Apologetics for the Masses #466 - Pope Francis, Bp. Strickland, Papal Indefectibility, and...Dave Armstrong

Bible Christian Society


http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/newsletter/unsubscribe - to unsubscribe from this newsletter

http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/newsletter - to subscribe to this newsletter


What is all the hubbub over Fiducia Supplicans about?  And, why so much hate going around?  As that famous philosopher, Rodney King, once said: "Can't we all just get along?" And, just what is the dogma of papal indefectibility and why does that matter?

General Comments

Hey folks,

A couple of things:

1) I hope all of you had wonderful Advent and Christmas seasons!  I know I very much enjoyed my time off.  I tried to get this newsletter out last week, but life kept interrupting me.  So, now, time to get back to it...

2) I've added a new section to this newsletter - down towards the bottom - that I call: "Articles of Interest".  Just some articles that I've come across that I found interesting and wanted to put them out there for you guys in case you haven't seen them before and might be interested in reading them.  Most of the time they will, of course, be about something to do with the Faith, but not necessarily directly so.  I can envision having articles on politics, economics, man-made global warming, transgenderism, and so on - again, not directly about the faith, but issues that our faith has things to say about. We'll just have to see where it goes.  There are only a few this time around, but that will grow in the future. 


Okay, I am all the time getting questions about Pope Francis and especially so in the last few weeks with the issue of this latest document - Fiducia Supplicans - from the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), and, lately, I've also been getting questions about Bishop Strickland, for obvious reasons.  So, I thought I would take a couple of issues of this newsletter (more if necessary), to respond to all of those questions that I've been getting from folks.  And, I'm going to launch into all of that from an unexpected starting point - a "conversation" I had on Facebook with Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong.  And I want to use that conversation with Dave Armstrong as an example of what I believe is wrong with a lot of the back and forth going on in the media today between Catholics.  So, let's have at it...


Okay, a little background first, before I get into the main thrust of this newsletter, so bear with me here as I go through this.  Dave Armstrong often puts up posts on his Facebook (FB) page where he tags around 20-30 folks who are, apparently, all involved in Catholic apologetics and evangelization, me being one of them.  Which is why I would quite often see his posts in my FB feed.  Well, I think it was a week or two before Thanksgiving and another one of his posts pops up in my feed.  In this post he was, in my opinion, calumniating Bishop Strickland.  This is what he posted:

What is the difference between Bishop Strickland and Martin Luther? The first claims to acknowledge papal authority but then rejects it at his convenience; the second is honest and not conflicted about rejecting papal authority. 

I guess he was trying to be clever, but it was anything but.  Plus, there were a number of posts below Dave's OP where folks were just piling on Bp. Strickland as being prideful, arrogant, etc.  Well, sorry, but that was way over the top as far as I'm concerned. I don't know Bp. Strickland, but I do know people who know him, and they say quite the opposite about the man.  And I would give odds that none of the folks commenting on him, including Dave, have ever met the man so as to be in any position to make such comments - particularly to accuse him of rejecting papal authority (i.e., essentially accusing Bp. Strickland of being a heretic).  Then, I found another post of Armstrong's where he linked to an article he had written titled: "Bishop Strickland: The Writing Was On the Wall" (https://www.catholic365.com/article/32404/bishop-strickland-the-writing-was-on-the-wall.html), which was more of the same in regard to Bp. Strickland.  And, here's what Dave said in his FB post linking to that article:

Bishop Strickland: The Writing Was on the Wall
I quickly found three more outrageous examples of damnable lies on Bp. Strickland's Twitter page.
Follow the link in the previous Facebook post.
These are but three examples of Bp. Strickland's alarming errors...

And guess what one of Bp. Strickland's "damnable lies" and "alarming errors" is, according to this article from Dave?  Well, it seems Strickland sent out a tweet where he agreed with a statement from Cardinal Burke.  What did Cdl. Burke say?  "If your bishop, or the supreme pastor of the Church, is affirming things not in accord with Sacred Tradition/the deposit of the faith, that can’t command your obedience. You can’t command obedience to do something against faith & morals."  Bp. Strickland tweeted: "I stand with Cardinal Burke and pray for Pope Francis.  Jesus Christ, His Bride the Catholic Church, and the Petrine Office are essential to our salvation, they cannot be in opposition to each other.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth & the Life. There is no other way to the Father."

Dave said in his article that Bp. Strickland's statement, "Quite arguably is a rejection -- or very close to it -- of the doctrine of papal indefectibility, which was proclaimed at Vatican I (One) in 1870." 

So, here was Dave Armstrong essentially calling Bp. Strickland, and Cardinal Burke, a couple of heretics.  This went even farther over the top for me.  So, I decided to engage Dave in regard to these posts because I thought he was way off base with his condemnation of Strickland and Burke.  What Burke said, to which Strickland agreed, in no way, shape, or form had anything to do with a rejection of papal indefectibility.  It seemed to me Armstrong's conclusion as to these men denying a dogma of the faith, based on that statement from Cdl. Burke, was completely unwarranted, not to mention incredibly uncharitable.

[Note: This phrase, "papal indefectibility" that Armstrong uses, is not something I've seen commonly used.  I've always seen the word "indefectibility" used in regard to the Church as a whole.  The indefectibility of the Church has, essentially, a twofold meaning: 1) That the Church will be here until the end of time, and 2) That the teachings of the Church will never change.  So, I'm assuming that by the phrase "papal indefectibility", Armstrong means, in this context, that the papacy will never fail and that the teachings by and/or about the papacy will never change.]

So, in response to Armstrong's post, I posted a link to an article by Cardinal Mueller, former head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he was expressing support for Bp. Strickland and I simply asked Dave if he had any comments vis-a-vis Cardinal Mueller's comments on Bp. Strickland.  Dave's response?  "What I documented in my recent article provides more than enough justification for his [Bp. Strickland's] removal. None of that is mentioned in this article: posted in a notorious reactionary venue."

(Okay, so where am I going with all of this...bear with me for just a little bit longer and you'll see...)

Dave refused to comment on Cdl. Mueller's article, even though I asked more than once.  Not only did he refuse to comment on the article by Cdl. Mueller, but here he was letting me know that he, Dave Armstrong, had provided more than enough justification for Bp. Strickland's removal...as if it was somehow up to him.  Furthermore, he was implying that anything Cdl. Mueller said in the article was basically null and void because the article was posted in a "notorious reactionary venue".  That is an exceedingly poor argument from someone who describes himself as a professional apologist.  Anyway, I then asked him a couple of questions about the papacy and what he had said in his posts because: a) I wanted to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding him, and b) I wanted to show him that he was being rather Protestant in what he was saying.  By that I mean, he was inserting what he thought Burke and Strickland meant by what they said and then condemning them for saying what he thought they said as opposed to what they actually said.  Sort of like how a Protestant will read the Hail Mary and then say that means Catholics worship Mary. 

Well, Dave refused to respond to my questions.  Instead he told me I needed to read this and that article written by this and that person and that the subject matter was very complex and that I was making canon law arguments and so on.  I told him I didn't want to waste my time readng articles written by other people that may or may not pertain to what I was asking, that I wanted to hear from him because my issue was with what he had posted about Strickland and Burke, and that I thought he was misunderstanding "papal indefectibility". 

I also said that the subject matter was not all that complex, and that my questions had nothing to do with canon law.  So, being the persistent kind of guy that I am, I asked him those questions one or two more times.  What I got for my troubles was to be accused of "misrepresenting" Dave and his work, called a few kinda mean things (my therapist and I are working through that right now), accused of being against Bp. Strickland's removal (even though I never said a word as to what my position on Strickland's removal is), and it was strongly implied that I was a "Pope bashing, Novus Ordo bashing; Vatican II bashing; conspiracy theorist", although I had said nothing about any of those things (although, I am leaning towards the position that there was more than one shooter in the Kennedy assassination). His folks went on to accuse me of being "angry" and said I was attacking the Pope (about whom I had never said a word) along with some other nasty things about me.  And then I was banned from his FB page.  After which the personal attacks on me continued. 

Okay, so...what's the point of all of that?  The point is, that the conversation with Dave went the way it did because he, and his minions, assumed things about me that they had no business assuming.  Because I came to the defense of Bp. Strickland, and then Cdl. Burke, in regard to Dave's uncharitable posts about them, it was automatically assumed that I was taking sides, if you will, with Bp. Strickland and Cdl. Burke against Pope Francis.  So, I was seen as a pope basher, a rad trad, and a "reactionary" - all of which implies that I hate the Novus Ordo Mass, that I don't believe Vatican II was an authentic council of the Church, that I believe Francis is a heretic, and so on.  It was also assumed that I was "angry," and that I was "ignorant" of all the harm that Catholic "reactionaries" are doing to the Church.  All of that because I asked a few questions about a couple of posts and suggested that Dave was making assumptions about Strickland and Burke that were unwarranted and uncharitable. 

I have seen the same thing happen numerous times on my Facebook page - "John Martignoni and the Bible Christian Society" (if you're not currently a member, come and join us).  In particular, I have seen folks assume things about people that they have no business assuming from a single post.  For example, you might have a Protestant post a question about tradition, and then a Catholic will come in and say, "Yeah, well you believe in the Rapture and that's a tradition and where is that in the Bible," or something along those lines.  The original post said nothing at all about the Rapture, yet here is the Catholic assuming the Protestant believes in the Rapture (which they may or may not) even though the question was simply about tradition in general.  Whenever I see posts like that, they get deleted.  In fact, one of the things I try to do on my FB page, is make sure that when someone posts a reply to something said in someone else's post - whether it be a question, an argument, or simply a statement - that the reply directly addresses what was asked/argued/stated in the post (it's even in the Rules for Posting at the top of the FB page). 

Why do I do that?  I do that because Catholics, when discussing matters of the faith with non-Catholics, need to learn how to properly explain/argue/defend their position.  And one way to do that is to give a direct response to a direct question/argument.  That's why you will quite often see me, in my discussions with Protestants (and with Dave Armstrong) ask the same questions over and over and over again.  I do that because I want clarification on what the other person believes and why they believe it.  I don't want to assume that because they said X, that must mean they believe Y, as was done to me in the above referenced discussion on Armstrong's FB page. 

Assuming things that you have no business assuming always and everywhere muddles up the discussion.  You end up talking past the other person instead of to them.  You end up arguing against things that the other person is not arguing for.  It is always counterproductive.  So, don't do it.  Don't do it in your FB conversations, don't do it in your email conversations, and don't do it in your face-to-face conversations.  Listen carefully to what the other person says, or read closely what the other person writes, and respond to what they are actually saying - directly and succinctly - and not to what you "think" they are saying.  When engaged in a written dialogue, after you have written out your reply to someone, go back and re-read what the other person said and see if your reply directly responds to what they were saying.  If it doesn't, re-do your reply.

Furthermore, when you're on a social media platform like Facebook, don't just sit there and heap invective on folks who are asking questions about the Catholic Faith or making arguments on behalf of their faith tradition.  Making fun of Protestants, and their beliefs, just because they're Protestant, is not helping with anything.  Now, if someone is being hypocritical, or obnoxious and vile, call them out.  But let them get to that point and prove themselves to be hypocrites or obnoxious or vile before you lock and load. 

So, what does all of this have to do with Pope Francis and Bishop Strickland?  Well, I think a lot of what is going on between the two sides in this situation is very similar to what just happened to me in trying to dialogue with Dave Armstrong.  Assumptions are made.  Based on those assumptions, lines are drawn in the sand.  Nasty things are said.  Public attacks are made.  Judgments are passed.  Using Armstrong again as an example.  If you go through his FB posts and his online articles, he has this thing for classifying people he disagrees with in regard to the Pope as Catholic "reactionaries".  Reactionaries this, reactionaries that.  The word is used by him in a derogatory and disdainful manner.  How does that help the situation?  Then there are folks on the other side who classify anyone and everyone who defends the Pope as "popesplainers".  And they do so quite often in a derogatory manner.  Or they'll say the folks defending the Pope are heretics or, at the least, defending heresy.  How is that productive? 

The irony of the whole "dialogue" with Armstrong, is that the only newsletter I've ever done in regard to Pope Francis - at least, the only one I can think of - was the newsletter I did where I responded to a video done by Patrick Coffin wherein he claimed the Pope Benedict never truly resigned from the papacy, at least not fully resigned.  That Francis wasn't really the Pope, or was only partially Pope, or something like that.  So, did I immediately brand and label Patrick?  No.  I simply responded to the arguments he made in his video.  I didn't call him a heretic.  I didn't say he was a "reactionary" or any such thing.  I simply responded to his arguments.  There is no need for all the public rancor and the public attacks and calling people reactionaries and heretics and the like. Does absolutely no good. 

So, you might be thinking by now: So, John, what exactly is your position in regard to Pope Francis and also in regard to Bp. Strickland?  Well, it's this: I think Bp. Strickland being removed from his office was a sad thing.  Was it justified?  How do I know?  I haven't seen any "official" list of reasons for his removal.  And, even if I ever do see such a list, I have no way of verifying if it is an accurate representation of the situation or not.  Was it a good thing or a bad thing?  Again, I don't have the necessary information to decide one way or the other.  I will say this, though: In my opinion it was a tactical error.  Why?  Well, now a lot of folks look at Bp. Strickland as a martyr of sorts.  His status has actually been elevated in many people's eyes.  Plus, it gives credence to the complaints of folks who say there is a two-tiered system of justice in the Church - one tier for those who are seen as generally being orthodox, and another tier for those who are seen as generally being heterodox. "Well, he sacked
Strickland, but James Martin - notorious for his heterodox beliefs on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, etc. - gets personal invites to the Vatican!  What's up with that?!"

So, what is a faithful Catholic to do?  Pray.  Pray for Pope Francis.  Pray for Bp. Strickland.  Pray for the Church.  Pray for the "reactionaries".  Pray for the "popesplainers".  Pray for the folks who are scandalized by all of this. But, there is absolutely no reason to call Bp. Strickland a heretic, or to even strongly imply it.  Same with Pope Francis.  Is Bp. Strickland a heretic?  Maybe, maybe not.  I've never heard him disavow any doctrinal teaching of the Church.  And, I can't judge the man's heart.  Is Pope Francis a heretic?  Maybe, maybe not.  I've never heard him disavow any doctrinal teaching of the Church.  And, I can't judge the man's heart.  Same goes for the folks on both sides of the debate, as well as the folks on neither side of the debate.

[Well, I've run out of time for today - have to get home to supper!  I will continue next week with my take on Fiducia Supplicans and the blessing of couples in "irregular" situations, and will also expand a bit on "papal indefectibility" and why I believe a number of folks, Dave Armstrong among them, are not quite understanding it, and papal infallibility, correctly.]

Closing Comments

I hope all of you have a great week!


     The Bible Christian Society is a non-profit organization that relies solely on your support to bring the truths of the Catholic Faith to tens of thousands of people throughout the U.S. and all around the world each year.  If you would like to help us do what we do, you can donate online at:


or send a check to:

Bible Christian Society

PO Box 424

Pleasant Grove, AL  35127.

                                                              Anything you can do is greatly appreciated!

Articles of Interest

African Bishops React to Fiducia Supplicans  

Fiducia Supplicans: A Pastor's Point of View 

The Cost of Making a Mess


http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/newsletter/unsubscribe - to unsubscribe from this newsletter

http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/newsletter - to subscribe to this newsletter


Apologetics for the Masses