Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
In the discussion following the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI and in the lead up to the conclave, the amount of misinformation, hyperbole, and un-Catholic nonsense being spewed on the internet has been staggering. No, I write not about the silly season currently underway with the mainstream media or even progressive 'Catholic' publications. No, I refer to the misinformation, hyperbole, and un-Catholic nonsense being spouted by well-meaning Catholics who think they treasure orthodoxy.
Catholic comboxes all over the internet are overflowing with rubbish written by well-meaning but woefully misinformed Catholics. I do not wish to single out any individual comment or commenter as my aim is not to ridicule, but to inform. Therefore, I will address these points generally.
The Holy Spirit picks the Pope, so don't worry. This is probably the most common bit of balderdash. I refer to this is 'Holy Spirit as conclave Puppeteer fallacy.'
Let's get this straight, the Holy-Spirit does not pick the Pope, 117 fallible men do. For certain, many or even most of these men will call on the Holy Spirit in fervent prayer to guide their judgement, but it is still their judgement, their fallible judgment.
To suggest that the Holy Spirit picks the Pope is an insult to the Holy Spirit born of ignorance. To put the blame for some of the horrible Popes that we have had on the Holy Spirit is to blame God for our own contrary wills. No, the Holy Spirit does not pick the Pope.
The Holy Spirit protects the Church from anything bad, so don't worry. If you worry, you don't trust the Holy Spirit. I call this the 'Holy Spirit as fairy-godmother fallacy.' If you have the temerity to express a bit of apprehension over the abdication of the Pope or for the future, the pious will pummel you as an unbeliever. While the Holy Spirit protects the Church from certain things (more on this later), the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from calamity. To make such an argument is to be woefully ignorant of history. Ignorant of not only the whole 2,000 years of history, but ignorant of just the last 50 years of history. Bad things happen, even to the Church.
Part B of this fallacy are those who trot out "The gates of Hell shall not prevail!!!" as their defense of this nonsense. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, but this is no guarantee that there will be not be tremendous loss of life and souls along the way. The Nazis did not prevail, but they sure did a lot of evil before they lost. This line of thinking is merely sticking your head in pious sand.
How dare you critique the Pope! He is guided by the Holy Spirit!! If you have the temerity to question the Pope's (past, present, or even future) prudential judgment, then you are a cafeteria catholic and a moral relativist of the worst sort. I call this the 'Pope as God or Jack Chick fallacy.' I have seen many people comment that we have no right as Catholics to question the Pope's prudential judgement on anything or even offer advice to a future Pope. The Holy Spirit guides the Pope, dont'cha know, so to question or advise the Pope is to question or advise the Holy Spirit. Heretic!!
In one bit of commentary I warned of the dangers of a 'trend' of papal abdications and advised a future pontiff to avoid it. I didn't even critique the current Pontiff's decision, just advised a future one. For this, I was branded a moral relativist and a heretic.
Of course, proper respect should be given to any Pope, even in prudential areas, but the Pope is not infallible in this. While I am certain that this Pope prayed and discerned over his decision to abdicate, this is no guarantee that this is the right thing to do or that it is the will of God. There are real consequences to this decision and there are real dangers too. That is not to say that the Pope is doing the wrong thing, but only that he is doing what he thinks is best. It may be, it may not be.
But the virulent reaction to those who question the wisdom of it or even warn of possible dangers and pitfalls, serves only to inflate the narrow charism of papal infallibility to absurd levels. This charism protects the Pope and the Church from making errors in the area of universal faith and morals, not every prudential decision, no matter how momentous. Obviously, many Popes have made many bad decisions. If I thought the Church actually taught that papal infallibility means what so many Catholics seem to think it means, Jack Chick might seem reasonable. Thankfully, the Church does not.
Bottom line folks, there is a lot of leeway when it comes to all things papal. The Pope has made his decision. He might be right, he might be wrong. Good Catholics can come down on either side of the fence. There are real dangers for the future of the Church just as there have been real dangers in the past. The next Pope might be a great Pope and he might be terrible, all we can do is pray. The Cardinal-electors may properly discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but they might not. Yes, the Church will go on, but that does not mean that danger and disaster are not concerns.
Pray for the Church and pray for the Pope. In the meantime, cut all the papa-bull.