The Wikipedia article, "Neo-Catholicism": a derisive term coined by "traditionalists" way back in the year 2002, and one that I have severely critiqued, lists yours truly as a "Notable Neo-Catholic Apologist," along with Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, and Patrick Madrid: all friends of mine, and I'm most honored to be in their "company" on the list. EWTN and Catholic Answers are listed as "Neo-Catholic" organizations.
What interests me the most in the article, is the use of my words out of context, to "prove" that I supposedly think no criticism whatever of a pope is permissible. Here is the section:
Neo-Catholic Attitudes Towards the PapacyThe citation in the middle is my own, drawn from my paper, Are All Catholic Laymen and Non-Theologians Qualified to Freely and Frequently Criticize the Pope's Opinions and Prudential Judgment? But it was actually first stated in my dialogue with David Palm about the "Koran-kissing incident" of Pope John Paul II. That dialogue took place in August and September 1999.
. . . they hold that it is against Catholic teaching, or, more moderately, "UnCatholic" to criticize the Pope even with regard to his personal opinions or public actions. One Neo-Catholic apologist describes criticism of a Pope as:Every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a picture of Pope St. Pius X in one hand, and a dog-eared Denzinger in the other, going around judging (nay, trashing) the pope or an Ecumenical Council, as if they were some sort of expert . . . This is self-importance elevated to the level of the profoundly ridiculous; almost grotesque or surreal. And they are blind to this obvious reality, which makes it all the more frightening. One can do that in Protestantism, as everyone is their own pope, when it comes down to it. But to attempt that in Catholicism is patently and manifestly absurd.. . . This belief that the Pope in his behaviors and personal opinions is beyond criticism has caused some Catholics to accuse Neo-Catholics of "Papolatry" or "Pope-worship". Other Catholics cite the actions and words of St. Paul, St. Athanasius, and St. Catherine of Siena as good Catholics who criticized the actions and / or words of a Pope, arguing that at times criticism of a Pope is not only allowed, but obligatory.
Note that the very title of the paper contradicts the alleged opinion that my citation is supposed to be favoring. This is seen in the words "freely and frequently." They are qualifiers. In other words, I was saying that the criticisms are extreme and far too frequent; not that they can never be made. If I were contending for what the writer(s) of this article mistakenly think I believe, the title would or should have been, Are All Catholic Laymen and Non-Theologians Qualified to Criticize the Pope's Opinions and Prudential Judgment?
The same outlook of criticizing extremity, not all dissent whatever, is indicated in the following words from the quotation: "as if they were some sort of expert". It was an attitudinal problem I was critiquing. Moreover, immediate context shows that I can't possibly hold the opinion here wrongly attributed to me. For immediately before the quoted words, are these words:
I trust that he thought it was of spiritual and (inter-religious) relational benefit, or else he wouldn't have done it. That is how I would put it. I don't wish he wouldn't have done it, due to this trust, and acknowledgment of his lofty office, even though I wouldn't have done it. But that's part of the point: who am I, anyway? That's one of the many problems I have with "traditionalists."My writing "I wouldn't have done it" (italics in original) itself implies disagreement. I wasn't saying, "no one could possibly disagree with the action or do anything differently." That would be an absolute and extreme position of "papolatry". I was expressing the notion that even though I wouldn't have done what he did, I trust that the Holy Father had ample reason for doing it, so that I don't have to make a big deal out of disagreeing with him, and creating needless controversy.
Therefore, the fact that the citation was taken out of context is unarguable. In the same dialogue about the kissing of the Koran, I make several statements of a similar nature (bolding added presently):
I think far too many people are hyper-critical of the pope.Furthermore, I am on record again and again, for over twelve years now, online, expressing disagreement with a position whereby no one could ever criticize a pope for anything, or disagree with anything a pope says or does, even if it is private or has nothing to do with dogma or doctrine. It's easy to find this sentiment on my site. Anyone need merely visit my Papacy web page, then go to the section "Disagreeing With Popes". Four papers are found there. The first is Laymen Advising and Rebuking Popes. It was posted in 1997, when some of the "traditionalists" who now ignorantly critique mythical positions of mine, were just learning to read and add and subtract. In it, I write:
What I have a very hard time with is the idea (set forth by some "traditionalist"-leaning apologist friends lately) that the pope does something scandalous or flat-out stupid without apparently giving it much thought at all, as if he is an irresponsible old man, a loose cannon, so to speak, oblivious to circumstance and the perception of others.
Must we judge the pope's actions in such a wholly subjective fashion?
I wouldn't have done it myself. Maybe that will make you feel better, too. :-) But it is still a leap to go from our own discomfort with something to the assertion that it compromises principle and scandalizes.
I am not one who says one can never criticize a pope. I even have papers about that on my website. My point all along has been that such criticism must have an undeniably compelling basis, which I see as lacking in this instance.
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Francis of Assisi rebuked popes, and their advice was respected and heeded . . .So, one of my examples of a pope being rebuked, was St. Catherine, who was mentioned in the article as a counter-example to my supposed opinion. I also state in this paper:
I'm sure there were also many instances of morally inferior popes (e.g., during the Renaissance) being soundly rebuked by holy priests and laymen. This is nothing novel whatsoever in Catholic ecclesiology. No one knows better than Catholics the distinction between the nobility of an office and (too often) the sanctity of the person holding it at any given time. Of course, this has always been the case in the Church and amongst the Old Testament Jews (one need only recall Moses, David, Judas, and St. Peter himself).In the longer, in-depth paper on the same topic, that was cited by the article (dated 29 November 2000), many additional comments of the same general nature are included:
Yes, one can conceivably question the pope - especially his actions (we are not ultramontanes), yet I think it must be done only with overwhelming evidence that he is doing something completely contrary to Catholic doctrine and prior practice. It is not something that a non-theologian or non-priest should do nonchalantly and as a matter of course.In a third paper I give a concrete example of where it is altogether permissible to disagree with a pope's opinion: on a particular war, and I defend my own disagreement: Is It Dissent Against the Pope and the Church, and Downright Disobedient For a Catholic to Favor the War in Iraq? (+ Discussion). Here are some further words of mine, there:
There is a middle ground here; one need not be technically a schismatic in making such judgments, . . .
In any event, if you want to take one particular view of what is prudent for a pope to do, that is your perfect right.
It's one thing for someone to opine that the pope made an error in prudential judgment (which is entirely possible; even somewhat likely once in a while, and over time). I have no problem with that. But now you want to run him down with these sweeping judgments . . . I find it appalling. But of course these attitudes are very common in "traditionalist" circles, . . .
Even in the rare justified cases of rebuke or dissent against papal actions or decrees, I would say there is a world of difference between a Catherine of Siena or a Francis of Assisi rebuking a pope (or, say, Cardinal Ratzinger or Mother Teresa, privately), and zealous, still wet behind the ears apologists doing so. Wouldn't you agree? One either immediately grasps this self-evident point or they do not. But it's clear that - failing to grasp it - rational argument is pretty much futile.
But this issue goes beyond the proverbial question of "inexperienced youth vs. wise elders." It is a matter of the prudential judgments and gifts of a pope vs. the rash judgments of laymen quick to condemn things (and - I argue - based on a misunderstanding of the probable intent, or no inkling at all of what was meant).
I don't know what else to say! Some things are self-evident: Catholics obey the pope and do not routinely lambaste him. Elderly, godly men are far more likely to possess greater wisdom and prudence than young men. Does anyone think these things are at all debatable?I think it is normal and ethical (and quite Catholic) to indignantly respond to the petulant, pompous, and presumptuous tone of so many "traditionalist" statements about recent popes. If they can speak so cavalierly and arrogantly about popes (I had far more respect for them as a Protestant than they do), then surely I can wax indignant at them doing so, without being "rude."
It is not so much the "OPINION" per se on popes which many "traditionalists" express, as it is the SPIRIT, SEVERITY, FREQUENCY, and DEGREE of such opinions, and what it appears to indicate about the person making it - about how they view Catholic authority, submission, humility, prudence, and so forth.
If I were to compare the rebukes of popes by St. Bernard, St. Catherine, and the typical so-called Catholic "traditionalist" today, perhaps I could be forgiven if I might perceive but a slight difference of authority and seriousness.
I have already agreed that he could have been more vigilant. But that is a far cry from being one of the worst popes ever, as some "traditionalists" seem to think he is.
My point is not that a pope can never be rebuked, nor that they could never be "bad" (a ludicrous opinion), but that an instance of rebuking them ought to be quite rare, exercised with the greatest prudence, and preferably by one who has some significant credentials, which is why I mentioned saints. Many "traditionalists" make their excoriating judgments of popes as if they had no more importance or gravity than reeling off a laundry or grocery list.
Even if they are right about some particulars, they ought to express their opinion with the utmost respect and with fear and trembling, grieved that they are "compelled" to severely reprimand the Vicar of Christ. St. Paul showed more deference even towards the Jewish high priest than such people do to popes (Acts 23:1-5).
Nor does this mean that one can never criticize the pope, or that if they do, that their responsibility to submit in obedience is somehow lessened.
So we have both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus expressing the most vehement criticisms of appointed religious leaders, . . .
To be in favor of this war is not at all a position in dissent against the pope, because in these areas of prudential judgment of nations he is only an advisor: albeit one who should be listened to with the utmost respect. The pope also doesn't have all the secret intelligence that nations have.In conclusion, then, it is patently obvious and unarguable that my own opinions on criticism of popes do not fit into what this Wikipedia article describes as a "neo-Catholic" outlook. I do not believe "it is against Catholic teaching, or, more moderately, 'UnCatholic' to criticize the Pope even with regard to his personal opinions or public actions" -- only that it is improper to do so infrequently, carelessly, and without compelling reason. Yet my words are cited out of context right after this line as a supposed prooftext for a quintessential "neo-Catholic" attitude of never allowing any disagreement with a pope, ever. I do not believe "that the Pope in his behaviors and personal opinions is beyond criticism." Therefore, I am not guilty of "'Papolatry' or 'Pope-worship'".
So a "real Catholic" has every right to disagree with even popes' opinions in matters of war, as long as the war is not manifestly opposed to Catholic principles of just war altogether. Pope Benedict XVI said so.
As the pope noted above, Catholics in good standing can differ on the death penalty. I happen to think that it is a wise policy to oppose it, and agree with Pope John Paul II, but on the other hand, we mustn't get legalistic when it is not an absolute requirement to oppose the death penalty. I continue to favor it in instances of mass murderers and terrorists, in the face of overwhelming evidences of guilt.
I'm also certain that the same clarification can be obtained for the four other named "neo-Catholics." For example, Patrick Madrid doesn't believe one can never criticize a pope, either, for he wrote:
Can the pope be rebuked?* * *
. . . It may be that St. Peter indeed made a mistake and St. Paul was right to rebuke him for it. And such a rebuke wouldn't conflict with the special primacy that Christ had given to St. Peter.
Popes have been rebuked, privately and publicly, by other Catholics since the time of St. Peter. True, such cases are infrequent, but they have happened. For example, the Dominican nun, St. Catherine of Siena. . . .
. . . although the legitimate need for publicly rebuking or correcting a pope has been, happily, relatively rare in the life of the Church, it isn't at all inconsistent with the claim that Peter (and the popes after him) was the head of the Church.
(Pope Fiction, San Diego: Basilica Press, 1999, 64-66)