Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? . . . And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  (Matthew 21:42, 44)

Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

Jesus often warned people that his person and his message could be a scandalon–a “rock of offense”–to many.  We humans are not as wise as we like to think.  We’re often on the wrong track, and when God comes to tell us that, his message is not always welcome (to put it mildly).  Think of the prophets and how they were received.  Think of the apostles.  And Jesus himself, the Truth Incarnate, was hung on a cross to die for confronting people with God’s truth.

Jesus appointed the apostles to succeed him as the leaders of his Church.  The apostles, in turn, appointed bishops to continue the succession of leaders to the end of time.  St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, died in Rome and left his apostolic authority to the bishops of Rome.  Since that time, as Catholics know, the Bishop of Rome has had a special role in leading the people of God.  The First Vatican Council articulates this thoroughly:

And since by the divine right of Apostolic primacy, the Roman Pontiff is placed over the Universal Church, we further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal, and that none may re-open the judgment of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgment.  Wherefore they err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an Ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.  (Vatican I, Session 4, Chapter 3, as found in The Vatican Council and Its Definitions: A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Second Edition, by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster [New York: D & J Sadlier, 1871], 234-240, edited and footnotes removed by Mark Hausam, found here)

. . . [T]he Holy Roman Church enjoys supreme and full Primacy and preeminence over the whole Catholic Church, which it truly and humbly acknowledges that it has received with the plenitude of power from our Lord Himself in the person of blessed Peter, Prince or Head of the Apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is; and as the Apostolic See is bound before all others to defend the truth of faith, so also if any questions regarding faith shall arise, they must be defined by its judgment. . . .

Therefore the Bishops of the whole world, now singly, now assembled in synod, following the long-established custom of Churches, and the form of the ancient rule, sent word to this Apostolic See of those dangers especially which sprang up in matters of faith, that there the losses of faith might be most effectually repaired where the faith cannot fail. . . .

And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their Apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.

This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of Christ kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that the occasion of schism being removed the whole Church might be kept one, and, resting on its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell. (Chapter 4)

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Mark Hausam lives in Columbia, MO, with his wife Desiree and his nine children, where they are members at Our Lady of Lourdes parish. Mark teaches Theology at Fr. Tolton Catholic High School as well as Philosophy at State Fair Community College in Boonville, MO. He runs a blog at and is the author of Why Christianity is True and No Grounds for Divorce: Why Protestants (and Everyone Else) Should Return to the Unity of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, Scandalon

9 Responses

  1. chris dorf says:

    I like the comment “The conservative critics of Pope Francis have accused him of abandoning his duty to be the scandalon in the midst of an evil world.” I think it is spot on critique, and I would add that many of these critics also see him as some form of anti-christ or anti-pope whom is being fooled by the devil to mislead the Church.
    I have been observing this for several decades, as I was involved in the pro-life movement whom has a singular vision of removing the evil act of abortion but seemed blind to what they called ‘liberal, cafeteria, socialistic, social work Catholicism’.
    As Catholics left in droves for ‘born again’ christianity, these same folks looked askance at charismatic and cursillo movement Catholics.
    Pope Francis is merely another target.

  2. carn says:

    “The conservative critics say that what is most needed is firm and swift punishment. “Tell them to stop sinning, and if they don’t, throw them out! Who cares what they’ve gone through, how they’ve got into this mess, what their motivations have been, and why they are still stuck! Enforce the discipline. That’s all that matters.””

    I think you should ponder a bit what a strawman argument is.

    “When Pope Francis, last summer, stated that the Church has been following a path of doctrinal development that has led to the conclusion that, in the current day, the death penalty is to be regarded as inadmissible because its attitude and practice is inconsistent with the human dignity of criminals, the conservative critics immediately rejected this as a betrayal of Catholic tradition. They asserted that they would continue to teach the admissibility of the death penalty as the real Catholic teaching,”

    You are aware, that if catholic teaching is that death penalty is inadmissable in the current day, that then it is catholic teaching that the death penalty is in principle admissable if certain criteria are fulfilled?

    Cause if it is inadmissable in the current day, it is admissable on “another day” (which might be years or centuries away from current day); if at one time it is admissable and at another time not, that means that it is admissable if some criteria are fulfilled (which are not fulfilled in the current day, but might be fulfilled another day).

    So technically, if your claim that Pope Francis teaches only that the death penalty is inadmissable in the current day, then those you call critics are CORRECT to teach that the death penalty is admissable and their error – if any – would only be with teaching the correct criteria.

    “If the Apostolic See speaks out and warns us of errors, should not our first response be to look inside ourselves, to examine our own ideas, to see if we’ve perhaps become too one-sided, to see if even in our zeal to get things right, we might have missed something?”

    How do you know that this wasn’t the first respone of many so called critics?

    After all, if someone reacts with first response by looking inside himself, NOBODY else can notice this, cause it is internal. So how can you know, who did or didn’t as first response look inside himself?

    I looked often inside myself regarding what Pope Francis says; sometimes his words helped me see some problem with me; but more often his words are nothing i could make use of; and sometimes his words are less than helpful in making progress in my moral live.

    The only time i was consciously pondering the last years whether to intentionally violate a commandment (8th), i pondered the option due to something Pope Francis said/didn’t say. With BXVI and JPII in the same situation i think i would never have considered it.

    • Ashpenaz says:

      What is admissible for a 5-year-old is inadmissible for a 20-year-old. Yes, it is possible for an act to be admissible in some circumstances but inadmissible in others. There was a time when slavery was so much a part of society that it was admissible to be a slaveowner. As mankind grew in maturity, slavery became inadmissible. You could have slaves on a day in 40 A.D.–you could not have slaves on a day in 2019 A. D. It’s the same Church teaching both times–but one is fully developed, the earlier is not.

      CCC 53 It involves a specific divine pedagogy: God communicates himself to man gradually.

      CCC 66 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

      Pope Francis has responded to the divine pedagogy which has gradually revealed that the death penalty is inadmissible.

  3. Marie says:

    Excellent article. It brings me back in time, several decades ago, when as a young college student I found myself pregnant. To say fear and panic took over would be an understatement, but ultimately I recognized reality, and hoped and prayed that my family would understand and help me. My father’s first words were “don’t worry dear, dad with take care of you” Having children that age and older, I look back in awe at my father, knowing how painful it must have been for him at the time. I also look back on two young women I knew, who faced similar circumstances. One could not bear to tell her parents, for they were ‘so Catholic’ they would kill her, and the other told her Catholic parents, and she was brought to a clinic. I am so blessed to have had a ‘Pope Francis” kind of father. So very, very grateful indeed.

    • carn says:

      The awe is to you as well for overcoming your panic.

      “I am so blessed to have had a ‘Pope Francis” kind of father.”

      please do not assume that all or even most critics of Pope Francis are like those “catholic” parents of the two young women.

      I already tried to tell my daughter that in such circumstances she could rely on me (though not explicitely, as that would be a bit awkward to word).

      And i could probably find dozens of articles on LifeSiteNews (which some consider to be among the papal critics) more or less celebrating/showing as a positive example stories of women similarly deciding in favor of their child although fearing parents or other problems.

      So it might be not fitting to assume all papal critics are like those “catholic” parents.

      • Marie says:

        Can- Thank you for being a father who has told his daughter he will be there for her. I too have told my children too. If only every catholic parent did the same. 🙂

  4. Marie says:

    Carn- I don’t think all Pope Francis critics are like those parents, but sadly I think a lot of catholic parents fall into those categories. If we are to look at how many young women we know, or our children know that ‘chose’ abortion, and how many had a baby on their own, far more have chosen abortion, and that is only those we know, or heard about. There is a disconnect within our catholic homes when so many are deciding against choosing life.

    As far as Lifesite News, all would consider it to be a papal critic site, and sadly, at this point, anything but catholic.

  5. Mark Hausam says:

    Chris Dorf: Thank you. I agree. Abortion is associated in our culture with conservative politics, while concern for the poor, migrants, climate change, etc., is associated with liberal politics, so too many “conservative Catholics” tune into the Church with regard to the former but tune out with regard to the latter, instead of letting Church teaching guide us through the middle between the extremes.

    Carn: I don’t think I presented a strawman. Of course, “papal critics” is a broad category, and not all “papal critics” are as extreme as others, so the shoe doesn’t always fit. But the attitude I described is something I have witnesses among a number of papal critics.

    Regarding the death penalty: I don’t think that Pope Francis has taught that the death penalty is intrinsically immoral in all possible circumstances. It seems to me the CDF document that accompanied the Catechism change was working hard to avoid giving that impression. What Pope Francis has said is that, because the death penalty is not necessary today to protect life, it is an inadmissible attack on the dignity of criminals, etc. Whether it has ever been necessary is an open question. I think that Pope Francis thinks that it has often not been necessary even in the past, but that is not central to what he has taught the Church in this matter. The CDF document seemed a little more open to the possibility that the DP might have been appropriate some times in the past. So if all the critics are saying is that the DP is not intrinsically, in all possible circumstances, immoral, they need not be critics, for Pope Francis hasn’t said otherwise. But what the critics are saying is that Pope Francis is wrong in saying the DP is inadmissible in the present day, and that is where they are going wrong.

    Regarding whether or not critics have looked inside themselves: Yes, I grant your point that perhaps many critics have done so. I didn’t mean to suggest that none of them have. But I don’t think they’ve done it enough, because they are still refusing to submit to the Pope’s teaching. They aren’t allowing the Church’s teaching to challenge their assumptions. Rather, they are allowing their beliefs and values to trump Church teaching, is backwards for Catholics.

    Ashpenaz: Yes, exactly. With regard to slavery, it’s a complex thing. Certainly many people did things in the past that were inadmissible even then (and the Church warned against many of those things in the past), but I agree that culpability was different in the past because of different circumstances. Also, slavery is a broad concept. We use it in a somewhat emotional, intuitive way today, which sometimes stops us from asking exactly what it is. When we force prisoners to work in the prisons, is that slavery? How is it different from requiring work from thieves or prisoners of war in Bible, which is one form of “slavery” discussed there. Have all forms of “slavery” always been inadmissible? Were there forms that were admissible in the past but not today? There are lots of questions. But I completely agree with you that the Church’s teaching develops and adapts, guided by the Holy Spirit, as she thinks about such things in each day and age.

    Marie: Thank you for sharing! I think you articulate exactly the sort of thing that Pope Francis is after when he emphasizes “mercy” in pastoral care, in Amoris Laetitia and elsewhere. Not all papal critics are the same, but it does concern me that some of them seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the kind of empathy and care that is needed in these kinds of situations. I submit to Pope Francis’s teachings because he is the Pope, but I also recognize the wisdom in them and how greatly needed they are at this time. I fear that suspicion regarding Pope Francis has led to an ironic situation where some people are actually blinded to certain aspects of reality precisely because the Pope is calling attention to them. It’s like an odd anti version of how the papacy is supposed to work. Instead of leading people into truth, his teaching pushes these people away from it because of their attitude towards it.

    I agree with your feelings about LifeSite News. They too often exhibit some of the worst examples of “conservative Catholic” anti-Francis attitude.

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