Sunday 18 November 2018

The revolution in the Catholic Church

Cardinal Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago, talking about Pope Francis’ silence on Archbishop Vigano’s charge of disregarding credible accusations of paedophlia by prelates:
“The Pope has a bigger agenda. He’s got to get on with other things—of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”
The Archbishop of Washington D.C., Cardinal Wuerl, who has since resigned:
“I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.”
Those predictions did not age well, to use a cliché. The crisis is a massive, massive one. 

Was there a bigger one since the Reformation?

I recommend this thought-provoking article by R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, headlined The Populist Wave Hits the Catholic Church: How Pope Francis Triggered a Rebellion, though I think the headline is misleading. 

The article is not about rebellion, but about the Pope's teaching, and it seems to me that it is the Pope who is a populist, if a populist is someone who says things to appeal to the crowds and win popularity. 

Professor Reno:

"A footnote in the 2016 papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia seemed to allow for divorced and remarried Catholics to take communion, provided they did so under the “accompaniment” and approval of their priest, who is given wide latitude to exercise discretion. Francis has even gone so far as to denounce as Pharisees those who affirm the authority of the church teaching that communion for the divorced or remarried who engage in the conjugal act is never permissible. More broadly, the Francis pontificate signals a general loosening of the older norms about sex, procreation, and family.

"This trend is closely related to a slow dismantling of the authoritative superstructure of the Rome-centered church...

"These moves have all weakened the Catholic anti-modernist project. In reality, the notion of pastoral accompaniment softens clerical authority to the point of eliminating it. The priest uses his own discernment. He speaks for himself, as it were, not for the church, which is the traditional source of clerical authority....
"Francis’ abandonment of Catholic anti-modernism has significant implications. As time passes, it becomes more and more obvious that the Francis papacy is merging the Catholic Church into the cultural and political establishment in the West, which is dominated by a consensus in favor of “openness.” Both the revision of the church’s discipline on marriage—making boundaries more porous—and the pope’s stated views on immigration, for example, are in line with the attitudes of upper-middle-class Western elites.
"Explaining the Francis pontificate and the controversy surrounding it in terms of the traditional left-right divide distorts reality. The center-left establishment favors cultural deregulation, which Francis accommodates. The center-right establishment favors economic liberalization. Francis speaks against this at times but largely endorses the “open world” ideal integral to the ongoing expansion of markets. Both center-left and center-right in the West coalesce around calls for more porous borders, freer trade, and open minds, calling them either inevitable or beneficent, or more often both at once."
Do read the whole article. Professor Reno makes clear to me how the Pope's teaching seems to favour subjective interpretations of doctrine by individual priests and lay people, rather than clear, objective, timeless rules, and how this goes to the very heart of the Catholic faith. 

It does sound rather like modernism, which is the heresy of thinking the Church should adapt to the modern world rather than the modern world adapt to the Church. 

Pope St. Pius X called modernism "the synthesis of all heresies”. I always imagined that Catholic liberals simply disagreed with the Church's teaching on divorce, contraception and clerical celibacy, but it goes very much further than that. 

In very over-simplified terms, for readers who are not Catholics or much interested in Catholicism, it is about turning the Catholic Church into something more like the Anglican or American Episcopalian churches. American conservatives have largely fled the latter.

Mgr. Charles Pope writing in The National Catholic Register, the oldest national Catholic newspaper in the United States, is also worth reading. He makes the point that

"It also does not help that many of Pope Francis’ closest advisors are themselves caught up in this worldwide [sex] scandal and have at best exhibited poor judgment. For example, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (from Honduras) is seen as highly connected to homosexual and financial improprieties there; more than forty seminarians in his diocese published a letter asking him to root out the homosexual network in his seminary. Cardinal Rodríguez is Pope Francis’ chief advisor, the head of his “Council of Nine,” which works closely with him in bringing about reform in Rome. Yet another associate of Francis’ in the “Council of Nine,” Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, has stepped down to face legal charges of covering up for abusive priests."

It has become very clear that there have been and are many practicing homosexuals and even pederasts in positions of great influence and power in the Church. I and most Catholics used not to believe that. It is also clear that some of these men were close to Pope Francis and remained in his favour even when he heard credible allegations about their private lives. A merciful attitude to sinners is well and good, but mercy can go too far.

People say that the Pope worries about the conservatism of American bishops. I always used to think that they were mostly liberals, at least to some extent, because America is a quintessentially liberal idea. In fact, the whole of the USA is built on Whiggish Protestant or Deist principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, which are poles apart from the Catholic Church's claim to be infallible and require absolute obedience from her sons and daughters. 

But the kind of bishop who follows the line of Pope St John Paul II (I heard them described as neo-conservatives by a Catholic traditionalist) is now out of favour, it seems.

For centuries until the Second Vatican Council the Church kept the Index -  the list of books and writers that the faithful were prohibited from reading. I remember I found I had read many of them without knowing this - people like Locke and Hume. The Vatican is now said to be about to compile a list of recommended Catholic websites and well known Catholic magazines, sites and publications might be excluded from the list because they are too conservative.  

The world is very strange these days.

J.K. Galbraith told a Catholic interviewer that the biggest change he had seen in his lifetime was the change to the Catholic Church. He was right and it looks as if we might be in the throes of another similarly vast change.


  1. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I used to admire the intellectual rigour of the Roman Catholic Church. Even in television (not unimportant) the Roman Catholic "Eternal Word" Television station was head-and-shoulders above the Protestant television stations in terms of theological rigour and quality of intellect. But now comes Pope Francis the First - a man who clearly does not really believe in anything, and (indeed) mocks traditional Catholic (and traditional Christian generally) beliefs. The words "is the Pope a Catholic?" used to be an ironic statement - but now it is a serious question, and the answer to "is the Pope a Catholic?" is NO he is not a Catholic. Unlike, for example, the Orthodox Church the Roman Catholic Church is very much centred on a MAN - the Pope, that has proved to be a terrible weakness in the case of Francis.


  2. Quite an interesting text. It does seem to miss the rather ironic twist that, while dismantling authority on the one hand, Francis in his actions, is on the other, turning out to be one of the most authoritarian popes in centuries.

    I dismissed it then, but even in the earliest days of his pontificate, one of my friends made the observation that the current pope is very much a peronist. His approach to issues and groups within the Church, echoes that of Peron under whom he grew up. The heading is quite correct in that peronism, as far as I understand, was an extremly populist movement.