Phil Lawler’s recent book crit­i­cizes Pope Francis. | Wiki­media Commons

As the Francis papacy wanes, it has become fash­ionable — espe­cially among well-to-do Catholics — to express dis­content at even the thought of the current pope futzing around in the Vatican. 

What began in 2013 as a rev­o­lution of love within the Roman Catholic Church (dubbed by the media as “The Francis Effect”) has now soured as the pope keeps speaking on con­tro­versial topics, much to the con­ster­nation of con­ser­v­ative Catholics. In many of these Catholics’ minds, Francis’ anti-tra­di­tional papacy could undo the Church itself.

This is the tone of “Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Mis­leading His Flock,” Catholic World News editor Philip Lawler’s jeremiad pub­lished by Regnery Gateway in late Feb­ruary. Lawler writes that Francis’ con­fusing state­ments on divorce and homo­sex­u­ality (as well as his South American style of gov­er­nance) pose an entirely new problem for the Church’s integrity — and no one is pre­pared to stop his madness. “Lost Shepherd” is intended to sound the alarm for Lawler’s fellow Catholics: Beware! You cannot trust your pope. 

Except hardly anyone is paying attention to this book. Thank God. Lawler’s account of the inner workings of Francis’ Vatican reads like a toothless version of “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s poorly researched schlock storm about the Trump White House. Although Lawler does touch on some of the major issues (like what the hell was “Amoris Laetitia” all about?), he bases the bulk of his nar­rative on triv­i­al­ities such as Francis’ unrecorded inter­views with Com­munist news­papers and snide com­ments Lawler has over­heard from Vatican reporters over the years.  

“Lost Shepherd” came out several weeks before a better-received book on the same subject, “To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism” by the Catholic New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Douthat regards Francis’ treatment of divorce and homo­sex­u­ality as the ultimate extension of western liberal demo­c­ratic ide­ology and warns that Francis’ departure from Catholic tra­dition is a gamble that could betray the Church to the usual faceless specters of modernity.

A bold claim, to which Francis could reply with the aid of over 2000 years of Church tra­dition and the inex­haustible words of His­panic aspirant Pusha T: “We’re still here. I don’t even know why you doing this, loco, yo ni se pa’ que, but we’re always still right here.” His point being, of course, that no matter how bad a job he does as pope, the Holy Spirit will still guide the Catholic Church into eternity. 

Belief in the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit is the answer to Catholic doubts about the papacy. Since, for Catholics, the pope is the vicar of Christ on Earth, they must piously follow his lead. But Catholics also under­stand that the pope is only the vicar of Christ on Earth, and know that at the end of the day — at the end of all days — God himself is guiding the Church.  

The appearance of these books raises a question other doom ‘n’ gloom Catholic writers should be asking them­selves before dropping 200+ pages of papal crit­icism: Is this a pious project?

Both Lawler and Douthat are actually knowl­edgeable and con­cerned Catholics. But they do their readers a dis­service by selling a nar­rative of decline about an insti­tution which they must believe to be inef­fable to be fully in com­munion with their faith. It’s in the Cat­e­chism: The doc­trine of inef­fa­bility is the belief that no matter what trials the church faces, it will endure until the end of time. That includes the maneuvers of addled popes — and Catholics have had many. 

The Church has never had perfect leaders. In fact, here’s a short list of my favorite Wicked Popes: 

1. Benedict IX: The only man to be pope three non-con­sec­utive times, Benedict was a prof­ligate in every sense of the word. He also has the dis­tinction of being the only man ever to sell the papacy.

2. Stephen VI: Of “cadaver trial” fame. Stephen exhumed his predecessor’s body, put it on trial, and had it dragged through the streets of the Eternal City. An unpopular move; Stephen’s enemies strangled him before he had even been pope for a year. 

3. Leo X: The pope who encouraged the sale of indul­gences to build St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a beau­tiful church, but Leo’s abuse of power widened the division that erupted into the Protestant Ref­or­mation. 

So it’s been pretty bad. But it’s also been pretty good. In the past half-century, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have laid the groundwork for the coop­er­ative renewal of the face of the modern world. Francis is just trying — in his some­times mean­dering way — to bring that project to as many people as he can.

Let’s leave aside Lawler and Douthat and give Francis a chance; he’s got God on his side. 

  • Isaac Warchol

    This is a quality piece of satire.

    • didymus46

      The most easily-dis­missed piece on the present pon­tif­icate I’ve read yet. apart from those of rank heretics.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Acco­lades to the Holy Spirit saved this oth­erwise non-mem­o­rable piece of work.

  • Caleb Clark

    That was Mr. Lee, not Pusha T.

    • Nic Rowan

      Pusha T has writing credits on that line.