To Sign or Not? The Petition Supporting Francis

As Pray Tell reported yesterday, a petition in support of Pope Francis has arisen from the Czech Republic and Austria and is now circling the globe.

Are these petitions a good idea? Is this a constructive way to promote discussion and dialogue in the Church? If one supports Pope Francis, should one sign the petition?

I admit that I’m a bit uneasy with this thing. It feels to me more like competition than dialogue. I fear it becoming a proxy war, but at the wrong level. Discernment in the Church happens at the level of the hierarchy, which of course we hope is deeply in touch with the entire People of God including lay people, clergy, religious, and theologians. (The Middle Ages had it right when they held that the magisterium consists of those who teach – bishops and theologians.) What is the real meaning of a petition, and what value does it derive from having more rather than less signatories?

Massimo Faggioli stated on social media why he did not sign:

I understand the temptation to sign it, but it’s ecclesiologically wrong and ecclesially-politically misguided. The Catholic Church is a Church of reception, not of petitions (right or left, conservative or liberal).

And this:

“They” need to count how few they are, “we” do not need to do that.

But Joseph S. O’Leary responded:

This is a subtle point of ecclesiology. Offhand I can’t think why petitions should not be part of church life. The citizens of Ghent addressed petitions to Julius II and Leo X. A glance at Google indicates the Jews, and the citizens of Bologna, addressed petitions to the pope. No doubt many individuals and groups have petitioned the pope with various requests. …It’s hard to see why even this should be an ecclesiological no-no.

When asked whether the pope really has any need of such a petition, co-organizer Fr. Paul Zulehner of Vienna said this to

Asztrik Várszegi, archabbot of Pannonhalma and also a bishop, told us that of course he would sign – although he finds it very regrettable that such a thing is even necessary. And I feel a bit the same way. On the other hand, we know from the pope himself that he loves pluralism and the open exchange of opinions and does not suppress them. In this light, the engagement that we want is absolutely creative for the life of the Church.

Asked about the aim of the petition, Zulehner said this:

I don’t know what will come from this. But I sure am amazed at how quickly it is going. That in just a few days, so much fire has flamed up, so to speak. This says that the ground was already very dry and ready to burn. The detail of how many people it will ultimately be is probably not really so important. In any case, we will gain unbelievably many supporters. If it continues as now, I foresee over 10,000. And the media will not be able to ignore this. “Radio Vatican” has already reported on it.

I suppose this petition has a bit of official recognition in that seven bishops have signed it: Beer, Vac, Hungary; Dowling, Rustenberg, South Africa; Iby, Eisenstadt, Austria (retired); Krätzl, Vienna (auxiliary); Lobinger, North-Aliwal, South Africa (retired); Malý, Prague (retired); Várszegi OSB, titular bishop and Benedictine abbot of Pannonhalma, Hungary.

I haven’t signed. If enough bishops and superiors and mainline theologians sign on, will I reconsider? I don’t know. But I’m not there yet.




  1. Well, I thought that petition smacked more of team-cheerleading than something substantive, and team-cheerleading is something I think is no less harmful within the church than it is extramurally. It’s especially a problem when the point of the exercise appear to be to build a media blip. In this it is a mirror of the Filial Correction. I am concerned that we’ve gotten so inured to this Way of Doing Things that we think a Good Cause baptizes it. It doesn’t.

    To me, a useful and potentially fruitful petition is ground-up and particular about something specific that can be made fruitful by a concrete set of actions. OR it’s a public statement of solidarity whereby a group of people commit themselves to a concrete set of actions for a specific and particular cause (world peace is not an example of such a thing).

  2. Suggest that *petition* is the guiding word and so find JOL’s historical comparisons to be misleading. This is a *support* petition – not a local or regional petition request for a specific item. Moreover, this is a petition whose subject is the pope, his current or future status, etc. (not a specific issue, etc.)
    Suggest that JOL is mixing apples and oranges.
    Agree with Prof. Faggioli – this is an ecclesiological question when it comes to the level of for/against a validly elected Pope. Not sure that Faggioli said it was a no-no; just made no sense; so why do it.

  3. I think it’s generally acknowledged that the letter signed by Boston priests was a turning point in the events leading to Cardinal Law’s resignation from that archdiocese. That letter, which I suppose qualifies as a petition, seems to have had a significant impact (many would say a good impact) on the life of the church.

    Putting one’s name on that letter surely was an act of courage. I am not sure if it is comparably brave to express support for a sitting pope :-). Still, he is under seige of some indeterminate effectiveness, and I am sure he appreciates the vote of support.

  4. Agree. Theologically and ecclesially ________.

    However, given the level of loud and snarky opposition to Francis by the Dubia and the corresponding lay document, it might be refreshing to see a voluminous letter of support (not a petition) for Francis’ pastoral approaches and implementation of VII, which is long overdue. But i would believe he already knows that. So, back to square one; unneeded, unnecessary, and un________.

  5. It’s called an “open letter” of support for Pope Francis. I can’t see what harm this does, especially since the Pope has been under attack. Unnecessary? Well, maybe expressions of support for a pope are not strictly necessary, but that takes the point of view that “everybody knows already that he has our support.” Not necessarily the case. An open letter is a witness, and if it’s a witness to truth, maybe it does some good.

    I am surprised to hear that Prof. Faggioli takes a negative view of petitions, given the fact that he himself organized a petition not too long ago (that was contra Ross Douthat, and not in support of a pope). Fr. Ruff was author of a significant open letter not too long ago (about the Missal translation, and not the pope). A lot of us, myself included, signed “What if we just said wait?” in an effort to make known our concerns to the bishops. Was that “ecclesiologically wrong”? Or is it only letters praising the pope that are wrong in this way? Is it that any letter concerning a pope is off limits?

    Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with open letters or petition drives to make public the views of the faithful who care enough to want to make a joint statement — whether it states support for the leadership of Pope Francis, or voices concerns about the Roman Missal, or whatever. They don’t bind the rest of us. Heaven knows we remain free to disagree. But I think the open letter or petition is a legitimate use of “public space” and healthy if what people say is respectful and honest. As I read this open letter, it qualifies.

    What am I missing here?

  6. Since the open letter was first placed on line, they have developed a beautiful chorus of personal witnesses on the first page. I found it heart-warming to read, really inspiring. And in our culture of complaint, a breath of fresh air. They say many things with which I can identify. Why is this form of expression off limits?

  7. “I found it heart-warming to read, really inspiring. And in our culture of complaint, a breath of fresh air.”

    This discerns the point. I suspect that Pope Francis has been in ministry long enough that he applies his Ignatian training to moments of discouragement. I was struck by his testimony against discouragement in his recent address to bishops in Colombia:

    It is not part of the mission to yield to discouragement, once our initial enthusiasm has faded and the time comes when touching the flesh of Christ becomes very hard.  In situations like this, Jesus does not feed our fears.  We know very well that to him alone can we go, for he alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).  So we need to understand and appreciate more deeply the fact that he has chosen us.

    The petition is for the signers more than it is about Pope Francis. There’s nothing wrong with a little pick-me-up amongst friends, allies, and colleagues. God made us and knows we need it now and then. I suspect Pope Francis would direct us more to the ministers in our immediate neighborhood. It might be a matter of lending a hand to a colleague in need and taking that opportunity for a mutual discussion–how are you, how is your family, this was my call to ministry; tell me about yours–something more uplifting. Praying with them and for them.

    I think I’m not signing either. But if signatories number in the tens of millions, it would not put a frown on my face.

  8. I signed the “petition” as a sign of solidarity with Pope Francis. I am not an ultra-montanist nor do I hold the conviction that Popes are beyond being assessed critically, but I fervently pray that the witness and teaching emphases of this pope will bring about a church that truly brings good news to the poor, announces a time of favor from the Lord, frees those in any kind of bondage, brings sight to the blind and straightens crooked limbs……for starters.

  9. I signed the petition because I want to make it clear that a small group does not represent how the larger Church views the faithful and loving ministry of Pope Francis. This issue is more than supporting or not supporting Pope Francis, it is about the role of the Bishop of Rome, established by Jesus for the well being and unity of the Universal Church. The poor and those in difficult situations are essential to the well being and unity of the Church.

  10. I overcame scruples and signed because of so many esteemed teachers and friends on the list and because of the alleged approval of high prelates who did not themselves sign. At worst it is a sort of testimonial bouquet, like those you throw at opera singers, which are more precious when others are booing them!

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