This is not an apologetic for Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate. For the time being, having just skimmed through the document, I refuse to write an apologetic for Francis’s new apostolic exhortation. Especially in light of the following concerns.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Pope Francis. I also respect Dave Armstrong as a Catholic apologist, and I appreciate him using his gifts as a Catholic writer to defend Pope Francis from His Holiness’s many critics. Most recently these critics include Ignatius Insight and Catholic World Report editor Carl Olson. To be fair, I have also benefitted from Olson’s previous work as a a Catholic apologist and editor. During the early days of the Catholic blogosphere–then known collectively as St Blog’s–Olson and I blogged together at Pat Madrid’s Envoy Insight.

In the latest controversy between online Catholic apologists, Olson published a blog critical of the Holy Father’s new apostolic exhortation: “Pope Francis ‘takes aim’ in ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’–and misses?” To which Dave Armstrong responded with the following pro-Francis apologetic: “Olson’s Nitpicking, Persnickety Guide to Gaudete et Exsultate”. Being familiar with both parties, I am tempted to ignore my retirement from Catholic apologetics and weigh in on their controversy.

Yet my own quick reading of the apostolic exhortation tells me that such an apologetic is premature. At 177 paragraphs, the apostolic exhortation is rather long. (Especially given Jesuit penchant for brevity.) It is clear Pope Francis has put more than a day’s thought into this document. As successor to St Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Church, are Pope Francis’s magisterial teachings not worth more than a day to read, ponder, and meditate upon prior to critiquing?

Olson’s critique is date April 9, 2018. This is the same day Gaudete et Exsultate was released to the public. Now in fairness to Olsen he has stated in Armstrong’s combox that he received an embargoed (advance) copy which he read through twice. Yet I still question Olson’s attempt to appear objective and impartial in his original blog entry. For accentuating the text of his critique is an unflattering and angry-looking photo of Pope Francis.

As of this writing (April 10, 2018), not even the reactionary tridentinist Remnant has published a critique (though presumably one is forthcoming). Yet Catholic World Report, at one time staple reading for orthodox Catholics within the English-speaking world, has already proclaimed Gaudate et Exsulatate‘s good parts overshadowed by “straw men, dubious arguments, and cheap shots.” Certainly Catholics faithful to the Holy Father may wonder at the irony of this subheading juxtaposed above Catholic World Report‘s interesting choice of papal photo. A picture’s worth of a thousand words might be in exposing the heart of its publisher.

Not surprisingly, Olson’s concluding paragraph summarizes the overall negative tone he and other American-based neo-conservative Catholic writers have adopted towards Francis’s papacy:

[While] I certainly have benefited in some ways from reading Gaudete et Exsultate, the good qualities and substantive passages in documents and texts such as this are increasingly overshadowed, or even undermined, by the grave tensions and growing conflicts within the Church. Especially since, sadly, Pope Francis and his closest collaborators have not only failed to address those tensions and conflicts, they have played a significant role in exacerbating and deepening them. They do appear to be take pleasure in “taking aim” at Catholics they deem to be too dogmatic, rigid, and focused on liturgy.  It is a shame that this has continued in this apostolic exhortation on holiness but it is not, I’m sorry to say, too much of a surprise.

How does a Catholic faithful to the Church respond to such a consistently negative view of Francis’s papal writings? Especially when published the same day the Holy Father released his apostolic exhortation? And by an author who formerly was among the papacy’s most reliable defenders?

Here is my suggestion for Catholics who remain faithful to the Church and to the Bishop of Rome as its visible head: Read the document slowly. After a quick overall reading go back and read each paragraph s-l-o-w-l-y.

Pause after each paragraph to contemplate its message, asking yourselves the following three questions:

  1. How does this paragraph contribute to the overall message of Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate?
  2. What is Christ teaching the universal Church through this particular paragraph of the apostolic exhortation?
  3. How can I answer the Holy Spirit’s call to live this teaching with my local community? Whether it be home, parish, or work?

The best apologetic response for Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation is one carefully read, mediated upon, and then practiced. Especially when implemented into one’s daily living as a Catholic. Ignore critics attempting to poison others from reading it. As noted by Pope Francis (par 19), “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”


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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

9 Responses

  1. Sally says:

    Thank you, Pete, for your thoughtful response and advice. It brings to mind the opening verses of Proverbs 15.

  2. I have some thoughts about this article (as one would expect!).

    The only problem is that my post was NOT an apologetic for Gaudete, which I haven’t yet read. It was a jeremiad against extreme disrespect for the pope (ANY pope): the wrongness of that as an approach and outlook.

    This is something you have often written about, so I confess that I am out to sea as to why you feel that you are “responding” to me at all. I don’t see anything in what I’ve written that you need to respond to, since we are in agreement on the principle (respect and deference for the pope) that I was defending.

    My paper coming out today is of the same nature. I show that St. Paul was often highly critical (what Francis’ critics call “insulting”). This is a common theme in the papal bashers. Hence, I could have produced this upcoming paper even before the current Exhortation.

    Up till now, besides this, all I did was do a word search of “devil” and “Satan”, to show that he mentioned Satan 24 times (obviously in response to the recent pseudo-controversy about hell), and responded as regards two paragraphs, concerning pro-life and anti-abortion.

    None of this that I’ve written so far requires reading the whole document. But I look forward to doing so ASAP. I planned to yesterday, but my computer went down for six hours.

    • Peter Vere says:

      Dave, the reason I included you in my response is simple. While I personally am not that interested in the apologetics angle to all the recent pope-bashing taking among prominent Catholic apologists in the English-speaking world, a number of my friends and readers are.

      You are one of the few widely recognized Catholic apologists defending Pope Francis right now. So it makes sense I would mention you so that interested readers can check out your work.

  3. pat says:

    So, in effect, what the pope is saying is that Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden even Ted Kennedy et al are just a good Catholics as Fr. Pavone.

    • Marthe Lépine says:

      It seems to me that we should try to avoid making our own opinions of whether one person or the other, be it well-known politicians or our next door neighbours, is a “good Catholic”. Each one of us, in our own area of activity, remains a sinner. We don’t know peoples’ hearts, and trying to decide if someone is a worse sinner, or a better person than we might wish that person would be, is really none of our business. We should be busy enough dealing with our own sins, and working, one small step at a time, towards becoming more like Jesus. And also, which is very important, to pray for one another, including politicians.

  4. Yaya says:

    Thanks for your suggestions on how to approach this new Apostolic Exhortation by Papa Francis, I hope to do just that.

    I have already been trying to ignore the critics of our Holy Father. I stopped browsing the many websites that proclaimed to be faithful because rather than build up my faith, (imo), I saw them tearing it down by mocking Papa Francis, by their lack of charity, respect, failure to give him the benefit of doubt. The constant negativity was/is a killjoy, to say the least.

    I’m praying for reconciliation and unity with a renewed sense of hope in Christ and in his Vicar.

    May charity reign!

  5. Yaya says:

    One more thing … I had a chuckle after taking a look see at the picture of Papa Francis gesturing as if scolding us all. My Mexican grandmother used the same type of gestures on us and we always knew she would love us up afterwards because after all, such a scolding was for our own good. ^^

    Must be the Argentino and Italiano in Papa Francis that makes him relatable to my being Mexicana. ^^)

    • Peter Vere says:

      Goodness me, I never thought of that, Yaya. That is, the scolding expression pictured on Papa Francis (and subsequent loving up, as you describe it) is a common cultural practice Italian and Latin Americas. Thank-you for taking the time to share your cultural perspective. It makes sense and I have learned something.

      • Yaya says:

        He’s driving a specific point home to those of us who are listening by these very Latin American/Italian gestures. That’s what makes him so endearing to the many of us who grew up with such gestures while others, who are not accustomed to these gestures, are put off and find them odd or mean spirited coming from a pope.

        Nothing could be further from the truth.

        God bless you this day!

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