In an article recently published in the weekly The Wanderer (June 7, 2001, p.11), Mr. Timothy Mitchell attacks the document An Urgent Plea: Do Not Change the Papacy. He also publishes an advertisement in which, for the second time, he tries to be funny, imitating a well-known late-night talk show host. As in his prior attack, here also I exempt myself from refuting the supposedly comical ad of Mr. Mitchell. I allow him free rein to exercise his gifts of court jester, a role for which he seems to have been contracted by The Wanderer.I will respond only to his article.
I had the honor of signing the document mentioned above, together with my friends, Michael Matt, John Vennari, and Marian Horvat. In view of the present attack, John, the valorous editor of Catholic Family News, proposed that I make a brief response. Here it is.
Mr. Mitchell claims that our document is not based on any clear and evident desire of John Paul II to reform the Papacy. He affirms: “Since there is no evidence that Rome is even considering such a radical move….” And, further on, “there is not one footnote (out of the 39) to even give the slightest inkling that His Holiness has even thought of such an abstract possibility.”
However, the truth is the exact opposite of what Mr. Mitchell affirms.
First, the most important point of the Encyclical Ut unum sint is precisely the proposition of John Paul II to reform the Papacy. The eleven most salient points for such a change presented in the Encyclical are cited in Section IV of An Urgent Plea.
Second, in his book The Reform of the Papacy, Archbishop John Quinn based his suggestions and commentaries for changing the way the Petrine Primacy functions on the same Ut unum sint. Section V of our document cites five excerpts from Msgr. Quinn’s work that directly cite or interpret the aforementioned Encyclical of John Paul II.
Third, in the same section, we cite, by way of example, two books and six articles that recently reported the reform of the Papacy as an imminent fact. Among those articles is “A Papacy for a Global Church” by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.
Fourth, in Section VII (footnote 35) we cite, again by way of example, five responses coming from non-Catholic sources that reply to the invitation of John Paul II to study new ways to exercise the papal ministry in order to please the Schismatics and Protestants.
In face of this considerable index of proofs, the droll Mr. Mitchell affirms publicly that he did not find “even the slightest inkling” that the Pope wants the mentioned reform.
Further, Mr. Mitchell makes another surprising affirmation: “The article…. covers a myriad of topics.” On the contrary, our document is monothematic, it deals only with the reform of the Papacy. The introduction, all the parts, and the conclusion are focused on this single point. In one note (n. 32) we cite an article by Michael J. Matt, in which he opens a fan of cases where legitimate resistance to errors of a Pope is justified.
However, this note serves merely as exemplification, and is not an integral part of the text, as any reader with good sense can understand. Therefore, once again, Mr. Mitchell is completely
This cartoon and caption was published on the front page of Pro Ecclesia magazine (No 3, 2001). It seemed the fitting point to close this debate.
Given these two blatant errors that Mr. Mitchell commits with regard to the content of the document An Urgent Plea, I believe that two hypotheses can be raised.
First, Mr. Mitchell did not read the book that he criticized. In this case, it would be a complete lack of seriousness to publish his critique. We are in the presence of a court jester. This type of intellectual buffoonery also seems to me to be an affront to the readers of The Wanderer, who have the right to expect at least a semblance of truth in what contributors to the paper write.
Second, Mr. Mitchell did read the document and understood absolutely nothing. Here the matter is more delicate. It would seem that watching too many late night television shows would have had deleterious consequences on the mind of Mr. Mitchell. In that case, out of consideration for his mental state, I cease to argue.