RORATE CÆLI: Debunking Dialogue in the Pontificate of Pope Francis — A Response to Austen Ivereigh’s article “The Limits of Dialogue”

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The author of this guest post, Michael Kakooza, is a Ugandan Catholic who discovered the Traditional Latin Mass while studying in the UK (see Una Voce Scotland Newsletter, 19th April 2019, pp. 5-6). He is a member of the Traditional Latin Mass Community in Kampala which is ministered to by the Institute of the Good Shepherd. Dr. Kakooza holds a PhD in Communication and Ideology from the University of Wales; his doctoral thesis was on the topic of ideological anti-Catholicism in modern English identity.

RORATE CÆLI: Debunking Dialogue in the Pontificate of Pope Francis — A Response to Austen Ivereigh’s article “The Limits of Dialogue”


Debunking Dialogue in the Pontificate of Pope FrancisA Response to Austen Ivereigh’s article “The Limits of Dialogue”Michael Kakooza, Ph.D

If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building ‘a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter’ and in creating ‘a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society’. Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. In this way, we will bequeath to them a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion. —Pope Francis[1]


English speaking Catholic readers, inclusive of those who inhabit the Catholic Anglo-blogosphere, are familiar with the output of Dr Austen Ivereigh. In his latest contribution ‘The Limits of Dialogue’ published in the Commonweal magazine on 20th January 2022, Dr Ivereigh has not disappointed as the self-anointed papal biographer and Court Apologist extraordinaire in the service of Domus Sanctae Marthae.[2]
What is astonishing in this most recent article of his, however, is the extent to which Ivereigh, perhaps in a fit of sycophantic zeal, has debunked the concept of dialogue, one of the proclaimed hallmarks of the pontificate of Pope Francis.
As the title of Ivereigh’s article unambiguously indicates, dialogue, to him, is not all-embracing, is conditional and has limits. The papal argument for the ubiquitous adoption of dialogue is contradicted by Ivereigh’s position that dialogue is exclusive and contingent. How does Ivereigh justify this contradictory position? In this article, I analyse how Ivereigh posits his thesis and assembles his evidence, his description of traditionalist Catholics, I revisit the origins of dialogue in papal discourse, briefly consider dialogue in the context of synodality, and then finally draw a number of conclusions for the attention of the reader.
Ivereigh’s Thesis
The point of departure for Ivereigh’s article is ostensibly the concern raised by the Thomas Merton scholar and Bellarmine University theologian Greg Hillis. Hillis expressed disquiet at what he perceived to be a contradiction between the declared dialogical approach of the Synodal Path and the legislative measures meted out on the traditionalist Catholic communities, in the papal motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, and the Responsa ad Dubia, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.[3]
In claiming to respond to such a concern, Ivereigh unmasks his ideological preoccupations. He does not seek to justify the rationale for the 2 cited documents by drawing from earlier evidence in the growing magisterial corpus of Pope Francis, nor does he find sources for corroborating evidence from the teachings of the most recent predecessors of the current pope, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Instead, Ivereigh recalls a talk given in 1991 by the then Fr Jorge Bergoglio SJ, and later published as an essay entitled “Corrupción y Pecado” [Some Reflections on the Subject of Corruption].[4] In this essay, according to the interpretation given to it by Ivereigh, Fr Bergoglio makes a qualitative distinction between sin and corruption. Sin is always forgivable, as the sinner, repentant or not, remains open to grace. Corruption, however, generates hardened, proud and self-sufficient attitudes that constitute a rejection of God’s grace.
Ivereigh argues:

Unless corrected the corruption deepens over time, for the corrupt, far from being in reality self-sufficient, are in fact slaves to a “treasure” that has conquered their hearts—e.g., money, power, honor, or privilege. To conceal this enslavement, the corrupt energetically cultivate an appearance of righteousness and good manners. Always justifying themselves, they finally become convinced of their own moral superiority.

He goes further to describe the behavior of the corrupt as follows:

The corrupt typically justify themselves with comparisons to others, like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. Another warning sign is triumphalism. Whereas the sinner feels not only guilt but shame, the corrupt are triumphantly shameless. They secure accomplices by offering them the same feeling of superiority and self-satisfaction.

For Ivereigh, the curative measure, or as he himself puts it, “the merciful response”, to be taken against the corrupt “is to place a stumbling-block, a skandalon, in their path, forcing them to take a different one. One must first offer those who are ready for it an escape from the corruption. Then, if they accept it, one can welcome them back into the fold with open arms.”
Ivereigh’s Caricature of Traditionalist Catholics
In order to support his thesis, Ivereigh has no qualms in demonizing traditionalist Catholics. Although he fleetingly acknowledges that Fr Bergoglio did not explicitly describe traditionalist Catholics as corrupt, Ivereigh has no scruples in going where “angels fear to tread” and branding all who cherish Catholic Tradition as corrupt. In a pitiful parody of the Beloved Disciple who laid his head on the breast of the Lord and contemplated the divine heartbeat, Ivereigh lays claims to an esoteric familiarity with the mind of Pope Francis that stretches back in time to the latter’s priestly life and work. He contemptuously describes the movement of traditional Catholics as follows:

Though outwardly pious and religious, it is unmistakably a kind of ideology. These traditionalists see themselves as the faithful remnant of a Church in disarray, from which they need to defend themselves. This is the special knowledge revealed to them alone, that justifies holding themselves aloof from mainstream, postconciliar Catholicism, and requiring adherence to special rituals and rules to avoid the contamination of modernity.

The caricature of the Tradition-loving Catholics that Ivereigh creates is not essentially dissimilar to those exaggerations conjured in the sixteenth-century Protestant polemical work, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.[5] To use the words of his papal lord and master, Ivereigh does not hesitate “to sit in the chair of Moses and judge”.[6]
It is with such a judgmental perspective that he summarily rejects what he considers to be the dishonest spirit of the letter written to Pope Francis by the Superiors-General of the Ecclesia Dei Institutes, following the publication of Traditionis Custodes. It is with such a cynical inquisitorial stance that he determines the absence of genuine humility and contrition within the ranks of Traditional Catholics. It is with such moral complacency that he mocks what he describes as the naiveté of pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, of the seasoned journalist and boiographer, Peter Seewald, and of the distinguished author, George Weigel.
Ivereigh’s thesis can be syllogistically summarized as follows:
The corrupt are closed to God’s grace and cannot be engaged in dialogue.Traditional Catholics are corrupt.Traditional Catholics are closed to God’s grace and cannot be engaged in dialogue.


From the papal Mass for the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs, October 18, 1964
Ivereigh’s Supporting Evidence
Ivereigh marshals three evidentiary sources as a back-up for his thesis, which in sum total are most underwhelming choices. The first source comprises selected statements expressive of the personal opinions of Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, the American adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Much as the prelate is a curial official, his senior bureaucratic position in the Vatican does not imbue his personal opinions with any magisterial weight. For his second source Ivereigh alludes to Rachel Dobbs, a contributor to the website Where Peter Is, citing her article, ‘Sadly, Traditionis Custodes was Necessary’. In the cited article Ms Dobbs, who disengaged herself from the Traditional Latin Mass community to ‘return’ to what she dubs the Vatican II Mass, makes quite singular claims that denigrate the Mass of All Ages:

The Vatican II Mass has more options and is more flexible. It has allowed for the introduction of cultural customs appropriate for different cultures and societies. It challenges the notion that only a Eurocentric Roman Mass is the full expression of Latin Rite Catholicism. In addition, the Vatican II Mass is part of a reckoning and healing process after years of the Church’s complicity in imperialist colonialism, the destruction of American indigenous groups, the enslavement of Africans, and other evils around the world.[7]

As an African Catholic who regularly attends the Traditional Latin Mass in Kampala, Uganda, I confess to feeling insulted by what I consider outlandish assertions that cannot pass unchallenged. For the sake of brevity, I will cite only two grounds to dispute the claims of Ivereigh’s second evidentiary source: the first being that my country, Uganda, offered to God and His Holy Catholic Church the heroic witness of 22 martyrs [all laymen] in defence of the Catholic Faith in the late nineteenth century, who were canonised by St Paul VI in October 1964 within the full panoply of a Solemn Mass according to the custom of the Papal chapel, at which all the Council Fathers, assembled in Rome for the third session of the Vatican II, assisted; and the second being that as an African traditionalist Catholic, I am in no way delinked from my native culture. I make my own the words of Robert Cardinal Sarah in his opening address at the Sacra Liturgica Conference in London in 2016:

I am an African. Let me say clearly: the liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine. Through the Church’s liturgy (which missionaries have carried throughout the world) God speaks to us, He changes us and enables us to partake in His divine life. [8]


Ivereigh’s third evidentiary source is a tweet narrating a thread of hearsay personal observations of one unnamed priest reportedly disillusioned with the ‘identity’ crisis permeating the Traditional Catholic community.
It is these three cases of subjective opinion that Ivereigh assembles as his confirmatory evidence to justify not only the anathematization of traditional Catholics, but also their blanket exclusion from the dialogical initiatives of the Francis pontificate.

Commemorative stamp for Paul VI’s visit to Africa in 1969

Revisiting the Origins of Dialogue in Papal Discourse
It would be instructive at this point to revisit the papal encyclical in which the concept of dialogue was first treated. The often-neglected proto-encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, dedicated a considerable part of the discussion to dialogue.[9] It is important to note that Paul VI introduces the concept of dialogue within the context of Christian charity. About the imperative for charity he observes:

In full agreement with Our predecessors, with those saints whom our age has given to the Church on earth and in heaven, and with the devout instincts of the faithful, We are convinced that charity should today assume its rightful, foremost position in the scale of religious and moral values-and not just in theory, but in the practice of the Christian life. And this applies not only to the charity we show toward God who has poured out the abundance of His love upon us, but also to the charity which we in turn should lavish on our brothers, the whole human race. Charity is the key to everything. It sets all to rights. There is nothing which charity cannot achieve and renew.[10]


For Paul VI charity is not only about treasuring the divine gift of the Catholic Faith but sharing it with others. It is this sharing of the Catholic Faith that gives meaning to dialogue, as an extension of Christian Charity. He expounds on dialogue as follows:

To this internal drive of charity [the deposit of the Catholic faith] which seeks expression in the external gift of charity [the Great Commission], We will apply the word “dialogue.” The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make.[11]


In other words, authentic dialogue cannot be separated from evangelization.
The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council exhorts all Catholics to observe Christian charity:

All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.[12]

Paul VI identified the following four characteristics of dialogue[13], which I reproduce in summary below:
1) Clarity.
2) Meekness. Regarding this characteristic the Pope wrote: “What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.”
3) Confidence in the good will of both parties to the dialogue.
4) Prudence. The Pope observed: “The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.”
Paul VI anchors dialogue within salvation history and it is this anchor that ensures that dialogue has God and the Good News of His Salvific Plan for Man as its central focus, and that dialogue does not degenerate into a series of directionless and meaningless encounters. The pope declares:

God Himself took the initiative in the dialogue of salvation. “He hath first loved us.” We, therefore, must be the first to ask for a dialogue with men, without waiting to be summoned to it by others. … Our inducement, therefore, to enter into this dialogue must be nothing other than a love which is ardent and sincere. The dialogue of salvation did not depend on the merits of those with whom it was initiated, nor on the results it would be likely to achieve. “They that are whole need not the physician.” Neither, therefore, should we set limits to our dialogue or seek in it our own advantage.[14]


Paul VI’s treatment of dialogue should provide the blueprint for all post-Vatican II dialogue projects, both within the Catholic Church and in its external ecumenical and inter-religious relations.
Dialogue in Synodality
In his homily at the Mass on the Opening of the Synodal Path in October 2021, Pope Francis, preaching on the Gospel story of the rich young man seeking eternal life (Mark 10:17), highlighted three verbs that to him embody synodality, namely, ‘encounter’, ‘listen’, and ‘discern’. Expounding on the verb ‘listen’ in the context of synodality, Pope Francis declared:

Participating in a Synod means placing ourselves on the same path as the Word made flesh. It means following in his footsteps, listening to his word along with the words of others. It means discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us, to suggest fresh paths and new ways of speaking. It is a slow and perhaps tiring exercise, this learning to listen to one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized – and to avoid artificial and shallow and pre-packaged responses. The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.[15]


As a means of preparing Catholics to fully participate in synodality, the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently identified seven attitudes that it proposes to Catholics for their meditation. Among the seven identified attitudes is dialogue.[16]
Concluding Thoughts
The principle of non-contraction states that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time.
Dialogue, as defined by Pope Paul VI, cannot simultaneously be and not be. If such a contradiction is to stand, then dialogue means nothing. What Ivereigh has achieved is a debunking of the concept and practice of dialogue under the current pontificate. What we have is unmistakably an ideological appropriation of a concept, with arbitrarily-imposed criteria for inclusiveness and exclusion. As has been discussed above, this ideological hijacking of a concept developed and proposed by Paul VI within a clearly Christocentric context highlights a disconnect between the authentic original, developed in Ecclesiam Suam, and its ideological counterfeit that has gained currency under the present papal dispensation.
The cited work of Fr Jorge Bergoglio, “Corrupción y Pecado”, which informs the thesis of Ivereigh’s article may be of interest to moral theologians, or to those interested in charting the direction of the Bergoglian theological formation, or even to his biographers. Without doubt, it is a contribution to the body of theological literature generated by the Society of Jesus. However, Ivereigh’s enthusiastic reference to it and his adoption of what he interprets to be its central argument in order to defend Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa ad Dubia are misguided, at best. The filial respect owed by Catholics to an act of the ordinary papal magisterium is in no way enhanced by reference to a personal theological treatise of no magisterial force, even if written by a future pope.
The eminent canonist, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, made the following observation at the time of publication of the Apostolic exhoration, Amoris Laetitia, after the conclusion of the 2015 Synod on the Family:

While the Roman pontiff has personal reflections that are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the papal magisterium. Otherwise, those who do not understand the distinction, or do not want to understand it, will present such reflections and even anecdotal remarks of the pope as declarations of a change in the Church’s teaching, to the great confusion of the faithful. Such confusion is harmful to the faithful and weakens the witness of the Church as the body of Christ in the world.[17]


Cardinal Burke focused on the articulation of personal opinions within a papal magisterial teaching document. However, Ivereigh is content to rest the thesis of his article on a personal theological work of a priest who one day becomes pope. By doing so Ivereigh purports to propose Fr Bergoglio’s essay for inclusion in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. This would constitute an absurdity that cannot be justified by the pretensions of even the most extreme votaries of what Fr John Hunwicke humorously describes as Bergoglian Ueberhyperpapalism[18].
In order to justify his argument for the exclusion of traditionalist Catholics from dialogue, and assume the moral high ground, Ivereigh does not shrink from employing one of the oldest techniques in the propaganda book, that is, demonization. Traditionalist Catholics are portrayed as dissembling, scheming hypocrites of irredeemable pride and conceit, and sham spirituality.
This caricature of traditionalist Catholics is a figment of Ivereigh’s febrile imagination which we, as Lovers of Catholic Tradition, certainly do not recognize. We can afford to be magnanimous and chuckle indulgently over this during coffee break following Mass. The existence of a few eccentrics is not exclusive to traditionalist Catholic communities. Every human society has its outliers. Traditionalist Catholics overwhelmingly responded, in filial gratitude, to the paternal invitation extended by Pope John Paul II:

To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged in the pastoral ministry in the Church.[19]


Under the current pontificate, from 2014 through to 2015, the Vatican sent a visitation team, comprising Cardinal Walter Brandmueller and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, to inspect the seminaries of the traditionalist Catholic Priestly Society of St Pius X (SSPX). The visitators established that the SSPX consistently pray for the pope in the Canon of the Mass. Further, the current pontiff has granted to the priests of the SSPX the ordinary faculty to hear confessions and conditional faculties to celebrate canonically marriage. These faculties have not been withdrawn.[20]
Ivereigh has not presented an intellectually compelling argument based on magisterial teaching or theological evidence to defend Traditionis Custodes, and the Responsa ad Dubia. Instead, ‘The Limits of Dialogue’ is a piece written by a courtier to defend the indefensible. The emeritus Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Mueller, made the following remark during a recent interview:

I am of the opinion that good theological arguments help Pope Francis more than false friends with their foolish praise.[21]


The animus harboured by Ivereigh against the traditionalist Catholics is not directed against persons, most of whom are unknown to him, or what he calls the ‘Movement’, with which he has minimal working engagement. What is insidious about this disposition is the rejection of the Latin liturgical heritage of the Catholic Church, hallowed by the saints, doctors of the Church and all manner of Catholics across the ages. This constitutes a fundamental identity crisis within the Catholic Church which Benedict XVI, in the face of vociferous opposition, strove to address. Without an honest, charitable, non-ideological and non-adversarial confrontation of this pathological condition within the ecclesiastical body politic, the proclaimed dialogical endeavours under the present pontificate are doomed to becoming theatricals in fashionable secular themes.
In conclusion, I wish to leave the reader with an uplifting picture of what traditionalist Catholics, sinners though we are, daily strive to become as we continue on our pilgimage of faith in the Church Militant. Keenly mindful of our unworthiness before God and Man, yet we dare to identify with the description of faithful Catholics portrayed by Paul VI in Ecclesiam Suam:
No, it is not pride nor arrogance nor obstinacy nor stupidity nor folly that makes us so sure of being living, genuine members of Christ’s Body, the authentic heirs of His Gospel, the lawful successors of the Apostles. It is a firm faith, a joyous conviction. We hold in our possession that great heritage of truth and holiness which characterizes the Catholic Church of the present day, preserving intact the living heritage of the original apostolic tradition. That is our boast, if you like.[22]

NOTES
[1] Address of Pope Francis on receiving the Charlemagne Prize, 6th May 2016, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/may/documents/papa-francesco_20160506_premio-carlo-magno.html (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[2] See https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/limits-dialogue (accessed 21st January 2022)

[3] See Greg Hillis. ‘I love Pope Francis’ commitment to dialogue—which is why his Latin Mass restrictions confuse me’, America (The Jesuit Review), 22nd December 2021, https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/12/22/francis-latin-mass-traditionalists-synod-242111 (acce3ssed 21st January 2021)

[4] See http://generacionfrancisco.org.ar/documentos/Corrupcion%20y%20pecado.pdf (accessed 21st January 2022)

[5] Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church (popularly known as Foxe’ Book of Martyrs), written by John Foxe and first published in 1563.

[6] Excerpted from the concluding address given by Pope Francis at the 2015 Synod on the Family, 24th October 2015, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/october/documents/papa-francesco_20151024_sinodo-conclusione-lavori.html (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[7] See https://wherepeteris.com/sadly-traditionis-custodes-was-necessary/ (accessed 21st January 2022)

[8] See https://hughosb.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/address-to-sacra-liturgia-uk-london-5-july-2016-english-final-text.pdf (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[9] Published on 6th August 1964, see https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_06081964_ecclesiam.html (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[10] Ecclesiam Suam, para. 56

[11] Ibid. para. 64-65

[12] Unitatis Redintegratio, Chapter 1, para. 4, see https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[13] Ecclesiam Suam, para. 81

[14] Ibid. para. 72-74

[15] See https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2021/documents/20211010-omelia-sinodo-vescovi.html (accessed 23rd January 2022)

[16] See https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/1480570606160695297

[17] ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and the Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church, published in the National Catholic Register, 12th April 2016, see https://www.ncregister.com/news/amoris-laetitia-and-the-constant-teaching-and-practice-of-the-church (accessed 22nd January 2022)

[18] See article ‘Ecclesial Disorders’ published 19th January 2022 on Fr John Hunwicke’s blog, The Mutual Enrichmenthttps://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2022/01/ecclesial-disorders.html (accessed 23rd January 2022)

[19] Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia Dei (para. 5 (c)), published 2nd July 1988, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/motu_proprio/documents/hf_jp-ii_motu-proprio_02071988_ecclesia-dei.html (accessed 23rd January 2022)

[20] In his book, “Christus Vincit”, Bishop Schneider makes the following observations about the SSPX: “They are already in communion with the Church, since they recognize the current pope, mention him in the Canon, pray for him publicly, and pray for the local diocesan bishop. The SSPX has received faculties for absolution from the pope, and the priests of the SSPX may now obtain faculties from the diocesan bishop or from the parish priest canonically to assist at marriages…the members of the SSPX are not excommunicated.” See Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age, Angelico Press, USA (2019), Section III: The Moon Shall Not Give Her Light, Chapter 10: The Society of St Pius X, p.149.

[21] Exclusive interview given by Cardinal Mueller to the Portuguese portal, Dies Irae, published on 21st January 2022, Google translation into English, https://www.diesirae.pt/2022/01/os-bispos-nao-tem-o-direito-de-reter-os.html (accessed

[22] Ecclesiam Suam, para. 46

Leave a Reply