Bruised and bloodied will the church be reborn?


There is a reason that Pepsi never attacked Coca-Cola head-on, or vice-versa.

They did not want to “ruin the brand,” in the parlance of marketing.

They did not want people turning against the concept of soda altogether.

So, instead, each company adopted clever ways of situating their project in the consumer’s mind, and they even occasionally took an implied swipe at their competitor — e.g. Coke was “the real thing,” in one ad campaign, implying Pepsi was not real, or at least nothing better than a copycat.

The Catholic Church is not a soda company.

It is not a company at all.

But it is hard not to recognize that this summer, conservative critics of Pope Francis became so overwrought that they decided to ruin the brand.

In seeking to de-legitimize Francis, conservative critics have de-legitimized all popes and more.

As Massimo Faggioli explained in a brilliant essay at Commonweal, in seeking to de-legitimize Francis, they have de-legitimized all popes and more.

“[W]hat is really in danger is the bond between the church as a people and ecclesiastical authority — not just particular church officials, but the very idea of ecclesiastical authority.”

The fact that this result is ironic — the same crowd attacking Francis has been repeating, albeit often in a misunderstood way, Pope Benedict XVI’s warning against the “dictatorship of relativism” for years — is little comfort.

And, irony is not the problem here. Hypocrisy is.

The face of hypocrisy

Back in 2002, the first public allegation of sexual misconduct was made against Cardinal George Pell, but there had been rumors swirling around him before that.

Later, despite his reputation for being tough on the issue due to the relative forcefulness of the “Melbourne Response” to clergy sex abuse that Pell had crafted when serving as archbishop of that city, he was alleged to have covered up clergy sex abuse.

He is now back in Australia, and his trial is set to start soon.

The facts in the Pell case are not hugely different from the facts in the case of now ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, but I do not recall our conservative friends calling for the entire episcopacy to be overthrown back when Pell was the target.

And they certainly did not try and direct their fire at Benedict XVI, still less Pope John Paul II.

The idea that people who showed no particular concern for the victims or allegations when they were Fr. Marcial Maciel’s victims or allegations against Pell are suddenly horrified by the grand jury report in Pennsylvania does not pass the smell test.

It was John Paul II who appointed McCarrick to be bishop of Metuchen, then archbishop of Newark, then archbishop of Washington, and then cardinal-priest of the Church of Rome — not Francis.

It is bizarre to watch EWTN interview two of the women who signed a letter calling on Francis to respond to the allegations hurled at him by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

They huffed and puffed about Francis, and the host, Raymond Arroyo, did not stop and say: Of course, it was John Paul II who appointed McCarrick to be bishop of Metuchen, then archbishop of Newark, then archbishop of Washington, and then cardinal-priest of the Church of Rome — not Francis.

Like the dubia cardinals, these women are not acting in good faith.

How can I tell?

Because they make demands of the pope but ask nothing of Viganò.

Why should he not be asked to produce evidence?

Why should he not be asked to explain his behavior to McCarrick?

They repeat the obvious falsehood that Francis might have promoted McCarrick when it was John Paul II who promoted this predator.

The pope is well advised not to engage people who act in bad faith. Continue reading


  • Michael Sean Withers is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
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