by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  •  April 12, 2018
While containing much good, Catholics fear Gaudete‘s moral ambiguities will be used by enemies of the Church

VATICAN CITY ( – The pope’s latest apostolic exhortation is generating mixed reactions among Catholics. Published April 9, Gaudete et Exsultate aims to offer guidance on how to attain personal holiness, the vast bulk of its content devoted toward this end.

Christ “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” the document begins, going on to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”

Referring to the “saints next door” — “those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile” — the Holy Father notes, “In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence.”

Divided into five chapters, Gaudete cites the saints, offers reflections on the Beatitudes, and exhorts the faithful to persevere in humility, boldness and with a sense of humor.

Moral Ambiguity

Some Catholic leaders, however, are expressing concern over a handful of paragraphs that seem to blur moral lines.

“While I welcome much of what is old in the text of His Holiness, what is new is indeed troubling,” Dr. Christopher Manion told Church Militant. “Pope Francis seems to celebrate deliberately ambiguous terminology.”

One segment seems to push the seamless garment theory, equating the gravity of abortion with that of the migrant crisis:

We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian … .

Secular news outfits have published headlines assuming as much: “Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing” (The New York Times); “Pope Says Fighting Poverty Is as Essential as Opposing Abortion (Wall Street Journal); “Fighting Social Injustice as Important as Fighting Abortion: Pope” (Reuters).

“Unfortunately, the Holy Father has repeatedly been criticized for being intentionally obtuse, avoiding obvious distinctions and clear teachings,” Manion said. “This statement qualifies as a prime example. Here he actually indulges in relativism, with the adjective ‘lesser.’ Less than what? Less important? By what standard? Prudential? Magisterial? We spend less time on it?”

“He could easily teach with clarity here,” he continued, “but he refuses to make clear for the faithful reader the simple terms ‘objective evil’ and ‘prudential judgment,’ which definitions would quickly lay out the proper terms for discussion.”

Father Richard Perozich, retired priest from the diocese of San Diego, California, told Church Militant, “Like some of Pope Francis’ other documents, it uses Catholic words, but not with the same Catholic clarity or connection to previous Church teachings.”

“It begins with a sound teaching, a call to holiness with which no one can argue is a work for all Christians,” he continued. “As it progresses, it incorporates other novelties of Pope Francis in homilies and to the press.”

“The exhortation wants to exhort the faithful to activism, and in so doing, follows the seamless garment approach,” noted Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute.

The New Pelagianism

Chapter Two of Gaudete has also raised concern, being devoted to “two subtle enemies to holiness” — gnosticism and pelagianism. “They are two heresies from early Christian times, yet they continue to plague us,” the chapter begins. The two topics had been addressed recently in Placuit Deo, a letter published in February by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In Gaudete, gnosticism is defined as “a purely subjective faith,” while pelagianism refers to those with “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with progras of self-help and personal fulfilment.”

Orthodox Catholics see themselves as the target of these statements.

“Teach me to pray, to worship, bring me to Jesus, and let Him guide me in my path of holiness, Holy Father, as you stated in the beginning of the document,” said Fr. Perozich, “without attacking me with insults because Jesus may be guiding me differently from you and other leaders in the Church.”

Ross Douthat, Catholic columnist at The New York Timesobserved, “This is a specific example of a general trend, where the Holy Father’s seeming balancing act early in the pontificate — the attempt to direct critiques both leftward and rightward, as it were — has become a lecture delivered only to conservatives.”

In comments to Church Militant, Hichborn remarked, “It seems to be a springboard for establishing a new heresy for neo-gnosticism and neo-pelagianism, which will be aimed at attacking those who question the pope’s shift in moral teaching and those who adhere to Traditional forms of the Mass.”

Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro — who last year penned an attack on American conservatives and Catholic “integralists,” singling out Church Militant in particular — is rumored to have played a partin putting together Guadete, and has been quick to defend it against criticism. In a tweet published the day after the document’s publication, Spadaro complained, “Some so-called ‘catholic’ commentators are trying to twist out the subject of holiness of #GaudeteEtExsultate. This is just sick.”

While acknowledging the good in Gaudete, P.J. Smith of Semiduplex fears it “falls victim to the the narrative that has consumed this pontificate. Liberal pope and his liberal supporters set against conservative prelates and their conservative supporters, with the battle playing out on Twitter and Facebook. The takes and counter-takes and tweets all write themselves at this point.”

And writing in First Things, Dan Hitchens noted:

Of course, there is an orthodox interpretation of all this: that the pope is reminding Catholics that our religion is more a love affair than a theory. But there is a different interpretation: that when someone says, ‘The Church teaches that X is intrinsically wrong,’ he is probably being a bit of a Pharisee. The history of Amoris Laetitia suggests that the more expansive interpretation often gains the upper hand.

Gaudete, for all its strengths, adds to the ambiguities,” he added.

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  1. Homo?

    That would explain his situation ethics and obsession with overturning rules in favor of a modernist and antinomian approach to mercy. He doesn’t like traditional Catholic morality.

    One thing the neo-Catholic modernist journalists pontificating over the Frankenpope and his antics need to keep in mind. Modernism is not Catholicism. The Pope has incorrectly defined and described Gnosticism and Pelagianism. Neither heresy is accurately applied to the pope’s orthodox critics. Will one of the more conservative neo-Catholic theologians step up to the plate to correct Bergoglio’s inaccuracies and distortions? The Holy Father has falsely accused his theological opponents of being Gnostics and Pelagians when it is he himself who is replacing Catholic orthodoxy with heresies. Projection?

  2. I asked Dr. Bob Hartley to opine on your diagnostic inquiries, Howl…
    “His scatological rants demonstrate that, at heart, he’s a dhimmitudinous Lutheran with overtones of Gomer Pyleitis and an underlying Peronist complex agitated by post-Modern jesuitical schizophrenia. But for routine classification purposes, I’d just go with ‘loonier than a dumpster diver.’ It keeps things simpler.”

  3. It does make one wonder if he is actually an extreme conservative traditionalist Catholic of the reactionary type who is deliberately serving up an absurdist parody of neo-Leninist progressive modernism (from 1970s Commonweal) precisely in order to provoke conservative Catholic reaction in the Hegelian dialectic (i.e., wily Jesuit theory). I’ve seen them do that in a classroom before (play acting the role of opponents). Something to think about.

    Although this might scare some liberal secular humanists and Protestants who fantasize inordinately on the black legends of the Jesuits.

  4. That would also explain the absurd misidentification and incorrect definitions of the Gnostic and Pelagian heresies (something which can easily be looked up by any literate adult with an encyclopedia). Deliberate falsehood, contradictions, and absurd factual errors are part of the code and technique of esoteric writing, signaling to pay closer attention to between the lines.
    Magister and Sire were on to something by focusing on the Peronist line.

    Of course, modernist whackjob who has lost his marbles is a simpler explanation for the Occam’s razor lobby.

  5. Neat theory, Howl. Although, given the Dr. Bananas and Red Chinese cannibals accolades he’s embraced, my guess is his staff is constantly slipping on all the li’l marbles rolling around the floor at the Motel 6. Yeah, 7-6 odds he’s nuttier than a fruitcake…

  6. It would be useful for someone on this website, who is good at research and writing, to actually fig for:
    1) what his family history and problems and dysfunctions the Bergoglio family had.
    2) what he had involving his psychological therapy visits

  7. I’ve read his sister is kept under wraps, ghebreyesus. I have no idea if that is true or not. Read Hilary White’s piece on Sherlock Holmes on this forum.

  8. It could be enlightening to know something about his parents and their personality types, as well as his childhood and any priests who influenced his early life. The standard portrait of progressive modernists of his generation usually involves complaints about rigorism, harshness, legalism, Jansenism, and scrupulosity in pre-Vatican II Catholicism leading to an absurd either/or proposition – “either we liberalize and loosen things up or we go back to the pre-Vatican II Dark Ages of counting sins and the pharisaical pettiness of meatless Fridays.” You hear this narrative enough from progressive modernists and liberal Catholics that it becomes a caricature.

    I don’t actually think Bergoglio is play acting in a deliberate parody of this progressive point of view with his retro 1970s Commonweal Spirit of Vatican II modernism and situation ethics, but his act is what such a parody would be like if someone were trying to make progressive modernism seem silly and absurd, like the antics of a crazy old man. In this case, a crazy old South American peasant man with a tendency to whine and scold to an absurd degree, like a crazy old woman.

  9. The other detail to look for in progressive modernists who rant against traditional Catholic morality and rules with excessive emotion and hysteria is a family member or friend who had one of the relevant moral afflictions – a sister who had an abortion, brother who was gay, divorced and remarried parent, etc. Bergoglio’s theme that traditional Catholic moral rules are too hard for people to follow would fit with something like this.

    Example: There was that former neo-Catholic editor of First Things who supposedly had a friend who was homosexual, leading the editor to want to give up on the “culture war” in politics over redefining marriage in order to contemplate the esoteric theories of Max Weber on modern culture, safely away from any political controversies that might offend the flamboyant friend. This theme of losing commitment to traditional morality because some friend or family member needs to fornicate and can’t possibly be expected to follow Catholic moral rules is an interesting modernist theory to investigate. It probably led to JFK’s Houston Speech and took out virtually the whole Kennedy clan as they all bent over to genuflect for the abortion lobby (with the exception of Eunice).

    Bergoglio’s antinomian narrative has enough similarity that it does make one wonder what lies behind that. Cuomo’s emotional hysteria over defending abortion comes to mind (Mario’s, that is).

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