Understanding the atypical papal acts of Pope Francis

Fr. Edward Perrone, the pastor of Assumption Grotto Catholic Church in Detroit (the parishioners of which include a number of friends and acquaintances, including Michael Voris), is a traditional priest whose insights deserve serious consideration.

While I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Perrone and hearing him preach in person once, my sense is that when it comes to the crisis in the Church in our day, in particular as it relates to the present pontificate, he gets it, and he’s laboring like so many others to respond appropriately.

Furthermore, as a pastor of souls, he has the unenviable duty of instructing a flock comprised of individuals unequally possessed of an authentic Catholic formation on how best to do the same.

Recently, Fr. Perrone offered the following:

Here I believe is a key to understanding the atypical papal acts of Pope Francis. He’s trying to teach the Church that charity has to be a truly human and Christian response to neighbor and not mere good talk or the writing of a check. God who is Love became man in Christ doing the works of love; so must a Christian act, in love. When people criticize the Pope for this or that odd thing he may do, failing to comprehend the example and lessons of charity he’s offering, one wonders about such a person’s spiritual life. Attacking another’s real or perceived faults can be but one other effective way to divert attention away from one’s own personal defects.

With all due respect to Fr. Perrone, this particular reflection is likely to be misunderstood in that it fails to properly distinguish between that which is objective and that which is subjective.

Specifically, when one speaks of “understanding the atypical papal acts of Pope Francis,” it is important to consider that this can be taken both ways.

For instance, to consider the pope’s words and deeds objectively is simply a matter of viewing them in the light of authentic Catholic doctrine. For those who possess a solid comprehension of the same, in many cases, this isn’t a particularly difficult task.

Using the Holy Father’s recent video message to the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Conference as an example, when one considers the “atypical papal act” of the Roman Pontiff addressing a manifest heretic as “my brother bishop,” it isn’t very difficult to understand, from an objective standpoint, that the pope’s words are erroneous and therefore dangerous. This much is beyond debate.

Fr. Perrone’s above quoted message, on the other hand, addresses another matter altogether, and exclusively so at that; namely, subjective understanding of another individual’s motive and intent.

In truth, subjective understanding of this nature entails making judgments we simply are not qualified to make.

It is entirely right, therefore, that we should always assume good intentions on the Holy Father’s part. The Lord alone can, and will, search every heart for motives and the possible presence of invincible ignorance.  We cannot.

With that in mind, one can indeed accept that the pope means well, or to use Fr. Perrone’s words, is “trying to teach the Church that charity has to be a truly human and Christian response to neighbor,” while at the same time recognizing when his words and deeds are inconsistent with the truth that comes to us from God through His Holy Catholic Church.

In failing to make this crucial distinction between the objective and the subjective, Fr. Perrone’s reflection may give one the impression that he means to suggest that those who criticize the pope’s errors (not the person of pope, properly speaking) are therefore to be suspected of masking a spiritual deficiency.

I’m not at all convinced that this is what Fr. Perrone intended to convey.

Even so, I am all but certain that any number of people will read his words precisely in this way, and some will perhaps even use them as justification for laying false claim to the moral high ground.

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