Given how fractious the Catholic internet has been of late, it can be surprising to find someone you might expect to have joined the camp of those attacking the Pope expressing an impressive docility, and a recognition that being Catholic is not simply a matter of believing Catholic things but of union with the Pope.
This, after all, is a matter of canon law, and can’t simply be dismissed with talk of loyalty to the ‘true magisterium’ as some have taken to doing. All this really does, after all, is effectively to make each Catholic a personal Pope, empowered to place his or her own private interpretation of Tradition above that of the Vicar of Christ.
A failure to grasp this, sadly, is too often a hallmark of some of the more vocal critics of the Pope, one of whom was featured on the ever unreliable lifesitenews.com last week with the headline ‘On EWTN Orthodox Catholic author warns Pope Francis has deliberately created confusion’.
It’s reassuring, then, to see such a combatative figure in America’s cottage apologetics industry as Dave Armstrong, author of A Biblical Defence of Catholicism and The One-Minute Apologist, take up arms on behalf of Peter’s successor.
On his Patheos.com blog ‘Biblical evidence for Catholicism – with Dave Armstrong’, Armstrong points out that attacks on Popes from the Church’s more reactionary elements are hardly unprecedented. In ‘“Nothing New”: Reactionary Attacks on Pope St John Paul II’ he posts a selection of attacks on St John Paul II he compiled in 2005 and added to in 2011.
Christopher Ferrara, for instance, claimed that the world might have praised the Polish Pope, but never listened to him: “Whatever the Pope’s subjective intentions might have been (and these are known only to God), the world’s unprecedented praise for John Paul II clearly arises from the perception that his pontificate, unlike any other, served the world’s interests as opposed to the ‘narrow’ sectarian interests of the Roman Catholic Church.”
His charges against St John Paul will be remarkably familiar to those who’ve heard the constant litany of rage about Pope Francis, with Michael J. Matt, editor of The Remnant, seeming to have had his anti-Francis ammunition in play for a long time, observing as he did that “the same world that vilifies Pius XII on a daily basis now claims Pope John Paul as one of its own”.
Robert Sungenis, meanwhile, criticised how St John Paul had come dangerously close to universalism, Armstrong records, with Sungenis noting that the 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis “uses ‘Church’ 150 times but does not mention ‘Catholic’ once” and claiming that “John Paul II has given us a steady stream of universalist-type messages, but he has preached little, if any, messages of judgment and condemnation of the world for its sins.”
In some ways of more immediate concern, a fascinating post appeared last week at Ed Peters’ canonlawblog.wordpress.com. In a post entitled ‘About proposals to transfer Catholic grade schools away from pastors’ control, not so fast’, the Detroit-based canon lawyer raised a point the Irish Church would do well to consider in our current debates about school divestment.
Addressing Australian plans to relinquish control of Church-run schools, Dr Peters says: “Those familiar with the facts Down Under can tell me whether my concerns are well-founded, but, in a nutshell: if Catholic grade schools in Australia are owned by Catholic parishes, then the establishment of self-perpetuating boards, independent from effective ecclesiastical governance, as owners and directors of those schools, is canonically an ‘alienation’ (that is, a transfer of Church property rights) that must meet certain canonical criteria for liceity and even validity even if no money changes hands and even if the pastor is happy to rid himself of the parish school.”
In short, he says, there are rules for the alienation of Church property, and giving schools away might not be as straightforward an enterprise as some might assume.