The Destruction of the John Paul II Institute in Rome and Why it Matters.

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Before I proceed I want to be clear about a few things.  I do not think, as some radical traditionalists claim, that Pope Francis is a heretic.  Nor do I think he is a false pope. I think Archbishop Vigano and his minions are full of it and I want nothing to do with him or his many promoters in the clickbait domain of self-aggrandizing, internet crackpots.  I am a traditionalist in the ressourcement school of thought, which means I support Vatican II and the teachings of all of the post-conciliar popes, especially the teachings of Saint Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.  I am not a huge fan of the Novus Ordo and I think the reform of the liturgy was  botched and in grave need of a wholesale overview and reform.  Nevertheless, I support Mass in the vernacular and do not view the Novus Ordo with the depth of animosity and hostility one sees among some of the more visible promoters of the TLM.  I like the TLM, but do not think it should ever again be the ordinary form of the Church’s liturgy.  In short, I am no Pope Francis fan boy, but I also do not buy into the restorationist nonsense of his rad trad critics.  Pope Francis has his fervent adherents and his fevered opponents.  I am neither.

All that said, there is no doubt that at the very least the Francis papacy has been an enigma.  On the one hand he has not granted to the liberal wing of the Church any of their deepest desires: Women priests, married priests, women deacons, a change in the teaching on contraception and homosexuality, intercommunion with Protestants, and a wholesale endorsement of divorce and remarriage, despite the famous footnote in Amoris.  Furthermore, he has voiced deep concerns about the German synodal way and had the CDF issue a document warning the Germans that they cannot just plow ahead on their own path as if the broader Church does not exist.  He also speaks of Satan quite a bit, and the Virgin Mary, and often displays a thoroughly traditional form of piety.  On the other hand, he seems genuinely to loathe traditional Catholics as evidenced by the ideologically driven and pastorally tone deaf Traditionis Custodes.  He speaks of a Church of grassroots dialogue and of pastoral accompaniment, and yet seems to want the traditional wing of the Church to just shut up and obey, or worse, to wither and die.  His off the cuff remarks to journalists are often cringe-worthy to traditionalists and his penchant for passive-aggressive insults towards traditional prelates like Cardinal Burke (the “poor man” who was a vax denier got Covid, wink, wink, smile) bespeak a fundamental hostility toward the conservative wing of the Church, not to mention a certain level of just sheer pettiness.  And then, of course, there are the constant insults and caricatures directed at seminarians and young priests who are more traditional who he frequently mentions as in the grips of some kind of emotional and psychological immaturity.

Therefore, I have for the most part stopped paying attention to what he says and instead pay attention to what he does. His words are all over the map and inconsistent to the point of  incoherence. What he says on one day is contradicted on the next and so pinning your analysis of his papacy on his words is like standing on a sand dune in a hurricane. But his actions have a sharper clarity since they seem to trend in a single direction: the re-empowerment of a form of post Vatican II progressivism.  In a previous blog I described Pope Francis as follows:

“Pope Francis seems to sympathize with the progressive wing of the Church but does not have, in my view, a deep enough understanding of what their project really entails. He seems to have the mistaken view that Catholic liberals in 2020 are the same as liberals in 1958, and seems genuinely disappointed when they behave more like secular critical theory provocateurs rather than Yves Congar.  His whole thought-world seems to be that of a man who thinks the Church is still this insulated, neo-scholastic “fortress” whose walls need to be battered down, even as he stands astride their rubble.  He is fighting yesterday’s battles which underscores my point that we are most definitely not in a “third phase” of conciliar reception, but have instead been teleported by this papacy back to 1965 forcing those of us in the ressourcement camp to relitigate a case that was decided, with magisterial authority, by the previous two popes.  Perhaps this has been his end game all along.  Perhaps he is not as naïve as I think.  Perhaps he wants to reopen that case precisely because he wants it adjudicated differently but does not want to be the presiding judge, allowing “drift” to accomplish what papal fiat cannot. He is, after all, a Jesuit.”

That was written last year and events since then have only deepened my conviction that Pope Francis is an unreconstructed post Vatican II liberal.  If you look at his episcopal and curial appointments, as well as those in the curia whom he has sacked, what emerges is a clear pattern of favoring the progressive wing of the Church.  What I said above about Pope Francis wanting to change the Church via a kind of “drift” is, in my opinion, the best interpretation of his actions.  What he wants to do is to change the Church most radically but to do so in a manner that avoids schism.  His beef, therefore, with the German synodal way is, in my view, more about his desire to avoid such a schism (because he knows to enact abruptly what the Germans want would create such a schism most certainly) rather than about a deep disagreement with the Germans on the topics at hand, although I do think he disagrees with some of their proposals.  This is precisely why he does not simply put the kibosh on the whole affair and nip the insanity in the bud.  As Traditionis Custodesdemonstrated, Pope Francis is not above disciplining movements within the Church with which he clearly disapproves.  But there stand the Germans, unencumbered by any such papal sanctions, and ready to ordain “monogamous” (sic) married lesbians and to hand out the Eucharist to Protestants like schnitzel at a Munich Oktoberfest.  To be fair, Pope Francis did strengthen the sanctions in canon law for anyone who dares to ordain a woman (excommunication) which strikes me as a shot across the bow of the German synodal tug boat.  Nevertheless, one gets the definite sense that for Pope Francis there are no enemies to the Left of him, only well-meaning folks who may be just a bit too exuberant.  But on the Catholic Right he sees nothing but dangerous and immature “fundamentalists” who oppose him and who need to be put in the ecclesial cry room along with all of the other colicky conservatives.

So is the Pope being deceptive when he makes statements that sound very orthodox and conservative? Is he lying then when he says he endorses Humanae Vitae’s condemnation of contraception, and that he thinks the modern sexual revolution is a form of ideological colonization that has its origins in Satan? Is he crossing his fingers and smiling to himself when he says he adheres to the Church’s traditional teaching on the indissolubility of marriage?  Is he just being clever in a devious way when he says that we cannot give the Eucharist to Protestants even if they are married to Catholics? In a word: no.  He is being honest when he says that he holds to those things as proper moral and spiritual ideals.  And therein is precisely the problem.  The Pope’s concerns are not focused on theological precision, but on pastoral application.  And in the service of the latter he sacrifices the former, reducing the teachings of the Church, especially on moral matters, to mere “ideals” that do indeed act as proper teleological goals but not as binding moral commandments requiring confession, conversion and true repentance when we fail them. This is why Pope Francis routinely, and wrongly, pits doctrine against mercy, truth against compassion, and treats the commandments as “rules” that are pharisaical when applied with anything approaching a robust rigor. The “field hospital” metaphor for the Church is a good one, and I endorse it most heartily, but field hospitals are extensions of real hospitals and their goal is to heal and to restore to health.  And a hospital that treats health as a mere “ideal” that is impossible to achieve for most “ordinary people,” and leaves them as they are, is no real hospital at all but a hospice.

What Pope Francis is guilty of, as we see clearly in Amoris Laetitia, is a deep ambiguity with regard to what is called the law of moral gradualism.  There are two kinds of gradualism, one legitimate, and one clearly condemned by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor. The first kind, endorsed by John Paul, is the simple recognition that we all approach our conformity to Christ from different starting points and with different levels of success.  A good pastor of souls thus accompanies the seeker on this path, softly, softly, so as not to crush the bruised reed, and is fully aware of the weaknesses presented.  A good pastor knows when to apply pressure to the wound but also knows when a strong intervention might, in the short run, do more damage than that caused by the moral illness in question.  It is more art than science and requires compassion, mercy, patience, and endless forgiveness.  But in the end, the pastor also knows that God’s moral law has been revealed to us for our benefit, not our woe, and that it is ultimately liberative and healing.  The good pastor thus knows that no compromise with sin can or should be made since to do so is a false mercy and the pseudo compassion of a condescending attitude that views the sinner as incapable of transformation.  May God bless such pastors. 

The second kind of gradualism, often referred to as the gradualism of law, is explicitly condemned by Pope John Paul II, also in Veritatis.  This form of gradualism is in reality a kind of situation ethics where a person’s individual circumstances are so mitigating that it renders the person morally inculpable for their actions.  Indeed, not only are they inculpable, but since this is “the best that they can do” in the given circumstances, it is also what God wills for them at that moment.  In other words, the actions in question may not only be non-culpable, but are actually now transformed by the circumstances into positively good moral actions. The moral law itself is thus intrinsically and constitutively “graduated” into degrees of perfection rather than as prohibitions against certain actions as objectively intrinsically evil.  This is the path advocated by so many post Vatican II moral theologians and which was strongly rejected by Pope John Paul II, and was countered as well by certain heroic moral theologians such as Germain Grisez and Janet Smith.  Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia says that he too rejects this kind of gradualism, but it is hard to see how he can avoid the charge that this is indeed what he is arguing for given certain comments he makes in the text.

In an excellent essay in Catholic World Report (which you can access here,) theologian Eduardo Echeverria makes this same point about Amoris and does so forcefully and with precision. What he says is worthy of a full and lengthy citation since he says here exactly what I am trying to convey:

“And yet in AL 303 and 305, he suggests that a person not only may be doing the best that he can, but also that such acts therefore are not sinful and hence are right for that person, because the person, in his mitigating circumstances, fulfills the ideal as applied by that individual in those limiting circumstances. This way of thinking was unavoidable because throughout AL Francis apparently emphasizes the “ideal” nature of the normative order of marriage and family life. 

But how can God be asking one to do X when X is contrary to his will? The pope must think that X is not contrary to the will of God in that specific circumstance, but only contrary to God’s ideal will which the person is inculpable for not attaining. 

So, with all due respect to Francis, I think that he does imply support for the “gradualness of the law” and hence by implication opens the door to a “situation ethics.” He says, “Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel.  It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” (AL 303). Now, is the pope actually saying that such acts are right for such an individual? Indeed, that is precisely what he says, namely, that the person in those mitigating circumstances may be doing the will of God. That’s not an inference on my part; that’s what the pope actually says above. If you missed it, here it is again: a person can “come to see with a certain moral security that it [his choice] is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.” It is hard to see why a person needs the grace of the sacrament of confession, and hence the Lord’s mercy, if, as Francis suggests here, that person is doing the will of God.”

My complaint with regard to Pope Francis, in other words, is far more radical than a simple lament over Traditionis and the TLM, or the still unanswered dubia concerning divorce and remarriage in footnote 351 of Amoris, or civil unions for gays, or his Abu Dhabi flirtations with religious relativism. I do not think, as I said in the beginning, that he is a heretic. In fact, I find him thoroughly orthodox in his basic affirmations.  But I almost wish he really were just a garden variety heretic because then you could point to something concrete and identifiable, something which his Cardinals, or somebody close to him, could attempt to correct in him.  Indeed, this is kind of what happened after the aforementioned Abu Dhabi statement came out, whereupon the Vatican immediately clarified that the Pope did not say what the Pope actually did say, or that if he said it, that it did not mean what the words actually mean, but something else, and that something else is thoroughly orthodox. Or something like that… This incident does not “prove” that Francis is a formal heretic, as some claim, precisely because he did take it back, like a kid who immediately regrets calling his neighbor-lady, with a Flannery O’Connor flair, an old warthog.  And so long as he does not attempt to teach the heresy infallibly, it can always be corrected by the next Pope anyway.  

In my view, heresy has gotten really boring these days, common as it is even among traditionalists, and swims in the shallow and warm end of the pool. Heresy, in other words, has become something domesticated and tame, the mirror image of a faith gone equally tepid, and they all, both the putatively orthodox and the heretics, need flotational arm-swimmies if they want to venture into the deep end.  At best modern heresy is usually just the tired and predictable repetition of some ancient error that way back when cost some saint his tongue at the hands of Imperial thugs. But these days it is a parlor game for sissies and has the seriousness of a Mahjong tournament at a nursing home, where the stakes are extra cupcakes after dinner.  Please do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that heresy is trivial and unimportant.  What I am saying is that today’s heresies are merely tired and shopworn repetitions of old ideas that have already been dealt with by the Church in definitive ways. Furthermore, no amount of repeated anathemas shot from ecclesial fire hoses will put out the various fires. There are smoldering embers deep down in the overgrown brush of the Church’s forested plateaus and those embers are not the hot coals of explicit theological heresies, but are rather the flickering combustibles of modernity’s denial of the efficacy of the supernatural. 

And this is what troubles me about Pope Francis.  I really do not care much about his shoot-from-the-hip comments on airplanes or his gyrating disciplinary decisions.  What I care about is that he seems to be dousing those flickering combustibles with kerosene and tossing in a lit match.  What is at stake here is whether or not the supernatural regime of grace instituted by Christ’s Incarnation is truly and really efficacious in the here and now.  What is further at stake is the true scope of the Church’s pastoral mission to call people to participate fully in the journey of transformation that this grace evokes.  To speak of Christ’s commandments as “ideals” makes it seem as if only a heroic holiness can approximate them, a fact which one of the Pope’s favored theologians and his point man at the Synod on the Family, Cardinal Walter Kasper, made clear when he stated that when it came to living out the Church’s teachings on marriage that one cannot expect such heroism from “ordinary Christians.” Pope Francis affirms in the first part of Amoris all of the Church’s teachings regarding marriage, and does so beautifully. But in the second part of the text it becomes clear that all of that beauty is merely an “ideal” and his invocation of a false view of gradualism creeps in.  This is the shell game that is being played: affirm all Church teaching thereby assuring orthodoxy, but then pull the rug out from underneath the entire edifice by marginalizing all of it as just so much theological hair-splitting having little purchase on “real” people in their “real” and “complex” circumstances.  By contrast, here is what Pope John Paul II said in Veritatis Splendor on the topic (And again, thanks to Eduardo Echiverria for highlighting these sections):

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question.” But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.” (VS, 103-104)

All of the foregoing is just one, long, preamble to the main topic of this blog post.  Namely, the destruction of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome. And make no mistake about it, the Institute has been destroyed due to a series of moves by Pope Francis to eliminate the former leadership of the Institute as well as several noteworthy faculty of high caliber who were summarily sacked without proper due academic process.  And they have all been replaced by people who subscribe to some version of the gradualism of law noted above.  In a motu proprio Pope Francis changed the name of the Institute to the, “Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences,” signaling a desire to change the focus to include greater attention to the contributions of the social sciences.  But this is puzzling in the extreme since there was no lack of such social analysis in the previous curriculum.  One can only surmise, therefore, that it was decided at the highest levels that it was the “wrong kind” of social analysis since it was being used to buttress the concept of inviolable moral truths rooted in the Divine “givenness” of the teleology of our created nature. Apparently, this had to be eliminated and replaced with social analysis that emphasizes the fluidity and fungibility of our nature in order to further the notion that no moral norms are permanently etched in stone.  As such, it represents a nod in the direction of modern secularity that is deeply problematic. The new faculty and President are on record saying that the natural law must always be “rethought” anew in the light of changing circumstances, and have used this “rethinking” to openly call into question the Church’s traditional teaching on contraception and homosexual unions. I do not wish to go into all of the details since many before me have done so admirably. Suffice it to say that I am not exaggerating and I am not attacking a straw man.  What I have described is what has happened.  For an excellent overview see the recent article by the journalist Edward Pentin which you can access here.

Several former faculty members have gone on record to say that the Institute has indeed been radically altered to the point where it no longer reflects the vision of its namesake and have asked that his name be removed from the title of the Institute, but to no avail.  Apparently, it is important to the new leadership that its changed orientation be masked over by the patina of the former pontiff in order to give off the illusion of continuity.  The new Institute should actually be renamed the “Amoris Laetitia Institute” since that is the real vision it now seeks to promote rather than the vision of Veritatis Splendor. But deceptive marketing takes precedence as enrollments continue to plummet.  It will probably be only a matter of time before the entire enterprise sinks under the waves of the tempest created by the changes, but that may have been the goal all along.  

I have chosen to write on this topic because I am troubled by the fact that most of the attention with regard to Amoris has focused on the now infamous footnote 351, all the while ignoring the true timebomb located in its pages. And that timebomb has now exploded in the demolition of the John Paul II Institute.  This is why I made light of all of the hoopla surrounding the so-called “heresies” of Pope Francis since I think such accusations are not only false, but distract from the deeper malaise that afflicts this papacy.  The world in which we live today – – a world gone insane through its now open rejection of the formal structure of creation – – does not need yet one more Christian Church that preaches the Gospel of the therapeutic, bourgeois, self.  The destruction of the Institute might seem trivial in the eyes of many. It might seem to be just one more of the thousands of “reforms” inflicted upon the modern Church by quislings in the hierarchy. But it is not trivial in the slightest.  It is a very big deal owing to what it portends.  And what it portends is a Church that has thrown its hat into the ring of insanity and joined in on the cathartic party of libidinous “liberation.” Earnest and honest seekers of truth in this modern insanity have every right to expect the Church to hold firm and to lard the Church’s pantry with the bread of truth.  Instead, the Church now gives out stones and asks us to bed down with the vipers.  

Saint Pope John Paul II understood the crisis we face. He understood that this is a titanic struggle between the forces of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, with the nature of the family in the crosshairs. And he further understood that the Catholic Church is the last great hope for the world to avert catastrophe in a technocratic and dystopian future governed by a collective of concupiscence. Therefore, he started the Institute, and the brave Cardinal Caffarra collaborated in its founding. It was, of course, never popular with the espresso and croissant crowd of prissy ecclesiastics, but it stayed the course and produced enormously beneficial fruits. Its founding showed that Pope John Paul II “gets it.” Its destruction shows that those now in charge do not.

The destruction of the Institute in the furtherance of a false and anti-Gospel view of gradualism is a questing after the comfort pillow or Teddy Bear of a false mercy.  It is honey laced arsenic and is the toxic Kool Aid of a deep and deceptive despair. And it is deceptive because it comes dressed in the garb of hope, promising happy times galore, even as it hollows out our souls.  It reminds me of Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” who berated Christ for giving us freedom and for expecting too much from us.  What the Inquisitor offers instead is the illusion of a shiny thing: the security of material comfort and a conscience left alone. Not for us is the epic adventure of holiness, with all of its travails and failures.  What we need, says the Inquisitor, is Cardinal Kasper’s gated and guarded sandbox of safe, bourgeois, mediocrity. What we need is to be told that our so-called “sins” are merely the idiosyncratic quirks of our personalities which are the true markers of our brave new “identity” as children of the “safe spaces” carved out for us by our zookeepers.  No thank you. I seek Christ and Him crucified, despite all of my manifest and grotesque moral failings, and I now plead with the Church to raise the battle banner of chivalrous holiness once again, and to blow the trumpet of salvation.  

I do not think Pope Francis is a heretic.  But I do think that he is deeply and disastrously wrong about some important things. And with regard to the Institute, he is most definitely deeply wrong.  We can argue until the cows come home about this or that ambiguous statement from Pope Francis. But his actions with regard to the Institute are very unambiguous.  And in my mind, that destruction is the hermeneutical key to understanding this pontificate.  I pray that I am not only wrong, but profoundly so.  But I don’t think that I am. Of course, I rarely think that I am wrong.  So there’s that. 

Dorothy Day, pray for us

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us


  1. I pray that I am not only wrong, but profoundly so. But I don’t think that I am. Of course, I rarely think that I am wrong. So there’s that.

    Your’re wrong.

    No, you’re profoundly wrong.

    Perhaps there’s a different angle to the Francis papacy which you’re missing.

    As you say, he’s not really given the Liberals anything which, given his accommodation of them, should give significant pause for reflection. Yes, he is theologically and morally sloppy but I think he recognises that the Church is in deep trouble and is playing for time for a solution to eventuate. I think that the reason he gives the liberal faction of the Church so much room to move is that–while recognising it’s idiocy–he feels that any solution to the Church’s problems will come from there, hence he gives them a “space” in which ideas can developing while putting limits on how far they can go. I think he’s wrong here but he’s justified given how brain-dead the conservative faction of the Church is. I think you’d be surprised how accommodating he would be if something original came from the right.

    The critical problem of the Catholic Church at the moment is the status of the “right” which because of it’s internal pathologies is unable to mount an effective revival of the faith. I take it as a given that we agree that the Trads and the neo-Thomists aren’t going to provide the solution. Where does that leave us? Well it takes us back to the Nouvelle Theologians, who I feel diagnosed the infection while missing the cancer. (i.e Balthasar and his friends won’t save us), in fact they may have may have weakened the immune system unintentionally.

    Let me illuminate.

    Under the JPII papacy, the 1983 code of canon law was promulgated. It was responsible for much of the impotence with regard to Church’s dealing with the sexual abuse sage. The code itself was updated in light of “orthodox” new theological insights which elevated mercy above justice, as one of the commentators, revising it said:

    “In many places, punishments were mentioned only as a possibility, and the whole text gave the impression that it was almost merciless to apply punishments.”

    The worst offenders of the sexual abuse crisis were given a hell of a lot of “mercy”. Remember, that was under JPII’s watch, so when Francis effectively nuked the death penalty, he’s operating in the same “traditional” vein as JPII.

    Note: Pachamama was the logical consequence of the Assisi conference. Francis is a lot more “orthodox” than you think, that’s if you think that JPII was orthodox.

    The problem is that what currently goes for orthodoxy is not orthodox. Neither is the Neo-Jansenism you’re advocating. We’re in a hell of a lot of trouble.

    Nietzsche was right, Christianity in its terminal phase will start to resemble its own version of Buddhism. Peguy provided a way out, but while they all gave him lip service no one listened to him.


    1. A lot in there. Much of which I am in agreement. But you are profoundly and stupendously wrong if you think I am promoting neo-Jansenism. Give me a break. Nor am I blind to John Paul’s mistakes.


      1. People like to throw around “Jansenist” or “Neo-Jansenist” as a kind of slur. I have found that almost no one who does that has the slightest clue what Jansenism was (or is).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the right of reply.

        But you are profoundly and stupendously wrong if you think I am promoting neo-Jansenism.

        I used the term neo-Jansenism specifically because you’re not a formal Jansenist, but there are affinities.

        A while ago you put up a post: The Numbing Down of the Church Part Two. I don’t think I’m taking you out of context here in quoting this piece. (It appears to be a consistent theme and relevant to the point in question.)

        “And I am not pointing fingers here at others. I feel this deeply in myself and am ashamed to admit that I value bourbon and my leisure time pursuits over the path of sanctification – – a path that would require of me certain sacrifices that I find it almost impossible to make. I am a man of my time and the “dogma” of bourgeois well-being lives loudly within me. But I hate it, which is why my writing is often so acerbic and seemingly “personal.” I see and feel and know from within this crushing acedia of indifference and so when I rail against it in the Church it is because I need that Church to be better than it is. I need that Church to be a bastion of faith and a beacon of hope. I need that Church to at least preach the necessity of conversion rather than to bless my concupiscence and call it a virtue. ”

        Implicit in this line of thought is that your bourbon and leisure pursuits are someone inimical to holiness. (Cana, anyone?) What I see here is the exaggerated sense of concupiscence which admits no innocent pleasures and it’s profoundly anti-human sentiment. On a more deeper level this view sees the needs of the flesh, even legitimate ones, in opposition to the path of sanctity, or in other words the body is an obstruction to holiness. In this schema nature and grace are opposition, since nature is an impediment to grace. The neo-Thomists, for all their faults weren’t this dumb.

        The Jansen is strong in you.

        Of course, formally you don’t hold this position, but its how it works in practice.

        Grace interpenetrates nature and regulates it according to Cartias, and it’s the loss of Grace which lets nature run wild, but a “sanctity” which wants to kill nature is not graced, as Grace seeks natures perfection. Smarter guys than me have looked at this issue, particularly with reference to Dorothy Day, and you might want to have a look at the discussion:

        But it gets worse.

        Overlaid on top of all this is a misapplied notion of kenosis which drains Christianity of it’s life and identity but which synches nicely with the sense of bodily renunciation, resulting in a Christianity which is impotent and unable to assert itself yet assured that it is on the path to sanctity. Here’s an article in Communio which touches the matter: it should be familiar to you.

        Click to access Sicari_NC_-_42.2_Poverty_and_Kenosis.pdf

        This kenotic neo-Jansenism results in a faith that is akin to a of Christian flavoured Buddhism, as that’s what it is in essence. It’s all about sanctity through renunciation of the world and self. Nietzsche may have been a terrible therapist but he was an acute diagnostician.

        Tonight–in a sense of Charity–I will say a prayer that God keeps providing you with bourbon and cigars, though they may not be the best for your health,it will be a “mortification” of the flesh that I hope will put you in God’s good Grace.


      3. No, the Jansen is not strong in me. You are completely wrong and are giving my words a deeply uncharitable reading that ignore the manner in which those same words could be interpreted in thoroughly legitimate ways. But your comments are important nevertheless and hit upon something I have blogged about in the past. Namely, that Dorothy Day was accused of. being a “rigorist” and, by implication, a few have accused me of the same. I can only say that this is a false charge and any examination of her life will quickly confirm that in her dealings with those she sought to minister to she was the exact opposite of a rigorist. In fact, many of her ecclesial opponents accused her of coddling sinners and of encouraging their vices. That her unconditional hospitality for the poor was just a veiled moral laxity. She did advocate strongly for the value of voluntary poverty which she rooted squarely in the Gospel’s admonition to eschew worldly attachments when those attachments lead to an attenuation of a person’s spiritual eyesight. The essay you linked about her apocalyptic sectarianism is now infamous and is risible. It is the worst kind of hatchet job and takes so much of what she says out of context. She is not without faults and I disagree with her doctrinaire pacifism. I am not blind to her faults and am open to any honest critique of her work. But that essay is not an honest critique.

        Asceticism is a long standing practice of many, many saints, and they too rooted their various mortifications in the desire to dissolve the attachments that harm us by binding us to various vices. But as I noted in a previous blog post (I forget which one) asceticism is not an end in itself but a means to spiritual growth and if it does become an end in itself it can indeed become the kind of Jansenistic terror you fear. I make no apologies for being a strong advocate for a greater sense of asceticism in the lives of modern Western Christians who are awash in affluence. And I am hardly alone in that advocacy. It was something Saint Pope John Paul II also called for.

        However, not all forms of asceticism and not all forms of a more rigorous living of the evangelical counsels is a crypto-Jansenism. My chief complaint therefore of your post here is that it reads my comments through that lens and gives them a most uncharitable reading, when in point of fact there are long standing spiritualities in the Church that are thoroughly consonant with orthodoxy and the Gospel that my comments could easily be placed within. But you choose to see them as some kind of “body versus spirit” dualism when all they are pointing towards is the need in our consumeristic era to rein in our spirit of acquisition. And that is a spirititul path many saints and doctors of the Church have encouraged. Clearly, if you were to read my comments charitably and in that light all I am saying is that when our perfectly good worldly pleasures move from being a simple enjoyment of the goods of this world to an attachment to, and preoccupation with, material comfort in a manner that short-circuits even our modest attempts at prayer and meditation, then they are a detriment. This is why we have Lent. This is why we have ascetical practices. They clear the deck of clutter. An analogy would be an athlete training for a competition who decides to forego perfectly good pleasures for the sake of a more rigorous health regimen. It is not an indictment of worldly pleasure as such, but a recognition that they can impede our higher goals in life. I still drink bourbon and smoke cigars. And my comments concerning them have to do with the fact that there have been moments in my life when they were more important to me than my spiritual life and got in the way of that life. That they were symbols of a much deeper spiritual lukewarmness within me wherein I spent 99% of my day concerned with the pursuit of those pleasures at the expense of the development of my inner and deeper self. I won’t go into personal details, but only a fool would say that this cannot happen and just keep on doing what you are doing regardless of the deleterious effects. Saint Francis gave away all that he owned. I do not think most of us could or should do that. But there is a reason why he did. It is because he knew that he could not in his own life serve both God and Mammon, with Mammon here as a cipher for an unhealthy attachment to riches and pleasure above all else. Christ himself said that you cannot serve both and that is all my comments are about: what or who is your master? What controls your life and your motivations? What are the criteria by which you choose to lead your life? The Gospel’s or Wall Street’s? What are your preoccupations and what really, deep down, moves you to action? Who are what is your God or gods?

        I do advocate for a more radical living of the evangelical counsels and the Sermon on the Mount. And I will continue to do so. I will also continue to double down on Vatican II’s emphasis on the universal call to holiness. I am not arguing for rigorism in any way since I am also an advocate for the strongest latitude and mercy allowable for all of us wayward sinners. Just as Dorothy Day and almost all of the saints were too. My successful 20 years of teaching undergraduates testifies to my lack of rigorism. In fact, my deeply conservative Catholic students often accused me of laxity and of bending over too much for those students they deemed unworthy of my avuncular attention. Only someone who does not know me in the slightest, and who reads my words through a jaundiced filter, could accuse me of rigorism or Neo-Jansenism.

        In no way have I ever called for “bodily renunciation” in the manner that you are construing it. I am not advocating for a flavored Buddhism, whatever that means, but for a deeper awareness of how our consumeristic culture really is rooted in an economics of acquisition above all else and deliberately inflames our concupiscence since it helps sales. Concupiscence is real and it is harmful as any of the great spiritual masters will tell you. It is nothing to sneer at and all of the great saints and spiritual masters have noted its broad and destructive provenance in our lives. Peguy was opposed to the remnants of French Jansenism in his own time and there was indeed in the Church of that time an extremely harmful Manichaeanism. The Irish were deeply infected with it as well. Personally, I prefer Chesterton’s love of beer and the conviviality of the pub over that kind of nonsense. Dorothy Day loved it too and drank and smoked. But what Peguy was not against was the need for a healthy asceticism and the desire for a greater simplicity of life. And therefore to invoke him here as an enemy of the kind of asceticism I am talking about is illegitimate since it rips him out of his context.

        Finally, I will never apologize for the kenotic emphasis in my theology. There is of course a deeply unhealthy kenoticism that is little more than a veiled hatred for the goods of this world. But I am in damn good company, theologically speaking, to emphasize the cross, and the kenotic nature of Christ’s descent, and the need to “lose one’s life in order to find it.” This is deeply biblical and many, many, many fine modern theologians are developing this theme in magnificent ways. Balthasar develops this beautifully in my view. But I also just finished reading a great new book on the topic by the Melkite Priest and theologian Khaled Anatolios called “Deification through the Cross: An Eastern Christian Theology of Salvation,” that develops these kenotic themes beautifully. But because you begin by reading my words uncharitably as Neo-Jansenist you wrongly view my emphasis on kenosis as more of the same. And you are wrong on both counts.


      4. I’d like to reply to your comments.

        Namely, that Dorothy Day was accused of. being a “rigorist” and, by implication, a few have accused me of the same.

        I think there’s a conflation of concepts going on here. Holding a consistent theological position and being a wowser (Australian term) are two different things. I’ve never entertained the thought that you or Day are moral busybodies. With regard to Day, I’ve never thought that she was morally “lax”. She consistently and honestly applied her principles. My problem is not with her integrity, which was absolute, it’s more with her principles.

        She did advocate strongly for the value of voluntary poverty which she rooted squarely in the Gospel’s admonition to eschew worldly attachments when those attachments lead to an attenuation of a person’s spiritual eyesight.

        It’s a little bit more than that, and it wasn’t just Summa thumping neo-scholastics who were saying it. Her own grand-daughter (Hennesy) noted:

        In the 1940’s, Hennessy sees in her grandmother a harsh rejection of beauty—material beauty—as a result of the influence of a Jansenist-leaning spiritual director named Father John Hugo. While Dorothy was attracted by the asceticism of Father Hugo’s retreats, others were repulsed. Stanley Vishnewski, who came to the Catholic Worker in 1934 and stayed his entire life, rejected the philosophy underlying Hugo’s spirituality: “Stanley drew the line at being told he who loves the world is an enemy of God. ‘What kind of a religion is this where God creates beauty, and then tells us you can’t have it?’” Hennessy argues that Dorothy’s attraction to Father Hugo’s ideas led to her fraught relationship with her daughter, Tamar. She writes, “Tamar was asked to give up Dorothy the mother for Dorothy the saint”


        I don’t think this was a hatchet job, and Stanley squarely hit the theological nail on the head. What kind of Religion is it? Is this what Catholicism is all about. This isn’t some hypertrophied Lenten exercise but a worldview that effectively, if not formally, sees nature in opposition to Grace.

        Paging Mr Jansen.

        An analogy would be an athlete training for a competition who decides to forego perfectly good pleasures for the sake of a more rigorous health regimen.

        Day wasn’t advocating a moderate poverty which gave grounds, her’s was a radical poverty. It was more akin to a Soviet style exercise program with no time for “slacking” and with the attitude being go hard or go home i.e.perfection or bust. And just as this attitude has been destructive to lay sport participation (if you’re having fun you’re not serious) it’s been spiritually ruinous for the laity. The old guys who regarded the counsels of perfection as supererogatory knew their stuff.

        Asceticism is very dangerous thing and its participants stand on the precipice of corruption. Sure, it has produced profound mystical insights but it has also provided a continual port of entry for the variants of manicheanism /Jansenism to sneak in. Take the vow of Chastity for instance. It’s one thing to stay pure and avoid “dirtying” yourself with sex, on the other its another thing to give up the good of sex for the greater good of God. In the former instance sex is seen as bad, while in the latter it is good. A lot of dysfunction that Christianity has had with issues of traditionally legitimate sexuality is precisely because of the ascetic approach to the subject. For goodness sake, it was only in 1930’s that sex for the purposes of strengthening marital love was grudgingly accepted as legitimate. Likewise, Day’s embrace of poverty as an antidote to capitalist materialism imposes a polarising duality which is unjustified.

        Without capitalism there isn’t the superabundance which has finally banished hunger and life threatening poverty. Day’s articles in the Catholic Worker were built on printing presses, paper production and distribution mechanisms perfected by the capitalist system. So much scientific invention that liberated human beings from soul crushing misery and disease was fueled by the profit motive ,pursued honestly and legitimately without exploitation. Sure, through the medium of capitalism, vast amounts of human misery were enabled, But poisons here were the seven deadly sins made more powerful by the capitalist means of production, not by the means of production itself.

        Saint Francis gave away all that he owned. I do not think most of us could or should do that. But there is a reason why he did. It is because he knew that he could not in his own life serve both God and Mammon,

        Yeah, but I don’t need to tell you that at the end of his life he apologised to his body for treating it so badly. It took him a while, but he realised he’d pushed things too far at times.


      5. You are wrong in just about everything you say here, but to keep rebutting you with lengthy responses is tiresome and a waste of my time. Hennessy’s book is deeply jaundiced by her own disaffection for Catholicism in general and her strained relationship with Dorothy. My wife and I are friends with Dorothy’s other granddaughter, Martha. I will not give away any confidences, but let’s just say she paints a very different picture of her grandmother and thinks the book unfair and tendentious. The idea, for example, that Dorothy Day thought beauty was inimical to the spiritual life is just flatulent nonsense and requires one to never have read a word she wrote on the topic, or to deliberately lie about it if you have.

        I am not the one conflating rigor and Jansenism. You are. Jansenism was more than just a runaway, dualistic, asceticism. It was also an entire theology of grace that is detestable. But you throw the insult around like candy at anyone who dares to argue for a more ascetical Church rooted in a robust retrieval of an ascetical life even for the laity. And you then justify the charges by saying “Well hey, asceticism can be dangerous you know and frequently has been in the Church!” Yep. What an insight. Too bad Dorothy Day did not have you as her spiritual director. She could have avoided all of the mistakes she putatively made. You should write to her canonization committee in Rome. I am sure they would love to learn of her Neo-Jansenism and hatred of beauty. It will be news to them since there is nothing in her life or writings that would support such a claim.

        Dorothy Day never claimed the every lay person should live the kind of poverty she lived. She recognized that this was impossible and undesirable. But she did expect it of those in her movement, just as Saint Francis expected it of those in his. She was founding something new and radical as a witness to the Sermon on the Mount as a living possibility. But she never ever claimed that those who did not adopt her radical poverty were just slackers who needed a swift boot in the rear. Once again, anyone making that claim does not know what the hell they are talking about. Many saints have desired to live the counsels radically. Most were in religious orders. Dorothy wanted to do the same but in a lay modality in a very specific movement of prophetic witness. But according to you this is Jansenism.

        Dorothy was not the first Catholic thinker, nor will she be the last, to be critical of Capitalism. She also hated socialism. Many secular thinkers have also questioned the modern Western economic model. It is a a complex topic indeed and well out of my wheelhouse! But you sound like Sean Hannity quite frankly.

        As for Fr. Hugo … he was not a Jansenist and he was not even “tainted” with it. He was rigorous, yes, but his retreats were aimed at those who were already seeking a more rigorous spiritual life by living out in a more radical way the evangelical counsels. Voluntary poverty is one of the counsels of perfection. Asceticism can indeed be dangerous but so can anything else in the spiritual life if abused. The opposite view can also be abused and lead to laxity. Hugo’s retreats were not in any way designed to get people to hate the goods of this world. What he meant by “hating the world” is the same thing that Christ and Paul and John meant about hating “the world” and which is a cipher for the sinful aspects of this world and not a tout court condemnation of all worldly goods. I know a few really sound and good priests, filled with a very healthy spirituality, who love the retreats and want to resurrect them for our times. Have you read any of Hugo’s retreats? Obviously not. You are just relying on secondary sources from folks with an axe to grind and fairly shallow theological understandings. I don’t care how long Stanley was in the movement. I am in the movement and know tons of folks who have been in it a long time. And most of them could tattoo what they know about Catholicism on the ass of a flea with room to spare.

        I am done here. I will continue posting your comments since it is an open conversation. I only delete things that get personal and ad hominem. Some snark is allowed since that is fun and makes for a more enjoyable read. But I will not be responding further. I have too many writing projects on my deck to spend half an hour composing dissertations in my combox. Peace brother. Or sister.


      6. “Dorothy was not the first Catholic thinker, nor will she be the last, to be critical of Capitalism. She also hated socialism.”

        I hate to butt in on a conversation that isn’t mine, but I don’t see how this is true. She approvingly quoted Mao and explicitly approved of Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, even in defiance of her own doctrinaire pacifism (notably, General Franco did not receive the same benefit of the doubt from her).

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Thanks for this Calvin. What you write is true. Her statements of support in the 50’s and early 60’s for marxist revolutions is a black mark on her record. There is no other way to put it. But the issue is far more complex than her conservative critics make out. They quote her and then conclude, dismissively, that she was indeed a Marxist after all and not really a Christian. But she was most certainly not a Marxist. She hated the Soviet Union and rejected on numerous occasions and quite forcefully Marxist materialism and the atheism of Marx. She also condemned all forms of Marxist religious persecution. But she also harbored the naïveté that so many Catholic intellectuals of that period also harbored that some program of radical economic egalitarianism in a Marxist register could be disengaged from the philosophical atheism and materialism of Marx himself and of the Soviets. And so she had this deep sympathy toward folks like Mao and Castro when they first came to power since she thought that they were just fighting for the poor and would not be dictatorial bastards. She was wrong on both counts. And stupendously so. “God bless Castro.” Good grief. This does not mean that she really was a “Marxist.” What it meant was that she saw some compatibilities between Marxism, shorn of its atheism, and her love for what she identified as the early Church’s “Christian communism.”

        She did say, later in life, that she had since come to regret her support for such things and that had she known what she now knew, she would not have. Even in her essay in the Catholic Worker on Castro she says that she rejects any revolution that engages in religious persecution. She affirms her belief that Castro was some kind of a Catholic and so one could perhaps hope that his revolution might be different. But I think she was blinded by her love for any revolution on behalf of the poor and insouciantly ignored the clear warning signs that Castro was going to be an ass. The Battista regime was awful and corrupt to its core. And so she welcomed its destruction. That then led to her unfortunate endorsing of Castro.

        The most troubling thing for me however is her complete inconsistency with regard to her pacifism. This is why, as I have said before, that I cannot accept her pacifism. It is simply too utopian in a fallen and sinful world and ignores the demands of charity in support of the weak against the aggressions of the strong. And she herself seems to be aware of this which is why she says she rejects all violent revolutions, but can accept some of them if they are revolutions on behalf of the poor. This was also one of the tensions that arose between her and Peter Maurin. In the early days of the Catholic Worker Dorothy was deeply involved in the labor union movement and supported labor strikes. Maurin famously said “strikes don’t strike me” and rejected the idea that we should pit labor against management in such an adversarial way, which he thought unchristian. Better to appeal to the Christian virtues of all in question, as Pope Leo did in Rerum Novarum, than to engage in class warfare, no matter how just the cause might be. But Dorothy retained her revolutionary instincts from her days as an ally of the Marxist labor movement. I tend to sympathize with her on this matter and not Maurin. Labor unions are good and strikes were needed. But he had a point and I think he was reacting to what he saw in Dorothy as an inconsistent attitude toward aggressive tactics.

        It should also be remembered that Peter Maurin wanted to call the newspaper “The Catholic Radical” rather than the “Catholic Worker” since he thought the latter had too many negative connotations. And when the first issue came out he was deeply disappointed that its focus was not on Catholic theology or Catholic philosophy or Catholic political theory, but on politics and labor strikes. He had a brief falling out with Dorothy over this and never really had much engagement with the paper after that. It is a shame that Maurin is so neglected in modern studies of the history of the movement because in my view, Maurin was the real theological brains of the outfit and Dorothy said so repeatedly. It must be remembered that Dorothy was not a deep thinker in an intellectual sense or a theologian. She was a journalist and a social advocate. Her interests were practical ones and I think she struggled her whole life to articulate a truly coherent and consistent intellectual vision, especially after Peter died.

        But Dorothy was not a lover of Big State socialism, or Big State anything. I mean, for crying out loud, she even opposed Social Security when FDR rolled it out claiming that it gave too much power to the centralized State. She always described herself as an anarchist in the sense that she just did not accept the legitimacy of the modern, sovereign, Leviathan of the modern State. She was an anarcho/personalist/localist/distributist in all of her writings on the topic. So her later support for Marxist revolutions that socialized things was yet another of her inconsistencies with her own principles when it came to these revolutions. In short, she was not a Marxist or a socialist, but was willing to make common cause with such things if she thought it helped the poor and stuck it to the rich.

        So yes, she was inconsistent and flawed. Personally, I still think she was a saint, which is why I end every blog post invoking her intercession. But whether or not the Church should declare her so is a different matter and well out of my wheelhouse. I admire her overall witness, her call for a more robust lay involvement in the Church, her prophetic critique of the militarism and crony capitalism of the modern Western powers, her manifest love for the poor, and her deep Catholic orthodoxy. Because despite it all she was a deeply devout and orthodox Catholic. If she weren’t I would have nothing to do with her.

        Anyway, thanks for the comment. It gave me the motivation to ruminate on this a bit.


      8. @Calvin

        She approvingly quoted Mao and explicitly approved of Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, even in defiance of her own doctrinaire pacifism (notably, General Franco did not receive the same benefit of the doubt from her).

        Wow. Until you mentioned it, I wasn’t aware of it. I spent last night trying to dig up some of her comments on the subject and quite frankly, I was surprised: I never expected it, given her avowed pacifism. My chief concern with her was her understanding of the relationship between the material and the spirit, which I thought was pathological. Her relationship with Marxism is obviously a topic worth a “dissertation” and while clearly she was opposed to the atheism and violence of communism she was quite prepared to cheer them on.

        It’s here where she reminds me a lot of Garrigou-Langrange, except that she was his political opposite, and her consideration for sainthood, seems to be more a reflection of the change in the Church’s political/cultural winds following Vatican 2. Now that we are a Church with a “preferential option for the poor”, it appears that the Church has chosen which team it wants to back in the class struggle. The fault of GL was that he picked the wrong team, the virtue of Day is that she picked the “right” one. I don’t think this is where De Lubac wanted to go. The Church really hasn’t changed since V2 it’s simply swapped it’s bourgeois sensibilities for kumbayah Socialist ones, the radical transformation envisaged has not happened.

        The problem is that Christ did not come to save a socio-political class, he came to save all men. And in saying that we are a Church of the poor we are by implication saying we are against the rich. i.e those who innovate, work hard, invest capital wisely etc. What the Church is saying to you is material wealth is synonymous with moral corruption or there is no such things as honest wealth. Well in Latin America, where they have ample opportunity to enjoy the fruits of poverty they seem to be ditching the Catholic Church in droves because they recognised that its keeping them like that. The one thing poor people repeatedly are at pains pointing out is that it sucks to be poor and they want to escape it.

        A sign that Catholic Church is becoming healthy will be when it starts considering men like Whittaker Chambers for sainthood. Chambers came from the same social and cultural milieu as Day. He worked for a time as a communist spy and could critique capitalism with the best of them. He loathed fascism. However, never went Jansenist/Manichean. He would have never cheered Ho, Mao, or Castro on.

        The Catholic Church is in a period of profound heresy and the rot is entrenched in the clergy and the theologians.

        Charles Peguy and Whittaker Chambers, put a good word in for us.


      1. Here’s a thought I want to you to ponder.

        Faith is a product of Grace.

        Could it be possible that lack of faith in the West is due to a withdrawal of Grace by God. We all assume that God is like one of those perpetual soda fountains where Grace is on tap. But perhaps He may be holding it back because he’s not happy with the affairs of the Church at the moment. And I’m not talking about the laity, I mean that the clergy is holding positions which are heretical and therefore leading the laity astray.

        See my comment to Prof Chapp above.

        It’s like the Arian heresy days where the faith was mainly held up by the laity.


    2. Slumlord, whom do you refer to as “neo-Thomists”? Are you referring to the writers of the manuals Dr Chapp has talked about, or to contemporary promoters like the Thomistic Institute? The latter is presenting a series of online lessons which commence with a short video, then give passages from St Thomas and one or two (audio) lectures about the subject. I think their lessons provide more coherent and more interesting thought about subjects like the Real Presence or how the Holy Spirit works in us, than I have seen elsewhere. I don’t detect that they aspire to be “the answer” but I also don’t take them to be a dead end.
      Who are, in your view, the “neo-Thomists” who aren’t going to provide the solution.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Slumlord is profoundly wrong. We don’t need anything new. There will never be some great new innovative Christianity coming out of the liberal faction which is the embodiment of the stuff Larry is lamenting here. We need to hold to the Deposit of Faith and seek understanding through reason as both the neo- scholastics and guys like Benedict did. I also don’t see the problem with a moderate use of manuals and stuff. It clearly hasn’t worked to try and make parish priests and laity wrestle with high level theology, and I think most people would just like the clear answers of manuals compared to the endless equivocation that Larry references.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yep it’s the manualists.

        The Thomistic Institute–from what I’ve seen–seem like a good bunch of guys.


    3. “…There are smoldering embers deep down in the overgrown brush of the Church’s forested plateaus and those embers are not the hot coals of explicit theological heresies, but are rather the flickering combustibles of modernity’s denial of the efficacy of the supernatural…”.

      — I agree, this “overgrown, forested plateau” is profoundly evident in believers as well as the non believers. Reaching the natural truth in these groups could change those smoldering embers from denial to Holy Spirit infernos that are capable of burning for generations…almost as if beginning anew in a burgeoning world full of seekers. (Call me Pollyanna).

      “…What is further at stake is the true scope of the Church’s pastoral mission to call people to participate fully in the journey of transformation that this grace evokes…”
      — Again, I agree. The scope of reminding believers of the fundamentals of Christ’s redemption and our salvation is essential for shining light into souls and must not be lost in the semantics.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. I would like to add that I am interested to know what Péguy’s “way out” is? According to wikipedia he committed himself to belief in Catholicism a few years before he was killed in WW1, but he never felt the need to actually attend mass or the other sacraments! Perhaps he was a liberal Catholic before their time!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Larry, I must confess that I don’t know Charles Péguy from Miss Piggy. What did this man write that had such an impact on 20th century theology?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Peguy was denied access to the sacraments. He married an atheist and refused to compel her to have the Children baptised. That was a grave sin in the Church’s eyes and hence he could not partake in the sacraments. As much as he loathed the clergy, he followed their rules. I’m not sure, but I think he did receive the sacraments just before he died in battle.

        All the big guns like Ratzinger, De Lubac and Balthasar have no doubt about his piety. Charles Taylor speaks highly of him.

        And he was no permissive liberal.

        Peguy thought that the Church’s preoccupation with asceticism had hindered it’s response to dealing with real world problems. In fact he felt that the clergy had been far to accommodating to the status quo and this had neutred its transformative power in the world.
        A lot of the problems with Christianity of the time was that it was “contractural” i.e you follow the rule then you get in to heaven. Peguy saw this was not what Christianity was about and that in order to get revived the “rules” had to reconnect to the source of Christianity i.e. Charity

        A lot of the Nouvelle Theology guys recognised this as well but they approached this from a different angle.

        A really good book on Peguy is: Carnal Spirit, The Revolutions of Charles Peguy by Matthew McGuire.


      3. Peguy was denied access to the sacraments. He married an atheist and refused to compel her to have the Children baptised. That was a grave sin in the Church’s eyes and hence he could not partake in the sacraments. As much as he loathed the clergy, he followed their rules. I’m not sure, but I think he did receive the sacraments just before he died in battle.

        All the big guns like Ratzinger, De Lubac and Balthasar have no doubt about his piety. Charles Taylor speaks highly of him.

        And he was no permissive liberal.

        Peguy thought that the Church’s preoccupation with asceticism had hindered it’s response to dealing with real world problems. In fact he felt that the clergy had been far to accommodating to the status quo and this had neutred its transformative power in the world.
        A lot of the problems with Christianity of the time was that it was “contractural” i.e you follow the rule then you get in to heaven. Peguy saw this was not what Christianity was about and that in order to get revived the “rules” had to reconnect to the source of Christianity i.e. Charity

        A lot of the Nouvelle Theology guys recognised this as well but they approached this from a different angle.

        A really good book on Peguy is: Carnal Spirit, The Revolutions of Charles Peguy by Matthew McGuire.

        @Charlie Estridsen

        Peguy is probably the most important Catholic you’ve never heard about.

        He was a fulcrum upon which a lot moved.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I wish there were a stronger thing than a “like” for this comment. I love Peguy and have devoured his works. His sketchy relationship to the Church does not bother me since in many ways the fault was more with the Church than with Peguy himself. As a scholar of ressourcement theology I can only give you a huge shout out for bringing him into the conversation. There are way too many in the Church who are ignorant of this gem. But many ressourcement thinkers loved him.


    5. Define “Catholic Right.” Who are you talking about. If you are speaking of the tiny army of “Vigano Believers” and their ilk then yes. I believe most of the “progressives” who denounce the Catholic Right are speaking more about those who are simply orthodox in their beliefs and appreciated the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.


      1. In my opening paragraph all I was attempting to do was to make sure nobody mistook my criticisms of Pope Francis as an endorsement of the Vigano/Taylor Marshall wing of the Church. And yet, that single paragraph has drawn the most attention. I am talking about the tiny army of Vigano true believers as well as some of the other more radical traditionalists who don’t necessarily toss his name around much.


      1. The Catholic “Right,” like all such typological labels is a fluid concept. It is okay in a blog for a certain shorthand, but in the long run it is an almost meaningless term. I usually reserve it, therefore, to refer to the radical traditionalists of the Vigano/Taylor Marshall school of thought. My own school of thought, ressourcement, is “conservative” insofar as it wants Catholic theology to begin and end with the proper sources of Revelation: Scripture and the fullness of the Tradition, which would include a heavy retrieval of the Fathers. These days that makes one a conservative! And ressourcement thinkers are a kind of traditionalist, and for the reasons mentioned, but they are not “Right wing” in the sense in which I use that term – – to designate the rad trads.


    6. Slumlord –

      Regarding Jansenism (and neo-Jansenism), I highly recommend that you consider the following article by Shaun Blanchard in Church Life Journal.

      Also, this older article by Fr. John Hardon titled The Historical Antecedents of Pope Pius X’s Decree on Frequent Communion will help you understand what Jansenism was.

      Click to access 16.4.1.pdf

      Peace to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Don. I’ve now read those articles, and I’d like to say that Dr Chapp is a very unsuccessful Jansenist.


      2. @Michael Cashman

        Thanks Don. I’ve now read those articles, and I’d like to say that Dr Chapp is a very unsuccessful Jansenist.

        That’s precisely what attracted me to the blog.

        By the way, the Wiki article on the papal bull, Unigenitus is worth a read as well.


    7. Slumlord, I most certainly hope you are not a slumlord. But I disagree with your disagreement. I agree with the writer paying more attention to the actions than the off the cuff remarks of this pontiff. I think one should pay attention to who he includes among his friends. Why does he continually include among his friends and favorites those who are deeply involved with abuse or who cover up abuse? Cardinal Mariadaga of Honduras. Certain Argentinian and Chilean prelates who were deeply involved in abuse. Always the same cast of American prelates: Farrell who had to have observed or known of abuse by Maciel and McCarrick (isn’t it bizarre that two such criminals could be grouped together?) and who has made the most meteoric rise of any cleric I can think of; McElroy who very much knew of more abuse than anyone but did absolutely nothing, Tobin of the famous goodnight messages, Cupich of the famous Chicago Tribune interview where he recommended Francis not to go down a certain rabbit hole (the abuse issue) but to stay on course on plastics in the sea and other red letter progressive issues. Have I named them all? Over and over again, they are his go to American buddies who apparently believe the abuse scandal will blow over. A person’s character and direction can be known from his choice of friends. Those are actions that speak louder than words.


    8. @Dan

      I’ve had a look at the article and it’s very good. I’m not sure what I’m meant to be surprised about.

      Can you help a brother out?

      FWIW, I think that this quote really hits the mark:

      This “new” Jansenism is marked by a similar pessimism with respect to human nature—total depravity under a new name, whether “weakness” or “woundedness” or “greyness.” And like what preceded it, the new Jansenism articulates a loss of hope in the power of grace to regenerate the soul. The difference is that the new Jansenism tends towards presumption.

      Dare we hope that all men may be saved. Eh?

      While I have some quibbles on her understanding of the theology that leads to the “loss of hope”, I think she’s quite astute in recognising that the doctrine of total depravity/manicheanism can be camouflaged in terminology that is more appealing to today’s sensibilities. The point is that the manifestations of Jansenism are protean. An understanding of sanctity, premised on a pathway of radical asceticism, which sees the legitimate desires of the body as a roadblock, are just another manifestation. It’s a variation of the same idea.

      Much to talk about but since brevity is the order of the day, I think I should stop here.


  2. I believe it was Chesterton who once remarked, “ Only dead fish swim with the stream.”
    Truth to tell, today there are far too many dead fish in the Roman Catholic Church.
    I’m most grateful to Dr. Chapp for his prophetic voice and sensibility, his acute irony and humour in laying bare the fundamental folly at play, but of greater value and importance, is his encouragement for us all to be prayerful and active in our responsive responsibilities as faithful servants to our Church and to our Creator. Fiat Lux!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a parent, I understand my sacred obligations. The pope should as well. His failure to be clear is deliberate. It is wrong as would be my failure to instruct my own children on matters relating to salvation.
    Please explain in detail why you consider traditionalists brain dead. I don’t understand that sweeping comment.

    “Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi“


    1. I removed that comment. It was over the top exaggeration. I just think the solutions the traditionalists propose are rooted in reality and are rooted instead in a restorationist fantasy. But they are not all like that and many of them raise valid points of criticism.


  4. I am curious: is there even theoretically a point where you would conclude that you were wrong about the Roman Catholic Church being the one true infallible church of Christ? That maybe the Orthodox, or the Protestants, were right all along?


    1. Hi Calvin. Good question. Of course, in theory, there is always a potential breaking point where you just pick up your marbles and say “I was wrong and I am out of here.” But I am a long, long ways from such a breaking point. Orthodoxy and Protestantism have their own sets of problems and are by no means a safe haven of some purer form of Christianity. Believe it or not, the only alternative within the Christian world that would appeal to me would be some kind of free church protestantism with a strong prophetic core of evangelical witness to the Sermon on the Mount. I would never become Orthodox. I have no deep theological reasons for saying that. It is just that the Orthodox leave me cold for some reason. But as it stands now I still adhere to the strong belief that Catholicism is the fullest expression of the faith. Good to hear from you.


      1. The reason I ask is that it’s just that it seems to me that Catholicism stands or falls based on the one See of Rome. It isn’t like in the Orthodox world where you can excommunicate an errant bishop or in the Protestant where an errant leadership can be deposed or abandoned. But if the so-called rock is the one actively undermining the faith, as your diagnosis of Pope Francis seems to indicate that he is doing (deliberately or not), it seems as though that calls into question the entire premise on which the RCC is founded. The entire point of having a Pope is to have one ultimate and certain interpreter and expositor of the faith that assures it cannot go astray from the teachings of Christ.

        Good to speak to you as well. Glad you’ve recovered quickly.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “The entire point of having a Pope is to have one ultimate and certain interpreter and expositor of the faith that assures it cannot go astray from the teachings of Christ.”

        Actually I think the entire point of having a Pope is so that the life of the Church reflects the life of the Trinity.

        The Son is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” Yet in spite of His equality with the Father, the Son submits to the Father. So much so that to see the Son is to see the Father also (cf. John 14:9).

        Likewise bishops, as successors to the Apostles, are all equals. Nevertheless, one has been elevated by Christ as first among equals. This one bishop, equal to his brother bishops yet placed in a position of primacy, takes on the role of the Holy Father. The other bishops, though equals, submit to the Holy Father as Christ does to the Eternal Father. In so doing they mirror the love and humble submission of Christ to the whole Church.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi Larry,
        “Believe it or not, the only alternative within the Christian world that would appeal to me would be some kind of free church protestantism with a strong prophetic core of evangelical witness to the Sermon on the Mount.”

        Sounds like your backup plan could be the Anabaptist community known as the Bruderhof. I have been following them for a few years now, and while I don’t theologically line up with their views I feel like they may be truly living out the Sermon on the Mount with their convictions and actions. These pockets of life and community are rare in today’s modern world.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. “Believe it or not, the only alternative within the Christian world that would appeal to me would be some kind of free church protestantism with a strong prophetic core of evangelical witness to the Sermon on the Mount.”

        I have great affection for the Bruderhof as well but I still find this shocking. It is impossible to put into words the tragedy of Christianity gutted of the Eucharist.

        I am not overly fond of the Orthodox either but if, God forbid, they were the only Christian communities to retain Apostolic succession you’ll know where to find me.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ha. Don’t be too shocked Charlie since it isn’t ever going to happen! Calvin asked me a theoretical question. What if I concluded that the Church of Rome was not the Church of Christ? The only way that would ever happen is if I began to question a lot more than the infallibility of the Pope. It would also have to involve a deep rejection of just about everything else the Catholic Church has taught about itself, including the Eucharist and apostolic succession. And the chances of me rejecting those doctrines is slim to none. But if it did ever happen it would mean heading over to some kind of a free Church tradition. In my mind, either Catholicism is true, or the free Church tradition is true. And I see little chance of me ever repudiating Catholicism. Orthodoxy would be an option only if I concluded that the papacy was a false institution but the rest of Catholicism is still true. But even there, I would be much more likely to just stay within the Catholic fold and ignore the Pope.


    2. Speaking only for myself: priestesses. If the Roman Church were to begin ordaining women it would mean one of three things: (a) the Holy Spirit has in fact been calling women to ordained ministry throughout the centuries but did not guide the Roman hierarchy toward this realization (in other words, that the Holy Spirit does not guide the Roman Church), (b) the Roman Church has fallen to heresy and sacrilege, or (c) the Holy Spirit had not been calling women to ordained ministry in the past but has all the sudden decided to do so some 2,000 years after Pentecost.

      If (a), then the modern See of Peter bears no relation to the Rock upon which Christ built His Church (cf. Matt 16:18). If (b), then either the gates of Hell have prevailed against Rome, or the Temple of the New Testament has fallen to heresy and sacrilege much like the Temple of the Old Testament did for a time. If (c) – well, frankly, I consider (c) to be nonsense on stilts.

      I am very confident that the Holy Spirit guides the Roman Church and will continue to guard Her against heresy and sacrilege. But if I am wrong, God forbid, my bet is that Western Rite Orthodoxy would see an influx in new members. Though I suppose if I were to ever join the Orthodox I would still be a Catholic at heart – just one waiting out God’s chastisement in prayer and penance, awaiting a future cleansing of the Roman See and a final end to the Great Schism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @ calvin: The entire point of having a Pope is to have one ultimate and certain interpreter and expositor of the faith that assures it cannot go astray from the teachings of Christ.
        It’s not the entire point. Maybe not even the main point.
        The need for an ultimate and certain interpreter and expositor hardly ever occurs. I think most popes have passed through their whole papacies without needing to act as ultimate interpreter.
        Popes function more as unifiers of the church, a role Francis appears to find difficult. But we pray for him at every mass, we put his picture up in the parish office, we keep our hopes up.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think this is correct. I have never been an ultrapapalist. I know too much Church history to fall into that trap. And the Pope according to Catholic teaching is indeed infallible but under certain very specific and restrictive conditions. Furthermore, the infallibility of the Pope is not a stand alone doctrine as if the Pope has been elevated to some oracular status, but is deeply linked to the overall infallibility of the Church as a whole. The role of the Pope is to be a court of final appeal in order to settle disputes that are threatening to rip the Church apart. But it is not his role to be adjudicating everything that goes on in the Church. He is not the only authority in the Church, but merely the highest one. And the papacy functions best when it functions least.


  5. I know we rag on him here and a lot of his stuff is batshit nowadays but Dr. Taylor Marshall actually had a good analogy about this on his show a year or two ago with Tim Gordon. He said we’ve basically got the Church of the Church was the house, we basically hide all its perennial teaching up in the attic while the whole, as you describe gradualist, pastoral attitude roams free downstairs. I also

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He isn’t always wrong and in fact, before he got red-pilled by the Francis papacy and became extreme, he was very good. I used to watch him all the time. But I think his fame went to his head and now he is an entire “industry.” The “Team Vigano” coffee mugs for sale make me want to wretch. But I have hope for him.


  6. I am venturing beyond my competenbce, since I have no theologicl training, but I want to meke two comments.
    Firstly about Pope Francis’s project – I see him as deeply committed to discusiion, and not believing that discussion should ever be closed down. This is qutie opposed to the practice of JPII, who silenced clerics who espoused the cause of women priests. Francis simply said, early on, that he was not going to change the practice “I wouldn’t dare”. So his fear of traditionalists is a fear of “Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists”, many of whom think that all quesions have been closed and would forbid discussion, on pain of excommunication, as was often the case 100 years ago.
    Secondly about marriage – I think the Greek Orthodox have a better approach, which is based on a different theology of marriage. Since they are not condemned as heretics, I hope I am not. So abandoning your spouse and entering an adulterous “second marriage” is seriously sinful and cannot be tolerated. But for the abandoned party the Church does not need to require lifelong celbacy, and your bishop may after due enquiry and counselling permit another marriage.
    Or take the case reported by Fr A Orobator. His father was a pagan chieftan with several wives who could not accept that he should abandon them in order to become a Catholic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Some things are settled. Would it have been a great thing if we just kept “listening” to Arius? For Pete’s sake, when does it end? The Church proclaims and teaches the Truth Christ gave her. If we continue to entertain heresy even when it’s been decided all we do is run the risk that people believe them and go off the deep end. As Pope Gregory XVI says in Mirari Vos “ Is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some antidote is available and those who use it may be snatched from death again and again?”


      1. Some, indeed many, things are settled. But the breach between Rome and Constantinople is not, and if it is to be repaired then the divergence over marriage is one problem to be addressed. Why not start discussing it now? Heresy seems not to be at issue here, the anathemas pronounced a thousand years ago have been re-interpreted and withdrawn, so the theology of marriage is not, it seems, an issue of heresy
        Where does it end? – not while this world endures. We are never going to achieve the fullness of truth, which is quite different from saying we do not have working solutions. We have approved liturgies, in the Ordinariates Divine Worship we have newly approved liturgies, there are procedures for revising our liturgies without falling into heresy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A lot of folks forget that the breach between Rome and Constantinople was settled in July of 1439 at the Council of Florence. During that reunion the Greek approach to divorce and remarriage wasn’t even brought up as an issue. However, later during that same Council, as part of the reunion with the Armenians, the Council Fathers taught the following:

        [The third good of the sacrament of matrimony] is the indissolubility of marriage, since it signifies the indivisible union of Christ and the church. Although separation of bed is lawful on account of fornication, it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a legitimately contracted marriage is perpetual.
        Exultate Deo, Council of Florence, November 22, 1439

        This is, as far as I’m aware, an infallible teaching from an ecumenical council. Though it’s interesting that no one tried to compel the Greeks to change their practices in light of it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. The decree of union with the Armenians also said that the sole matter of the sacrament of orders was the traditio instrumentorum, as Thomas Aquinas had also said two centuries prior. Acceptance of this as part of the “orthodox faith” of Rome as it was “always” held was stipulated as mandatory for the Armenians.

        Was it an infallible decree of an ecumenical council? I dunno, but I do know that Pius XII declared (although “not retroactively,” however that works) that the actual sole matter is the laying on of hands. I wonder if we don’t have more wiggle room than allowed for on the sacrament of marriage and whatever Florence has to say about it.


      4. “The decree of union with the Armenians also said that the sole matter of the sacrament of orders was the traditio instrumentorum.”

        The Council Fathers required the traditio instrumentorum for valid Orders, but only in the Latin Rite. The newly reunited Greeks were permitted valid Orders by imposition of hands only. The Council was not teaching that the traditio instrumentorum was essential to the Sacrament, but rather added a requirement for a valid Sacrament in the Latin Rite. A requirement which Pope Pius XII later removed.

        In my mind this is similar to how if two Protestants get married at city hall it’s a Sacrament, but if a Catholic gets married at city hall it’s null and void. The Church is not claiming that the presence of a properly authorized Catholic minister is essential to the Sacrament of Matrimony, but rather binding Catholics to an additional requirement in order for the Sacrament to be valid.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed the blog, I apologize if I skipped over a lot of the following debate. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was at the heart of the Institute originally. I have not read Amoris Laetitia, so I have to accept your assessment of it. I am glad you brought in Pope Francis’s field hospital analogy of the Church. I wonder if Pope Francis is aware what happens in triage in a field hospital. I get the feeling he might not grasp how the analogy plays out. The most serious wounds getting the most immediate attention. Field hospitals in time of war can include serious losses such as loss of limbs, etc.. I find that the mindset of Pope Francis is best expressed in his first document The Joy of the Gospel. You can already sense some of the problems you speak of in this document. He has a lot of good ideas there, but he does not seem to want there to be any absolutes expressed. He has a natural aversion to the United States, but that is justified if you look how the foreign policy of the United States has bullied its Latin American neighbors. Finally, he is very compassionate to the poor which I believe is due to some of his pastoral experiences that have made him adopt his approach to ideals since many people living extreme poverty do not have the advantages of more well to do people and cannot always control some of the moral predicaments they find themselves in.
    That being said, I find Pope Francis’s greatest flaw is that he is a Jesuit, (let me qualify that I met some very good Jesuits.) I just don’t believe that Jesuits make a good fit for what the papacy demands. Something gets lost in the academic rigor that they are required to undergo. Besides, how can you be loyal to the Pope when you are the Pope.
    I agree with you that Pope Francis is not a heretic, but I think he is trying to bring too much of the culture at large into the Church rather than promote the evangelization that we really need.
    We are locked in a cultural war that the Church is losing. The Sexual Revolution has taken hold of too much of our country and the world at large. The only solution is to change the culture again. We have to looks to the likes of Saints who have had to deal with similar problems. The Saints that come to mind are Peter Damian and Pope St. Leo IX and Pope Gregory VII.
    They had to deal with some similar circumstances in their day.
    A big area that the Catholic Church has to crush is the entertainment industry and the social media. I look to John Paul the Great University and their approach as a way forward.
    I look at the popular music of the past seventy years and how it instills ideas that promote promiscuity, drugs and many other social ills.
    There is the current professional sports stars, academic elites, and prominent business leaders who are influencing not just the general public, but our political leaders as well.
    The solution must start at the local level. Public Education needs to be overhauled or eliminated if it cannot be evangelized. I am so surprised at how much flack home schoolers have to face when you consider that was the norm a few centuries ago. I am all for authentic Catholic education in Schools, but look at what has happened to the majority of our Catholic Universities in this country.
    Most treat Ex Corde Ecclesia as a ideal not marching order. Academic Freedom rules the day.\
    If you want to see where are culture has fallen the most, ask the women.
    Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering are doing great work and every Catholic woman should have to subscribe to their Theology of Home website.
    Women’s healthcare is a major fraud. The work of Dr. Thomas Hilgers and Natural Womanhood should be mandatory reading for all Schools of Medicine.
    We are in a cultural war and I really like what you are doing on your farm as well.
    Maybe you can do some blogs on Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker Movement in the future.
    Well, I said what I felt compelled to say. I copied the webpage of the JPII Institute Schools before he Francis fiasco. I was impressed that they had a school in the Middle East. I would not mind hearing more about the JPII institute or Francis’s other major fiasco the Pontifical Academy of Life.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It seems to me the explanations in this blog of Pope Francis’ behavior are a collective head scratch. Is this professional courtesy? Larry, for someone who refuses to to apply the “H” word, you certainly lay a strong case for the appellation. There seems to be an inclination to rhetorically hit traditionalists as the progressive destruction of the church rolls along. Is it that hard to see what’s going on here? The current pope’s behavior, is scandalous. His refusal to speak and act with clarity is deliberate. His timing is deliberate. He has abandoned the tacks of JPII and BXVI. In this time of open secular antipathy towards the only remaining universal moral institution, shaken to its foundation by sexual (homosexual) rot and coverup, Pope Francis chooses to encourage deconstruction? We need moral clarity, unvarnished Christian truth that resonates and inspires with what’s left of the faithful. As Ross Dothout articulated in Bad Religion, orthodoxy is our only path. Our church has been hollowed out by men and women with hollow chests. They are still at it and now have an advocate on the Chair of Peter. They have dismantled the sacredness of our ritual as their sterile and ego centered homilies echo off the walls of emptying churches. Our schools and colleges are dismantling their Catholic identity before our eyes. Can we please direct the criticism where it is warranted before it’s too late?


    1. I agree with most of what you say here. But none of it implies that the Pope is a heretic. I just implies that he is a lousy Pope whose governance of the Church is erratic, confusing, petty, vindictive, and dangerous. We could have a better discussion of the topic if you were to specify exactly which defined and settled doctrines of the Church the Pope has denied.


      1. Given that rigid definition to determine heresy, I can’t. (at this time)
        Francis’ advocacy of civil “same sex unions” stands in sharp contradiction to the scripturally ordered distinct and complementary nature of men and women. That position is heretical to natural law and revelation. The Pope’s deception, specifically to hide in loosely defined terminology as espoused by James Martin S.J. Is deliberate and far beyond being a “bad pope.” I appreciate your candor on this blog. I can’t deny very dark days ahead for us.

        Christe Elaison.


  9. And today we have the news that Jeffrey Sachs – the world’s foremost population control advocate – has been appointed by PF to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. I despair.


    1. Not to mention that, later this week. PF will receive the radially pro-abortion President Joe Biden, in an audience that seems obviously designed to poke a stick in the eye of the US bishops just before they meet to discuss their so-called “Document on Eucharistic Coherence.”


  10. I am stirred by this post. The standards to which Christ (and the Church) can indeed be hard, but are liberating.

    “… the natural law must always be “rethought” anew in the light of changing circumstances, and have used this “rethinking” to openly call into question the Church’s traditional teaching on contraception and homosexual unions. ” This opinion is widespread. Divorce and remarriage are on the “re-thinkable” list too.

    But isn’t my approbation rather cheaply bought after all? I am not without sin by any means! But. I am heterosexual, I have been married over 50 years, we did not use contraception. Confronting any of these issues head-on in my own life would be catastrophically disruptive.

    I have a lesbian daughter who is happily married to another woman. It is much much easier for me to proclaim the correct position on this than it would be for her.

    I am ordinarily no fan of the Catholic bishops, but it seems to me that some of their loose attitude about divorce and remarriage arises from a genuine pastoral need. Divorce and remarriage is very common now in the Western countries. I know of many such cases myself, we all do. This has touched nearly every family. The annulment proceeding has fallen into well deserved disrepute. Most people, confronted with this situation, either leave the Church or ignore the teaching. This is even more true of the issue of contraception. Can we in good conscience condemn the gays in light of all this?

    Following Christ is a hard path, and is meant to be a hard path. Many are called but few are chosen, as He pointed out himself. So why do I feel that my slender chance of being one of the “chosen” might be mostly due to luck?


      1. No one is suggesting that “we can’t call sin what it is.” But the Church treats different sins differently. People who have remarried after divorce are barred from the Eucharist, as are members of a same sex marriage. No one is publicly barring embezzlers or thieves from the Eucharist. Those sinners, and most sinners, are left to deal with the situation in private. (Good thing too, or there would be few indeed at the communion rail.) Only a few select sins result in the sinner being publicly excluded from the community. (I don’t need to mention that it is usually only sexual sins of the laity which are stigmatized.)

        Also note the difficulty in repenting. To effectively repent of remarriage it is required that one live with one’s former spouse “as brother and sister.” Few indeed can rise to that mark. Fortunate are all of us who are not asked to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As I understand, to receive the Blessed Eucharist one must be in a state of Grace. That addresses all sins, public and private. Those barred from communion because of their public act of sin are more likely to be recognized. It is what it is. It falls to the Church (Bishops, pastors and priests) to compassionately explain the teachings and the moral rational underpinning them. Typically nothing is said and that is sinful. When in a position of authority, silence is consent.


  11. Hi, Dr. Chapp. I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote : “What I said above about Pope Francis wanting to change the Church via a kind of “drift” is, in my opinion, the best interpretation of his actions. What he wants to do is to change the Church most radically but to do so in a manner that avoids schism.”
    I’ve mentioned before to you that the work of Prof. Thomas Pink throws a lot of light on what is really going on in the Church, namely, the practice of “Official Theology”. To save some time, I’ve cut and pasted a number of descriptions (“definitions”, from different publications) of Pink’s idea and these are shared as follows, with apologies for the length.

    Official statements that do not themselves carry any magisterial authority—that come from officeholders within the Church but which merely express a prevailing theological opinion.
    What is official theology? The term ‘official theology’ is not a current term of art among Catholic theologians; but we need it to pick out something that has always existed in the life of the Church, and which plays a very important role in the day to day life of Catholics. Official theology is the Church’s theological account of herself and her mission where the provision of this account is official—it involves official bodies or persons—but does not of itself impose any obligation on our belief as Catholics. Official theology may convey magisterial teaching, or it may go beyond magisterial teaching. It may even, unfortunately, obscure or even contradict magisterial teaching. But official theology is not itself a further case of magisterial teaching.
    The Church constantly produces official theology. It is an ever present and essential element in the Church’s life. Nowadays its existence is especially clearly advertised, because there are in the modern Church official bodies that make theological statements in the Church’s name, but which disavow any claim to be teaching magisterially in so doing. Such bodies include the International Theological Commission and—as we shall discuss—the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. But the phenomenon is far more widespread, and far older.
    The Church constantly has to explain herself, her teaching and her practices both to Catholics and to those outside the Church. And she has to be able to do so without ipso facto teaching magisterially—without the explanation provided of itself imposing an obligation to believe based on the Church’s authority. This is especially important where policy has to be followed and explained in cases where the Church does not yet feel able to determine a question magisterially, or where the officials involved anyway lack the authority to teach magisterially.
    Official theology is communicated in the training of clergy, through seminary manuals and lectures. It can be found in what passes as usual in sermons, homilies and ecclesially-provided devotional literature. It can be found in all manner of official explanations of liturgy or pastoral practice. It can be found especially in what is not said. Official theology can reveal itself in silence—in what is not treated as of significance or comment in the Church’s life, as well as what is.

    Not all concerning faith and morals, asserted even by popes and bishops, is magisterial teaching. This must be so otherwise (for example) it would have made no sense for Pope Francis recently to have determined that the conclusions of Synods of Bishops are henceforward to possess magisterial status, when they did not before, or for theologians to distinguish between those assertions made by a pope as a theologian, and those made by him as magisterial teaching. Much here remains theologically undecided. But magisterial teaching seems to be teaching that engages on the part of the faithful something more than a mere reason for them to believe what is asserted. Magisterial teaching does not simply provide reasons but imposes obligations—of fidelity of mind and belief. These are obligations to believe with the assent of faith in the case of what is taught infallibly, or to give something distinct from the assent of faith, something termed in Lumen Gentium and in the 1983 Code a religious submission of intellect and will (religiosum intellectus et voluntatis obsequium) or of mind (religiosum animi obsequium), in other cases.
    Insofar as it does impose a canonical obligation on the mind, magisterial teaching must be given by some bearer of authority, such as bishops, capable of imposing that obligation. And since it is accepted that assertions on faith and morals may be made by popes and bishops that are not magisterial, teaching that is magisterial must sufficiently manifest an intention to obligate the faithful. If canonical obligations are to be genuine obligations that really do bind morally, their imposition has to be signalled to those they seek thus to bind.
    This being so, there is much theological assertion by officials of the church that is not magisterial teaching in this sense—either because it does not clearly come from popes or bishops themselves, or because even if it does, it comes without a clear intention to teach magisterially so as to bind the intellect. All this non-magisterial assertion falls within the category of official theology. Some of this assertion ought to be believed because although the assertion of it does not itself count as a magisterial act—it might be a passage in a parish homily or newsletter—it does convey what is already magisterial teaching. But the distinction between magisterial teaching and official theology matters even in such cases. For having conveyed magisterial teaching the very same document may go on to make claims that entirely lack magisterial backing, but without this being in any way clear to the ordinary faithful. The same homily or newsletter that faithfully communicates dogma about the Holy Spirit may contain assertions about what that same Holy Spirit has inspired that are not magisterial teaching at all, and that can perfectly well be false.
    Just because magisterial teaching comes from an authority that is divinely provided for, and God is truth, we should expect magisterial teaching to exhibit a general level of consistency and truth. Nonetheless not all magisterial teaching is infallible; and how far consistency and truth can be relied on where the magisterial teaching is given fallibly is a deeply important question which the current state of the Church may be making the more pressing. But whatever may be true of magisterial teaching, official theology taken as a whole, as it has existed throughout the history, is certainly not at all consistent with itself, and has over time included much falsehood. Official theology can perfectly well directly contradict not just other cases of official theology, but magisterial teaching itself or (at least) support pastoral strategies impossible to reconcile with magisterial teaching. This is certainly the case with much official theology since Vatican II. The effect of official theology that contradicts the magisterium can be disastrous. For it can detach ordinary members of the Church from the Church’s own teaching—just because the ordinary faithful very naturally greatly rely for their understanding of what the Church teaches on prevailing official theology.
    Moreover, the problem is not just that official theology can make positive assertions that contradict magisterial teaching. Official theology can also suppress magisterial teaching through omission. Official theology is not limited, after all, to what is explicitly pronounced. Indeed, change in official theology can come most easily through silence. Something that has long been magisterially taught, and taught as important to salvation, is no longer even mentioned. Here the influence of defective official theology can be most pernicious, just as its distance from genuine magisterial teaching is most obvious and undeniable. For silence is especially clearly not magisterial teaching in its own right. Simply failing to mention something certainly does not impose any obligation to disbelieve it, or even remove an existing obligation to believe it. But it can radically affect the life of the Church nonetheless. It can remove important elements of the faith from the consciousness of most Catholics.
    Both in its pronouncements and in its silences official theology is a part of the life of the Church that is constantly changing. Consider these issues, where there have been marked revolutions and reversals of official theology over time, often linked to important changes in ecclesial and pastoral policy. In some cases there may never have been any actual magisterial teaching on the topic. In other cases there may have been magisterial teaching—but especially since Vatican II official theology has come to ignore and pass over it in silence, or even to contradict it.
    We have already mentioned the issue of whether, at least ideally or in principle, the state should form a soul-body union with the Church. There is widespread official theology that ignores Leo XIII’s very clear magisterium—Cardinal Ratzinger, later pope, will shortly provide us with an example. This reminds us of a number of things. First, it is alarmingly easy, at least since Vatican II, for magisterial teaching to become invisible—something that is just no longer discussed. It is not that Leo XIII’s teaching is regularly clearly identified as such, and then condemned as erroneous. Some theologians are willing to make that step.[3] But more commonly, it is as if the teaching had never been given. So invisible has it become, that we even get Leo XIII feted as the alleged founder of a new form of Catholicism—‘evangelical Catholicism’—that is supposed to come to its maturity at Vatican II and that supposedly includes, as a central element, the inherent goodness of the very Church-state separation that Leo XIII so clearly condemned.[4]
    As we have already observed, though official theology may convey magisterial teaching, it may also go beyond magisterial teaching or hide its existence or even oppose it. And since just as official theology it imposes no obligation of its own on our belief as Catholics, we should not be afraid to criticise it when its content deserves criticism—and very especially when it actually contradicts magisterial teaching. For then the default assumption must be that it is the official theology that is false, as merely a current party line that places no obligation on us to believe it, and not the magisterial teaching. Indeed, where official theology contradicts magisterial teaching, we may be under a canonical obligation not to believe the official theology.
    The period since Vatican II has seen an explosion of dubious official theology—in novel positive claims that contradict both the magisterial teaching and the official theology of the past, and in novel silences that serve instead most effectively to bury that past teaching and theology. Now erroneous official theology does not of itself threaten the consistency of the magisterium. But it still poses a huge problem. It is tempting for a ‘conservative’ Catholic to clutch Denzinger to themselves, and piously declaim that all is well because on this or that question ‘magisterial teaching has not changed’, especially when there is a single passage or footnote, no matter how obscure, within a document of Vatican II that supports the historical magisterium. But remember—the individual Catholic’s immediate exposure to ‘what the Church teaches’ is deeply shaped by current official theology.
    Denzinger is itself a partial selection of past magisterial teachings, with the selection changing significantly from edition to edition, according to official theological fashion, and by omission and not merely addition. But most ordinary Catholics do not even read Denzinger anyway. What most Catholics are immediately exposed to is official theology at its most humdrum—in conventional sermons or devotional literature at the diocesan or parish level—and so to magisterial teaching only as transmitted or even mispresented and obscured at that level. So if some part of magisterial teaching does come to be omitted from official theology, that silence will mean very effective oblivion. The ordinary Catholic will have absolutely no idea that the magisterial teaching exists at all. The teaching will have no impact on their religious life. This means that a problematic body of official theology can have dire consequences for the health of the Church and the efficacy of her mission. Even if it does turn out to be true that Vatican II has led more to a crisis of official theology than to a crisis within magisterial teaching itself, that may leave the crisis no less serious for that.
    The erroneous official theology of grace and baptism that has become especially prevalent since Vatican II cannot be dismissed just as a rogue ‘spirit of the Council’—as nothing more than some liberal theologians on a frolic of their own. The theology may be no more than a debatable party line. But it is a party line that is common to officeholders within the Church – assumed almost without thinking by clergy ‘in good odour’ at every level, up to that of popes and cardinals.

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  12. My own judgment of Francis’ actions over the past eight years yields an interpretation that is much more sinister than the view you have developed. Still, who am I to judge. So putting that aside, and taking what I think is, for many reasons, a disproportionately generous interpretation of the patterns of his actions, there are a couple of circumstantial factors that go some way toward explaining the pattern of actions: It seems he still believes that his understanding of Argentina in his lifetime is sufficient for an understanding of the world; and, it seems he still believes that his understanding of the post-Arrupe Society of Jesus is sufficient for an understanding of the visible Church militant. Let me elaborate just a little bit. In Argentina the post-conciliar reforms were largely delayed due to conservative archbishops tied to the military regime there. If we look at the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, for instance, it wasn’t until 1990 that a moderate archbishop succeeded to the see (inter-religious dialogue with Jewish leaders, friend of Peronist president Carlos Menem) who fought to get Bergoglio as his auxiliary. The cadinal archbishops before 1990 were ferrociously anti-communist and markedly conservative. Meanwhile, though, in Ibero-America CELAM had prioritized the pastoral approach going back to the Council itself, and after its 1968 meeting in Medellin, Columbia, took a very leftward turn (liberation theology, preferential option for the poor, base communities). As to the Society of Jesus, Bergoglio was made provincial very soon after he had taken final vows, because he was chosen as Arrupe’s man in Argentina, a role he fulfilled. Thereafter his province and his order exiled him. He had young disciples and many who hated what he had done, and how he had done it. In the conclave of 2005, and 2013, he was an outsider from the periphery, who had virtually no curial experience. I think a most generous view of Francis’ acts strongly indicates a clever man who is lacks the competencies required of a pope, who should have declined, who surrounds himself with sychophants instead of listening to worthwhile adivsors. Indeed, for those familiar with tyrants and dictators, who abound in Ibero-America, his acts bear a remarkable correspondence, to a T. I don’t think he is buying time for eventual solutions to crisis, but rather that he is overconfident in the invicibility of the Church and thinks the only way forward is for the Church to “be there” for a greatly secularized world, by assimilating that very secularity. The same approach as that of Paul VI. I think it’s a fool’s errand, and reckless, but there it is. That road is the same as mainline Protestantism through the 20th C. I think he understands all too well that they way to revolutionize the Church is as he himself has said various times, to introduce the seeds that will later be made to bear fruit, and in such a way that there can be no turning back or aside.


  13. I am neither a theologian, nor a psychologist, nor a scholar of all that Pope Francis has said and how it is analyzed by others. I’m just a Catholic blest with a 57-year marriage. Besides being in love then and now, I asked God before we married atg age 20 for a good Catholic wife and a lifelong marriage in our shared Faith. I asked her then could she see herself at age 85 still with me looking over the life we shared. She thought and replied, “I don’t want to rush but I hope we get there.” God has blest us. We are not saints, we appreciate God’s standards and admit our sins in Confession and always try to do better.

    Your discussion of moral gradualism is very helpful. We all need spiritual guidance with a heavy dose of patience and love and encouragement to confess our sins as we try to do better. Too few priests, nuns and brothers so Catholic writers are important. I agree that it is wrong to suggest that God is OK with our sins because that is the best we think we can do. It is illogical that think that wrong is right (not a sin) because we cannot get beyond some issue in life. Confessing habitual sin, admiting our weakness and asking for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy is most important.

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    1. Well said Fred! I love reading the depth of knowledge shared by Dr Chapp and those who follow his blog. Although I cannot banter at a deep theological level, I love being Catholic and evangelizing with every bit of my life. I too loved the clarity in defining gradualism and “situation ethics”.


  14. Larry I was trying to locate your last communication to me so I could respond directly but I’m unable to find it.

    What’s the difference between censoring and termination? If you censor someone’s comments you’ve rendered a de facto termination. If you would never censor, why did you bring it up? Who wants to participate in a forum where one’s thoughts are edited involuntarily?
    You seem offended that I said, “collective head scratching.” All I intended by that comment was that the Pope Francis’s behavior regularly gets the perplexed (head scratching) measured responses from those in positions to offer informed commentary. (papal posse, yourself, etc). I don’t care what the pope is called. What my life experiences have taught me is to look in the ditch when a trailblazer passes through.
    I didn’t “wonder how you could conclude” those are your words. You have made a strict case for denying the charge that Francis is a heretic. Okay. Point made. I did and do find your comments about traditionalist and your false and presumptive comments about me to be disheartening and not in keeping with what I understand to be your profession. I’m totally on board with V2. We’re on the same team.


    1. I deleted it. I have only one rule for censoring: if a post becomes ad hominem. But that includes any post of mine as well and my initial post to you ended with an ad hominem, which sparked this exchange. So I censored myself and deleted it. I misread your initial post. Trying to do too much at once. My apologies. Peace


  15. Just cos he’s the pope doesn’t mean he can’t be a grumpy short-tempered and sometimes impolite old man with his own limited set of somewhat narrow-minded old-man ideas and/or or a slippery kinda Peronist dope with poor taste in friends. He won’t err in matters of faith or morals but the rest – sheesh, anything else good about any pope is a bonus.


  16. Wonderful article. In my reading of the “signs of the times”, it started off a bit disappointing. Then you wrote that the opening paragraphs were written a year ago…and that, in essence, it seemed that you developed a deeper understanding of Pope Francis. I present Parish Missions all over the country…and people are hurting and suffering from the lack of the clear truth of Christ…Speak truth in love and love in truth…of course. But please Pope Francis, if your intentions are not to deceive, then clearly speak the truth…And the tragic “destruction”” of the JPII Institute is a travesty. St. John Paul II’s teaching on TOB, and much more, is the cure for the cancer.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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