Voris, Francis, Criticism

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.

22 comments

  1. As I wrote in a (currently unapproved) comment over on Fr. Z’s blog this morning in response to his Voris post, I think the whackjob Francis-haters may actually be less dangerous than the pollyanas over at (e.g.) Patheos. Sure, some of the comments on traditionalist-leaning blogs are seriously unhinged, including in The Remnant’s truly awful Facebook-based commenting system. But I’m not sure how much damage the venters are doing to souls other than their own. Do they tacitly encourage others to vent in similar fashion? Probably. Do they repel a large number of otherwise receptive moderates? Almost certainly.

    But the Scalias and Sheas are going so all-in on the Mottramist project of placing the Holy Father’s words and actions beyond criticism that they may be leaving their readers defenseless if we end up with a bad pope. We “spiritually poisoned” cynics tend to say, Eh, once in a while you get a wayward pope. We’ve survived them before, we’ll survive this one. The important thing is to batten down the hatches and hold fast to the traditions that have been handed on to us, whether by word or epistle. None of which is to downplay the nature of the crisis in which the Church is currently mired, but it helps to keep things in proportion.

    But if you’ve been led to believe that the Holy Father is the very touchstone of orthodoxy itself, you’re going to have a very hard time with a wayward pope, even to the point of concluding that the Petrine Promise is bunk. How many people were driven close to despair by trying to reconcile their exalted view of the papacy with the reality of the Synod just concluded?

    So I think there’s room for measured critical analysis of the Holy Father’s words and actions through the lens of the Magisterium, and there’s lots of that out there, of varying temperance and quality. I do find it frustrating that the pope’s self-appointed defenders seem so allergic to addressing arguments on their merits, so often preferring to assume unsound motives or bad faith. But perhaps that betrays their own levels of cognitive dissonance!

    1. Murray,

      Wow. Thank you for the excellent and thoughtful comment. I couldn’t agree more.

      For a variety of reasons I do not frequent Patheos or any other neo-Catholic hub unless someone directs my attention to a particular post that may be worth reading. It’s not that such authors lack valuable things to say; it’s just that the degree of cognitive dissonance is sometimes more than I can take. No, we shouldn’t constantly dwell in gloom n’ doom prognostications, but neither should we claim triumphs and victories when orthodoxy is still on the ropes.

      While I have heard this expressed in different ways over the years, I do think there is some truth to the general claim that for a good number of Catholics, especially converts from Protestantism (or even Catholics who have become “un-lapsed”), the Pope is the Faith. The papacy, rightly, serves as a bulwark against the waywardness, excesses, and hyper-subjectivity of large swathes of Protestantism, but that view, when put on apologetic steroids, blocks out the larger reality that for decades we have had popes — including Benedict XVI — who have made imprudent decisions which have adversely affected the Church. Nobody seriously doubts (I hope) that John Paul II failed to take proper timely action on the clergy sex-abuse crisis, just as I hope that no one seriously doubts that despite Humanae Vitae, Paul VI (inadvertently) opened the doors to a great deal of confusion and harm with respect to contraception by allowing so much “free discussion” to take place. The Church is still suffering the effects.

      Of course no pope is perfect. What I find strange is that there are many churchmen today who have no problems raising red flags about certain decisions or (in)actions undertaken by Pius IX, St. Pius X, Pius XII, and even Benedict XVI, but then when it comes to “their popes,” like John XXIII, Paul VI, or Francis, then all of a sudden it becomes “spiritually dangerous” to talk ill of any aspect of their pontificate. I find that sort of rhetoric pernicious.

  2. If Francis teaches heresy after the conclusion of part 2 of the Synod, would Vatican I overturned? See Zmirak’s latest paroxysm. Would Francis cease to be Pope? Would that make Benedict Pope again, or would the seat be vacant requiring a new conclave? Or perhaps 300 years from now, the Church will determine that Benedict never properly retired, so any heresy from Francis didn’t count in which case Vatican I infallibility is perserved and Francis’ remains could be safely exumed and thrown in the Tiber.

    I am enjoying the mental contortions of the JPII professional lay apologists as they try to square the circle as well as the economic liberals’ attempts reconcile economic thinking of Ayn Rand with the Faith. Both groups are trapped in JPII/Reagan era mindset.

    1. I didn’t bother to comment in detail on the Zmirak piece because, well, I don’t really like Zmirak or his thinking. I find it best not to play the, “What if…” game, even if things look rocky at the moment. Based on my scan of Zmirak’s article, I think he grossly exaggerates the definition of Papal Infallibility promulgated at the First Vatican Council in order to set-up a wildcard scenario whereby Francis’s next move, should it prove troubling, will set in motion the end of the Catholic Church as we know it. Of course, if it did, maybe that wouldn’t be as bad as some of us assume. The Church has been rocked by very grave difficulties in the past — difficulties which took decades, if not a century or more, to come to terms with. As much as I don’t want to be one of those folks who play the “Spiritual Danger” card, I will play it against myself to the extent that I find it is damaging to one’s faith to wander out into the darkness of things which have not come to pass and may never — and most likely will never — occur.

      1. I was being facetious. Although if I were a troll, I would be tempted to ask Shea or Jimmy Aiken those questions in earnest.

        1. One thing to consider here is the authority to be given to an apostolic exhortation, if that is in fact what Francis issues at the end of the 2015 synod. I gather that such a document is in general below an encyclical on the hierarchy of papal documents, but if he were to make a pronouncement that he says is, or comes close to, infallible, then it would be so, subject to the parameters discussed here and elsewhere. My point simply is that what comes from the synod may not even be teaching that requires our obsequium religiosum, so that even it were a change for the worst in disciplinary norms, we could disagree and try to ignore it, much like communion in the hand. Not good, but not the worst it could be, either. So the drama would continue, as Has been said.

          1. What Zmirak (and others) forget is that the pope not only lacks the power to change the unalterable teaching of the Church in an abstract manner, but that the Holy Spirit will prevent him from attempting to do so. So even if Francis says “screw it, I’m going to issue an ex cathedra statement on this,” and “this” is something incompatible with the Magisterium, it won’t actually happen: he’ll change his mind, or fall down a flight of stairs and break his neck, or there will be an earthquake, or what have you. God will not permit the pope to teach heresy in a formal manner.

            Can he make stupid, damaging changes to law and discipline? Oh yeah, that he can do.

      2. I’m not entirely sure what happened to Zmirak. The “Bad Catholic’s Guide” books were hilarious and informative. But he’s gone coocoo for cocoa puffs recently. The most recent article about Francis and infallibility is deeply confused: Zmirak either, as modestinus suggests, is greatly exaggerating what Pastor aeternus taught on infallibility, or he simply doesn’t believe in the indefectibility of the Church.

        Maybe that counts as breaking my own advocated unilateral disarmament theory. But it was simply not an accurate piece.

  3. I think there absolutely needs to be a unilateral disarmament by the Trad camp. It needs to be carried out in connection with a very intentional, public working accord with the leading mainline writers. Maybe there needs to be a summit conference with representatives from Patheos. The Kasperian (I don’t know why this term hasn’t showed up before, but I propose we adopt it as the name for the “trending” heresy against the nature of marriage) attack is too severe to withstand in isolation.

    There’s a series of posts over at the English LMS Chairman blog on the topic (http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/10/why-liberals-are-united-and_45.html). An alliance is necessary. Rorate Caeli, these pages, The Remnant, etc. need to adopt a version of the old Buckley Rule: “For the time being, no criticism of another Catholic writer who is not a heretic is permitted.”

    I understand why this is difficult. I haven’t been able to read Mark Shea in years, because he’s a frothing lunatic. Fr. Longnecker at least occasionally rights things that are breathtakingly stupid (like the piece about how his heretic ancestors were better than our Catholic ancestors because . . . well, it wasn’t clear). But anyone who is willing to say “Kasper is a heretic” or at least “Kasper’s proposals would be a legal and pastoral disaster for the Church” needs to be party to a cease-fire. And we need to stop shooting first.

    1. Well, baby steps, right?

      The first thing traditional Catholics across the spectrum need to do is stop shooting at each other. Then we can worry about everyone else. Often I tend to use “traditionalist” in a very undifferentiated manner, but it really includes a pretty broad swathe of Catholics with varying degrees of commitment to certain aspects of the traditional Catholic “project” (for lack of a better term). There is the woeful problem of traditionalists trying to “out-trad” one another based on, say, where so-and-so hears Mass; what Catholic writers they like; whether or not Karl Rahner ever wrote anything that wasn’t borderline nonsense or heresy; etc. Some of these discussions, when carried out in a spirit of friendship and genuine inquiry, are fine to have — just don’t go to the mattress over them.

      For my part, I find solidarity with any Catholic who wishes to uphold orthodoxy and the rights of the Church against all threats — external and internal. Yes, I do have very deep disagreements with some Catholics over the Novus Ordo Missae, the “new theology” and “ressourcement,” and the value of certain forms of Catholic devotion which have emerged in the last century, but I am not going to start dropping the H-bomb on such individuals either. And while I do use the term “neo-Catholic” in a pejorative sense to describe those conservative Catholics which have imported political and economic liberalism into the Church while attempting to whitewash over the real problems we are all facing, I do think you have a point that we need to rethink our level of engagement with them as well. I confess that I am probably not a very good ambassador — something else which I need to work on.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. “Mater, si; magistra, no.” Hard to believe that those in “Traditionalist circles” could be so thoroughly ignorant of both the Latin language and of the encyclical of that name to make such a hilarious howler.

      1. Well, i was trying to be clever, by changing it to (Holy) Father, yes, Teacher, no. Have not had Latin in 60 years and it shows. Apologies to Dr. Tighe and others who were offended.

  4. I think one particular problem with a lot of Catholic infighting is the (frequent) moral posturing that attends it, accompanied by stock and insincere admissions of guilt and sin on the part of those who are engaging in said moral posturing. It at least seems insincere to me because it is always so brief, so formal, and then we’re thrust into the thick of invective and accusation of “spiritual sickness” or “judgmental attitudes” or whatever the specific accusation is. I’m not sure precisely how to rectify this situation, but I do know that St. Thomas insists that sinners should not (cannot) admonish other sinners without admonishing themselves, as well, and confessing their own sin. And he doesn’t mean that we end up actually accusing ourselves when we accuse others; he quotes Augustine, saying: “But if we find that we are guilty of the same sin, we must not rebuke him, but groan with him, and invite him to repent with us.” How little this is done, and, when it is, how insincere it seems!

    This actually seems to be a worse problem with Liberal and progressive Catholics, and those you term “neo-Catholics” (a phrase I find it difficult to commit to using, personally–it strikes me as a little jargony)–or at least I notice it more from them, because they pose so frequently as peacemakers and denizens of the sane “middle ground”, when really they’re mostly interested in ginning up offense and aggravation with a community of Catholics they understand not at all, nor do they work to do so. It doesn’t help that the internet gives them a handy caricature of the worst of traditionalism, allowing them to illustrate the point to their audience.

    Personally, I can’t stand Michael Voris’ tactics, even when I agree with him, so I’m not particularly moved one way or another by his apology. He reminds me too much of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. The man needs to rethink his entire approach.

    1. Having come from a lengthy sojourn in Eastern Orthodoxy, I am quite familiar with the nauseating habit of laymen (and even some clergy) anointing themselves “spiritual gurus” (staretz) when engaged in online, and even some interpersonal, arguments. Basically it boils down to this: (1) A asserts X; (B) Asserts Y; (C) A cannot prove X over Y; (D) A accuses B of some spiritual pathology.

      The term “neo-Catholic” is a bit vague, but given that I heard it quite a bit even when I was Orthodox led me to assume it has been in circulation for quite awhile. Maybe not. As I understand it, a neo-Catholic is, typically, a doctrinally conservative Catholic who accepts the goodness of Vatican II; either does not believe there have been major changes to the Church over the past 50 years (or doesn’t care and is willing to support them); and tends to embrace the marriage between the Church and social, political, economic, and religious liberalism — that is, the primary tenets of modern, secular, capitalist democracies.

      As for Voris and his style, I don’t watch his shows all that frequently. Sometimes people will direct me to a link that I’ll check out, but I am not invested enough to be a subscriber. There is a Fox News-ish quality to some of what he does, but I have seen several pieces — such as his takedown of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday — which were quite well-written and impressive.

  5. Voris’s behavior is strange. He’s been willing to associate with people very far out of the mainstream namely people like E Michael Jones and Robert Sungenis. I believe he has given both men several hour long interviews. So I don’t think he’s afraid of peer of pressure.

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