On “staying”

At the National Dissenting Reporter, Isabella Moyer is thrilled by the choice of Pope Francis—at last (so the headline would have it) she can remain in the Church because of rather than in spite of the pope.

I appreciate that wisdom sometimes comes late, and I believe that she’s sincere when she says, in seeking to empathize by those who are unsettled by Francis’ election, that she “understand[s], too well, the heart-sinking feeling of being given a pastor, bishop or pope who you believe does not embrace the same vision of church as you do,” but I cannot agree that “we” now “know how [she] felt for the last papacy or two.” I cannot begin to comprehend how one can have struggled to remain in the Church despite disagreement with this bishop or that pope; the entire manner of thinking is foreign to me. It is probably true that if Francis had been Pope when God started drawing me to the Church, it would have been harder to say yes. I might have resisted it a lot more, because it’s easy to get comfortable with the idea of being a papist when the papacy is occupied by someone like Benedict the Great, a man who, merely as Joseph Ratzinger, would have been on the fast track to being a doctor of the Church even if he had never been elected to the See of Peter. Far harder if the pope is a tedious berk! 1  At the same time, however, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have become a Catholic! Who would leave—who would remain apart—simply because the current pope is problematic? Who would even consider it? As I’ve noted before, 2 of the apostles handpicked by Christ, one was a dud, and so we should scarcely expect the ranks of their successors, picked at the inspiration of the Spirit as a rule but at the hands of men as a fact, to have a much more favorable ratio of eleven good ones for every twelve. And who would stay if this was the criterion, given that papal history is, alas, a sordid tale more populated with monsters and mediocrities than models of faith? 3

I don’t understand the mindset that produces this line of thought. I don’t understand the reason that one might be a Catholic that would be compromised by personal disagreement with a pope, or by the personal conduct of a priest, etc.  I am a Catholic because this is the Church founded by Christ; until that ceases to be true, per impossibile, I will be here. 4 (I see people  purportedly departing because of the abuse scandal or coming back because of Francis, and I can’t help but think “what in the world is your faith built on that you come and go with the tides?”) To be sure, I expect that this pontificate will be a challenge for me: It is a new and jarring experience to find myself without a pope to whom I can relate and for whom I have little personal affection. I never before had to wake up wondering what new foolishness we would today have to suffer from Rome. But so what? All this is as the seasons.

Having made remarks that are critical of Francis, I should conclude with the observation that, for those of us who are so-disposed, we are Roman Catholics. 5 We cannot and will not act toward Pope Francis in the manner that the dissenters and schismatics on the left acted toward Pope Benedict. I will afford Francis everything that is due to his office—obedience, fealty, respect, and so on. Whatever our feelings about the man, we must remember that his authority has nothing to do with Jorge Bergoglio, about whom we may think as we will; he is our Holy Father the Pope, who has been duly-elected to the Holy See of Rome by the duly-appointed cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and when he puts on that miter, I must listen and do my best to assent, for it is not then Bergoglio who speaks but Peter who speaks through Francis. 6

Notes:

  1. See Kingsley Amis, the King’s English 23 (1997).
  2. See The hierarchy and the bourbon laity, 1 MPA 6 (2012).
  3. See generally John Julius Lord Norwich, Absolute Monarchs (2011).
  4. See The Catholic Proposition, 2 MPA __ (2012).
  5. Cf. Why Roman Catholic, 1 MPA 137.
  6. Cf. Rocco Palmo, B16 Returnshttp://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2013/05/b16-returns.html?m=1 (last visited May 2, 2013) (“in the end, whether he calls himself Linus, Sixtus, Julius, Adrian, Clement, Pius, John, Paul, John Paul, Benedict … [or] Francis, at his core he’s always the same: that is, Peter – that is, the rock on which the Master continues to build, shape and grow His Church”).