaking of more problems tomorrow – secular news now reports Pope F has finally admitted that his candidate was guilty in sex abuse crisis in Chile, in which Francis fed the flames of injustice by verbally abusing the families of abuse victims, calling them stupid and then liars. It will be interesting to see what he actually apologizes for…if he has any real shame.

  36. Hold onto your collective hats. Francis believes that the “true, the good and the beautiful” have different meanings depending upon what month it is. When you consider “objective truth” as legalism (despite being the foundation of 2,000 years of Church teaching) there is no limit to what can be done outside of the thoughts and conscience of Jorge Bergoglio. He’s already been the worst Pope since Leo X, but after the upcoming “Youth Synod” I think we’ll be hoping for the “good old days” of the Avignon Papacy. Francis is that bad. I don’t claim he is a heretic, simply a man with marked with astounding pride and without the intellectual gifts to understand his own shortcomings.
    And if it is a bad thing to fear the “tyranny of relativism” I have something to add to the list at my next confession.

    • This is just the sort of outpouring I was anticipating.

      From Australia, the vocal elements of the supposed Catholic population have given me the impression that the Church was a political and social activist institution which made no mention of the supernatural and concentrated on rigid catechismal fundamentalism or progressive modernity.
      Pope Francis has surprised me, he has called it out.

  37. Please consider praying for our Pope instead of the pharisaical attitudes that are on this forum. Consider these quotes: “Even if [the Pope an incarnate devil], we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom… He who rebels against our Father is condemned to death, for that which we do to him we do to Christ: we honor Christ if we honor the Pope; we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the Pope.” –Catherine of Siena

    “Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; one does not oppose to the Pope’s authority that of others, however learned they may be, who differ from him. For however great their learning, they must be lacking in holiness, for there can be no holiness in dissension from the Pope.” (Pope St. Pius X, allocution of 18 November 1912, AAS vol. 4 (1912), 695).

    • Amen Chris! With all my heart I agree with what you are saying. I have one desire in my heart: to humbly listen to and learn from and give my joyful obedience to the Vicar of Christ on earth. In addition, I know I am duty-bound to not obey anything an authority tells me to do if it is morally sinful, and to date, there is not one thing that Pope Francis is asking me to do that is even remotely sinful. Viva our Catholic Church! Viva Christ our King! Viva His Vicar on earth, Pope Francis! !

  38. Francis “warns not only against having too much concern for doctrine, but also too much emphasis on rules….or (to)remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style”.
    I didn’t think there was a particular Catholic STYLE. To my understanding it is one faith, universal. This man breaks my heart.

  39. Francis is a debacle. He has shown over again that he wants an accommodation with 21st century secularism despite its puerile decadence. The “Main Line” Protestant denominations that have followed this road have all ended up weakened to the point of irrelevance – the Anglicans are at death’s door. The same thing will happen to Mother Church unless Francis and his supporters in Northern Europe and parts of the US are stopped. Pray for the Church.

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