Originally posted on National Catholic Register and written by Pat Archbold. Emphases are my own.
During the last 6 months, the Catholic media has witnessed a virtual straw-man genocide calling out anyone among the ranks who speaks in assertive tones or questions the prudence of a papal statement.
I have witnessed so many hyphenated theological-sounding pejoratives used to describe well-meaning faithful Catholics who seek only the salvation of souls that I shudder. I have seen my fellow travelers accused by prominent Catholic commentators of being relentlessly critical, refusing to see progress in the Church, of hating the sinner along with the sin, of wanting to bring back a Church that will never be again, and being reflexively against the pope.
It seems to me that we have arrived at the point where mere disagreement on tactics is viewed as akin to treason.
I have been accused of many of these things and it disheartens me more than I can say.
So I wish to clear a few things up. Surely I don’t speak for all the accused, but I think that enough are similar to me to warrant comment.
First, I am not reflexively against the Pope because I suspect he is more ‘liberal’ than me. This is not true, I like the Pope and have defended him. I think that some of his outreach and man-of-the-people pope-ulism has been wonderful. I don’t care where he lives or that he washed a woman’s feet or any such nonsense. He is the Pope, he is fully Catholic and totally ‘a man of the Church,’ of this I have no doubt.
So it is that I have defended the Pope from wild misrepresentations of the media. Yet, at the same time I cannot help but wonder why this continues to happen. If off-the-cuff remarks are continually misinterpreted, both purposefully and not, in ways that either contradict Church teaching or minimize the importance of critical issues, at some point there needs to be recognition of this reality.
The bottom line is that many people, even most people, will only hear the misinterpretation and the real message ‘either do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more‘ is lost. At some point it is not sufficient to merely criticize the media and the method should be re-examined.
When I read the interview the Pope gave there was much to be admired in it. But I found some parts to be worrisome. I understand what the Pope is trying to do by emphasizing the pastoral before the doctrinal. Truly, I get it. But I wonder how, in its essence, that is any different that what the Church has tried to do over the past 45 years? As somebody who grew up in a post-Vatican II Church, I can assure you that the emphasis has not been dogma. In my experience, it has been all pastoral, all the time [RagazzaGallese – to the point where I did not even know what the words ‘doctrine’ and ‘dogma’ meant until I was about 22. I am a cradle Catholic.].
In that time we have witnessed the complete failure of the Church to engage the western mind and heart. So much so that Europe, and increasingly the Americas, has become so secularized to be again considered mission territory. While the reasons for this are complex, I take note that the post-Vatican II ‘pastoral’ approach has done little if anything to stem the tide and perhaps hastened the effect.
Worse, in many places and among many people the emphasis on the pastoral over the dogmatic has ultimately resulted in the rejection of doctrine. It does not take much imagination to suspect that the downplaying of doctrine makes many people believe it doesn’t really matter anymore. So I cannot help but wonder if more pastoral cowbell is capable of turning things around.
So it is after a lifetime of the pastoral over the dogmatic and the resultant proliferation of errors that some have come to the reluctant conclusion that unless the Church emphasizes the whole truth with equal vigor, that nothing will change. They have come to believe that unless the Church purges that error from the Church, that souls will continue to be lost. That can sometimes make us seem unrelentingly critical. But if you believe that souls will continue to perish because the Church accommodates and even encourages error, you feel compelled to speak to it.
It is easy to dismiss such people as permanently unhappy cranks, but I ask you to consider that for the most part these ‘critics’ are compelled to act out of love and a zeal for souls. They genuinely see fixing these problems inside the Church as a prerequisite to saving as many as we can and their hearts break for the loss of the last 45 years. If you concluded the same things, how would you respond?
Again, I certainly do not speak for all but I feel certain I speak for many. We love the Church and we love our Pope. We seek only the proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of souls even if we sometimes disagree on tactics.