Friends of PopeWatch, Paul Zummo and Jay Anderson, dealt last week with the convert bashing that has become the latest line of defense by the acolytes of the current pontificate. That some of the more ardent defenders of every jot and tittle of the current pontificate, Mark Shea that is your cue, are themselves converts, was not addressed by the convert bashers. Of course the simple truth is that many Catholics, cradle and convert, are alarmed by Pope Francis. Dan Hitchens at Catholic Herald points this out:
This brings me to Austen Ivereigh’s latest piece suggesting that the epicentre of current anxiety is neither priests nor the laity, neither Westerners nor Africans, but converts. Ivereigh diagnoses “convert neurosis” in a range of writers, from “elegant commentators such as Ross Douthat” all the way down to “ex-Anglicans in my own patch such as Daniel Hitchens of the Catholic Herald.” Our neurosis reveals itself in disproportionate anxiety at the state of the Church; a horror of doctrinal development beyond our favourite period of Catholic history; and a failure to trust that “the Holy Spirit guides” Pope Francis. In sum, “their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic”.
I’m wary of this kind of psychologising: it is hard, even with those we know best, to say how their psychological issues affect their opinions. And in this instance the psychoanalysis seems needless, since there are at least as many cradle Catholics who have the same worries as us converts. An obvious example is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who learnt the faith from his mother and father as a farm boy in 1950s Wisconsin. Again, there are many cradle Catholics among the theologians who have expressed concerns: for instance, Dr Joseph Shaw, the spokesman for the 45 priests and theologians. And so on.
Converts and cradle Catholics have the same worries. I’m sorry to go over this again, but it seems worthwhile, since there is a determined effort in some quarters to change the subject. The concerns are about the sacraments and about doctrine. Nothing on this earth is more beautiful and precious than the sacraments, and it is natural for Catholics to be alarmed about the abuse of them. Scarcely anything is as necessary for our happiness as sound doctrine, and it is normal for Catholics to worry that doctrine is being contradicted or confused. There have been as many saints who were relaxed about heresy as there have been saints who despised the poor.
So of course converts and cradle Catholics will be dismayed by sacramental abuses and doctrinal confusion. And it is hard not to use such terms when we read Malta’s bishops claiming that avoiding adultery may be impossible; when we hear of priests, bishops and even cardinals abandoning the Church’s practice on Communion; when papal teachings are used – without contradiction from Rome – to justify novel approaches to divorce, euthanasia and extramarital relationships. (I have chosen a few examples here out of many, which together form a pattern.)
Catholics are living through a serious – not wholly unprecedented, but serious – doctrinal crisis. We all have psychological issues; as Samuel Johnson observed, “Perhaps, if we speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state.” But as Johnson elsewhere remarked, there is one indispensable remedy: “The mind can only repose on the stability of truth.”
A favorite tactic of the old Soviet Union was to label dissidents as insane and lock them up in insane asylums. It surprises PopeWatch not a whit that a similar mode of looking at Catholics who dissent from FrancisChurch, is becoming popular among those who view Pope Francis as ordained by the Holy Spirit to lead us to a New Light that somehow escaped the Church for twenty centuries.