Pope Fiction is the third book by the editor in chief of award-winning Envoy magazine. In addition to writing, he conducts apologetics training seminars across the United States and abroad. He recently spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
Drake: Unlike many Catholic apologists you actually grew up Catholic, right? How did you get into Catholic apologetics and evangelization work?
Madrid: I was very blessed to have been born into a Catholic family and raised in a home where the faith was taught and lived and practiced as part of our daily life. As a young adult in my early 20s, I was definitely intellectually convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church.
I attended Mass every Sunday and loved my Catholic faith, but I was lukewarm and sometimes inconsistent in the way I lived it. Things changed over the course of a year when I was 26–27. It was a very difficult year for me, during which I underwent a kind of identity crisis.
I was deeply troubled by the sinfulness I saw in my life, by my lukewarm approach to prayer, and by my lack of fervor. Those pangs coincided with a deep sense of restlessness and unfulfillment. It was becoming painfully, embarrassingly clear to me that I wasn't living the way Christ wanted me to live, and I wasn't doing the work he wanted me to do.
What were you doing for a living at that time?
At the time, I was working in sales and was married with children. But I still didn't know what I should be doing. All I knew was that I was miserable. I knew I was on the wrong road, but I couldn't seem to find the right one.
So, that painful year of soul-searching culminated in what I see as a “reconversion of my heart” to Christ. I asked him to give me the grace to live a better life, to become more fervent in my spiritual life, and to find the career path he had marked out for me. I attribute this reconversion only to Christ's mercy, not my own gropings.
I discovered the power of asking him for something. I took him at his word when he said, “Ask and you shall receive.” So I asked and asked and asked.
When were your prayers finally answered?
I had been going on my lunch hours to a nearby Catholic church and spent the better part of the hour praying before the Blessed Sacrament, asking Christ to show me what he wanted me to do. I didn't feel as if he were giving me an answer. I was blank.
So, I made an act of faith, resigned my sales position, and began to look for whatever it was that God wanted me to do with my life, having no idea whatsoever what that would be.
I had mentioned to my friend Karl Keating that I was looking for a new career and asked him to keep me in his prayers. He replied, “I can do better than that,” and asked me to join him in building Catholic Answers. As it turns out, this was God's answer to my prayers.
Some myths are simply so outrageous that it boggles the mind that someone can believe them.
Did you realize this right away?
When Karl first asked me to join Catholic Answers, I said, “No, thanks.” But he was persistent, and after consulting with my wife, I decided to give it a whirl. And thank God I did!
I thought my new career would be in the secular world. I hadn't asked God for anything in the religious field. It wasn't on my radar screen. It was only several months later that it dawned on me that my work in the apostolate of apologetics was indeed what God wanted me to do with my life.
I joined Catholic Answers in January of 1988 and spent eight great years there as vice president. By the end of 1995, I decided to strike out on my own and pursue my writing career more vigorously and in a way that would allow me to work from home so I could be with my family.
What fruits have been born as a result of your first book,
I have to thank God for allowing that book to have the impact it has. There is something mysterious and unique about the combination of the stories in Surprised by Truth, something which I can't fully account for. Each of the 11 testimonies of Protestant converts to Catholicism is powerful individually, but combined they have an immense cumulative effect. I know this because of the many hundreds of letters and e-mails I've received from people around the world who have told me they came into or back into the Catholic Church as a result of reading Surprised by Truth. I am humbled and deeply grateful that God allowed me to have a part in producing it and for the impact on souls it has had.
How did your new book
Pope Fiction is an attempt to distill in book-form my experience over the last dozen years as a Catholic apologist fielding challenges and questions about the papacy. Countless times, people have asked me to recommend a good book explaining and defending the papacy. I'd have to list 20 or 30 books! … I saw the need for a new resource that would deal with all the major arguments leveled at the papacy in one volume.
What do you see as the most common misunderstanding or misconception that non-Catholics have about the Pope?
The most common misunderstanding centers on papal infallibility. Usually it stems from one of two mistaken notions: one, that infallibility involves sinlessness — and since popes clearly aren't sinless, some people conclude on that basis that papal infallibility must be a sham — and two, that infallibility involves inspiration, the mistaken idea that popes received special revelation from the Holy Spirit. As I point out in Pope Fiction, these two misconceptions are usually lurking in the background of most arguments against the papacy.
Why do you think so many people through the ages have perpetuated such myths about the papacy?
[One] reason for the myths and misconceptions is that the papacy itself has, at times in Church history, been a source of scandal for Catholics and non-Catholics. A handful of popes have given the office a black eye through their scandalous personal lives. Those sad episodes have contributed to the myths and misconceptions. Happily, most of the popes have been great and often very holy men. Take the present Holy Father as a prime example of a fantastic pope.
What is your reaction to John Cornwell's recent book on Pope Pius XII?
Cornwell reminds me of a suicide car bomber. His ultimate target, I believe, is to discredit Pope John Paul II and the papacy as a whole. The “vehicle” he's using is the reputation of Pope Pius XII, and the dynamite he's packing is his ranting about Pope Pius XII being a closet “Jew hater” who was complicit with the Nazis in their anti-Jewish policies during [World War II].
But like a car bomber, Cornwell's own reputation as a credible historian has gone up in flames. Talk about intellectual suicide. We can take some consolation in that. The facts about Pope Pius XII's heroic efforts to save Jews during [World War II] are many and easily verifiable, so Cornwell's rancid, historical revisionism will be exposed for the fraud it is.
Through your research have you developed a favorite Pope?
My favorite papal name is “Sixtus V.” That's just plain funny to me. St. Peter is a favorite because he was the first pope and he knew Christ. I have a deep admiration for Pope Pius XII, a towering hero and a great pontiff who suffered much during his pontificate. Now his reputation is suffering posthumously because of the untrue things being said about him, the false charges that he was silently complicit with Hitler's campaign to wipe out European Jews. But he will be vindicated in the end.
Which of the myths in your book do you find the most outlandish?
Some are simply so outrageous that it boggles the mind that someone can actually believe them. For example, the common Seventh-day Adventist myth that Vicarius Filii Dei is a papal title and, when converted to Roman numerals, adds up to the dreaded 666 of the “beast” of Revelation 13. Vicarius Filii Dei is a complete sham, a fabricated phrase, and has never been an official papal title. What's more, this silly argument can be turned back on many who use it. The founder of Seventh-day Adventism is Ellen Gould White, and her name when put into Roman numerals adds up to 666.
I am also always amazed at how Protestants will appeal to the New Testament as “evidence” that Simon Peter had no special apostolic authority. What irony! The most massive and persuasive body of evidence supporting Peter's special role and authority is the New Testament itself.
Could you describe the research process involved in writing the book?
I had to make sure that what I wrote in Pope Fiction — the biblical and historical case I made for the papacy — could withstand the hostile scrutiny that Protestants and others will inevitably give it. On the flip side, I also had to be careful that the book accurately and fairly represented the Catholic Church's teaching.
So, in addition to immersing myself in all the gory details of all the anti-papal arguments out there in books, tapes, Web sites, etc., my research also required that I immerse myself ever more deeply in sacred Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, the documents of the ecumenical councils, the writings of the popes, and the like.
Some have given John Paul II the title “The Great.” How do you think history will remember our current Pope?
Based upon the enormous achievements of the man, I predict he will be remembered for, among other things, nearly single-handedly bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe, using a rosary. He has dramatically renovated the Church in the United States and elsewhere through many of his key episcopal appointments.
Theologians will be mining the ore of his written material for centuries to come. He has been tireless in his efforts to extend the borders of the Kingdom of Christ even as his health has deteriorated. His exertions on behalf the Church clearly are physically punishing to him, yet he keeps pushing himself onward, pouring himself out as a libation for the Church, as St. Paul described. That kind of greatness cannot go unnoticed!