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That picture on Fr. James Martin’s Facebook page has been on display for months now, and I must confess that posting it struck me from the git-go as…well, as unchurchmanlike.

(Screenshot: Facebook)

“Churchmanship” is not a term in vogue today, and given the alleged inclusivity-deficit of such words it’s unlikely to make a comeback. Which is a shame. Because “churchmanship” connotes an etiquette, a once-taken-for-granted code of manners, that embodies an important truth of Catholic faith. When the etiquette crumbles, the truth can get lost amidst the debris.

What is “churchmanship?” It’s somewhat protean in its expressions and not easily defined, but I think I know it when I see it:

“Churchmanship” = the friendship between the ultra-conservative Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton and Monsignor George Higgins, the Platonic form of the mid-20th century liberal Catholic priest.

“Churchmanship” = the quality displayed by Fr. Yves Congar, OP, Fr. Henri de Lubac, SJ, and Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, when they obediently accepted restrictions on their publishing in the 1950s, before becoming influential theological advisers at the Second Vatican Council.

“Churchmanship” = Cardinal Karol Wojtyła deferring in public to the primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, thereby frustrating the divide-and-conquer schemes of Poland’s communist regime, which tried to splinter the Church by driving a wedge between two Catholic leaders of different ecclesial sensibilities.

“Churchmanship” = Cardinal Bernardin Gantin resigning as Dean of the College of Cardinals in 2002 and thus forfeiting the opportunity to celebrate the funeral Mass and preach the funeral homily of John Paul II (whom Gantin revered), so that a younger man could give the College the leadership it deserved.

“Churchmanship” = the deference shown by vowed religious who submit their manuscripts to their order’s censors before publication.

“Churchmanship” = the candid but respectful, as distinguished from dismissive and hyperbolic, critique formerly offered popes and bishops by editors and writers in publications that call themselves “Catholic.”

“Churchmanship” = lay Catholics quietly offering constructive suggestions on preaching to their pastor, rather than sniping to fellow-parishioners behind the pastor’s back.

And so forth.

Churchmanship may be easier to recognize than define, but breaches of the etiquette of churchmanship are not that difficult to identify; and they were displayed last September 30 by advocates of Father James Martin, SJ, and his approach to LGBTQ ministry. Within minutes of Father Martin’s half-hour private audience with Pope Francis, his enthusiasts unleashed a barrage of social media and internet commentary, using the fact that the audience happened and the photos taken at it to suggest that the Pope had tacitly or even explicitly applauded the thinking and pastoral approach of his guest.

That this publicity campaign took place shortly after Father Martin had been challenged by Archbishop Charles Chaput, who thanked the Jesuit for his ministry but criticized his failure to present the fullness of Catholic teaching about same-sex attraction and “transgenderism,” was not accidental, one imagines.

Father Martin has always insisted that he wants to be regarded as a churchman and I take him at his word. So I should like to suggest that he demonstrate real churchmanship by redesigning his Facebook home page, the cover photo of which shows Father Martin and Pope Francis smiling at each other across a table in the library of the Apostolic Palace at their September 2019 audience.

That picture has been on display for months now, and at the risk of being judged judgmental, I must confess that posting it struck me from the git-go as…well, as unchurchmanlike. An individual’s private audience with the Bishop of Rome is just that, private, and confidentiality is assumed to allow maximum candor in conversation. A churchman understands that, and would not countenance PR games that, irrespective of intention, have the effect of deploying the Pope as a high-value piece on the chessboard of ecclesiastical controversy. Similarly, a thoroughgoing churchman will always be reticent about publicly using pictures of himself and his papal host, for he would know that such displays inevitably suggest that he and the Pope are at one in their views – a suggestion that limits the Pope’s freedom, which a churchman will want to safeguard.

The etiquette of churchmanship may seem old-fashioned in an age in which traditional norms of decorum and confidentiality have disappeared throughout society, and conscience-light public officials criticize their superiors “off the record in order to speak frankly about confidential conversations” (a cringe-inducing formula regularly appearing in our newspapers). However old-fashioned, though, “churchmanship” connotes a crucial truth: the Church is Christ’s, not ours.  Which means that the Church (and the pope) should never be instrumentalized.

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About George Weigel 490 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. The Pontiff Francis, and many Bishops and priests and “lay ministers,” like many before them, treat The Church like it is their personal property, to dispose of as it suits them.

    Hence, this Pontiff arrogated himself to change the very words of Jesus, and create “The Our Father v 2.0.”

    And treating the Church like his personal property, the Pontiff showed contempt for the 1st Commandment, in stage-managing and presiding over and promoting idolatry in October 2019.

    And indeed, just as it was “no accident” that “Rev. Martin” had his marketing team publicize his photo op with the Pontiff Francis, it is likewise intentional that he got his photo op with the Pontiff Francis, and it was likewise intentional that Martin was made a strategic spokesman by The Pontiff Francis, because they are all part of the same team, who treat The Church like their personal property, and since 2013 have together campaigned to confecti their post-Catholic cult, laboring tirelessly for 6 years to undermine the 6th Commandment, and in year 7 turned to violating the 1st Commandment.

    Mr. Wiegel’s appeal to “Churchmsnship” is an appeal for something, but for what is unclear.

    Is it merely a desire for the veneer of the “old-fashioned”? Surely, that can be achieved without any need for “scripture or tradition.”

    I close with a note on Pope John Paul II, which Mr. Weigel might appreciate. The last book written by JP2 was “Memory and Identity.” JP2’s personal memory and identity were rooted in a Church that was serious about Catholic faith and morality and worship.

    The Pontiff Francis and his team, composed of men like “Rev.” Martin, do not promote the memory or identity of a Catholic people.

    They promote a new post-Catholic cult.

    Their own Jesuit Order has for 50 years drunk deeply from The River Lethe, the Water of Forgetfulness.

    In October 2019, they made their final goal public: performing idolatry, and then insisting that both they themselves, and now all Catholics, can continue to perform acts of idolatry “without idolatrous intent.”

    Serious Catholic people are not obliged to ignore reality, and “play pretend” for the sake of appearances.

  2. Explain to me how St. Athansius or Pope St. Gregrory the Great or St. Peter Damian or St. Bernard of Clarivaux fit into this prissy and preening box of “Churchmanship”.

  3. We read from Weigel: “What is ‘churchmanship?’ It’s somewhat protean in its expressions and not easily defined, but I think I know it when I see it.” He then contrasts examples with the staged self-preening in high places of pseudo-churchman Martin.

    More briefly, and to the same point, I am reminded of my recent summons to serve on the jury of the local Superior Court. During peremptory challenges, one candidate, a distinctively professional woman of noble and articulate bearing, was quizzed on whether she would be swayed, perhaps, for or against testimony from professional police officers propped up in their well-pressed uniforms.

    Au contraire (!), she explained that her husband and another family member were, in fact, policemen. And, that she would most certainly give credence to reliable testimony no matter how it was dressed. Then a long pause from the light of day. Said she: “but I can tell bullshit when I hear it.” Enter, stage left, pseudo-churchman Martin in pressed vestments.

  4. George Weigel’s examples of political correctness are good, the exercise of voluntary protocols amenable to the moment. Although “hyperbolic, critique formerly offered popes and bishops by editors and writers in publications that call themselves Catholic, parishioners snipping about their pastors” in itself a good counsel that nevertheless if offered unconditionally is detrimental to candor, free expression at a time when It is necessary to call a spade a spade. We cannot disarm laity, Catholic websites that express alarm during an alarming Church scenario. When the faith is being widely compromised. Flaccid pious sentiment couched as moral correctness simply won’t do. What would Athanasius of Alexandria thought?

    • Added I would be remiss not to mention Weigel’s excellent account of what good Churchmanship is not in his reference to the manipulative ever posturing James Martin SJ. Unfortunately the advocate for homosexuality has been provided a platform. So Churchmanship seemingly can operate for good or for bad in either direction.

  5. Feast of St.Joseph , 3/19 … he too would have likely echoed the words of Bl.Mother at the Visitation , for the privilege of being the Foster Father of The Lord – ‘ The Almighty has done great things for me, holy is His Name ..’ .
    Being a devotee of St.Joseph , the Holy Father too , likely reflecting a similar sentiment in the above picture , in hope , how The Father love can reach in to heal the wounds, scattering the spirits of fear and pride that hide behind such .. even if he may not agree with all the approaches used for same , which he has clarified with others in later interviews , thus the concerns expressed in the article not out of place .

    Since many cannot leave the house to visit gyms and such , an exercise that mimic the moves of the Resurrection ( bending down at the knees and straightening up again , hands too some similar movements ) saying the above prayers with St.Joseph in gratitude for his help , from the goodness of The Father could be a good way to help the kids too, to build a closer relationship with St.Joseph .
    Blessings !

  6. We don’t need “churchmanship” of any sort. We need people in the Church (both clergy and laity) to stop with the politics and posturing and to be genuine human beings who follow Christ and his commands, and deal with others plainly and with integrity. We follow Christ and told us to let our “yes mean yes, and no mean no”. No more politics, games and churchmanship.

  7. I believe that Fr James wants to show by his association with Pope,that his unChristian view on homosexual sex and lifestyle is acceptable to the Catholic Church. Similarly Pope’s silence on Fr James propagation of LGBT Q as a great Catholic charity is very difficult to understand, for a Catholic who is loyal to Catholic moral teachings

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