‘If only the Pope knew’—a familiar argument that falls short today

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 01, 2018

For the first time in this pontificate, Vatican spokesmen are backpedaling in the face of criticism from the mainstream media. This week the Vatican press office has been fighting defensive PR battles on two fronts: over the reports of efforts to oust ‘underground’ bishops in China, and over the tardy decision to investigate charges against a Chilean bishop. Responding to the ruckus, an AP news analysis explores the possibility that these problems arise because the Pope’s aides are not keeping him properly informed.

Loyal Catholics should recognize the argument; many of us have made similar suggestions in the past, to absolve a Pontiff of blame for decisions that we considered unwise.

In this case, unfortunately, that line of argument is less compelling. First, because the Vatican statement on the China imbroglio emphasizes precisely that the Pope is fully briefed on the situation. Second, because as John Allen observed a few weeks ago, in an unusually prescient column, Francis is undeniably a “hands-on” Pope. Regarding the internal politics of the Roman Curia, America’s top Vatican-watcher said: “What nobody disputes is the fact of the situation, which is that Francis just flat-out knows what’s going on.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Monserrat - Feb. 02, 2018 4:46 PM ET USA

    Has anyone with medical credentials suggested that the Pope may be suffering from symptoms of dementia (or senility) which include signs of poor judgment, and growing irritability or agitation. The Holy Father's preaching quite often sounds like grumpy complaining that is not really suitable at the pontiff level. He seems to have control issues in the Vatican, from what we read, and examples of poor judgment are copious. Those close to him would know about possible memory loss. Just a thought.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 02, 2018 8:45 AM ET USA

    "Francis just flat-out knows what’s going on." Indeed. And he knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to cease to exist. Or when he fired all the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life and re-wrote its statutes. Or in his new appointments to the Pontifical Academy of Science. Or his handling of the Knights of Malta, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Apostolic Signatura, the Argentine Bishops' response to Al, etc.