Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
In the fourth year of his pontificate, Francis continues to deliver regular payloads of explosive off-the-cuff remarks that delight the media and shock the Catholic faithful. It would be easy at this point simply to ignore these spectacles, but then one would be ignoring a key element of the manner in which Francis is attempting to realize his “vision” of the Church. As Francis himself has insisted, his “magisterium” includes an endless stream of informal speech in various venues: “I’m constantly making statements, giving homilies. That’s magisterium. That’s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out; it’s very clear.”
a popeFor Francis, “magisterium” and “what I think” are one and the same thing. What Francis thinks—and speaks incessantly—generally serves the ends of political liberalism and state power while confirming the Church’s post-Vatican II demotion to a mere religious constituency under the secular sovereign. In this regard witness, for example:
· Francis’s warm relations with socialist dictators;
· his lauding of pro-abortion and pro-“gay” politicians;
· his abuse of the papal office as a platform for globalist enviornmentalism (thus advantaging the same transnational corporations he professes to deplore);
· his refusal to intervene in opposition to the legalization of “gay marriage” because “the Pope belongs to everybody, he cannot enter the concrete, domestic politics of a country. This is not the Pope’s role”;
· his demand—flatly contradicting his professed abstention from domestic politics—for universal abolition of the death penalty (while declining to demand the abolition of abortion), open borders in Europe and America, and policies of environmental regulation and wealth redistribution;
· his conspicuous failure to identify government policy, particularly in socialist countries, as a primary cause of the poverty he attributes entirely to the greed of the wealthy.
As a mere social constituency alongside other religions and organizations, the Church cannot have any pretension to moral authority over the State, much less a divine mandate to make disciples of all nations. The Church is reduced to pleading for the State’s toleration of her existence. In his study of the Enlightenment as “the rise of modern paganism,” Peter Gay observes that “political absolutism and religious toleration [are] the improbable twins of the modern state system…” Francis accepts this intolerable paradox. To a greater or lesser extent so did his post-conciliar predecessors, as the “opening to the world” became an abject surrender to the spirit of our secular age. But never has that surrender been expressed with the brutal bluntness Francis exhibits.
Most recently, for example, in an exclusive interview granted to the French magazine La Croix, Francis declared: “States must be secular. Confessional states end badly. That goes against the grain of History.” In only three short sentences Francis spouts a series of liberal platitudes suitable for inclusion in a modern version of Flaubert’s satirical “Dictionary of Received Ideas” (many of Flaubert’s own ideas having become the received wisdom of our time).
An entire book could be written in answer to these bromides of liberal orthodoxy. Suffice it to say that the confessional state did not “end badly” simply because it was a confessional state, as if that were some fatal defect in its original constitution. From the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 to the fall of the House of Hapsburg at the end of World War I, the Catholic confessional state existed in one form or another as the basic model of political society. The modern state system, on the other hand, imposed on Christendom by force and violence, is undergoing the death throes of a neo-pagan empire after less than three centuries, as even Benedict XVI candidly acknowledged in his 2010 address to the Roman Curia.
The confessional state has “ended badly” only when it was undermined or overthrown by revolutionary cadres of Protestant, Masonic, deist, atheist, socialist, Communist and Nazi enemies of the Church, beginning with Luther’s revolt in the 16th century. The “grain of history,” therefore, is nothing more than the long trail of blood left in the wake of satanic violence against altar and throne that has claimed endless millions of victims over the past three hundred years. As John Adams put it in one of his letters to Thomas Jefferson, written in 1823: “It is melancholy to contemplate the cruel wars, desolations of countries, and oceans of blood, which must occur before rational principles and rational systems of government can prevail and be established.” This is not even to consider the hundreds of millions of victims of legalized abortion, now a virtual sacrament in the one-world universal Church of Toleration that administers the civic religion of post-Christian nation-states, or what Sidney Mead (in reference to the United States) called “the cosmopolitan, universal theology of the Republic.”
Moreover, in certain Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Catholicism has never ceased to be the religion of the State, accorded juridical privileges and protections as such. And, as we see with the recently adopted Christian constitution of Hungary, even today, in the context of mass democracy, restoration of a confessional state remains viable, mutatis mutandis, if only the popular will is engaged in the project of restoring it. The example of Hungary confirms the truth of Romano Amerio’s observation in Iota Unum: “Faith in Providence thus proclaims the possibility that the world might rise and be healed by a metanoia which it cannot initiate but which it is capable of accepting once it is offered.”
No such offer will ever come from Francis, however, who gives no sign of being aware of the suicide of the West by way of the social apostasy of post-Christian polities. For him, rather, the sociopolitical status quo represents a happy ending to the history of Christendom, which he seems to view as a long and sordid tale of woe. As he told La Croix: “I believe that a version of laicity accompanied by a solid law guaranteeing religious freedom offers a framework for going forward.” Francis has nothing to say against the earthly supremacy of the “mortal god” of Hobbes’s politics, the State before which the Church as a body is powerless, the Roman Pontiff is a mere organizational spokesman dutifully keeping his proper place, and the individual Catholic is confined to the ever-smaller ghetto of his individual conscience while civilization at large descends into an abyss of total depravity.
Indeed, Francis blithely confirms the supremacy of the modern Hobbesian sovereign, whose will determines even questions of right and wrong. Thus, in the same interview, he gave the following answer to the reporter’s question about how Catholics should approach such issues as euthanasia and “same-sex marriage”:
In a secular setting, how should Catholics defend their concerns on societal issues such as euthanasia or same-sex marriage?
Pope Francis: It is up to Parliament to discuss, argue, explain, reason [these issues]. That is how a society grows.
However, once a law has been adopted, the state must also respect [people’s] consciences. The right to conscientious objection must be recognized within each legal structure because it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is a human person. The state must also take criticism into account. That would be a genuine form of laicity.
Here we have something new even by post-conciliar standards: a Pope who simply assumes that the State has the authority to enact measures that contravene the divine and natural law, provided only that it “take criticism into account” and allow Catholics to demur conscientiously from whatever evil outcome the State mandates once its lawmakers “discuss, argue, explain [and] reason.” This, says Francis, is how society grows! If only it were a joke.
As Hobbes declared in the preface to his De Cive: “there are no authentical doctrines concerning right and wrong, good and evil, besides the constituted Lawes in each Realme and government; and… the question whether any future action will prove just or unjust, good or ill, is to be demanded of none, but those to whom the supreme [power] hath committed the interpretation of his Laws.” Even Hobbes would be pleased with a Pope such as Francis, the first in the history of the Church to concede supreme power to the legislature even in matters of morality so long as subjects whose conscience objects to particular immoral laws are not personally compelled to carry them out.
But Francis does not stop at confirming the Church’s subordination to temporal power. He wishes as well to encourage the resurgence of Islam, as if to hasten an all but irreversible process of civilizational suicide. Thus in the La Croix interview, speaking of ISIS, he blithely proposes—as he has done repeatedly—a moral equivalence between jihad and the divine commission: “It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.” That opinion would be contemptible coming from anyone. Coming from one who holds the title Vicar of Christ, however, it is nothing short of ecclesiastical treason. Which prompts the question: By what epochal intrigues did someone who is practically a nemesis of the Church ascend to the position of its earthly head?
Further on, Francis clearly implies that terrorist attacks in European capitals are to be blamed on immigration policy: “Coming back to the migrant issue, the worst form of welcome is to ‘ghettoize’ them. On the contrary, it’s necessary to integrate them. In Brussels, the terrorists were Belgians, children of migrants, but they grew up in a ghetto.” Here Francis echoes a shibboleth of the Seventies liberalism in which his thought is steeped: poverty, not the freely willed acts of morally accountable agents, is the “root cause” of crime. Now no less than a Pope declares that the “root cause” of terrorism is a lack of “integration.”
But what would Francis have the cities of Europe do to achieve this “integration”—bus “migrants” into non-Muslim neighborhoods and demand that they be given apartments? Evidently, it has not occurred to Francis that Muslims prefer to live in Muslim neighborhoods, where the violent radicals among them find neighborly aiders and abettors who hide them from the police and dance in the streets when they set off another bomb or mow down another crowd with assault rifles. As even the New York Times is forced to admit, it is precisely within these “ghettos” that “migrants” are establishing Muslim-controlled “no go” zones wherein civil authorities are virtually powerless and sharia law obtains. Only Christians and other non-Muslims are expected to remain subject to state power; any attempt by them to secede internally into insular communities would be met with force.
Respecting “integration,” Francis radically undermines his own position without seeming to notice the umpteenth self-contradiction in his welter of opinions: “I am thinking here of Pope Gregory the Great, who negotiated with the people known as barbarians, who were subsequently integrated.” This depiction of the conversion of pagan Europe invites laughter. The integration of the barbarian peoples was not accomplished by “negotiation” but by their baptism and incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ and the universal liturgical polity that was the social matrix of Europe’s emerging Christian culture and ultimately the Holy Roman Empire, which endured for more than a thousand years, from the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 to the abdication of Francis II in 1806 following the French Revolutionary Wars.
But this is precisely the sort of integration the infallibly politically correct Francis rejects out of hand. Speaking of his own prior reference to the “Christian roots” of Europe, Francis makes sure to strip the reference of any suggestion of a reconstitution of Christendom, affirming yet again the subordination of Church to State:
We need to speak of roots in the plural because there are so many. In this sense, when I hear talk of the Christian roots of Europe, I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful. It then takes on colonialist overtones…. Yes, Europe has Christian roots and it is Christianity’s responsibility to water those roots. But this must be done in a spirit of service as in the washing of the feet. Christianity’s duty to Europe is one of service…. In other words, service and the gift of life. It must not become a colonial enterprise.
In other words, the Church has a duty to serve Europe, washing the feet of the EU’s high and mighty rulers, but Europe has no duty to serve the Church. No, that would be “triumphalism” and “colonialism”—sins of which the State, of course, can never be guilty vis-à-vis the Church. Far from the mind of Francis is the contrary teaching of Saint Pius X, promulgated precisely in opposition to the French “laicist” government with which Francis is so comfortable:
That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him…. [T]his thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men. Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.
But that was then, and this is Francis: a Pope according to the needs of the worldly powers who praise him as no Pope in history has ever been praised by the Church’s adversaries.
The Church’s willing subjugation to the modern nation-state, born in violent revolution, has been a matter of historical development ever since Leo XIII’s policy of Ralliement respecting the Third Republic—a disastrous failure Pope Saint Pius X attempted to rectify by reasserting the Church’s supreme prerogatives in the affairs of men (cf. Vehementer nos), as did Pius XI in his teaching on the Social Kingship of Christ (cf. Quas Primas and Ubi Arcano Dei). But not even during a post-conciliar epoch marked by the generalized surrender of churchmen to the zeitgeist have we seen a Pope willing to serve as the veritable pontifical undertaker at the funeral of the Church Militant, glibly reciting a few last words at the graveside in superficial remarks to reporters that he insists are “magisterium.” Check it out!
How is it possible that a conclave could have placed such a spectacularly unsuitable man on the Chair of Peter? Perhaps one way of coping, at least psychologically, with this farce of a papacy is to take into account the unique circumstances that brought it about. Only a few days ago, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, who serves as personal secretary to the one and only “Pope Emeritus” in Church history, presented a book entitled “Beyond the Crisis in the Church: The Pontificate of Benedict XVI.” In the course of the presentation Ganswein made remarks—surely not without Benedict’s knowledge and consent—which confirm Benedict’s view that his renunciation of “the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter” was somehow not a total divestiture of the office of the papacy as such.
According to Ganswein, while “there are not two Popes” as a result, there is nevertheless “a sort of exceptional state willed by heaven” according to which “the papal ministry is no longer what it was before…” Rather, Benedict “has profoundly and lastingly transformed it” such that “he has not abandoned the office of Peter [but] has instead innovated this office” so that there is “de facto a broadened ministry—with an active member [Francis] and a contemplative member [Benedict].”
Antonio Socci notes the resulting conundrum: either Benedict has created a “momentous turning point which in fact involves a radical mutation of the papacy, which today has become a collegial organ (but this is impossible according to Catholic doctrine)” or else “this discourse [by Ganswein] brings into view the ‘nullity’ of the renunciation by Benedict XVI.” Indeed, if Benedict’s view of what he has done is false, if he had no power to alter the divinely instituted Petrine office by renouncing it on the understanding that he would nonetheless remain a “contemplative member” of it, then how could the validity of that qualified renunciation not be called into question?
I propose no answer to the question. Only history will provide the answer. Meanwhile, however, one can only wonder whether the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the elevation of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy are in some mysterious way related to the unexampled recklessness of his reign, so pleasing to the world that sings his praises.