GOOD POPES/BAD POPES, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST

The Worst Pope Ever

Jeremy Irons, as Alexander VI,

Jeremy Irons, as Alexander VI, “The Borgias”
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Not long after John Paul II died, I received an apologetics question from someone who was corresponding with a hard-core Traditionalist—”probably SSPX” was how the Traditionalist was described to me. My inquirer reported that his correspondent believed John Paul II was “the worst pope ever,” but let’s allow the Traditionalist to put into his own words his position on the man who has since been canonized, and is now known to the world as St. John Paul II:

John Paul II didn’t just fail to do something about these errant bishops, he appointed them in the first place. He appointed the Weaklands and Mahonys of the world. For all his personal charisma, in spite of his kind face and the warm manner that made people fall in love with him, he was one of the worst popes in the history of the Church. He had thirty years to restore discipline, appoint good bishops, promote tradition, crack down on the Fr. McBriens of the world, oversee seminary formation, at least ensure that his own liturgist offered the traditional Mass as opposed to ones with dancing girls and half-naked “incense bearers,” etc.

But he did none of this. He traveled, spoke ambiguously, kissed Qur’ans, prayed in synagogues, kissed the rings of Anglican “bishops,” allowed altar girls, smeared Holy Mother Church with his needless apologies, toyed with even the holy rosary, appointed the worst men possible as bishops, and made sure (or at least did nothing as) traditional priests were treated like heretics and booted out. Bad pope.

My inquirer wanted to know how to respond to this.

I began by pointing out that the Traditionalist was engaging in what Catholic Answers’ Senior Apologist Jimmy Akin has termed buckshot apologetics: He loaded his shotgun with a buckshot of charges, pointed it to the heavens, and hoped to hit something, somewhere, anywhere.

Does this person really believe that John Paul II deserves to be placed in the same league as Alexander VI, usually considered by historians to be the most notorious pope in Church history? The most charitable assumption I can make is that the Traditionalist was making a rhetorical flourish by saying that John Paul was “one of the worst popes in the history of the Church,” and did not think through the ramifications of his remark. After all, he did concede that John Paul was kind, charismatic, warm, and connected with people in a positive manner.

Perhaps this person might say that Alexander VI didn’t fiddle with doctrine and tradition, as he apparently believes that John Paul did, but Alexander VI’s papacy may well have been one of the triggers for the Protestant Reformation because of the scandal it gave to Europe. What, then, is worse? A holy pope who edified people of good will, Catholic and non-Catholic, around the world, thus raising the credibility of the Church in the eyes of untold millions; or a notorious pope whose scandal-ridden life may have been partly responsible for the shattering of Western Christendom?

We can certainly admit that John Paul made prudential mistakes during his pontificate. Indeed, John Paul may well have been the first to admit that he was not have been as firm a disciplinarian as he could have been. That does not mean that he was a “bad pope,” much less “one of the worst popes in the history of the Church.” Popes make mistakes and can be justly reprimanded, as Paul did to Peter (cf. Gal. 2:11); and they are sinful human beings like the rest of us, as Peter himself admitted (cf. Luke 5:8). One of the tests of a good pope is that a good pope admits his mistakes and failures, and John Paul readily admitted his own. The Pope of Apologies acknowledged his own need for forgiveness.

A new contender

I was reminded of this question-and-answer the other day after reading a post on the Traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, titled Ten Tips on How to Survive a Calamitous Pope and Remain Catholic. Rorate Caeli, for those who don’t know, is the blog on which Jorge Mario Bergoglio was welcomed as Pope Francis on the very day of his election with a post titled The Horror! A Buenos Aires Journalist Describes Bergoglio. Since then Rorate Caeli has been part of the vanguard of Traditionalist web sites stuffed to the brim with unremitting criticisms of Pope Francis since Day One of his papacy.

Couched though it is in terms of “hypothetical possibility,” the Rorate Caeli blogger nonetheless proposes that now is probably a very good time for Catholics to prepare themselves for papal calamity. But, hey, just because this is the same site where Pope Francis’s election was deemed to be a “horror” on the very day it occurred, and the critiques of every aspect of his papacy have continued to this day, that doesn’t mean the site’s writers have Pope Francis in mind or anything. Why would we possibly think that?

To be fair, several of the “tips” are, for the most part, unobjectionable. There is much to recommend suggestions such as “Keep calm,” “Do not give in to apocalyptic warnings,” “Do not generalize,” and “Do not support any schism.” On the other hand, given the context of the publication of this tip sheet, how are we to interpret warnings to Catholics against remaining silent (number 4), against obeying the Pope when you don’t like the instructions he gives (number 7), and withholding support from local churches in union with the Pope (number 8)?

All of this is predicated upon the idea that a hypothetically “calamitous pope” is currently reigning. Who decides that? Who judges that “the instructions of the Pope . . . [deviate] from the treasure of the Church”? Do we each become our own judge of what is part of the teaching magisterium of the Church? Or do we place our trust in bloggers on the Internet to tell us when it is time to withhold just obedience and support for the Church?

Like St. John Paul II before him, Pope Francis is coming under fire not for objectively evil deeds, but basically because he is not telling Traditionalists what they want to hear about the Catholic faith. They have preconceived notions of what constitutes doctrinal and moral orthodoxy, and a pope who contradicts these preconceived notions is considered suspect.

Truly bad popes

Out of over 200 popes, we can probably count the number of truly calamitous popes on two hands. So, who qualifies as a bad pope? Everyone knows about Alexander VI, usually the frontrunner in any mainstream listing of Worst Popes Ever, but who are some of the others? Googling “bad popes” brought up an interesting article from Esquire magazine’s web site. (Caveat lector: The language is unnecessarily crude.)

If you go through Esquire‘s list, you may note that their list is remarkably apolitical for the secular media. We don’t find controversial popes of modern times, such as Pius XII and Benedict XVI, who we might expect mainstream journalists to dislike for any number of reasons. What we find are popes who are charged with truly evil deeds. For purposes of comparison with Traditionalist sources that consider John Paul II and Francis “the worst popes ever,” here are examples of popes who made the grade for Worst Ever on Esquire‘s list:

Stephen VI (896897) held the “Cadaver Synod” of 897. [Angry] at his predecessor, [Stephen VI] dug up the rotting corpse of Pope Formosus and put it on trial. You know, like a crazy person. The former Formosus was found guilty of perjury, violating canon law, and performing bishop duties as a layman. The cadaver was thrice de-fingered and thrown into a river. Naturally.

A couple of centuries later, we find:

Benedict IX (10321044, 1045, 10471048) sold the papacy in 1044 to the highest bidder. After returning to office for a month, he sold it again in 1045 to marry his cousin. [Benedict IX] was accused of rape, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality. Pope Victor III claimed of Benedict IX, “His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”

The most recent entry on Esquire‘s list was a pope who reigned five centuries ago:

Leo X (1513–1521) famously said when elected to office, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” And he promptly made it rain. His extravagant expenses angered Martin Luther and caused a gang of cardinals to plot his assassination. The alleged attempt failed, and a not-so-mysterious bout of food poisoning soon plagued the conspirators.

In contradistinction to Traditionalist nominees for Bad Popes, not one pope who made Esquire‘s list was condemned for upholding the doctrines and moral strictures of the Church for which many in the modern world ordinarily attack the Church. Whether or not Esquire‘s historical overview is entirely accurate, the popes who made their list were accused of objectively evil deeds.

How to deal with a pope you disagree with

I think Traditionalist complaints with John Paul II and Francis—and even, in some cases, with the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI—boil down to disagreeing with a pope’s non-infallible interpretations of Church doctrine and the moral law, with his prudential judgments, and with features of his personality (e.g., in John Paul’s case, his showmanship; in Francis’s case, his informality). And it is within legitimate bounds for Catholics to have issues with an individual pope’s public remarks, with his actions on the world stage, or with his personality quirks. So let’s look at some legitimate responses Catholics might want to consider when faced with a pope they just dislike.

Maintain silence. Or as the old proverb my grandmother liked to quote went, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Unless a pope is engaging in objectively evil deeds like some of his predecessors named above, silence is a better response to disagreement than speaking out. It allows you to observe, to gather all of the available information, to allow time for surprises, before staking out a position that may well prove to be completely discredited by later events. Silence is also a profoundly Christological response to persecution.

Obey, even when you disagree. Catholics are not rugged individualists. Although some American Catholics tend to act as if authority in the Church consists of “me, the Pope, and Jesus,” this is not how authority is exercised or expressed in the Catholic Church. For Catholics, we are called to obey all those in the Church who, by virtue of office, exercise legitimate authority in the lives of the faithful. Obedience to lawful authorities in the Church is not conditioned on whether or not a Catholic agrees with what is required of him. Catholics are supposed to obey anyway, provided the action required is not a sin, and to trust that the authorities have wisdom gained from formation and/or ordination that goes above and beyond their own experience.

Support your priests and bishops. Continue to maintain communion with your local church, both at the parish and diocesan levels. Not only is support for the Church a precept of the Church that Catholics are bound in conscience to obey (CCC 2043), but doing so keeps you in the loop. You have channels through which you can respectfully ask for pastoral guidance and spiritual support. And you enable your local church to be able to continue to care for the legitimate needs of Catholics and non-Catholics in your area during difficult times. Just because you don’t like what a pope has to say on homosexuality, or because you disagree with a pope on who may receive Communion, that is no reason to deny fellow human beings the material support from the Church to which they have a right (either directly, by denying charitable funds earmarked for the needy; or indirectly, by impeding the ability of local pastors to respond to humanitarian crises because of lack of support from the faithful in the diocese).

Trust in God. Soon after my conversion, back when I was a baby Catholic, my mildly anti-Catholic father, just to be ornery, asked me what I would do if the Pope suddenly altered Church doctrine on some hot-button issue. My dad’s example, although he would have been the last person to agitate for feminist concerns, was women’s ordination. What would I do if the Pope suddenly started ordaining women?

I was not an apologist at the time, and my dad really was not asking about women’s ordination or papal infallibility anyway. He wanted to know what I would do if the Pope radically shocked me by doing something I was convinced the Pope could not do.

I thought for a minute and then reminded Dad of the old story of a man who fell off a cliff and managed to grab a branch on the way down. He yells for help, and a Voice from the heavens answers him. The Voice tells him to let go of the branch he is clinging to, and to trust he will be okay. The man thinks over the instructions, then yells, “Is there anyone else up there?”

“Sooner or later, Dad,” I said, “you have to trust and let go, even when doing so seems impossible.”

Because, after all, “to whom shall we go” (John 6:67–69)?


Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers.
Inside The Mind Of Pope Francis
Catholic Answers’ senior apologist Jimmy Akin has just produced a handy new booklet called Inside the Mind of Pope Francis which offers a unique look at our new pope.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  David Wallace – Front Royal, Virginia

First, I don’t want to say that JP2 was the “worst pope in history,” however, I do want to add that previous “evil” popes like Alexander VI did not have anything remotely like the influence that modern popes have on the average layman. At the turn of the 16th century, when Alexander VI lived, there was no Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Catholic Answers apologists, newspapers, or internet. There were no mass marketed papal encyclicals, no daily ferverini, no Wednesday audiences, etc. Today, no matter what a pope says or does, every book, encyclical, paragraph, sentence, and last word of a pope is scrutinized, debated, and commented upon by everyone who has any interest in ecclesiastical matters. Would a simple dirt farmer in England know the name of or even care about the worldly affairs of the bishop of Rome in 1503? Probably not. And I’m sure that we today should have the same almost-gossip-like relationship with what comes out of the Holy See.

Remember, too, that the Vatican was always quick to respond that JP2 was beatified and canonized because of his personal holiness, not because of his prudential judgments as the Supreme Pontiff. Now, of course, it sometimes takes a bit of mental gymnastics to make that distinction.

We need to make a distinction: who is the worst man who ever occupied the throne of St. Peter? vs. which pope served most poorly as the Roman bishop?

For that first question, one might say Alexander VI or Julius II or Benedict IX. For the second question, I think one might make a case for someone like Paul VI or John Paul II, for their actions had such a major impact on the Church universal, arguably for good or for ill.

November 12, 2014 at 9:30 am PST
#2  David Wallace – Front Royal, Virginia

Minor correction to my post above: “And I’m sure that we today should NOT have AN almost-gossip-like relationship with what comes out of the Holy See.”

November 12, 2014 at 9:38 am PST
#3  Cary Minden – Portland, Oregon

One thing I have always found interesting about our faith is simply this, you can have a mass full of people…and it is so hard to find two people who agree 100% on everything about The Church. I may not agree with this Pope or that Pope, but I will never feel I have the right to question a ruling of theirs. It Just feels wrong to me.
But I can thank God for giving me the free will to do so, had I choose to. But I do agree with your comment on “gossip-like relationship with what comes out of the Holy See” David.
Here is my last point, do we even need to name who is the worst Pope? What good would that do or what change would it bring?

November 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm PST
#4  Pat Walters-Weart – Needles, California

*****

November 12, 2014 at 2:52 pm PST
#5  Steven Way – Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

I have yet to see any proof that the alleged Koran kiss photo of Pope St. John Paul II that has been circulating around the internet is an authentic picture and not the work of Photoshop.

November 12, 2014 at 3:41 pm PST
#6  Arturo Ortiz – Anaheim, California

I don’t agree at all with the comment which the quoted trad made at the beginning of this article. That being said I don’t agree with the trad that Pope Saint John Paul II was the worst pope in history. There is truly a lot of good that came out of his ponitificate such as the fight against the culture of death, against the evil ideologies such as Communism which he helped to get rid off. He even promoted the Latin Mass through his motu propio “Ecclesia Dei”. However I think that the biggest concern I had with his pontificate, including various trads that I know, is in the fact that we believe he crossed the line with his ecumenical approach, and no I don’t consider myself disobedient to the Church for saying such statements. The fact is the act of kissing the Quran (which as far as I know did in fact happen) and other actions such as the “Assissi meetings, were not prudential and caused scandal to the Church.

In regards to Pope Francis I think the biggest concern is the fact that he tends to make a lot of ambigous remarks, without really clarifiyng them later on. There are also various recent actions which also add concerns towards his pontificate, these include the way he handled the Synod and also his demotion of Cardinal Burke.

The fact is that although it is quite unreasonable to say that both these popes are somehow “evil” or the “worst” it is reasonable to believe that they have actions which are not prudential. I don’t think that speaking about these concerns or criticisms or concerns either in print or verbally makes someone disobedient. Even Saint Catherine of Sienna was known for correcting the pope.

Even various Catholic websites in good standing with the Catholic Church such as Catholicculture.org and various others have acknowledge that the recent Synod had problems and that the Pope did not handle it as well as he should have.

November 12, 2014 at 6:07 pm PST
#7  Matthew Olson – Fort Smith, Arkansas

I must register my concern over this post. I do not feel it is necessary to “bash” any pope, especially one as important as Alexander VI. He defended the Marian dogmas (well before their definition), battled Gallicans and plenty of other heretics (including the Waldensians), got Rome and most of the Papal States under control, and more. Yes, I believe that he had four children (though scholars differ on the exact number, and some think that they were nephews of some sort), but St. Peter — according to tradition — had a daughter of his own. May I suggest that you study some of the various works about him, which are available online?

November 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm PST
#8  David Matias – Arlington, Virginia

Love you guys.

November 13, 2014 at 3:05 pm PST
#9  John Pickering – Anchorage, Alaska

The only eery thing of that “The Horror” post is how prescient it was. Read it with an open mind, and it’s all there.

November 14, 2014 at 7:35 am PST
#10  Kirk Abellanosa – Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental

In my simple understanding as a typical catholic here in the PH.

Well, we cannot deny the fact that everyone of us is a sinner even the prophets, kings of Israel or Jerusalem and apostles including the popes. [So, everyone is bad or worst]

Ex; Moses, King David, Peter, etc

But, their common denominator is that they asked for forgiveness or repentance from God. [So, if everyone will ask forgiveness, then everyone are no longer bad or worst, they are all now good]

Now, do the so called worst popes ask for forgiveness at the end? Do they born again or living a new life? [If not, then they are really considered as bad or worst individuals].

Finally, bad or worst popes and good popes, agreeing and disagreeing among the believers, what really matter is that, the Holy Roman Catholic Church still remain standing like no other kingdoms and organizations in this world [so to speak] for almost 2000 years for the very reason that it is founded and duly instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ himself. And by the way, since we know already that Christ Himself founded this true church, then ask yourself, what have you done?

[Note: Extremely rational beings focus too much on technicalities in every articles and comments posted on this site without knowing that sometimes they already forgot the very essence of the word of God which can be understood simply by listening to your heart. So, why make simple understanding so complicated?]

November 14, 2014 at 10:36 am PST
#11  Steven Way – Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

I have a question about the article. When Michelle says that the website called Rorate Caeli is “Traditionalist” is she saying that they are Catholics who aren’t in communion with Rome such as the SSPX or the sedevacantists? Because I looked at their website, and they promote the FSSP which is in communion with Rome.

November 14, 2014 at 11:15 am PST
#12  Michelle Arnold – El Cajon, California – Catholic Answers Blogger

Steven, most Traditionalists are in communion with the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him. But that doesn’t mean that they always treat the Holy Father respectfully or kindly.

I don’t know the writers for Rorate Caeli personally, so I cannot offer an opinion on their canonical status. I can only say that their commentary on Pope Francis has been harsh and uncharitable since Day One of Pope Francis’s papacy.

November 14, 2014 at 11:46 am PST
#13  Steven Way – Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

Michelle, thank you. I just wanted some clarification.

I agree that some have gone a bit too far in criticizing Pope Francis. And it’s not just coming from those on the right. The left is growing increasingly impatient with Pope Francis because he hasn’t actually changed any of the teachings of the Church that they want changed.

Just today some feminists who call themselves ‘Femen’ did a topless protest against Pope Francis at the Vatican while publically simulating obscene sexual acts. Here’s the link to that news story:
http://www.thelocal.it/20141114/topless-feminists-target-political-pope

As for me, I lean more to the traditional side. And in my opinion, Pope Francis is a lot like St. Peter our first Pope.

November 14, 2014 at 4:24 pm PST
#14  kenneth winsmann – katy, Texas

Michelle Arnold,

Is it your opinion that the bloggers at rorate caeli have misrepresented the Pope in some way? It seems to me that they have been completely vindicated. Pope Francis has become exactly the kind of Pope that they warned us he would be. Just ask Cardinal Burke.

The Synod on the family has been the cause of much confusion. The fault falls squarely on the shoulders of Pope Francis. He has caused confusion since day one of his papacy. If that isn’t “calamitous”, then what is?

Further, it is ironic that you have so many negative things to say about your fellow catholics. You cite numerous Popes as doing “objectively evil deeds”. What a peculiar term…. would homosexuality be classified as an “objectively evil deed”? Pope Francis isn’t quite so sure… Remember, “who am i to judge”? Would disrespectful and uncharitable articles on the Pope be considered an “evil deed”?

Perhaps you should learn to read disrespectful and uncharitable articles on a “case-by-case basis” and pursue an “opening” to “radical-traditionalists” that would include “guaranteeing to them a fraternal space” and “accepting and valuing their uncharitable and disrespectful orientation” towards the Pope.

November 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm PST
#15  Christopher Travis – Huntsville, Alabama

All I can say is, thank God our faith (teachings and worship) is protected and guided by the Holy Spirit! Personal behavior however is not, and as long as there is a human involved there is going to be scandal, gossip, quarrels, and all kinds of nasty stuff rearing its ugly head more often than not. Instead of complaining and bickering about any past or present popes we should be praying for them, they need our prayers, not our opinions, for the position they were called by our Lord to occupy is the one chair Satan would love to kick over and destroy more than any other. No King, President, Prime Minister, or CEO in the world has a greater burden or a bigger target on their soul. Who are we, all with our own weakness and faults, to even think about trying to compose such a list? It bears no good fruit at all and only feeds the beast! If we truly want to imitate Christ then by gosh follow His example…

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”

We can insert any popes name there, our Lord’s prayer wasn’t just for Peter, it was a prayer for his position as much as for him personally. I pray we can all unite in this prayer and see no more catorgorizing, they were all popes and it isn’t up to us to determine the least of thee, because not one of them is the least of thee in the eyes of our Lord, He loves them all the same. Leave these fruitless lists to the secular world and the likes of Holywood!

There, now I feel better! I wonder if I will make the list of the ten worse bloggers, lol.

November 15, 2014 at 6:26 am PST
#16  Lee Tanner – Lafayette, Louisiana

Christopher,

AMEN! Thank you brother!

November 15, 2014 at 9:23 am PST
#17  Juan Florencio González – Mexico, Mexico

No matter what you do, there are always some persons that agree with you, some others that disagree, and some others that do not care. No one is free from that. It is not free from this condition he who supports you, nor he who combats you, nor he who, for one reason or another, is indifferent about what you say. Naturally, I am subject to the same condition too.

That being said, I support what Christopher has mentioned above, except about the list of the ten worse bloggers, lol: We should pray for those brothers in positions of high responsibility.

On the other hand, persons like Michelle are doing a good job counterbalancing arguments that might weaken the minds of those that are on their way to a more mature state.

November 15, 2014 at 11:07 am PST
#18  Steven Way – Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

I notice that the article says that some Popes of the past were “truly bad popes.” What’s the difference between calling a Pope of the past bad and calling a current one bad?

November 15, 2014 at 11:15 am PST
#19  Steven Way – Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

Just to make sure no one misunderstands what I’m asking in post #18, my intention is not to imply that our current Pope is a bad one. And I’m not saying that we (the laity) should even criticize him at all. I’m just trying to understand the difference between when people criticize a current Pope vs. when people criticize a non-current Pope. Maybe the difference is as simple as we should not criticize a current one because he’s the current one. I would appreciate a response from someone who knows how to explain the differences. As I said in post #13, I think Pope Francis is a lot like St. Peter our first Pope.

November 15, 2014 at 10:45 pm PST
#20  gerom arevalo – quezon city, Rizal

we must make sure that all of accusations is true and valid,before we make some comments,JP2 is the best pope for us..

November 16, 2014 at 7:20 am PST
#21  J Dean Sackett – Los Angeles, California

Sometimes we get popes who say and do things just to keep the coffers filled and the parish doors open. Like populists and politicians, even though they can’t get voted out of office!

“Our Church is a very large organization nowadays and very busy around the world…got to keep the lights on.” Do the popes really think like this?

I recall Pope Benedict XVI once said that the Church of the future may be a smaller Church, but a much stronger one.

I hope and pray so.

November 16, 2014 at 11:52 am PST
#22  Scott Ramsay – La Crosse, Wisconsin

Some guy’s a “hard-core Traditionalist,” “probably SSPX,” and doesn’t appear to like Saint John Paul II. You disagreed with his statements and you stated your reasons. No problem there. Then you slam a Traditionalist blog for jumping to conclusions about Pope Francis, and you feel it is self-evident that this is wrong – but maybe the source(s) weren’t jumping to conclusions (they may have known him for a long time); maybe the conclusions were not off – but I know neither from your blog post. Then you use all this for context to pick apart a different article on the same Traditionalist blog. You used pejoratives to frame Traditionalists throughout your post. I admit it’s a pretty typical setup for rhetorical persuasion.
You rhetorically ask, “…do we place our trust in bloggers on the Internet to tell us when it is time to withhold just obedience and support for the Church?” But wait, aren’t you a blogger yourself?
You seem to make a big point out of saying Catholics are not to judge popes. But then you yourself pass judgment on a number of “truly bad popes.” How does that work? Your litmus test for bad popes seems to be “evil deeds” and NOT bad doctrines…so if a pope guts and/or chucks some of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes (and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount), the social gospel of Matthew 25, and so on…then am I required to pray, pay, obey, AND shut my mouth? I mean as long as he has no objectively evil deeds and just does “doctrinal stuff”?
I am a St. JPII fan. I do, however, take issue with his toleration of evil within the Church. The scale of sexual abuse going on during his pontificate by those who called him boss is something that will not be forgotten even many centuries from now. I believe St. JP II was naïve about evil, or inept, or willfully ignorant – I don’t see any other alternatives. He IS a saint, but he also was a human being. Am I sinning? Am I not allowed to say anything about a canonized saint? A pope?
The Scriptures say not to judge. Then the Scripture commands laity to judge all kinds of people – e.g. the incestuous (I Cor 5), those who preach a different and new gospel (Gal 1), and many others. How can the “hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil” approach you seem to advocate be correct?
I’m not blasting you in the least. I laud you for having the guts to do your job. I’m just looking for some Catholic answers that ring true as I struggle with the current pontificate.

November 17, 2014 at 11:35 am PST
#23  Michael Kirwan – Oradell, New Jersey

The night before Jesus was crucified, Peter, the one He appointed head of His Church (1st Pope), denied Him, openly and publicly, three times. What wrong committed by any Pope compares to this. Does that make Peter the worst Pope. Not by any standard. Human and sinful for sure. Peter’s martyrdom was voluntary and began a line of 300 years of martyred Popes. They were all martyred. Why do we look for the worst Pope? What is the job of a Pope? To maintain the unbroken continuity of the Body of Christ, to explain and defend and hand on the unchangeable truth which has been handed on to him, to proclaim the Gospel and lead others to Jesus.
While it’s great to see chaste, holy and faithful Popes these qualities are not a requirement to occupying the Chair of Peter. What Pope has changed a Dogma or issued an infallible belief that had later to be repealed or denied?
Why try to compare the Popes to Jesus? They are wholly human. At least Jesus had the advantage of being wholly God (no pun intended).
I know nothing of some of the candidates mentioned for worst Pope, but to see PiusX11, and JP11 included is shameful. I hold PiusX11 as one of the great Popes. He is probably the single most wrongly maligned person of the 20th century. His work for Jews in WW11 was nothing short of heroic and the response of Jews after the war reflected that heroism. It was not until I believe 1963 that an ignoramus German playwright portrayed him as a collaborator with the Nazis that his actions were questioned. Today it’s taken as fact by every anti-Catholic that he was in collusion with Hitler, without a shred of evidence to back the claim.
JP11 from Poland, who lived under Communism, was the biggest advocate of Poland’s surge of non violent anti Communism, which was the catalyst for the fall of Russian Communism. Today Reagan and Thatcher get the credit.
Regarding the clerical scandal in the Church, yes it was most prevalent in JP11 Papacy. This was a boil that had been festering since the 60s, and it finally burst in the late 70s and 80s. It was JP11 who appointed Ratzinger to address the issue and it was addressed. The manner in which it was addressed by local bishops was in many cases more harmful than helpful, but the Vatican’s response was for the most part as compassionate as could be under the circumstances. Today the Vatican’s procedure is a model for countering clerical abuse in any denomination. But this doesn’t stop the media from raking old ashes.
Why do we concern ourselves today with who was the worst Pope?
We have the most anti religious president in the White House, who would love to eradicate our religious practices by a stroke of the presidential pen. Unlimited abortion, even of post partum babies, Catholic nurses and doctors to assist in abortion, gay marriage equal to traditional marriage, the ACA and on and on.
Our Popes struggle to lead the faithful while the faithful are being lead astray by the Obamas and Putins, the internet and Hollywood and the never ending mantra of success, money and sex.
The time we spend discussing the worst Pope would be better spent praying for the present Pope, that he will remain a man of Holiness, maintain his vow of chastity and love Jesus more than he loves himself.
Don’t worry about doctrine, dogma, infallibility or any of that high end stuff. That’s the problem of the Holy Spirit, and He is acting under instruction to be with us until the end of time. He hasn’t failed us in 2000 years and we are under a promise that he never will.

November 17, 2014 at 9:50 pm PST
#24  Christopher Travis – Huntsville, Alabama

Amen Michael! That’s my thoughts too, as I tried to put forth in post #15. All the popes are great if we are to believe the Holy Spirit put them there and guides them in what matters. Not one of them deserves our criticism, only our prayers. We should rally the troops and support them with our love and prayers, not put them down.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. May you O Lord receive our prayers from this blog now and forever, Amen.

There, if you read this, you just prayed for them!! Thank You.

November 17, 2014 at 11:14 pm PST
#25  Darran McDonnell – Crumlin, Antrim

What? The only thing that we can take from this article is that Pope Saint John Paul II really did do all these terrible things, as the only point that you critiqued was the notion that: “was the very worst pope ever”.

Geez, how are we meant to think about this? I didn’t necessarily think that Pope Saint John Paul II was a bad pope, but why have you put that in my mind now?

Is it a lesson that you can be a bad Pope yet still get to Heaven and be canonized a saint? Is that what you mean? I don’t understand this.

November 24, 2014 at 2:23 am PST
#26  Michelle Arnold – El Cajon, California – Catholic Answers Blogger

Darran, if that was your takeaway from this essay, then I can only recommend that you go back and read it again.

November 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm PST
#27  David Sawatzky – Winkler, North Dakota

What is the job of a Pope? “….to explain and defend and hand on the unchangeable truth which has been handed on to him…”

And if he fails to do this? At what point are we allowed to criticize the Pope? How should a faithful Catholic who lived during the reign of a sexually active Pope have responded to those outside of the Church when asked why the Pope didn’t obey the Church’s teaching on sexual morality?

According to this article, should we maintain silence and not respond?

November 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm PST
#28  Alfred Vincent – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

It is God you are meant to obey not any pope, unless he speaks ex-
Cathedra, and honestly, I cannot even remember last time that happened.Different pope will have different takes on scripture. Listen to them, weigh what they say. Decide. Do not become like the Protestants (formerly one) who start a new church with every disagreement.

November 25, 2014 at 9:54 pm PST
#29  A L – Montreal, Quebec

the one thing I would say about this: let’s pray for our Pope, he is the one we got none other. He will be facing very difficult situations. As you might have noticed, after the synod for the family, he is being criticized left and right. He faces possible death at the hands of Isis, but that is not stopping his trip to Turkey, nor his condemnation of any hot topic, like Euthanasia, Abortion, In vitro and so forth. If you think he is wrong… pray for him, if you think he is right…. pray for him.
Love

November 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm PST
#30  Maria Case – Glen Ellyn, Illinois

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~+++~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
So I’ve been reading this one and the added comments, all of them, since the article was written. I feel people jump on this writer for some reason (I disdain the “converts” comments), and I see one commenter here who blasts her, even calling her by first and last name, like calling her onto the carpet (no other Michelle commenters), then saying you’re not blasting after clearly blasting…How is that any better than what you are accusing her of; is it because she’s still alive? Totally don’t get that, need more time to ponder.

And then, why this “speak, hear, and see no evil” attitude? Leave it for the secular media??? And not answer to it? Are you kidding??? Silence is considered by accusers as an admission of some guilt because it so often is. No need to mention the case in point, but there ya go. Being quiet or altogether unknowing about the mistakes does not make them go away, rather the opposite. Bad habit.

Further, I for one did not know of this history; I don’t read aabout it enough, I just get blindsided by people who hate the Church and do know, so thank you Michelle. I do appreciate the person’s adding the good things this pope did, such as with the Marian Doctrines. However, by putting our heads into the sand, or being ignorant entirely like I was, is the very criticism, often well-deserved, Catholics receive by anti-Catholics, secular and non alike. Actually, it drives Catholics away from the Church. So thank you, Michelle.

And even if you still disagree, why are people trying to censor this woman??? Of course she can talk about it (even if you don’t like it, yes, it’s true, it’s all true!!). Yes, she can make discerning remarks and share her take on history and its effect on the Church today, humoring the same vein in which the question had been asked and accusations made, to make her case to answer it. And, sure, anyone can tell her she shouldn’t speak, should remain silent on this touchy matter. But she doesn’t have to obey you. She obeys her conscience, likely prayerfully hoping it is led by the Holy Spirit, instead. I think taking that her heart is in the right place, regardless what you think of what or how she writes, she deserves a little more respect from a few, and a little more openness to hearing her out from a few others.

I am blasting, I know.

There is so much out there about the black pope, and conspiracies, and enduring but damning-sounding false histories out there, that it is refreshing for detractors, and me, to see a Catholic own up to the truly negative aspects of the history of the Church. We should seek the truth, goodness, and beauty. Sometimes the truth is neither good nor beautiful.

I try to always be nice, but I am just not. I just want to say it: Get off Michelle’s back! Stop trying to sound like you are just so holy that you don’t even consider the sins of anyone else. That is not biblical. We are meant to encourage each other, and at the same time, admonish out of love and a wish to see each other after all is over. We are meant to be, yes, innocent as doves, but also wise as serpents.

This pope, apparently, made a name for himself. We talk about Pontius Pilate, and Judas Iscariot, etc., honestly for what we know they did (as best we know). Suddenly because it’s a pope, everyone’s all like, “DUDE, he was a POPE, don’t go there!!!” That wagon-circling is exactly why so many people don’t trust Catholicism and the whole idea of religion. It’s like you’re trying to sound So Much Nicer than this presumptuous apologist, it would never occur to you to gossip and tear down!!! Right? She’s not gossiping, she is answering a legitimate question, and she is discussing history that we should know. I come here to find out about these things.

Michelle, thank you. I loved your article. You have nothing to apologize for. I-N-C!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 8, 2014 at 8:19 pm PST
#31  Adam Charles Hovey – Trenton, South Carolina

Getting your information from Rorate Caeli, is like getting your news from The Onion

January 3, 2015 at 6:50 pm PST

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About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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