A recent exchange on another’s Facebook page made me think. The exchange, centring on an article on the Patheos site, saw both the author and the some commenters admonishing those who took umbrage at the recent papal pronouncements on the Lord’s Prayer (and others), to quite whingeing and just get on with being good Catholics.
Of course, we should always be good Catholics, but must we really be content to sit in silence in the face of the most alarming papal phenomena for a long time?
Pope Francis is not evil. He is the pope. His papal court is the most disedifying in recent history. But that is another story. Our purpose at present is the person of the pope.It is a laudable thing that Catholics feel an instinctive loyalty to the pope, and long may it last. But an instinctive loyalty need not be, and should not be, an unthinking one. Blind, unthinking loyalty is the trait of the concentration camp guard. By Baptism we are, with and in Christ whose Body together we form, prophets, priests and kings. We have a dignity that should not make us proud but should not make us servile.
Vatican II has some interesting words:
The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments. They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ…
Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city
A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfil its mission for the life of the world.
Lumen Gentium 37
It seems to me that there are many issues of significance on which the faithful, laity and clergy, should exercise their freedom to make known to their pastors their adherence and understanding of the consistent and irreformable teaching of Christ and his Church, be those pastors priests, bishops, cardinals or popes. It should be done with respect and even humility, but it should be done.
St Catherine of Siena, St Bridget of Sweden, St Peter Damian all offer examples of Catholics who spoke the truth to power, even papal power. They did so with full respect for the the apostolic office. I have heard some argue that they were saints, so to cite them as exemplars is an act of hubris: “Do you think you are a St Catherine!?”
Well, one fact should be noted: they were not saints when they spoke. They were Catholics like us—religious, lay (originally) and clerical respectively. Part of what made them saints was their love of the Church and their humble devotion to the truth of Christ. We are all called, says the Vatican Council, to holiness no less than they. In part, the aim of the Church in canonising saints is to offer us exemplars and models of faithful Christian witness and holiness.
In this period of crisis in the Church it behoves us all to speak the truth in love. Without it the Church risks becoming what Pope Francis explicitly abhors—a NGO. So it is, in fact, the best service we can render the pope at this time.