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.
Lately I have had difficulty falling or staying asleep. I have been irritable and feel like I must be in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. I am having unsettling flashbacks and I am jumpy. Mostly I am tired, deep down in your bones tired.
I think I have Pope Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Let me begin by explaining what is not the cause of my issues. I have no fear whatsoever that the Pope is not Catholic or that he will declare something in opposition to the faith. No, we have the Holy Spirit's protection on that score.
So that being the case, what is your problem Archbold? The Pope can't dogmatically declare anything in error. We also have the promise that the 'gates of hell will not prevail' against the Church. So what are you so worried about?
It is a fair question.
I look at papal infallibility and the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail as the firewall, not the ideal. Papal infallibility and the Church's guaranteed preservation are the keep of the castle, that small room at the heart of the fortress, a refuge of last resort.
Trust me, if you need the keep, your battle plan is not working.
This is where the flashbacks of my Pope Traumatic Stress Disorder come in.
After Vatican II, the Church made a mad dash to modernize and to 'engage' modernity. This may not have been a direct result of the council, but it surely was in part a consequence of it. So we can see that even if the documents or statements are not in error, the zeitgeist can overwhelm orthodoxy.
Pope Paul VI was also a fully Catholic Pope who had the protection of the Holy Spirit. We see this in particular when he wrote Humanae Vitae. But Pope Paul the VI is also the Pope who stood by while the zeitgeist and the hierarchy of the Church ignored that wonderful document.
So while the firewall of Papal infallibility was clearly present at the time, where the priests and bishops did not directly contradict the Pope, they simply ignored the teaching. And for the most part, the Pope did nothing. As a result, a whole generation of Catholics (and most of the world) adopted the contraceptive mentality.
How many souls have perished and how many babies have died because the Church did not do enough, top to bottom, to relentlessly teach the truth on this moral issue? Yes, many many souls have perished because the Church allowed the spirit of the times to overwhelm the truth. Yes, papal infallibility worked and the Church has survived, but many many souls have been lost.
Even Pope Paul VI looked back and conceded the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God saying ”There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life. And we are not alert to the fact that we are already the owners and masters of the formula of true life. "
This is my worry. I am having flashbacks to this time, when engagement with modernity emboldened a zeitgeist contrary to the council and contrary to Church teaching.
I am not saying the same thing will happen again, but I worry about it. I worry not for the Church's survival or the Catholicity of the Pope, but for the souls entrusted to her care. I worry that the spirit of the times can overwhelm the truth contained in the Pope's rhetoric, even if that is not what he intended. It has happened before.
I worry because those most encouraged by the Pope's word and style are those most vehemently opposed to the Church and her mission. I worry that Pope Francis, like Pope Paul VI, may look back on his pontificate and wonder what went wrong.
I worry because the Pope's chosen methods of impromptu communication lends itself to use by the spirit of the times that seeks only justification of its contrary will. I worry that this can happen all over again. I worry because souls are at stake.