Every Member Ministry

Remember how the Second Vatican Council affirmed the priesthood of believers?

The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. (Lumen Gentium 2.10)

Look where it leads:

Here is part of what the pope said:

And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.

No, no, no. Now see, this infuriates me as an apologist (and former Protestant). It is one thing to have to correct this nonsense when it comes from the late Anglican bishop Tony Palmer. But from the pope? I defend the poor man, but at times he exasperates me.

Turns out Lutherans and Roman Catholics don’t agree:

Now, it is true, that some consensus has been reached between Catholics and Lutherans on justification. But it is not at all true to say, as Pope Francis does, that we all “agree” now, as though there are no differences to speak of. And for him to say that Luther “did not err” on justification is just flat baloney.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, Luther taught justification by faith alone. The Council of Trent condemned this error. Was Trent wrong? Or was Pope Leo X wrong in Exsurge Domine?

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s view that the sacraments give pardoning grace

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s teaching that sin remains after baptism

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s view that a just man sins in doing a good work

And in its Canons on Justification, the Council of Trent pronounced an anathema on the following views of Luther:

Canon 5 anathematized the view that Adam’s sin destroyed free will

Canon 7 anathematized the view that good works before justification are sinful

Canon 9 anathematized justification by faith alone

Canon 11 anathematized imputed righteousness

Canon 25 anathematized the view that good works are venial sins even for the just man

There are important differences between Protestants and Catholics, and ecumenism is of no use if we don’t treat them honestly. We can’t just pretend they are not there and wish them away. If Luther “did not err,” did the Church err? Should we all become Protestants?

Trent was right; Leo X was right. Luther did indeed err; and in this particular statement, so did Pope Francis. I love Pope Francis; he’s my Father; but no, no, no. He was wrong.

Move over papal audacity. Say hello to lay audacity.

Does POTUS Define US?

Of course, not. The federal government has two other branches and the United States is way more than its government. McDonalds? Hollywood? Caitlyn? Harvard? The military? Heck, we don’t even pledge allegiance to the White House.

But what’s true for a nation is not true for a church like Roman Catholicism. There the papacy does define Roman Catholicism. And Ross Douthat explains why investing all that power and identity in a single office is a mistake, or why Pope Francis is more of a threat than President Trump:

Friendly media coverage casts the pontiff as a man of the center, an ecclesiastical equivalent of Angela Merkel or Barack Obama or David Cameron, menaced by authoritarians to his right. But he is no such thing, and not only because his politics are much more radical and apocalyptic than any Western technocrat. In the context of the papacy, in his style as a ruler of the church, Francis is flagrantly Trumpian: a shatterer of norms, a disregarder of traditions, an insult-heavy rhetorician, a pontiff impatient with the strictures of church law and inclined to govern by decree when existing rules and structures resist his will.

His admirers believe that all these aggressive moves, from his high-stakes push to change church discipline on remarriage and divorce to his recent annexation of the Knights of Malta, are justified by the ossification of the church and the need for rapid change. Which is to say, they regard the unhappiness of Vatican bureaucrats, the doubts of theologians, the confusion of bishops and the despair of canon lawyers the way Trump supporters regard the anxiety of D.C. insiders and policy experts and journalists — as a sign that their hero’s moves are working, that he’s finally draining the Roman swamp.

Meanwhile the church’s institutionalists are divided along roughly the same lines as mainstream politicians in the face of Trump’s ascent.

There is a faction that has thrown in with Francis completely, some out of theological conviction, some out of opportunism, some out of simple loyalty to the papal office. (The analogy would be to the mix of populists, opportunists and institutionalists who smoothed Trump’s progress to the Republican nomination.)

There is a group that is simply silent or deeply cautious — note how few of the world’s bishops have taken any position on the controversy over divorce and remarriage — in the hopes that things will simply return to normal without their having to put anything at risk. (The analogy would be to most Republican elected officials, and a few red-state Democrats as well.)

There is a group that is relatively open in criticism of the pope’s agenda but also unwilling to cross the line into norm-smashing of its own. (The analogy would be to the American center-right and center-left, from John McCain to Hillary Clinton.)

This last group’s sheer diversity is one reason the Bannon-versus-Francis theory fails. The ranks of papal skeptics are filled with Africans and Latin Americans as well as North Americans and Europeans, with prelates and theologians and laypeople of diverse economic and political perspectives. Most are not traditionalists like Burke; they are simply conservatives, comfortable with the Pope John Paul II model of Catholicism, with its fusion of the traditional and modern, its attempt to maintain doctrinal conservatism while embracing the Second Vatican Council’s reforms.

But because this larger group is cautious, its members have been overshadowed by the more forthright, combative and, yes, reactionary Cardinal Burke, whose interventions might as well come with the hashtag #TheResistance.

Which places him in the same position, relative to Francis, that a Bernie Sanders occupies relative to Trump — or that Jeremy Corbyn occupies relative to Brexit. He’s a figure from the fringe whose ideas gain influence because the other fringe is suddenly in power; a reactionary critic of a radical pope just as Sanders or Corbyn are radical critics of a suddenly empowered spirit of reaction.

So the story of Catholicism right now has less to do with reaction alone and more to do with what happens generally when an institution’s center doesn’t hold.

You don’t hear Bryan and the Jasons saying much about church politics. It’s like reading the Federalist Papers and ignoring the 2016 presidential campaign. And yet, ideas do have consequences and the theory of chief and infallible interpreter of the faith is not simply an idea. It is a way of life. At least the federalists left behind a Constitution. What enumerated powers did papal supremacists leave behind?

The Worse, the Better

It’s an odd argument, but in the Pope Francis era it seems to be more prevalent. It runs something like this:

He’s a lousy husband, angry, selfish, a slob, and abusive, but that makes him the husband God gave me all the more.

He’s a terrible employee — late for meetings, lies to customers, refuses to adhere to company policies, but he’s the co-worker God gave me.

He’s an awful king — he suspended habeus corpus, requires citizens to hostile to hostile and uncivil soldiers, forces us to pay taxes without giving us a voice in tax policy — but he’s the king God gave us.

And so, when it comes to the church, the fact that an institution so bad has existed so long is proof that it is the institution Christ founded.

For instance:

In the satirical writings, dialogues, of the 14th c. Italian author Boccaccio there is story about a Jew who has to go to Rome for something. The local Bishop has been trying to get the Jew to convert the Christianity. Knowing the Jew was about to see the Church at its worst in Rome, the corruption and moral turpitude of many of the clerics and religious, even Popes like the Borgias, the Bishop despaired that the Jew would ever covert on his return. However, once returned from his trip, the Jew went to the Bishop and said, “I’m ready to convert now!” The Bishop, flabbergasted, replied, “You went to Rome and you saw how horrid things were there… and you still want to join this Church?” “Yes”, said the Jew. “I figure that with so many wicked and corrupt people hard at work trying to destroy the Church, it shouldn’t have lasted 14 years, much less 14 centuries. It has to be of divine origin!”

Or again:

It was exhilarating, that moment when it hit me: “I’m going to become Catholic.” But as I experienced more of the modern church, and began RCIA, Patrick Coffin’s greeting to converts, “Come on in! It’s a mess,” started to make sense.

So did the words of Hilaire Belloc, which no longer seemed merely witty:

The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.

Even more:

Worrying about the daily confusion and sorrow Pope Francis introduces into our lives can impede us from working on our first priority—which is living our Catholic life in Christ as fully as we possibly can. With only exceedingly rare exceptions, we are in no position to offer correction to the Holy Father. Therefore, it will do us little good to engage in endless arguments over what is wrong, whose fault it is, and how the problems posed by the current papacy might be resolved. And not only will this do us no good, but it can be a significant source of scandal to others, most of whom will have little or no awareness of the issues at stake.

I’d like to suggest that it is time to turn the corner on Pope Francis. Most of us have no cards to play in the game of improving the papacy. But we do have our own callings, our own God-given talents, our own opportunities to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to teach the truth and to foster the good. When we can use something Pope Francis has said or done in our own Catholic service, then we should—all the better! But when we cannot take our inspiration from Pope Francis, we can still reference Our Lord and the Church He founded. We do not need to come up against Francis and grind to a halt. That’s what I mean about turning the corner.

I do not presume to know papal theory well, but am aware that reservations about papal authority were much more substantial in the Middle Ages than they are in the post-Vatican I church where infallibility is now dogma. In fact, important medieval philosophers like Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham (does that make me Darryl of Hart?) made arguments against the tyranny of the papacy that would seem to be relevant for Roman Catholics today.

But the apologetic that the deficiencies of the church only prove its necessity and durability defy Thomistic logic no matter how tight the syllogisms are under Bryan and the Jasons Kangol cap.

Here’s why: if the church is deficient, how do you then know that its truth claims are not also deficient?

Because the reality remains: She is the bride of Christ, and the Truth is found nowhere but in Her. Conversion to the one true faith remains the greatest, most life-altering decision a person can make—even if things are a bit of a mess.

In point of fact, the truth about conditions in the church come almost entirely from sources external to the magisterium, which sort of pokes a hole in those audacious (warning, Bryan Cross has removed the article about Papal Audacity) claims about the magisterium’s infallible protection of the truth.

When Will Bryan and the Jasons Notice?

Papal power cannot even control what happens closest to home (think subsidiarity):

In short, the motu proprio released on Saturday is another blow to the cause of transparency and accountability at the Vatican. As veteran Vatican-watcher John Allen observed, it is a victory for the “old guard”—the entrenched bureaucracy that blocks any significant change in the way the Roman Curia do business.

Just to make things clear, Cardinal Pell’s office is not having its wings clipped because of financial scandals. (“Pope reins in Vatican’s finance minister after scandal,” read one widely circulated headline, getting the story completely upside-down.) The Secretariat for the Economy was created because of the scandals. The money-laundering charges, the massive cost overruns, the no-bid contracts, the undervalued assets, the leaked confidential information, the undocumented expenses—all these took place before Cardinal Pell set up his new shop in 2014. The Secretariat helped bring these problems to light, set up procedures to guard against them, and in some cases took over the responsibilities that other offices had proven unable to handle cleanly.

Now the main work of financial management, which had temporarily been handled by the Secretariat, will return to the purview of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). This is the agency responsible for much of the trouble that Cardinal Pell discovered in Vatican financial management. Remember Msgr. Nunzio Scarano: the infamous “Msgr. €500” who was arrested in 2013 and now faces several different criminal charges for financial misconduct? He worked for years at APSA, rising to be the head of the accounting department—the accounting department—without causing his superiors to question how he was amassing a personal fortune on his modest salary. APSA is one of the major reasons why the Secretariat for the Economy was needed: part of the problem, not the solution.

Nor can papal authority insureensure faithful teaching:

A group of Catholic academics and pastors has submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a natural reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia. During the coming weeks this submission will be sent in various languages to every one of the Cardinals and Patriarchs, of whom there are 218 living at present.

Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” the signatories submitted, along with their appeal, a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris laetitia.”

Among the 45 signatories are Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world. They have asked the College of Cardinals, in their capacity as the Pope’s official advisers, to approach the Holy Father with a request that he repudiate “the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.”

“We are not accusing the pope of heresy,” said a spokesman for the authors, “but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.”

While the world turns, Bryan still debates Tim Challies.

Top Down or Bottom Up?

I can’t say I’m waiting on baited bated breath for Bryan and the Jason’s response to Pope Francis’ latest encyclical apostolic exhortation (on the genres of papal communications, see this), Amoris Laetitia (why continue to use Latin titles when you write in the vernacular; imagine how down-with-the-peeps Pope Francis might have appeared had he used Spanish for the title). Since the main article at CtC was posted seven months ago and the current blog post is almost two months old the Reformed-turned-Roman Catholics have hardly established themselves as the go-to site for inquiring minds who want to inquire about all things audaciously papal during the tenure of one of the more audacious popes in recent history.

That being said, when you read reports like this one from John Allen, who reads more and more like the press secretary for Pope Francis, you do wonder why all the hubbub about the longest encyclical in the saeculum (and here I thought John Paul II and Benedict XVI were the thinking person’s popes). For it seems that Pope Francis is merely catching up to what is already going on in the parishes:

In effect, what he’s saying is that there may be cases in which a given divorced and remarried Catholic, after talking things out with a priest, could be justified in reaching the decision that they don’t carry the guilt that should exclude them from the sacraments, including Holy Communion.

In truth, that may not change very much in terms of in-the-trenches experience in the Church.

For one thing, that sort of pastoral adaptation, sometimes referred to as an “internal forum” solution, is already happening. In many parishes, you can find divorced and remarried Catholics who come forward for communion, and many pastors have either quietly encouraged them to do so or, at least, never discouraged them, choosing to respect whatever decision they’ve made in conscience.

For another, the language in Amoris Laetitia on the Communion question is sufficiently elastic that both sides in the debate can take consolation, meaning that those pastors and bishops inclined to a stricter reading of Church law probably won’t feel compelled to revise their thinking, and neither will those given to a more flexible stance.

In another sense, however, Amoris Laetitia represents a breakthrough of no small consequence, because for once in a Vatican text, what got enunciated wasn’t simply the law but also the space for pastoral practice – which is where the Church’s long-underappreciated capacity for subtlety and compassion usually enters the picture.

In other words, what may be astounding about Pope Francis is the recognition that the papacy doesn’t set the agenda, resolve controversies, maintain unity the way CtCer’s audaciously claim. It may be that the papacy merely reflects what already happens in the church. In which case, converting to the post-Vatican 2 church was a Doh! moment on the order of the Second Vatican Council’s determination to open the church’s windows to the modern world after four centuries of opposition. Could anyone think of a more audacious time to catch up to modern times than the decade of women’s liberation, sexual revolution, and anti-western radicalism?

Brilliant!

Postscript: David Gibson offers this perspective on Amoris Laetitia:

Yet others would in fact see Francis’ nuanced approach as precisely in keeping with the church’s tradition of developing doctrine over time in the light of changing historical realities, and the gradual movement — guided by the Holy Spirit — “towards the entire truth,” as Francis put it.

Reformed and always reforming.

The Way to Curb Greed

Invite the pope to visit your city:

Even as hundreds of thousands of people thronged the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday for Mass with Pope Francis, his weekend visit to Philadelphia apparently failed to deliver the economic boon predicted by organizers.

Some businesses closed early, some downtown hotel rooms went unfilled and normally bustling city streets were deserted over the weekend as residents either stayed home or left town, and pilgrims kept their wallets in their pockets.

Celebrity chef Marc Vetri, whose eponymous restaurant is a fine-dining landmark, took to Facebook to rail against city leaders who he said “decided to roll out the red carpet for everyone making the pilgrimage, and roll us up in the carpet to place in storage until Monday.” He said he was “haunted by the empty streets and shuttered windows.”

One of Vetri’s smaller pizzerias, at least, was enjoying a brisk business as people were leaving after Mass and the global gathering ended; the pizzeria near a security checkpoint was packed with an hour wait for a table. And at an outside tent, it was doing a brisk business selling pizza by the slice, pies, and drinks.

At Midtown III restaurant, co-owner Vivian Tafuri rented a refrigerated truck, filled it with $7,500 worth of food and spent another $1,000 on a parking space.

“It’s all wasted,” Tafuri fumed Sunday. “All the time our mayor was saying a million and a half people, and nothing. Wasted.”

Liz Furey, a bartender at the restaurant, said the pope’s visit chased away the regulars.

“The people who are visiting are having a good time at the parkway. But as far as the local businesses were concerned, what we were promised didn’t happen at all,” Furey said.

The World Meeting of Families, the Vatican-sponsored conference that drew Francis to Philadelphia, had estimated 1.5 million people would show up for the pope’s weekend visit, with 10,000 staying overnight and business sales of $390 million.

Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive of Visit Philadelphia, the main tourism marketing agency, acknowledged Sunday that many shops and restaurants were hurting for business. Pilgrims went to Philadelphia to “be in the aura of the pope,” not to spend a lot of money, she said.

“To look at a grassroots spiritual event in terms of immediate economic benefit is asking too much of it,” she said.

City officials who for months had issued dire warnings about long walks and security lines to reach Pope Francis’ events recalibrated their message last month amid fears they were scaring people away, launching an “I’ll be There” campaign as well as the OpenInPhl hashtag for city businesses.

But their efforts came too little, too late for some merchants.

With sales down more than 50 percent, Robek’s, a juice and smoothie shop, decided to close early Sunday.

Manager Dave Deener blamed the intense security, including concrete barriers and a vehicle checkpoint near the entrance. National Guard troops and a police officer sat on folding chairs nearby.

“It’s awful. Everybody got scared off because of the security detail,” he said.

Philly Cupcake went all out for Pope Francis’ visit, making papal and Jesus cupcakes and plastering the windows with his picture. One window even had a big sign showing the pontiff holding a cupcake as if it were a communion wafer.

“A lot of people take pictures with it, but they don’t come in,” said store associate Silvia Pulido.

The impact of the pope’s visit on business was especially apparent Saturday night.

Some Center City hotel rooms went unfilled – though officials said it was a near sell-out – and tables could be had at some of the city’s trendiest restaurants. On normally bustling South Street, bars, restaurants, sneaker stores and smoke shops – usually filled on weekends with city residents, suburban gawkers and tourists – were empty.

Stephen Starr, one of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs with about 20 eateries, told The Philadelphia Inquirer the pope’s visit “affected business worse that Hurricane Sandy.”

The Numbers Still Don't Lie

So what’s up with all the gloating? Yet another reminder of how limited papal infallibility and supremacy is:

Neither are Catholics uniformly on board with Francis’ many calls for social and economic justice. Most (57 percent), chiefly Democrats and women, say the Catholic church should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor than on abortion and the right to life. But 33 percent of Catholics, chiefly Republicans and men, say the opposite.

Overall, Catholics are statistically in line with most Americans on current hot-button social issues:

72 percent (like 71 percent of all Americans) say government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
73 percent of Catholics (66 percent of Americans) say the U.S. government should do more to address climate change.
61 percent (63 percent of Americans) want to see a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
51 percent, chiefly Democrats, (53 percent of Americans) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
The Catholic church preaches against homosexual behavior. But PRRI finds most U.S. Catholics either don’t know or don’t heed that teaching:

53 percent of Catholics say they don’t think same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs.
60 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
76 percent favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination.
65 percent oppose a policy that would allow small-business owners to refuse, based on their religious beliefs, to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people.

Reactions to the pope also reflect the complexity of the church in the United States today. Catholics are not only divided by ethnicity, generation and geography; they also differ in the ways they see the church, its role in their lives, in politics and in society.

Now if you are aware of statistics like that, aside from claims of papal audacity, why would you write this in defense of the papacy?

Catholics believe that the same infallible Spirit of Christ who filled the apostles and fired the Church into birth at Pentecost, and went on to inspire the Scriptures, still dwells in the apostolic church today. Catholics believe the church, led by the successors of the apostles, and the successor of Peter continues to proclaim and teach the gospel without fail.

Whether or not Peter was first among the disciples or the Bishop of Rome supreme among the metropolitan bishops, apparently Roman Catholics don’t listen to Christ’s vicar on earth or believe that he carries all the spiritual weight that Fr. Dwight claims. Yes, the Yankees have a lot of championship bling, but if they are not going to make the playoffs this year (not saying they won’t), don’t you cease beating your breast at least for this season?

And if you are a defender of the papacy, don’t you think about sending a memo up the chain of command to warn that so many words about so many non-essential matters may dilute the episcopal brand? You might even wonder if all those claims about superiority have gone to the Vatican’s head and clouded the bishop’s ability to discern what is truly important.

The more exalted the claims for papal audacity, the louder the numbers.