Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
Yet again Francis has told us what he thinks, yet again the Church is rocked by scandal, and yet again the Vatican has had to issue a “clarification” in an effort to calm the storm. As the whole world knows by now, during rambling remarks at a “pastoral conference” for priests of the Diocese of Rome at Saint John Lateran on June 16, Francis declared that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” because the spouses “don’t know what they say” when they say “Yes, for life.”
But Francis is also “sure” that couples in the countryside of northeast Argentina who cohabit out of the husband’s superstitious fear of marriage vows, avoiding Catholic nuptials until they are grandparents, have “a true marriage, they have the grace of marriage, precisely because of the fidelity they have.”
Before we assess the latest Bergoglian scandal, including the hastily revised and censored transcript of his remarks, an initial objection: Couples who exchange marriage vows before a priest also live together and commonly exhibit “fidelity” over a period of many years thereafter. Even supposing they somehow had no idea of what their vows meant when they recited them, under Francis’s view would not they also have “a true marriage” and “the grace of marriage”? No, apparently. As we shall see, Francis thinks that in the “great majority” of cases the sacramental marriage rite not only results in a nullity, thus failing to impart grace, but actually leaves the parties in a worse spiritual condition than people who cohabit in “fidelity” because they fear marriage. (And let us not hear the excuse that Francis was merely comparing natural marriages to truly null Catholic marriages, for cohabitation, even in northeast Argentina, is not any kind of marriage, especially when it is motivated by an aversion to marriage.)
In short, these astonishing statements—if Francis has not already exhausted the capacity for astonishment—mean this: a Roman Pontiff has declared that most sacramental marriages are null while many illicit sexual unions are actually true marriages. If only it were a joke. Let examine more closely the relevant papal remarks and the Vatican’s ineffectual attempt to undo them (but only in part).
Francis and the New Moral “Realism”
Francis’s remarks at the Lateran began with a reprise of his theme in Amoris Laetitia (AL) that the moral precepts against illicit sexual unions represent merely the “objective ideal” of conduct toward which the Church must take a “realistic” approach given the “concrete complexity of one one’s limits” (AL 303). In other words, situation ethics as to sins of the flesh, but not as to certain other sins Francis constantly condemns. Quoth Francis at the Lateran:
Evangelical realism engages with the other, with others, and not does make of ideals and of the “must be” an obstacle to encountering others in the situations in which they are found. This does not mean not proposing the evangelical ideal. No, it does not mean this. On the contrary, it invites us to live it in history, with all that this entails [my emphasis]. And this does not mean not being clear in doctrine, but rather to avoid falling into judgments and attitudes that do not take into consideration the complexity of life…. This requires us to develop a family pastoral capable of welcoming, accompanying, discerning and integrating.
This was the same theme enunciated in the “sermon heard round the world” on June 9, wherein Francis, provoking yet another storm of justified outrage among the faithful, falsely depicted Our Lord’s teaching on sexual morality thus: “But do that up to the point that you are capable.”
At the Lateran, a woman in the audience addressed to Francis a question about how to “avoid a double morality in our communities: one demanding, and one permissive, one rigorist and one laxist.” In answer to this floating softball, involving the classic sophistical ploy of the false alternative, Francis elicited thunderous applause and a radiant, satisfied smile from the woman:
Both are not true: neither rigorism nor laxity. The Gospel chooses another road. For this, these four words [emphasizing]: welcome, accompany, integrate, discern—without putting one’s nose into the moral life, so called, of people [gesturing to indicate skeptical quotation marks].
[Note: the Vatican deleted the words “so called” from this remark.]
Yes, we actually have a Pope who thinks the Church has no business inquiring into people’s “so called” moral lives. That would make administration of the Sacrament of Confession and spiritual counsel rather difficult, not to mention the whole mission of the Catholic Church to convert sinners and save souls.
In answer to the same question, Francis repeated his familiar refrain that Catholic moral teaching is not “mathematical,” another of the straw men he is constantly assailing: “But we wish, so many times, that secure doctrine have a mathematical certainty that does not exist, neither with laxism, nor with indulgence, nor with rigidity.” If doctrine has no “mathematical certainty,” what kind of certainty does it have? For Francis, as Chapter 8 of AL makes clear, only the certainty of a “rule” or “ideal” to be applied according to varying circumstances.
But again, as discussed elsewhere, such Bergoglian dicta apply only to sexual sins. Thus, for example, the absolute indissolubility of marriage and the absolute impermissibility of cohabitation become an “evangelical ideal” that must be accommodated to “the complexity of life” without “nosy” inquiries into personal behavior, whereas the avoidance of fossil fuels and excessive air conditioning are ironclad mandates binding “every person living on this planet.” In purporting to reject a double morality, Francis advances precisely that; and that double standard informs the rest of his comments at the Lateran and indeed his whole pontificate.
A Preposterous Claim
It was in answer to a third and final question, concerning the “crisis in marriage,” that Francis opined the “great majority” of Catholic marriages to be nullities. As the respected canonist Dr. Edward Peters observes, the claim is simply “preposterous.” Church law, reflecting all of Tradition, natural justice and simple common sense, presumes the validity of marriages (CIC 1060) and further presumes “the consent of the mind… to the words or the signs used in the celebration of a marriage.” (CIC 1101.1) Francis, however, blithely presumes exactly the opposite.
And what is the basis for the Bergoglian Presumption? Did Francis empanel a canonical commission to study the question? Did he review statistical data from diocesan marriage tribunals around the world? Has he received a report on the prevalence of invalid marriages based upon an examination of decisions in the Roman Rota? Did he consult even something as dubious as sociological surveys of Catholic spouses in various nations regarding their attitude toward the marriage bond?
None of the above. Francis declares that the vast majority of Catholic marriages are nullities simply because that is what he thinks. That is his impression. But what is the source of this impression? Apparently, nothing more than Francis’s own catch phrase: “provisional culture.” Quoth Francis:
… [W]e live also in a culture of the provisional. A bishop, I heard him say, some months ago, was presented with a young man who had finished his university studies, a fine youngster, and he said: “I want to become a priest, but for ten years [laughter].” It is the provisional culture. And this is happening everywhere, even in the sacerdotal life, in the religious life. The provisional.
And for this reason a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because the spouses say: “Yes, for life”, but they don’t know what they say, because they have another culture. They say it, and they have good faith, but they don’t have [the awareness, la consapevolezza, a word added to the published transcript]
So, according to Francis, couples undergoing a Catholic marriage ceremony are not validly married even though they acknowledge that marriage is for life, do not feign their consent, and are in good faith when they recite their vows before the priest. Francis’s only explanation for this absurd opinion is that the “provisional culture” deprives couples of any knowledge of the meaning of the very words they utter at the altar. According to Francis, while their minds consent to the words they have spoken in good faith, as Church law rightly presumes they do, somehow they “don’t know what they say” when they say “Yes, for life.”
How can that be? How does Francis know that the “provisional culture” produces such zombie-like behavior in millions of admittedly good-willed people who appear to be aware of what they are saying and doing? Well, of course he doesn’t know. But that is what he thinks. Let the marriages fall where they may! And into the bargain throw “the vast majority” of priestly ordinations, just as Francis suggests with his anecdote about the young man who supposedly contemplated being a priest for only ten years. The “provisional culture” clearly negates consent to such onerous spiritual obligations as lifelong marriage and priestly celibacy.
But Francis’s anthropological construct seems suspiciously limited in scope. He does not suggest that the “provisional culture” negates people’s understanding of the meaning of other very serious and binding commitments, many with terms far more complicated than simple marriage vows, such as contractual obligations that often last for most of a lifetime, military service from which there can be no escape once agreed to, the ethical rules of various professions, oaths of citizenship under penalty of treason, judicial oaths in legal proceedings, and so forth. Nor, under his double standard of moral accountability, does he allow the plea of ignorance on account of the “provisional culture” when it comes to comprehension of other obligations he constantly condemns people for neglecting: care for the environment, social justice, an end to the arms trade, the death penalty and discrimination against women, the redistribution of wealth, and so on down the litany of politically correct commandments.
How is it, then, that the “provisional culture” induces brute incomprehension of the most basic duties to God and others only when it comes to matrimony—a commitment, moreover, divinely aided by the grace of baptism that instills in children a habitus of faith? It would appear that like AL as a whole, Francis’s “provisional culture” is an ad hoc rhetorical device in aid of his obsessive drive to erect a vast ecclesial apparatus to accommodate deviations from the Sixth Commandment while reducing the indissoluble marriage bond to an “ideal” as opposed to what God has ordained as an absolute, exceptionless moral requirement for licit conjugal relations.
Here it must be noted, however, that Francis’s comments at the Lateran flatly contradict his formal declaration less than five months ago in an address to officials of the Roman Rota. On that occasion (January 22, 2016), Francis declared as follows:
It is worth clearly reiterating that the essential component of marital consent is not the quality of one’s faith, which according to unchanging doctrine can be undermined only on the plane of the natural (cf. CIC c. 1055 §§ 1,2). Indeed, the habitus fidei is infused at the moment of Baptism and continues to have a mysterious influence in the soul, even when faith has not been developed and psychologically speaking seems to be absent. It is not uncommon that couples are led to true marriage by the instinctus naturae and at the moment of its celebration they have a limited awareness of the fullness of God’s plan. Only later in the life of the family do they come to discover all that God, the Creator and Redeemer, has established for them. A lack of formation in the faith and error with respect to the unity, indissolubility and sacramental dignity of marriage invalidate marital consent only if they influence the person’s will (cf. CIC c. 1099). It is for this reason that errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very attentively.
This excellent statement reflects the orthodox teaching that the consent giving rise to a valid marriage requires only that the parties “be not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to procreation of offspring by some means of procreation,” which ignorance “is not presumed after puberty.” (Canon 1096, §§ 1, 2) That is, no elaborate understanding of the Catholic doctrine on marriage is required, and the parties may even be mistaken about “the unity, indissolubility and sacramental dignity of marriage,” so long their that mistake does not preclude a basic intention, at the natural level, to enter into a permanent marital relationship and have children (an intention not negated by use of contraception, so long as there was an intention to have children at some point).
Ironically, the requirement for valid consent to marry is essentially the same minimum Francis now purports to discern in cases of mere cohabitation, yet he denies that it can be found in the “great majority” of sacramental marriages!
What is to account for this blatant self-contradiction? Only one answer seems possible: the statement before the Rota, as its clear and precise language suggests, was written by an orthodox expert on the subject, whereas the comments as the Lateran, spoken off-the-cuff, are what Francis actually thinks.
With AL in view, the remarks at the Lateran support the conclusion that, regardless of the prepared statement before the Rota, Francis cannot abide the teaching of Our Lord on the absolute indissolubility of marriage and the absolute impermissibility of what Our Lord called adultery—a word Francis refuses to employ. Francis insists upon calling adulterous relationships “irregular unions,” always placing even that euphemism between skeptical quotation marks. A dramatic example of this aversion to the Gospel truth occurred as recently as June 10, 2016. On that day the Gospel reading in the Novus Ordo lectionary was Matt 25:27-32:
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
During his Mass at Casa Santa Marta that morning, however, Francis ignored the Gospel reading and spoke only on the Old Testament reading from the Book of Kings (Joshua on the mountain), which has nothing to do with the Gospel. That is, the Vicar of Christ refused to mention the teaching of Christ appointed for the Mass of that day.
Clearly, Francis cannot bring himself even to speak, much less defend in a sermon, Our Lord’s unsparing condemnation of divorce, adultery and fornication and His warning of the eternal punishment of these sins if unrepented. Perhaps this has something to do with the state of Francis’s own family: a divorced and “remarried” sister with a child by two different fathers; a niece whose civil marriage to a divorced man, years before he obtained an annulment, had uncle Mario’s blessing; and a nephew with a live-in girlfriend who hopes his uncle the Pope will officiate at his wedding—if he ever mans up enough to pop the question to his main squeeze.
Cohabitation as Marriage Preparation
The remarks at the Lateran also reveal not only that Francis refuses to condemn cohabitation as intrinsically immoral but, on the contrary, views it rather benignly. In answer to the question about “the crisis in marriage” Francis related how, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had prohibited religious weddings in cases of out-of-wedlock pregnancy. This was apparently not a case-by-case pastoral determination of whether a couple was freely undertaking the marriage obligation as opposed to being pushed into it, but rather a blanket prohibition: “I prohibited them from doing it, because they are not free, they are not free! Perhaps they love each other, in which case, then, after two or three years, they are married, and I have seen them come into church, mother, father and child in hand. But they knew well what they were doing.”
Incredibly, Francis thinks the correct pastoral approach to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is to require the couple, even if they love each other, to cohabit for “two or three years” as some kind of test of their “love” and until they “know well what they are doing”—as if the mere passage of time while living in a state of objective mortal sin would somehow make them more amenable to the marriage commitment! In fact, Cardinal Bergoglio’s pastoral practice denied even willing couples in a spiritually perilous situation the precious grace of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony while dramatically increasing the likelihood that the relationship would founder and the child would be deprived forever of an intact family. Moreover, even sociologists admit that premarital cohabitation dramatically increases the likelihood of divorce.
Francis, however, views cohabitation as a kind of marriage preparation. When confronted in Buenos Aires with the prevalence of cohabitation, Francis’s approach was one of wait-and-see rather than counseling couples to end their mortally sinful relationship or marry in the Church: “They prefer to live together, and this is a challenge. It requires work. Do not say immediately: ‘Why do you not marry in church?’ No. Accompany them: wait and mature. And mature in fidelity.” Francis apparently sees no spiritual peril in couples habitually engaging in sexual relations out of wedlock; the threat of eternal damnation is evidently of no account to his notion of “accompanying” people living in sin; it seems never to have occurred to him that this “pastoral approach” might be accompanying people on the road to hell. And while the idea that people living in sin experience a maturation of fidelity as the years go by might appeal to the ethics of Hollywood, it certainly cannot be reconciled with the ethics of Christ.
In was in this context that Francis, going even further in his condonation of cohabitation, declared that cohabiting couples can even have the grace of matrimony. As he explained to his delighted audience at the Lateran:
In the Argentinian countryside, in the northwest region, there is a superstition: that where an engaged couple has a child, they live together. In the country this happens. Then, when the child must go to school, they have a civil ceremony. And then, when they are grandparents, they have a religious wedding. It is a superstition, because they say that to do it immediately will scare the husband [loud laughter]. We must struggle against this superstition. Yet I really must say that I have seen such fidelity in these cohabitations [convivenze], somuch fidelity; and I am sure that this is a true marriage, they have the grace of matrimony, precisely because of the fidelity that they have…”
For Francis, it seems, marriage is a state of mind and God is not concerned with such “external” details as marital vows and sexual relations outside of marriage. Even those who fear marriage can be married in God’s sight with all the graces of Holy Matrimony! “Fidelity” to one’s partner in sin is all that counts—as if “fidelity” could coexist with a refusal to take vows of lifelong fidelity before a priest. No discussion is required to demonstrate that this astounding bit of nonsense flies in the face of the divine and natural law, the words of Christ and the Gospel, and every teaching of the Church on marriage for the past 2,000 years.
The Vatican Emergency Editing Team
At least some members of the Vatican apparatus know they have runaway Pope on their hands and that they must try to contain the damage he is causing. In this case, facing worldwide protests over the spontaneous “universal nullity decree” from the Lateran, the Vatican doctored the transcript of Francis’s remarks, replacing his words “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” (una grande maggioranza dei nostri matrimoni sacramentali sono nulli) with “a portion of our sacramental marriages are null” (una parte dei nostri matrimoni sacramentali sono nulli). Taking issue with John Allen’s attempted whitewash of the scandal, Dr. Peters mocked the claim that this was merely the editing of a minor error: “This changes his [Francis’s] statement from one portending shocking problematics into a truism that any sapient observer could utter or agree with [i.e. that some marriages are invalid]. Small changes, my foot.”
Tellingly, however, there was no attempt to correct Francis’s other “small” error: that cohabiting Catholics can have “true marriages” because of their “fidelity.” This too is what Francis thinks, divine and natural law to the contrary. Nor was there any correction of the related implication that civil marriages entered into by “faithfully” cohabiting Catholics can likewise be “true marriages.” Absent due canonical form, Catholics who marry only civilly, as Peters notes, “are (outside a few rare exceptions) no more married than are couples just cohabiting (‘faithfully’ or otherwise).” Moreover, writes Peters, “because of the inseparability of the marriage contract from the sacrament, if one is invalidly ‘married’ (and ‘marriages’ among Catholics who disregard canonical form are invalid) then one does not receive the sacrament of Matrimony either nor any of its graces. Why? Because, no marriage means no Matrimony.”
We are told that the revised transcript reflects what Francis “intended” to say, but in fact it reflects only what the reviser knows he should have said. What Francis should have said, however, is not what Francis thinks, even if the Vatican claims that he approved the “correction” of his remarks on this particular occasion. For as Francis declared without correction in September 2015, during the flight back to Rome from the “beach party Mass” in Rio (citing his predecessor as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Quarracino): “half of all marriages are null…. Why? Because they are married without maturity, they get married without realizing that it’s for an entire lifetime, or they are married because socially they must get married.”
That is what Francis thinks. At the Lateran he merely upped the ante from “half of all marriages” to “the great majority,” while expanding his blanket declaration of marital nullity to include not merely couples who get married for social reasons and feign consent but even those who in good faith say: “Yes, for life.” All the Vatican has done in this case is to paper over what Francis really thinks and what he said in one venue. But Francis will still think what he thinks and will still say what he thinks even if, as with the statement before the Rota in January, what he says off-the-cuff and “from the heart,” as likes to put it, flatly contradicts some formal statement to be found elsewhere that no one except dogged researchers, such as Remnant columnists, will ever read.
By the way, another telling example of the emergency censorship the Lateran debacle required is deletion from the transcript of the following quip, uttered after Francis had made fun of his moral theology professor in seminary: “Because of this thing, do not go to Cardinal Müller to accuse me [uproarious laughter]!” What a spectacle before the Church and the world: an insouciant Pope clowning before a laughing crowd in one of the Church’s holiest places, concerning a member of the Roman Curia widely perceived as the only serious check on his heterodoxy.
Another embarrassment that had to be censored was Francis’s characterization of Jesus’ initial silence before the crowd that was preparing to stone the woman caught in adultery: “he played the fool a little bit [fa un po’ lo scemo],” which the Vatican revised to read “he played dumb a little bit.” This insult of Our Lord is only in keeping with the “humanized” Bergoglian Jesus, so typical of a liberal seventies-era Jesuit, who “pretends to be angry” with His disciples and has to “beg forgiveness” for his “little escapade” in the Temple while Joseph and Mary were searching for him.
Unimpressed by the (only partially) “corrected” transcript, even Phil Lawler at the resolutely mainstream CatholicCulture.org has had enough of this nonsense:
Should we conclude, then, that everything is fine, and no harm was done? Absolutely not!
First, because those shocking statements were widely disseminated through the news media, to be heard or read by millions of people who will never see the official transcript.
Second, the Pope’s remarks were consistent in their tone—a tone that encouraged listeners to question the authority of Church teachings. At one point Pope Francis light-heartedly said: “Don’t go telling on me to Cardinal Müller”…
Third and most important, because this pattern keeps recurring: the astonishing statements, the headlines, the confusion, followed by the explanations and clarifications that never clear away the fallout.
A bit more guarded than it had to be, but the shift in commentary we see here is quite dramatic, reflecting the drama of the situation with this bizarre pontificate.
Conclusion: a Papal Assault on Holy Matrimony
Dr. Peters rightly discerns that with “the debacle of assertions of massive nullity supposedly plaguing Christian marriage still reverberating, something deeper may be emerging here…” The deeper problem, although Peters does not put it this way, is that we have a Pope who thinks the Church ought to conform itself to his personal view of the way things should be without regard to the teaching of all his predecessors or the Church’s bimillenial discipline.
Where marriage is concerned, Francis just feels (to quote Peters) that “most marriages are not marriage but lots of non-marriages are marriage.” Only this, Peters reasonably deduces, would explain Francis’s “annulment reform,” which is designed to dispense with all the canonical marriages he views as null, and his relentless push, culminating with AL, for the “pastoral integration” of Catholics living in “second marriages” that the Church, following Our Lord, must view as public adultery.
Francis, in short, has little concern for marriage as an objective fact as opposed to what people, Francis included, subjectively feel about the status of relationships the Church can never recognize as matrimony. The result, Peters concludes, is that thanks to Francis:
a crisis (in the Greek sense of that word) over marriage is unfolding in the Church, and it is a crisis that will, I suggest, come to a head over matrimonial discipline and law…. I think the marriage crisis that he is occasioning is going to come down to whether Church teaching on marriage, which everyone professes to honor, will be concretely and effectively protected in Church law, or, whether the canonical categories treating marriage doctrine become so distorted (or simply disregarded) as essentially to abandon marriage and married life to the realm of personal opinion and individual conscience. History has always favored the former; disaster lurks behind the latter….
When even a commentator as reserved as Peters, who is hardly a “radical traditionalist,” reaches a conclusion of this magnitude, it should be obvious to all Catholics, traditionalist or not, that Francis poses an unprecedented threat to the integrity of the Church. And that concern was only heightened by his public admission, two days after the Lateran conference, to a group of students at Villa Nazareth University:
Many times I find myself in a crisis with the faith. Sometimes I’ve even had the impudence to scold Jesus— “But why did you permit this?”—and even to doubt: “But is this the truth or is it a dream?” And this as a boy, as a seminarian, as a priest, as a religious and [with emphasis] as Pope…. A Christian who does not feel this sometimes, who does not enter into a crisis of faith, is missing something. He is a Christian who is content with a little worldliness, and so he goes ahead in life….
They tell me that in Chinese the word “crisis” is made with two ideograms: one ideogram “risk” the other “opportunity” [an urban legend Francis has cited before]. This is true, eh? When one enters into crisis—as Jesus said to Peter, the devil would put him in crisis, like one does with wheat…. there is always a danger, a risk—a risk not in a good sense—and an opportunity. This I have learned: you must not be afraid to enter into a crisis. It is a sign to go ahead, that you are not anchored to the bank of the river that opens to the sea, and go ahead…. [Note: Translation mine from the video, as the media quotations are sketchy and inaccurate.]
We have Pope who, before an audience of impressionable youth, thinks nothing of admitting to many crises of faith even as Pope, belittles Christians who have not had his experience of doubt, and views as an opportunity the devil trying to sift a soul like wheat. It seems impossible to believe, even after three years of this sort of thing—even after a half-century of revolution in the Church—that a Vicar of Christ could speak and act as Francis does. Putting aside all the nonsensical, false, and outright heterodox pronunciamentos of the former Archbishop Bergoglio since his election—so numerous they would fill a book—the past two weeks of eruptions alone are enough thoroughly to discredit this pontificate.
Indeed, if only to give Francis the benefit of the doubt concerning motive, which we must do, the issue of mental competency must be considered. There are signs that Francis inhabits a kind of dream world in which realities do not penetrate very well. Francis himself has boasted that “God is good to me, he has bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do.” Perhaps there is a worsening clinical aspect to this dreamlike state.
One telling example of an alarming lack of awareness of reality is Francis’s defense of AL during the Lateran conference as “Thomistic from beginning to end” according to “the words of a great theologian who was Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Schönborn, who presented it…” Schönborn was never Secretary of the CDF but only a member, as even informed members of the laity know. Yet Francis had no clue. And this was the second time he cited Schönborn’s nonexistent credential in support of AL’s orthodoxy (will no one correct him?), the first being the inflight press conference during the return to Rome from Lesbos.
This is only one of a long series of gaffes, urban legends and factual blunders that pepper Francis’s rambling, often disjointed discourses in various places, all tending to indicate a significant impairment of mental acuity that would not be unexpected in anyone his age.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that even a Fox News commentator, following the remarks at the Lateran, has called upon Francis to resign—a form of protest, not a realistic expectation, to answer the anticipated the banal objection—in order to prevent further damage to the Church: “Once upon a time Catholics would have been stuck with a bad pope, but since Pope Emeritus Benedict opened the door for a pope resigning when he can no longer do his job, it is time for the faithful to look at Francis and ask— ‘is this man able to lead the Holy Catholic Church?’ At this point it is clear, Bergoglio has repeatedly proven himself unable to lead, and is doing incalculable damage to the Church that will take decades to heal.Pope Francis should resign, and Catholics should demand it, so the Church can begin recovering from the havoc his ill-advised and arrogant papacy has wrought.”
Incredibly, with Francis we are witnessing the Humanae Vitae scenario in reverse: the laity defend Catholic teaching on marriage and procreation against the Pope! In this connection recall that Francis has also declared that the use of contraception to prevent transmission of diseases is licit as “the lesser of two evils” and that Father Lombardi insisted this is exactly what Francis meant to say.
We have reached a turning point in the history of the papacy, the Church and the world. For the first time in 2,000 years, the Church is afflicted by a Pope who has demonstrated beyond doubt that he simply cannot be trusted to speak the truth regarding matters of morality on which the eternal fate of countless souls depends. Quite the contrary, whatever his motive, of which God alone is the judge, Francis has shown that he can be expected to twist the Gospel, descend to demagoguery, and indulge in sophistry to advance a grandiose “revolution of tenderness.” And this is not even to mention all the other papal words and deeds that seem designed to reduce the Church to what Antonio Socci has called “a social assistant” to the New World Order.
But at least Francis is awakening more and more serious Catholics to the magnitude of the ecclesial crisis of which his pontificate, with its attack on the last bastion of morality itself, only represents the final and most dramatic stage. As Robert Spaemann has just written regarding the proper approach to criticism of a Pope: “Even in the Catholic Church there is a limit to what is bearable.” Francis has gone far beyond that limit, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the many commentators outside the traditionalist constituency, such as Dr. Peters and Phil Lawler, who now see this and are speaking the truth about our situation without regard to the impact it may have on their position or prestige within the ecclesial “mainstream.” Their witness will be critical in alerting the faithful at large in a way traditionalist sources alone cannot do, given the anti-traditionalist ideology so prevalent in the Church today.
Yet there are still Catholic commentators who cling to the truly fatuous argument that to disagree with Francis is to engage in “private judgment” à la Luther. But it is precisely Luther, the greatest enemy of the papacy the Church has ever encountered, whose life Francis intends to commemorate in Sweden during the run-up to the 500th anniversary of the “Reformation” that destroyed the unity of Christendom. As they would have it, however, one is guilty of Protestant “private judgment” if he objects that the Pope must not honor the originator of Protestant private judgment!
These ecclesial nominalists, obliterating any meaningful distinction between the exercise of authority and the objectivity of truth, confidently assert that the faithful are not competent to judge whether Francis has departed from sound orthodoxy or practice no matter what he says or does, and that even if he should appear to contradict all his predecessors in some matter it is impossible for us even to judge that there is a contradiction! For them, the Faith is like a mysterious black box in the Pope’s sole and exclusive possession, whose readings only he can decipher. And now the inscrutable black box declares that most marriages are not marriages, while many non-marriages are. The Church is being turned on her head, so they will obligingly stand on their heads in order to declare that she is still right side up. This willful suspension of reason, they tell us, is what it means to be a faithful Catholic. If Luther is in a place where laughter is possible, he must be laughing now. The very Catholics who think they are opposing “private judgment” have adopted the Protestant caricature of the inerrant oracular papacy that Saint Robert Bellarmine refuted during the Counter-Reformation.
We ought to leave these people to their intractable delusion. Their sophistry need occupy us no longer. The important task at hand is to speak the truth in union with every other Catholic who has the sense to demand that it be defended rather than belittled and subverted by the successor of Peter. Many have said that we deserve this awful pontificate on account of our own failings. Then let us make amends now, with prayer and Catholic action, that the madness descended upon us as a divine chastisement may, by a divine favor, be brought to an end at last.