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You are Peter

THE Holy Father is at the center of controversy. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony, which claimed that Pope Francis knowingly made a sexual abuser into an important adviser, has shocked the world and the Church.

For two reasons, I have not been quite as shocked as some people. Firstly because there is still room to disbelieve Archbishop Viganò: If he has defamed the pope, he would have to be a world-class liar, but it is not impossible. Secondly because, to be honest, the doctrinal confusion of this pontificate has already challenged me enough.

In both cases, there is a perfectly logical answer to the challenge. The papacy does not depend on the qualities of the men who take office: Church teaching sets definite limits on the pope’s authority and allows for the possibility that he will make colossal blunders. If Viganò’s central allegations are true, it is no refutation of Catholicism, any more than Alexander VI’s lechery and corruption. If the doctrinal chaos is as bad as it looks, it does not disprove the Faith, any more than John XXII’s battle to impose his false teaching on theologians.

All entirely true and logical. But those who find it a little harder to persuade themselves to go to Mass, those who are hovering at the threshold of the Church and wondering if they have been led up the garden path, may need more than logic. They need figures like Bishop Kung, who show that it is worth giving up everything to remain in communion with the Holy See. In 1955, just before he was locked away, the bishop was dragged before a crowd of thousands to confess his crimes. He confessed something else: “Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!” From 1955 to 1984, there were five popes; but Bishop Kung’s loyalty, like that of Thomas More and John Fisher, did not depend on who happened to be in office. If it is not rash to suggest this, maybe divine providence has raised up so many Chinese martyrs and confessors of papal supremacy partly to help Catholics through a crisis of the papacy.

I read about Archbishop Viganò’s allegations while sitting in a tent in the English countryside. I thought I had escaped the news cycle, but I switched on my phone’s data to get the weather forecast, and saw emails referring to some major event. As I digested the story, some other campers were saying Morning Prayer outside the tent. One of them was reading the Gospel for the day in his soft Northern accent:

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Many Catholics, if tempted against the Faith, have no better answer than “To whom shall we go?” Peter is Peter, whatever else he might be. And nothing can prevail against the Church, not even the mistakes of a pope. – Dan Hitchens @ First Things

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