Update 10/24, 8:06pm: Though completely unrelated to this entry, Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant, posted a new video addressing some of the issues discussed below. It is well worth viewing.
There is, I believe, a somewhat reasonable discussion currently underway in various social media circles and corners of the blogosphere concerning the prudence of publicly criticizing Pope Francis for various actions (or inactions) he has undertaken over the past 18 months, including his choice to remain silent — until the very end — of the recently concluded “Extraordinary Synod on the Family.” Two slightly interrelated incidents of unequal magnitude have refreshed, even amplified, this debate. The first incident was Cardinal Raymond Burke’s statement that Francis “had done a lot of harm” to the Church by not stating “what his position is” with respect to the Synod. Even after the Pope’s speech which closed the Synod, many remain perplexed over what Francis is thinking and what he plans to do next. Many Catholics were shocked that Cardinal Burke would choose to be so candid with his remarks, though many were willing to give Burke a pass on the grounds that his position as a Prince of the Church provides ample latitude for frank commentary on the state of the Catholic Church and the actions of the Holy Father.
The second incident — related to the first — was the decision of Michael Voris, head of the Church Militant TV (CMTV) media apostolate, to publicly apologize for reporting on the Burke story. You can listen to that apology, with Voris’s reasoning, here. Voris made some waves several months ago when he declared that he would not engage in attacks on Pope Francis, which apparently means that he would not use CMTV to advance or promote any criticism of the Holy Father. While some folks have indulged wild speculations as to why, the simple — and undoubtedly true — answer is that Voris felt that he could not carry out his apostolate in good conscience while also appearing to attack the Vicar of Christ. Fine. While it seems that a reasonable line can be drawn between open and thoughtful criticism and wild, even hysterical, polemics, CMTV has opted to go the safer route. There is a virtue to that, but there is also unintended vice as well if that “cone of silence” should further the cause of complacency in the Catholic Church. Anyone who has watched Voris for more than 30 seconds knows that he is not a complacent person and that CMTV has never shied away from “dropping the gloves” — until now, apparently. Although I am in no position whatsoever to call on Voris to change his attitude, a part of me wonders whether or not he thought through the (unintended) message his public apology would send. Based on a rather unscientific perusal of online Catholic media, it appears that Voris’s apology is being taken as a vindication of implausible neo-Catholic claims that “everything is A-OK in the Catholic Church” and that the Pope is “unquestionably” and “without a doubt” safeguarding the depositum fidei while advancing the cause of the salvation of souls.
There is a second (again unintended) consequence emerging from the Voris apology and that is the assumption — now being paraded around as an incontrovertible truth — that those faithful Catholics who are critical of the Holy Father are essentially schismatic whack jobs who attack the Pope for the sake of attacking the Pope. Consider, for instance, Elizabeth Scalia’s post, “Good for Voris,” in which she paints critics of the Pope as half-mad and spiritually poisoned. Sure, there are some people like that, and the Internet, sadly, provides them a far bigger soapbox than they deserve. It does not follow, however, that every critic of the Pope is on some delusional quest to promote a fabricated concept of the Church built off of a wobbly reading of history. In fact, many of the critiques of Pope Francis (or, more accurately, how he has exercised the Petrine ministry) have been corrective in nature, offered, I suspect, in the spirit of open discussion which the Holy Father has spoken about and endorsed (at least in some circumstances). A good example of such corrective criticism is Professor Brian McCall’s recent article from The Remnant, “Francis and Kasper: The Modern Pharisees.” While the title of the piece is not my favorite, McCall’s purpose is to correct the widespread misunderstanding of what “Phariseeism” was — a misunderstanding which both the Pope and Cardinal Walter Kasper seem to hold. Remember: Pope Francis is human. He is fallible. He does not come to the Chair of Peter with perfect theological, philosophical, and historical knowledge. If he misunderstands what “Phariseeism” was, then hopefully he is thankful that there’s someone out there like Professor McCall to help bring him up to speed.
And since I have mentioned the The Remnant, let me say a few words about its role in publicly criticizing Francis’s Pontificate and the Voris apology. While it should be known by now that I am very supportive of The Remnant‘s traditional apostolate (I am both a subscriber and contributor) and highly appreciate the work of many of its writers, I do believe that there is ample room to discuss the tone of certain pieces and the frustrated, even angry, register certain authors use to deliver their opinions. For those of us who are well aware of the many diseases currently afflicting the Corpus Mysticum, the exasperation which runs through many of The Remnant‘s columns is 100% understandable. Indeed, I am often surprised at how many Catholic writers with eyes to see manage to remain centered in these dark times. Only the power of prayer, coupled with great faith, holds many of us back from the precipice of despair. Still, I sometimes wonder if print outlets like The Remnant or web-logs like Rorate Caeli wouldn’t better serve their respective missions if they simply dialed-down the rhetoric a tad and focused more on how we, (mostly lay) faithful Catholics, can work toward the restoration of the Church while living out our faith in a three-dimensional manner. Moreover, it seems to me that all Catholics, especially traditional Catholics, could give some thought and prayer to unilateral disarmament when it comes to trivial infighting. I understand, for example, why The Remnant is less-than-thrilled with some of Voris’s recent remarks and decisions, but did it really need to parody Voris as a neo-Catholic-in-waiting?
In closing, please note that this post is not intended as some great admonishment against others for following their consciences with respect to criticizing — or not — Pope Francis. I know for a fact that at various times I have “crossed the line” so-to-speak with some of my own comments about the Holy Father. (At other times, however, I have probably been too sanguine about certain elements of his reign.) Additionally, the question of how far, and in what manner, I or any other faithful Catholic should be openly critical of this or any other pontificate remains largely unsettled. I have no illusions about where things are at and I remain deeply concerned about where they are going. Far be it for me, though, to parcel out blame for those things which continue to divide the traditional Catholic world. My only hope is that these breaches can be healed so that the far greater work of healing the Church may continue forward with greater urgency.