Why honoring Francis as the Pope means showing concern for his errors
July 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – With so many popes in the Church’s history who are duly venerated as saints, it would be inconvenient to celebrate special Masses for all of them. Accordingly, the traditional Roman calendar wisely set aside a particular day—July 4th, as it turns out—for the Commemoration of All Holy Popes, with its own Mass propers, starting with the Introit “Congregate illi sanctos.”
I will not try to force a symbolic connection between this July 4th observance and the much more familiar Fourth of July celebrations in the United States of America, especially given that the Commemoration of All Holy Popes has fallen on different dates at different times. Nevertheless, the two occasions do have something crucial in common: each is an expression of the virtue of pietas or tender devotion to one’s father or fatherland.
When the Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy was first released on April 30, many commentators accused the signatories of rejecting the pope or failing to hold him in proper esteem. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we rejected his claim to the papacy, as some do, there would be no grounds for complaint, since he could not then be guilty of abusing his office, as a madman who thinks himself the emperor of China is not really guilty of international crimes. If we failed to hold him in proper esteem, we would not care so acutely about what he is doing and saying; one does not bother with a person one holds in contempt, or about whose fate one cares nothing.
In reality, it is because he is the pope that we cry out against his errors; it is because we reverence him that we decry his abuse of power. An anarchist throws a bomb at the target of his hatred, but a Catholic raises his voice in prayer and protest for a shepherd gone astray, who is loved with a charity that seeks out remedies, natural and supernatural.
I know some of the signatories personally, and I am friends with many others who concur with the content of this Open Letter. Not a single one of us fails to pray for Pope Francis. He is the common father of Christians—whether worthily discharging his paternal office or not—and we owe him our urgent and oft-repeated prayers to God.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest exemplifies this correct attitude. Almost every day of the Church’s year, the Institute’s canons add the Commemoratio pro Papa to the orations of the Mass. This old custom, abolished (like much else) in the middle of the twentieth century, is well worth reestablishing. Indeed, can we fail to notice that the most precipitous decline in papal orthodoxy began right around the time of the abandonment of this custom? It’s as if the Vatican officials in charge of the liturgy had said to God: “With all due respect, the popes don’t need Your help as much anymore.” And God said: “Okay, let’s see how they manage with less of it.”
The orations read as follows:
Collect. O God, the shepherd and ruler of all the faithful, look down favorably upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast willed to appoint pastor over Thy Church; grant, we beseech Thee, that he may benefit both by word and example those over whom he is set, and thus attain unto life eternal, together with the flock entrusted to his care. Through our Lord…
Secret. We beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thou mayest be appeased by the gifts we offer, and govern by Thy continual protection Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast willed to appoint as pastor over Thy Church. Through our Lord…
Postcommunion. May the reception of this divine sacrament protect us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and ever save and defend Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast willed to appoint as pastor over Thy Church, together with the flock committed to his care. Through our Lord…
The Institute’s restoration of this custom is admirable. They understand that Pope Francis will be pope only for a short time; he is the 266th in order from St. Peter, and, however painfully the years drag on, there will someday be a 267th, a 268th, and so forth, until Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. Accordingly, the attitude we have towards the papacy should remain highly respectful. When Our Lord sees fit to come to the aid of His Church by providing a better shepherd, we need to have retained all along the right dispositions towards the Sovereign Pontiff. We cannot let our righteous and reasonable anger about Bergoglio, who passes like a shadow, contaminate our grateful and prayerful relationship to the office that abides.
How different is this terrifying example of neo-ultramontanism: a “Prayer for the Pope“ disseminated by the movement Regnum Christi, associated with the scandal-haunted Legionaries of Christ, who owed part of their great success to John Paul II’s blind endorsement of Marcial Maciel and the latter’s cultivation of a robotic obedience among his rank and file:
Christ Jesus, King and Lord of the Church, in your presence I renew my unconditional loyalty to your Vicar on earth, the Pope. In him you have chosen to show us the safe and sure path that we must follow in the midst of confusion, uneasiness, and unrest. I firmly believe that through him you govern, teach, and sanctify us; with him as our shepherd, we form the true Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Grant me the grace to love, live, and spread faithfully our Holy Father’s teachings. Watch over his life, enlighten his mind, strengthen his spirit, defend him from calumny and evil. Calm the erosive winds of infidelity and disobedience. Hear our prayer and keep your Church united around him, firm in its belief and action, that it may truly be the instrument of your redemption. Amen.
Seen with squinted eyes, this prayer could be given an orthodox interpretation, but when we read it in light of the milieu out of which it comes, and consider the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality of papal errors characteristic of “conservative” movements, we cannot but regard it as the epitome of a certain extreme, that of papolatry, which is as false as its contrary, Protestant antipapalism. The golden mean of virtue, so beautifully expressed in the traditional Roman orations pro Papa, lies in a reverent adherence to the pope as the transmitter of the deposit of faith and of the Catholic tradition that precede and govern him, even as he presides over and rules the body of the faithful.