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.]