I’ve noticed a fear pervading many Catholic discussions about the problems in the Church today. Whether the topic is something Pope Francis said, or the role of Vatican II, or the latest bureaucratic blatherings of the USCCB, there’s a fear that something will happen that will falsify the Catholic religion—that the Catholic Church is a house of cards that at any minute might collapse.
If, for example, someone publicly notes that Pope Francis directly contradicts something Pope John Paul II (or Pope Pius X or any previous pope) taught, then that can lead to a damning domino effect: if one pope contradicts another, then papal infallibility might be false, and if papal infallibility is false, then Vatican I is undermined, and if Vatican I is undermined, then ecumenical councils might be wrong, and if ecumenical councils can be wrong, then the Church is not protected by the Holy Spirit, and if the Church is not protected by the Holy Spirit, then Christ’s promises to the Church are false, and if Christ’s promises are false, then the whole Catholic religion is falsified. It’s a dizzying descent into despair.
I sense this fear particularly among those Catholics who truly believe all the Catholic Church teaches and see Catholicism as the One True Faith. It manifests itself when some Catholic media outlet—such as Crisis Magazine—runs an article that is critical of the pope (the current one or a previous one), Vatican II, or the bishops. The concern is often expressed as something along the lines of, “Why do you say negative things about Church leaders? That will only turn people away from Catholicism. It won’t attract anyone.” But the concern is much deeper.