When I first began to comment on blogs circa 2003, one of the Catholic blogs I frequented was Open Book run by Amy Welborn. I liked her blog because she always struck me as fair-minded and attracted a diverse and entertaining crowd of commenters, many of whom went on to illuminate Saint Blogs with blogs of their own. She seemed to me as being near the sensible center of Catholicism. I did not always agree with her, but I always respected her well-reasoned opinions that reflected a deep love of the Church. Therefore I was intrigued by a recent post of hers entitled Against Popesplaining:
Before I move on to specifics, I want to say something about discussing these issues.
And it’s time.
Well, it’s been time for a while – it’s never not been time, but, well, it’s really time now.
And it’s time to do so without the spectre of being caricatured as a a “Francis-Hater” or that you must consider yourself “One of the Greatest Catholics of All Time.” Ignore that kind of discourse. It’s lazy.
It’s time to do so without the discussion-silencing claim that any critique of the current papacy must – must – come from a fearful identification with American capitalism rather than an embrace of Catholic social teaching.
There’s also no reason to feel guilty about engaging in this discussion or – honestly – not liking Pope Francis very much. It is awesome to be in the presence of the successor of St. Peter, and it is a great gift that Jesus gave us, Peter, the Rock. But it is just a matter of historical fact that not all popes are great, popes make mistakes and sin. Respect for and value of the office does not mean we must feel caught up in emotion about any pope, even the present one.
Years ago, I was in intense email discussion with someone who was considering leaving the Church, so scandalized was he by the sexual abuse scandals. He was not personally affected, but he had intimate knowledge of it all and had to write about it. I absolutely understood his pain, because it’s pain anyone would – and should – feel. But I made this argument to him over and over:
Look. The Church we’re in is the Church that is not confined by time or space. The Church we’re in in the present moment is the Church of 42, of 477, of 1048, of 1684, of 1893. The institutional sins and failures of the present moment are real, but no less real are the sins, failures and general weirdness of the past 2000 years. Look at the history of the papacy in the 9th and 10th centuries. If you can hold onto apostolic succession after studying that chaos, then nothing else is ever going to shake you.
(Oh, it didn’t work. He left the Church. For another church, no less scandal-ridden than this one, but oh well)
This applies to the discussion at hand, as well. Frantic, defensive fear that critiquing any aspect of any recent papacy would call into question one’s faith in Christ’s gift of Petrine ministry is silly. Our discussions should be grounded in humility and an acceptance of our limited understanding, but wondering if a Pope is doing or saying the right thing does not make one an unfaithful Catholic or a sedevacantist.
The inevitable concerntrolling respone is going to be, “Sure, you can say all that, but you know that a lot of the people speaking about Pope Francis are…”
Hey, guess what?