I’ve been asked by quite a few people to share my reaction to the recent words of Pope Francis about Catholics in America replacing faith with “ideology” and being “reactionary.”
He stated, “You have seen that in the United States, the situation is not easy: There is a very strong reactionary attitude. It is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally.”
Now this is one of those informal comments he is in the habit of making. And Church teaching is not conveyed by informal comments of the Pope.
Nevertheless, he said it and it merits a response.
Yes of course “it’s not easy,” when we have a Pope who is causing so much confusion that some of his own Cardinals years ago had to formally ask him for clarifications about his comments and teachings. And he has failed to answer those questions or offer those clarifications.
He says that some of us in America are “reactionary.” We are “going back.”
I guess that means he sees himself as “going forward.”
But when someone speaks ambiguously to lead people to think that it’s possible to approve things that the Church has always taught are immoral, then yes, we are “going back” to what the Church has always taught, because it has been handed on by Jesus and the apostles.
Of course, history is always changing, and we always have to grow in our ability to proclaim and apply the Faith to new circumstances. But this means we improve our ability to the Gospel, not that we improve on the Gospel itself.
The questions some of his Cardinals asked Pope Francis are not on minor or technical issues. They are about the very existence of moral absolutes: norms about right and wrong that apply to all people in all circumstances, and that personal “conscience” cannot grant an exception to.
If affirming the very existence of moral norms is what Pope Francis means by “going back,” that wouldn’t mean there’s something wrong with us.
It would simply mean that Pope Francis is going in the wrong direction.
And every Catholic has the right to come to that conclusion and to speak up about it.
And if in fact our conclusion is wrong and Pope Francis is denying absolute moral norms, is it unreasonable to ask him to just say so and clear up our confusion?
I am a faithful and practicing Catholic. In fact, I have served as an Official at the Vatican (under St. John Paul II) and on several occasions, in face to face conversations with Pope Francis, have received his encouragement for my pro-life work.
I accept everything the Church teaches, including about the role of the Pope. When you examine that Catholic teaching, it is clear that the infallibility of the Pope only applies to his pronouncements on what the Church already believes.
On everything else, it’s perfectly OK to conclude – respectfully — that the Pope is mistaken. Catholic doctrine does not consider him a god.
The Pope is the “Vicar of Christ.” That’s a referential term. It points to the one who said he is the only Teacher, Christ our Lord (see Matt. 23:10). The Pope has the same obligation to be faithful to those teachings as do the rest of us.
Even Jesus said his teaching was derived from the Father, and that the Holy Spirit’s teaching was derived from the Son (see John 7:16; 16:13). So what does that say about our own teaching?
At the end of the readings of Mass, we say, “The Word of the Lord,” not “The Word of the Pope.” Indeed, I would recommend to priests and bishops that they ask themselves whether they quote the Pope more frequently than they quote Jesus and Scripture.
And the Pope has an additional obligation. As Jesus said to Peter, “Strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Whenever someone who has been living the Faith comes away from hearing the Pope or any preacher of the Gospel, they should be confirmed in the Faith, not confused about it.
They should not be wondering whether the Faith is really true, but rather filled with new conviction about its truth, and new confidence to proclaim it to everyone they know.
We can affirm all this and still maintain the highest respect for the office of the Papacy and the firmest union with the Catholic Church.
Now in regard to replacing faith with ideology, that is the specialty of the Left, and the Democrat Party, in America.
Look at what Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and other politicians have done who claim to practice the Catholic Faith, but hold abortion to be a sacred right that is not to be limited in any way, but rather protected, promoted, and funded. In what way is this not substituting faith for ideology?
Look, furthermore, at what they and their party are doing to the meaning of marriage, gender, and religious freedom. Is the destruction of these things a reflection of faith or ideology?
And what about the weaponization of government, the targeting of political opponents with prosecutorial misconduct, the harassment of peaceful pro-life activists, and the stealing of elections? Doesn’t their Faith tell them that any of this is immoral? Or are they more committed to ideology?
So yes, Pope Francis, “it’s not easy” here in America. Yes, many are replacing Faith with ideology, because – to quote the title of Mark Levin’s upcoming book — the Democrat Party hates America, and hates everything that the Catholic Church stands for, teaches, and cherishes.
There are many of us here in America who have come to see that the cultural and political battles that rage right now are a manifestation of an unprecedented spiritual battle, a war between good and evil
Winning that war for truth, life, justice and freedom is not a backward ideology. It is the job of faithful believers who are also American patriots. It’s also part of the job description of a Pope.
Our concern is not that there’s division, but that we stay on the right side of that division. Our concern is not whether we are going backward or forward, but that we are going towards what is true.
About the author
Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life and the national pastoral director of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. The books he has authored include Abolishing Abortion and Proclaiming the Message of Life.