The Sin of Falsely Accusing the Pope

The article in question was published at Crisis magazine, on 8 October 2018: The Sin of Silence by James Soriano. It is the latest example of conservative Catholic opposition to Pope Francis. And it is one of the most vicious and unfair attacks on the Vicar of Christ so far. This is the Catholic version of “throwing shade”, insulting someone in a subtle and cruel, but indirect manner.

Pope Francis is not mentioned in the article, directly. And yet the article makes an accusation of grave sin against him, going to far as to suggest he deserves to be in Hell. To accuse someone, anyone, of a sin so grave that it deserves eternal punishment, without directly explaining the sin, is patently unjust. There is no fair presentation of both sides of a dispute. There is not even a plain statement as to the alleged offense.

To treat any neighbor in such a manner is objectively a mortal sin. To treat the Vicar of Christ in this way is a much greater sin. And yet many conservative Catholics are speaking against Pope Francis with great animosity, and with no regard for justice or charity.

The article begins by stating that Dante’s Inferno “put the souls of at least three popes in hell”. The article ends with two sentences, including a link from the phrase “say not one word” to an Associated Press story on Pope Francis declining to comment on the Vigano letter about McCarrick.

“There’s a special place in hell for fathers who say not one word to their children when they are in distress. It’s on the vast ice lake, the last stop before Satan.”

The implication is that Pope Francis deserves eternal punishment in Hell for declining to reply to the letter of Archbishop Vigano about former Cardinal McCarrick. But Pope Francis’ words are being misrepresented. Here is his full statement:

““I read that release this morning. I read it and I sincerely have to tell you this, to you and to all those of you who are interested: read the notice carefully and make your own judgment. I will not say a word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself, and you have enough journalistic capacity to draw conclusions. It is an act of trust: when some time has passed and you have drawn conclusions, perhaps I will speak. But I would like your professional maturity to do this job: it will do you good, really. That’s okay.” [Independent Catholic News]”

He won’t say a word, since the statement speaks for itself. He tells people to read the letter of Archbishop Vigano. And he states that “when some time has passed…perhaps I will speak”. There is nothing wrong with waiting some time before speaking.

The implicit accusation, under the banner of “not say a word”, is that Pope Francis will not take any action based on the complaint of Archbishop Vigano. To the contrary, on 6 October 2018, it was reported that Pope Francis is investigating Cardinal McCarrick. Moreover, at Archbishop Vigano’s request, with express permission from the Pope, Cardinal Ouellet wrote an open letter in reply to Vigano. Thus, the Pope is not guilty of silence.

The article also speaks of treason and betrayal, of a father refusing to comfort his sons, of a starving father eating the flesh of his sons. All these things are under the pretext of discussing Dante’s Inferno. But that is not the true purpose of the article. At the close of the article, all of this — the popes in hell, treason, the mistreatment of sons by a father — is applied to Pope Francis. Yet the author gives us only one hint as to why we should consider Pope Francis to be guilty of all of these sins and deserving of hellfire: the “say not one word” phrase.

It is absurd to accuse Pope Francis of treason, betrayal, and of deserving eternal punishment all because his response to an unjust open letter by Archbishop Vigano did not include an immediate reply. I should also point out that the letter demanded the resignation of the Roman Pontiff. What if Pope Francis had replied with words to the press, or with an open letter of his own? Would the conservative Catholic subculture be satisfied? Not at all. They want his resignation, and they will continue to abuse him until they force him out of office.

But God is not on their side. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. To bear false witness against the Pope is even more sinful. And yet the conservative Catholic subculture welcomes these sins against the Vicar of Christ. No evidence or explanation needed. Just make a series of negative remarks about the Supreme Shepherd, and you have their support.

Pope Francis was harshly condemned by many conservatives for refusing to reply to the five dubia of the four Cardinals. He was harshly condemned for his initial silence after the Vigano letter. The conservative Catholic subculture sees the Supreme Pontiff as its underling. And when your boss demands that you answer questions, or that you change your behavior, he will be very angry if you refuse. Essentially, there is no way for Pope Francis to avoid unjust condemnation from conservatives unless he gives them the role of Roman Pontiff, and he becomes merely one of their sheep.

But Pope Francis is the highest authority in the Church on earth. He is not subject to the conservative Catholic subculture, nor to any group of Cardinals or Bishops. If he wishes to remain silent, like Christ before Herod, he may do so. If he wishes to speak, like Christ before Pilate, he may do so. When Pope Francis opens, no one can close. And when Pope Francis closes, no one can open. He has the keys, and all of these self-exalting conservative authors, who see themselves as the guardians of truth in the Church, do not have even one key.

The main problem is not the behavior of Pope Francis. The problem is that, since Vatican II, a conservative Catholic subculture has been developing which has usurped the Magisterium and the authority of the Roman Pontiff. This subculture stands above every Pope, to judge and correct each one. Here’s a good example of that attitude, from Phil Lawler, who calls Pope Francis a “Lost Shepherd” and his papacy “disastrous”.

“For over 20 years now, writing daily about the news from the Vatican, I have tried to be honest in my assessment of papal statements and gestures. I sometimes criticized St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, when I thought that their actions were imprudent.” [Source]

What arrogance! Did God give Lawler or Soriano or any other author the right to judge Roman Pontiffs? Not at all. In fact, the teaching of the Church has always asserted that no one on earth has the right or role to judge the Pope. Canon 1404 “The First See is judged by no one.” And then there is this teaching from Unam Sanctam, confirmed as infallible doctrine by the Fifth Lateran Council:

“Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.” [Unam Sanctam 9].

Cardinal Ouellet is right in saying that these vicious accusations and malicious treatment of the Roman Pontiff are a type of indirect blasphemy.

“Reading how you concluded your last message, apparently very spiritual, mocking and casting doubt on his faith, seemed to me to be really too sarcastic, even blasphemous! Such a thing cannot come from God’s Spirit.”

Soriano compares the Roman Pontiff to a man, described in Dante’s Inferno, who ate the flesh of his sons. What justifies such a comparison? Pope Francis initially was silent in response to an unjust letter from an Archbishop, a letter that Cardinal Ouellet describes as misrepresenting facts and as expressing calumny and defamation against the Pope. Soriano also proposes that the current Roman Pontiff deserves eternal punishment.

Direct blasphemy offends God. Indirect blasphemy offends God by offending things that are close to God, such as the head of the Church, who speaks for Christ. Nothing that Pope Francis has said or done justifies even the accusation itself, let alone the conclusion that he is guilty and deserves hellfire. To treat the Vicar of Christ with such malice is rightly compared to the work of Satan, the deceiver and accuser.

And are we to suppose that persons who make such malicious remarks about the Roman Pontiff are nevertheless submissive to his authority? But if they are not, then the sin of formal schism also applies.

Has Soriano ever met Pope Francis, or ever had a conversation with him? Here is how Cardinal Ouellet describes the Pope, having met with him many times.

“I have the privilege of meeting at length each week with Pope Francis, in order to deal with the nominations of Bishops and the problems that affect their office. I know very well how he handles persons and problems: very charitably, mercifully, attentively and seriously….”

“If the Pope were not a man of prayer, if he were attached to money, if he were one who favors the rich to the detriment of the poor, if he did not demonstrate an untiring energy in welcoming all who are poor, giving them the generous comfort of his word and his actions, were he not multiplying all the means possible to proclaim and communicate the joy of the Gospel to everyone in the Church and even beyond its visible frontiers, if he were not extending a hand to families, to the elderly who are abandoned, to the sick in spirit and in body and above all to the young in search of happiness, then someone else could perhaps be preferable, according to you, with different diplomatic and political attitudes, but I, who have been able to know him well, cannot put into question his personal integrity, his consecration to mission, and above all the charisma and peace that dwell in him by God’s grace and the power of the Risen One.”

Does that sound like a Pope on the path to Hell? Not at all. It sounds like a Pope who will one day be canonized.

I would not presume to say that Soriano or Lawler or any of the other harsh critics of the Vicar of Christ deserved eternal punishment in Hell. But their public behavior is both objectively gravely immoral and openly schismatic. As for the Roman Pontiff, he has done nothing deserving of such extreme mistreatment, except refuse to speak and act in submission to the conservative Catholic subculture.

And what if the conservative papal critics are right in all of the theological points they dispute? Even so, they sin gravely by the way they are treating the Roman Pontiff. What would Jesus say about all this? He who said “Love your enemies” would in no way approve of mistreating His Vicar. The Pope is not the enemy of his own critics. Yet they not only treat him as an enemy, but they also fail to love their supposed enemy, the Pope.

{5:10} Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
{5:11} Blessed are you when they have slandered you, and persecuted you, and spoken all kinds of evil against you, falsely, for my sake:
{5:12} be glad and exult, for your reward in heaven is plentiful. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

{6:26} Woe to you when men will have blessed you. For these same things their fathers did to the false prophets.

The papal critics are praised and exalted by the conservative Catholic subculture. But that will not last long. Soon they will be seen for the schismatics that they are.

So then, Mr. Soriano, if the Pope deserves Hell for his alleged treason and betrayal, what do those Catholics deserve who betray the Roman Pontiff and commit treason against the Church by the sin of schism? Do you not see that your own condemnation applies to yourself? You are the one who is silent, refusing to defend the Roman Pontiff. You are the one who has betrayed the children of the Church by refusing to comfort them with words of support for their Shepherd. The measure you give, will be the measure you receive.

“the same measure that you use to measure out, will be used to measure back to you again.” (Lk 6:38).

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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4 thoughts on “The Sin of Falsely Accusing the Pope

  1. Interesting that the Fifth Lateran council calls schismatics “howling dogs”, compares them with dogs that make disturbing sounds.

    “We intend, with the help of the most High, to proceed with the holding of this sacred Lateran council which has now begun for the praise of God, the peace of the whole church, the union of the faithful the overthrow of heresies and schisms, the reform of morals, and the campaign against the dangerous enemies of the faith, so that the mouths of all schismatics and enemies of peace, those howling dogs, may be silenced and Christians may be able to keep themselves unstained from such pernicious and poisonous contagion.” (Fifth Lateran Council – Session 2 – 17 May 1512).


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