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Five rules for disagreeing with the Pope — and still being a good Catholic

By now most visitors to Vincentian Mindwalk are aware of Pope Francis’ reaction to some of his more outspoken critics.

For those who aren’t…  In one of his informal in-flight press conferences, Pope Francis referred to “a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.” Vatican Journalists immediately identified the American media company as EWTN, founded in Alabama in 1981 by the late Mother Angelica.

The Pope continued, “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil.”


One of the most vocal critics of the Pope is EWTN’s news director and lead anchor, Raymond Arroyo. His program “The World Over” frequently features what is called “The Papal Posse.” (An interesting self-description) He often appears on The Ingraham Angle on the Fox News channel.

Attacks on popes from clerics and the media are not new. These attacks come from the left or the right, depending on who the pope is.

Today, it is ironic that the defenders of papal authority who condemned “cafeteria Catholics” for picking and choosing what they accepted from John Paul and Benedict are now themselves doing the same with Francis.

Likewise, Catholics who felt free to disagree with John Paul and Benedict are now condemning critics of Francis for not being loyal to the Pope.

Let’s be honest. We are all cafeteria Catholics. The real question is how we avoid a food fight in the cafeteria.

Rules for criticizing the Pope… or anyone

Another Jesuit writing for Religion News Services offers some guidelines based on “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius Loyola. The founder of the Jesuits some 500 years ago laid out “Rules for Thinking with the Church.” In that spirit, he offers five rules for disagreeing with the Pope. The author adds, “this draft is not perfect, but I think the church needs to have a conversation about how we deal with disagreements.”

I think these 5 rules could be a systemic change in how we disagree.

  • Be respectful.
  • If you disagree with a pope, be sure to emphasize the positive things that he has done.
  • Describe the pope’s position accurately and completely; do not create a straw man that can be easily knocked down.
  • Never speak or write when you are emotionally upset.
  • Ask yourself, would you speak this way to a parent or someone you love?

The church is a family, God’s family. Family fights are the worst. But disagreements are part of any family or community. Suppressing them leads to frustration and dysfunctional behavior. Our goal must be to be reconcilers, not dividers.

Keep in mind that in the 2014 synod on the family, he told the bishops to “speak boldly.”

“A general condition is this, Speak clearly. Let no one say: ‘This you cannot say.'” At the same time, speech must be respectful and aimed at building community, not tearing it down. It must be aimed at reconciliation, not division. Disagreements should lead to conversations, not shouting.

Talking to those we disagree with is not about winning and losing. It is about conversation and better mutual understanding.

I believe none of us has a monopoly on the truth. We are all like the blind men touching different parts of the elephant and proclaiming that part represents the whole of the elephant.

St. Paul certainly recognized that each part of the body needs the other. 1 Cor. 12:12.

Do these rules make sense to you not only regarding the Pope but others you disagree with?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

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