Several years ago, I realized that I hadn’t seen a friend of mine for a few months. He and his family were active in my parish. He was a young man with a very lovely wife and a bunch of rambunctious little boys. They could always be found in the narthex during the 11:30 Sunday Mass, working hard to wrangle the kids and doing their best to participate in the Mass. He was active in our parish men’s group as well. His passion for the faith and his knowledge of Church teaching were impressive. He had a talent for quoting scripture, chapter and verse, and he could articulate the apologetical argument behind nearly every Church teaching.

After a couple of years, I began to notice a change in his tone, and an increase in intensity. He began to say things that were reminiscent of things I had come across on radical traditionalist blogs and websites. I didn’t notice when he stopped coming to Church and to the men’s group, but one day it hit me that I hadn’t seen him around lately. A few days later, a mutual friend told me he ran into him at a restaurant, where he told him he didn’t believe our parish was Catholic and tried to convince him of his newfound position.

The next contact I had with him came a few weeks later in the form of a very lengthy email, a virtual wall of text filled with sedevacantist arguments and talking points. I responded to him and we went back and forth for a while, with each response much longer than the last, but after a year or so, I sent my last email to him and he never replied. I haven’t seen or heard from him since, but I am told his family moved away to another state. Later I found a testimony of his “conversion” posted on a website, and it filled in some of the details that I’d wondered about. I still grieve that someone who had been on fire for his faith, someone I greatly admired, had fallen so far from what I thought was a rock-solid faith. I saw small signs before he left, but I had no idea how far he had gone astray. I wonder what might have happened if I’d intervened before he left, if I’d let an opportunity slip through my fingers.

I am reminded of this story due to the recent news that the prominent theologian Aidan Nichols, OP, a highly-respected intellectual voice in the Church for many years, has thrown in his lot with a small group of Catholic scholars and clergy to accuse Pope Francis of “heresy,” through a letter to the Catholic bishops of the world. Catholic News Agency highlights the letter’s call to action from the bishops:

“If – which God forbid! – Pope Francis does not bear the fruit of true repentance in response to these admonitions, we request that you carry out your duty of office to declare that he has committed the canonical delict of heresy and that he must suffer the canonical consequences of this crime,” the letter reads, later clarifying that it “is agreed that a pope who is guilty of heresy and remains obstinate in his heretical views cannot continue as pope.”

This is a clear appeal from the authors to the bishops to discipline a pope. To do so is seriously problematic. On Twitter, canon lawyer Ed Condon posted the text of #1372 from the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1372 A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

I’m not a canon lawyer, but if there’s a more clear example of someone making recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to the college of bishops, I haven’t seen one.

For all the good work that Fr. Nichols has done in his life and as a priest and theologian, the act of signing that letter risks destroying his reputation and good name, and threatens his standing in the Church. Because most of the other letter signers are fairly obscure (not to mention well-established and outspoken critics of the Holy Father), Nichols’s endorsement of the letter is gravest of all. His name is featured prominently in all of the articles about the letter; he is why this letter is noteworthy. His work is very well-known: his books have been studied in seminaries and universities around the world for decades. He’s been widely accepted as orthodox and intelligent and thoughtful. That is, until this week, when he tarnished his own name by signing onto an outrageous document that accuses the Vicar of Christ of using a “satanic” stang as a crosier (which is easily debunked) and supporting the LGBT movement by wearing a rainbow cross (ditto).

I will pray for Fr. Nichols to recant his endorsement of this letter and to once again embrace the faith in its fullness, and I hope that you will too.

At Patheos, Henry Karlson looks at the long, sad history of great and important Catholic scholars who abandoned the faith that they once enriched and strengthened. He writes,

“Though not the first, Tertullian (160-220) is a prime instance of this. We can study and engage his many works, such as but not limited to his Apology, Against PraxeasOn the Resurrection of the Flesh, To the Martyrs, and On Prayer, knowing of course, that he became a Montanist who took on extreme positions that ended up criticizing and rejecting various pastoral aspects of the Catholic faith. St. Cyprian of Carthage could take on Tertullian as a theological mentor while abstracting from his works all the crazy errors which Tertullian accepted as a Montanist. The greatness of Tertullian’s writings, recognizable by even his critics, makes them required reading. But reading him, learning from him, does not mean we need to follow him as he strayed from orthopraxy and orthodoxy: just because he was an important writer who helped shape the Latin theological tradition and give much of its vocabulary does not make what he said in all instances correct.”

He goes on to describe more examples, and adds,

“Example after example from history can be lifted from history, showing great theologian after great theologian, such as Peter Abelard, Martin Luther or Ignaz von Döllinger, straying as a result of overconfidence in their private theological opinions.  Great theologians, great scholars, great intellectual or ecclesiastical leaders who had been properly raised in prominence for their work and achievements, can be seen letting their own accolades get the best of them, so that they ended up ignoring and rejecting some basic element of Christian doctrine or practice. Many of them, but not all, found themselves following an extreme legalistic interpretation of Christian practice, incapable of understanding the nuance which the Christian mystery demanded of any theologian. Instead of listening to the church, they though themselves above the church, indeed, they ended up thinking they could judge of the church and its leaders. They used whatever authority they had to lead many followers astray. Great heretics did not become great heretics because they were unlearned; they became heretics because they failed to grasp how the Christian faith was to be addressed despite their learning.”

Fortunately for Fr. Nichols, he still has time to convert and repent of this error. My friend has even more time, but he has brought his family along with him into error, so he might have an even steeper hill to climb.

These examples reveal how even the most zealous in the faith can be led right out of it. It’s possibly worth noting that both Nichols and my friend were converts to the faith. It’s possible that they ran so fast through the front door that their momentum carried them right through the back. I must point out that their experience isn’t exclusive to converts. It’s also important to emphasize that there are many converts (likely the vast majority) who approach their Catholicism with great gratitude and a spirit of openness to the Church.

We can’t take for granted that what we believe today will be what we will believe ten years from now. Persevering in the faith requires perseverance through challenges, doubts, and difficult situations. Events happen that can shatter our faith, or at least our understanding of it. Keeping the faith requires prayer, conversion, and trust. And for the Catholic faith, part of that trust is to hold fast to Christ’s words:

“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)


Image: “By Me – Picture taken by me in Cambridge at Palmsunday 2014, CC BY-SA 4.0,”

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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

We cannot take our faithfulness for granted

50 Responses

  1. Sk McKenna says:

    Thank you once again for your essay. I read Mr. Karlsons piece yesterday. Then just waiting for yours. God bless you.

  2. JoNell says:

    I encourage you to study up on St.Catherine of Sienna…..

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Yes, her loyalty, respect , and great love for the Pope, even when she disagreed with some of his decisions, are a great example of how Catholics should approach the Holy Father. In great contrast to these manifestos and accusation – riddled letters filled with lies and falsehoods.

    • If you read St. Catherine’s letters to Pope Gregory XI, you see clearly how much she loved and respected him, whom she called “my dear Babbo”. There is no comparison whatsoever between her exhortations that he return to Rome and people accusing this pope of heresy, let alone for such petty, bizarre complaints as that he carried a crosier they disliked! I don’t believe for a second St. Catherine would have even entertained the notion that Pope Gregory XI could be a heretic. As a huge admirer of St. Catherine, I get put out whenever I see people invoke her name to justify their own disrespect of the Holy Father…

  3. Anne Lastman says:

    Hello Mike, I have been following the attacks against the Holy Father since the beginning and it’s heartbreaking. And to think that Fr Nichols would join ranks with the likes of those named since the start.
    In a moment in history when the voice of “Peter” is needed to be heard loud and clear and without being muffled we have such atrocities.
    It’s heartbreaking.

    • M. says:

      Anne, it is truly heartbreaking. What better way to get the people of the church to ignore the words that we need most to hear in these times, than to get them to focus solely on material that they find wrong? No one will read his actual words and documents, which are so motivating and so helpful for turning away from path of sin- instead they can get juicy soundbites that feed the desire to feel correct in all things. I suspect both sides of the divide do this. What a perfectly mesmerizing distraction certain Catholic media have managed to create. It is almost impossible to look away. Uncle Screwtape himself couldn’t have done better.

      • Marthe Lépine says:

        I think it is precisely because “the voice of Peter is needed to be heard loud and clear” that these attacks are taking place. As Uncle Screwtape would say, the illegitimate “father below” does not want this voice to be heard and is working very hard feeding those attacks.

  4. Ashpenaz says:

    Interestingly, I believe all the things Pope Francis is accused of believing–I believe that there are contexts in which homosexual acts are licit (lifelong marriages between those with irreversible same-sex orientations), I believe that divorced and remarried people should have access to the Sacraments, I believe we should defend a seamless garment of life rather than focus on abortion, I believe we should support immigrants whether documented or undocumented in their search for a safe home (and I appreciate Pope Francis’ donation to that cause), I believe global warming is a greater threat to life than abortion since killing the planet means no unborn children will ever be born, etc.

    I find support for all these beliefs in the writings of Pope Francis. I think the German bishops are on the right track in terms of finding a deeper understanding of sexual morality which could possible include blessings for same-sex or cohabiting couples. I think the Buenos Aires document is the best interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. I think Cardinal Cupich and Archbishop Stowe are working to create a welcoming Church for all genders and orientations.

    I think all my beliefs are part of the deposit of faith once delivered to the saints, and we are just beginning to discern the wide parameters of mercy of that deposit of faith. As Pope Francis says in Christus Vivit:

    41. Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues. To be credible to young people, there are times when she needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel. A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.[16]

  5. chris dorf says:

    At any time people can become convinced, for whatever reason, that they or themselves are being led or mislead by the devil. They can also become convinced that God has shown them something that they must take a stand on. Our history is replete with these episodes. We are admonished to forgive 70 X 7…and sometimes I think that this is why we are told to do so.

  6. jong says:

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you very much for a timely defense of Pope Francis but sad to say the Council of Trads Media had already made a synchronized effort to spread this public accusation as they all embraced this as credible.
    The likes, of Dr.Marshall and Mr.Gordon the TnT Entertainment & Discussiping Show hours ago had trumpheted this accusation and ofcourse they projected this as Truth and credible. Even proud on their show expressing boldly the evil phrase influencing their viewers the attitude of “Recognized but Resist the Pope.” I think M.Matt guesting on his show made Dr.Marshall embraced this evil attitude even more.
    Also, John Westen of Lifesite are laughable appearing as a meek and confusing his viewers to pray for Pope Francis conversion. This is laughable as Pope Francis is living a life of humility,simplicity and transparency and magnifying the Mercy of God thru deeds. What conversion are the Trads channel imploring? conversion to embraced the Dubia?…really the Trads are blinded by their pride & disobedience just like the Great Accuser whom the Rad Trads imitate. Truly the devils have many friends,cousinsand relatives as Pope Francis reminded us of their evil works of living a life accusing their brothers in faith up to the Pope even deceased prelates does not escape from their accusations.CCC2479 & Canon752 is ignored repeatedly & continously.
    Also other channels like Return to Tradition, Watchdog for Truth, HolyFaith Tv and Patrick Coffin are also attacking the dignity of Pope Francis thru spreading the lies and deceptions of satan human cohorts.
    The diabolical disorientation that Rad Trads channel are projecting to Vatican II Hierarchy is actually their embraced confusions and since they are blinded by “recognized but resist attitude” they cannot see the reality that they are the one who are infected by this malice.

    My Jesus mercy.

    • ONG says:

      The Devil comes in through the pockets! (Pope Francis)

    • carn says:

      As you ask questions, you deserve someone trying to answer them:

      “What conversion are the Trads channel imploring? conversion to embraced the Dubia?”

      I think they hope among other things for him to answer the dubia No;Yes;Yes;Yes;Yes which in their view would be a conversion from heresy back to catholicism, since they seem to think that any other answer is in contradiction with prior Church teaching and accordingly heresy.

      (Of course, this would in the eyes of some be only one step in the supposedly necessary conversion of Pope Francis)

      As a sidenot: the dubia are questions; one cannot embrace or agree to questions; one can embrace certain answers or some attitude/stance which are the motivation for some questions; but questions are for themselves just questions.

      If someone asks: “Is Jesus the son of God?” nobody can “embrace” or “agree” to that question or being a heretic or avoid being a heretic by purely asking it; only by opting for some answer or implying some answer there is potential for heresy.

  7. Ralph says:

    Great article. I would also add that humility is virtue that more Catholics need to practice. I think there is a danger in getting too deep into theology and apologetics and starting to think that you have all of the answers. In the most extreme cases you get people who come to the conclusion that they are literally more Catholic than the pope.

    I am not against learning more about the faith but there is no reason to think that people who are steeped in theology and apologetics are holier than a person who might not be erudite but who has a strong, simple faith and a heart that is open to the teachings of the Church. Papal critics seem to have no sense of humility or a willingness to learn from Pope Francis. This is a sign of tremendous pride which is the mother of so many heresies and schisms.

  8. Al Miller says:

    I am an outsider looking in. The Catholic Church is locked in tradition nearly as severe as Islamic fundamentalism. Tradition is a two edged sword. Is sustained the church at the cost of revelation. “Once upon a time” God revealed his secret unto his servants the prophets. That doctrine got emasculated long ago. God spoke through Mary to peasant girls and still everything had to be pressed through the mold of tradition. Francis desperately wants to be a prophet. He wants to minister to those of whom Jesus said “not all men can receive it” but he cannot buck tradition.

  9. Patrick Sarsfield says:

    I was really cool with all this until I read the comments of Ashpenaz. If that’s really the impression people take away from Pope Francis, it’s no wonder people like Nichols’s heads are exploding! Yikes! In all seriousness, I don’t think that truly reflects the views of the Pope, but clearly there are many people who do, and that IS a problem.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I do not support those comments either. Yes – many people have used Francis to advance an agenda opposed to Catholic teaching on sexuality. We’re not going to hide that. But Francis himself doesn’t support that agenda. One heterodox Catholic shouldn’t be enough to turn you against the pope.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I appreciate your response. I post here because I am sorting through the same issues everyone else is, and I think people here give thoughtful feedback even to those with whom they disagree. I am definitely a progressive! And I think that Pope Francis and I agree on a lot of issues. I don’t know if Pope Francis would agree with everything I say, but I do think he wants to open the door so that we can discuss these issues from various points of view. As he says in Guadete Et Exultate:

        43. It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it. So we cannot claim that our way of understanding this truth authorizes us to exercise a strict supervision over others’ lives. Here I would note that in the Church there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life; in their variety, they “help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word”. It is true that “for those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion”.[39]

      • Mike Lewis says:

        And Ashpenaz — I don’t mean to hang you out to dry. We have to monitor comments in order to prevent the comments from being hijacked by 1-2 people, and to block out the regular obscene and trolling comments that come in from people who appear to be genuinely disturbed.

        We welcome voices from all perspectives, including yours. That said, one of the “arguments” raised by Francis’s detractors is to point to those who praise Pope Francis, but whose positions are not in line with Church teaching. “Guilt by association.” Francis didn’t ask to be put on the cover of “The Advocate,” yet he was, and that’s used against him.

        My response to Patrick was simply to point out that if someone praises Pope Francis, they don’t necessarily share all of his views or the same understanding of Church teaching.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I see your point. I will say, I was one of those who was happy to see the Pope on the cover of The Advocate! 🙂 And the Pope has welcomed LGBTQIA+ groups to the Vatican. A lot of what he is accused of in this letter is true–it’s just not heretical. When I came into the Church in the late 80s, there were many theologians such as Curran, Fuchs, Haring, and McBrien who were very open to same-sex relationships, contraception, and women’s ordination. So I simply thought that was the norm. I suspect Francis is a student of those theologians. I left the Church after Vertitatis Splendor and came back in with “Who am I to judge?”

        I think people would understand Pope Francis better if they read the moral theology of Fuchs, Haring, and from today, Salzman and Farley.

        The reason this letter concerns me is that if they are right about what constitutes heresy, then I’m a heretic. Except I don’t own a stang. (Still not sure what that is.)

      • carn says:

        “many people have used Francis to advance an agenda opposed to Catholic teaching on sexuality. We’re not going to hide that. But Francis himself doesn’t support that agenda.”

        Would be nice, if he would find time to do something about the “many people” who use him/his ideas to advance an agenda, which he doesn’t support. Or he employs someone to take care of that.

        Cause if people regularly and in public claim to do something with which supposedly some third party is ok and the third party never does anything about that (or employs someone to do something about it), the people themselves and the general public might end up thinking that the third party is ok with how their name is used.

      • ONG says:


        You wrote:
        a) //Would be nice, if he would find time to do something about the “many people” who use him/his ideas to advance an agenda, which he doesn’t support. Or he employs someone to take care of that.//

        b) //… the people themselves and the general public might end up thinking that the third party is ok with how their name is used.. //

        1. Would you like that Pope Francis wrote/spoke about LSN and all the other private media? Is that what you suggest?

        2. How would *you* act if you supposedly were employed to the task you describe?

        3. Who are for you these “many people”, “the people”, “the public”, “the general public”, and “the third party”?

        4. What/where is “your” standpoint (your view position)?

      • carn says:

        “1. Would you like that Pope Francis wrote/spoke about LSN and all the other private media? Is that what you suggest?”

        As Mike Lewis talked about “many people” advancing an agenda OPPOSED to Catholic teaching on SEXUALITY

        and as the discussion was in context to Ashpenaz,

        it seems Mike Lews was not talking in that remark about LSN or similar,

        cause these do not (at least as far as i am aware) oppose Catholic teaching on sexuality (or act in any way that could be understood as opposition).

        They might oppose other teaching, but it seems not that about sexuality.

        Accordingly, it seems that Mike Lewis did not mean LSN and accordingly, i did not mean them either.

        “2. How would *you* act if you supposedly were employed to the task you describe?”

        That depends on whom these “many people” are; i have some ideas, but i am uncertain whether Mike Lewis would agree with them.

        My personal approach would be:

        a. Check whether there are these “many people”.

        b. Who they are.

        c. If they are subordinates of Pope Francis (meaning in any Church function or in any other way required to submit to the Pope; e.g. Priests, Bishops, Deacons, etc.); if the matter/person is too unimportant/unclear ignore it; if not: c1. Politely but without causing any publicity, tell them along the “chain of command” from the Pope himself, that if they would repeat their problematic statements with supposedly support from the Pope (e.g. “We should discuss blessing homosexual couples; that is in accordance with what Pope Francis wants for the Church”) would be – if repeated – a violation of “you shall not lie”, cause what they suggested is not ok with the Pope; c2. If they persist, repeat and add that any further public action in that regard will have consequences; c3. If they persist (mean if they continuously lie although having been explicitly told that they cannot claim Pope Francis support for their statements) apply consequences with increasing severity (anyone who continues to knowingly lie and drags the Pope along, although he knows that the Pope is not ok with that, should not be in any relevant office).

        The important thing is to be polite but clear, so that the person really understands that Pope Francis support for that idea should not be claimed.

        d. If they are just ordinary catholics (so nobody being in the formal chain of comman beneath the Pope):

        As c. except that the consequences would only be applied in really important cases and would be to put out press release that the catholic/catholic group is knowingly violating the 6th by lying and would thereby suffer canon 915.

        e. In case of non-catholics as d. but just release that they are lying.

        The whole procedure of course only works, if regarding the respective subject matter (e.g. blessing of homosexual couples) Pope Francis has a definite position and is willing to stick with it in public. If the Pope is unwilling to do that, nothing much can be done about people claiming that they act according to what he supposedly wants.

        And of course one would have to decide carefully where to draw the line; if among “many people” there are any bishops or above that i would certainly to suggest to act upon; also important politicians; but of course not just anyone.

        “3. Who are for you these “many people”, “the people”, “the public”, “the general public”, and “the third party”?”

        From various comments that have not been posted i have the impression, that naming names is not well liked. Accordingly, i suggest you ask Mike Lewis. With some likelihood i would agree to some names he might suggest for that.

        “4. What/where is “your” standpoint (your view position)?”

        On sexuality?

        At least that should be my view and where it it isn’t, my view should change accordingly.

        That is not something unusual; it often happens that some people make use of other people’s names (or brands) to advance (or sell) their own idea (or product/service).

        The only choice is to act against that or to do nothing and accept that part of the public will believe that they are acting in one’s name.

        That is the usual situation with brands and similar; if you put “Apple” on your electronic product and Apple does nothing about that although being aware, the result will be that some people will think it is an Apple product; if you put “Pope Francis” on your theology and Pope Francis does nothing about that (and you gain publicity/attention), the result will be that some people will think it is Pope Francis theology.

        (Don’t try with “Apple” what both so called critics and so called supporters of Pope Francis do)

      • carn says:

        The answer i penned to your questions didn’t get through.

        For question 3, ask Mike Lewis, he claimed: “many people have used Francis to advance an agenda opposed to Catholic teaching on sexuality”, so might also have an opinion who these people might be.

      • ONG says:


        I’ve seen today that you had answered to my previous comment below. (It doesn’t show a reply option, I haven’t got a notification, so I can’t reply directly under it.)

        Again, I was asking *you* about how you would implement a public correction to the writers that twist Pope Francis’ teachings and teach others so. LSN is one among many others, so that’s why I mentioned it.

        You give a long list of CCC’s paragraphs specifically on sexuality in the entire the human sphere. Isn’t there already hidden a *common factor* for what has to be achieved?

        Since their idealistic application is first of all individually, one cannot give ONE single answer that covers all possible situations.

        [I think Marie had already answered you somewhere else on that with, “unique, and, case by case”.]

        One can only study one case at the time, and when many cases have been monitored, then one would have a better overview of them all, and hence *adjust* some parameters, that perhaps didn’t work well. That requires a *suitable network* (clergy + laity), and as far I can see, that’s what Pope Francis is working with.

        Obviously, there are *some* that cannot (and/or don’t want to) work in team, and *some* that even “put a wrench in the works”, both for egocentric, proud reasons, etc., and/or because they sincerely DON’T comprehend the reason why!
        There’s however NO excuse for pretending they don’t get it, and open letters, dubia, gossiping, talk-shows, blogs, tweets, debates, etc., won’t solve anything, but just make more confusion, or worsen the whole.

        When I ask for YOUR position’s view, I intend to mean, that you must make a resolution to stand firm in ONE position, and not changing it continually following the one or the other and be confused yourself wherefrom you should observe this entire *show”!

        Go by elimination; often two apparently disagreeing person, mean the same, but only their APPROACH to how to achieve a determined result might be wrong.

        That’s all I reached to say now in this regard.

    • Marie says:

      I agree Patrick, but I think it has always been this way, at least the last serval decades. A lot of people seem to be left or right, rather than simply Catholic. Hopefully, in time this will change. I think maybe that our priests and bishops need to learn their faith again too, so they can spread the word.
      It’s can be kind of isolating in the centre 🙂

    • Ralph says:

      I think people are projecting what they want to see onto Pope Francis. It is a bit like seeing the Pope as a blank slate that some people fill up with their own ideas of what they think he represents. This can be either negative (papal critics who see Pope Francis as a heretic) or positive (liberal Catholics who see Pope Francis as a fellow liberal) depending on the person.

      If one examines the Pope’s teachings, it is pretty clear that he doesn’t fit the labels given to him and I think that is disappointing to many people who want him to be something he is not, although for different reasons. It is a case of people allowing their biases to dictate how they view the Pope even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

      The media (both mainstream and social media) certainly deserve some of the blame for overusing terms like “progressive” or “conservative” when describing the popes and making too much out of supposed differences between, say, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. That is why I enjoy Where Peter Is because it doesn’t have the same biases as other sources.

  10. Sean says:

    I understand the seriousness of the charges that have been made against Pope Francis, and I would not myself repeat the claim that he is guilty of heresy. However, it is obvious that Pope Francis is contributing to a major crisis by fomenting very muddled views about sexuality and marriage. We can see this in his embrace of the approaches of the Argentinian and Maltese bishops to Amoris Laetitia and his refusal to explain how those approaches can be reconciled with Magisterial teaching. We can see it in this very comment box, where at least one commenter–perhaps incorrectly but no doubt in good faith–expresses his belief that Pope Francis finds “lifelong marriages between those with irreversible same-sex orientations” to be licit. There are millions of people like your commenter, who believe Pope Francis is contradicting Magisterial teaching in practice if not by his express words. There are also millions of people like me, who want to support the Holy Father but are bewildered by his words and actions and, at times, sense that he views us as his enemies rather than as fellow Christians. The confusion created by the Holy Father’s words and actions is not the same thing as heresy, but it is deadly serious and has many of the same consequences as heresy.

    I also have to take issue with your speculation that perhaps Fr. Aidan Nichols, as a convert to Catholicism, “ran so fast through the front door that [his] momentum carried [him] right through the back.” Fr. Nichols is 70 years old. He converted to Catholicism as a very young man. He was an associate Catholic chaplain at Cambridge University when I was a student there 27 years ago, and at that time he was already the leading light among English Catholic theologians. For you even to suggest that Fr. Nichols joined the criticism of Pope Francis because he was insufficiently grounded in Catholicism demonstrates you know nothing of the man or his background.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Regarding “convert’s zeal” and the role it plays here, it was speculation: hope in charity that his endorsement of this disastrous and embarrassing letter is somehow mitigated.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Regarding the rest of your points, they have already been addressed many times on this website and elsewhere.

    • Marie says:

      Do we blame our children’s teachers every time they are confused, or it it on them to study more, seek assistance, look at things from a different perspective, etc ? There is a very clear message the pope is sending by remaining silent. The lesson has always been to search for an understanding, but it first requires all of us to be humble, and assume, as Christ promised, that what the Pope is teaching is the truth and we must seek it, not demand he “answer to it”. That’s the difference.

  11. Joshua says:

    Great work. I needed to read that.

  12. Benoît says:

    The comments and written words of the pope has always been subjected to “heretic” interpretations by parts of the church that wants the pope to support “their” specific viewpoint. During last pope’s reign, which I cherish very much, this was mostly done by the trad right of the Church. The comments that the pope said that didn’t fit into the overall narrative about the pope being against novus ordus, Vatican II etc, were just ignored, as it was by mainstream media that had decided long ago that this pope was just terrible. This pope has put something new into the table, and something I think is a game changer. Not only is he not afraid of preach the gospel even when running the risk of being misinterpreted as “liberal” or “heretic” or “harsh”. But he encourages people in the hierarchy to speak out what is on their hearts and minds. And to a certain extent that is sometimes harrowing to hear. Bishops, theologians, priests, etc, that are just now convinced by catholic moral teaching f. ex, or fundamental church teaching about what the Church is. I can certainly understand that this is painful. But this is the truth. This is the Church – broken, in war with it self, not unified and it goes on an on, but at least now we know what it is that has to be fixed, for the Church to be credible and unified and effective in evangelizing the world. For any healing to take place, we must know what the problem is and where it is. An alternative would be to continue as before. Everyone pays lip service to the Pope and Rome, without the heart being there, and then doing something completely else on the local level. Catholics are good in that – to pretend. I pretend I don’t know that the guy singing in the choir is gay and is living with someone, as he keeps still that I’m remarried, don’t pay my taxes and have a serious porn addiction. If we had to be honest about ourselves, we would have to admit that we’re all just a bunch of broken sinners, trying, failing and succeeding with Gods mercy, and hungry for the sacraments and Jesus that only the Church can give us. This is the church of poor! And this is the Church than again can lit up hearts and minds and put the world ablaze.

  13. Jane says:

    There is an article you are all just going to love! I have read and re-read it and you will see how it completely legitimizes this wonderful website! Here’s the link:

    It was written by a homeschooling mother of 8, but I am sure she would agree it was largely written by St. Thomas Aquinas himself. Enjoy it! It has given newer, fresher, deeper meaning to the four marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic! ! !

    And new meaning to this wonderful website 🙂

    God Bless you 🙂

    • Marie says:

      Jane- I enjoyed the article on fraternal and just judgment regarding the Pope, and how we must always see the best interpretation first. Then I read a few of the comments and felt a little dejected, for I realized, if you don’t have humility, you hear what you want to hear, and ignore what you don’t want to believe.

      “Francis is not proud to be pope or bishop or Catholic. Francis is embarrassed by so many “things” Catholic.”
      “The pope’s actions speak volumes. He loves playing the character of the humble priest. What a farce.”

      But then I read this, a quote from Pope St. Pius X: Allocution ‘Vi ringrazio’ to priests on the 50th anniversary of the Apostolic Union
      Saint Pius X, November 18, 1912

      ‘Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.’

      I do believe, to some extent we are all victims of this consumeristic ” I want it when I want it” mentality. It takes great effort, great effort to tune ourselves out of the world and tune in to prayer and reflection, yet without it, we are all susceptible to losing our faith. When we demand clarification, immediately, or else, we are in trouble …we need to ‘own’ our role in this, no matter what we believe, and recognize we participate in either the ‘confusion’ of the teaching of Pope Francis or the ‘joy’ of the teaching of Pope Francis by how we approach it.

      • Jane says:

        Hello Marie! I am so sorry I have been away for a week! That quote from Pope Pius x was submitted by my husband 🙂

        Here is a comment I have been posting on several dissenting blogs etc:

        ‘Pope Francis has answered this open letter — with silence. Christ our Savior did the same. The Scribes and Pharisees and Priests of the Law knew the law and the prophets in and out, through and through. The were the Canon Lawyers of the day, the Theologians who interpreted the Law, judged and Law and protected the Law, the 10 Commandments, etc. And they deemed Christ our Savior not only worthy of a slap on the wrist, or a fine, or even an Open Letter condemning him as a heretic for all the world to see. They deemed Him worthy of practically being flayed alive, tortured, beat, kicked, spit upon, and then finally crucified. Can we expect the Vicar of Christ to be subject to any less than public humiliation and condemnation? I recently read a marvelous article :… in which the author, a homeschooling mother of 8 cites many quotes of St. Thomas Aquinas to show how much against virtue it is to openly judge and condemn the Pope as these folks have done. It’s an amazing article and I highly recommend it.
        For some reason Christ our Savior chose to use the animal sheep as His animal of choice for all of us. He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. If you look at sheep, they seem real stupid, always keeping their noses to the ground eating grass and just ambling around. They follow after the one person that herds them around. They might be cute and fluffy but they are really just kind-of stupid it seems. However, in their ‘stupidity’ they are very wise since they are following the one person who will protect them and keep them safe from the wolves. By following the one Shepherd’s Vicar, we might appear stupid, but we are very wise. We are keeping ourselves safe from the wolves. God Bless you’

        I am resolving to remove myself from all negative comments of Our Holy Father from now on because of the article you and I read. Instead I am taking great comfort from reading the comments from ‘Father’ who posted many after Joanne Baker’s article, as well as those from my husband and others who are helping me and my Faith. And I am reading the works of Pope Francis himself and realizing again and again that he is indeed not a heretic!

        God Bless you! You are in my prayers 🙂

      • Marie says:

        Jane- Your comments are wonderful!! I admire your courage in trying to combat this insanity! I am pretty much sticking with WherePeterIs, as I’ve cut myself off from the other sites and cable news channels that have a no holds barred attitude towards those they feel are their enemies. We are living in a challenging time indeed. Thanks to your husband for the quote from Pope Pius X!!

      • Marthe Lépine says:

        Jane, I don’t know if you get Bishop Barron’s comments on the daily reading of the Gospel, but there was a sentence at the end of the 2nd paragraph, although it was about what Jesus had been saying, that perfectly applied to those people who are complaining that Pope Francis does not give explanations: “Now, if his words were meant in a symbolic sense, they wouldn’t have had this explosive, shocking effect on his listeners. Given every opportunity to clarify his meaning along symbolic lines, Jesus does nothing of the kind.”

      • ONG says:

        Yes Jane,
        though all good rational arguments are like “dots to connect”, and always keeping all these dots connected in the “hierarchy of truths”, helps also understanding when and where different commenters have a “missing link” in their argumentation(s).

        There have been new comments and new articles here while you’ve been away, and since all the entries are not chronological, like pages in a single book, it makes it a little difficult to find them again.
        I think some of these should be copied and repeated when it’s evident that a new reader/commenter hasn’t had the opportunity to see them earlier, and makes a claim that has already been answered, or better, debunked.

        In other words, the Joanna Baker’s article, and that “Father”‘s comments might indeed be very helpful to help adjusting unsound reasoning, but at the same time completely “useless” for those who haven’t read them, or, worse, refuse to read them, or, are unable to focus on their “essence” and integrate them in their faulty conceptions!

        If you post them around on the web, try also to make sure people will read them, possibly by summarizing them with few keywords that motivate their curiosity.

        That’s what I mean by “working out a strategy” for reaching out among victims of “cognitive dissonance”, which is a “negative filter” for communication in general, and for “reciprocal dialogue” on one single issue.

        PS: Following right now from St. Peter and the ordination of 19 new deacons.

    • ONG says:

      I’ve read some of the many comments in it, and only skimmed through the main post. I saved the link for later reading. (I will concentrate on the Apostolic visit to Bulgaria now, and also, I have a tight schedule in the coming days.)

      Is this person defending Pope Francis or not? Does she endorse his actions and teachings? It would require to read it all and get her point thoroughly, whose time I don’t have right now.

      Though, some comments seem inconsistent… it’s like they agree at first, then they write something completely opposed.

      So which is it? In a few words—If you would like to summarize it. Thanks.

      • Jane says:

        Dear ONG, It has to be one of the most amazing teachings of why it is against virtue to do what these folks have done by the Open Letter and other to Pope Francis. She is highly supporting NOT doing it and highly supporting Our Holy Father. Basically, she ends by saying that he must just be understood. I will not do it justice by commenting and summarizing. I have read it through 3 times already and it is MARVELOUS!!!

      • ONG says:

        Jane, I hadn’t seen this comment of yours… but I just answered your previous one. I hope you find it so I don’t have to post it again… Lol

  14. M. says:

    Thank you Jane! Can’t wait to read it!

    • Jane says:

      I have read and re-read it and it is producing for me a profound conversion in my soul 🙂

  15. Christopher Lake says:


    Thanks so much for this piece. It touched a poignant and painful chord in me– partially because, honestly, there was a a time, not too long ago, where I was in very real danger of becoming a “we must resist Pope Francis!” Catholic myself. Thanks be to God, “Where Peter Is” ended up playing an important role in leading me in a very different (i.e. orthodox) direction.

    In 2017 and early ’18, I was being greatly confused by the fact that so, so many of the Catholic ministries, thinkers, and pundits which I had trusted for years were now quite openly resistant to the teaching of the current Pope. My confusion was not exactly helped by the fact many of these Catholic ministries, thinkers, and pundits had played crucial roles in my initial conversion to Catholicism, in college, and/or my *extremely* unexpected reversion back to it, many years later, out of strongly anti-Catholic “five-point Calvinist” Protestantism. In any event, around two years ago, without even fully realizing it, I found myself being so influenced by the overwhelming din of self-styled “orthodox” anti-Pope Francis voices in the Church that I was beginning to wonder if these voices were actually right and if I should join them.

    In retrospect, I feel sad and ashamed that I ever even allowed myself to become so confused and misled, but I can say that “Where Peter Is” greatly helped to turn me away from that anti-Francis precipice, and back to a place of open-heartedness towards, loving trust of, and joyful obedience to, the current Vicar of Christ. I truly can’t express my thankfulness deeply enough to you, my dear brother in Christ, and to all of the other contributors, and many of the commenters, at W.P.I.!

    • Mike Lewis says:


      I know where you are coming from. In one of my past pieces I described how I experienced something similar, albeit before Francis became pope. Honestly, I think God had a hand in my coming to my senses about the nature of the Church and the papacy prior to Francis, because I don’t know that I wouldn’t have succumbed to it had Francis come earlier. When Francis came around, I was ready to receive what he was teaching because I knew every pope brought his own perspective to the office, and I had already concluded that the slippery slope to radical traditionalism was to be avoided.

      Unfortunately, we’ve both experienced a phenomenon that I’ve described as “waking up one morning and realizing that all my Catholic friends hate the pope.” That’s certainly an exaggeration, but it seems like that sometimes. Thank you for your support! Your invitation to write for us is still open!

      • Christopher Lake says:


        Now that you mention it, I think I remember that earlier article– it referred to your embrace, at one time, of George Wiegel’s idea that Catholics can and should literally go through encyclicals, pen in hand, and mark, to distinguish them, the areas which constitute “authoritative Catholic teaching,” from those which, supposedly, involve mere matters of “prudential judgement.” where we are free to dissent. For years, I held to a similar view about Papal encyclicals, and I only came to a different understanding slowly, very gradually. Seeing the continuity in the writings of Pope Francis and his two Papal predecessors was helpful in that process, as was finding this website and reading articles and comments here.

        I completely hear you about it seeming, sometimes, that (virtually) all of our Catholic friends hate the Pope. Strange times in the Church indeed, especially here in the U.S.! I thank God for WPI for helping me to navigate through this “strangeness,” and I deeply appreciate your invitation to be a contributor. I may well take you up on that at some point in the not-too-distant future, but either way, WPI always has my vocal and enthusiastic support! This website is doing much good, and I would not be surprised, at all, if a large amount of that good were being manifested in the reality of at least some “Pope-Francis-resistant” Catholics reading here, and being internally challenged and disturbed about their resistance to the Pope, but not yet being ready to “go public’ with their changes of mind and heart! Who knows what God may do, in that direction, in the future though? One can hope and pray!

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