The Choice 2014 [Updated]

Catholics face an important choice in 2014 and in the years ahead.

Some of the comments and reactions to my post earlier this week on Pope Francis’s decision not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops revealed a disturbing trend to me, namely, the extent to which many Catholics have adopted an apprehensive attitude about the current pontiff.

pope-francis3Sure, I get it, it’s fun to be a cynic. It’s cool to be the one always predicting the next bad thing that’s going to happen, and being the one who is never surprised when it does.

Dissenting catholics have gotten really good at playing the role of the cynic for the past 30 years. Some priests, who shall remain nameless, have spent more time and energy complaining about the pope to the mainstream media than they have spent studying theology.

So I can understand why some orthodox catholics may be enjoying the novelty of being a papal skeptic. Certainly the media has done everything in its power to perpetuate the falsehood that Pope Francis is a liberal made in their own image. What I can’t understand is why Catholics, who say the media can’t be trusted and believe the media doesn’t “get” religion, continue to let the media form and influence their impression of who Pope Francis is!

We’re better than this. The Pope is not our president. We don’t have the right to say the current pope wasn’t our pick and we’re waiting around for the next guy. We must trust that when the cardinals chose Cardinal Brogoglio to be Pope, the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing. So let’s quit with the doom mongering. The church is a family. We don’t get to choose the members, and we scandalize the world when we air our dirty laundry in the site of others. Especially when the laundry isn’t dirty to begin with!

The more I read about Pope Francis, the more I am convinced that the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. Here’s what I mean:  the Vatican expert Sandro Magister paints a picture of a new pope not yet sure of what he wants to do. George Weigel and others have easily taken apart the media-driven meme that Pope Francis is a liberal, i.e. not orthodox. The Pope himself has preached against “adolescent progressivism”. The case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, which so many liturgical traditionalists site as an example of Pope Francis’ supposed antagonism to the Latin Mass, is far from black-and-white when you examine the evidence.

Simply put, it’s just way too early to judge what the future holds when it comes to the new occupant of the Chair of Peter.

But here’s one thing I think I can safely say Pope Francis doesn’t tolerate: allowing liturgical rubrics and clericalism to keep us from the proclamation of the Gospel. I’m right with him on that one. Good liturgy and a healthy respect for clerics should lead us to a more passionate living out and witness to the Good News, not the opposite!  

And so while Pope Francis is no liberal, he also has no patience for traditional Catholics who let preferences and small-t traditions become a stumbling block to living out there faith fully.

If your love for the Extraordinary Form leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, you’re doing it wrong.  If you’ve spent more time reading articles claiming that Pope Francis has condemned capitalism in his latest exhortation instead of actually reading what he wrote, you’re doing it wrong. And if you spend more time bemoaning the fact that so many people are misunderstanding the Pope when you could be doing something about it by leaving comments, posting Facebook messages and engaging people, you’re doing it wrong.

That’s why I say the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. If Pope Francis sees dissenting Catholics living more active lives of charity, showing more passion in their desire to fix the problems of the world, and being more vocal in the great debates of our time, what happens then? This is our opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, to show our compassion for the poor with concrete acts, to live our faith more authentically, to be more active in the public square, to show how much we care that we are catholic and how much that reality forms who we are and inspires what we do.

So which is it going to be? Are we going to spend the next few years wringing our hands worried to death that all the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict are about to be undone, or are we going to take Pope Francis up on his challenge and live the Gospel more fully every day, in plain sight?

That’s the choice we face in 2014 and always.

So let’s fight, let’s fight for the church. It’s the only one we’ve got.

UPDATE: I’m excited to see that this post continues to generate interest and dicussion, nearly a week after it was published (that’s a long time in blog years). Over the weekend Michael Potemra wrote a good essay on The Corner reflecting on the challenge I offer above. I think he puts it more succinctly than I when he writes: “Maybe the pope is as bad as you fear he is, maybe he isn’t. So what? The important question remains on the table: How then shall we live?

That’s the challenge I’m offering to all of us.

58 thoughts on “The Choice 2014 [Updated]

  1. Bruce says:

    A fascinating article, in the sense of how many straw men it constructs. First, I have to wonder what these supposed “small t traditions” are that pose “stumbling blocks” to traditionalists living out their faith fully. The author is seemingly saying that the pre-conciliar Mass is an impediment to proclaiming the Gospel or living it fully. As though Catholics weren’t able to live out their vocations prior to the election of Francis because they were “stuck on rubrics.” Is the author seriously suggesting that the Gospel hasn’t been proclaimed over the past two millennia, or that there was something deficient about the Church during that time and how it spread the Holy Faith to every corner of the world and produced innumerable converts and saints from all walks of life?

    As to the charge of clericalism, the term is fashionably bandied about now, but seemingly without much thought about what it really means. Does the author mean by the term, “a policy of upholding the power of the clergy”, “the power of the clergy when especially strong”, “power of the clergy in government, politics, etc.”, “an undue influence of the hierarchy and clergy in public affairs and government”? (all from It’s an odd charge to level against traditionalists who are supposedly great cynics & skeptics of the current hierarchy and Holy Father.

    And it’s rather curious that the author would admonish traditionalists (and here the author for some reason is also vague about whom he means, or what it is that constitutes being a traditionalist, other than a love for the Extraordinary Form, which the previous Pope acknowledged as never being forbidden and never having lost its legitimacy) for airing dirty laundry in sight of the public, when that is especially what is being done here, as though Catholics who seek to live their lives according to the constant teachings of the Church over it’s entire history are somehow now wrong when they expect the clergy and those in the hierarchy to be guardians of the Faith and stalwart shepherds rather than politicians in clerical garb, who will change with every gust of the cultural winds for the sake of being relevant to “modern” man…as though human nature has changed, well, ever.

    I’ll close with a counter-admonishment: If your love for the Novus Ordo leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Extraordinary Form instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, YOU are doing it wrong. Instead of being the hammer of traditionalists, who as a group take their faith seriously and try to conform their lives to the Gospel in its entirety, take your own advice and do the same.

    1. Dan says:

      It really is quite something how conservative Catholics have taken their hammers to traditional Catholics (who understand the binding force of tradition) ever since the election of Francis. Conservative Catholics who speak in such a way have an impoverished understanding of Ecclesiastical history and they believe that it was the Second Vatican Council, not Jesus, that has made all things new.

  2. LIsa says:

    Here’s the issue I have with this, Thomas:

    Are Traditional-minded Catholics the *problem* in the Church? Are they a huge threat to evangelization? (!) Is the Church filled with (to be stereotypical) cold/insular/pompous liturgies attended by Catholics blind to the call to charity?

    Is *this* the biggest problem, worth the Pope calling people out and pointing fingers at?


    I just have no idea where he’s coming from and why he’s fixated on this, rather than on the nihilism that threatens lives and souls, that strips humanity of its beauty and adventure. So. Weird.

  3. Joseph d'Hippolito says:

    “Already, we see the new bishops wanting to model themselves after Pope Francis, They want to live a simpler lifestyle to be closer to those they serve. ”

    No, Kris, they want to patronize the Pope (i.e, kiss his biological seat cushion) because they’re careerists at heart who’ll do anything to advance themselves.

  4. Eric says:


    You’re free to disagree with what Mr. Peters says in this article (and I do) but come on. That nasty shot about “diving in” in your last sentence is simply beyond any level of decency. I pray you’re simply unaware of Mr. Peters’ accident and not intentionally mocking a person with a serious spinal cord injury.

  5. Allan Wafkowski says:

    Please, let’s be objective. Since Francis arrived we have had constant confusion in the church. If I remember correctly the instructions of the saints, confusion is from the devil, that which is peaceful is from the Holy Spirit. Since Francis, high ranking churchmen have made heretical statements and have been unmolested by Francis. Francis himself has made one nutty statement after another. People like you accept anything he says as okay because he is pope. But we should not do that; we have a history of teachings that cannot be altered even by a pope. We know what is true and what is false by the paper trail. Francis is engaged in lot of dubious teaching that cannot be defended, and he has allowed demonstrably heretical statements go unchallenged. Francis is more a chastisement than blessing.

    1. Some of us Catholics have found things to be much clearer the past 9 months: a sharper focus on evangelization, a new and positive energy from Rome, and a pope who is appealing to non-believers and inactive Christians.

      Sometimes confusion comes from within. Sometimes we are challenged to go deeper in our own lives, to discern, to attempt to hear God rather than cherry-pick through the saints.

      To understand Francis, delve into the Ignatian exercises.

      1. Allan Wafkowski says:

        Todd, I think what you feel are perception not actual happenings. What is clearer? The new evangelization has so far been nothing more than a watering down of the faith to make a one-size-fits-all church. Francis appeals to non-Catholics because he is dismantling the truths of the Catholic Church. I suggest that Francis is a proud man who will destroy the Catholic Church is allowed to.

        1. I disagree. Jesus appealed first to the Chosen People. Some embraced Christ to a degree, notably the apostles, the women, and the other unnamed disciples (such as the 72).

          Paul and the other apostles eventually moved to the Gentiles, and Christianity spread worldwide.

          Pope Francis appeals to non-Catholics in the same way many saints did. Patrick. Cyril and Methodius. Gregory of Armenia. Juan Diego.

          Your suggestion is silly. Evangelizing those outside the fold has been the mission of many of our saints. Older brothers pouting on the porch–not so much.

          Much has been made of Luke 15, but more telling among many Catholics is Matthew 21:28-32. Jesus’s own insight would seem to align with what Pope Francis is preaching and doing. Not so much what we hear from the 6% of Catholics. Read more carefully what Tom has written here. I think you’ll find a breakthrough.

          1. Actually, most of the Pope’s critics are not Traditionalists, but people like Michael Novak, Francisco de la Cigoña, r Mario Palmaro, Alessandro Gnocchi and if Sandro Magister was ever on the fence about this Pope, it’s news to me.

            Also, Rorate, already took that dishonest bit of journalism apart. Go see for yourselves.

    2. Martina says:

      @ Allan Wafkowski
      I couldn´t agree with you more!

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