conservative Catholics criticize the Pope, but not themselves

The conservative Catholic subculture criticizes Pope Francis harshly, with severe bias. But conservatives Catholics rarely, if ever, criticize their fellow conservatives or the subculture to which they adhere. I can easily point out multiple severe heresies and other grave theological errors in the writings of well-known conservatives. Yet these errors are utterly ignored by other conservatives. At the same time, conservative papal critics excoriate the Roman Pontiff whenever he makes the least error, or whenever he teaches or opines in any way contrary to the preferences, conclusions, and assumptions of the conservative Catholic subculture.

If there are errors in Amoris Laetitia, as well as in some non-magisterial opinions of the Roman Pontiff, these are relatively limited. Even when considered as a set, compiling all of the alleged errors together, they are not so serious. And, as I have repeatedly pointed out, many of the alleged errors are not errors at all. Rather, they depend upon false assumptions and biased interpretations by conservatives. By comparison, more than a few prominent conservative authors have publicly taught abject heresy. Yet they are criticized by very few of their fellow conservatives, despite the gravity of these errors.

Why is this happening? It seems to me that Catholicism has become politicized, such that conservatives treat our holy religion as if it were a base political party. They oppose Pope Francis because he is of the opposing party; he’s a liberal. Everything he says and does is subjected to a biased and severe scrutiny, devoid of Christian charity and of faith in the Magisterium. But when fellow conservatives err, even to the extent of abject heresy, they are unwilling to criticize. A few might opine mildly to the contrary; most will just ignore the error.

Conservative Catholic publications happily public articles from conservative authors, even though the authors have publicly taught grave errors on faith and morals in the past, even when the current article contains grave errors. A case in point is found in the recent dispute about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two prominent deacons condone the bombings, despite the specific condemnation of those bombings by recent Popes and despite definitive Catholic teaching against the destruction of mass centers of population. And this wicked false teaching, essentially condoning mass murder, prompted objections from only a few Catholic authors (myself included). And when the controversy passed, conservative Catholic publications continue to publish the articles of those two conservative deacons. The fact that they argued for the justification of mass murder was quickly forgotten.

And yet, at the same time, conservatives cannot let their objections to Amoris Laetitia rest. They continue to demand that the Pope answer the dubia — by which they mean correct his teaching based on the positions implied by the dubia. They are not really looking for answers to questions. They don’t call for their fellow Catholics to stop condoning mass murder. They don’t object when their fellow conservative Catholics radically reinterpret Humanae Vitae so as to approve of contraception and abortifacient contraception in many cases. But they can’t stand it when the Pope mercifully permits sinners to eat at the same table with Christ.

Among political conservatives in the United States, there is a saying, often called the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” The same rule, unwritten and unspoken, is being applied among Catholic conservatives. They refuse to criticize other conservative Catholics, even when the errors at issue cause grave harm to body or soul.

But when a liberal Catholic teaches or opines on any point, contrary to the assumptions and speculative conclusions of the conservative Catholic subculture, conservatives attack the liberal Catholic without mercy or charity. And they do not exclude the liberal Pope Francis from this unwritten rule: “You shall love your neighbor, and you shall have hatred for your enemy.” But in this case, “your enemy” is any liberal Catholic, including the Vicar of Christ. They do not see Pope Francis as a Teacher or Shepherd, but as a political and philosophical opponent.

A case in point is found in the writings of Jimmy Akin. His life’s work as a Catholic apologist is replete with multiple severe heresies, with his approval for the use of contraception, with rationalizations for the deaths of innocent prenatals caused by abortifacients, and with a radical reinterpretation of Humanae Vitae that restricts the condemnation of contraception to its use in marriage and excuses some uses of contraception and abortifacients even within marriage. Yet the conservative Catholic subculture has embraced him and praised him, as if he were a bastion of orthodoxy.

The beauty of the face of Christ is seen in the truth of the teachings of His Church. But when certain Catholics distort or contradict that teaching, they distort the face of Christ, from a beautiful Savior to a hideous monster. Yes, the gravely erroneous teachings of all false teachers are like a cancer on the face of the Church. And they are a distortion of the beauty of Christ himself.

And yet the conservative Catholic subculture sees the hideous disfigurement of false teaching — not only by Akin, but by countless other fellow conservatives — as if it were beauty. And at the same time, the subculture sees the merciful teaching of Pope Francis as if it were a repulsive monster. The conservative Catholic subculture is not the Ark of Salvation and is not a reliable source of orthodox teachings. It is an opponent to the Magisterium. It seeks to gather to itself a group of believers, who adhere to its ideas above all else, and who will proselytize its ideas like a new religion.

I don’t really know what to do in response to this situation. Conservative theologians, priests, canon lawyers, authors, bloggers, and anonymous posters are, for the most part, uncorrectable. No matter how severe the error, they never admit a mistake or change a position. Any magisterial document contrary to their own position, they ignore or radically reinterpret.

Oh well, this is one cause of the schism. At some point, conservatives decided that, merely by being conservative, they were faithful and orthodox. They gradually transferred their loyalty from the Magisterium to the conservative Catholic subculture. And now that we have a liberal Pope, that transfer is complete. This subculture is like a train with no brakes racing along a track to the edge of a cliff, the cliff of schism and heresy. And the engineers and conductors of the train do not see the problem. They are gathering as many passengers as they can.

{3:16} Then, when seven days had passed, the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
{3:17} “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. And so, you shall listen to the word from my mouth, and you shall announce it to them from me.
{3:18} If, when I say to the impious man, ‘You shall certainly die,’ you do not announce it to him, and you do not speak so that he may turn aside from his impious way and live, then the same impious man will die in his iniquity. But I will attribute his blood to your hand.
{3:19} But if you announce it to the impious man, and he is not converted from his impiety and from his impious way, then indeed he will die in his iniquity. But you will have delivered your own soul.
{3:20} Moreover, if the just man turns aside from his justice and commits iniquity, I will place a stumbling block before him. He shall die, because you have not announced to him. He shall die in his sin, and his justices that he did shall not be remembered. Yet truly, I will attribute his blood to your hand.
{3:21} But if you announce to the just man, so that the just man may not sin, and he does not sin, then he shall certainly live, because you have announced to him. And you will have delivered your own soul.”

When the schism happens, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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7 Responses to conservative Catholics criticize the Pope, but not themselves

  1. Matt Z. says:

    “Among political conservatives in the United States, there is a saying, often called the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” ” Republicans do not practice what they preach since some fellow Republicans are trashing President Trump left and right. Most of these Republicans that are trashing the president are the ones who are pro abortion and same sex marriage. If we are not careful there will be a time where all parties in the US support the intrinsic evils of abortion and same sex marriage among other grave evils. There may be no out for Catholics.

    • Tom Mazanec says:

      “If we are not careful”? What could I (as one of the ‘wes’) do? Right now I pick the lesser evil among the two parties who have a chance to win. If both are equally evil, I guess I would look for an unelectable third party reflecting my morality.

  2. William Merlock says:

    I think for “what can we do”, we have to think beyond the ballot box. We should be writing and emailing our elected officials often on issues that matter the most… and not just the oficials in Washington. Our state and local representatives have a much smaller constituency, so every piece of communication they receive is even more powerful; and not only does their legislation matter, but many of these will also one day wind up in Washington. We should, I believe, vote our faith, not our party. There are pro-life Democrats (do a web seach for “Democrats for Life America”).

    But this is tangential to Ron’s point, which is well taken. Our society, especially in the US, has become incredibly divisive. Our Church is, and should be, “catholic” in nature. We are the Church of firebrand Saints like Jerome and Joan of Arc; we are the church of quiet, humble Saints like Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi. Our Church is strong when all the various “sides” work together, not against each other.

    At the end of the day, I think the most important thing to do is to pray that the Spirit fills the hearts of all of us, and breaks down the barriers the divide us from each other, and, ultimately, from God.

  3. turnrod says:

    I can’t speak for the harshest of critics; however, I believe many have concerns not just on what the Pope has said or his ambiguity, but suspect that are many who are using this ambiguity to persue a larger agenda within the Church.

    I think Catholics are right to be concerned about the likes of Fr. Sosa, head of the Jesuits, for implying that the Devil is not real or that we can’t take Jesus’ words literally on divorce because there were no tape recordings. Also, when various bishops and cardinals publicly present contradictory interpretations of AL, it is not unreasonable for Catholics to want clarification.

    While there be some on the conservative fringe that reject Pope Francis’ authority, I do not see this large group of conservatives in a state of schism. Do you have evidence for this?

  4. Marco says:


    I have mixed feelings about Pope Francis, Ron.

    In a way i see him as a “liberator”, having grown up with lots of scruples and fear, as i wrote in this post and in the previous ones.

    From the “human” point of view i would really like to believe that God is in the way that is described by Pope Francis.

    But the problem is that i have many doubts.

    For example the instances of Amoris Laetitia seem very good to me, but when i look at it from the spiritual point of view it sometimes seems dangerous (even if the difference between objective and actual mortal sin is correct, in and of itself).

    I don’t if i’m managing to explain myself, Ron.

    It’s the like the “war” described by Saint Paul between the carnal self and the spiritual self.

    I feel that God and moral as preached by the Pope is very convenient, so I’m naturally inclined to see Pope Francis’ preaching as good, but from the spiritual point of view I’m struggling very much.

    For example, what if some people are right and the Vatican will change the words of the Consecration?

    What to do if that happens?

    I’m very confused.

    I repeat that I LIKE Pope Francis, he says the things i want to hear, on the other hand i’m struggling because it seems that what seems so good for our carnal self can’t be good for our spiritual self.

    And if the words of the Consecration will be really changed i think that what is happening right know will be seen under a different point of view.

    What do you think?

    I’m very confused, i hope i managed to explain myself, which is not easy when English is not your language.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t understand the comment about the words of the consecration. What change is proposed? Pope Francis is a living Saint, in my opinion. But like Pope Saint Celestine V, he has his faults. I see some of the early Saints as too harsh with sinners, and too restrictive in their views of salvation. So one can disagree with any Pope, and still be faithful. Don’t consider the whole Faith to turn on any one Pope.

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