Karl Keating on Phil Lawler’s Pope book

One serious Catholic writes about another

Phil Lawler and his wife Leila

The following is from a December 23 Facebook posting by Karl Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers and author of Catholicism and Fundamentalism (among other books). Links inserted by California Catholic Daily.

Philip Lawler, the editor at Catholic World News, has a new book coming out February 26: Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (On December 19 I critiqued the book’s cover in a Facebook post.)

Karl Keating

In the introduction Lawler says that, over the course of several years, “I did my best to provide assurance—for my readers and sometimes for myself—that despite his sometimes alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that he was.”

Lost Shepherd

Unlike some of the most vocal critics of this pope, Lawler took his time and gave him the benefit of every doubt. The result is 256 pages that lay out recent history well, without exaggeration or histrionics and with enough to substantiate Lawler’s reluctant conclusions.

Toward the end of the introduction he says, “I found I could no longer pretend that Francis was merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No, it was more than that. He was engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.”

Lawler cautions against following the logic of certain Traditionalists who came out against Francis almost before the new pope stepped out on the balcony to give his first greeting. “Francis is not an anti-pope, much less the Antichrist. The see of Peter is not vacant, and Benedict is not the ‘real’ pontiff.” All such notions are nonsense, says Lawler, and not one of them helps to understand the reality of the situation. In fact, they do nothing but obscure.

The middle half of the book concerns the development and meaning of some of Pope Francis’s writings. Much space is given to “Amoris Laetitia.” Lawler says it “is not a revolutionary document. It is a subversive one. Francis has not overthrown the traditional teaching of the Church, as many Catholics hoped or feared that he would.” The document gives wide pastoral latitude, enough so that, in practice, in certain areas the traditional teaching of the Church can be set aside while not being denied.

To me the most interesting parts of the book concern Francis’s background in Argentina, his personal style (preemptory, conniving, sometimes even using low language), and his very “Jesuitical” machinations before and after becoming pope. In these regards he is quite unlike his predecessors—at least unlike all the other popes of my lifetime.

Perhaps most noticeably, Francis has been a scold.

“His rhetoric was radically at odds with his pulpit statements about the need to ‘accompany’ sinners, to tolerate disagreements, to reach out to new constituencies,” says Lawler. “In his own preaching he hectored his listeners, denouncing more than encouraging.”

The result—especially in consequence of preachings and talks he has given to Vatican officials and staff—has been a plummeting morale and a not unjustified fear of accusations of disloyalty.

Some Vatican staff members, even prominent members of prominent dicasteries, have been removed without a fare-thee-well, without explanation. Apparently phones have been tapped, conversations overheard. The result has been a widespread fear to say anything critical about anything, lest one lose one’s job. It is then not surprising to learn that “the pope selects his associates on the basis of personal loyalty rather than theological acumen or pastoral performance,” concludes Lawyer.

I can’t help thinking that in certain respects Pope Francis is much like President Trump. Each places more emphasis on loyalty than on skill. Each has gone through lots of aides and associates. The turnover rate at the Vatican, as at the White House, has been high.

What about the vaunted “Francis revival” around the world? There hasn’t been one, says Lawler. For example, worldwide the number of seminarians was increasing for years, up through 2012. The number has been in decline since then. Ditto for attendance at the pope’s Wednesday audiences.

At the beginning of his reign it was common to see 40,000 people or more in St. Peter’s Square. Now it’s not uncommon to see fewer than 15,000. Francis’s two immediate predecessors usually spoke to colonnade-to-colonnade audiences, but something has changed. The enthusiasm has waned.

Did the Holy Spirit goof at the conclave? No, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted in 1990: “Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

But “the thing” has been damaged, insists Lawler. “The damage done by Francis cannot be repaired unless it is recognized. Denying problems and papering over the differences only amplifies the confusion.”

As for the pope’s signature piece, Lawler says, “Yes, there are some fine passages in ‘Amoris Laetitia.’ But on the whole it fails as a teaching document because, as the saying goes, what is good is not new, and what is new is not good.” That said, “Pope Francis has not taught heresy, but the confusion he has stirred up has destabilized the universal Church.”

Lawler thinks it could take a long time for the Church to find its equilibrium again. One hopes not. One hopes for a successor who can right the Barque of Peter quickly, before too many passengers lose hope or abandon ship.

One way to minimize that is to read Lawler’s book and to understand how a conscientious and well-connected writer came to the conclusions he did.

Cal Catholic post script: In 1986 Lawler was hired by Cardinal Law as editor of the Boston Archdiocese paper, the Boston Pilot. Lawler resigned a year later. In 2008 he published The Faithful Departed about the collapse of Catholic culture in the wake of the pedophile scandals.


  1. Michael McDermott says

    “The Faithful Departed is a hard book to read. I do not mean in its prose but in its content”
    Review of The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture by Philip Lawler
    *In 1985 the US bishops received a confidential report on sexual abuse by clerics, warning them that there was “simply too much at stake for the Church” for the hierarchy to ignore the issue. (From the Introduction to The Faithful Departed ) ”

    Perhaps no one but the one-time editor of Boston’s Archdiocesan paper could have written this disturbing book. Certainly, no one else could have written it with such intimate and comprehensive objectivity. It took a local Catholic writer, who lived…

  2. Michael McDermott says

    For Lawler, there are three scandals that make up the abuse crisis. The first, and most damaging for all the victims, was the abuse of children and teens, almost always boys, by priests and brothers.
    The vast majority of the cases involved teenage abuse, ephebophilia, in distinction with pedophilia, which is the even sicker abuse of children.

    The second scandal, which our author amply demonstrates is still unattended to, is the problem of homosexual priests and brothers. (He does not mention sexually disoriented sisters, but that is another crisis that certainly has affected some of the more liberal orders of nuns.)

    Lawler devotes a number of pages in his book to prove how ardently the collective USCCB and individual bishops avoid…

  3. Michael McDermott says

    “The Faithful Departed is a hard book to read. I do not mean in its prose but in its content”

    – ardently the collective USCCB and individual bishops avoid any question that raises the subject of accountability in purging the seminarians of those with homosexual proclivities.
    Nor do the bishops address the problem of sexually disoriented priests who promote, defend, or live the “gay” lifestyle.
    This scandal, so directly related to the first, has also left the Church still severely wounded…

  4. My sense is that the dam is about to burst. What exactly that means, I don’t know, but it sure seems we’re on the brink of something momentous in the Church.

  5. Lawler wasted his time writing this book! Liberalism in the Catholic Church is DEAD! The liberals left long ago. The conservatives are in charge. There is no hope for Pope Francis’s attempt to stoke liberal enthusiasm and bring the libs back into the fold. Most Catholics I know who are divorced have no desire to return to Holy Communion or the Church. They view the Church (not necessarily Christianity) as irrelevant and are having their spiritual needs addressed by non-denominational churches for the most part.

    • Sorry to say this– but a great many of our Church leaders and laymen, are what one would call “Cafeteria Catholics,” and do not really believe in, nor practice, the True Faith! Many are similar to so-caled “Catholics” like Rep. Nancy Pelosi– or else “tolerate” views and beliefs like hers — and think it is fine for “Catholics” like her, to receive Holy Commuion! It is so hard to believe that Pope Francis gives bad “priests” like Fr. James Martin, S.J., who promotes gay sex relationships– high posts in the Vatican, with lots of praise!

  6. Perhaps a specific, concrete example where Mr. Lawler believes Pope Francis is in error? All I see are vague generalities.

    • The Real Ralph says

      Yes, it’s called insidious subversion. It’s a subset of international Leninism which has no timeline. As Antonio Gramsci said, “the take over will not be by tanks and guns, but by secularizing the culture to the point of Godlessness.” Connect the dots – the interface between global religion and the coming world socialist government, Pope Francis as agent provocateur. As James Warburg said to the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee in 1950: “You will have world government, if not by consent, then by conquest.” “Politically correct,” a term invented by the Soviets in the 1920’s.

      • Romulus Disgustedus says


        • The Real Ralph says

          Yes really. The march of salvation history is beyond the depth of most to perceive. But the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled. There will be an Antichrist, who “will rule over every nation, tongue and creed,” by definition world government. Why are the borders being opened, sovereignties destroyed and Europe awash with the descendants of Mohammed? Trump’s movement of the embassy to Jerusalem is being followed by similar moves of a dozen more countries; Catholic prophesies have said that the Antichrist will rule from Jerusalem. Don’t be so smug – lest you be lumped among Lenin’s “useful idiots.”

      • The Real Ralph says

        And in today’s news, it’s not only China shipping oil to North Korea, but Russia too. Of course this comes as no surprise to the well-read, knowing that China is a puppet of the Kremlin. See: Golitsyn, The Perestroika Deception (1995). Mary asked for the consecration of Russia for world peace, but the request was refused. Instead, the neo-Catholics gorged themselves on the idea that Reagan and JPII had brought about the downfall of communism, while the Soviets did nothing but cleverly reorganize themselves, and less than 30 years later Russia is one again called a villain, while neo-Catholics, the USSCB and the Jesuit pope pursue policies and “theology” compatible with Leninist world-view.

    • The erroneous notion that private morality could serve in opposition to public morality, and thus ptivate moraliry and public morality are not complementary, has led to grievous errors in both Faith and reason.
      God declares what is Good.

      “Page 117, of the pope’s book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex unions
      “If there is a union of a PRIVATE NATURE, THERE IS NEITHER A THIRD PARTY NOR IS SOCIETY AFFECTED. Now, if this union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and female mother that can help them shape their identity. – Jorge Mario Bergoglio
      Approval of same-sex sexual unions is approval of same-sex sexual acts.
      Prior to…

  7. Warren Memlib says

    Seriously, Karl Keating is a “serious Catholic”!

  8. Steve Seitz says

    I’m not a traditionalist, but I’m very curious as to why Mr. Lawler feels that Francis isn’t an anti-pope?

    I don’t claim that Francis is: only that this is uncharted territory for which we may not have a clear answer. Until we get certitude, Francis must be careful about what he does and the Church must be careful not to reconvene a new conclave if Francis dies before Benedict.

    • Your Fellow Catholic says

      if Benedict made any move to reclaim the papal throne without being elected again, it would certainly split the Church.

      • Steve Seitz says

        If It’s true that Francis is not the actual pope, I agree with your inference that stability would arguably be the best way through this. Benedict, himself, has no known interest in claiming the Chair so that should not be a problem.

        I’m just hoping [and praying] that things remain nice and calm and that a future conclave never again convenes while a pope continues to live.

    • “I’m very curious as to why Mr. Lawler feels that Francis isn’t an anti-pope?”

      I’m wondering the same. Not all the arguments by the antipope theorists are “nonsense.” Some of these arguments have been made well enough to deserve intelligent replies, and one needn’t be stupid or malicious to think so. The only way for these arguments to quit gaining more traction is for their detractors actually to address them, not dismiss them. I hope Lawler does this, but Keating’s words don’t give me the impression he does.

    • In order for the election of Jorge Bergoglio to be valid, Jorge Bergoglio, prior to his election, had to assent to the The Deposit of Faith: http://www.ewtn.com/library/canonlaw/adtucans.htm
      Prior to his being elected pope, Jorge Bergoglio denied the Sanctity of the marital act. In fact, Jorge Bergoglio assented to the erroneous belief that private morality and public morality can serve in opposition to one another. On page 117, of the pope’s book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex unions, Jorge Bergoglio stated:
      “If there is a union of a PRIVATE NATURE, THERE IS NEITHER A THIRD PARTY NOR IS SOCIETY AFFECTED. Now, if this union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children…

      • Nancy,
        I’ve never heard of a papal election being invalid because of the reason which you’ve given. In fact, the Church had a few popes of questionable repute during the early feudal period, and their elections were never seriously questioned.

        The issue at hand is whether a pope can rid himself of the Keys of the Kingdom.

        • Yes, a Pope can resign.
          Canon 332 2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

          • Steve Seitz says

            Excellent! Thank you for the reference. I read the canon and associated commentary and feel much better about this. 🙂

      • Nancy D., You are totally misinterpreting what the Pope said. He did not deny the sanctity of the marital act. He obviously was opposing same sex marriage and adoption.

    • Francis is the Pope. He is not an anti-Pope. Benedict XVI is not the Pope. If Francis dies before Benedict XVI, there will be a conclave to elect a new Pope. There will be no Pope until a new Pope is elected.

  9. helen wheels says

    Church already be split
    i gotta try to be on right side, Jesus’s side.

    • “Church already be split”

      Exactly. A de facto schism has been present for decades. Things are just coming to a head now (motus in fine velocior).

      • True.
        Spiritual adultery will leave one autonomous and thus no longer in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

  10. Guess we know for whom Keating didn’t vote.

    You needn’t be a Trump fan to see the true comparison is Francis and Obama. For starters, Francis’s communist mentor was his beloved boss, arrested during Argentina’s bloody marxist insurgency; interrogated, tried and duly executed. Obama’s was on the Security Index (gets picked up in time of war).

    It took Lawler several years and a book to convince himself. It shouldn’t have.

  11. I am sorry for good Catholic writers like Phillip Lawler, with the agony of publishing the horrifying results from their research! It’s a wnder they are still good, faithful Catholics! Too bad that God could not help Pope Francis, with a miraculous, true conversion to the Faith, and an authentic role as a Catholic Pope! I don’t think he is an “anti-Pope,” because his intentions are good, not sinister. But he is obviously NOT a true, authentic, Catholic Pope! His misguided sympathies are truly with the rebellious, liberal, immoral, secularized “Cafeteria Catholics,” and the anti-Christian secular world– none of whom are his true flock, as Pope!

    • Steve Seitz says

      Linda Maria,
      The term “anti-pope” is a term from church history which refers to a person who claims to be pope due to an election. However, he’s an anti-pope because his election was invalid because another claimant who had received a valid election was the pope.

      The term does not refer to the character or conduct of the person.

      • Steve Seitz, I know the history of whch you wrote about, in your above post. But in my post, I was simply referring to popular prophecies, myths, legends, and and maybe superstitions, regarding a future “anti-pope.” In this use of the term “anti-pope,” it means a sinister, evil, un-Christian, powerful leader, who is a hypocrite to Chirst and His Church– the futuristic prophecy of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” a pope who is a fraud, like the prophecy of the “anti-Christ.” No one is really sure of what these prophecies mean. They are found in the Bible, and in some of Our Lady’s apparitions, as well as other sources, not necesssarily Church-approvwd..

        • Steve Seitz says

          Linda Maria,
          Thank you for the clarification, although what you’re describing sounds more like an anti-Christ than an anti-pope.

          • Linda Maria says

            I think the two terms have been confused, by many people– because the Anti-Christ is said to someday be a diabolic world leader, perhaps in the role of a corrupt Anti- Pope.

    • The Real Ralph says

      How do you know his intentions are “good”? None of us are mind readers, so at best that supposition is irrelevant. The best indication of anyone’s personal intent is their actions, especially when those actions follow a consistent pattern of similarity. This “who am I to judge” pope hasn’t left much doubt what his view of theology is – it’s modern Jesuitism, i.e., supportive of feminism, homosexuality and Marxism. He stands in diametric opposition to so much championed by Benedict. It’s ridiculous to think he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. Based on all of this, calling his intentions “good” is simply unsupportable. And according to reviews of the new book, “The Dictator Pope,” he may well be “sinister.”

      • Charlesoconnell says

        He may not have an ideological agenda, some of his statements have been completely traditional, he may be insufficiently formed for Pope, Cardinal, Bishop or even Priest. Our obligation to pray for his salvation even if he should become the least in heaven is not for the man but for the office of the descendant of the Peter who we,pt after denying Christ and had to hear “Do you love Me” three times. (My heart would have been riven from my breast.)

    • Linda Maria, they are not good faithful Catholics. When you write a book against the Pope or promote such a book, you are not a good faithful Catholic.

  12. Elizabeth M. says

    I remember reading after Pope Francis was elected that his niece said that her Uncle Mario would change all those old fashioned rules in the Church. Perhaps she knew something.

  13. I agree to a point with Mr. Lawler’s comparison of Pope Francis and President Trump. But I think it’s more the Republican Party and it’s rebellious attitude toward Trump’s plans and voters more traditional desires, that is causing the problems for the Presidency. Trump, it would seem, has been put in a position of having to do everything he promised by Executive Order. The Pope, on the other hand, is using the liberal media to help execute Francis’ plans and confuse the faithful.

  14. A Catholic conscience must first and foremost be in communion with Christ and thus His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Being in communion, is not a matter of degree; if you are not with Christ, you are against Him.

  15. I had never heard of Phil Lawler. I read online the piece where he made his decision that Pope Francis was trying to change church teaching. He does not say how. It is here:
    this is the homily he is complaining about:
    There is nothing in it that changes church teaching. Absolutely nothing.
    I would be really wary about buying his book.

  16. Diane McHenry says

    I think Pope Francis gets himself into a lot of trouble because he suffers from the fault of being a compulsive talker. He should relax and realize he does not have to speak without careful thought and sometimes just remain silent. I find his homilies wordy and confused. Compulsive talking and writing is a bad fault in anyone.

  17. Many comments and replies here, but a vast majority are just so irrelevant to Mr. Keating’s review of an upcoming book. If these comments are an example of how Catholics stay on subject and follow threads of thought, it is no wonder confusion exists.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.