A Response to the Codgitator’s Open Letter

The Codgitator has noticed, I think partially because of me, actually, if I may be so arrogant, that Pope Francis has almost led, and I’m sure in some cases has led, to people leaving the Church. So he has written an open letter to convince them to say.

First off, I want to say that I think Codg is orthodox, and I think this letter really was, when he wrote it, a genuine attempt to convince people to stay – a highly, highly commendable thing that he absolutely is right to address. Unfortunately though, I don’t think this letter reads as he hoped it would. Instead, it comes off as an angry rant at Pope Francis.

The Codgitator says this to Lost Sheep (the commenter his letter is directly addressing):

I really appreciate your candor. I won’t try to sugarcoat your case with a rehearsed pep talk, much less an elaborate theological retort.

But considering that leaving the Church because of the actions of a Pope is a theological problem, exactly what he needs is a theological retort. Lost Sheep needs no pep talk; he needs to be reminded that apostasy separates him from the grace of the sacraments and puts his soul at serious risk of Hell. This is an entirely theological issue, and the very fact that he’s considering leaving means that he has his theology wrong.

The Codgitator then spends a good deal of time talking about what worries him about the Pope – basically, he’s too popular with the world, not focused on the right things, and too squishy theologically. He also expresses resentment at some of his most fawning admirers.

Okay, fine. People who have read his blog really didn’t need this spelled out for them, but whatever. I guess the Codgitator wanted to show that he understands where he’s coming from, which is fine.

He then gets to the best part of the post by far, which is this:

Having said all that, I will be blunt: you have no coherent basis for leaving the Church, and to do so would be apostasy, plain and simple. Certainly there are pastoral factors in your case which ameliorate the act, but we realists should not whitewash reality. To leave the Church because of a bad pope, much less because of the bad potential we portend in a pope, is simply to leave the Church.

Great! I’m glad he said that, it’s exactly what needed to be stated outright. And it’s the truth. The things the Pope has said, any misgivings about him, are ultimately not relevant, and if anybody thinks they are they need to go back to Catechism 101, because the Church does not and never has worked that way, and kudos to the Codgitator for pointing that out.

Unfortunately, this point is rather heavily undermined when he never mentions it again and spends the rest of the piece talking about every problem he has with the papacy and the modern Church in general.

Here is what makes up the rest of his letter:

I am also a convert, and I assure you that I was sorely tempted to hit the exit when I got my first full picture of Pope Francis a couple months ago. It’s the pretty open-faced indifferentism that gnaws at me, and I KNOW that I’m not the only faithful Catholic beset by this.

Well…okay. Now, if he followed this up with, “But that’s still no excuse for leaving!” or “But then I realized that I was wrong.”, it would make sense. But he doesn’t follow it up with that. Instead, he makes an excellent case, I would argue, for leaving the Church.

He does indeed say that people who argue that those outside the Church don’t need to be part of it for salvation are wrong. Of course, he does it in the context of complaining about how the modern Church teaches this and how Pope Francis seems to implicitly support the idea, so instead of reading like a push to stay in the Church it seems like a call to join the Orthodox, who have Apostolic Succession and (apparently) aren’t so squishy with teaching.

Then he stops talking about that subject entirely and just starts complaining.

Unfortunately, joy is not something you can cajole people into. Giving a discourse about joy, no matter how sincere, comes off as badly as explaining the joke when no one gets it. Being hectored interminably to burst with joy and decapitate ourselves with a real Christian smile, is as smarmy as it is condescending. But, well, we have our orders. So, I am “happy” to say that the Catholic Church seems hip again, precisely because it seems to be “in tune with” the Zeitgeist.

Great, you hate how the Pope is running things. Now what does this have to do with getting somebody to stay in the Church? If anything it just illuminates all the reasons why he wants to leave.

He ends it with this:

I’m sorry, Pope Francis, but the Church’s teaching is not clear, and to presume otherwise is to imperil young souls and to trivialize the precisely magisterial authority of the papacy. We do not a fresh wind; we do not need new wine. We need consistent clarity; we need time-tested, effective shepherding; some of us quite literally desperately need a pope who gives us bread, not stones, but we seem to have a pope more inclined to give interviews and photo ops. And because of such great need, we have one more: we need to pray for our brethren, for each other, and for Pope Francis.

…Which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the apparent original point of the post and instead is just another rant about how much he dislikes Pope Francis’s papacy.

In the end, it reads something like this:

You have no coherent basis for leaving! None at all! All right, I know the Church has been teaching lately that not being part of the Church is okay…but really it’s not! I mean, yes, the Pope is terrible, and yes, the Church is a mess, and yes, you’re a major minority within your religion, and yes, I considered leaving for a bit too, and man is he really, really terrible, okay…And pray for all of us and the Pope, because he really is a bad Pope, the Church is in deep trouble right now, what with all the cafeteria Catholicism, and…wait, what were we talking about again?

Instead of the problem being the bad theology of the people using our Pope as an excuse to commit the grave sin of apostasy, it comes off as the Codgitator saying that everything actually really is the Pope’s fault, and we can’t really blame people for wanting to leave – the entirely wrong message to send.

I end this by repeating once again that I think the Codgitator’s intentions were good and that I think he is an orthodox Catholic trying to do the right thing. I was very blunt in this post (though I did try and think it through carefully), and as such I have no problem with any bluntness in his response – indeed, I expect it. So I hope this post is taken in the spirit it is written, not as an angry rant but at my carefully considered thoughts at how the Codgitator has been handling things incorrectly on this matter. And, as he likes to ask people, please pray for me, him, ALL of the lost sheep, and Pope Francis – God knows we do indeed all need it.

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5 Responses to A Response to the Codgitator’s Open Letter

  1. Brock Fowler says:

    As I pointed out in connection with a separate column, lots of us say that apostasy is bad, but that word is seldom even used in the Church any more–and never at the level of the Vatican.

    Indeed, Popes participate in all kinds of interfaith services–including non-Christian ones–and simply gush about other faiths and churches…without a single negative warning. Routinely statements are made by high Church leaders that certainly seems to say that it really doesn’t matter much if you are Catholic or not. Vatican II issued unqualified praise of other religions and Protestant churches. We even gush about atheists!

    Nor are the stakes significant: for the Church no longer warns of the very grave danger–the very real possibility…even the likelihood–of going to hell. Christ did, as did the saints and Church documents prior to Vatican II, but we know better now!

This all harms evangelization terribly: but even more, it facilitates apostasy.

    Now, I grant you that out of that OCEAN of words, you will find a very few to the contrary–usually mildly stated and obscurely located. But the overwhelming message is that you need not worry about hell…unless perhaps you are a traditional Catholic!

  2. “Unfortunately, this point is rather heavily undermined when he never mentions it again and spends the rest of the piece talking about every problem he has with the papacy and the modern Church in general.”

    The Church’s teaching is clear, and I am a son of the Church. We do not need to talk about these things all the time.

    It is worse than useless to harangue somebody not to leave, when their fundamental problem is a persistent perceived lack of receptivity from the Church. Consider it some of the “art of accompaniment” which the pope lauds. If Ernst gets no confirmation that someone has been, and sometimes still goes, through the exact same trial he’s enduring, all the exhortations in the world will fall on deaf ears. He needs to know that there are people out there who have been afflicted with the same thorn in his side, and have come through on the other side.

    • The Church’s teaching is clear, and I am a son of the Church. We do not need to talk about these things all the time.

      I’m assuming this is meant to be an ironic echo, but given that you complain about the Pope saying things like that all the time it doesn’t help your case much.

      If Ernst gets no confirmation that someone has been, and sometimes still goes, through the exact same trial he’s enduring, all the exhortations in the world will fall on deaf ears. He needs to know that there are people out there who have been afflicted with the same thorn in his side, and have come through on the other side.

      That’s all well and good, but you already spent the beginning of the post talking about that. It’s a fine point to make, but after you briefly mention the sin of apostasy you spend the rest of the letter complaining about how much you hate this papacy and never bring up the original point of the post again, ending it with a plea for prayer because of how bad you think things are. How is this supposed to convince anybody to stay? It reads like a big complaint letter, except that hastily thrown into the middle of it is, “Oh yeah, and apostasy is bad. Don’t do it. Now about how bad the Pope is…”.

  3. Brock Fowler says:

    I have been busy, but I have wanted to address why I am not on the ledge before this discussion gets too stale.

    Do the math. Is there a God? Is Christ His Son? Did Christ found a Church? Is that Church the Catholic Church? I have no intention of running down these questions: we are all well-formed Catholics here–including those on the ledge. Besides, Chesterton was right: it is really beyond argument. The Church is an intricate key: it either opens the lock or it doesn’t. It does. It is the only thing that does.

    So, given that, how could we be in this mess? Because that happens sometimes. It happened in the Arian crises. It happened at least locally many other times as well. And it does not violate the guarantees of the Church, so it does not create any crises. There is nothing to explain or defend.

    But it does create a cross. I remember as a dewy-eyed convert thinking how…almost romantic…it would be to contest for Christ at such a time as the Arian crisis. To my utter astonishment, I came to find out that I live in a time of roughly equal crisis: and it is not romantic at all. It is disgusting and heartbreaking.

    So, how to bear the cross? The answer for me is to follow traditional Catholic practices. Think in centuries. Pay less attention to the present (as St. Benedict advised his Abbots). Attend the timeless liturgy, and pray the timeless prayers. A benefit from that is that you come to realize that there were lots of Popes with problems, and lots of Councils with prudential issues–serious ones. It gives perspective.

    I am on the internet more than I should be, but I am writing a paper concerning the divide among orthodox Catholics, and I’m gathering references: but I have to take breaks from it. And I already have enough that I can spare myself from reading the likes of Mark Shea, and others who seem to be seeking conflict and controversy.

    It has seemed to me that what I really need to do–what we all really need to do–is pursue holiness. The holy can change themselves, change their family, change their community, change the Church, and change the world. They can accept their cross while maintaining their recollection. They can get to heaven.

    More prayer. More Scripture. More spiritual reading. Less internet and controversies.

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