Papal Advisor Claims Pope Francis is Above Scripture and Tradition. That Flatly Contradicts Church Teaching.
What would you think if you read an article on the Internet, allegedly by a close advisor to the pope, which claimed that the Catholic church taught the following:
- The Pope can “break … Catholic traditions whenever he wants.”
- He can redefine core doctrines as he pleases, since God guides him.
- The pope is above the Bible, and the Church’s traditions of how to interpret it.
- He can rule the church openly “as an individual,” unbound by any text or precedent.
That’s the upshot of an essay that’s blowing up social media at the moment. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Here is the crucial quote:
Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is “free from disordered attachments.” Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.
Some plausible conclusions:
- This is a hoax, drawn up by bitter Catholic critics of Pope Francis.
- It’s a parody, created by hard-core anti-Catholic fundamentalists. Or Ulster Protestants who’d lost family members to bombings by the IRA.
- This is an overzealous effort by a zombie-like follower of Pope Francis, trying to justify his erratic departures from ancient, apostolic teachings.
- It’s a trial balloon, released with Pope Francis’ quiet connivance, to see how Catholics react to the papacy grabbing powers the Church never granted it in 2,000 years.
- Jack Chick has grabbed control of the Catholic church from beyond the grave.
Sorry, It’s Not a Hoax
Well, you can scratch off options 1. and 2. The piece is real. It appeared at the mainstream Catholic news site Zenit. (That site was rock-ribbed orthodox just, like, one pope ago.)
Likely because of the backlash against the piece, the site quickly scrubbed its craziest paragraph (quoted above), though at the moment it’s still up at Salt and Light Media. In any case, others captured the text and posted it for posterity — unless some zealous ultramontanist gets hold of an EMP and blasts the entire Internet to purge it. There’s a decent Dan Brown/James Bond film in that, I think.
Where to begin? Perhaps with my first reaction:
This is the caricature of the papacy Martin Luther attacked as Antichrist. @ericmetaxas
— John Zmirak (@JZmirak) August 13, 2018
Or else my second:
The Roman Catholic Church is enduring an existential crisis. Never, in the history of the Church, has any Catholic in authority said ANYTHING LIKE what @FatherRosica just claimed. No sodomite cardinal in the Renaissance, no degenerate papal nephew made cardinal. No one. Ever.
— John Zmirak (@JZmirak) August 14, 2018
Or maybe my third:
— John Zmirak (@JZmirak) August 13, 2018
Just Another Stalinist Catholic?
Let’s get back to the options still standing. Number 3 seems believable, on the face of it. It’s getting harder and harder to square Pope Francis’ teachings with any traditional theory of papal authority. As I’ve written here before, Catholics have never seen the pope as an oracle. He’s the delivery guy, who’s meant to pass along unaltered the box containing the Deposit of Faith, which Jesus packed Himself, and the apostles dropped off at UPS. He has no authority to monkey with the contents, though he might need to update the address, or be creative in how he delivers it. But he can’t switch out the Bible you ordered for a box of frozen, dead baby mice (i.e., snake food).
Pope Francis has issued confusing statements which seem to undermine Catholic teaching on divorce and Holy Communion. His new teaching on capital punishment seems to contradict 6,000 years of Jewish-Christian revelation. And also the teachings of every pope who spoke on the subject before. It suggests — without quite saying — that capital punishment is always and everywhere evil. I interviewed Catholic philosopher Edward Feser for The Stream. He spent more than 4,000 words trying to parse the pope’s slippery language.
So maybe, just maybe, Fr. Rosica is “that kind” of Catholic. The kind who resembles Rex Mottram, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Here’s a frustrated priest, describing the thankless task of teaching Mottram the faith:
“Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said “It’s going to rain”, would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.'”
The best word for Catholics like that? That would be “Stalinist,” since they view eternal truth as amorphous, shifting with every change in the Party Line issued by an earthly dictator. To really understand that mindset, read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon. We should make that novel of Stalin’s Russia required reading in every Catholic school and seminary. Or least the recent factual chronicle, The Dictator Pope.
Infallibility for Eight-Year-Olds
I was a Stalinist Catholic once — back when I was eight years old. I’d misread the children’s Catechism, and its explanation of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:19.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I childishly missed the meaning — that in certain special circumstances, God would stop the pope from erring when he tells us about what is bound or loosed in heaven. His teaching would reflect, as in a mirror, what is Above. Instead, I figured that God handed the pope the power to change what is bound or loosed in heaven. So the pope could canonize anyone, and God would have to pluck him (reluctantly) out of hell. Or the pope could change the moral laws that bind us, and God (Who keeps His promises) would be compelled to go along with it. Then I wondered why the pope didn’t save all those souls from hell by declaring them saints, and help the rest of us avoid it by relaxing all the rules. I decided it must be that the pope was kind of mean.
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But it’s a bit like what liberal Catholics and MSM religion correspondents believe. Why else were they so bitter and hateful toward popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI for calmly repeating the teachings of their predecessors, going back to the apostles? They acted as if these popes were just leaving people in hell or consigning them there, out of sheer cussedness.
A Trial Balloon the Size of the Hindenburg
Then there’s Option Four. Perhaps this is a trial balloon. Father Rosica is everywhere described as one of the pope’s closest advisors. Would he issue a statement this major without running it past Headquarters? It’s not as if this Vatican hasn’t done such things before. Again and again, Pope Francis has made wacky statements on airplanes. Or given repeated interviews to an elderly atheist reporter who doesn’t use a tape recorder, and said outrageous things. (Such as questioning whether hell exists.) Those statements went wild in the media, bobbing in the wind.
When the blowback got too ugly, some bureaucrat at the Vatican would step up with a BB gun and shoot them down. He’d claim that the journalist had misunderstood the pope. Or mistranslated him. Or even made things up. (Yet the pope would go on to do more such interviews with the very same journalist.)
If it floats like a trial balloon, and sinks like a trial balloon, maybe it really is one. Children, can you say “plaus-i-ble de-ni-ab-il-it-y”? I knew you could!
Or is Jack Chick in Charge?
Then there’s Option 5. Anti-Catholic tract publisher Jack Chick has somehow grabbed control of the leadership of the Catholic church from beyond the grave. And he’s changing the Church to match his ugliest caricatures of worldliness, corruption, and zombie-like obedience to an all-powerful cult leader.
I can’t say for sure, but I’m leaning toward Option 5.
Just one more thing.
In case you’re wondering what to think of Fr. Rosica, see the light-hearted chat he has with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington about the predatory gay behavior of Wuerl’s sponsor and mentor, Cardinal “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.
You’d think these men were talking about some priests who’d used the wrong forks at dinner.