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Francis the Inscrutable?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
June 10, 2015

One of the leading voices of the “normalist” constituency in the Church today, who maintain that everything about this pontificate is normal no matter how abnormal it appears, is Jeffrey Mirus, who provides a steady stream of normalist commentary at CatholicCulture.org.

The task of the normalist is to say, in so many words, “nothing to see here, nothing to see here” in the midst of what would appear to be an ongoing disaster.  Bishops, priests and even Cardinals, along with countless members of the laity around the world, are expressing alarm about the course of the Church under Francis, but Mirus assures us that absolutely nothing is amiss.  It’s all just baseless hysteria.

In his column for June 5, Mirus reveals the depths of the blindness to which the normalist commentator must descend in order to maintain his insistence that there is nothing to see here. He catalogues a series of statements and gestures of Pope Francis that seem to cut both for and against traditional liturgy and Church teaching (of the former I see few and far between), along with appointment to Vatican positions of both arch-conservatives and arch-liberals (of the former I see practically none). He admits that these seemingly contradictory developments “strike us as odd.”

But Mirus assures us there is really nothing odd at all.  Francis, you see, is a Pope “who simply doesn’t take sides.”  As Mirus explains it:

 With this pope, it is unusually dangerous for anyone on any preconceived or semi-ideological “side” to assume that “Pope Francis thinks like I do and will do what I want.” You can go out on that limb if you wish, whether you are liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, formal or informal, doctrinally engaged or socially active. You can go out on that limb, but it is going to be cut off.

How is it that Mirus fails to notice that his own words essentially accuse Francis of standing for nothing—nothing, that is, except what Francis wishes to say or do on any given day, which may well contradict what he said or did the day before.

To recall the most glaring recent example: Francis said “I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps,” and then proceeded to inform us that the Devil does not care which form of the Christian religion martyrs profess because the Devil knows that “Christians are disciples of Christ: that they are one, that they are brothers!” Actually, Christians are not one, and to cite the Devil as authority for the proposition that there is no crucial difference between Catholics and others who profess to be Christians is, well, rather heretical indeed.

Further, since when does a Pope not “take sides” on matters affecting the good of the Church, especially matters concerning doctrinal truth, ecclesiastical disciplines of bimillenial standing, and liturgical tradition, on all of which Francis heaped scorn in his absolutely unprecedented personal manifesto, Evangelii Gaudium? Are we supposed to be reassured by Mirus’s suggestion that we have a Pope who remains as inscrutable as the Buddha while the raging debates he himself has provoked rage on?

Mirus’s commentary would be laughable if it did not also happen to be substantially true. But the truth about a Pope who “simply doesn’t take sides,” a truth whose fullness Mirus declines to explicate, is that not to take sides in debates involving truth is ultimately to side with error. As a Pope who did “take sides,” Felix III, famously put it: “Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it, and, indeed, to neglect to confound evil men—when we can do it—is no less a sin than to encourage them.”

The failure to oppose error and the neglect of confounding evil men—on the contrary, appointing them as pontifical consultors, for example—are thus far the keynotes of this pontificate. The adoring mass media call it “the Francis effect.”  Mirus, blindfold firmly in place, calls it no big deal.