Friday, December 23, 2016

A Christmas Gift for Francis

(or, Why I Finally Cancelled My Subscription to The Remnant)

(It's not scowling, just a bad case of RBF.)
I’m sure our readers are just about exhausted by my constant writings about Roman Pontiffs who have reigned in my lifetime. Consider it a last-minute Advent penance on my part. Since there’s nowhere left to go but down, let’s finish this trilogy with Pope Grinch himself, Francis the First.

Most recently P. Francis has been in the news for his utter silence on the four Cardinals’ Dubia delivered three months ago, while talking nonstop at the meeting of the Roman Curia. A more recent comment by Cdl. Raymond Burke to Catholic World Report is very interesting in that regard:
Cardinal Burke: If a Pope would formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic. And so, that could happen.
CWR: That could happen. 
Cardinal Burke: Yes.
CWR: That’s a scary thought. 
Cardinal Burke: It is a scary thought, and I hope we won’t be witnessing that at any time soon.[…] 
CWR: Who is competent to declare him to be in heresy? 
Cardinal Burke: It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.
The opinion that a Roman pope who has fallen into formal heresy would automatically lose the Seat of Peter is a popular one among trads, and has been revived from the opinion of Robert Bellarmine and other Counter Reformation-era speculative theologians. This opinion, interesting as it is, will butt heads with Canon 1404 of the current Code (“The First See is judged by no one”) if it is ever invoked, and it is also far from a proven opinion.

For myself, I am of the opinion that the gift of doctrinal preservation promised to the Successors of Simon Peter extends to preventing a reigning Roman Pontiff from declaring himself as a formal heretic, although he might very well be a material heretic (as many past popes have been). The most likely response of P. Francis to this Dubia is indefinite silence, and far less likely is an admission of wrongdoing and of having privately held to material heresy. If Papa Bergoglio does in fact formally insist on heresy by the end of this process, I do not know how Cdl. Burke intends to act as an expert on something that has never happened, but I guess God is a God of Surprises, still.


Last January I returned from Christmas vacation to find the latest issue of The Remnant waiting for me in my mailbox. I had subscribed a few months prior, because I frequently enjoyed reading their online articles, and felt their work worthy of compensation. I found, though, that their printed articles were often more sloppy than the online selection. Chris Ferrara Esq.’s articles, for instance, are always printed as formatted for web posting, complete with blue, underlined phrases that, shockingly enough, cannot be clicked when on newsprint. Many of their articles lacked basic fact-checking, and the editorial staff continuously ignored my emails requesting clarification and correction.

The final straw came in the December 25, 2015 issue, with Dr. John Rao’s article “A Very Different Francis on a Christmas Long Ago.” It contrasted St. Francis of Assisi with the reigning pontiff, particularly with the pope’s recent removal of the crèche during Advent’s environmentalist light show. (Dr. Rao’s article has since been posted on his website, although it incorrectly dates the issue of publication as Dec. 15.) While I may have agreed with his opinions on the hiding of Baby Jesus, the following passage threw me for a loop:
“Thud” is the only musical tone that accompanies the pastoral approach offered Catholics and the world at large in Christmastide, 2015 under the reign of a pope who took his name from Francis. That “thud” is the sound that emerges from men’s minds and hearts plunging downwards from St. Francis’s effort to understand and celebrate nature by looking at it through the Word made flesh.
Did you notice it, too? No, not the hyperbolic rhetoric that would never convince anyone not already convinced, but a little detail that certainly should not have escaped the eye of a professional historian:
The problem with the pope’s message in Christmastide, 2015 is that he is singing the modern song of “thud”. He is calling, in practice, for the need for a “correction” and “transformation” of Catholic doctrine to aid in the “restoration of all things” not in Christ but “in fallen nature”. He is not telling us to pay homage to the child in the crèche and accept His corrective and transforming Social Kingship. He is not speaking in a Christ-centered fashion.
A rant about P. Francis’s errors committed in Christmastide, 2015? Almost certainly written even before Christmas (the actual day this season begins)? Dr. Rao must be an historian of the future! The only possible event prior to publication which Rao could have been talking about was the 2015 Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, during which Francis clearly venerates the Christ Child and carries him to the crèche. He even says in his sermon that “We must set out to see our Savior lying in a manger,” for goodness’ sake!

Yes, of course Rao was referring to events in Advent 2015, not Christmastide, but a prosecutor’s case is built on a multitude of small details. When the legal team screws up details like these, all evidence is rendered inadmissible. The Remnant editorial crew habitually allows small but critical errors to find publication in their pages, and every time they do so, they lose more credibility.

Come on, fellow Trads. Seek the true, not the inflammatory. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. That’s what the Church really needs for Christmas.

That and Benedict's cool Santa hat. He took it with him when he left.


  1. The Times had an article today saying that our Fearless Leader currently has the Knights of Malta under investigation. Has anyone seen this on-line?

    1. The Catholic Herald (UK) had a piece up yesterday, too:

      It's telling what gets quick action from the Holy See these days and what doesn't.

    2. And this just got more interesting: The Order Of Malta tells the Holy See, effectively: "This is none of your business."

  2. Exactly. We need the true. But as long as the majority of trads believe that st. Peter celebrated the Tridentine Mass (Psalm 42, Suscipe Sancta Trinitas, elevations and all that) because they latch on a misunderstood quote from fr. Fortescue, with which misunderstanding they're fed from FSSP and their garbage YouTube lectures on liturgy, traditionalism of today will not have me as antiquarianism has me.

    But it get worse. I have NovusOrdoWatch liked on FB. They post about Francis all the time and they interpret everything he does in the worst possible light. He went into an orthopedic store. "OH MY! Look at this madman. He wants to present himself as humble. Well he ain't that. He's so prideful that damned man.". Like, leave the guy alone. He's the freakin' pope and he can go into a store by himself if he damn pleases.

    About pontificate and heresy. Heresy is always mentioned as the exception to the "Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur" law. I regard the opinion of John of st. Thomas as more probable than Bellarmine's.
    While both of them say that there need to be 2 acts of formal correction to establish and manifest obstinacy in, and thus formality of heresy, Bellarmine says that no further juridical act is needed but merely a declaration that the Pope is a heretic and that Christ has divested him of his pontificate, while John says that there would need to be an imperfect council that would pronounce to be vitandus and thus separate the Church from him, for as he as a cardinal was introduced into papacy by men, so is he excluded from it by men.

    1. Perhaps we can hope for a modern day Henry III to pull a Donald Trump and tell him "You're fired"?

    2. Do you have any recommended reading in the vein of this viewpoint? The contra-YouTube/FSSP/etc sort of traditionalism. I've really not seen it outside of this blog. I Googled "Catholic antiquarianism", but didn't get much.

    3. I am afraid that there is no book. It's just personal research. Liturgists (Fortescue is one whom i admire very much), history of the liturgy, comparative liturgy, liturgical and theological sources themselves. The last one is of prime importance. Always, always check the sources.

      For example. In many instances of anti-Communion in the hand (Cith) rhetoric, those who argue thus, will use this sentence from the 93rd letter of st. Basil: " It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offense, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves.", and say:
      "A-ha! So you see, Cith is allowed only in times of persecution.", but will leave out the passages which follow:

      "All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he likes. For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver. And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time.",

      so he is attesting to the practice of his present day, at least a whole generation after the persecutions have ended. What i'm trying to say. Always do your own research. Check the sources.

  3. With the exception of perhaps one regular writer, I find most of even the online Remnant to be unreadable. A lot of heat, not much light, unlikely to speak to anyone but the already converted (and very angry). But others' mileage may vary.

  4. I once tried reading Mr. Ferrara's Liberty: The God that Failed. It committed such basic historical-factual mistakes on the few things I DID know about, that there was no way I could trust him on the material that was new to me. Too bad, as I seem to recall having enjoyed the writing otherwise.

  5. I have a different opinion than many about Bellarmine theoreticals. A heretical pope is still pope until dethroned, but in public heresy (declaring himself entirely infallible, denying that the Theotokos enjoys the Beatific vision, reversing Lex Orandi, or saying that Jesus Christ was a sinner... yes seriously) he loses all respect and deference ordinarily due him. In other words, "obedience" - that favorite phrase of SSPX-bashing ultramontanists - is the first thing to go as the orthodox bishops, patriarchs, and cardinals instigate a righteous mutiny.

    "Formal" vs. "Material" heresy is a question for Canon lawyers and bored Thomists. It's the act of public heresy and the refusal to be corrected that is important.

  6. The Pope will remain Pope until he dies or retires and joins Ratzinger in the old popes home and all the sturm ung drang about a public correction will amount to a hill of mexican jumping beans - momentarily eye-catching but directionless.

    Not one Cardinal will unPope and the labile liberal will remain in control with the support of the overwhelmingly vast majority of Catholics.

    The most effective move would be for some Cardinal or Bishop to publicly laugh at his name-calling or mock his claim that mortal sin is an occasion of grace because humor is a weapon that would blow-up all of his prideful pretensions