Sunday, February 23, 2014

"When a person criticizes the Pope for this or that odd thing he may do or say, and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"

When a number of readers solicited my thoughts on a recent piece written by Fr. Perrone in his weekly Pastor's Descant, in which he offers some brief reflections on "The key to understanding the atypical acts of Pope Francis" (Te Deum laudamus, February 22, 2014), I initially would have preferred to say nothing. But honest questions deserve honest answers, so I shall humbly and respectfully share a couple of thoughts, all in good faith.

The article linked above is not Fr. Perrone's original piece, but a post by Diane Korzeniewski on her elegantly-designed blog, typically featuring informative pieces promoting the goings on at the Assumption Grotto parish, where Fr. Perrone is our pastor. The first five paragraphs of the linked post are Korzeniewski's, not Fr. Perrone's. The Pastor's Descant (his weekly column) comes at the bottom, and the relevant passage, following his discussion of psychological motives (underscored by Korzeniewski's earlier reference to C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters), is this:
"Here I believe is a key to understanding the atypical papal acts of Pope Francis. He’s trying to teach the Church that charity has to be a truly human and Christian response to neighbor and not mere good talk or the writing of a check. God who is Love became man in Christ doing the works of love; so must a Christian act, in love. When people criticize the Pope for this or that odd thing he may do, failing to comprehend the example and lessons of charity he’s offering, one wonders about such a person’s spiritual life. Attacking another’s real or perceived faults can be but one other effective way to divert attention away from one’s own personal defects."
First, I agree with Fr. Perrone that we should always assume the good intentions of the Holy Father, and I likewise assume the same of Fr. Perrone (as I trust that he or Korzeniewski would assume of me or anyone else). At the same time, I agree with Louie Verrecchio when he worries that this particular reflection of Fr. Perrone's "is likely to be misunderstood in that it fails to properly distinguish between that which is objective and that which is subjective."

To consider the pope's words and deeds objectively "is simply a matter of viewing them in the light of authentic Catholic doctrine," which isn't a particularly difficult task for anyone with a good comprehension of the same.

Using the Holy Father’s recent video message to the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Conference as an example and considering the “atypical papal act” of the Roman Pontiff addressing Tony Palmer as “my brother bishop,” it isn’t very difficult to understand, from an objective standpoint, says Verrecchio, that the pope’s words cannot be taken as literally true. Rev. Copeland is not a "bishop" at all. He's not even a Catholic, although he's a Christian of some kind. It was probably intended just as a "nice," humble, "fraternal" thing to say. At face value, however, the Pope's words could easily be considered misleading. Objectively this much is beyond dispute.

"With that in mind," says Verrecchio, "one can indeed accept that the pope means well, or to use Fr. Perrone’s words, is 'trying to teach the Church that charity has to be a truly human and Christian response to neighbor,' while at the same time recognizing when his words and deeds are inconsistent with the truth that comes to us from God through His Holy Catholic Church."

Second, there is great virtue in avoiding an attitude of bitter criticism and in cultivating a disposition of cheerful meekness and submission to God's will and to His Church and her pastors. But there is also an equal and opposite danger that comes from the unenviable task of trying to correct others whom one feels may lack these virtues. Again Verrecchio gets at the issue here as well when he says that by failing to distinguish the objective from the subjective, Fr. Perrone's reflection may give the impression that he means to suggest that those who question or criticize the pope's confusing remarks are therefore "to be suspected of masking a spiritual deficiency."

Like Verrecchio, I seriously doubt this is what Fr. Perrone intended to convey. Even so, Verrecchio worries that "any number of people will read his words precisely in this way, and some will perhaps even use them as justification for laying false claim to the moral high ground." This is a very real danger, because all ad hominem arguments are logical fallacies and can backfire: those endeavouring to "correct" the pope's critics can then be regarded, in turn, as tacitly bearing the same critical attitudes they seek to correct in others.

With that, permit me to conclude by noting that I hold Fr. Perrone in as high regard as I have held any pastor. In fact, at the risk of embarrassing all of us, I would say, despite this little quibble, that he may come as close as it is humanly possible to embodying, in the (adapted) words of St. Anselm, "that Pastor than which none greater can be conceived."

[In interests of full disclosure, I cannot take credit for the title of this post, which comes from a quick-witted correspondent and respected fellow-blogger.]


Diane Korzeniewski said...

Since it is late, I only have time to comment on a misunderstanding that jumped out at me about the video message of Pope Francis.

I believe Mr. Verrecchio made some errors of fact.

1) Pope Francis did not call Kenneth Copeland a brother bishop. The Pope was explaining to unknown recipients - in an impromptu cell-phone video - whom he was told would be Protestant Evangelical leaders, that Tony Palmer, a self-described Anglican bishop, was his long time friend.

2) Pope Francis did not refer to Tony Palmer as "my brother bishop." He clearly says, "mio fratello - vescovo fratello" and it is translated at the bottom of the video as "my brother - my bishop brother."

That is not an insignificant difference when reversing the words brother and bishop, especially when you watch the way it is said. He is conveying a message of warmth through his friend, his bishop brother [in Christ.] That is just my seeing his words and deeds in the most favorable way [CCC 2478]

Going back and looking at "my brother bishops" in Italian in Vatican documents, the word brother appears first and bishops second. That is not how the pope handled it with Tony Palmer.

With regards to calling the man a bishop, Tony Palmer is regarded as a bishop within his particular Anglican union (which Fr. Longenecker explains in two recent posts, is a breakaway, similar to a schismatic group of Catholics). Regardless, the point is that he is regarded a bishop in his own church.

Is it appropriate to call a non-Catholic bishop a bishop? Look at how Pope Benedict addressed the Archbishop of Canterbury in his letters and addresses. He always calls him, "Your Grace" which is an acknowledgement of the position he holds within his own church.

Anyway, I think it is good to watch what the Holy Father actually said, for those who have not yet seen it. I have also watched the roughly 45 minute video in which Tony Palmer introduces this to the Evangelical Protestants.

Some Catholics are freaking out over the fact that these people broke out in tongues after viewing the video; and, at things Tony Palmer said in his introduction (clear errors, but if he isn't Catholic, we might expect that, IMHO). I have concerns with modern day tongues myself, even in Catholic circles, but these are Evangelical Protestants and they are known for this, so no surprise there. Neither that, nor the errors with which the Holy Father's message were introduced, should be attributed to him. And, you can't evangelize by shunning people. Modern communications are changing the way we do things. All adaptation involves risk.

What I found interesting was the response of those Evangelicals, and Kenneth Copeland, to Pope Francis himself (setting aside misconceptions generated by Palmer's errors). You don't bring people through the door, but by one step at a time. Do I think these people might be listening a little closer to Pope Francis in the future? Absolutely. Maybe they will come a little closer to the door, and a little closer the next time, and eventually walk through it.

I hope this helps give some clarity to the situation.

Diane Korzeniewski said...

Also, based on your feedback with some apparent confusion over my own introductory remarks and the words of Fr. Perrone, I have edited the post. I cut it down by one paragraph by moving fish-fry info to the bottom of the post and I added some headers, and a brief note. That should end the confusion over who is saying what.

New Catholic said...

That is a horrible, horrible thing for a priest to say. How would he know the internal disposition of all those who have misgivings about specific words or actions? Notice the difference with those who have the misgivings (at least those I have read or heard): they never say the pope doing or saying A or B reflects an internal intimate character flaw. Because it would be a horrendous assumption of spiritual disposition based on the information we know. It is as if we said (merely for the sake of argumentation!) that Fr. Perrone says maliciously this in order to create a hyperclericalist attitude that diverts criticism from his own grave flaws as a member of the clergy, and that is a sign of Fr. Perrone's deep spiritual disorder. It would be absurd of course, and a hideous unwarranted personal assumption based on his objective declarations.

The post title is correct: Do those who have misgivings about specific actions or words of the Pope not deserve from Father Perrone a "who am I to judge"? The gall!

Diane Korzeniewski said...

Looking at your post on a real computer rather than on an iPhone, I mistook your explanation of what Louie said, as a direct quote in one place. it appears you may have misunderstood Verrecchio's post on what I called error (1) I discuss in my first comment. In Louie's post he does not say that Kenneth Copeland was referred to as a bishop.

Pertinacious Papist said...


The error you attribute to Verrecchio was actually not his, but mine. I knew that it was "Bishop Tony Palmer" to whom the Holy Father was referring, but somehow (maybe because it was late and I had Copeland on my mind -- if only it were Aaron Copland!) -- what came out was Copeland! Ha. I stand corrected.

You also make a fine point about the word order of the terms "bishop" and "brother," which probably most of us would have otherwise missed.

But maybe this is part of the problem -- namely, that this sort of unrehearsed talk "from the heart" and "in the spirit" has a way of conflating and confusing a great many things. I think you will agree that most English-speakers who heard or read the subtitles of the Pope's words (including everyone in his audience) probably understood him to be referring to Tony Palmer as a fellow bishop of some sort.

Maybe this is a bit beside-the-point, but while we're on this topic, I really must say that some of this "good will" in "ecumenical" contexts really does seem to push the envelope just a bit too much.

I was present at Lenoir-Rhyne University when a "Lutheran-Catholic Covenant" was signed, and the Catholic bishop of Charlotte, NC, shook hands and met with the Lutheran Bishop of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (which is as off-the-edge liberal as they come).

On that occasion, there were not only warm greetings tendered from both sides, but Catholic Bishop William George Curlin of Charlotte presented to Lutheran Bishop Michael McDaniel a pectoral cross (which is one of the pontificals used by pope, cardinals, archbishops and bishops of the Catholic Church) as well as a Catholic episcopal ring, which he placed on McDaniel's finger.

I applaud the good will. I also think these sorts of gestures do more harm than good in the long run. I know this from first hand experience. McDaniel was talking with me about being received into the Church until he discovered that Pope John Paul II had granted a plenary indulgence for the Great jubilee year of 2000, when he threw in the towel and had done with the idea.

There's a lot more we could discuss, but, like you said, it's getting late.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I think the order of the words misses the point. If I say, "My brother is a physician," or if I say, "This physician is my brother," in either case I am affirming the ontological reality that my brother is a physician. Likewise, on either parsing, Pope Francis affirmed the ontological reality of Palmer as a bishop. It will be said that he was merely being polite, but note i) that there are official circumlocutions for precisely this snag (e.g. "Your/His Grace"), and ii) after first addressing Palmer as "my brother," Francis pauses and resolutely adds the word "bishop" into their fraternal bond. Saying "brother in the Lord" or some such would have sufficed, but this pope is apparently not satisfied without a weekly "lío".

I am told that we shouldn't worry about these informal acts of politesse, but if Francis were to extend the same fraternal greeting to "Bishop Spong" or a woman bishop in some communion, would that be at all problematic? Or are we supposed to give the nice heretics a pass? Why would the latter affirmations be problematic but not the one in question?

Meanwhile, the pope's good chum Welby has spoken clearly about how flimsy and fear-based the traditional episcopacy is, and I admit I have no confidence that Francis doesn't agree with him at some troubling level. Sure, he has rejected the ordination of women, but, significantly, did so on moralistic versus dogmatic grounds (i.e. it is clericalism and chauvinism to think that women need ordination to enjoy equal dignity). Sigh.

Sheldon said...

With all due respect, quibbling over word order here is picking at straws.

Pope Francis occupies the office of universal pastor, the Roman Pontiff. As such he deserves our respect as our Holy Father.

Part of having a Holy Father is having a family life together, and it's not uncommon for your old man to step in it or say something stupid. So you burst out laughing. You joke about it. You move on.

But contorting yourself into pretzels to pretend the old man has never said anything out of line become laughable after a while. Look at this guy's record. He's a comedy routine.

The pathetic thing is that lots of Catholic radio happy-talkers try to pretend he's being profound when he's just made a silly ass of himself, and I think he's being profound when they're not paying attention because he's just doing his job like a good old man should.

Diane Korzeniewski said...

People think I am against critical analysis. There's nothing wrong with critical analysis, even correction of a prelate or the pope. But nothing in this life ought be done without boundaries.

Referring to the Supreme Pontiff as, "the old man," for example, isn't a matter of style, nor is it suitable for fraternal correction of a prelate. It's contemptuous.

I've seen some friendly, and respectfully presented concerns about the Tony Palmer video that I have no problem with.

Insolence, impertinence, and contempt-filled criticisms have nothing to do with style. Rather, it is a lack of skill in making one's point in a way that is mindful of the dignity of others. It's also the easiest way to make one's point, to just let whatever feels good roll off the tongue. There is no need to think, nor to apply the virtues temperance, and prudence. This too is a part of our Catholic faith.

God bless

Charles said...


I agree that Sheldon's remarks sound a bit disrespectful. Yet I'm trying to interpret his point in light of his acknowledgement at the outset that the Holy Father deserves our respect.

A charitable interpretation would suggest that he meant to extend his analogy of inter-familial fun-poking at one's "old man" to the Catholic family's run-poking at the Holy Father's public gaffes (I don't think there's much to quibble with about the gaffes).

Still, I agree with you that the tone ("silly ass," "this guy") comes off as sounding disrespectful.

Granting that much, can you point to anything Sheldon says that is not true? Or is your quarrel just with the tone?