“And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favor. Before the bishop blesses the people, I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me — the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer — your prayer for me — in silence”

 — Pope Francis, in his first speech as Pope at the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica

March 13th, 2013


One of the first acts of Francis as pontiff was to ask for prayers from the faithful. Prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI… but especially and most poignantly for himself, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and for the success of the titanic task ahead of him as shepherd of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, where a well-formed Catholic in any other circumstance would see nothing but a saintly attitude, worthy of a holy pope (after all, every single one of our endeavors should be preceded by prayers,) this specific prayer request was accompanied by criticism from the outset. Formerly faithful Catholics were already losing their minds because of Francis’ name choice (too “liberal” and “hippie” for them) and because of the humble vestments he wore for his presentation (which were not “traditional” enough.) So they took the saintliness of this prayer request out of context and started criticizing him for asking the faithful to bless him. They would claim this was an inversion of due hierarchy, in that it should be the Pope to bless the people, not the other way around.

Of course, someone who would have actually read the full speech with objectivity would see that the Pope had indeed blessed the people as he should. And that he didn’t ask the people to bless him, but for them to ask God to bless him. No hierarchical inversion there.

However, if we had enough discernment, we could see in this speech (and its aftermath) a prelude of what Francis’ pontificate would be. On the one hand, asking for intercession on the part of his faithful is a sign of humility. Also, it is a basic tenet of Francis’ theology that every action should be done in the context of intense prayer. Therefore, Francis led by example.

On the other hand, the outcry against such a positive request from the Pope can be seen as the precursor of the current dissent and widespread disobedience against the Holy Father. It didn’t start with the abuse scandal, not even with theological divergences… those are just the pretexts advanced to justify a certain inclination, which is the real root of the general rebellion against Francis. What is this inclination? An attitude of suspicion towards anything that doesn’t fit a particular worldview of how the Church should be… and the idea that it is up to oneself to militate / defend this worldview as if it were true Catholicism.

Long before Amoris Laetitia, right in the first weeks of this papacy, Catholics with this mindset were already going berserk because they now had to apply their suspicion to the Pope himself. I remember watching this spectacle in the social media and blog comboxes. Whether Francis would’ve published Amoris Laetitia or not, sooner or later, there would be rebellion for certain. Anyone could see that.

More importantly, the hostility towards a prayer request for the success of a holy task in the Church can be seen as nothing less than outright Satanic. And I have no doubt that the Enemy would’ve seen in this suspicion and fear and closedness in the hearts of the faithful an opportunity to plant the seeds of what we are seeing right now. There is no other explanation for Catholics to find fault in a Pope asking for prayers for himself… this is actually quite traditional. If you peruse those same Catholic social media that were outraged against Francis and go backwards until the pontificates of Benedict XVI or John Paul II, you will find many pious and devout people praying for their Pope. In fact, we do that in every Mass… in a rubric aptly called: “prayers of the faithful.”


This hostility towards prayers (inexplicable to a Catholic, but so typical of the influence of the forces of Hell) may have stayed latent for years, but eventually had to resurface and overflow to other situations as well. When the abuse scandal erupted, threatening to tear the Church apart and hindering its capacity to reach out to the World, the Pope took initiative and issued a Letter to the People of God, asking for prayers and penance from the whole community of the faithful. Later on, the Pope made a rosary call for the same intentions, so that all Catholics would pray a daily rosary throughout the Marian month of October, coupled with a Sub Tuum Praesidium to Our Lady and the prayer of St. Michael Archangel.

This was met with loud criticism from Francis’ critics, which decried these projects as mere “prayers”, with no “action.” So it happened that people who, for years and years, had criticized the idea of the Church as a NGO, completely focused on social action and stripped of its spiritual and eschatological meaning, were now proclaiming loud and clear the primacy of action over prayers. Conservative Catholics who, in other debates would defend the opposite, would now perfectly mirror the liberal arguments minimizing “thoughts and prayers” as an excuse to avoid due action. And apologists who lionized Pope St. Pius V’s rosary call as the reason why Christianity was able to win the heart of Europe in the battle of Lepanto, were suddenly unenthusiastic about rosary calls as a way for the Church to gain victory in a difficult situation.

So there it goes to show that people who defend an idolatric view of tradition, so rigid that even a pastoral approach can’t be changed, end up sacrificing everything that really is fundamental to Catholicism, from papal primacy to the value of prayers.

Instead of heeding the Pope’s call for prayers, those critics preferred to rail around a disgruntled archbishop, who had accused the Pope of mishandling an abuse case, before fleeing to an unknown hiding place, accessible only to favorable media that would not report on the many inconsistencies found in his testimony. From Viganò’s supporters came a vast number of those who criticized the Pope’s call to prayers as “no action.” Why? Because the “action” proposed by Viganò was the Pope’s resignation, something that would delight his critics, since they hope a future pope will come along and “correct” the teachings they disagree with. Even when the resignation plan died out, as a violent wave crashing against the Rock of Peter before disolving, they would keep doubling down on calls to “action” against the lavender mafia, a boogeyman overestimated to undermine Francis’ papacy, whenever he says or does something that doesn’t sit well with his critics.

At least the secular NGO’s action, even if stripped of spiritual meaning, tries to emulate (albeit imperfectly) the Church’s praxis. But those who call for “action” and minimize prayers, just to attack the Pope because they don’t like him, have no semblance of Catholicism in their actions. Action in such a grave situation as the abuse scandal can only be preceded by intense prayers and penance if it is to be successful. Sexually abusing the bodily integrity of an image of God, especially children, can only be described as demonic, particularly if carried out by a member of the clergy… and therefore, any action against such heinous crimes can only flounder if the global Church fails to pray on it for guidance on what to do. Claire Navarro has written superbly about this matter and why the Pope’s call for prayers is spot on and necessary.


But can we say that these papal critics do not pray for the Pope? No. They do. Or at least, they say they do. The problem is, they pray on their own terms. In doing so, they eschewed (when not sabotaged through public complaining) the Pope’s call to prayer on such a fundamental topic.

Nevertheless, the Pope’s intentions are a special prayer intention. It is part of our tradition: praying for the Pope’s intentions is one of the three acts one must perform to achieve an indulgence. In contrast, not every personal prayer intention has the same value. For example, praying for someone’s death is not acceptable, nor pleasing to God.

And yet, that is precisely what some of these papal critics have done! Granted, only the most extreme go to such lengths, but it is undeniable that some people have been praying that God will shorten this papacy, in order to preserve Catholicism (or what they perceive to be Catholicism.) If you ask me, preserving Catholicism is accomplished by not enshrining as acceptable such an anti-Catholic prayer as asking for a pope’s death.

But there is a more subtle, insidious way to misuse prayer to resist the pontiff. I have noted that, whenever someone who is publicly (and many times viciously) criticizing Francis is called out on it, he/she will inevitably tone down his/her speech and glumly proclaim: “I’m not disrespectful! I pray for the Pope everyday!”

It is interesting how these critics always fall back on the same rhetorical devices. I already lost count of all the dissenters who have piously said “But I pray for the Pope” as if that justified anything they are doing.

What are those prayers, though? Of course, every person will construe prayers in his/her own way, but it is of no use to pray for the Pope while undermining him in public, regardless of the content of those prayers, or how well-intentioned they may be.

It is also not an appropriate use of prayer to pray that the Pope will stop teaching the doctrine one disagrees with, so that the Church will be conformed to what one thinks it should be. Just to get my point across, it would not be pleasing to God to hear a liberal pray that the Pope will overturn the Humanae Vitae. The same can be said about Francis’ teachings.

Those who pray for the Pope should, as any other Catholic, direct their prayer first and foremost to themselves if they want to see a more holy Church. This means praying that God will change in ourselves not only the things we would like to see changed, but also the changes we need, but don’t accept in our lives… like admitting that a certain papal teaching is orthodox and correct, even if we disagree with it or don’t understand it.


However, someone who follows Francis knows that those who have strayed from the good path may come back on track through incremental steps. Maybe God can have some use for those prayers, even from those who do not want to submit to the authority of the Pope. In this sense, I think an acceptable prayer for people in that situation would be: “God, please guide the Church to do Your will, whatever that will might be.”

This is actually biblical and expressly stated in the supreme prayer: Our Father. By not trying to force the hand of God into a predetermined way, we are letting Him act in the Church, while at the same time making a demonstration of faith that He is indeed guiding the Church. Maybe this will open hearts to the possibility that they may be wrong, for certainly God’s will for the Church is that every single one of its member be in communion with the Vicar of Christ.

Those who do follow the Pope can certainly pray this prayer alongside those who have fallen away, with no fear. And those who criticize the Pope, will certainly not object to it if they really believe that they are actually fighting for what God’s will is. In this sense, I think this proposal could unite our already much divided Church and purify the intentions of those who claim to “pray for the Pope.”

Let us pray for the Holy Father, with the right intention, then!

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[Photo credit: Montage with Study of Praying Hands, from Dürer, ca. 1508]

Pedro Gabriel

Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

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11 Responses

  1. chris dorf says:

    Some of these folks won’t even refer to him as Pope. Instaed they say ‘Dictator Pope’ or merely Bergoglio. Also, the Bergoglio/Denzinger Group has 2000 pages, annotated and indexed, on all of Bergoglio’s ‘heresies’.

    How are the average Catholic to sift thru the scandalizing of our Faith?

  2. Katherine Yost says:

    Dear Pedro,
    Thank you for defending our Holy Father. So few people are doing so. Keep it up.

  3. Jane says:

    Thank you very very much for this article. How so very true it is and so very sad, due to the tremendous air of cruel and bitter criticism against the Vicar of Christ on earth. One person told me a couple of years ago, “This Pope needs prayers,” but with such an air of contempt that I felt like the very comment was not a comment of prayerful love for him, but deep contempt and disgust. After reading this and other articles from this website I am having all my deepest feelings over the past five years confirmed over and over. God Bless you and THANK YOU so very much

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    Pedro,

    This is, sadly, a very-much-needed article for the many Catholics who are now firmly convinced that it is their “Catholic orthodoxy” which sets them in opposition to the current Vicar of Christ– and sadly, those very Catholics are likely to be among the people least likely to read this article… (although I hope and pray that it would be otherwise!)

    With all of this said, I remember a time when, almost ten years ago now, I was a vocally, and seemingly implacably, anti-Catholic Protestant who had left the Church and “evangelized” others to do the same… and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, one morning, I was “reminded” (the Spirit at work!) of a book that I had once read by Peter Kreeft… and that began a very humbling, chastening, painful, but beautiful, process of re-considering the claims of the Catholic Church, which finally resulted in my repentance and return to Catholic Christianity.

    It is my hope and prayer that if God can bring *even me,* a former vocally anti-Catholic evangelizer, back to the Church, He can also bring many Catholics who now resist Pope Francis to a place of (at the very least) openness to considering that they still have important things to learn, *from him,* the Vicar of Christ, about being a faithful, orthodox Catholic.

  5. Jane says:

    I always have to remember that we are a country that is fundamentally Protestant at heart and political in mind. A protestant attitude does not cheer with gratitude and smile when “Habemus Papam” is announced. A protestant-minded person will fold their arms and say to everyone, “Well, that’s good, but I am going to wait and see if I agree with what he says before I offer my obedience. If it corresponds with what I think and believe, then I will offer him my obedience.” It’s the same as saying, “I like the church I attend just fine, but if I begin to not like what the preacher or Priest says or does, I will go somewhere else.”
    We are also a very political-minded nation in that we hold there is only Conservative and Liberal and that translates heavily into Catholic thought and belief in this country. There is hardly a person who is 100% pro-marriage who will read Amoris Laetitia and submit to it, because being pro-marriage is a conservative belief and Amoris Laetitia is way too liberal, in their minds. There is hardly a person who considers himself a Conservative who will read Laudato Si, for in his mind, that document is waaay too liberal because it’s all about the environment which is a liberal topic and not one to be touched or looked-upon by a conservative (frankly I believe Laudato Si is one of the most pro-life-minded documents ever. . . and I have read and studied many documents and encyclicals)!
    We have a lot working against us in this culture and climate. When conservatives see Pope Francis embrace a homosexual person, they think that he is immediately condoning the sins that may or may not be committed by the homosexual person ( that’s like getting upset over Pope John Paul II for talking with Mehmet Ali Agca, and immediately assuming that he’s condoning attempted murder ).
    The Catholic Church is neither Protestant in heart nor political in mind. The Catholic Church is one, holy,catholic and apostolic. We follow our Holy Father and all in union with him. We are neither liberal nor conservative. We are 100% pro-life and we are 100% pro-charity towards all, children, adults, older folks, migrants, immigrants, babies in the womb, our neighbor, the “bad person” next door who we disagree with, the homosexual person who loves God and is trying to be chaste, the person who does not love God nor try to be chaste. the murderer who feels they are not guilty, the poor, the lame, blind, the not-so-blind, the sinner, the saint, the Democrat politician, the Catholic singer who betrayed his/her faith, the person living with their boyfriend/girlfriend, the teenager with 100 piercings, the beggar, the rich person who is lacking charity because of excessive wealth, the scrupulous person,the licentious person, and on and on and on.
    We are neither Protestant nor Evangelical in heart. We are neither Democrat nor Republican nor Conservative or Liberal in thought. We are CATHOLIC! ! ! We belong to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the one true Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God Bless you

    • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

      I wholeheartedly support every single word of this comment

      • Jane says:

        Thank you Pedro. Thank you also Chris Dorf, for your comments to me. I feel, after having discovered this site on November 5, my son’s birthday and the first day of my husband and my Consecration Prep to Our Blessed Mother which we will renew on December 8, truly and really like a Catacomb Christian. Why do I say that? Because I live in an area that is quite virulently opposed to Pope Francis. And so because I have been living in this deep sadness and grief over the attitude towards our Holy Father, I am a bit overwhelmed when I read these articles, when I receive comments like this from you Pedro and you Chris, when I see that all these articles, yours Mr. Gabriel, and others on this site, are confirming everything that I have been thinking and pondering with my husband for five years of heavy loneliness, I don’t know what to say and do! I am overjoyed, like walking into another Catacomb Christian and saying, “Are YOU a Christian too?! ” And I am a little afraid too, like a person newly freed from prison and seeing the light for the first time and afraid to step forth with confidence into the beautiful new world that has been placed in front of me now that I am free again! WHY do I have to be feeling this way when I live around so many Catholics?! I’m heartbroken by it all. But I do feel within me a new mission coming out of all of this, and I feel I will be gaining confidence because of articles like this one, because of this wonderful website, because of your deep love and support for the Vicar of Christ on earth! ! It’s no wonder that the friend who first showed me an article about the Pianist and the Pope, which led me to this incredible site, has the name of Christy (Christ y ) for I truly feel like my Lord Jesus led me to this site through her. Thank you again and God Bless you ! ! !

        • Christopher Lake says:

          Jane,

          I just read this comment from you here, and I want to say, you are most definitely *not alone* in your heartbreak regarding the open scorn which is being shown to Pope Francis, tragically, *from other Catholics*. I share the same heartbreak, my sister in Christ. I live with it every day, and I do admit that, at times, I have to fight to not allow this heartbreak to disturb my basic, foundational joy in Christ. (I am determined that I will not let this happen though! I belong to Christ, and those who continually attack his Vicar will not rob me of my joy in Christ!)

          You are also *not alone* in your loneliness over remaining faithful to Pope Francis and his teaching, when so many other Catholics are openly opposing him. From the evidence that I can see, I am now one of only a few, among my circle of fellow Catholic friends, who still defends and supports the Pope. It seems surreal to me that I, or any Catholic, should be in such a situation, but this is where I am. Please just know that when you feel alone, as a Catholic, in loving and defending Pope Francis, you are not alone. I stand with you, in standing with the Pope, as do many, many others in the Church, here at WPI and elsewhere, both online and offline.

    • chris dorf says:

      Jane, thank you. I have saying these things also for decades, especially as I have belonged to an ecumenical men’s prayer group in the U.S. and have constantly been at odds with the ‘theology’ the non-Catholics often proffer as we discuss scriptures.

      • Jane says:

        I feel now as though I will be able to study all the articles on this website, and become more confident when I speak with others. God Bless you, Chris, in your good work, and I wonder if we can pray for one another as we love and defend our Holy Catholic Faith and our Holy Father? And pray for this wonderful website!

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