Father John Zuhlsdorf is Leading Many Astray

I’ve read many posts by Fr. Z. and so my criticism is based on a wide range of his comments. His latest post brings to mind two of his errors. Here’s his post: “But ‘Father’! But ‘Father!’”, some cringing papalatrous toadies are yammering.

The first error is his verbal attacks on the Pope, many Bishops, and those who support the Pope. Father Z. has a large and devoted following. His example can lead others to virtue or to vice. When he behaves badly, the degree of scandal is increased by his notoriety, his reputation among traditionalists, and his role as a priest. And he behaves badly frequently on his blog: name-calling, vindictive comments, acerbic remarks, and the encouragement of refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff.

Note the language in the post title: “some cringing papalatrous toadies are yammering”. Calling those who are faithful to the Roman Pontiff by such a denigrating name is unchristian; it is also scandalous especially since they are being criticized particularly for supporting the Pope. The term “papalatrous” indicates idolatrous worship of the Pope; it is a combination of papal and idolatrous. But no evidence has been presented by anyone of such an error. Instead, those who merely defend the Pope against claims of errors — so allegedly grave as to be contrary to the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church — are accused of idolatry. In addition, the language intimates a malice toward those who support the Pope. Instead of making a theological argument against their alleged errors, Fr. Z. engages in name-calling and denigrating language. And this is not an isolated incident. Fr. Z.’s blog frequently uses such denigrating language against the Pope, the Bishops who support him, and the faithful who support him.

{5:22} But I say to you, that anyone who becomes angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. But whoever will have called his brother, ‘Idiot,’ shall be liable to the council. Then, whoever will have called him, ‘Worthless,’ shall be liable to the fires of Hell.

Now when the offense of name-calling and use of denigrating language is directed at the Roman Pontiff, publicly, by a priest who knows that this offense will affect many of the faithful, the sin is objectively much more grave. Subjection to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation. Encouraging the faithful, by the bad example of a priest, to view the Pope in such a denigrating and negative manner is harmful to their path of salvation.

Another example of this error by Fr. Z. is found in his post of 12 December 2021, which expresses anger at the recent Responsa ad Dubia. Fr. Z. criticizes the timing of the document, by speaking as if in the person of the Pope and the CDW: “Screw you, ‘beloved faithful’!” That is open malice directed at the Roman Pontiff, and accusing him of having a hateful attitude toward the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ. Presenting fictional dialogue, attributed to the Pope (as is clear from Fr. Z.’s earlier remark on the day that Francis signed off on the Responsa), in which the Pope using course language and mockingly calls the faithful “beloved” is indefensible and shows an unchristian attitude toward the Vicar of Christ.

Fr. Z. also quotes someone, calling him “astute” for saying “The devil is doing this, in case you had any doubt.” This claim that this decision of the Roman Pontiff on discipline, which certainly falls under the promise and teaching of Christ that the gates of Hell will never prevail — as Pope Leo XIII teaches in Satis Cognitum, neither over the Church, nor over the Roman Pontiff — is really the devil doing this, is heresy, blasphemous (since Christ and His Vicar constitute one head), and schismatic.

In criticizing the Responsa ad Dubia, Fr. Z. calls one part a “clown-car routine.” He also quotes a book which is full of course language, saying “They can always hurt you more”, by reference to the Pope and the Apostolic See. Again, this is schismatic and malicious. What is he teaching the faithful here? Fr. Z. also quotes someone comparing the decisions of the Pope and the CDW to “how the ‘mean girls’ acted in the High School bathroom.” Then Fr. Z. quotes another malicious remark against the Apostolic See, this time comparing the Pope and His See to terrorists and also to “the Borg” (villains from Star Trek). This language and behavior by Fr. Z. is unbecoming of any priest or lay faithful.

And this type of language by Fr. Z. goes on and on in many posts. He frequently takes swipes at Pope Francis by making sarcastic remarks. On the Responsa ad Dubia, Fr. Z. suggests that the Pope and CDW are lying, and that these dubia were concocted within the CDW. Fr. Z. also calls the document Traditionis Custodes “rubbish from Rome” and a cruelty. Then there are many other such remarks, all expressing malice and refusal of submission toward the Vicar of Christ. Father John Zuhlsdorf wants the Church to be run according to his own understanding and ideas, and when it is not, he reacts with manifestly unchristian behavior.

The second error is rather odd. Fr. Z. is intimating that certain events are not mere coincidences, but are “divine breadcrumbs”, i.e. signs from God against the Vicar of Christ. First, all the faithful should know the dogma that “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only head” of the one Church [Pius XII, citing Unam Sanctam]. Christ is not giving signs to the world that He rejects the person He has chosen to be one with Him in headship of the Church. Secondly, the alleged signs are relatively ordinary events. Here’s one example:

“Ed Pentin pointed out that the day that Francis signed off on them, 18 November, was the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, and on that very day there was a massive power outage that reduced St. Peter’s to darkness.”

Pope Francis gave his approval for the recently revealed Responsa ad Dubia on Nov. 18th, and on that day there was a power outage. The Pope makes decisions every day. So it is just a coincidence.

Fr. Z. also repeats a worse claim from Rorate Caeli, which quotes Saint Faustina speaking about suffering for priests on a particular day. That day happens to be the birth date of Pope Francis. The suggestion is that this somehow should be taken as a divine condemnation of the Roman Pontiff — and yet he is chosen by God as the Vicar of Christ!

Fr. Z.: “But ‘Father’! But ‘Father!’”, some cringing papalatrous toadies – you know who you are – will soon yammer with scare quotes, “What do you mean by that? Are you saying that St. Faustina suffered on the very day of Jorge Bergoglio’s birth because of… in anticipation of… because… he would one day…. YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

Fr. Z. then goes on to claim that he doesn’t know that it means. But in fact he suggests to his readers what they should think it means, that it is some type of condemnation, on 17 December 1936, of this decision by Pope Francis to restrict the traditional Latin Mass.

I can hardly express how absurd and at the same time how hateful is such a claim. God is all-powerful. If He did not want Pope Francis to issue such a decision of discipline, it would not be issued. God is not like Fr. Z., constantly issuing malicious breadcrumbs directed at the Vicar of Christ. Moreover, the dogma of the Church on the charism of truth and of never-failing faith given to the Roman Pontiff and on the indefectibility of the Church and on the unblemished Apostolic See and that the gates of Hell will never prevail — all of these dogmas exclude the claim that the restriction of the Latin Mass is a grave error. The claims of Fr. Z. and certain other traditionalist leaders on how severely harmful and evil this restriction supposedly is, cannot be true. It is contrary to dogma to make such a claim. And the idea that God spoke out against this papal decision, by giving inspiration to a Saint in 1936, shows who desperately Fr. Z. and others are grasping at straws to keep their positions of power.

Fr. Z. and other traditionalist leaders have power because they have gathered a subset of the faithful, by means of the traditional Latin Mass, into communities that support those leaders. These communities sometimes follow their own leaders in opposition to the Roman Pontiff. Fr. Z.’s power and influence, as well as the money that he garners on a daily basis, is based on his support for the Latin Mass, his many posts on the subject, his followers devotion to that form of the Mass and is based on the communities that are formed around that Mass. Without the TLM, many far-right conservative leaders will lose their power base. They will lose their positions of leadership.

And that is the real reason that so many traditionalist leaders are panicking and expressing rage at Traditionis Custodes and the supporting Responsa. They see that if there are few if any Latin Masses, they will lose their power and influence over the subset of the flock which they have stolen from the Supreme Shepherd. And if those faithful attend the Novus Ordo Mass instead, the Pope may largely win back those who have been led astray by traditionalist leaders who reject Popes and Councils (in favor of their own ideas).

Fr. Z. used to be a faithful priest who helped many souls. He deserves our prayers. But God only forgives those who repent. May God correct him and bring him back to full unity with the Roman Pontiff and the one Catholic Church.

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

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3 Responses to Father John Zuhlsdorf is Leading Many Astray

  1. Penanoke says:

    I used to enjoy and appreciate reading Fr. Z’s blog entries. That was ten years ago. A year ago, I realized that something about him had changed, and I think he’s indeed leading people astray and seeks to build a cult of personality around himself.

  2. Perelandra says:

    His latest is even worse. I was scandalized and disgusted by the visual he tried to create in one paragraph in particular. This is a Catholic priest? One who thinks he can teach others? I’m appalled.

    Am I understanding correctly that based on the answers to the dubia, he is no longer allowed to say the Latin Mass outside of his diocese in Italy? Would that his bishop over there paid any attention at all.

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