Dr. Marshall, for many of us (myself included), your podcasts have been a source of enlightenment, entertainment, and—quite frankly—hope, during this very dark time in the history of the Church. As someone who studied his way into the Catholic Faith, having the grace and the integrity to acknowledge the necessity of conversion from the Protestant sect to which you formerly belonged, you have not been content to rest on your laurels but have “put yourself out there,” launching the New Saint Thomas Institute and discussing current events sub luce aeternitatis. Your willingness to deal with things the way they are, and not the way they would be if we were all painted on holy cards already, is refreshing and appreciated.
Accordingly, I am writing to you today in regard to your recent statements about being “open” to the idea that Jorge Bergoglio is not actually the pope. For a person in your position, so much as admitting that possibility must require all the grace and integrity you have demonstrated in the past—and then some. I say this not in the spirit of flattery, but in the hopes of spurring you to go even further in the search for truth upon which you embarked some years ago.
Either Bergoglio is the pope, or he isn’t. The concept of objective reality, to which our minds must conform, is a philosophical prerequisite, so to speak, for acceptance of the Catholic Faith itself. It is humility to recognize the existence of objective reality—not pride.
There seems to be a missing step, in other words, in the “rush to non-judgment” taking place among unapostasized Catholics, post-Resignation. “It is not up to us, to say who is and isn’t the pope,” has become (rather conveniently) the mantra of the day. True—and at the same time, not so. While the final determination may be up to the Church, no one is excused from the requirement of using his or her own rational faculties in reaching a determination on a matter so weighty. If we all did so, and began to act legitimately on our determinations, what would keep things from changing for the better?
As a thought experiment, why don’t we apply this attitude to another issue—one we all tend to agree on? What if someone were to say, “I am not a Supreme Court Justice, and therefore it is not up to me whether unrestricted abortion is the law of the land. I have no opinion on the matter, and no responsibility to form one, either”? Would we not reject such a stance as self-excusatory sophistry of the worst kind? The fact that an ordinary person truly doesn’t have the authority to overturn Roe v. Wade does not excuse him or her from the responsibility of doing everything possible, regardless—namely, to understand that abortion violates the laws of God and man, to recognize that outrages against the rights of the Creator and one’s fellow man cannot be permitted to stand, and to demand that those who are Supreme Court Justices reach and respect this reality as well.
“Ah, but that is politics,” I can hear you (and everybody else) respond. “That’s not how things work, where Cardinals are concerned. The Church is not a democracy, after all!” Of course not. But it is not Nazi Germany, either. The faithful are not required to behave like brainwashed tools in totalitarian systems. On the contrary, God both wants and obliges us to use the gift of reason with which He has endowed us. Is it possible to know who is the true pope? First of all, let us agree that we are not excused from attempting to find out. “But what can we do?” In addition to keeping up the prayers we can exercise our rights and responsibilities as baptized Catholics, start demanding that others do so as well, and quit wimping out.
Secondly, I would like to address your own tendency–shared by other Catholic luminaries as well–to speak as though reaching such a determination is a matter of indifference, even if it is possible. “Saints have disagreed about who the actual pope is; some have even been wrong!” runs the next stage of the argument. (The name Vincent Ferrer is almost certain to crop up at this stage.) It is telling, however, that this observation only cuts one way. As currently wielded, it means that people who accept Bergoglio as the successor of Saint Peter will be justified if they turn out to be wrong in the long run, while people who question the Argentinian’s papal validity in the first place are bad Catholics, ipso facto. You yourself, commendably, have backed off from this double standard markedly in recent days, but many others have not.
In the same vein let’s talk, for a second, about your treatment of Felix II in a recent podcast. What struck me, as someone admittedly ignorant of the historical circumstances beyond what you stated in the presentation itself, was your selective application of “the moral of the story” to one side of the current conflict only. OK, so there still exists some residual fuzziness about who was the authentic Roman Pontiff, or even (in some attenuated sense) whether there were “two popes at one time,” back in the day. That doesn’t mean that comparable confusion exists right now, nor that an aberration can be retrofitted as the norm. Maybe it is difficult to sift through the tangled theological and political intricacies of that all-but-forgotten episode. Reading through Universi Dominici Gregis isn’t. Why not draw the lesson that, because there have been antipopes before, there very well could be again? It’s not impossible. It’s not even unlikely, as Cardinal Pell did a stint in jail for knotting his eyebrows over.
Another big difference between then and now is, of course, Amoris laetitia Chapter 8. Could it be that Vincent Ferrer made it to Heaven without getting the “pope quiz question” right because, at the time, it didn’t make any serious difference to souls—his own, or anybody else’s? Before Bergoglio, deciding between one claimant to the papal throne and another was a matter of merely temporal, not theological, importance, since only the former archbishop of Buenos Aires has ever dared to insert situation ethics into the AAS,or change the Catechism of the Catholic Church to suit his own revolting, long-discredited ideological biases, or take issue with (you can’t make this stuff up) the wording of the Our Father itself. L’eglise c’est moi! I for one do not attempt to justify the bad example of John Paul II at Assisi and elsewhere, but between Veritatis Splendor and Laudato Si’there exists an abyss like unto the one separating Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham from the Rich Man in torment. Did Our Lady come down from Heaven and make the sun spin in order to warn everybody against Felix II? She did not; and why not? Maybe because he wasn’t worth Her time.
Speaking of Fatima, here’s another thing you guys always stop just short of taking into consideration. When a person passes in front of a mirror, it is quite true that you can suddenly see two of them. Problem is, reflection not only doubles; it also reverses. If the Third Secret revealed that there will be more than one “Holy Father” in this sense, then according to the apparition’s own imagery, one of them—the one that isn’t the original–has to be exactly backwards. Are you seriously going to contend that we have no way of identifying which man-in-a-white-cassock-currently-residing-in-Rome (Jorge Bergoglio or Joseph Ratzinger, take your pick) constitutes the perfect inversion of everything an authentic Supreme Pontiff is meant to be?
At the more practical level, I (among other Taylor Marshall loyalists) have been waiting a long time now for you to move beyond private judgment in your treatment of the Bipapal Arrangement. I listen as often and as carefully as I can, and maybe I have missed something, but all I have ever heard you say about the munus/ministerium clash is that you have examined those arguments for yourself and have found them wanting. Well frankly, every Protestant convert has to confront the fact that his or her own perspective simply isn’t, in the final analysis, the determining factor about anything. I have a good friend, for example, to whom I often try to explain points of Catholic belief while she patiently identifies which ones she agrees with, and which ones are out of luck. What I have yet to succeed in getting across to her is that her personal rejection of the Immaculate Conception, for instance, taints Our Blessed Mother not one spot. What I am trying to say is that what you think, Dr. Marshall, doesn’t . . . well . . . matter. If someone dares to opine that Ratzinger may still be reigning, he or she immediately runs afoul of the “Karens of Bergoglianism,” ever ready to issue the scolding reminder that “Francis” is “the Pope” whether we like it or nor! Nobody ever points out, however, that there is a flipside to this very coin. If “Francis” actually isn’t “the Pope,” then all the Karens in the world can’t make him one.
“But the Cardinals elected him!” That’s the whole problem about antipopes, isn’t it? If someone who isn’t the pope hadn’t been apparently raised to the papal dignity somehow, he’d hardly qualify in the first place. The question is—how? “But most of the Cardinals believe he’s for real, and they’re the ones who make the call!” The private judgment of a Cardinal, or even a majority thereof, has no more bearing on the issue than yours or mine. Even Princes of the Church have to conform their subjective determinations to reality, and elect popes in deference to canon law.
In the same way, everybody (and I believe I am correct in including you, Dr. Marshall, in this crowd) brushes aside the thought that Benedict might have resigned under duress by piously repeating his attestations to the contrary. Have you ever seen “Charade,” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn? There is a classic scene in which Hepburn’s character tries to determine whether Grant’s character is lying, and he points out it’s nearly impossible to do so. There are two kinds of Indians, according to him (please excuse the deplorable lack of political correctness, back in the day) a Truthful Whitefoot, and a Lying Blackfoot. One always tells the truth, and the other always lies. “Which are you?” she wants to know.
“A Truthful Whitefoot,” he replies, with that winning and iconic but ultimately enigmatic smile.
Dr. Marshall, if Benedict XVI did resign under duress, perhaps through fear inflicted by threats so horrific that you and I cannot make any informed conjecture about their magnitude, from which his prompt abdication and self-imposed lifelong silence constitutes in his mind the only possible deflection, then what do you expect him to say about it, afterwards? “Pope Emeritus, did you freely resign?”
“No way, Jose. I stepped down because only by doing so and then keeping quiet forever could I avert consequences too terrible to talk about, which is precisely why I’m mentioning them to you right now.” Makes sense, no? No.
In other words, Dr. Marshall, think for a second! Benedict XVI would have to say the same thing about the “force or fear” question, whether he is being a “Truthful Whitefoot” or not.
Still, duress isn’t the only invalidating factor; it just seems to be the only one you ever talk about because, in your mind at least, it appears to be the most easily debunked. What about the Daneels admission that the Sankt Gallen Mafia colluded to elect Bergoglio, in direct contravention of existing conclave rules? The extra ballot? The fact that no one seems to have dispensed the Argentinian Jesuit from his religious vows prior to March 13, 2013, making it impossible for him to have accepted the office even if elected validly? What about Cardinal Burke’s perspective, expressed to Patrick Coffin and swiftly consigned to the Memory Hole, that it could probably be proven that Bergoglio is an imposter and that the only real drawback is the difficulty of collecting the evidence? And by the way, has the Holy Spirit also decided that all of this is all above His pay grade, too–quietly giving up on His responsibility of protecting genuine successors of Saint Peter from teaching error in matters of faith and morals? Or are we just going to continue moving the doctrinal and pastoral goal posts until all that was previously identifiable as “Catholicism” simply disappears, in deference to the insatiable Bergoglian appetite for globalist control, entirely?
I do not know the answers to all of the above, even if my opinion is just about as “revealed” as Qui Gon Jinn’s regarding whether or not young Anakin is supposed to bring balance to the Force. What I don’t like is the effective suppression, by the relevant commentariat at large, of all such questions. Please, Dr. Marshall, crack open the Overton Window a little more, if you really meant what you said about possibly being wrong yourself. You speak with edifying clarity, authority, and erudition on many other matters pertaining to the ongoing crisis of our times. Why not the one on which the rest may finally hinge?
Note: This was written by a good friend and one of the most intelligent persons I know. The Catholic Monitor is honored to post it.
Pray an Our Father now for the restoration of the Mass and the Church as well as for the Triumph of the Kingdom of the Sacred Heart of the Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.