Some Thoughts on the Papacy: An Interview with Peter A. Kwasniewski ━ The European Conservative

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

It is a privilege to be alive at this time, carrying the torch of tradition through the darkness. Those who are seeking the light will see it, rejoice in it, and follow it.

One of your most recent books is the two-volume treatise The Road From Hyperpapalism to Catholicism: Rethinking the Papacy in a Time of Ecclesial Disintegration. Judging from the title, one could confuse it with a work by a liberal theologian or indeed a synodal reflection by Pope Francis himself. Yet your view reflects a different position entirely. 

Indeed, there is a superficial resemblance between those who today question a hypertrophism of the papacy and the liberals or progressives who try to find ways to get around uncomfortable teachings like Humanae Vitae

But at a deeper level my concerns are exactly the opposite of theirs. As any Catholic ought to do, I gladly embrace Humanae Vitae because it is an authoritative judgment that reaffirms what the Catholic Church has always taught on the subject of contraception. The pope here perfectly fulfills his role as the remora (as Newman says), the ‘barrier’ against harmful novelty or deviation from the deposit of the Faith. The liberals, on the other hand, wish to be freed from traditional teachings they no longer agree with. They are dissenters from Catholic tradition. Today’s traditionalists are not dissenters, but rather, upholders of the perennial magisterium and practice of the Church, which is now under attack from the pope himself.

This is why I compare our situation to an autoimmune disease: the body is attacking itself. The head is attacking the members and, indeed, attacking the eternal head, Jesus Christ, as well as the entire line of vicars who have served in the capacity of head of the Church over the past 2,000 years. And that’s why I also speak of “ecclesial disintegration.” The Church will not actually disintegrate, in the sense of ceasing to exist; but there are centrifugal forces tearing apart the Church on earth. It is truly a dramatic time.

What exactly do you mean by ‘hyperpapalism’? Does it differ in any way from the already established term ‘papolatry,’ where a pope is perceived like a guru?

The trouble with the term ‘papolatry’ is that, to some ears, it sounds excessively pejorative. After all, who really worships the pope? He isn’t being put on a pedestal before which his courtiers kneel and burn incense. The term ‘hyperpapalism’ strikes a different note—that of an exaggeration, a distortion, too much of a good thing. Papal authority is required for the coherence and continuity of the Church, for her visible unity, for her doctrinal safety; and yet it is currently being abused in a direction quite the contrary of its purpose. Healthy Catholics who know their Faith and live it, confronted with such a scandal, would simply criticize the abusive pope—respectfully, yes, and with prayers for him, but without ‘guilting’ themselves into silence or, worse, thinking they ought to let themselves be abused. But ‘hyperpapalist’ Catholics think (or pretend to think) that we must all simply change our minds with each new pope and move in whatever direction he says, without leaning on any other support for knowing the content of the Faith or the right way to live. They make no distinctions.

In connection with ‘hyperpapalism,’ you mention ‘ultramontanism,’ which has contributed to this distorted view of the papacy. But shouldn’t we make a distinction between ‘ultramontanism’ as a faithful defense of the papacy and ‘ultramontanism’ as a view of the authority of the pope? In the latter case there are indeed writers who essentially see the pope as the embodiment of God’s will. But I probably wouldn’t attribute it to all ultramontanists. It seems to me that those who were close to fideism in particular, unless they were outright fideists, were slipping to the extreme. I do not think it is a coincidence.

I’ve been criticized by some people for using the term ‘ultramontanism’ negatively. Well, let us not dispute too much about language. Looking over the mountains to what the pope of Rome is saying or doing can be a helpful shortcut in a period of revolutionary upheaval when everyone is confused and in need of a clear path forward, but it doesn’t seem to be a good normal policy for Catholics always to be looking over their shoulder to find out what the pope is saying or doing—as if they had no access to the content or practice of the Faith otherwise. 

For most people through most of Church history, the pope was a distant figure one never saw and about whom one heard little. He was there to do what only he could do, but most affairs were taken care of locally. This kind of subsidiarity and non-centralization is indeed a feature of a well-functioning social body. It seems to me that the increasing magnitude of the papacy in modern times, particularly from the middle of the 19th century onward, has caused a corresponding weakening in the episcopal body’s pastoral care and doctrinal alertness, since it seemed the pope would ‘take care of’ whatever needed to be done or said. The universal encyclical, a letter from the pope to all bishops or even to all mankind, replaced diocesan pastoral letters, interventions, and initiatives.

Notoriously, the relationship of the faithful and the clergy to the sacred liturgy became rather external and superficial in recent centuries, because they had all become habituated to thinking of the liturgy as simply whatever the pope or the curia declares it to be: in other words, a pure legal positivism. Yet throughout Church history the faithful and the clergy were, on the contrary, deeply knowledgeable of and devoted to their traditional liturgical rites. The rites were as much a part of their lives as every other aspect of culture, woven into their family customs, arts and crafts, music and poetry, town celebrations of feasts and fasts. The rites of worship were their ‘daily bread,’ their profound source of identity, their main occupation. Seen from that angle, ‘ultramontanism’ could have the appearance of a great weakening of Catholic identity, like a body in which the limbs are paralyzed but the head retains its functionality.

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Some Thoughts on the Papacy: An Interview with Peter A. Kwasniewski ━ The European Conservative

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