The staunchest Catholics are critical of certain popes of the past. The Colonnas and Caetanis of the world, the greedy ones like Benedict IX, the warriors like Julius II, the scheming fornicators like Alexander VI are heavily criticised.
The staunch Catholic knows that he can do this because his faith in the Church, or the validity of the Church’s role and message, do not depend in the least on how good – or bad – the Pope is. Like something else, bad popes simply happen.
The same happens when the criticism concerns popes of a more recent past. There’s nothing easier than to find around the Internet a rather sharp criticism of the long-deceased Pope Paul VI or of his predecessor, Pope John XXIII.
Exactly the same process is now occurring for the last deceased pope, Blessed John Paul II. Treated in life like a pop icon and the undisputed Strange Communicator, the earth-kissing, koran-kissing, rock-loving, airmiles-collecting pope’s legacy is seen with an increasingly more historical, and therefore more critical role now than it was only some years ago, with his rushed beatification probably not doing him any favour in this respect, and rather leaving the impression the Vatican wanted to use a marketing instrument for all it was worth before the reaching of the “sell by” date.
Strangely, though, this exercise of the legitimate ability to respectfully criticising the Pope seems – at least in recent times – to never apply to the Pope in charge.
The pope in charge is, in this prospective, inerrant. If he makes a mistake, his mistake lies in being too good. If the mistake must be attributed to him, he has been badly advised. If he keeps making mistakes, his advisers must be bad apples . If he surrounds himself with bad apples, it is because as an apple he is just too good to notice.
Most recently, I have found a new version of this: if the wrong document has been sent out, a Cardinal must have changed it against the will of the Holy Father, every other explanation having to be excluded because it conflicts with the new unwritten dogma of papal inerrancy. If we believe this, we can truly believe everything: Hitler wanted global peace but has been badly advised, Stalin was a devout Christian but his aides were bad apples, and Mussolini was fundamentally an ascetic character whom bad women kept tempting.
This total abandonment of common sense and basic logic is not only deprived of reason, but profoundly offensive of the same man it is meant to protect. To imply an old man would sit on a chair and suffer at the thought his cardinals change his texts, without doing anything against it, is the open accusation that this man is perfectly inadequate to fulfil his role, either because he is not compos mentis anymore or because he allowed his aides to cow him into inaction to such a point.
It is rapidly becoming apparent the emperor has very few clothes, and to leave him out in his undies whilst the “wolves” are blamed for the scandal isn’t really helpful for anyone, least of all the emperor. The more so, because the time will come when the emperor’s actions are clinically examined both in this world and in the next, and the unwritten assumption of inerrancy will not help him anymore.
Neither I nor the internet were there, but I wonder whether in Paul VI’s times exactly the same mechanisms applied: it is not the pope’s fault; he is surrounded by wolves; he isn’t understood; his collaborators work against him; his documents are even changed, his suggestions not followed, he is the hostage of cruel ruthless cardinals. Bugnini bad, Montini good.
Really? Did this mentality help him in the end? Would he have acted differently had he not felt authorised to think that whining was an acceptable substitute for acting? Did he manage to escape hell in the end? If he did, was it because of, or notwithstanding the silence and excuses of those around him? And these latter, were they not accessories to his sins by silence, or by concealment, or by defence of the evil done?
If you ask me, the duty of a good Catholic does not lie in selective blindness. Not from a general point of view, but the more so because as Catholics we know the Church is stronger than any difficulty, whether external or internal. We must accept the reality of mediocre Popes as we accept the reality of disease and bad weather. Bad popes happen, but they do not change a iota in our faithfulness and dedication to the Church of Christ.
Pray for the Pope; that he may see the situation, and set a couple of things right.