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A myth that won't die
A "Where Peter Is" explainer for Conservative Catholics
Adapted from a Twitter thread I wrote on September 29, 2021.
There is a litany of false accusations that critics of my “other” website (it’s called wherepeteris.com, check it out!) regularly recite. If you hang around in conservative Catholic corners of the internet, you’ve heard the litany. And it’s getting really, really old. A few weeks ago I noticed that I had been blocked on Twitter by a young priest whose podcast and social media accounts I enjoyed a great deal.
More recently, someone sent me a tweet of his in which he criticized Where Peter Is, in which he repeated some of the same falsehoods we hear over and over. This is what he wrote in response to another critic who accused us of believing the pope is an oracle:
This has always been the issue with their work: it's a selective ultramontanism that doesn't understand magisterium, it's messiness, and sees every word from the Pope as if it's divine revelation
I’m sorry, but he’s absolutely unfamiliar with our perspective if this is what he thinks. Believe it or not, we do understand the distinctions between prudential disagreement with the pope and dissent from the Magisterium.
Once again, with feeling:
We do not believe that every word (at least he didn’t say “every utterance,” which got really grating after the 400th time) of the pope is divine revelation, we do not believe that he is an oracle or receives messages from God, and we do not hold that he can change infallible doctrine through the force of his will.
This is not the position of Where Peter Is. Nor do we misunderstand Magisterium (and the various levels thereof).
What this priest doesn’t seem to understand (and many other conservative Catholics can't fathom this either) is that it's not a crime to actually support the pope's prudential decisions.
Since the election of Pope Francis, some Catholics seem to think it's their duty to hem and haw and hedge and spin whatever the pope just said, in order to make it more palatable to his critics. Some will urge their less patient friends to calm down and not rashly judge the pope, or to wait for the "full story" to come out before calling the Pope Francis a heretic.
It strikes me that some priests and media figures appear completely overwhelmed by the sacrificial burden they’ve taken upon themselves to try to explain away the more "confusing" or "troubling" aspects of the pope’s message.
It’s as if they think showing charity to the pope amounts to saying, "Surely there's an 'orthodox' way to read this papal statement that all of my friends and I don't like."
If that’s your approach, I think deep down you must know you’re not doing it right. Take a break and listen.
Agreeing with the Pope’s prudential decisions
Let’s talk about prudential judgement. If you disagree with the pope on, say, China, I understand that it's a prudential matter. But I’m going to disagree with you. Why? Because I've researched the situation extensively and believe the agreement was justified. I wrote three articles about it in 2018 and 2019 (See here, here, and here). I’ve continued to follow the issue closely and I hope to sit down and write a new piece in the near future.
Believe it or not, it is possible for someone to hold very strong opinions in favor of the pope's prudential decisions for prudential reasons. It's allowed.
This doesn’t only apply to China, but the same goes for washing women's feet on Holy Thursday, Traditiones Custodes, and many of his appointments and personnel decisions.
Yes, I understand that you are “allowed” to disagree with the pope on such things. But believe it or not, I and the other contributors to WPI actually, honestly, in good faith, agree with him on a lot of his prudential moves.
Naturally, since I actually do agree with Pope Francis’s reasoning on many issues, when others attack his positions, I defend them. As one does.
A trip to the past
Many of you who are conservative Catholics might be a little shell-shocked by our "confusing" Pope Francis, but do you remember back in 1978-2013, when we (yes, we) conservative Catholics actually liked the pope? When we thought things like the Luminous Mysteries and Divine Mercy Sunday were cool?
Here’s a thought Exercise:
Do you remember how we all were really happy about Benedict opening up the Anglican Ordinariate and lifting the SSPX excommunications and for promulgating Summorum Pontificum? It wasn't that long ago.
Now imagine someone feeling that way about Francis's decisions.
Back when Summorum Pontificum came out, did you think it was a divine revelation? Of course not. It was a prudential decision.
Did you just stand by when people attacked Benedict for making that decision? They were allowed to disagree with him, after all. Of course not. You thought the decision was a good move and you argued with them and defended it.
Has the Francis-wary crowd gone so far off the deep end that they can't even fathom that a sincere Catholic can still accept the pope's words and decisions at face value and actually agree with him without a tinge of embarrassment or suspicion? Seriously, that's not healthy.
Are you so self-conscious of what people might think of your faith if you learned to stop worrying and love the pope?
Is the idea of just listening to the pope without constantly thinking "how am I going to couch this for my traditionalist friends" now a foreign concept?
It is possible to:
1) Listen to the pope, his teachings, and his airplane interviews with both anticipation and an open mind.
2) Wrestle with the tension you feel when the pope teaches something in a way that sounds foreign to you or makes you uncomfortable.
3) Be a fan of Pope Francis.
I get it. You aren’t fond of him. Maybe two-thirds of your friends by now think he's a heretic. You roll your eyes at the “embarrassing” Amazon Synod controversy. You get a stomach ache whenever Amoris Laetitia comes up. That's your problem, not mine.
4) Trust that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church.
As much as you think it’s your responsibility, you don't need to save the Church from Pope Francis. All the dubia in the world don't amount to a hill of beans compared to Christ's promise. Instead of worrying, try chilling out and listen for a change.
5) Try to understand where the pope is actually coming from.
Believe it or not, that's something Where Peter Is tries to help people with. And I think we've done a darn good job. We're not trying to lie to people. We're trying to be truthful to his message, and to convey it in a way that’s digestible and reasonable.
Papal biographer and collaborator Austen Ivereigh agrees. Not only has he praised our work, but he’s also been a contributor. He wrote these words:
It is a startling thought that for no money at all you can learn far more about the thinking and the insights of this papacy in one article on Where Peter Is than in weeks of programming by the multi-million-dollar EWTN.
WPI is a garage start-up on a shoestring budget supported by a team of volunteer contributors. Yet because they take seriously the idea that the pope is anointed and to be trusted as a teacher of the faith, they have become superb and reliable mediators of the Francis papacy.
After my experience these past weeks at the hands of churnalists and papacy-blockers, I am ever more grateful for this kind of journalism of integrity, both inside and outside the Church.
And he’s not alone. Many priests, bishops, cardinals, sisters, theologians, writers, journalists, and other laypersons from every corner of the world have expressed gratitude for our work.
To paraphrase Pope Francis, I accept that people are going to attack me. I'm a sinner and I deserve the attacks. (And admittedly my tweets can sometimes be obnoxious.) I understand if you don't like me or my tone. I'm working on it.
But for the sake of the Church, don't attack the fine work of our many brilliant and faithful contributors who have donated their talent and time to write smart, insightful, and often beautiful pieces, at times written from the depths of their hearts.
This was all sparked by a priest whose work I admired and whom I respected who blocked me and then lobbed unfounded accusations about our views and beliefs. What he said about us in no way represented our positions or our understanding of the Magisterium and the papacy. That hurt.
That's what I have to say about that.