Pope Francis endorses my interpretation of “more Catholic than the pope”

Seven years ago, I wrote

The fact that this expression exists, and that to accuse someone of “trying to be more Catholic than the pope” is to make that person sound silly, is a sign of everything that’s wrong in the Catholic Church today.  That we’re not supposed to try to be “more Catholic than the pope” usually means three things

  1. One should not take a stricter view on moral matters–especially matters of sexual morality–than the pope.  (E.g.:  “How can you say that there’s something wrong with natural family planning?  Even the pope is okay with that!”)
  2. One should not express concerns over matters of doctrinal orthodoxy or liturgical orthopraxis if the pope himself has not expressed these concerns.  (E.g. “How can you call Tielhard de Chardin a heretic?  Even the pope thinks he’s great!”)
  3. One should not express a higher opinion of the Catholic clergy or the historical record of the Catholic Chruch than the pope does.  (E.g. “How can you say the media is exaggerating the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse?  Even the pope has admitted that it’s really bad!”  or “How can you defend the crusades?  Even the pope has apologized for them!”)

Each of these claims is not only wrong but harmful.  #1 and #2 make it inevitable that the Church will continue to drift Leftward, closer and closer to heresy and immoralism, because it means that the Vatican only ever feels pressure to move in a Leftward direction.  No one is pushing the other way.  At best, the pope has defenders who will take the same positions as him, but the Holy Father can be confident that he won’t alienate these loyalists by moving to the Left; they would be sure to follow, for fear of seeming more Catholic than the pope.


Pope Francis spoke critically again of the faithful who have a strong embrace of Catholic doctrine, resorting to pejorative terms he has often used such as hypocritical and phariseeism.

“You cannot be more restrictive than the Church herself,” he told a lay association gathered Thursday morning at the Vatican, “nor more Papist than the Pope.”

Addressing the Congress of the International Forum of Catholic Action in the Synod Hall, the pope told participants he wanted them to be out among the people and that there is a need for “active mercy.”

The theme for the association’s three-day gathering was “Catholic Action is mission, with all and for all.”

“Do not be border police,” he told the conference.

“Please, open the doors,” Pope Francis stated, “don’t administer Christian perfection tests because you will only promote a hypocritical phariseeism.”

Pope Francis leaves it open whether we are allowed to be less restrictive than the Church herself.  Would that perhaps be “active mercy”?

Perhaps I’m a better Catholic than I thought, being less restrictive than the Church on many matters.  I don’t condemn people for preferring their own race or for wanting a low level of immigration into their countries.  I regard the manufacture for sale of weapons as an honorable profession, and I don’t condemn countries for accumulating arms for purposes of deterrence.  I approve of wifely submission in marriage (condemned by the pope in Amoris laetitia).  I have no objection to my fellow Catholics engaging in “proselytism”, as I generally think that trying to convince others to share beliefs one regards as true to be an innocent, even generous, activity, so long as those beliefs are in fact true and profitable.  All of these activities are censured by the Church to varying degrees, and my refusal to condemn racism and national border control in particular make me an unorthodox Catholic, given the unanimity with which the Church speaks on these things.  However, as a the pope says, administering “Christian perfection tests” is unhelpful.  We would not want a Church of hypocritical anti-racist pharisees.

19 Responses

  1. Can I be less Papist than the Pope by thinking he is pretty much full of it and that I can safely ignore his babbling completely? And, to avoid hypocrisy and phariseeism, may I encourage others to do the same? May I call him a buffoon? That’s definitely less Papist than he is, right?

  2. Pope Francis is the depressing embodiment of the idea that people generally get the leaders they deserve.

  3. Its great that we don’t have to be more Catholic than any Pope. Now we can just torture and kill off our enemies, and take on as many mistresses as we want.

  4. “I approve of wifely submission in marriage (condemned by the pope in Amoris laetitia). ”

    That aspect of AL bugged me more than the communion for the divorced thing.

  5. Bruce:

    The good news though is that the doors of the Church are wide open even for those who believe in St Paul’s heresies as affirmed by Popes last Tuesday in non-infallible encyclicals and stuff. All are welcome and should be accompanied on their journey without any doctrinally rigid expectation of repentance, including racists, torturers, rapists, usurers, mass murderers, wealthy capitalists who exploit workers, and even cannibals!

    Can’t you feel the Great Breeze of Mercy blowing?

  6. The Pope doctrinarily asserts that rigidly taking the doctrinaire assertions of popes seriously is a moral failing. If we attempt to apply this rigidly it is self refuting, obviously.

    One way to apply it non-rigidly is to take it as applying mainly to the doctrinaire pronouncements of Francis himself, I suppose, as opposed to Popes
    and Councils in general. If the monarch himself says we ought to be flexible in how we interpret what the monarch says, we probably ought to accommodate his manifest will. But not rigidly, of course.

  7. But what about those with the moral failing of rigidly taking the doctrinaire assertions of Popes seriously? Should there be rigid expectations of repentance for them?

  8. “All of these activities are censured by the Church to varying degrees, and my refusal to condemn racism and national border control in particular make me an unorthodox Catholic, given the unanimity with which the Church speaks on these things.”

    I disagree. The contemporary Church doesn’t condemn “national border control” as intrinsically evil. A little while ago, we discussed a quote by Pius XII about the obligation to admit immigrants, where he allows immigration restrictions for the sake of the common good. A similar but more recent statement can be found in St. John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2241):

    “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

    “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (emphases by me).

    However, contemporary bishops often give the impression that in practice, the bad consequences of any but the most rudimentary immigration restrictions usually outweigh the good ones. This is not a doctrine about timeless truths, but an opinion about the application of such a doctrine to particular historical circumstances. As far as I know, such prudential judgements aren’t binding, even when they are contained in otherwise binding magisterial documents.

    This is consistent with Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to Cardinal McCarrick on the licit reception of Holy Communion, where he writes:

    “For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia” (emphasis by me).

    Here Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be referring to John Paul II’s statement in Evangelium Vitae that the conditions for the permissible use of capital punishment are today “very rare, if not practically non-existent” (#56). Note that Evangelium Vitae is an encyclical which otherwise contains weighty magisterial statements.

    With regard to the condemnation of “racism”: Since “racism” is a very vague concept, it can be interpreted as “racial hatred.” If a bishop or pope claimed that any special loyalty to or affection for one’s own race is intrinsically evil, that would be a different thing, but I am not aware of any such statements.

  9. I give up. I’m going back to being a Lutheran.

  10. The frying pan is hot! Doesn’t that fire look comfortable?

  11. My understanding is that a Catholic views the popes’ teaching in light of all the other popes’ teaching & not by viewing all the previous popes teaching in light of the current pope because the throne of St Peter can be occupied by a heretic like Pope Honorius, anathematized by later Popes, & the criminally corrupt like the Borgias & Medicis are claimed to have been. & during the ‘western schism’ many ordinary believers couldn’t possibly know what pope to submit to so the only way to receive sure teaching would be from the tradition of the church as in the consensus of the fathers & previous popes, through which the Holy Spirit teaches.

    If it’s only the current pope which is to be obeyed the Catholic religion will fall apart. Even the Dogma of Papal Infallibility says the Pope is not infallible so as to teach new doctrines but to teach what the Church has always believed.

    The deposit of the Faith once & for all delivered to the saints does not seem to include Pope Francis teaching on pagan religions like Islam, immigration, church tradition, divorce & proselytizing for the sake of spreading the faith as they’re not in harmony with the consensus of the fathers & previous popes so either the tradition has been wrong for 2000 years or the Pope is wrong when he can be shown to explicitly contradict the Tradition. If he’s right & the tradition is wrong, the protestants were wrongfully anathematized for abandoning the tradition of the popes & fathers.

    Being a Papist is to listen to all the popes, Papolotry is obeying only the current at the expense of the previous. I think Papalotry naturally flows from believing in evolution where everything is getting better & better.

  12. I have been expecting this mess with Pope Francis will cause people to seriously reconsider the Papacy. If you think the Papacy is an instrument of Providence, how can it be that the Pope takes a wrecking ball to orthodoxy. You can play games with ordinary and extraordinary magisteria, but it is increasingly hopeless.

  13. “I have been expecting this mess with Pope Francis will cause people to seriously reconsider the Papacy. If you think the Papacy is an instrument of Providence, how can it be that the Pope takes a wrecking ball to orthodoxy.”

    The doctrine of papal infallibility places very limited conditions upon its exercise. Which is another way of saying that it upholds papal *fallibility* just as much as infallibility. We really don’t have a doctrine of “the good kind of papal fallibility.” If popes are fallible then they can be wrong, and history has shown us they can be horribly wrong. It’s actually possible to simply have a really REALLY horrible pope. I’m not saying that’s necessarily consoling, but it should stop all this going off the deep end talk. If people are Catholic becasue of all our awesome popes I’m not sure they looked too far back into our history.

    Also, appeals to Providence are tricky – it can just as often be a way people read into history what they want to see and as a ratification of their own thoughts and wishes.

  14. Does the Pope to some degree realize his own hypocrisy? In the reaching out to the SSPX, I wonder if it is so. You can’t logically accept everyone and reject the society.

  15. That said, I pray he does do good indeed and teaches truth to God’s faithful.

  16. I expect Pope Francis is only embracing SSPX so when the next bomb falls the Traditionalists will have nowhere to go.

  17. “Can’t you feel the Great Breeze of Mercy blowing?”

    “It is from this custom of the priests that some authors maintain these Æolists to have been very ancient in the world, because the delivery of their mysteries, which I have just now mentioned, appears exactly the same with that of other ancient oracles, whose inspirations were owing to certain subterraneous effluviums of wind delivered with the same pain to the priest, and much about the same influence on the people. It is true indeed that these were frequently managed and directed by female officers, whose organs were understood to be better disposed for the admission of those oracular gusts, as entering and passing up through a receptacle of greater capacity, and causing also a pruriency by the way, such as with due management has been refined from carnal into a spiritual ecstasy. And to strengthen this profound conjecture, it is further insisted that this custom of female priests is kept up still in certain refined colleges of our modern Æolists [122], who are agreed to receive their inspiration, derived through the receptacle aforesaid, like their ancestors the Sybils.”

  18. Being more Catholic than the pope is essential if the pope needs to be more Catholic, whatever pope we mean. We need to remember to avoid the belief that if the pope says something or other, it’s true, even when infallibility isn’t protecting it from falsehood. Some Catholics seem to approve anything a ruling pope says or does, even if the Church has always condemned it. Those Catholics act like legal positivists who tell you that the U.S. Constitution means anything that the U.S. Supreme Court says it means. Catholic “legal positivists” praise John Paul II’s religiously indifferent prayer meetings in Assisi, even when they know that Pope Pius XI had already condemned them in his Encyclical Mortalium animos in the 1920s.
    Catholics need to remember what the Church has always taught because if a pope or anyone else disagrees with that teaching, he’s wrong. Cardinal Burke is acting as though he’s more Catholic than the pope when Burke questions the document about remarried Catholics who receive holy Communion when they’re in objectively adulterous relationships because their previous marriages were genuine marriages by God’s standards.
    If I needed to choose three words to describe Pope Francis, they would be “radical,” progressive,” and “Modernist” in the theological sense of the word “Modernist.”

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