Does Opposing the Pope really help the Church?

A while back, I read an absolutely ridiculous article, by which I mean an article deserving of ridicule, over at 1Peter5: Our Battle Against Seemingly Insurmountable Odds. It’s about the battle against the Pope, the person chosen by Jesus Christ to shepherd His flock. The author is the founder of 1P5, and, if you are not familiar with the site, it is organized around one guiding principle: stop the Pope from harming the Church.

Steve Skojec says: “I hate what I’m doing,” I thought. “I just talk about problems all the time. I spend my days forced to go on the offensive against one of the things I love most in the world — the Catholic Church. When will I have the chance to do something constructive? Positive? Uplifting?”

Someone asked me recently about how it’s possible to do this all the time. “Because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.” I said.

Yeah, OK. It’s so tiring and wearing, being “forced” to treat the Supreme Shepherd with contempt and denigration, being “forced” to find fault with everything he says and does, being “forced” to “go on the offensive” against the successor to Peter, so that, what? So that the faithful will not follow the Pope? So that Catholics will not accept teaching and correction from the leader of the Catholic Church? What is the goal here?

I believe Mr. Skojec. He really thinks that he is right, and the Pope is wrong. He sincerely believes that he and others must rise up against the Pope, to counter the Pope’s errors, to save the Church. But he also can’t see beyond the end of his own nose.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” someone once said. In Catholicism, your theology is not worth reading if you have not examined your own premises. The assumption of Skojec and others is that they could not possibly have misunderstood the teachings of Tradition or the Bible or past Church teachings. The assumption is that they could not possibly have misunderstood the Pope, or his motivations. And they assume that the gift of the indefectibility of the Church is so limited and weak that it cannot withstand the faults of a Pope.

Skojec is “forced to go on the offensive against … the Catholic Church”, forced by his own misunderstanding of Catholic teaching and his own exaggerated sense of self-importance. Does anyone believe that the indefectible Church will fall away from Truth if Skojec and other bloggers do not intervene, to oppose the Supreme Pontiff? He is not forced to oppose the leader of the Church.

The role of the faithful is to be taught and corrected by the Pope. If there is a conflict between Steve Skojec’s understanding of Catholicism and that of any Roman Pontiff, the proper reaction is for Steve to humble himself and be taught and corrected. The proper reaction by all of us is to find ways to be taught by the Pope’s writings, and find charitable interpretations of his non-magisterial words and deeds. We must always consider that we could be in the wrong. The only thing forcing Mr. Skojec to oppose the Pope is his own lack of humility, understanding, and charity.

He says that he could not live with himself, if he did not publicly oppose the Roman Pontiff. Not similarly, I could not live with myself if I did not treat each Pope with humility and charity and faith. I could not live with myself if I did not learn from each Pope and help others learn as well. Why the difference? I have faith. I believe that God would not permit any Pope to teach grave error, nor allow him to lead the Church astray. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in every Pope’s words and deeds, magisterial or not.

Steve Skojec hates what he is doing, some of the time, in a manner of speaking. Could that be because it is wearing to have to find a way to disagree with everything the Pope says and does? Is it difficult to treat the leader of the flock of Jesus Christ with constant distrust, and to try to engender that distrust in his own flock? The constant contempt, denigration, and anger found at 1Peter5 and directed at the Pope, yes, it must be difficult to keep that up every day.

But this is the only alternative: to humble yourself to admit that your own understanding of Catholicism is flawed, that you yourself are in need of teaching and correction — from a liberal Pope. Yes, God wants conservative Catholics to be taught or corrected by a liberal successor of Peter, so that they show Him they are devoted to God and truth, not to the false god of conservatism. The alternative to going on the offensive against the leader of Christ’s flock is faith — to believe the teachings of each Pope, even when they seem wrong to one’s own mind and heart. That is true faith.

The articles at vary in their content, usefulness, and in their disrespect for the Vicar of Christ. But some of these articles show a distinct lack of faith. For they speak as if Catholics are not bound by faith to believe whatever the Magisterium teachings, but instead were required to apply their own understanding to magisterial teachings, to first decide if the teaching is correct. Thus, faith and the Magisterium itself and the Pope are all seemingly subordinate to the self-important conservative Catholic, who thinks that he, merely by being conservative, cannot err on any subject.

“Steve Skojec: This month, like every month since August 1st, 2014, 1P5 is in the trenches, leading the fight against the forces of darkness that foolishly thought they could co-opt Christ’s bride.”

The faithful of Christ have a wide latitude to disagree with any Pope’s decisions on discipline, with his theological opinions, with his remarks to the press, and even some latitude to disagree with any Pope’s non-infallible magisterial teachings. But it is always a grave sin to promote opposition to the Pope with the claim that the Pope himself represents “the forces of darkness” and with the foolish idea that the Pope and his supporters are trying to lead astray the Bride of Christ. This attitude toward the Roman Pontiff is not compatible with faith. It is not compatible with the required submission of mind and will to the non-infallible teachings of the Pope, and the required submission to the authority of the Roman Pontiff.

I personally have read nearly every type of complaint against Pope Francis, every point on which anyone accuses him of anything. I see that the Pope may have erred to a limited extent in a few matters. But I see no reason to oppose him at every turn or to accuse him of any grave sin or error. Most of the accusations against him are the result of a lack of understanding of Church teaching, a lack of charity in interpreting the Pope’s words and deeds, and the arrogance of thinking that each Pope must submit to the judgment of the conservative Catholic subculture in all that he does.

Many conservatives Catholics do not realize that, by their excessively harsh criticism of the Roman Pontiff, they are leading many souls ever closer to schism.

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

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