Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Search the Remnant Newspaper
Monday, August 27, 2018

Deifying Peter: A Short History of Papolatry Featured

Written by  Joseph D'Hippolito
Rate this item
(17 votes)
Popes Pius IX and Francis Popes Pius IX and Francis

In a paean to his boss, the English-language attaché in the Vatican's press office concluded with an astounding statement.

"Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants, because he is 'free from disordered attachments,' " the Rev. Thomas Rosica wrote Aug. 13. "Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture."

One might wonder whether the good father plans to build in front of St. Peter's Basilica a gigantic bronze statue of Pope Francis, similar to the ones of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Nevertheless, one also must confront the fact that Rosica's statement reflects a disturbing tendency permeating Catholicism: papal positivism, an excessive emphasis on the Pope that distorts Catholic teaching and identity, deflects attention from Jesus Christ and creates cults of papal personality.

"No creed of the Church has the words 'I believe the divinely inspired words of the Roman Pontiff,' " wrote John Beeler on "A Conservative Blog for Peace," his Traditionalist blog.

"None of them do because papal positivism is NOT Catholicism. It is, in fact, idolatry." (capitals in original)

Yet on his own blog in 2010, Catholic author Lee Podles wrote about learning a song in the 1950s with these lyrics:

Long live the pope,
His praises sound
Again and yet again.
His rule is over space and time,
His throne the hearts of men.
All Hail, the Shepherd King of Rome,
Our theme of loving song.
May all the earth his glory sing
And heaven the strain prolong. 

Pius IX played a fundamental role in the development of papal positivism. Most know his papacy for defining the doctrines of papal infallibility and papal primacy during the First Vatican Council of 1869-70. Yet before that council, Catholic authors and scholars wanted far more encompassing definitions than the council eventually provided.

CIC 2018 banner ad

Neo-ultramontanism arose in France in the nineteenth century as a reaction to the French Revolution's radical, violent secularism. "Its aim was to make almost everything the Pope said infallible," wrote Paul Collins, author of Absolute Power: How the Pope Became the Most Influential Man in the World. Neo-ultramontanists described the Pope as the "Vice-God of mankind" and the "Permanent Word Incarnate."

William George Ward -- an English theologian who once quipped, "I should like a new papal bull every morning with my Times at breakfast" -- provided a more measured operational definition.

"All direct doctrinal instructions of all encyclicals, all letters to individual bishops and allocutions published by the popes are ex cathedra pronouncements and ipso facto infallible," wrote Ward, a convert who influenced Archbishop Henry Edward Manning.

The council forged a compromise between extreme neo-ultramontanists and bishops who wanted infallibility defined within the broader context of episcopal authority. Nevertheless, Vatican I "provided an absolutely essential theoretical basis for the restoration of papal power within the church itself," Collins wrote. "This cannot be underestimated."

Beyond the council, Pius IX augmented papal authority by personally appointing bishops, creating national seminaries in Rome and using the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to increase and regulate missionary activity. 

"The election of Pius IX marked a turning point in the evolution of papal power," Collins wrote. "Catholicism has yet to retreat from the papo-centric church that Pius IX largely created."

Technological advances in transportation and communication also enabled Pius IX to create his own cult of personality. As increasing numbers of pilgrims came to Rome, the papal staff organized more audiences with more Catholics from all social and economic classes.

"Pius IX became the first papal 'personality,' and people found him attractive, fascinating and charming," Collins wrote. "He could be witty and funny, and he was very much in tune with the religious sentiment of the time."

A century later, Pope John Paul II used similar personality traits to take the papal personality cult to unprecedented heights, as Malachi Martin described in his 1990 book, The Keys of This Blood: Pope John Paul II Versus Russia and the West for Control of the New World Order.

synod banner

"His Holiness since 1978 has assiduously carved out for himself an international profile," Martin wrote. "Precisely he himself has done it -- not press agents, not an international team of zealous partisans, not a clever propaganda machine -- but he himself in person. And he has done it as if it was right as well as his duty. No pope ever did this on a like scale. Nor has any human being in known history even attempted it. This papal gambit is unique." (emphasis added)

Reinforcing that gambit was the spontaneous rise of an industry devoted not only to Catholic apologetics but also to promoting the papacy -- especially John Paul as the apex of orthodoxy. Many of the new apologists were former Protestants who converted during John Paul's papacy.

Those converts included the Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples and Mark Shea. They joined Elizabeth Scalia, Patrick Madrid, Karl Keating and others to form an apologetics phalanx that found expression in various communications media, including diocesan newspapers and the National Catholic Register.

Among the phalanx's leaders were George Weigel, John Paul's official biographer; the Eternal Word Television Network, Keating's Catholic Answers apostolate and First Things magazine, edited by the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran.

Papal positivism during John Paul's tenure became so prevalent and powerful that no apologist would dare question his dismal ecclesiastical governance, which Martin relayed to his readers in 1990.

"By the time he became pope in 1978, the deterioration of his churchly institution was striking," Martin wrote. "Every statistic pointed downward -- Mass-goers, priests, nuns, communicants, confessions, Catholic schools. There was no longer any unity of doctrine among theologians. 

Apart from now and again repeating traditional doctrines, he did nothing and is doing nothing to halt that deterioration. Isolated words not followed by concrete applications have done nothing effective to correct it. John Paul has, in sum, not even attempted to reform the very obvious deformations affecting and finally liquidating his churchly institution."

So why did the late Pope even bother with the gambit Martin described?

"John Paul's concentration and febrile activity were directed almost exclusively to the geopolitical issue in human affairs," Martin wrote. "He did not undertake a serious and professional attempt to restore the former unity or to extirpate from the Church the known sources of its inner decadence. At one early moment, he even asserted that his Church structure could not be reformed." 

Yet the Apologetics-Industrial Complex not only never challenged John Paul's inaction; it never addressed the problems he ignored in the first place. Instead, it persisted in the kind of doublethink that continues under Pope Francis.

On his Aug. 7 radio show, Madrid tried to convince a caller that Francis' recent declaration of capital punishment as immoral was a pastoral guideline, not doctrinal revisionism. 

"What has that got to do with the statement I raised?" the caller responded.

Are we talking together? He's teaching an error in faith and morals, and that's a tragedy."

Madrid made his argument despite the fact that, as the new Catechism states, "the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.' "

When Akin tried to rationalize the change by arguing that the Catechism itself was not infallible, he met resistance.

"If 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,'" wrote Bill 912, "does that mean that God attacked 'the inviolability and dignity of the person' when He COMMANDED the death penalty for certain crimes in the Old Testament?" (capitals in original)

underground teaser

"The Pope has created great confusion with changing the Catechism," Tara wrote. "As for me, I looked to the Catechism as church doctrine, not as the opinions of the Popes. If I wanted to know what they personally believed, I could read their letters. I looked to the Catechism to understand true Catholic doctrine. If the Catechism cannot teach that, to Hell with it! The Pope has ruined the Catechism for me, because how do I determine what is doctrine and what is opinion?"

When not engaging in doublethink, the Apologetics-Industrial Complex would show its iron teeth against anybody who dared challenge even prudential papal prerogatives -- as one Catholic author discovered.

Maureen Mullarkey, an art critic and senior contributor to The Federalist, took Pope Francis to task in 2015 on the verge of his ecological encyclical, "Laudato Si." In her blog for First Things. Mullarkey criticized Francis for cheapening the papacy's theological authority by associating it with environmentalist extremism.

In the process, Mullarkey displayed her biting witSome excerpts:

"In the cap and bells of Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happening Now, Pope Francis is readying an encyclical on climate change. He will address the world’s latest mutation of the grail quest: human ecology. Abandoning nuance for apocalyptic alarmism ('If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.'), Francis has signaled the tenor of his utterance."

"...Francis is not a fool. He is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist. ... Megalomania sends him galloping into geopolitical -- and now meteorological -- thickets, sacralizing politics and bending theology to premature, intemperate policy endorsements."

"Francis serves an environmentalist mindset that, unlike the traditional ethos of conservation, views man as a parasite (Western man in Francis’ marxisant variant) and understands wealth in pre-modern terms as a zero-sum game." 

"Orthodox environmentalism resents human sovereignty over the earth we inhabit. It begrudges ingenuity in the transactions we invent with nature and with each other. Its radical form, which beckons Francis and Vatican academics, is atavistic, even animist. Discount the gospel gloss. What matters is the spectacle of the Church imitating the world by justifying political agendas based on still-contended data and half-baked Gramscian dogma."

The Apologetics-Industrial Complex was not amused.

Shea, in his self-appointed role as the Catholic Establishment's attack dog, called Mullarkey's piece a "festival of crazy contempt for Francis" before continuing:

The stinking, sweaty, panic-stricken hatred of the pope from the kind of 'faithful conservative' Catholicism represented by Maureen Mullarkey is getting more and more palpable–and respectable among the increasingly deranged right wing.  This was not written on a bathroom wall where it belongs.  It was not published on some blog published from Ignatius Reilly’s basement.  This was published by First Freakin’ Things." (italics in original)

R.R. Reno, the magazine's editor, displayed the more saccharine side of papal positivism in his response to readers' complaints:

She calls him an “ideologue.” I see no evidence that Francis has a political or social outlook that fits with any particular modern ideology, left or right. He likes to make pungent, often hyperbolic statements about economic and other matters, but by my reading the consistent source of his rhetoric is biblical, not ideological."   

"I don’t like the dismissive, cutting tone of Maureen’s criticisms. ... But at some point, sharply turned phrases become slashing prose. Maureen reaches this point. ... Maureen’s criticisms and caricatures of Pope Francis don’t represent 'the First Things position.' They’re overdrawn and ill-tempered. But let’s not overreact to Maureen’s overreaction."

Of course, Reno did exactly that by dropping Mullarkey as a contributor and scrubbing her article from First Things' archives. Steve Skojec, editor of, published her piece and continues to run her articles.

Three years later, Mullarkey's opinion appears prophetic.

The Renos, Sheas, Akins, Madrids, Rosicas and their fellow minions of papal positivism think they are defending the Church. Actually, they are merely weaving fine garments they declare to be invisible to anybody who is stupid or not sufficiently Catholic – just like the swindlers in Hans Christian Andersen's, "The Emperor's New Clothes." They need to remember the words of Bishop Melchior Cano, a theologian at the Council of Trent:

Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See -- they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations." 

[Comment Guidelines - Click to view]
Last modified on Monday, August 27, 2018