First, although your book purports to explain how Pope Francis has been misunderstood and show how his words can be properly understood, in many cases you do not really do this. Rather, you quote passages from the Pope's writings and speeches where he clearly defends Church teaching. To your credit, such quotations might be of help to secular progressives or dissenting Catholics who actually dislike or don't know the Church's positions, if any of them were interested enough to read your book. But that's not the problem that many others see here. The problem, rather, is that many of the Pope's statements (not just their interpretations) are themselves ambiguous, and feed the fire of glee among the dissenters and alarm among the faithful; and simply smoothing over this problem by insisting on what you think the Pope surely must have meant does not address this problem.
Many of those who have expressed concern, if not alarm, over the ambiguities and confusions found in the Pope's own words are not “reactionaries” on the “extreme right” or only “a hair's breadth from schism,” or even “mainstream traditionalists” who “prefer the Tridentine Mass,” to quote you. Rather, they are men and women numbered among my own colleagues and friends – people like Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Monica Miller, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, Dr. Mark Latkovic, and others. None of them would think of accusing the Holy Father of heresy or not being the legitimate pope, but many of them have expressed (1) real concerns (especially in the beginning) as to whether he was securely “on board” with the Church's teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and so on, although these concerns were fairly quickly allayed by emerging publications and statements showing that the Pope has stalwartly defended the Church's perennial position on those issues (as you, too, have stressed); and many of them (2) continue to be concerned about ambiguities and conflicting signals, not merely mis-communicated by irresponsible media, but resident within the Pope's own often “off-the-cuff” remarks. Some of these concerns are summarized, for example, by Dr. Miller here and here.
In your treatment of the La Civiltà Cattolica interview, you don't really ever address the problem of these off-the-cuff remarks and the confusion they have caused. You admit that the style of delivery might differ significantly, but that the substance remains unchanged. Yet you don't acknowledge any sort of real problem. You cite Jimmy Akin's hypothesis that the Pope is trying to fight against being “stereotyped” by the liberal secular media. Whether this hypothesis is plausible or not is beside the point, however. The elephant in the room is the confusion provoked by the Holy Father's remarks among both agnostic secularists and Catholics. Even Jimmy Akin acknowledges this difficulty in a passage you quote (p. 117), where he writes: “Time will tell whether [the Pope's] 'fight the stereotypes, go with the central message' approach will lead to the results he desires ….” But you don't address this.
In your chapter devoted to “Pro-Life” issues, for example, you offer quotation-after-quotation from Pope Francis, calling to witness words with which he has clearly defended the Church's teaching on life issues. Not once, however, do you address the problems that provoked the serious dismay expressed by good Catholics like Dr. Monica Miller or Dr. Janet Smith, such as the Pope ostensibly dismissing pro-life concerns like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage as “obsessions” of those immersed in “small-minded rules.” Whatever the “strategy” that may have animated the Holy Father's words, he has nowhere made this known, and he has left multitudes in confusion, or, worse, confirmed in their errors. And your counsel that “those who are intended to get it [his meaning], will get it,” is hardly a viable hermeneutic.
Second, although your book claims to steer a path between the extremes of “progressives” on the left and “reactionaries” on the right, it also tends to group under the heading of “reactionaries” any Catholics who are publicly critical of the Holy Father's often confusing remarks. Your definition of those who are “radically Catholic reactionary” is:
... a rigorist, divisive group completely separate from mainstream “traditionalism” that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically (as marked characteristic or defining trait) bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism (the “big four”): going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line of schism. In effect, they become their own popes: exercising private judgment in an unsavory fashion, much as (quite ironically) Catholic liberals do, and as Luther and Calvin did when they rebelled against the Church... [I used to think that, until I realized they were voicing the views of Popes like St. Pius X]. They must assume a condescending “superior-subordinate” orientation.Strong language, to say the least.
Yet your distinction between “radical reactionary” and “mainstream traditionalist” Catholics, while well-intentioned, is anything but tidy in application. How would you classify Michael Voris, who refuses to criticize the Pope but has produced exposés sharply critical of (a) “liturgical reforms” following Vatican II (“Weapons of MASS Destruction”), (b) the way Communion in the hand was introduced in the west (“Reception Deception”), (c) and of many other facets of the contemporary “church of nice,” and (d) bishops like Cardinal Dolan who waffle in their public statements about gays, Muslims, etc.? How would you classify someone who published statements like the following?
What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it -- as in a manufacturing process -- with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.The passage, of course is from former Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Msgr. Klaus Gamber's Reform of the Roman Liturgy, describing the Mass cobbled together by Fr. Bugnini's Consilium, which Fr. Joseph Gelineau, S.J. famously called the “permanent workshop” of liturgical innovation. Would you classify him as “a rigorist,” “divisive,” someone who “vociferously, and vitriolically … trashes Vatican II and the New Mass?”
Furthermore, your poster boy for your definition of “radical Catholic reactionary” is the blog Rorate Caeli, which, according to your definition, represents a perspective that is “completely separate from mainstream 'traditionalism' that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically … bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism … etc.” Yet Rorate Caeli, which you acknowledge as “one of the most influential [traditionalist] blogs” online, features numerous guest editorials by priests and other authors from all over the world, with frequent features of spiritual writing from Church history, promotions of prayer for various causes (Purgatorial Society Masses, etc.), along with many exposés of various goings-on that should concern faithful Catholics everywhere. To suggest, because of its haste in sounding alarms or a “gotcha” moment of guilt-by-association with a source whose unrelated writings may be objectionable, that Rorate Caeli is “completely separate from the mainstream 'traditionalism',” or that it “continually vociferously, and vitriolically bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, ecumenism” etc., is not simply uncharitable, but untrue.
If there is a theme of criticism of these sorts of things, it is not because of any incipient rejection or rebellion against the institution of the Papacy, or against the authority of an ecumenical council like Vatican II, or against the licitness or validity of the new Mass, or the importance of ecumenical overtures toward reunion of the Eastern Orthodox or Protestants with Rome, but because of genuine problems that attach to the understanding and implementation of each of these in our own times. Why does a book that purports to explain Pope Francis not address these problems? Problems like (1) the democratization of the ecclesial hierarchy that seems to have reduced the role of the Vicar of Christ to that of a rock star and public news commentator; or (2) the misunderstandings fostered by passages in Vatican II documents (like Sacrosanctum Concilium, Nostra Aetate, and Gaudium et Spes) that, according to Cardinal Kasper, include deliberate ambiguities inserted as “compromises” into the text capable of diverse interpretations, provoking Bishop Athanasius Schneider, at a conference in Rome, to call for a new “Syllabus of Errors” to clarify the proper interpretation of Vatican II; or (3) what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “trivialization” of the Mass, not to mention the mainstreaming of numerous innovations nowhere mandated by Vatican II, such as having the priest turn his back on God in order to face the people, tearing down magnificent altars and replacing them with tables, removing altar rails, introducing lay lectors, lay Eucharistic “ministers,” Communion in the hand while standing rather than kneeling, substituting banal “praise music” for Gregorian chant and polyphany, and the marketplace vernacular for Latin, etc.; and (4) the effective sabotaging of the New Evangelization by an “ecumenism” that suggests, in effect, that all may be saved, and that there is certainly no pressing urgency to formal membership in the Catholic Church (as when the Holy Father advised Tony Palmer against converting, or when, without definition, he called proselytism “solemn nonsense”)?
I know the “explanations” that are brought forward for all of these troubling developments, explanations intended to show how, when all is said and done, they actually conform hand-in-glove with Church teaching. I also know how the enterprise of offering such explanations has become something of a major growth industry among conservative Catholics in the United States. What I fear, however, is that these ultimately tend to “explain away” rather than “explain,” because they don't address the real damage these problems are causing.
Hitherto when I heard accusations of “neo-Ultramontanism or “papolatry” hurled toward faithful Catholics such as yourself in the “explanation” industry, I dismissed them as excessive. However, when efforts to defend the Holy Father, Vatican II, the new Mass, and ecumenism (to take what you call the “big four”) turn into an exercise in seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and saying no evil about these things (where evils in fact exist), these efforts seem a trifle disingenuous. Rather than demonizing those who see problems here, why wouldn't it be the more prudent and virtuous course to supplement your defense of Church teaching with an honest acknowledgment of the genuine problems where they do exist. To do so would not mean to impugn the authority of the Pope or the Second Vatican Council, or to question the legitimacy or validity of the new Mass or ecumenical initiatives (properly understood). In fact, it would mean a more credible and robust defense of Church authority and defense of the Holy Father. Maybe you don't consider tackling such problems part of your apostolate, and I'd understand that. But even a nod of the head in recognition that there are some genuine problems here might make your efforts to “explain” Pope Francis a lot more successful and credible.
Kind regards, PP