Is the Pope a heretic, or are we Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, Scribes, or Lawyers?
Thanks be to God for Catholic TV and Radio
Like many Roman Catholics I have been pleased to watch programs on EWTN and Salt + Light. I was in seminary when in 1981 Mother Angelica listened to the Holy Spirit and boldly had the first TV and Radio studio built. It was seen as a remarkable act of God and an act of mercy for his Church and for all his children, the people of our time.
Who are we to accuse this particularly fine Pope of heresy?
To my dismay, and that of many, perhaps countless R.C. Christians, there are now some who in the name of reporting news are joining voices that accuse Pope Francis of heresy. A number of analysts suspect that the primary motive of these accusations – which have been shadowing Pope Francis almost from the start of his pontificate – is that certain people don’t like the Pope’s call and efforts at reform in the Church.
Is this a contemporary echo of what happened to Jesus?
The more I reflect on this and pray about it, the more apparent it seems to me that Pope Francis is being offered by our Lord Jesus an opportunity to suffer what He also suffered during his short 3-year mission on Earth. Jesus tried to reform the Temple’s practice of cluttering up the “Court of the Gentiles” with merchants selling sacrificial animals and bankers changing currencies. The Court of the Gentiles was part of the Temple intended by God to be a place where interested Gentiles could come for conversation with Jews about God.
Jesus’ efforts to reform the faith of Israel included reminding people about God’s mercy towards sinners, and to remind people that not doing any work to honour God on the Sabbath Day did not excuse anyone from the duty of performing works of mercy towards those who presented themselves in their need on that day.
Jesus’ reform met with severe criticism, unjust arrest, and false accusations, trumped up charges, unjust condemnation, incarceration, torture, and execution. It is obvious that Pope Francis is not the innocent and holy Son of God, but he is a good, just, and righteous man, a true believer, a devout Catholic Christian, a holy priest, an exemplary bishop with a long commitment to pastoral care of all the faithful and a predilection for the poor, and now, finally, an exemplary pope.
Who were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, Scribes, and Lawyers who accused and executed Jesus?
First of all, they were all men. Second, they were men of privilege, because they enjoyed the highest of all privileges obtainable in their society: education, wealth, and position of influence. Third, in principle, they belonged to the ruling classes, which exist to cultivate order and harmony by their service to their society.
What balance exists between privilege and responsibility, wealth and the common good, power and service?
Such privileges come with social obligations towards the rest of the population who, through no fault of their own, have little or no access to any or all of those privileges. Those who accumulate to themselves the lion’s share of a society’s resources cannot escape from the truth that all the resources of Planet Earth belong to all for the common good of humanity as a species. Privilege enjoyed without responsibility towards the rest of society could define despotism. Wealth enjoyed without assuring public services could define tyranny. Power wielded without serving the common good could define totalitarianism.
How could men convinced of their righteousness and religious devotion be so wrong?
The Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, Scribes, and Lawyers who arrested, accused, and executed Jesus were to all appearances prominent men, religiously devout, and dedicated to their religion and its faith practice. How could they be so wrong about Jesus? How could they fail to see what was obvious to ordinary people, namely, that Jesus was a good and righteous man, a holy man, yes, and possibly even the Son of God?
The only explanation I can see is that they were unwilling or unable to be self-critical. They were convinced of their perfect record in obeying all of God’s laws, prescriptions, and observances. Jesus had to remind them that they were forgetting the heart of God’s Law which is mercy. They didn’t buy it. They wanted everyone to be clearly identified as the sinners that they were, in accord with all their external failures to perfectly observe all the religious laws and prescriptions. They were mad as hell that Jesus accused them right back of interior sinful intentions and desires, because their good reputation mattered more to them than God’s judgement. Jesus took them to task for their hardness of heart and unwillingness to alleviate the people’s burdens.
How can people be so convinced that Pope Francis is a heretic? What is bothering them so much about him?
Frankly, after having read so many texts by those who accuse Pope Francis, and listening to a few people I know who feel the same way, I can only conclude that in our own day we have – without realizing it – slipped into the hard heartedness and hard headedness of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, Scribes, and Lawyers who arrested, accused, and executed Jesus.
We / they want it to be very clear who the “sinners” are, so that we can be clearly distinguished from “them”. Those who don’t like Pope Francis, or are angry with him, or despise him or some of his statements and his attitudes towards “them”: those who identify as LGBT etc., or any other issue distasteful to them, disagree with his efforts to reform the Church. They believe the Church is fine the way it is and doesn’t need reform.
How can we who are convinced of our righteousness and religious devotion be so wrong?
Surprisingly, or shockingly, I believe that we could characterize what happened to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day and is happening to the critics of Pope Francis as “vestigial adolescence”. One of the defining characteristics of adolescence – as a child emerges from childhood and begins to notice all that is wrong with the world which they are inheriting from the generations of adults who have gone before them – is shock at the mess they see and anger at the deficiencies in the inheritance we are bequeathing to them.
When an adolescent gets stuck in that shock and anger – which are perfectly normal reactions to an abnormal situation – the shock and anger compel them to rebellion and misbehaviour which can harden into juvenile delinquency. By definition, a juvenile delinquent is an adolescent who is angry at the world, sees everything that is wrong with the world, but has no sense of personal fault or responsibility. The delinquent’s eyes are exclusively focused on all that is wrong “out there”, but unable to be aware of anything that might be wrong “in here”, that is, within me. If I cannot admit anything that is wrong with me, by the same token I am unable to appreciate anything that is right and good with me. This is a different kind of hardness of heart.
The advent and development of a new professional field: that of the psychoeducator
If you search “psychoeducation” on the web, there are indications that this professional was developed around 1980 and much is made of developments in Germany. However, in the French society of Québec, Canada, in 1940 a priest founded Boscoville, inspired by the American “Boys’ Town”, and in the 1950’s and 1960’s they developed the process of re-education into a process of awareness raising and responsibility. Today there is a postgraduate degree in psychoeducation which produces licenses psychoeducators who participate in the province’s health and social services.
The primary discovery during those decades of development was that when an interested person who accompanied a delinquent took interest in whatever good they were doing – rather than constantly harping on all that they had done wrong – in trying to speak about the good they had done, the delinquents began to exist in their own eyes. From that point on, they could begin to choose to take responsibility for their own life, and by the same token, had less need to blame the rest of society or to find fault with others.
It is a well established principle in the Christian life that the best way to avoid becoming obsessed with the faults of others is to assiduously examine one’s own conscience and regularly confess one’s own faults and work on replacing bad habits with habits of virtue.
Why are some Catholics / Christians critical of others rather than “walk humbly with their God”? (Micah 6:8)
Eurasia and the Middle East – a heritage of empires
This part of the world went through successive empires, invasions, wars, and eventually the development of nations. Human nature being what it is, the various peoples accumulated experiences of domination and exploitation by monarchs and invading tribes. At times they enjoyed benevolent rulers, but it didn’t last. Some nations developed empires of their own: the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Holland. They in turn expanded, conquered, and exploited other peoples.
The European nations and empires set their sights on the “new world” and some settlers came to escape the tyrannies they had known there. Unfortunately, the settlement of the Americas collided with native peoples, and the general policy practiced by the settlers in effect carried out the results found in genocide. The native peoples of the Americas were, more or less completely, wiped out or subjugated in destructive ways.
The United States of America
Most prominent among American states is the U.S.A. which has taken the name of “America” to itself. From the beginning, those who developed this nation have taken a posture of superiority towards all others with whom they have had dealings. They took over much of the Spanish colonies in the south and west, and even so far as the Philippines. Through various policies over the centuries they have exerted such influence and power over other states in the Americas; that few if any have enjoyed similar freedom to develop their own forms of government and effectively care for their own populations. Holding other nations back or assuring that they are ruled by dictators or governments willing to do American bidding is seen as a duty to assure “American interests”.
It is increasingly becoming apparent to American citizens that government policies pursued in the name of “American interests” are not necessarily oriented towards the common good of citizens, but rather towards the good of the largest and most influential corporations. In other words, more and more of the resources in the land are at the service of profiting the very small minority of people who own those corporations. There are too many documentaries to be counted that report the American countryside resembles more and more a third world or undeveloped society. Companies exploit an area for profit and abandon it when it suits them.
The legal system, the health system, large corporations, and the military industrial complex are extremely efficient at assuring their own interests and development; while citizens experience that increasingly none of these players have any interest in the well being or development of citizens, families, or communities. This dimension of America is deeply infected by the virus of profit and greed that excludes the common good. We could call the virus “American capitalism”.
Like the U.S.A., in World War II Canada had the impression of standing on a higher moral ground than the people of Europe, where the war was principally being fought. However, we were not very hospitable to Jewish refugees trying to find a safe haven from the Nazi death camps. We didn’t object very strongly to the bombing of civilians in Germany and other nations. We weren’t overly sad at the atomic bombing of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but only too glad that those atrocities may have accelerated an end to the war.
The death of western civilization
Sadly and embarrassingly, Canada is now on the forefront of those championing “open season” on humanity: abortion on demand, euthanasia increasingly on demand, and what will be next? When a society no longer acknowledges the existence of a Creator, God, let alone any responsibility of gratitude and worship towards the Divine Being; it is a very short step for human beings to begin behaving as though they were god, exercising with reckless abandon power over life and death. What we found so abhorrent in Hitler we now embrace with hardly a qualm of conscience.
Is there any remaining sense of the common good on the Earth?
One reason that America, Canada, European nations, Japan, China, India, and many nations have at some point been great and retain a capacity to be great nations is the existence within them of great people. Human beings attain greatness when they develop depth of conscience and greatness of spirit, which becomes manifest in their positive contributions to their own society and to other societies.
Citizens of Poland have with great effort maintained a collective sense of identity and survived very harsh and destructive regimes. Many of their citizens have shown greatness, and now they must meet the challenge of a form of capitalism that focuses primarily on personal profit without due consideration for the common good. They must now contend, like most nations on the Earth at this time, with the virus “American capitalism”.
Africa and Latin America
The nations and peoples of Africa and Latin America have been exploited by the ancient empires of Greece, Babylon, Chaldea, Syria, Assyria, Egypt, Rome, and others. These were replaced by the Arabic Empire which came to be known later as Islam, the best known and longest lasting version of which was the Ottoman Empire. In turn it was displaced by the European empires and now by the American Empire. For a time they were caught in the cold war between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. With the fall of the former, there now is only the latter. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the American empire – particularly through its transnational corporations – is greatly interfering in the development of nations and their ability to look after the proper interests of their own peoples.
The Japanese have long been impressive as a people. Their rise from medieval society and poverty at the end of World War II into an economic powerhouse and highly developed, educated, and sophisticated society has been truly remarkable. The whole world has been impressed with their response as a society to natural or other disasters, at which time their whole society mobilizes as though a single man. Their practice of wearing masks in public transit in order to avoid spreading respiratory infections is very impressive. However, not even the Japanese have been able to resist the virus of “American capitalism”. They are having so few children that their whole population is tipping into old age. Their development has not been without fear for the future.
We westerners have been effectively brainwashed into seeing only the harsh violence of the communist revolution when we consider China and its people. As a child I was deformed with stories of missionaries tortured and killed. The narrative given to us came from our own societies which had been formed by their own interests as empires of exploitation and conquest. When missionaries came from European nations to the Americas – as they did to Asia, Africa, and Oceania – they travelled on the same boats that brought soldiers on a mission of conquest and exploitation.
The Communist Revolution in China had as its first goal the elimination of outside empires and their policies of conquest and subjection for exploitation. Only recently have I discovered that 80% of Chinese in China today self identify as Han. They are an almost completely homogeneous people and their language is Mandarin. Their current rapid progress is due to the hybrid development of capitalism and private ownership and enterprise with a central government operating according to communist principles.
The Basque economic revolution
One of my most astounding discoveries in the past year has been to hear and read about a different form of capitalism that not only exists but is thriving in our world. In 1956 a Roman Catholic priest encouraged his unemployed and impoverished people not to wait for capitalists to come and invest in creating jobs for them but to go ahead and do it for themselves. Well, they did. Today, the Mondragon Corporation includes over 100 companies entirely owned and operated by the workers themselves.
Workers evaluate supervisors instead of the other way around. Profits are not siphoned off for the benefit of a handful of owners or share holders, because the workers all have equal shares in the company and together they operate develop it. They set up their own university to assure the development of cooperation as a more beneficial form of capitalism, more beneficial for the whole of society, because the corporation reinvests in the nation in which its owners, the workers, dwell. The corporation pays its fair share of taxes, rather than seeking refuge in foreign tax havens.
Mondragon Corporation reinvests 10% of profits into education, 45% into research and development, and 45% into the worker / owners’ pension funds; where until they retire they are reinvested into the Corporation’s ongoing development and growth. The highest paid worker earns not more than 5 to 6 times the least paid worker, unlike American corporations where the difference is more like 300 times more. Is the success of Mondragon due to the strong sense of collective identity enjoyed by the Basques? Can others emulate and reproduce their success? Can cooperation co-exist with American capitalism and, in time, even replace it?
Are we any longer capable of recognizing goodness, righteousness, and mercy, or of practicing them?
We are descendants and products of genocidal empires and plutocracies. We modern homo sapiens are ever more convinced of our superiority and inversely willing to recognize any external authority. To put it in a Roman Catholic context, the Pope cannot possibly be infallible because everyone else already is. While it is shocking to see TV reporters and commentators taking what appears to be glee in insinuating if not outright accusing Pope Francis of heresy; it is not surprising, and it is disappointing.
Because of our political en economic heritage, but especially because of our human nature, we are almost incapable of recognizing authentic goodness, true righteousness, and divine mercy when we see them. It appears that we have very little appetite for practicing such virtuous attitudes and behaviours. However, the situation is not without hope, because it is merely further evidence that we stand in need of a Saviour. Thanks be to God that He has given us One: Jesus, his only-begotten Son, for whose coming once again we now have the privilege of preparing through yet another Advent Season.
Blessed Advent to you and your family!