“Their position is quite reasonable; nay, in a sense it is infinitely reasonable, just as a threepenny bit is infinitely circular. But there is such a thing as a mean infinity, a base and slavish eternity. It is amusing to notice that many of the moderns, whether sceptics or mystics, have taken as their sign a certain eastern symbol, which is the very symbol of this ultimate nullity. When they wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with his tail in his mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal. The eternity of the material fatalists, the eternity of the eastern pessimists, the eternity of the supercilious theosophists and higher scientists of to-day is, indeed, very well presented by a serpent eating his tail, a degraded animal who destroys even himself.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy, Chapter II, The Maniac
When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, the mainstream media immediately categorized him as an ultraconservative, bent on imposing an obscurantist, outdated doctrine on the whole world. From that point on, there ensued something that can only be described as an ugly and concerted mediatic attack on his person. They dug up his past, searching for dirt with which to associate him with murderous regimes. They would advance the idea of him being a tyrannical pope cracking down on poor theologians who would not toe the line of his dictatorial agenda. There was no word he would say, no act he would perform, that would not be subject to twisting and misrepresentation, in order to promote this image of Benedict as a far-right, bumbling, ignorant hardliner. Everything in his pontificate that would not bear this preconceived image (like his de facto “liberal” social encyclicals) would just be ignored. So fierce were these attacks, that sometimes they would pile up, not giving the faithful (and the apologists) time to breathe… and the media would not even shy away from spreading outright fake news or pieces so silly they almost reeked of desperation.
It was on the pedophilia issue, however, that the attacks on Benedict reached their peak intensity. Apart from very fringe groups, the condemnation of abuse in general and pedophilia in particular is widespread across today’s society, making it a perfect libel to throw at someone whose credibility one wishes to destroy. So, when the abuse scandal broke out, the media once again circulated news that tried to paint Benedict XVI (one of the popes who did more to fight against this scourge) as an enabler who covered up for priests in order to salvage the Church’s reputation. So great was the outcry, that some were even publicly and vehemently asking for his resignation. Apologists, however, labored intensely to show how these accusations were built on false assumptions… and at the time they were very eager to do so (check the National Catholic Register’s and Phil Lawler’s contribution here.)
Fast forward some years. When Francis was elected, some Catholic media immediately categorized him as a liberal, bent in overturning fundamental Church teaching. From that point on, there ensued something that can only be described as as an ugly and concerted mediatic attack on his person. They dug up his past, searching for dirt with which to associate him with murderous regimes. They would advance the idea of him being a tyrannical pope cracking down on poor theologians who would not toe the line of his dictatorial agenda. There was no word he would say, no act he would perform, that would not be subject to twisting and misrepresentation, in order to promote this image of Francis as a marxist, bumbling, ignorant modernist. Everything in his pontificate that would not bear this preconceived image (like his de facto “conservative” teachings) would just be ignored. So fierce were these attacks, that sometimes they would pile up, not giving the faithful (and the apologists) time to breathe… and the media would not even shy away from spreading outright fake news or pieces so silly they almost reeked of desperation.
But it was on the pedophilia issue that the attacks on Francis reached their peak intensity. When the abuse scandal broke out, the media once again circulated news that tried to paint Francis (one of the popes who did more to fight against this scourge) as an enabler who covered up for priests in order to salvage the Church’s reputation. So great was the outcry, that some were even publicly and vehemently asking for his resignation. Some have labored intensely to show how these accusations had too much inconsistencies to be credible… but this time, most of the apologists were not very eager to defend His Holiness, since they were the ones leveling the acusations in the first place.
The parallels are striking, and only one difference separates the two situations… while Benedict was attacked by the secular media, Francis has been attacked by the (once) Catholic media. And a large portion of the apologists that, at the time, were so eager to defend Benedict, have completely turned against Francis, leaving him out in the open and almost without anyone who would stick out for him.
So rabid have these ex-Catholic defenders been in their attacks, that they had no qualms in throwing Benedict himself under the bus, once they would find that the accusations against Francis could only stand if Benedict was guilty too. Which makes me question whether their defense of Benedict was sincere in the first place, or whether their supposed faithfulness to the previous pontiff was just a matter of ideological expediency.
Now, I must make something crystal clear: not all of those who are now indicting Francis have ulterior motives… some are truly horrified by the pedophilia scandals and feel that His Holiness fell short. Also, it is important to note that it could very well happen that Francis would be guilty of the charges laid against him while Benedict was innocent… in that case, the obedience a Catholic owes to the Pope would not mandate that said Catholic would need to defend Francis, while defending Benedict would be the righ course of action. The popes are not impeccable and our sense of Catholic charity demands that we protect the innocence of those who might be abused, even because of the Pope’s actions or inactions.
However, the stark contrast in the attitude taken by Catholic media in both situations is too noticeable to be ignored. While in one situation, the Pope was deemed worthy of the benefit of the doubt and, in fact, of an indefatigable defense against an obvious mediatic cabal to silence the uncomfortable teachings of the Vicar of Christ… on the other case, these same people just uncritically accepted what was being spoon-fed them, since they were attacking the Pope long before the pedophilia case broke out, thereby casting doubt on their objectivity. The verdict against Francis had already been issued beforehand, what was missing was the accusation that would meet such verdict… and a pedophilia scandal would be just the ticket. After all, as I said above, apart from very fringe groups, the condemnation of abuse in general and pedophilia in particular is widespread across today’s society, making it a perfect libel to throw at someone whose credibility one wishes to destroy.
In other words, the apologists have become the very same people they were fighting some years ago. In fact, one could argue that they already were the people they were fighting against. And by this I mean, people who will not let themselves be led by the Church’s teaching, but will rather try to impose their own preconceived agenda on the Church, even if in the process they have to try to take down the Pope. The apologists were pointing their fingers at those they deemed Cafeteria Catholics, all the while harboring the very same sins in their hearts… sins that were only made manifest when the luminosity of Francis’ teachings shone on the occult recesses of their souls.
As Chesterton remarked, the “doctrine” of Eternal Return is the trademark of paganism (even of a pagan pseudo-Christianity.) Satan wants to destroy the Church and, consequently, he viciously attacks Her visible head. He is not too original in his strategies either… he just needs to change some minor details and gleefully watch as the faithful fall on the same trap they evaded before, a trap that he repeatedly sets in cyclical fashion. The Church scandals are, after all, a series of eternal returns, since Original Sin is always the same and will affect the members of the Church until Judgment Day. Therefore, the faithful should stand on guard, lest they are found to be inconsistent in the way they defend the Church, therefore providing a counterwitness to those outside it. Nothing could hinder the New Evangelization more than validating the secular notion that the Church is just like any other human institution, where lobbying for political gain is fair game.
The only way for the faithful to be immune to this, and to be able to break the temporal loops of the eternal return, is to be grounded on eternity, namely on eternal truths. And these eternal truths include the sexual doctrine of the Church, but also God’s mercy towards the sinners and the need to shun any traces of judgmentalism. Above all, we should be grounded on the doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church and the salutary idea that the Pope cannot teach errors in matters of faith and morals (otherwise he would bind the faithful’s conscience to a damnation course.) Only by doing so may we avoid the trap of setting ourselves as the judges of what the Church should teach, which will inevitably lead to the temptation of eschewing the teachings necessary for our salvation that we find difficult to accept.
Only by doing so, will the faithful remain open to defending the Pope whenever needed, instead of falling into the mistake of reflexively joining the stampedes of public outrage and mob lynching that characterize those who uncritically adhere to the ephemeral fashions of their day. Only by doing so, may our testimony be constant and consistent… and therefore, in accordance with what we preach: that Catholic teaching is eternal and immutable.
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.