16 March 2019

"The worst pope ever"?

So a correspondent wrote on one of my threads. It set me thinking.

I am convinced that PF is most certainly not the worst man ever to have been pope. OK; he has a short temper; he turns easily to abuse; he has either a very bad memory or a tendency to lie. But even striking characteristics like his propensity to accuse people of shit-eating betoken, probably, nothing more than a cultural back-ground a trifle different from our own. We middle-class British are so much more circumlocutory in our put-downs of those we dislike. "My dear fellow, with the utmost respect I'm not entirely sure that I completely agree with you" may be every bit as aggressively focussed as "You coprophagist!". We must be humble enough to be open to semantic diversity.

Anybody who seriously thinks that PF is the worst man ever to have been pope should probably read rather more Church History. I do not only have in mind the 'Marozia' popes of the period called the Pornocracy; I would also nominate Urban VI, who precipitated the Western Schism by his 'harshness and violence'; and Paul IV Caraffa, 'of ferocious character', whose malevolent hostility towards the English Catholic Church during the reign of Queen Mary made it so much easier for Elizabeth Tudor to reintroduce the Reformation to my country.

What might, much more plausibly, be argued is that PF is the worst pope in the single sense that the papal office has drastically changed under the influence of modernity, in a world of instant communications and rapid reporting and the possibility of minute-by-minute micromanagement. So this Ministry, when exercised by an impatient shoot-from-the-hip-especially-when-you're-irritated individual like PF, is more dangerous now than any exercise of the Petrine office was in the past, even in the pontificates of very bad men, back in those happy days when the ordinary layman or cleric probably knew little about the current occupant of the Roman See, and had certainly not heard about the sillier things he said in his private chapel this morning or the proclivities of his nastier cronies.

What we need after PF's death or abdication or deposition is not a better or more holy or more prayerful man. What we need is the papal office itself stripped down and cleansed from the idolatrous accretions of recent pontificates, so that it is again a Petrine Ministry which can without daily disaster be exercised by an ordinary sinful human being with ordinary human failings tempered by the Grace of God ... just like the great majority of popes over two millennia, who were neither saints nor reprobates.

Above all, a new pope will need the self-discipline to ... you thought I was going to write "Talk very much less". But that does not quite get to the heart of the problem. Very soon after this pontificate began, I wrote in a blogpost that our new pope should not be allowed out without whatever he was to say having been carefully checked by those in the Curia whose responsibility it is to give a theological shape to a pontificate.

Papal authority is not personal in an individualistic or whimsical sort of way. The pope is supposed to say, not what he feels or wants, but what the judgement of the Roman Church is as a corporate and structured body mindful of its own Holy and immemorial Tradition. (When PF, after some off-the-cuff remarks about his own liturgical preferences, emphatically added "This is Magisterium!", he thereby exemplified the main error which he entertains with regard to his own job-description.)

The first major exercise of papal authority, the letter called I Clement, has the form of something written as if by one member of the Roman Presbyterate. S Clement is not himself actually mentioned. The writer was very clearly an individual who expected to be obeyed. But he writes and judges and instructs in a corporate manner. That is why the Curia Romana has a doctrinal status and purpose. It is not meant to be a tedious bureaucracy which so sadly gets in the way of everybody being able to see what a splendid chap a pope is once he is able to shake off his staff. It is an integral part of the exercise of the Ministry which the Redeemer instituted in his Church, because an episkopos is meaningless without his presbyterium, his diakonia, his laos.  And this goes for Rome as much as for any other particular Church. The earliest witnesses of the Roman Primacy, SS Ignatius and Irenaeus, do not explicitly mention the Roman Bishop; they talk about the Roman Church.

Finally: this Next Pope will need to remember the apercu of Blessed John Henry Newman, that the Ministry of the Roman Church within the Oikoumene is to be a barrier, a remora, against the intrusion of erroneous novelty.

It is: to hand on the Great Tradition unadulterated.

In an age when the adjective "negative" has unpopular vibes, we need a reappropriation at the very highest level within the Church of the central, fundamental importance of a negative and preservative, papacy. Tradidi quod et accepi implies Quod non accepi non tradam.

22 comments:

Mark Millward said...

Thunderous applause!

Unknown said...

RIght! I always knew the Church was wrong about Papal infallibillity! its really Curia infallibility! Like an infallible senate!

Aqua said...

It doesn’t matter where Francis fits in the good-bad Papal continuum, (I am not surprised at all he maxes out at bad).

What matters is the Pope Emeritus who still resides “firmly and forever within the enclosure of St. Peter”, who “by no means abandons the cross of St. Peter or the Papal life of contemplation and prayer”, while a younger more vigorous Pope acts side by side as sovereign governor.

That arrangement is new; an innovation. When it comes to something as fundamental as Christ’s Rock, innovation must be supported in Scripture and Tradition to ever hope to be accepted by the Faithful. I see no reason to support something that does not have Scripture or Tradition behind it. No prior examples anywhere in Catholic history.

??

Bartleby #59 said...

Thank you Father for this.

One of the problems that we are facing is that, in spite of the focus on the rights and responsibilities of the episcopate in Vatican II, individual bishops are treated as extensions and subordinates of the Petrine Office. While a priest's authority derives from his bishop, it is not true that a bishop's authority stems from the Pope. Rather, it stems directly from Jesus Christ's own authority. The Papal Office serves to confirm the brethren, not to dictate to the brethren, and the brethren work in unity to speak in unison through the Papacy.

Both parts need to be functioning correctly. Fixing the dysfunction of the current Papacy doesn't fix the dysfunction in the rest of the episcopate. Yes, if one had a good Pope like Benedict XVI, one could ignore the dysfunction of one's own local bishop and just follow the Pope. However, the sheer amount of internal chafing that went on between a functional Pope and a dysfunctional episcopate, especially as manifested in the wolfs of the curia, is largely why the abdication happened.

A point to ponder for Fr. Hunwicke -- if the Papacy is in suspense, is it possible that the functioning of the Ordinary Magisterium is also in suspense? What that means, I do not know. What I do know is that, as much as there is righteous uproar over things attempted to be taught by Pope Francis, one can very much hear the same, if not worse, from local bishops, either individually or as conferences (looking at you Germany).

Tereze Avila said...

Pope Francis has not finished yet... We will know the truth, once he will give his last breath. There is a general understanding that the worse is in front of us, like: schism, destruction of the church as we know it and creating one worldwide church of many religions in the name of peace, changing in the Holy Mass - making it unworthy, destruction of the clergy by demanding a loyal oath to Francis, not to Jesus... etc... etc...

Hold your opinion, until all will be over. He didn't finish yet!!!

Donna Bethell (formerly known as Rose Marie) said...

All together now, one more time: "For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles." Pastor Aeternus, c. 4.

Stephen Cooper said...

The least of the real saints of our days and our grandparents' days - think of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, who taught us that with prayer everyone of us can and should perform miracles - has done more for good than any Pope has ever done for bad.

We can all come up with lists of the 5 worst things any Pope has done, with the exception of the few real saints among the Popes - and those lists are pretty dire ..... as for me, I have an aversion to bullies, like Judas, who mistreated Jesus with such trickery, and like Pontius Pilate, who bullied Jesus just out of blunt stupidity - and lots of our recent popes had more in common, at least before their last moments on this earth, when one prays they died with repentant souls - lots of our recent popes, sad to say, seem to have had more in common with those two bullies than they ever did with the most unaccomplished of the saints - I think I can say that without contradiction, because saintliness and ecclesial power are very different things .....

if you are prayed for enough to be a Pope and one of the negative things about you that is apparent to most average Christians is that you act like a bully more than you should ... that is not good ....

and so no matter how many times poor Father Bergoglio bullies people, despite being an old man whose joy should simply be in trust in the Lord and kindness to his fellow believers, no matter how many insults he sends out with his Peronist lack of awareness of what he is doing, I have no temptation to dislike him any more than I dislike any other bully -----

We are all children of God and each of us has a guardian angel who can accomplish mighty deeds, and I have no doubt there are many people alive today, much more prayerful and true to God than I am, who will, through their prayers, turn the cruel dust that accrues to the more faithless actions and legacies of our poor current bishop of Rome, in some way, into eternal gold.

I probably won't be alive to see it but so what. at least I have spent my life disliking bullies and i have not been inveigled into falsely praising them, even if they are a successor of Peter, whom I admire beyond words. That being said, please join me in praying for the souls of the 3 recent popes who have been proclaimed saints in recent years. I think each of them is in heaven, because I am optimistic, but I am not optimistic enough not to pray for them, by name, every day. in case they are still in Purgatory. These are difficult days but better days are in our future. Don't listen to the canon lawyers on this, there is no guarantee that in times of deep crisis that canonizations, too, are not subject to the sinful whims of the sort of bishops who are not worthy of unquestioning Christian trust from their fellow believers.

Tony V said...

None of us knows the moral status of any pope, of course; that is known to God alone. We can however opine on which popes were bad popes qua pope. In that respect, in my opinion, Paul VI wins hands down, for no prior pope had ever dared to abrogate the liturgy, and no pope had single-handedly driven so many millions of people away from the church.

Sure, Pio Nono called a rigged council, which he styled 'oecumenical', to get himself declared the infallible CEO of the church, a novel doctrine, and yes Francis has absurdly declared, contrary to all evidence, that the church teaches that the death penalty is 'inadmissable' (whatever that means), but grievous as these errors are, in my view they pale in comparison to Paul VI.

Of course, I could be wrong...

William Tighe said...

"Papal authority is not personal in an individualistic or whimsical sort of way. The pope (*) is supposed to say, not what he feels or wants, but what the judgement of the Roman Church is as a corporate and structured body mindful of its own Holy and immemorial Tradition. (When PF, after some off-the-cuff remarks about his own liturgical preferences, emphatically added "This is Magisterium!", he thereby exemplified the main error which he entertains with regard to his own job-description.)"

(*) Pace the prodigious plagiarist Fr. Rosica ("Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is free from disordered attachments ... Our Church has indeed entered a new phase. With the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”) whose one venture, here, into venting his own notions makes me hope he will stick to plagiarism in the future.

Miles Mariae said...

Paul IV was a holy man. The church needed a zealous reformer and in him they found it. A man of action, a dictator pope, but according to God's law.

In God's providence he was raised, his reign laid the foundations for his saintly successors, even if it was so that they could contrast with him.

I think the former Anglican perspective is skewed with regard to England and the heresy of Henry, how often you catch former Anglicans condemning even saintly Pius V for his excommunication of Elizabeth. God's justice had to be done.

I would like to see a fairer and more detailed assessment of Paul IV. Paul was in no way heretical, he was zealous for God's law and frustrated at the slowness of the council. Francis is a modernist out to destroy, Paul wanted to sort out the filth in the church and he did his best. At the end of his reign no one can deny Rome was holier and good cardinals in place.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I object to the hinthint suggestion that I disapprove of S Pius V. I approve of him strongly. I said my first Mass in full communion with the See of Rome next to a statue of him.

Caraffa weakened the English Church by declining to appoint bishops. Reginald Pole, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury, died having had his legatine commission suspended and under summons to go to Rome on a charge of heresy. When Archbishop Hethe of York defended the papal primacy in Elizabeth Tudor's Parliament, he had to admit the failings of the current occupant of the Roman See. Caraffa frustrated Pole's plan to found a seminary in Rome so that the upper English clergy could be educated in the centre of the Catholic world to be true Romans. And all because he was fanatically anti-Habsburg. We can do with fewer Caraffas.

Fires of Faith by Eamon Duffy describes in detail the English Counter-Reformation which Caraffa frustrated.

Tony V said...

Miles Mariae: You may be right that Paul VI was a holy man, although I don't know how you could possibly discern that. (The current canonisation process has made the institutional church about as credible on saints as it is on child molestation. Popes now seem to canonise each other willy-nilly, the way Roman emperors deified their predecessors.)

I don't see that Paul 'reformed' anything, aside from trying to abolish the Mass of Pius V. Did he do away with financial corruption in the Vatican? Did he drive out sodomy? Did he roll back the excesses of Vatican I? (Far from it.)And as for Mindszenty...an utter disgrace.
But I do admit there are many aspects of Paul VI I'm unfamiliar with.

It may be, as you say, that Paul 'did his best', but his best was certainly not good enough. It may well be that even a holy man can be a poor excuse for a pope. Not saying I'd have done a better job. But few could have done worse.

Miles Mariae said...


If Paul IV is to be criticized you have shown quite clearly how it is with regards to some actions he took towards England, that is agreed, he failed there. But let us not forget, history has shown, and perhaps it was even thought at the time, that such reforms would have helped very little anyway, given the imminence of bloody Bess.

Harvey said...

Well said, Father. The only thing I might disagree with is your assertion that "the first major exercise of papal authority" was from Clement I. Wouldn't it be from St. Peter, who stood and spoke at the Council of Jerusalem?

jane perdue said...

A Study in Scarlet-Pink

Vatican City--March, 2019-- The Vatican no longer seemed an unlikely place to uncover the identity of the criminal behind the mysterious international spate of serial suicides.

From London to Argentina and Rome, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson had pursued the London cabbie who had left a trail of victims in his wake. These victims had died from ingesting poison pills. But why and how?

It all began when Inspector Lestrade realized he was out of his depth, as usual, and had summoned the assistance of Holmes who arrived at the scene of the crime. The victim was apparently a Church cardinal, as he was attired in scarlet and pink. He lay face-down on the floor, his stiff hand holding an empty pill bottle. He had scratched into the floor one word: Rache.

Rache...revenge? Yes and no. Holmes managed to find the cardinal’s pink suitcase and phone and entered the password. Holmes then texted a known international organization catering to all manner of sexual trafficking and deviancy. Making an assignation had now led them to Rome.

Standing in St. Peter’s Square, Holmes and Watson studied the statuary of Apostles and Saints atop the Colonnade. Holmes observed:
It takes little power of deduction to see that the City of Saints has become a city of fallen angels. Perhaps we can add a measure of justice. May God have mercy on their souls.

Watson asked: But where shall we begin?

Holmes replied: Consider the curious incident of the dog in the night.

Watson: But a dog did nothing in the night…

Holmes: Precisely. That is the curious thing.
What leader dog barks no warning at evil-doing? On the contrary, I deduce he is clearly complicit.

At that moment, a cabbie pulled up alongside them. A sketchy looking fellow in a pink skullcap, identifying himself darkly as “Bishop Zuchetta,” rolled down the window and held out a pill bottle:
You must take one of these two pills. The red pill will make you wake you to reality. The blue pill will keep you in la-la land. One of them is poison. Take one or I’ll shoot!

Holmes calmly replied: And if I take both pills?

Bishop Zuchetta: Then you will join us in the lavender mafia!

Holmes replied: I am already fully awake and aware.

He then dashed the pill bottle and gun to the ground, collared Zuchetta, and announced to Inspector Lestrade (as usual, following in Sherlock’s wake):
Charge this man and he may lead you to the Mysterious Missing Dossier and the Kingpin of homo-clerical corruption.

Later, back in his comfortable sitting room, Holmes mused aloud to Dr. Watson: Perhaps the current clerical leader is none other than my arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, managing a world-wide web of modernist mayhem…

Dr. Watson replied: His methods are certainly similar, but could such a posturing man really be the Napoleon of Crime?

Holmes relit his pipe and, after some consideration, he sighed:
Yes, I deduce that one more diabolical must surely be behind all this. One for whom Professor Moriarty and his followers are mere lackeys.
Watson, I believe this may be our final case: The unveiling of the Mystery of Iniquity, then the Triumph of Truth.

E sapelion said...

Pope St John XXIII was a Vatican career diplomat, and knew a lot about the Curia. Asked by a journalist how many people worked at the Vatican he is said to have replied "Oh, about half of them". I suspect a similar proportion is abidingly corrupt. Fr Z has some jolly musings recently on what he would do if made Pope, and it includes a task force to search out corruption. Fr Z probably knows more about the Vatican machine than PF did when the burden was placed on him. How could PF possibly know who can be trusted, I rather think that having had his fingers burned badly a couple of times already, PF is wise to keep quiet on some (not all) of the contentious issues until outside journalists (and public prosecuters) have uncovered more.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Not That Guy

Who exactly is making up exactly what as he goes along?

I have deleted your comment because I don't see what purpose unsubstantiated blanket accusations serve.

Ed the Roman said...

I will also recommend Fires of Faith.

Not That Guy said...

You're making up your defense of Francis as you go along. The issue is not whether Francis is personally evil or immoral, it's whether he is a heretic. The "bad popes" argument has been refuted many times.

Unknown said...

Possibly Father Hunwicke can relate in spite of his superior education than mine, but as a convert from Protestantism, I think I can say that we who possess such a backgrounds may have an advantage here, even if it is just a morale advantage.

See, as a Protestant about all the popes I ever heard about were the rally bad ones, tempered a few begrudging head nod tossed in the direction of JPII for his tendency to disagree with Communists. In truth, having such a background fully convinced me of the humanity of popes, compounded by the Biblical fact that about 10 minutes after proclaiming Simon the Rock upon which the Church would be built, Jesus called the same guy..."Satan". Good grief, Our Blessed Lord only called Judas a generic "devil"!

So I didn't really expect popes to be perfect or anything like that, and Bergoglio has thus satisfied that specific anticipation in every way.

Walter E. Kurtz said...

Can this "barrier", this "remora", be the katechon (κατέχον) of 2 Thes 2:6-7?

Kathleen1031 said...

The ant speaks out...
I fail to comprehend how anyone could not agree this pope is the worst of any point in history, not only because of his destructive words and actions but because no prior pope had access to the world with that destructive message within seconds.