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Dialogue Mass - CXXIX

The Fallacy of ‘Guilt by Association’

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
A favorite ploy of Pope Francis is to sully the reputation of traditionalists – particularly clerics – by accusing them of “rigidity” and placing them in the category of those condemned by Our Lord in the Gospels, i.e., Pharisees and hypocrites. Unfortunately, he does not distinguish between the rigidity of those who have a strong and unwavering loyalty to the doctrine and discipline of the Church (these are specifically condemned), and the rigidity of the Pharisees who put observance of man-made laws before charity, trusting in their own self-righteousness, and despising others.

Instead, he issues a blanket condemnation of all those who “observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past,” and accuses them of “self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism” because they “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others.”1

But this is simply an ad hominem attack based on uncharitable speculation; it sees traditional Catholics in the worst possible light, and does nothing to explain why it is right and proper to value Catholic Tradition and to remain “intransigently faithful” to it.

Francis piles on the unjust criticism, directing his barbs against those who have kept faithful to orthodox Catholic doctrine:

“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism.”

This is, of course, only another variation on the old “clericalist” cliché of “lording it” over the faithful. He has nothing but contempt for traditional catechesis which he caricatures in this way:

“Instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”

Nuns teaching in a vintage school photograph

Francis detests the traditional catechism taught in classes of old as well as the disciplined ambience

The subtle undertones of scorn in this accusation may not be apparent to all, but it will certainly resonate with neo-modernists, i.e., the Catholic biblical scholars, philosophers and theologians, both clerical and lay, who demand freedom from all regulations imposed by ecclesiastical authority.

By openly taking their side, Francis has shown himself to be in sympathy with all the revolutionaries who prevailed at Vatican II, which is why he refuses to act as the authoritative voice of Christ in matters of Faith and Morals.

As for his complaint about people being subject to “inspecting and verifying,” these activities were strenuously opposed by liberals of all stripes, yet they were the indispensable means used by the Church down the centuries to look into (which is what the word Inquisition means) attempts to subvert the Faith through their preaching and their books.

Pope Pius V, for example, was an Inquisitor who worked for the salvation of souls by counteracting the spread of heretical ideas during the Protestant Reformation. Pope Pius X, in his 1910 motu proprio, urged the world’s Bishops to root out any sign of Modernism in their Dioceses, cautioning them never to relax their vigilance and severity (i.e., their “rigidity”).2

In the new progressivist regime, by contrast, everyone is allowed to promote his own innovations and opinions in doctrine, and there is widespread tolerance for grave moral evils connected with the Sixth Commandment, under the guise of “mercy” and “inclusiveness.” In this area, Francis himself has encouraged some to consider themselves justified in receiving Holy Communion without repentance or purpose of amendment.

The rigidity of the Sixth Commandment

This brings us to Francis’s cavalier treatment of the sins of the flesh which he dismissed, in a talk to his fellow Jesuits, as among the “least serious” of sins. Here his line of reasoning is faulty.

A list of sins against chastity

Sins never mentioned by Francis & progressivists

Just because sins of the flesh, including lust, are classified by St. Thomas Aquinas as less serious than those of the intellect, such as pride, it does not follow that they are the least serious of all. Yet Francis used this non sequitur to trivialize sins against the Sixth Commandment, thus flying in the face of the whole biblical tradition and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.3 He went on to accuse moralizing clergy of obsessively overemphasizing such sins:

“One dimension of clericalism is the exclusive moral fixation on the sixth commandment… We focus on sex and then we do not give weight to social injustice, slander, gossip and lies. The Church today needs a profound conversion in this area.”4

But this is entirely untrue, and can be easily refuted by the evidence around us. Most Bishops adopt a stance of silence or ambiguity (which suggests disbelief) about the Sixth Commandment. Virtually no Novus Ordo priests would dare to mention sins of impurity in their sermons or criticize the immodest fashions worn by women even in church.

Bishops dancing at a WYD

Bishops rock at a WYD to please the youth, not correct them

Ever since Vatican II, the Church has been awash with “social justice” and “environmental” issues, while slander, gossip and lies are freely circulated against traditionalists including, as we have seen, by Francis himself.

Given his long track record of accusing traditionalist priests of “clericalism,” we can conclude that his comments were directed against them. But even here he would be wrong, for priests who were trained in today’s traditional seminaries and are guided by the pre-Vatican II manuals and textbooks of Moral Theology are known to display an even-handed approach to all moral questions. To accuse them of having an “exclusive moral fixation on the Sixth Commandment” is both false and calumnious.

BLM protestors

Catholic centers encourage youth to engage in ‘social justice’ causes

To understand where Francis is coming from in this particular accusation, we must keep in mind his predilection for repeating progressivist slogans and for adopting modernist and left-wing opinions that are injurious to the Church. His above-mentioned comment fits exactly the paradigm of criticism routinely levelled at the Church since the rise of Liberation Theology in the mid-20th century.

It was then (and still is) asserted by radical revolutionaries bent on changing the doctrines and structures of the Church that too many priests and religious put emphasis almost exclusively on sins against the Sixth Commandment, while remaining blind to the most elementary demands of “social justice” and “social solidarity.” This was the basic message of most liberation theologians of the 1960s 5 to the present day, and is heartily embraced by Francis.

Furthermore, Francis gives the impression of underestimating the double malice of adultery. He seems to forget that it is not only a sin of lust contrary to the Natural Law, but also against “social justice” insofar as it destroys the family, damages the welfare of innocent children, and works against the good of society intended by God. We must also keep in mind the effects of sins of impurity on public morals that are now swamped in a morass of venereal pleasure, and on education where the obsession with sex has corrupted the minds of children even in the infant school.

A truly “pastoral” Pope would uphold the moral law with rigidity – as instructed in the Gospels (Matt. 5:18) where Our Lord, Who came not to abolish but to fulfil the Law, said that, “not one iota” must be removed from the moral and spiritual principles. But this is unacceptable for progressivists because they do not accept the immutability of Catholic Faith and Morals. They believe that the Church should adapt her teaching to the demands of each passing generation, stop condemning theological error, allow freedom from restrictions in moral issues, and be more open to the influence of worldly values – all in the interests of becoming more “humane.”

Catholic Church possibly approving divorce

Francis makes it easier for Catholics
to get annulments & divorces

Disastrously for the Church and society, Francis has given the impression in Amoris laetitia that grave violations of the Moral Law can meet with the Church’s approval in cases of presumed subjective sincerity and individual conscience.

Instead of roundly condemning the rampant immorality in evident display around us ‒ resulting in the collapse of marriage and birth rates, legalized abortion and euthanasia, the “silent apostasy” from Christianity and the collapse of Western Civilization – he prefers to attack those who uphold the rigid morals that the Catholic Church has been preaching from its foundation up to Vatican II. In so doing, he has broken down the most effective barrier against the current tide of immorality in our society.

When we consider the consequences of abandoning the rigidity of Catholic Morals, it becomes clear that, contrary to Francis’s assertion, it is not the Church of Catholic Tradition that “needs a profound conversion in this area,” but Francis himself and the kind of Church that Vatican II has brought into being.

The rigidity of ‘black-and-white’

Modernists despise clear expositions of Catholic doctrine – Francis sees them as an obstacle to the “New Evangelization” – on the grounds of the old adage that not every situation is either black or white; some areas are grey, and there is no right or wrong in an absolute sense. In 2016, Francis adopted this approach as a counterweight to “rigidity” when talking to a group of Jesuit priests on the subject of giving counsel in the confessional.

“Many people leave the confessional disappointed,” he complained, because “rigid” priests lay down the law and tell them “'you must do this, you must not do that.” 6 He reiterated this notion shortly afterwards when he told the community of the Pontifical Major Seminary in Rome that “rigidity basically means taking a whip in hand with the People of God: you cannot do this, you cannot do that.” And thus, “many people approach, seeking a bit of consolation, a little understanding,” but instead they are “distanced by this rigidity.” 7

Francis scowling and waving finger

Francis scolds the traditional rigid confessions

But this misses the fundamental point of the Gospels, in which Our Lord gave us a choice in very rigid, black-and-white terms with eternal consequences: Heaven or Hell; the “narrow gate” or the “broad way”; the path of Life or of Death; the sheep or the goats; “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Matt. 12:30) And, incidentally, He did take a whip in hand to drive the money-changers out of the Temple.

Catholics have always understood this stark dichotomy as an immutable part of the Faith. The oldest catechism (the Didache), produced in the early years of Christianity, gives as its first point of doctrine:

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways.”

This teaching held sway in the Church until the proponents of the “New Morality” relativized the Commandments, allowing the faithful to imagine that they could escape the judgement of God and adapt the Moral Law according to the way each person subjectively sees best.

The problem with Francis’s approach is that his judgement on moral questions was based on a human rather than a Divine perspective, and on a Protestant rather than a Catholic angle. Significantly, Pius XII had already explained how the “New Morality” came “from outside the Faith and Catholic principles,” deriving initially from Existentialism that treated God as an abstraction, or denied His existence altogether.8

To this we can add the contributions of various contemporary Protestant theologians who were immensely influential in mid-20th century progressivist circles, and were readily adopted inside the Church with the blessing of Vatican II.9


  1. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, § 94
  2. Pius X, Antistitum sacrorum, (The Oath against Modernism), 1910: “Hisce ausibus contra evangelicam doctrinam et ecclesiasticam traditionem nunquam satis opponetur vigilantiae aut severitatis nimium ab iis quibus commissa est sacri huius depositi custodia fidelis.” (There can never be enough vigilance and firmness from those entrusted with the faithful safe-keeping of the sacred deposit of evangelical doctrine and ecclesiastical tradition, in combating these bold attacks against them).
  3. In contradiction to Pope Francis, the eminent Doctor of the Church, St Alphonsus Liguori, considered by Pope Pius XII to be the Patron of moral theologians, said that through these sins “most souls fall into Hell”, and that “all reprobates are condemned by them, or at least not without them.” (Theologia Moralis, lib. III, tract. IV, c. II)
  4. Antonio Spadaro, ‘The Sovereignty of the People of God: The Pontiff meets the Jesuits of Mozambique and Madagascar,’ La Civiltà Cattolica, September 26, 2019.
  5. Cf. Louis Monden SJ, Sin, Liberty and the Law. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965, pp. 112-115.
  6. Francis, ‘Q&A session with Polish Jesuits at a private meeting during World Youth Day in Krakow,’ July 30, 2016, published in Rome on August 26, 2016 in the Jesuit Journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, by its Editor, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, who was present at the meeting.
  7. Francis, ‘Mediators or intermediaries,’ Address to the community of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, Morning Meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, December 9, 2016.
  8. Pius XII, op. cit., April 18, 1952.
  9. For example, the works of the following Protestant theologians: Swiss Reformed Church Pastor Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative (1941), Evangelical Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study of Ethics and Politics (1932), Baptist Minister Harvey Cox, The Secular City (1965), Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (1949), John A. T. Robinson, Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, Honest to God (1963) and Episcopalian priest-turned-atheist Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966).

Posted August 23, 2023


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