The Head-Slapping Criticism of Pope Francis

The criticism coming from the self-identified “loyal opposition” Catholics in the media who feel obliged to fraternally correct the Holy Father is perplexing to say the least. It is shocking that declared faithful Catholics label Pope Francis a Modernist heretic, and then bewail the burden of it. Others dislike his personality and humility, and just want to air their annoyance publicly. But this antagonism, it’s like slapping your head with your hand — unhelpful and downright painful because a body needs its head.

In 1990 then Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian to journalists in a press conference at the Holy See, asserting a “two-fold rule” for dialogue between the faithful and the hierarchy. “When there is a question of the communion of faith, the principle of the ‘unity of truth’ (unitas veritatis) applies. When it is a question of differences which do not jeopardize this communion, the ‘unity of charity’ (unitas caritatis) should be safeguarded.”

For doctrinal questions, the faithful should unite in seeking truth. For divergent opinions on non-infallible matters, the faithful should unite in charity. Disagreements with the hierarchy should be handled with discretion. Out of respect for the “People of God” the one acting as theologian is supposed to “refrain from giving untimely public expression” of discordant opinions.

If a Catholic is opposed to the Holy Father’s (or a priest’s or bishop’s) teaching, he or she should either 1) take the concern privately to a priest or bishop who will decide whether to take it to the Holy See, or 2) remain prayerfully silent trusting that “if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.” If the difficulty is not resolved even after seeking private resolution, the faithful “should avoid turning to the ‘mass media’ …for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth.”

Apparently some Catholics have troubled feelings about Pope Francis, but personal sentiments are simply not more important than the unity of the Church. Further, loyal opposition is not a model in the Church, it is a “model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society.” By sowing division in the media rather than privately seeking recourse appropriately, the critics form a “parallel magisterium” of their own in conflict with the Magisterium of the Pastors.

If only they knew how much this head-slapping criticism from insubordinate hands hurts the body of Christ.

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