Not everyone loves Pope Francis: Conservative Catholics voice concern over 'revolutionary' message

This is the first thread I’ve posted. It returns to an old thread I commented on while I was a Protestant; I converted to the Catholic faith in 2007. Here’s the original thread:

I asked Catholic Answers Forum staff if I could reply to an old thread and retract my original statements but that is not allowed, so they suggested I start a new thread. I thought it’s best to tie it to Pope Francis since there’s a lot of news published about him lately.

What I am finding (I don’t know about you) is that a lot of the traditionalist Catholics are forming a dismissive opinion of the Holy Father (“dismissive” at best). Even some (neo)conservatives are troubled by the pope’s remarks. Here’s a reputable news source indicating this:

One of the areas that comes up over and over again is the Church’s stance towards non-Catholics, which the thread above dealt with and which is constantly in the news. I’ll quickly share a few remarks as food for thought.

(1) I originally adopted the traditionalist line, ironically as a Protestant, when it comes to salvation for non-Christians. I held a strict interpretation of the dogma “outside the [true] Church there is no salvation” and therefore concluded adherents of other religions, even monotheistic ones (e.g., Muslims) could not be saved without becoming formal members of the true Church. The problem with the strict interpretation is that by traditionalist standards alone it never had the universal consent among theologians which is necessary to establish it as an obvious truth. For example, long before Pope Francis or Vatican II, there was a lot of debate on this subject. For example, in the early 20th century, the strict Thomistic scholar Garrigou-Lagrange expressed his opinion that the majority of Protestants would be saved. Even before this, Richard a Mediavilla, de Lugo and others thought implicit faith in the Incarnation and Trinity (like Muslims can have) would be sufficient for salvation. John of St. Thomas and Gonet thought that a non-Catholic monotheist could, by way of exception, be saved. It is no answer to these facts to say others held a stricter view (e.g., St. Alphonsus, Banez, Cano) for the very difference of opinion shows the issue was debated in the schools. And debated it was, into the 20th century. Pius XII (again, before Vatican II) addressed the Leonard Feeney controversy with his famous letter to Archbishop Cushing in which he clearly and authoritatively interpreted the dogma “outside the Church there is no salvation” in a manner certainly favorable to the less strict schools of thought.

(2) One must distinguish between the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics and the probability of it. Again, the theological schools differ. Catholics have long debated how many people in general would be saved, with answers ranging from “the vast majority” to “a small number.” If one takes the permitted view that most people will be saved, and a less strict interpretation of “outside the Church there is no salvation,” then one could defend the open manner in which Pope Francis dialogues with non-Catholics.

(3) Finally, one needs to distinguish between atheism and non-Catholics. Atheism is a special concern because the Council of Trent, echoing Hebrews 11.6, says that faith is necessary for salvation and faith cannot be present without belief in God’s existence. Accordingly, atheists and polytheists are a trickier animal. Nevertheless, some theologians (I believe Maritain and Journet) in the 20th century argued for a theory of non-conceptual faith according to which men with no conscious belief in God could still have faith at a pre-conceptual level. I have not read their books, but this is my understanding of the theory. My own opinion is that this view is incorrect; certainly it is very difficult to harmonize with the beliefs and practices of the Church for centuries. At any rate, Pope Francis is certainly open with atheists, but to my knowledge he has never said an atheist qua atheist can be saved; what he has rather said, it seems to me, is that if an atheist follows his reason and conscience faithfully, the world will be a better place, moral and intellectual formation will occur, and his life will begin to converge towards truth. These are obvious truths. If on the other hand the Holy Father has expressed his opinion that atheists, qua atheists, can be saved, then I would interpret that (hypothetical) state of affairs as indicating the pope adopts the less-probable-but-not-condemned theory of pre-conceptual faith. Certainly we shouldn’t judge the Holy Father for exercising his academic freedom in this manner. But, for what it is worth, Bl. John Paul II expressly adopts a theory of propositional revelation and conceptual faith in his doctoral dissertation.

What is the upshot of all of this? I’ve taken an old dogma which burned me in the past. It looks so deceptively simple, yet under the surface it is so complex. This is a good case to illustrate the principle that traditionalists shouldn’t be quick to judge Pope Francis. I think when it comes to Pope Francis in the news, we need to keep a few things in mind. First, the theological issues are always more complex than the media makes them out to be, as illustrated above. Second, the pope himself in his recent exhortation has said the media sometimes distorts the words of the Magisterium. Finally, Catholics should refrain from leaping to negative conclusions about the pope purely based on the news because such opinions are not only premature, but they are often ill-founded.

Ashton Wilkins

From your post above…
What is the upshot of all of this? I’ve taken an old dogma which burned me in the past. It looks so deceptively simple, yet under the surface it is so complex.
Perhaps the toughest thing about this is the fact that, once one gets through all of the “theological complexity”, the root is actually the simplest of simple (though hard to grasp, embrace and implement).

So - one can eventually go from a (seemingly) simple statement - such as those made by the Holy Father and reported in the media - backtrack it through various (complex?) underpinnings and arrive that the single “tap-root” - which is always agape.

If one stops before reaching that root, one will be left, at best a partial and unsatisfactory answer.

Complexity only exists because we keep trying to explain to the world something that is so profoundly simple - and transcendent - for “the world” to grasp.

Just some thoughts…


I certainly believe that a Catholic should not trust (wholly) the secular media. I also believe that true Catholics should trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the church. Christ said so! :smiley:

There is not a living soul that is loved by everyone. Of course the Pope cannot say what goes on between man and God up to the time the last breath leaves a body. Could there be people in Heaven that lived their life as an atheist? Only God knows, everything is possible with Him.

Maybe in the next life, we can rescue souls lost to death through disbelief or ‘misbelief’… Who knows. :shrug:

…what other kind of charity work will we have left to do anyways? :D. Or will we just ‘retire’ from all work altogether. :p. – No, that sounds too much like gluttony to me. :cool:

Can man truly love - agape - without God’s grace?
Can this grace be active without the person knowing it is of God?

For as long as man has existed on earth, he has breathed in oxygen to sustain his life. Yet for the vast majority of that existence man had no knowledge that it was oxygen (only 20% of the “air”) that sustained him.

Things can be active in and sustaining to our lives without our having knowledge of them. Likewise our (current) understanding and explanation of something can be way off base, and yet contain elements of truth…

Consider that for centuries it was thought that disease was carried by noxious odors and smells. Not true - and yet there IS an association between some diseases, infections etc and certain smells. A hint of truth but not the whole truth…not the root truth.

Likewise one can feel and recognize the truth of agape in their heart without necessarily understanding that this comes from the same creator of the universe that we as Christians recognize and embrace.


Kinda interesting that liberals and modernists have had and still have dismissive opinions about Church teachings and Popes but that does not stir up as much ‘correction’ as when a conservative or Traditionalist speaks out.

“Conservative Catholics voice concern over ‘revolutionary’ message”

Even 2000 years ago, conservatives didn’t like the revolutionary message.

I find all this very hopeful and encouraging. God Bless Pope Francis!

What message is that?

blah blah blah

I would describe myself as “conservative” generally, however, I just ignore these things and I am all the better for it!


As a Catholic, I am obligated by the Church to support Pope Francis. I will not question the collective judgment of our Cardinals, so I remain an obedient servant of Pope Francis and the Holy Church. I nonetheless admit to doing so without the inspiration or enthusiasm I naturally felt with Blessed John Paul II. In my own parish, I have natural preferences among the various priests, yet I faithfully adhere to the message of all our priests so long as they remain true to the Magisterium and the Holy See.

Excellent post Ashton. I am greatly impressed by your knowledge :thumbsup:

I wish to note one thing though. You suggest that St. Alphonsus is in the category of theologians who held to a restrictive view of salvation.

In his later works, he moved to accepting the possibility of salvation for “infidels”. For example in his commentary on the Works of the Council of Trent, St. Alphonsus Liguori states: “Who can deny that the act of perfect love of God, which is sufficient for justification, includes an implicit desire of Baptism, of Penance, and of the Eucharist. He who wishes the whole wishes the every part of that whole and all the means necessary for its attainment. In order to be justified without baptism, an infidel must love God above all things, and must have an universal will to observe all the divine precepts, among which the first is to receive baptism: and therefore in order to be justified it is necessary for him to have at least an implicit desire of that sacrament.”

I share that opinion. I identify myself as conservative, though not a traditionalist. I am not upset with this pope at all. Much ado about nothing in my opinion.

Well - one “message” that stirred controversy between what could be termed “conservatives and liberals” of the day was the issue that forced the Church to first meet in council at Jerusalem (Acts 15).


I’m a late life convert to Catholicism. This is technically my 3rd pope, but really, only my 2nd, as John Paul II, of blessed memory, was born into eternal life while I was still journeying through RCIA. I’m not a big news junkie, and I’m not combing 24 hour news cycles seeking what our Holy Father says to the secular world about things. He is the Holy Father. The Vicar of Christ. The Bishop of Rome, who is now in the place of St. Peter the Apostle. I am much more concerned about what he may have to say to Catholics and Christians than to atheists, secular homosexuals, and pro-eugenic life haters. From what little I have gathered, he is approaching these folks outside of the Church in ways very similar to those of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ during the incarnation. The only difference being, that Pope Francis, being only human, describes himself as a sinner, and Jesus was not a sinner. We have had two back to back Popes who were intellectual giants. We had perhaps one of the world’s finest philosophers in Pope John Paul II. Certainly one of the most brilliant theologians in Pope Benedict XVI. So, now, we’re blessed with a Pope who has taken the model of the life of Christ, the philosophy of John Paul II, and the theology of Benedict XVI, and instead of being a writer and a thinker, we have a doer. A Pope who is going to demonstrate to us with his actions how we should approach all persons, Christian or not, in love.

I will admit, since I have a strong pro-life devotion in my personal life, and have logged some hours in front of abortion clinics, that some of his statements felt a little like a punch in the stomach at first, but I consequently found out later that I had taken him out of context, and that he himself is strongly pro-life, and has been active and vocal in his home country for some time on this subject. So the end result which I chose to take away from his comments is to ensure that in all my ministry, I am doing what I do in love. Not just love for the defenseless babies who continue to be slaughtered, but for the doctors, nurses, mothers and fathers who continue to do the slaughtering. Francis reminds us that they too are children of God. That Jesus died on the cross the for them too. That perhaps without a genuine loving heart for the sinners as well as the victims, we are not living out our imitation of Christ. So I continue to pray for the unborn, and those who would end their lives, but will check myself a little more to make sure that I am always doing so with love.

The only other controversy I’m aware of is that he thought perhaps that the two issues of gay marriage and abortion, while remaining deeply important, have supplanted nearly all other aspects of living out our lives in Christ. It is true that Jesus didn’t spend all his time on any one particular thing. I don’t think he was saying that we shouldn’t have organizations within our culture dedicated to these causes, and populated with Catholics who are well versed at battling the culture. Just that we should also have as much focus on both of Jesus’s loves. Sinners, and the poor. And in the United States right now. At least in the secular media. The only aspects of our faith work which seem to get covered at all is the most vocal of the abortion and gay marriage opponents, (which should be all of us, since these things are wrong). The Church should also be approaching the culture with it’s treatment of the poor with equal ferocity. We don’t even need to DE-emphasize the abortion and gay marriage work. We just need to emphasize the love and work for the poor right up there along side those in the culture. In other words, we need to represent the fullness of Jesus Christ to the public and the culture. Not just the “no’s”. Not just the “yes’s”. But all of Christ. And what Christ spoke of more than anything else was the poor. The poor economically, and spiritually. The poor beggar, and the poor sinner. These are His loves. Francis wants to apply what has come before, and show us what it all looks like lived out on a public stage.

This is my take away at the moment. I offer Pope Francis the same love and respect I offer Pope Benedict XVI who proceeded him, and Pope John Paul II who proceeded him, and so on, right back to St. Peter himself. He is different. He has a different emphasis on things, but it is still the teaching of the our Lord and our Church, and he has captured the hearts of a good deal of the secular world, and let them know that Jesus loves them too. Perhaps this will prompt a little soul searching in some people who would otherwise never give the Church a second glance, or just walk around with the abject hatred for it which they were taught down through the generations. To teach the sinners, you have to dine with the sinners. To dine with the sinners, you have to be invited to dinner. To be invited to dinner, you have to be a welcome guest. Jesus went to dinner, and told the truth once he was there. He told the truth in parables. Let’s at least see what teaching the Pope gives after he’s been invited to dinner at the homes of the sinners and pharisees.


The message has always been revolutionary. The message should have always been disturbing and uncomfortable. God’s ways are not our ways. If we enter into the faith and are not radically changed, we do not know Jesus Christ.
Faith has not one thing to do with labels or ideologies like conservative or liberal. Radical transformation to the Gospel is for everyone.

Maybe some expect better (i.e., more trust in and faithfulness to the Holy Father) of those who identify themselves as Traditional.

According to some radical feminists, Pope Francis is actually an extreme right wing sexist-homophobic bigot.

Well, he is a Catholic. Radical feminists have no use for Catholicism in general.

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