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Not Fair, Mr. Keating

by Christopher A. Ferrara
December 30, 2017

In a commentary on his Facebook page, reproduced here, Karl Keating praises Philip Lawler’s upcoming book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock, which presents the reasons for Lawler’s conclusion — better late than never — that “I found I could no longer pretend that Francis was merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No, it was more than that. He was engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.”

What, one may ask with justified sarcasm, was Lawler’s first clue? “Fatimist,” traditionalist and even non-traditionalist commentators (such as Antonio Socci and Sandro Magister) had reached that conclusion by the end of the first year of Francis’ pontificate.

Sad to say, however, Mr. Keating — for whose talent and intellect I have great respect despite our very public differences over the years — refuses to give credit to those who accurately perceived this unprecedented disaster early on. Thus, while praising Lawler for his belated recognition of the obvious (for which he nonetheless deserves credit), Keating cannot resist taking another veiled swipe at the Catholics he apparently is still inclined to depict as fringe figures not worthy of consideration.  He writes: 

“Unlike some of the most vocal critics of this pope, Lawler took his time and gave him the benefit of every doubt. The result is 256 pages that lay out recent history well, without exaggeration or histrionics and with enough to substantiate Lawler’s reluctant conclusions.

“… Lawler cautions against following the logic of certain Traditionalists who came out against Francis almost before the new pope stepped out on the balcony to give his first greeting. “Francis is not an anti-pope, much less the Antichrist. The see of Peter is not vacant, and Benedict is not the ‘real’ pontiff.” All such notions are nonsense, says Lawler, and not one of them helps to understand the reality of the situation. In fact, they do nothing but obscure.”

First of all, Lawler himself is now among “the most vocal critics of this pope,” and in his book he openly declares, “I did my best to provide assurance — for my readers and sometimes for myself — that despite his sometimes alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that he was.”  The only difference between Lawler and the other “most vocal critics of this pope” is one of timing not substance.  Even now Lawler is essentially just reiterating what those infra dig traditionalists and “Fatimists” have already long since published.

Secondly, Lawler did not “take his time” in the sense of waiting until the evidence was in while others rushed to judgment.  Many responsible voices had long ago spoken out against the words and deeds of the Pope that Lawler now finally admits is “radical.”  Lawler has not broken any new ground but, again, simply agrees with what others have already said based on evidence that has long been incontrovertible.

Thirdly, Keating refers vaguely to “certain Traditionalists who came out against Francis almost before the new pope stepped out on the balcony to give his first greeting.” I don’t know who these “certain traditionalists” are. I do know, however, that Father Gruner and I were fully supportive of Francis at the outset of his pontificate, and I have the video and commentary to prove it.  In the latter I wrote:

“The pontificate of Pope Francis is but six days old, yet certain pundits and commentators of the Internet are already publicly rending their cyber garments and pronouncing the new Pope anathema: his humility is really pride, he hates the traditional Latin Mass, his former archdiocese is a disaster area, etc.

“Father Gruner is a prudent man, as anyone who knows him (versus the caricature produced by his critics) can attest. When asked what he thinks of the new Pope, his reply was characteristically prudent: ‘You can criticize anybody for anything. For example, if someone works hard he must be overly ambitious. Or if he dresses plainly he is just trying to impress people with his frugality. Or if he shows loyalty he is only trying to curry favor with a higher-up. That kind of guessing game about motives never ends. And what does it get us besides a justified accusation of rash judgment?’”

Unlike Mr. Keating, however, Father Gruner and I, along with numerous other Catholic commentators, many of them neither traditionalists nor “Fatimists,” were honest enough to admit publicly that the initial optimism one owes to any newly elected Pope had been dashed by the hard reality Lawler now belatedly recognizes, and that there was a corresponding duty to speak the truth about this Pope’s agenda.

Finally, no traditionalist I would consider a colleague has ever declared that Francis is an anti-Pope (in the sense that he was not validly elected, although he acts like one), that the See of Peter is vacant, or that Benedict is still the Pope.  These are straw men.

In short, not fair, Mr. Keating.  Intellectual honesty compels you to admit the truth of the traditionalist critique of the Franciscan pontificate to which Lawler now merely says “Me too!” — a critique that is in line with a traditionalist diagnosis of the ecclesial crisis over the past fifty years that has been accurate in every respect.  This pontificate is but the latest point on a downward trajectory that the “respectable mainstream” Catholic commentariat has steadfastly refused to recognize or labored to explain away, while incalculable damage to the Church continued to mount.

But not even now, it seems, can Keating bring himself to admit that the traditionalists and the “Fatimists” may have been right all along that the “springtime of Vatican II” is really a deep and ever-darkening winter.