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If you really think you’re more Catholic than the pope, you’re on your way to the funny farm

The interfaith pilgrimage to Assisi doesn’t compromise a single Catholic belief

By on Thursday, 13 January 2011

John Paul II prays at Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi with representatives of 12 world religions (AP Photo)

John Paul II prays at Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi with representatives of 12 world religions (AP Photo)

As my readers will have gathered by now, I worry about Catholics who think that the Magisterium of the Church is just one opinion among many, and that it is up to them to decide what a Catholic may or may not believe. But at least their view is comprehensible, if defective. To put it crudely, they may be Catholic; they’re just not Catholic enough.
I am much more puzzled by those who think that the Pope himself is open to criticism on the ground that he isn’t Catholic enough, and certainly much less Catholic than they are. Predictably, perhaps, the present Pope’s decision to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s meeting with leaders of other world religions to pray for peace has drawn fire from the SSPX, who have recalled Archbishop Lefebvre’s attack on that event: the Church, he pronounced, had never before been “humiliated to such an extent in the course of her history” and that “the scandal given to Catholic souls cannot be measured”. “The Church,” said the archbishop, “is shaken to its very foundations”.
Well, it was rubbish then and it‘s rubbish now. The Church wasn’t shaken to its foundations. On the contrary, John Paul II was the pope who, more than any other in this century, strengthened those foundations. I have to admit that I’m not particularly keen on what I have heard called “interfaith interface”. I think other religions are just wrong. But if those who adhere to them are sincerely praying for peace within their own religious traditions, however they may understand what the word “God” may mean, who am I to say that He, the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, won’t listen to their prayers? I don’t know what good the Assisi meeting did, who can? But it can surely hardly be argued that it did any harm.
The fact is that Pope John Paul did more to defend Catholic orthodoxy than Lefebvre could have in a thousand years: for, the fact is that Lefebvre, in separating himself from the successor of Peter in the name of orthodox Catholic belief and practice, did nothing but encourage the notion that orthodoxy, far from being the same thing as ultimate sanity, is on the contrary the mark of the extremist and the nutter.
What is the Pope risking by praying with those whose beliefs he does not share? This isn’t an interfaith doctrinal negotiation: he won’t compromise a single Catholic teaching. This isn’t like inviting a Muslim to contribute a prayer in the context of the Mass (as has been done in Westminster Cathedral) on the ground that “we all worship the same God”, when clearly we don’t.

This is the way Pope Benedict understands this event: “I will make a pilgrimage to the town of St Francis,” he said, “inviting my Christian brethren of different confessions, leaders of the world’s religious traditions and, in their hearts, all men and women of good will, to join me on this journey in order to commemorate that important historical gesture of my predecessor, and solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”
Well? And how is that a betrayal of the Catholic faith? You may think I’m taking the SSPX too seriously. But there are plenty of people in communion with the Holy See who think they’re more Catholic than the pope on this and other issues; if you doubt that, just look at some of the half-crazed comments to be found under the Herald’s online story headlined “SSPX leader criticises Pope’s plan to hold inter-religious meeting”.
Being a Catholic means believing many things, some of them more important than others. But one core principle is surely indispensable. Quite simply, you trust the pope. For, once you start thinking you are a better and more faithful Catholic than he is, you are well on your way to the funny farm.

  • James

    What about John XII? On 6 November 963 a synod composed of fifty Italian and German bishops was convened in St. Peter’s; John was accused of sacrilege, simony, perjury, murder, adultery, and incest (

    Am I allowed to think myself a more faithful Catholic than him?

  • W Oddie

    This is the exception that proves (i.e.tests) the rule. It isn’t anything that remotely disproves it. Are you saying that this entitles you to say that any subsequent pope is unworthy of trust? I assume not. And how do i know if you are a better Catholic even than John XII?

  • iconoclast

    So if I am a Catholic, I have to agree without question with everything ‘The Church’ says and decrees. I’m not sure if I’m more Catholic than the Pope, Mr Oddie, but I’m very glad I’m not as Catholic as you…..

  • James

    “how do i know if you are a better Catholic even than John XII? ”

    You don’t – but why should YOU know before I am allowed to consider myself one?

  • Christina

    It is legitimate, and indeed it is their duty, for Catholics, after due and prayerful consideration, to criticise actions and words (not given ex cathedra) of the Holy Father that seem to them to be wrong. Why describe them as thinking themselves ‘more Catholic that the Pope’. It simply doesn’t follow.

  • W Oddie

    If you really are an iconoclast (absolutely nothing to be proud of), so am I

  • Benedict Ambrose

    Up to a point, Dr Oddie. See the contextualisation of Fellay’s comments over on Rorate Cæli. As for harm, I cannot see the placing of a statue of the Buddha atop a tabernacle as anything other than deeply wrong. I can only imagine Benedict XVI agreeing with Msgr. Fellay on that.

  • W Oddie

    I remain to be convinced that that ever happened, certainly with the knowledge of Pope John Paul. It certainly won’t in the presence of Beneddict XVI.

  • Benedict Ambrose

    Well, agreed.

  • GFFM

    I do believe there is room for disagreement here about whether the Pope should go to Assisi. However, what is completely clear is that Benedict XVI knows that the essence of papal moral authority is Fatherhood. This is what motivates all that he does. His wish to minister to and find solidarity with all Christian communities, no matter how small and his desire to reach out to righteous non-Christians in order to respond to the unremitting secular attack dogs is completely consistent with the character of the papacy. More than anyone in the Vatican before he was Pope he conducted fruitful and substantial dialogue with a great variety of Christian and non-Christian apologists. He is extremely well informed concerning a host of religious traditions, and like Christ, he reaches out to all who are in good faith and who desire peace. Moreover, it becomes more evident everyday he is the only world leader who consistently and with great intellectual and moral force defends religious freedom against the onslaught of hate we are seeing throughout the world. I think it is important to remember that his teenage years were spent watching the Nazification of his society and his culture. I believe that he sees the intolerant secularism of many Western nations and the fanatical impulse within fundamentalist Islam as dangerous authoritarian ideologies which threaten human rights and freedoms. I believe this is why he has called for this meeting. He is in search of people of good faith who will unite against such threats to human life and welfare.

  • The Moz

    People who believe they are more Catholic than the Pope are just plain arrogant.

  • Auricularis

    There are photos that clearly prove such things have taken place:

    There really is no point in pretending that the stories of the excesses are just the imaginations of the SSPX. And even if such excesses did not happen, the confusion that such gatherings sends to the ordinary Catholic in the pew (who is sadly often not well catechized to tell the difference between an “interfaith” and “multifaith” gathering) is enormous.

    It has always been the duty of Catholics to speak out, in charity, when the faith is endangered. St Paul did it when St. Peter refused to eat with the Gentiles for fear of offending the Jews. Cardinal Ottaviani mentioned this very duty, when he wrote his criticism of the liturgical reforms in his famous “Ottaviani Intervention”. It’s not as if every Catholic must acknowledge the sanctity of such an event, in order to be united to the See of Peter.

    What I find amazing however, is not the gatherings in themselves, but how the Catholic side seems to feel they can achieve “common peace” without mentioning the necessity of accepting Jesus Christ and the church he founded.

  • W Oddie

    Clarification: I’m glad I’m more Catholic than you, not I’m an iconoclast, a foolish and deeply protestant thing to be

  • W Oddie

    Clarification: I’m glad I’m more Catholic than you, not I’m an iconoclast, a foolish and deeply protestant thing to be

  • W Oddie

    The link you give, to an exceptionally loony website, does not prove that this had anything at all to do with JPII’s visit to Assisi.

  • W Oddie

    The link you give, to an exceptionally loony website, does not prove that this had anything at all to do with JPII’s visit to Assisi.

  • Auricularis

    Exceptionally loony? Looks like the blog of someone to me.

    I gave the link because it had a photograph of the Buddha statue on top of a Catholic altar at the Assisi gathering in 1986 – which you refuse to believe happened. Even if JP II hadn’t sanctioned it, the fact it happened, without any rebuke from the pope or any high ranking prelate in charge of this gathering, speaks volumes.

    Incidentally JP II would go onto kiss the Quran in 1993 in his visit to Damascus.

  • ryan

    Rev 5vs6:…..and with the seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth…. Could the seven spirits of God be the worlds great religions?

  • Anonymous

    A rather odd post. Were those who anathematised Honorius I at the Third Council of Constantinople “on their way to the funny farm”? Were those who deplored Liberius’ ultimate ambivalence during the Arian crisis “on their way to the funny farm”? The First Vatican Council set strict limits to papal infallibility; it is an un-Catholic and unhealthy mentality which turns the Pope into a North Korean-style Dear Leader who is incapable, in all statements and acts, of error.

    Though I hold no brief for the SSPX or Msgr Lefebvre, your selective quotation of his rhetoric (which could be a little absurd at times) does an injustice to the many – including then-Cardinal Ratzinger – who expressed concerns about Assisi ’86. Look up the First Commandment in any pre-conciliar manual of moral theology and you may begin to realise why so many Catholics struggled to make sense of the Ven. John Paul II’s actions.

  • Anonymous

    “May Saint John Baptist protect Islam and all the people of Jordan, and all who participated in this celebration, a memorable celebration. I’m very grateful to all of you.”
    – John Paul II (

    Can a Catholic express discomfort at the idea of asking a saint to protect a false religion? Or would such discomfort be an indication that one is “on one’s way to the funny farm”?

  • Anonymous

    Listen, between his condom error and his breaking of the First Commandment by inviting the adherents of pagan religions to pray to their false gods for peace in the world, when he bare-facedly refuses to do what Our Lady told him to do in order to guarantee world peace, the fact is that we MUST be more Catholic than the Pope.

    And insulting those of us who are educated enough to know we are not supposed to worship popes, that no pope is a divine being, that he has a limited charism of infallibility (which this Pope, note, says in THAT interview, he has no intention of exercising – incredible) by suggesting we belong in a mental institution, only underlines the paucity of your position.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us – especially the REAL nutters among us! (don’t worry – she’ll smile at that!)

  • Anonymous

    So, those of us who would not “pray” with worshippers of false gods, are arrogant? Was St Paul “arrogant” when he told the first Pope off to his face? Told him, in effect, that he was not being Catholic enough?

    Stop worshipping the pope. It’s a sin.

  • Anonymous

    W.Oddie, these photos have been all over the internet for years. It’s an established fact. Stop clutching at straws. What does it matter WHAT kind of website the photos are on – for heaven’s sake.

    Goodness, we had a priest in Glasgow hand over a city church to buddhists, with the approval of Archbishop Conti for one of their singing bowls concerts – i.e. praying to false gods in a Catholic Church.
    It’s happening. The Abomination of Desolation – and don’t you kid yourself that this sort of thing couldn’t happen in Assisi under Benedict. A short while ago you’d have sworn that Benedict would never say condoms were permissible if the intention is to prevent STDs. One lives and learns, W.Oddie. Pope Benedict needs a good talking to. Consider that an offer.

  • Anonymous

    Pope Benedict didn’t say that “condoms [a]re permissible if the intention is to prevent STDs”; on the contrary, he said they are neither a real nor moral solution to STDs, which sounds pretty clear to me. There’s enough wrong in the Church without indulging one’s appetite for tabloid invention.

  • Anonymous

    Well what was he talking about then when he said “it” might be permissible as a first step towards morality?

    What was the “IT” he was talking about? The question was about whether it was ever permitted to use condoms so, stupid me, I thought the Pope was talking about condoms.

    Enlighten me, what was he talking about being permissible as a first step….?

  • Diffal

    Sometimes EditorCT is like a dog that thinks it has a bone, I wouldn’t waste your time trying to convince her otherwise re the misunderstanding of the Holy Fathers statement on condoms

  • Diffal

    Please stop caricaturing people who like the Holy Father, just because we appreciate him does NOT mean we worship him.

  • Anonymous

    Though I’d perhaps be better served taking Diffal’s advice, here’s what Pope Benedict actually said – with my capitals for emphasis:

    HH BXVI: There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But IT IS NOT REALLY THE WAY TO DEAL WITH THE EVIL OF HIV INFECTION. That can really lie ONLY in a humanization of sexuality.

    INTERVIEWER: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

    HH BXVI: She of course DOES NOT REGARD IT AS A REAL OR MORAL SOLUTION, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

    There’s a difference between discussing the psychological maturation which may be betokened by the decision to protect one’s partner in sin from its potentially lethal effects, and saying that such behaviour is permissible. If you can’t tell the difference, perhaps you should try lighter reading fare.

  • Jucken

    That’s a strawman argument, Pope Benedict never said that.

    Go spread your antisemitic maurrasianist political agenda elsewhere.

  • Jamie MacNab

    Of course, many pagans do in fact pray to God, but they do not know it for their understanding is deficient in that they worship the signs rather than the Reality they point to. I am sure God listens to them and responds.

  • Anonymous


  • Peter Haddad

    YES there were are are PLENTY of Saints who were and are MORE CATHOLIC than the POPE! The Pope is not God Incarnate who is All Knowing Impeccable and Sinless!!! Cardinal Ratzinger HIMSELF absented himself from the mockery of Assisi 1 and indeed criticized it! So I hope now as Pope he will remember that he is the Vicar of GOD INCARNATE… and NOT some politician playing nice with worshipers of FALSE gods and talking about their esteemed ‘religions’ and ‘faith traditions’!

  • Berenikebationah

    The Pope is infallible, not inspired or impeccable or guaranteed to be struck dead by the Holy Spirit before doing anything silly. Criticising the Pope doesn’t per se make you a bad Catholic or an arrogant person.

  • Horace Zagreus

    Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

    If you were half as educated as you make out, O Learned One, you’d not make such fatuous claims as:

    1) That the Pope indicated support for condoms in his interview with Peter Seewald;
    2) That clerical celibacy was the norm in the Early Church;
    3) That supporters of Pope Benedict XVI (and, indeed, in times past of Cardinal, Archbishop, and Fr. Ratzinger) somehow “worship” him;
    4) That supporters of His Holiness are in some way unaware of the limits of Papal infallibility.

    You’ve mastered the basics of Catholic teaching. Well done. What you don’t seem to know much about is either the history of the Church, or the nuance of her teaching. Perhaps you might seek to repair the defects of your own learning, and to ensure that you are in fact correct when you hand down your pontificating declarations on matters before you cast aspersions on the learning of others in future.

  • Anonymous

    But, that’s what I said – the Pope has made an exception to the use of condoms. He can’t do that.
    Condoms are evil in every situation for everyone, prostitutes included. See that “nonetheless…” in the pope’s statement.

    I know exactly what the Pope has said but the difference between thee and me, is that I recognise that, by making an exception to the absolute moral teaching of the Church, the Pope has erred.

    What is this male prostitute were to die after using that condom? Objectively, he is damned. God does not judge us on a balance of good and evil in our lives, but on the state of our souls at the point of death – hence the Church’s insistence on us praying for a provided death. Our Lord even went so far as to appear to St Margaret Mary and tell her that if we make the first nine Fridays, He will guarantee that we will not die without a priest to administer the Sacraments. The Pope cannot ever permit anyone to do evil, even for a good intention. That is elementary Catholic theology.

  • Anonymous

    Well, if we are to believe Scripture, God finds pagan worship abhorrent. I even think He gave us a Commandment about it…

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t make myself out to be particularly educated – I made a point of saying I was “educated enough” to know the basics, such as the fact that we are not supposed to worship anyone, including the Pope, except God.

    I’m so sick of quoting the condom remarks that I am not going to waste any more time on it. Read my other posts on this blog – you’ll find that the Pope was asked if there was ever a time when condoms could be allowed and he said there was and gave a male prostitute (later clarified as any old prostitute) as an example.

    If you can’t see that a pope can be wrong on anything, that the pope is always right because he’s the pope, then you clearly are as close to worshipping him, as you can be.

    If all of those who are defending the pope’s scandalous comments about condoms and his organising of a prayer meeting with pagans, do, indeed, know about the limits of papal infallibility, then why on earth are they defending him?

    You don’t say why you think I know nothing of Church history or what you mean by “the nuance” of Catholic teaching, so I can’t answer those criticisms. And anyway, sticks and stones…

  • Anonymous

    The Pope’s not there to be “appreciated” – he’s there to teach and to preach the Catholic Faith, as the one and only road to salvation for all. Not take himself off to pray with pagans – and at a time when the Church is falling apart. Gimme strength.

  • Anonymous

    The essence of papal moral authority is not “Fatherhood” but discipline. We don’t need popes to be diplomats or envoys or “fathers” to pagans and secularists.

    You say that during his years at the CDF this Pope, more than any other prelate, got to know the inter-faith people.

    But, much more importantly given his role as Christ’s Vicar on earth, appointed to rule and govern His Church, Cardinal Ratzinger knew, better than any other Cardinal, the rotten state of the Church. He knew where the bodies were buried. He said on his election that we should pray that he would not run from the wolves – and what did he do? He appointed one of the wolves to head the CDF – his very first appointment was Cardinal Levada, complicit in so many cover ups of abuse cases in his own archdiocese, and known to be “gay” friendly. And, far from disciplining bad bishops and removing them from office, he’s promoting them! He’s acting as if those many years at the CDF never happened!

    Please, take off the rose coloured spectacles and recognise that what we are witness in this pontificate, is the prophesied “diabolical disorientation” in the Church prophesied by Our Lady at Fatima, which, Cardinal Ciappi, papal preacher to 5 popes including John Paul II, said would “begin at the top”.

  • Anonymous

    Spot – absolutely – on!

  • Anonymous

    I am tickled by the idea of your teaching one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished Catholic theologians what constitutes “elementary Catholic theology”. Given that he was also Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, yours really is a rather stunning example of what our Jewish friends would call “chutzpah”.

    It hardly needs saying that Pope Benedict does not, in the words quoted, make “an exception to the absolute moral teaching of the Church”, nor has he “permit[ted] anyone to do evil”. Judging by your engagement with “Light of the World”, it’s not so much elementary Catholic theology as elementary reading comprehension that’s lacking.

  • Anonymous

    Well, please enlighten me – what did the Pope say?

    Did he say that condoms are NEVER permitted in any circumstances?

    Because if he did not say that – if he made any exceptions, whatsoever, he is in error.

    ps ? antisemitic? who’s maura? which political agenda? You need to spell out what you mean – I’m a simple gal…

  • Anonymous


    Would you tell me what the controversy is all about then. I’m a little confused. If the Pope did not say that it may be permissible for a male prostitute (later “clarified” to any old prostitute) to use a condom if this was a first step on the road to morality – what’s all the fuss about?

    Another blogger keeps telling me that the Pope didn’t speak about condoms at all. So, perhaps you are right about my lack of reading skills (they were so charitable to give me degree level English and a job teaching English, I now realise) so, help me out here – I’ve obviously got it all wrong.

    Please correct me – tell me EXACTLY what the Pope said. I’ll be ever so grateful.

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    He did not say “condoms are NEVER permitted in any circumstances”, but he did say that condoms are not a real or moral solution to the problem of AIDS. Perhaps he could have made it even clearer for the weaker-minded members of his flock, but if something is not a real or moral solution, that would tend to suggest it is a false/illusory and immoral solution. Does that sound like endorsing or permitting the use of condoms by those engaging in sexual acts (whether married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual)?

    In any case, it would be imprecise to say that “condoms are NEVER permitted in any circumstances”. The Church has not said that condoms are, per se, wicked. A little latex pouch might have any number of non-sexual, morally licit uses. You could use it to carry water in the absence of any other suitable containers; you could use it to make a papier-mâché head of Charles Maurras; you could even use it as a rudimentary pencil case. Thus you are wrong about what the Pope said, and wrong about the implications of what he didn’t say. Third time lucky?

  • Anonymous

    I have posted “EXACTLY” what he said. If you want to read the section in context, buy the book. If you need the assistance of a commentary , you can look online. Fr Fessio and Janet Smith’s were both widely-circulated.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t you worry your head, EzraQuid, I’m going to buy the book. Not for the condoms error – that’s been widely reported – but other things haven’t been so widely reported that are every bit as serious, so worry not about that. Buy the book, I will, when I get a minute to spare…

    I’ve read the commentaries by Fr Fessio and Janet Smith – they’re like you, jumping through hoops, performing cartwheels, anything rather than call a spade a spade.

    No, the only commentary that I could find that spoke the truth, was this one.


  • Marino

    Pope worship is a sin CT is correct.

    I had two early impressions of the Pope condem remarks:

    1) HELLO McFly. How can you be so dumb as to make a comment that at best will be misanterpreted or misreprsented by the mainstream media, and

    2) He sounds like one of those inteliculal professors who think they are smarter than the rest of us, but cannot string together a cogant argument.

  • Jamie MacNab

    I do believe that God is trying to educate us, CT. It is to be expected that He will say different things to different people and at different times – according to their understanding and circumstances.

  • Jamie MacNab

    I do believe that God is trying to educate us, CT. It is to be expected that He will say different things to different people and at different times – according to their understanding and circumstances.

  • CPKS

    With respect, you have not grasped the basics of Christian ethical thinking. The Pope did not say that condoms were “allowed”. In Christian (indeed, adult) moral discourse, morality is not a matter of “allowed” versus “forbidden”. All things are good to some extent, but some things are less good than others. In simple terms, there are shades of grey.

    When the Pope chose as his example a male prostitute, it is not hard to fathom that he was referring to someone pretty low down on the moral scale. It’s mighty trivial to score morality on a scale of 1 to 10, (albeit much closer to the truth than your binary allowed/forbidden scale), but for simplicity’s sake let’s just say that what the Pope was saying is that an HIV-positive male prostitute would be down the low end, say 1 or 2, and that using a condom out of consideration might take him up to a 2 or 3. What we Christians are called to aspire to, however, is a 10. To prefer a 2 over a 3, or a 5 over a 10, is what we call sin.

    To say that someone who has chosen a 3 over a 2 has exhibited moral growth is absolutely not to say that a 3 is “allowed” or “permitted” as you insist on saying.

    Whilst persisting in this pre-Christian binary moral classification you are, I am afraid, in absolutely no position to pass judgment on a Pope for whom all reasonable Christians thank God.

    Nor, indeed, to interpret the message of Fatima.