Monday, February 5, 2018

Father Z: Not Sinful to Pray for Pope's Death/End of Pontificate

An article written by Joseph Bernstein from BuzzFeed has placed the spotlight on internet personality priest who blogs as "Father Z."  His full name is John Zuhlsdorf and he claims to be a former Lutheran who converted to Catholicism. 

He is incardinated in an Italian diocese, but lives in Wisconsin.  No one really knows where or if he is attached to a parish. Usually when priests who are incardinated in other dioceses and are not working, this may mean that he is problematic.

Years ago in New York City we had a priest visit us from Italy who was ultraconservative.  I will not post his name to respect his privacy.  He was a nice guy, but seemed to have some unhealthy ideas about women and their function in the Liturgy.  He seemed to see females as an aversive thing.  At one point, he prevented women with lipstick from receiving Holy Communion.  He also embarrassed an extraordinary minister during Mass because he felt her clothing was not modest. She became upset and began to cry.  This caused problems as you can imagine. He was immediately asked to leave. I lost track of him and eventually saw him again at another parish I worked at. He helped at Spanish Masses and then disappeared again. Last I heard, he was staying with a parishioner from another parish and eventually became homeless.  No parish wanted to give him work because of his behavior and ultraconservative ideas. He was always in a cassock and critical of how parishes held their Masses despite these parishes doing what is allowed by the diocese and the Vatican.  It seems Father Z may be one of these characters.

When a priest's views are too extreme or his behavior is anti-social, bishops avoid him.  These priests become rogue priests wandering around without solid work at a parish. This makes sense due to the fact that Father Z relies on donations to earn a living. His blog is his wage producer. This may be illegal in the Church according to Canon Law. Priests are supposed to earn their living within a diocese and from the diocese, not on their own.  Bishops are responsible for their priests and must provide for them.  Canon Law 286 prohibits the clergy from engaging in business in order to gain profit.

Can. 286 Clerics are prohibited from conducting business or trade personally or through others, for their own advantage or that of others, except with the permission of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

In light of this, Father Z may be breaking canon law by using a blog as a business means to earn a salary. This income is not tax-exempt and is unaccounted for. I found this odd when I first learned of this priest-blogger.  When I tried to join his blog to comment and inquire, he did not allow me to join because I used my ministry's name "Sacerdotus." I found this odd since he uses his own moninker "Father Z" to post online and did not know that Blessed Solanus Casey was a "Sacerdotus." Moreover, his tone in the email came across as arrogant and condescending.

When he wrote a post attacking the Vatican for displaying a light show on the facade of St. Peter's Basilica, I wrote a post pointing out the nonsensical rant in his post and why they made him look foolish, see:  His science illiteracy and lack of knowledge regarding previous Vatican light-shows was clear in his post.

It seems that many others have had problems with Father Z as well. Some of my followers have told me that they were turned off by the constant "showing off" of his lavish meals and travels. These are possibly at the expense of those who donate to him of course. While most of his content is not too bad; apart from the Vatican light show one, a post he wrote where he responded to a reader is extremely troubling.  In the post, he encourages the reader to pray for the death of a pope or the end of a pontificate. He claims that this is not sinful.

The reader, an apparent Pope Francis hater asked:

"Given the rate things are going for this current pontificate, would it be sinful to pray that, if it be God’s will, that the pope either abdicates or dies and a new pope of a more conservative leaning is elected?"

Father Z replied on 27 January:

"I get this often.
No.  It is not necessarily sinful to pray for the end of a pontificate, one way or another.
However, it depends on why and on your attitude.  I urge people not to have hate in their hearts for the person of the Holy Father.  He deserves our prayers.  That doesn’t mean that we have to like him or what he does.  We do NOT worship the Pope.  Popes come and go.  In our prayers, we can, without sinning, discuss with God about His time table."

Do you see the problem?  He tells the person that it is not "sinful to pray for the end of a pontificate, one way or another." He is endorsing the idea that the reader mentioned in the question who asked, "...would it be sinful to pray, that if it be God's will, that the pope either abdicates or dies...?"  Note how he never corrected the reader by stating clearly that we cannot pray for anyone to die, pope or not.  Instead, he says that it is not "sinful to pray for the end of a pontificate, one way or another."  To be fair, he did excuse himself later on after readers criticized him, see:  However, his mea culpa fell short of erasing his error.  He writes:

"Since I posted that, I’ve heard that some people thought – from what admittedly I wrote – either that it is okay to pray that the Pope should die (without any further qualification) or that they ought to pray that the Pope should die.
That was certainly NOT my intention.  I’m sorry if by my poor wording I gave that impression.
I tried to answer that question – which I have received quite a few times – in way that put questioners at ease, but also counseled care and judgment about their own attitude, their own motives.  It appears that I didn’t do that very well."

This is a poor attempt at backpedaling.  Father Z knew exactly what he meant and why he worded his words the way he did. Anyone with or without a theology degree knows that it is a sin against charity and one's neighbor to pray for the ill or the fall of another. This would be what St. Thomas Aquinas calls a maledictio. A true Catholic Christian prays for the grace to deal with others, not to get rid of them (1 Corinthians 13:7). Father Z's reply is simply empty of moral theology. There is never any justification for praying for the end of someone's life, ministry or position in life. Instead, we must pray for that person to convert if he or she is doing evil and must pray for the grace to deal with the person or circumstance. This would have been the best reply to give to the reader.  Praying for a pontificate to end is a maledictio whereupon the person is demanding God bring an end to a person or his or her position in life.  This is evil and sinful.  God guides His Catholic Church.  The pope who is in power is so because God wills it. Who are we to whine and ask for a forced removal? 

Father Z has also encouraged readers to attack Father James Martin SJ causing some of his events to be cancelled. While the intention may be to prevent Fr. Martin from spreading his twisted ideas on homosexuality, this intention may be abusive against Fr. Martin. He has freedom of speech and bishops are responsible for whom they allow to speak and work within their territories, not mass protesters. It is scandalous for a priest to publicly attack a brother priest. If I were Father Z, I would reach out to Fr. Martin privately and not create an online militia that seeks to become its own organization of inquisitors.  The BuzzFeed article goes more at length as to why Father Z is a problematic figure in the Catholic Church. 

My advice to my readers is to be careful with Father Z. Just because one is ordained does not mean he or she is a good representative of the Catholic faith. Take note that this priest is not functioning within the Church in a normal manner. While there are priests and nuns who blog, they do not live for blogging like Father Z does. These individuals have their respective full-time ministries and ways of life which provide an income for them. I would be wary of a rogue diocesan priest who seems to be a pariah among dioceses and who relies on a blog to earn a living which is contrary to Canon law.  Pray for him.



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