John Medaille, distributist darling and armchair theologian extraordinaire, has parted company with the familiar terrain of Catholic social teaching in order to embroil himself in an ecclesiastical spat over at Ethika Politika, this time with the long-running traditionalist newspaper The Remnant. Medaille is incensed that the publication ran a piece by former First Things blogger Ann Barnhardt calling for the bishops to rise up and depose Pope Francis. At the heart of Medaille’s objections is his belief that Barnhardt’s is essentially crypto-Protestant since it relies on a “private judgment” about the Petrine office and Francis’s performance on the throne. That is a typical charge made against traditionalists who choose to speak out about the crisis in the Church. The dominant thinking among (neo-Catholic?) apologists for both the Pope and contemporary Church governance is that unless there is an official proclamation from the Vatican that there’s a crisis, then there is no crisis. If Pope Francis does not come forth and declare himself to heterodox, scandalizing, or personally unfit for the papacy, then no Catholic may form the opinion, rooted in reason, that Francis is heterodox, scandalizing, or personally unfit for the papacy. This is fideism parading as loyalty, and it’s a point of view often advanced by those with a vested interest in seeing Francis “revolutionize” the Church.
With that noted, there are other aspects of Medaille’s article that ought to raise some eyebrows. First, Medaille misleadingly subtitles his attack “The Remnant‘s call for Schism” even though Barnhardt’s piece does nothing of the sort. Moreover, Medaille should have directed his ire toward Bernhardt, not The Remnant. While that publication is certainly editorially responsible for the articles it chooses to run, there’s no indication that the newspaper’s entire editorial and writing staff endorses Barnhardt’s admittedly extreme views. Would it be fair to run a post declaring “Ethika Politika Denies the Physical Resurrection of Christ” if, for example, Medaille were to publish such an atrocious assertion under his own name? Of course not. Medaille’s views are his own, as are Barnhardt’s. To try and smear an entire publication simply because one disagrees with a particular piece that ran in it not only smacks of cheap sensationalism, but demonstrates a gross lack of charity and prudence as well.
Second, Medaille’s apparent agnosticism with regard to orthodoxy is disturbing. Following the logic set forth in the article, no individual has the competence to judge either the bishops or the pope regardless of what they do or say. It seems that Medaille believes that the faithful should tie a rubber hose around reason and shoot up on complacency. What a novel turn of events that would be. If 2,000 years of Church history testifies to anything it is the need for faithful bishops, priests, and laity to rise up and defend orthodoxy during those unfortunate periods when the Church’s leadership jumps the rails of truth. The situation is not pretty. It can even be unsettling, but where would we be if mighty saints like Athanasius and Maximus had not spoken out against heresy? How long would the tragic period of Iconoclasm lasted in the East had it not been for the tireless witness of the faithful, even unto the shedding of their blood? While reasonable persons can disagree whether or not the Church has entered such a sorrowful period again, that is not what Medaille is up to. Instead he wishes to close-off discussion of the Church’s present situation out of what seems to be a distorted sense of fealty to the powers that be.
Last, it is ironic that Medaille of all people should choose to wag his finger at Barnhardt and The Remnant for sniffing out problems in the Church. Medaille has made something of a career out of going after churchmen who deviate from Catholic social teaching, particularly those papal encyclicals which focus on things economic. Why does Medaille get a free pass to call fellow Catholics on the carpet over the Church’s magisterium but The Remnant does not? Perhaps Medaille can offer up an explanation in a future article, or maybe — hopefully — he will go back to penning pieces on what he knows and stay out of these sorts of fisticuffs.