Silly season on the Catholic internet turns up on time

Silly season on the Catholic internet turns up on time Cardinal Gerhard Müller.

It’s been a strange month for online Catholic news. July 1 saw Pope Francis informing Cardinal Gerhard Müller that he would not be renewing his tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s doctrinal watchdog. Readers may recall his public disagreement with Irish child protection advocate Marie Collins in March when he challenged her criticisms of the CDF, only to have Mrs Collins demonstrate to The Irish Catholic that his claim that a member of the CDF was on the Pope’s child protection commission was simply untrue, as it hadn’t been the case in two years.

One would think this would cause people to wonder whether the Pontiff’s decision may have been motivated less by disapproval of the cardinal’s doctrinal views than by how the CDF has looked dysfunctional of late.

Unfortunately, certain self-professed Catholics seem keen to lap up and spread about any old nonsense where stories smearing the reputation of the Holy Father are concerned, a prize example being a post on the strange website, derived from somebody who spoke to somebody who recently had lunch beside Cardinal Müller.

The story, almost as absurd as a recent unsubstantiated allegation by Marco Tosatti in that the Pope once deliberately had a Mass the cardinal was saying interrupted, claimed the Pontiff challenged Cardinal Müller with a five-question interrogation on a range of subjects, and was swiftly rejected by Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, the cardinal’s secretary, and even eventually the cardinal himself.

The latter denial has gone unmentioned on, while the other denials were acknowledged but brushed aside with spurious claims that the story was substantively true and showed the cardinal in a good light.

One might have thought this would be enough to keep the Catholic internet’s more febrile fringes busy, but Cardinal Joachim Meisner’s funeral created a far bigger uproar, with it swiftly being claimed that Pope Emeritus Benedict’s funeral message for Cologne’s former archbishop said: “The Lord does not abandon his Church even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of sinking”.


Some supposed the Pope Emeritus believes this is happening now, and that the message was intended as criticism of Pope Francis; the supposedly traditionalist website published a translation of the full message under the headline ‘Benedict XVI: “Francis = Capsizing Boat”’, while went with the headline ‘Breaking: Pope Benedict XVI says Church is “on the verge of capsizing”’.

Such stories weren’t even close to true, ignoring how the Pope Emeritus’ original message had included both significant context and the all-important word manchmal or ‘sometimes’ – he wasn’t saying the Church is especially taking on water now, but that while it often does so, it is guaranteed ultimate safety.

Describing those who had misrepresented Benedict as “stupid people”, the Pope Emeritus’s private secretary Archbishop Georg Gänschwein said: “The emeritus pope was deliberately exploited. He wasn’t alluding to anything specific with that phrase, but talking about the situation of the Church of today and that of the past as a boat that doesn’t sail in calm waters. Francis also says this.”

Complicating things further, kicked up a proverbial and predictable hornets’ nest through the clunkily-titled ‘Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism’.

The essay, by Pope Francis’ friends Fr Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, argues there’s something wrong in American Christianity where some Catholics have forged an “ecumenism of hate” where ideology matters more than a commitment to the fullness of Church teaching.

It’s a flawed piece, but this is hardly an excuse for dismissing its thesis that there is a tendency in American Catholicism that too easily believes, as contributor Austen Ivereigh says, “that you can conquer the public square by trading in some parts of the Gospel and neglecting others, that you can do deals with power-brokers to ‘Christianise’ from above”.

It’s a serious point, and one we should all keep in mind.