What Hierarchy Really Means

What is Pope Francis doing, with his gestures, interviews, and wild synods? To understand this pope, we first need to understand the papacy. To do that, let us consider two versions of what “hierarchy” means.

In the first version, hierarchy simply means authority. Hierarchy means that the Pope is the main guy in the universal church, the priest is the main guy in the parish, and maybe the bishop ought to be the main guy in the metropolitan area.

An aspect of this view of hierarchy was expressed before the conclave that elected Francis, when several Catholic authors called for an “evangelizer-in-chief.” As the main guy, so the idea went, the Pope ought to be the public face of the Church to outsiders. On the one hand, that means he should have the best, clearest explanations. On the other hand, he should also be the most attractive example.

Francis neatly falls into this discussion. His various gestures, on the one hand, have made him shockingly popular, so it seems he is trying to be evangelizer-in-chief by being the most attractive example. But on the other hand, his positions on many issues are quite unclear (at least for the majority, who do not read carefully). At best, he seems to be erring on the side of example, without clarity. At worst, he seems to be winning popularity in part through obscuring what makes Catholicism unpopular.

Behind this debate stands a certain mythology about St. John Paul II. He was handsome. We remember the huge outpouring of love and respect when he died. “Theology of the Body” (at least so the story goes) put Catholic sexual ethics in a popular key. JPII seemed to be the perfect evangelizer-in-chief: clear and popular.

But this mythology doesn’t match the history. In 2004, a year before he died, I was in a graduate seminar with an influential senior scholar. He was talking about the outpouring of love when John XXIII died, and he said—I’ll never forget—“there will be no such outpouring when this pope dies.” Until he died, John Paul II was not popular outside the Church. Part of the contrast with Francis is that JPII’s clarity, especially on sexual ethics, made him hated. Think of Sinead O’Connor tearing up his picture on Saturday Night Live. That was a popular gesture.

John Paul II was not evangelizer-in-chief. Rather, John Paul II was important not because he evangelized the culture, but because he evangelized the Church. He was not nearly as important to the outside as he was to the inside. To understand any pope—John Paul II, Francis, Benedict XVI, or anyone else—we need a different understanding of how the Church is “hierarchical.”

There is an old story in which Mother Teresa asked to be driven through the worst slums of a city, with the bishop of that city beside her. Several times she told the driver to stop, so she could go into the bars: to hand out rosaries and miraculous medals, and to scold the girls about how bad the boys are. Then one time she had the car stop, turned to the bishop, handed him her bundle of rosaries and medals, and said, “Now you do it.” This is the truly Catholic understanding of hierarchy: now you do it.

Properly speaking, a group with one leader and many followers is not a hierarchy. A hierarchy involves many levels. The top communicates to the bottom through intermediaries. As Francis has said, “Like the oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard of Aaron: that went down to the hem of his garments” (Ps 133:2).

We often think of the Pope in terms of Jesus’s words to Peter after his confession of faith, “On this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). By itself, we might get the idea that everything takes its place by direct contact with the Pope. But the Tradition often focuses more on Jesus’s words to Peter at the Last Supper: “I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not; and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).

The traditional title for the Pope is not “evangelizer-in-chief” but “servant of the servants of God.” The Pope is the rock who holds the Church firm because he holds in place his brethren, the bishops, who are the “foundation” of “the household of God” (Eph 2:19-20). His central task is not to spread the Gospel, but to strengthen the bishops: to be servant to the servants. He must be missionary above all because he must teach everyone else to be missionary. Until very recently, the Pope did not even have the technology to speak to anyone outside his diocese except the bishops: he just sent them letters.

Nor is evangelization the most central task of the bishops. Their appointed task (as servants) is to keep the faithful strong, through clarity of doctrine, the administration of the sacraments, and governance that promotes true communion within the Church. And since the bishops cannot reach all the faithful, they work through the priests: the Catholic understanding of the presbyterate is precisely that they make the bishop present to the faithful. This is hierarchy.

Evangelization is the mission of all the faithful, each according to his particular gifts and opportunities. The Pope’s job is not to handle evangelization for us. The Pope’s job is, like Mother Teresa, to set an example, hand on the tools, and say to the rest of the Church, “Now you do it!”

This is what John Paul II did, and why his papacy was so enormously important to the modern history of the Church. He did not evangelize the world. He evangelized the evangelizers, encouraged a new generation of bishops, and spoke to the faithful who were listening. Theology of the Body taught the evangelizers. World Youth Day was not a “seeker-friendly” event: he told us, “do not be afraid to be the martyrs of the next millennium.”

St. John Paul II did his job, which is to preach to the choir. It is the choir’s job to internalize that preaching and pass it on to others, and so to bring others into the sacramental communion of the Church. The Mass is not supposed to be a popular, “seeker-friendly” event. It’s supposed to sanctify the faithful, evangelize the evangelizers.

“Preaching to the choir” is a term of abuse, because it implies you’re only speaking to those who already agree with you. But that’s nonsense, contrary to the whole Catholic way of life. “Choir” originally refers to the monks praying the liturgy. But the liturgy is endlessly repetitive: the same things, over and over again, year after year, month after month, week after week, day after day. Why all this repetition? Because it is the nature of the Christian life that we need to rediscover the faith again and again, in order for it to penetrate deeper and deeper into our souls. The choir needs preaching.

The same is true of the sacraments. Baptism and Confirmation may be once for all, but the Eucharist and Confession have to be repeated over and over again—because saints are formed through repetition. The choir needs preaching.

The central confusion about Pope Francis is based on this misunderstanding of hierarchy. Francis is accused of speaking unclearly to those outside the Church. But it is unclear whether Francis has even been speaking to those outside the Church. Even his interviews make most sense, not as a papal statement to the world (he has the technology to do that without the medium of an interviewer), but as an example, like Mother Teresa saying to the bishop, “now you do it.” He has shown us what it is like to sit with a non-believer and try to walk him gently towards faith. The point of the interview is not that now Francis has said everything there is to be said—the point is that he turns to the rest of us and says, “now you do it.” He is preaching to the choir.

And the choir needs preaching. Various Catholic voices have cried foul. It is remarkable how often those cries involve something along the lines of, “because of what Francis has done, people are coming to me and asking for explanations!” Well, yes. That is the obligation of every Catholic: to explain the faith to those who cross our path. It is not the job of the Pope to do this for us. It is the job of the Pope to encourage us to do it.

The fact that people are so bent out of shape about the Pope making us explain our faith suggests that we need more encouragement, not less. The choir needs preaching. We have clarity of teaching; what we need now is the encouragement to go out and preach.

The Synod was a mess, to be sure. But to what end? Was the Pope trying to send a message to the world? Or was the Pope doing his job, which is to demand that the bishops stand up and start acting like bishops: not by bickering about each other in the press, but by having a serious conversation with one another about their own vocation as bishops, and how they can better serve the faithful.

That the Synod went so badly is, to many, a sign that Francis shouldn’t have let it happen. But Francis, especially in his magnificent closing homily, seems to take it as a sign that the bishops need a lot more practice acting like bishops. They need the Pope, not to take the keys and walk away, but to hand them the rosaries and miraculous medals and tell them: “now you do it.” Go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

Eric Johnston


Eric Johnston is a father of five who teaches theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University. His principal work is on Thomas Aquinas's theology of marriage, as well as related topics in social thought and the theology of nature and grace. He blogs on spiritual theology at professorjohnston.com.

  • fredx2

    “His central task is not to spread the Gospel, but to strengthen the bishops…

    I am afraid he may have failed in this task at least as far as Archbishop Cupich goes. Yesterday, he was on CBS’s Face the Nation. He was asked about gay marriage, whether he supported it or opposed it. Cupich would not say. He gave an odd answer about being for laws that supported those who actually gave birth to children. The interviewer, Norah O Donnell, was confused. She said “You mean you are OK with gay marriage so long as there are laws to help them raise their children?” Once again, Cupich refused to be clear. He refused to say the church was against gay marriage. He again gave a flaky answer which amounted to “We only care that laws are passed which support people who have babies”

    This is a very bizarre statement coming from a Catholic bishop. He was too scared to say the church is against gay marriage? Is he so cowed by the culture that he dare not speak the truth about what the Catholic church teaches? He is supposed to be Francis man in America, but Francis says ” a child needs a mother and a father” and he is very clear that “what is being proposed is not marriage”. Yet Cupich backpedals, daring not to speak truth to the powers that be, and he refuses to follow Pope Francis’ lead.

    It’s going to be a rough ride for the church in Chicago if the bishop is too scared to buck the media.

    Cupich’s very odd interview is available on the Face the Nation web site, and the odd part starts around 6:30

    • GG

      Is it really about being too scared?

    • GG

      Well, it has been reported the Pope chose him by the influence of two other very liberal cardinals. Perhaps this is what was meant by “small minded rules”?

      But, we have no idea because essays, like the one above here, tell us to stop looking at the obvious and focus on some other aspect.

    • John O’Neill

      In Mathew it states that we should let our yes be yes and our no be no; all else comes from the Evil One. It seems that this rock star pope and his bishops seem to enjoy talking out of both sides of their collective mouths. I never will forget my teacher in Church history, an old priest, who told the story real or not about Napoleon summoning the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris into his palace and reading his ultimatum to the pope that if the pope did not support France in its wars he would destroy the Church; the old Archbishop replied that it would be impossible because we priests have been trying to destroy the church for centuries.

      • RuariJM

        I like your tale of Napoleon and the Archbishop.

        I’m less enamoured with “rock star pope”.

  • lifeknight

    I appreciate this article, Professor. It is always good to get another perspective on the internal workings of the Church. I still believe the papacy is much like parenting—everyone approaches it in a different way. Some are lenient and some strict….. I like the direct approach of following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and telling (or punishing) “children” when they knowingly disobey. Some things are black and white and deserve that clearly stated position–from parents AND from popes! The frustration lies in confusion—and we all know who the “author” of confusion is.

  • St JD George

    And yet again we hear our Pope in Turkey praise the religion of peace. I get the diplomatic dimension for not wanting to stir a hornets nest and cause more strife by those inclined to rebel against those who are truly innocent, but to say yes we have a small fundamentalist problem to is a little disingenuous. One is trying to save souls even if their style of parenting is strict as life-night suggests, the other throughout all ages is trying to remove souls through violence. We should try to peacefully coexist of course, but that shouldn’t mean turning a blind eye. So, I want to give our Pope the benefit of the doubt in his position, but he makes me struggle, and he is not infallible in non doctrinal matters, he is human and a reflection of his experiences.

    • JP

      Pope Francis saves his righteous anger for orthodox Catholics and not Muslims. He has joined the ranks of the confused that consider themselves arbiters of what is authentic Islam and what is not authentic Islam.

      • MrRightWingDave

        And all of Islam is a lie. I wish he would just say that.

      • RuariJM

        Specific examples of what he has said that leads you to say such things, if you would be so kind.

        Absence thereof reduces these accusations to mere calumny.

    • C.Caruana

      That requires the insight and courage of a Regensburg speech.

      • St JD George

        I didn’t say it, but you know I thought it. Of course even that was followed up with profuse apologizing and claims of being out of context, etc., which made it lose it’s original meaning or value.

  • AcceptingReality

    Can’t say I whole-heartedly agree with this article. Yes, sometimes the Pope says things that seem solid and authentically faithful. But other times his off the cuff remarks are easily taken out of context, perhaps because he doesn’t go through traditional channels, and confusion is the result. The faithful, I think have a blurry, if not erroneous impression of who he is as Pope. Look at some of the moves and appointments he has made, I really do wonder whether he is more progressive than he is Catholic. Hard to tell. I never wondered about JPII or Benedict XVI like this.

    • Jacqueleen

      I agree with you completely. IMHO, the Pope is definitely into Liberation Theology even though he denies involvement. He totally ignores what other Popes for centuries have said that Socialism is an evil. Pope Francis dwells too much on what we have to do for the poor…and his actions describe his hidden desire to liberalize the church…Because of a healing and deliverance ministry, I find that confusion is from the devil…that is not to say that the Pope is the devil, but to say that confusion is….The question is, “Should the Pope, a learned man and endowed with many graces from the Holy Spirit, be causing so much confusion and misunderstandings? Then, ask, “Why is he so easily influenced by the devil? Prayer of the righteous is very powerful, so, my friends, pray for the Pope.

  • R. K. Ich

    I don’t buy this analysis one bit. It’s creative, thought-provoking, and charitable–but it doesn’t ring true.

    The Pope has to be the man of God described in Paul’s epistle to Timothy: to preach the Word in season and out of season. Pope doesn’t get a pass, he gets more scrutiny. “To whom much is given,” and all that.

    The chief pastor cannot be the author of confusion simply because he wants to make an audience-specific point.

    As we are painfully making our way into communion with Rome (it is no joyride), I find it refreshing when Catholics essentially tell me, “Yeah, this Pope is a hot mess.” They don’t make excuses for him.

    Thanks for trying, though.

  • GG

    Not buying this propaganda piece for one second.

    The constant need to explain away the obvious is insulting.

    “The fact that people are so bent out of shape about the Pope making us
    explain our faith suggests that we need more encouragement, not less.
    The choir needs preaching. We have clarity of teaching; what we need now
    is the encouragement to go out and preach.”

    Uh, people are bent out of shape because the words and signals from Rome are more than distressing. Do you honestly want us to think people like Cardinal Burke are mistaken or confused? Who are we to believe you or our lying eyes?

    • Bill

      The lack of clarity in many of Pope Francis’ comments seem to be damaging to the Church. I read a comment by a priest that is very disconcerting. He claims that couples are coming to him to be married although they have impediments to a sacramental marriage, such as divorce and re-marriage because the Pope has “changed things”. If this type of misunderstanding is wide spread among Catholics and non-Catholic alike, it is not good for the Church.

      • JP

        I think that was Fr Longenecker who wrote that. Of course, his detractors responded that it wasn’t the Pope’s job to make priest’s lives easy. They wrote that without any sense of irony.

      • GG

        The lack of clarity, and much else, is troubling. But, what is more troubling is that too many professional Catholics spin and spin and tell us to overlook the obvious. They blame the media. They blame the Jesuit theology. They blame Latin America. They blame translation errors. The words and ideas they come up with are endless and contradictory.

        What happened to honest questions and honest reporting? Why the constant spin? Why are ordinary Catholics treated like dolts as if they cannot grasp the most obvious problems?

        • JP

          The Lay Professionals (radio hosts, bloggers, reporters, etc…) cannot afford to be seen as too controversial. And the American laity has a history of showing much more veneration of the Papacy than say Italy or Poland. It is sad to see so many otherwise intelligent and thoughtful writers turn such contortions in order to do damage control for the Vatican. George Wiegel, Elizabeth Scalia, and even Simca Fisher are reduced to being nothing but cheerleaders no matter what the Pope says or does.

          • GG

            I cannot hold back. The three examples you mention are the ones I expect to spin. No surprises there at all. If they did not spin I would be surprised.

            What I find is that we expect Catholics to be honest. Not uncharitable or gossipy, but honest. To make every impenetrable phrase or incident into something other than it appears, instead of asking fair questions, seems to be the height of intellectual dishonesty. That is not Catholic or in service to the Truth.

        • Isabel Kilian

          It all reminds me of the children’s story, “The Emperor’s new clothes”. Everyone could plainly see the Emperor was wearing no clothes but no one had the courage to say anything. Catholic Apologists are constantly telling the faithful they are wrong or even banning them from sites because they see the Pope acting and speaking in ways contradictory to our faith (and it is our Faith too). I believe it is far better to cry out that the Emperor has no clothes on than to pretend that he does and constantly utter nonsense about how beautiful they are.

  • JP

    On the one hand, the author praises Pope JP II for his evangelizing the evangelizers. But, on the other hand, the author praises Pope Francis for lack of doctrinal clarity. It seems to me, that the author is part of that continuous exercise in damage control – something that has become a 24×7 effort amongst the “professional” Catholic laity.

    The Catholic Church in the West is in terminal decline. Not even JP II could stop the hemorrhage. And in Latin America, a place where Christians still take their religion seriously, an unbelievable change has in fact occurred. In the Pope’s home country, the number of practicing Catholics has been halved since 1980, while the number of Pentecostals has surged. In Honduras, the number of Catholics as a percentage of the total population went from 91% in 1972 to 48% today; Catholics there are now a minority. All of this dwindling of the ranks occurred during a period in which the kind of Catholicism Pope Francis practices became dominant. The Church in Latin America is now longer mystical, spiritual, or traditional. It has become nothing more than an NGO with smells and bells. The Mass is the kind of modern, pop culture, new age thing that has only a narrow appeal to materialists and aging Baby Boomers. In other words, all the serious Catholics left the Church for places of worship that take Eternity seriously. Our Electors, elevated the very man who was part of the destruction of the Catholic Church in South America. The Church needed a Pope, the Cardinals gave us more cowbell.

    Pope Francis will become the best Pope the Pentecostals ever had.

    • C.Caruana

      John the Baptist decreased so that Jesus the Christ would increase. When will Bergoglio start to decrease so that Pope Francis may increase?

  • dbwheeler

    I suppose one good thing that is coming out with this papacy is it reveals how so many have got it wrong. This convoluted defense is just a symptom of the murky and confused thinking that is permeating the Church. Read here http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20141126_udienza-generale.html
    Wherein the pope basically tells his audience that we’ll all be together in Heaven. In other words, Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die for our sins…we can go to Heaven anyway. But I’m sure Mr. Johnston will find that that wasn’t what he was saying. Thank God Jesus was as clear as light and we can know what truth is.

    • Daniel P

      The pope was speaking loosely. Cut him a break. Later in that homily, he said: “Yes, because in the Christian perspective the distinction is not between who is dead and who is not, but between who is in Christ and who is not! This is the point of determination, what is truly decisive for our salvation and for our happiness.” This quotation clearly implies that there IS a distinction, and that those who are not in Christ are not saved.

      • dbwheeler

        Thank you for your response Daniel! You’re correct about the distinction, but as I have it at first hand there are many Catholics (and priests) that believe all are going to Heaven because God is a God of love. He is, of course , but apparently many aren’t getting the full story. It’s crucial to say one thing and support one thing with examples. Pope Francis says two or more things, often completely contradictory statements that leave some us utterly perplexed…but I am always glad when someone points out the need for fairness and gives a good defense. God bless you.

        • Daniel P

          Somehow I don’t find Francis very perplexing at all. But I have empathy for those who do.

          God bless you too!

          • dbwheeler

            Thank you!

      • “The pope was speaking loosely”
        That’s the indictment, not the mitigating cirumstance.

        • dbwheeler

          Indeed, DE! Loose lips sink ships!

      • C.Caruana

        This is the problem. The Pope should weigh every word, perhaps more than any human being on earth in these media saturated times. Populist double speak that would have hardly stirred a wave in Buenos Aires are amplified into a vortex of doubt and confusion when proclaimed from Rome. Why can’t the Pope get this and grow sufficiently and fully into his role as Vicar of Christ speaking in Christ’s name? I pray constantly for this.

        • dbwheeler

          Indeed, C. Pray, pray, pray! I usually end up praying that satan be bound and his works undone and that nothing prevent God’s Will from being done…we just have no way to see what’s best from our tiny perspective, do we? Too often we think we know but I’ve learned to trust Him…but others, not so much, especially all the Machiavellian intrigues bubbling up like rancid cesspits in the Vatican.

  • Russ

    I find him to be discouraging. Personally, intimately discouraging. He seems to insult me on a weekly basis, even condemning what I would call a mild orthodoxy. Then there are the outright fantastically inaccurate statements which make me wonder if he is as he sounds. One who trods through the conquered Hagia Sophia and declares Islam peaceful is at odds with reality.

    • publiusnj

      Francis is very quick to condemn and even to mock Catholics who have been trying to obey his predecessors’ teaching. I started out thinking he was merely a “free thinker.” I am beginning to wonder if he likes trowels and mortar too.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    This Pope plunges me into an immediate and acute case of ADD. I cannot even connect a sentence with the sentence before. Just to make sure it isn’t me I’ve gone back and read Pope Benedict.

  • Jim M.

    Except that when one does have the opportunity to explain Francis’ words within a broader context of solid church teaching, anyone can see that this is definitely not what the pope said and very probaly not what he intended. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince people that the pope’s intent is to support unchangeable Catholic teaching. Just because others aren’t Catholic doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They understand where Francis is coming from better than those who keep re-interpreting him to make him appear truly Catholic. That’s the real problem.

    • Jacqueleen

      The bottom line is CONFUSION! THE WORK OF THE DEVIL.

  • FrankW

    The lack of clarity on the part of Pope Francis is very troubling. While I am willing to acknowledge that much of the fault for that confusion falls on the deliberate willingness of the secular media to portray this Pope in their own image and likeness, the entire fault cannot be placed on these media outlets.

    It is the duty of the Catholic Church, and most especially the Pope, to be clear and concise on moral issues where the Church is standing against the culture. Pope Francis has not done this.

    I have had two friends who recently (on separate occasions) told me that they thought the Catholic Church had changed its stance on homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage. I explained to both of them that not only had those teaching not changed, but in fact those teachings CANNOT change. To do so would be an admission on the part of the Catholic Church that it had been teaching in error for the last two thousand years.

    But don’t tell that to the secular media. They’re cheering Pope Francis on, hoping that their accolades will persuade him to see things their way. While I have no worries about that ever happening, I am very worried about the message being sent to the world, and so should the Vatican.

    Does the Church want the same response to these doctrines on marriage and sexuality that they got when Pope Paul VI released “Humane Vitae”? If the Vatican isn’t careful, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.

    • JRDF

      ” I explained to both of them that not only had those teaching not changed, but in fact those teachings CANNOT change”

      Agreed, it seems that, to appease the secular world, the pope & many bishops wish to repeal the 6th commandment.

  • russell snow

    It is too early to make any reliable judgments regard the way the Holy Father fulfills his ministry as successor of Peter. We know by faith that God’s will is being done, even if we do not understand it and even if the Holy Father does and says things which either make us joyful or sad. As far as I can tell, he has not contradicted any of the 234 doctrines of the Church. I suspect that in his ministry, his words and actions will have unintended consequences, both good and bad, but this has been the case with all the popes I have read about in Louis Pastors, 40 volume history of the popes from 1300-1800. Knowledge of how the papacy actually worked down through the ages, ought to bring some comfort to those may be anxious about Pope Francis.

  • Jay

    As a new Catholic, his leadership is difficult to grasp. I need better shepherding, because I’m not mature in my faith. I always gave Pope Francis the benefit of doubt until the recent synod. Being that issues such as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics (without an annulment) is against the catechism of the Church. I just spend nine months studying it with my RCIA group and now we have a Pope that is willing to discuss something that is contrary to what is written? Seems very odd. He seems to wanted to draw scandal. Isn’t scandal a mortal sin??

    • Martha

      Spot on, Jay. Not open for discussion. I’m sorry you’re scandalized; all good Catholics have been with this crazy papacy. Hang in there, follow the Catechism, and you will do well. Make some good solid Catholic friends and carry on! The Church has survived many a scandalous pope; we will survive this one.

  • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    This is a very confusing, strangely reasoned article, to say the least. That the words of Pope Francis seem to resonate with the author is thus not terribly surprising.

  • hombre111

    Great job, Mr. Johnston. Congratulations. But I would add one more thought: St. John Paul came very close to turning the Church into a cult. A cult is a society in which one all-powerful authority figure rules. He is surrounded by a “yes” circle that gains its power by serving as his voice and enforcer. Leaders in the cult are picked for their allegiance to their master and his inner circle. People who express doubts or ask questions are punished as dissidents. A climate of fear begins. There is no freedom, only an echo chamber. For an example of a cult at work, look at the synods under St. John Paul and Pope Benedict. To see a church collegium at work, look at the two synod process created by Pope Francis, and stay tuned to the reform of the Curia currently under way.

    • Dart Echo

      “He is surrounded by a “yes” circle that gains its power by serving as his voice and enforcer. Leaders in the cult are picked for their allegiance to their master and his inner circle.”


      “A series of seemingly minor appointments may be the forerunners of a Pope Francis “revolution” in the Roman Curia, centered on the Pope who prefers to maintain a small circle of persons around him.
“There is a transition in place, and Pope Francis has his own project, which he shares just with a few people around him,” a source who is familiar with the Vatican Secretariat of State told CNA Aug.13.”

    • Still can’t abide by your public declaration to leave, huh?

    • Jacqueleen

      Are you aware that Pope John Paul II is now a Saint! Perhaps we should demand a cult…if it makes us a saint……What are you smoking?

      • He’s aware, and has publicly stated he will ignore that fact.

        • Jacqueleen

          Some people are just plain stupid and some just plain stubborn but then there are those who are just plain old “contrary” to everything for the sake of an argument. He is all three.

    • GG

      Stacking the deck and inviting homosexual friendly vicars is a cult for sure. Save your propaganda for the credulous.

  • publiusnj

    This article is almost as confused as Francis often is. Like any other priest or bishop his first job is to hold and teach the Catholic Faith that comes to us from the Apostles. By putting forth Kasper’s Proposal as possibly adoptable by the Family Synod, Francis is NOT holding and teaching the Catholic Faith. Instead, the man is spreading scandal. Kasper’s proposal on Communion for Divorced and Remarried persons clearly contravenes the Catholic Faith, which has been set forth definitively most recently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    CCC Section 1650 states: “Today there are numerous Catholics … who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists….Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”

    So, Francis wants to be a gadfly who just throws out the Church’s clear teaching that comes to us from the Apostles? Whence gets he such authority? Somewhere in the Apostolic Teaching? Why is any such rule on Papal Teaching Authority any the more sacrosanct than Christ’s Clear Teaching on the Sinfulness of Remarriage after Divorce which the pope has announced is up for tossing if he/Kasper & Co. can engineer a synod majority?

    • Jacqueleen

      Thus the removal of orthodox Bishops and the replacement of Liberals. Libs in the majority will guarantee a successful vote. I have been receiving the inspiration that this is all Pope Francis’ doing…using Kasper as the mouthpiece. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. Isn’t it strange that Fr. Gutierrez, founder of Liberation Theology was visited by the Pope during the World Youth Day in Argentina and then recently, Fr. Guierrez visited the Vatican for dinner with the Pope just prior to the Synod? Too,too many unanswered questions. Pray for the Pope, the Church and the clergy.

    • hombre111

      The first job of a priest is to proclaim the Word, celebrate Eucharist, and invite people to put on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

      • publiusnj

        That’s one way of phrasing it, perhaps, although it is not the biblical phrasing so far as I remember. Christ’s commission literally was: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matt. 28:18-20. Thus, Christ’s clarion command on Divorce/Remarriage seems very much to be something that Francis and other priestly hombres need to be teaching.

  • Myshkin

    Is it wrong to suppose that this Pope has now given the appearance of indifferentism by his having prayed in a mosque, as though there were no substantive differences between the “god” of the Muslims and the One True Holy Triune God whose Son’s divinity is explicitly denied by the keepers of the mosque where the Pope prayed?

    Even though the Pope himself is ostensibly not an indifferentist, one wonders, after all. At the least he has given great scandal. At worst, he has committed apostasy, and we have a heretic in St. Peter’s chair.

    As for your “apologia” for the mess of the Synod: I’ll have none of it. The deleterious effect on the generally confused and questioning lay public, within and without the Church, is irreparable. That there should have been allowed even the appearance of legitimate dissent from Church teaching, or that Church teaching can or should somehow change on “hot button issues”, is scandalous; and the perpetrators of the disaster that was the Synod are quite possibly guilty of culpable sin by giving this great scandal, this spectacle, to the world.

    For shame.

    Stop apologizing for a disaster of a pope. This pope needs to grow up and TEACH the FAITH.

    • St JD George

      And remember, infidels are those who believe in a triune God and Jesus is the son of Mary, and their heads are to be chopped off along with their fingers. Our good friend the Rabbi isn’t afraid to speak the truth.


    • Jacqueleen

      The thought has come to me that I wonder if Pope Francis was selected by Obama or his handlers? Okay, stop laughing. Is Pope Francis preparing the Catholic church for the one world religion? He leans in that direction, one happy, ecumenical family.

    • fredx2

      Benedict went to the same mosque and prayed with the same Imam. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing about being willing to go into the other guys building is indifferentism. Now, if Benedict went in there and said “Hey, our religions are pretty much the same!” Then you would have a problem. Neither He nor Francis did anything like that.

  • Dart Echo
  • M.J .

    The Fatima connection that profoundly spoke to St.John Paul 11 is likely what is the major underlying focus of this Holy Father as well ; tying up the ‘strong man’ under whom Orthodox Churches have entered into hidden or overt , possibly forced pacts through Islam is possibly what is blocking the unity in The Churches and the words of The Lord about straining the gnats and swallowing the camels , in turn to be swallowed up by the dragons is where our sisters have been !
    Wrong to say that St.John Paul 11 was not an evangeliser ; trusting in The Lord’s promise of the fruit of unity , he worked relenlessly to have that happen to the best of his abilities as far as we know ; the resultant fall of communism having given hope and focus , by The Spirit , to the subsequent ones who came after him and very rightily so too !
    The Dogmas can be seen as invitaions for the Orthodox to have come into agreements under the stronger man, thus to break the unholy ties and in the most painless manner but what happened instead is , like the Lord, said , fearfful stand back regardless of whether it is the flute or the dirge .
    The Synod on The Family , in that sense can be seen as a masterstroke by The Holy Father , assuring the Orthodox who would have cared enough to look , of the freedom to express their concerns / views , that Papacy is not about forceful pacts !
    Let us hope and pray that the flute would be heard , may be along with the dirge , as loud as that dirge has been from a suffering people !

  • kmk

    How about a couple of more layers to that hierarchy, the laity, and the rest of us Catholics who hear every Sunday after Mass on our way out the door, “go, in peace, to love and serve the Lord”.
    Personally, I think Pope Francis is easy to understand. Pope Benedict was more difficult for me to understand, but I just read his writings over and over.
    I agree with this article that the Pope inspires his bishops, who then encourage the priests. Something happened though after Vatican II. Even though Latin was changed to English we no longer know our faith. It appears some bishops and priests are more politically minded rather than serving the Lord.

  • MJK

    Oy vey! Mr. Johnston’s piece is so riddled with contradictions that it gives me pause and makes me question his intellectual honesty; given this piece, the author obviously doesn’t subscribe to the principle of non-contradiction.

    It is intellectually untenable and moral vapid to praise Pope JP II for his evangelizing the
    evangelizers and on the other hand praises Pope Francis for lack of doctrinal clarity.

    This style of writing as relates to the present pontificate is bordering on the ridiculous…

  • Michael

    BULLSHIT! Pardon me, but someone has to say it.

  • John Albertson

    I don’t envy any pope having to follow Benedict XVI – one of the greatest minds in the history of the papacy and an odds on favorite someday to be declared a Doctor of the Church. But could the lack of clarity in Pope Francis be less a deliberate strategy (and if so an odd and dangerous one) and more due to the possibility that, with all due respect, he is not all that bright ? Most popes have not been geniuses, and they do not have to be. But if they are not, they should humbly acknowledge that. Then there is the fact that he sounds often so passive-agressive in his mockery of types of churchmen. Sarcasm is beneath the dignity of the Petrine office. Curious it is that this pope so imprudently once asked “Who am I to judge?’ and since has made so many judgmental comments about fellow Catholics. Perhaps I am, as Pope Francis would say, a Self-Absorbed Promethean Neo-Pelagian.

    • RuariJM

      John, what Pope Francis said was “If someone is seeking God with a sincere heart, then who am I to judge him?”

      The full quote is important and far too many people are as dismissive of the full truth of what he said as is implied by simply quoting part, out of context.

      Does that serve a particular agenda, do you think?

      • GG

        Even the full quote is too nuanced for most to grasp. It was a very unfortunate comment to make for many reasons.

        • RuariJM

          It shouldn’t be so hard for Catholics to grasp that some (far too many) should throw up their hands in horror and suggest that the Pope is somehow abandoning all doctrine from the Last Supper onwards.

          We should all know, without having to have it spelt out to us, that if “someone is seeking God with a sincere heart” then they have already received the Gift of Grace and they are on the road to renewal – God has changed them and they want to do better.

          It’s as simple and as fundamental as the other phrase that the same people quote, in a different context: “Go, and sin no more”.

          I’m surprised there was ever any fuss about it, within the Church – and it may be that the Pope is surprised as well – but I don’t know; I don’t claim to know his mind. But I do think it should have said something to the Faithful: if someone is trying to change themselves, through the Gift of Grace, then we should help, not condemn.

          • GG

            First, it is a popular phrase that promotes relativism. That is what it is known for. To choose that phraseology, particularly, is beyond absurd.

            Secondly, the Pope’s words go out to the entire world. Is it too much to ask for precision? The way it was stated is not conducive to evangelization or catechesis.

            • RuariJM

              The phrase, as such, doesn’t promote anything. Jesus said, to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you”. Does that promote relativism?

              The phrase is short and forms part of a single sentence that is neither very long nor complex. It was also spoken in front of cameras and the clip is easily obtainable.

              Is it too much to ask people who claim to be Catholics to accept the whole thing and to take the opportunity to emphasise its inclusion, when talking to people who could not be expected to understand?

              Honestly, I have less problem with people who are dyed-in-the-wool gay rights and ‘equal marriage’ campaigners than I do with Catholics who are determined to find fault with this Pope.

              Yes, some gay rights/SSM campaigners get a little crestfallen when the entirety is explained but they are vastly more prepared to accept it than some for whom it should be second nature.

              “So the Pope’s still Catholic, then?” “Yes – with all that implies, including mercy and welcoming us sinners who want to be better”.

              Maybe he should ask those who know better than he to write his speeches for him in future. And to make all official pronouncements, as well.

              • GG

                Our culture does not use the phrase “Neither do I condemn you” as it does who am I to judge so your analogy is useless.

                To even argue your point is absurd.

                The unfortunate comment is one in a long string of unfortunate comments.

                • RuariJM

                  How very tortuous.

                  Did you ever have a job in the circus, as a contortionist perhaps?

                  • GG

                    Tortuous? Ha, you can deny the obvious but it does not change facts.

      • John Albertson

        The more one speaks off the cuff, the more one risks being quoted out of context. That is why papal locutions should be lucid and rare. Now, Pope has just called the Koran “a prophetic book of peace.” Is that nuanced? It is just plain wrong.

        • RuariJM

          Do you have a link to the speech wherein he called the Koran a “prophetic book of peace”?

          I shall be considering the meanings of events in the Books of Samuel, Joshua and Numbers.

          • John Albertson

            Christ the Messiah (denied as such by Islam) brought the fullness of peace to the world – eradicating what was lacking in the Old Testament and fulfillins it prophecies. There is no such equivalent in the pagan and blasphemous Koran. – Hilaire Belloc asserted that Islam flourished because of the weakness of Christians. Same was true of the Nazis and Communists. Evil will always exploit its “useful idiots.”

          • John Albertson

            Happy to oblige. Sadly for the dignitas of Holy Church, Pope Francis began with people congenially laughing with him but in a very short time people are laughing at him. The Church has survived many disastrous pontificates, but solo magno cum difficultate.

            There He Goes Again | Ricochethttps://ricochet.com/goes/

            • RuariJM

              “Safari cannot open the page because the address is invalid”

              Would you like to check the address? And the content, if you would, to make sure it’s accurate!

    • John O’Neill

      Benedict XVI was and is an excellent scholar and teacher of the holy Roman Catholic religion. Thanks be to God that he has left such a vast treasure of spiritual and Catholic writings. His trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth will be his legacy and he surely someday will be named a doctor of the church and a saint. Francis will remain the first rock star pope just like Bill Clinton was declared the first rock star American president.

  • Grocersgirl

    This article makes great sense to me and clarifies a lot of my puzzlement about Francis. Thank you.

    • GG


      • Grocersgirl

        Not at all. I meant exactly what I said.

        • GG

          Too bad.

          • Grocersgirl

            You obviously feel that everyone should hold the same opinion as yours.

            • GG

              No, I just cannot fathom claiming clarity where there is the opposite.

              • Grocersgirl

                My point exactly. What I understand clearly you obviously don’t. The Spirit works in wonderful ways!

                • GG

                  Truth cannot contradict truth. This essay is a contrived propaganda piece. If you wanna buy it that is your issue.

  • Ah, yes, Francis, the Sphynx: “Decifer me or I shall devour thee!” What would be of us if it weren’t for Eric to write the script after the play was performed? Truth is that popes before Francis held heretical opinions, murdered, held concubines, betrayed, etc. Though damage was done temporarily, the Church marched on, protected by the Holy Spirit from the errors of popes. After a couple of saintly popes, we may believe that all or at least most popes were so. Though only a third became saints, mostly by martyrdom, only five were canonized saints in the last millenium, not counting the unprecedented recent addition of two. Regardless, with Francis, he Church is back to its norm. It’s time to drop the papolatry and hold fast to the Church, which, as the Body, is greater than its vicar. In particular this one, as the synod demonstrated beyond the shadow of doubt.

  • Mike

    Pope Francis seems to be the product of the place where he comes from. Latin America generally has been influenced quite strongly by the liberation theology. Culturally, in the matter of sexual morals it has been somewhat lax; not so much in acceptance of homosexual agenda, but more in being less strict in the issues of marital infidelity. Widespread dislike of the United States, particularly the conservative side of it, also played some role.

    • Well, he’s no longer “just” an Argentine Prelate. His jurisdiction is now the entire world. The holding of such peculiar prejudices was never appropriate, but it wasn’t obvious or damaging, when he was living in Kirchnerland.

  • C.Caruana

    What ultra apologists for Pope Francis fail to realise is that the more backward they bend to justify his blatant gaffes and human limitations the harsher become the crticism of those who see them clearly and denounce them frankly and loyally. Such flying in the face of obvious truth is ultimately more frustating and divisive than conciliatory and is harmful both to the Pope himself and to the Church. Have we learned nothing from the incalculable damage caused to the faith by cover ups of the truth of clerical child abuse by bishops who were hell bent on avoiding scandal? When scandal did explode, it was infinitely more devastating. Why can’t we practise Christ’s teaching that only the truth will set us free?

    • GG


    • RuariJM

      Most of the time, those “see clearly” and “denounce frankly and loyally” things the Pope has not said.

      • C.Caruana

        Of course, the Pope has never said anything that is equivocal, never an ambiguity, never a contradiction, never a confusing statement. He was always perfectly clear, perfectly cogent, perfectly consistent, so much so that delusional minds like those of Cardinals Burke and George who pleaded for more clear statements from the Pope were basing their reaction on ‘things the Pope has not said’. You have deftly proved the point of my post.

        • RuariJM

          If you take the time to go back to find out what he actually said, it is very rarely confusing.

          The recent furore about Europe being like “an infertile grandmother” is a case in point. He said no such thing.

          Of course, there will always be those determined to misunderstand and those determined to make mischief by starting up confusion where none previously existed. After his latest outburst and ridiculous set of demands in LifeSiteNews, I am sad to say that Cardinal Burke falls into the latter category. I am even more sad to see that he has followers who should know a great deal better.

          • C.Caruana

            I’m afraid dismissing Burke’s measured and respectful comments in defence of orthodoxy as ‘outbursts and ridiculous sets of demands’ is quite up to the standard of the insulting invective that the Pope himself frequently resorts to in castigating those whom he disagrees with, especially traditional, conservative Catholics. In this, at least, he has been very loud and clear. There is a whole juicy list of them on the net, if you care to follow him down this road.

  • David Meyer

    Nice try, but this article is an utter fail.

    “Now you do it.”? Uh… what has Francis shown me I should I be doing exactly? Confusing people about what the Church teaches? Giving ambiguous answers to almost every question? Giving people false hope that the Church will accept their sin is not compassion, it is the opposite. Compassion with clarity and Truth is another matter, but clarity is not what we are getting, far from it.
    This article is just more excuse making for a pope who has no excuse for being so unclear. If we were in the days before mass communication you refer to, then yes, I could understand the total confusion within and without the Church about what he is saying. But every chance he gets, he speaks in lofty, bloated, and unclear ways about very basic, straightforward and clear issues of our faith.
    He needs to stand up and say that homosexuals and adulterers and fornicators and cohabitators will not inherit the kingdom of god, and that they need to repent of their sin and the Church (of course) will welcome them with open arms before, during, and after that process. The Church can and will never accept these as anything other than grave evil however.
    See how easy that was?

  • wc4mitt

    the “now you do it” of Mother Teresa sounds very much like a pious myth to me. Mother Teresa would never instruct a Bishop as she was a woman of faith and humility who understood her role in the Church. It wasn’t to instruct Bishop but to do that which she alone could do and did w/her community of consecrated women. There have been many pious myths which float around during and after a saintly persons life which usually aren’t factual. This has been so even w/Scripture stories being changed to suit someone’s piety.