[With defenders like Chris Ferrara, Pope Francis doesn’t need critics]
Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
Remnant readers will have noticed that over the past three years not only this newspaper but the Catholic press in general, along with the Catholic blogosphere, have become increasingly devoted to a running commentary on Francis’s Latest Unprecedented Bombshell (FLUB). This is just as Francis wishes, for without an almost weekly FLUB he would drop out of the news cycle so assiduously exploited by “media wizard” Greg Burke, formerly of FOX News, who has just replaced as papal press spokesman the crafty spinmeister Father Lombardi, king of the “official denial” that denies nothing and the “official clarification” that clarifies nothing.
In order to maintain the requisite quota of FLUBs, however, there must be a sufficient number of occasions on which Francis can tell us whatever he thinks, in keeping with his “Fluid Magisterium (FM).” As Francis has so famously explained the FM: “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…” The FM includes the interminable stream of freewheeling “exclusive” interviews with magazines and newspapers where perhaps the majority of FLUBs have made their first appearance. These ad hoc FLUB launches are in addition to the megaton FLUBs found in the three book-length documents that Francis’s team of ghost writers has thus far compiled: Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato si’ and Amoris Laetitia.
Then there is the endless succession of papal trips which, while otherwise utterly useless, an obscene waste of Peter’s Pence and a flagrantly hypocritical massive increase of Francis’s carbon footprint, do provide occasions for those essential to-and-from airborne press conferences at which the usual entourage of media jackals are fed assorted tidbits of red meat in the exercise of Francis’s separate but related Airplane Magisterium (AM).
With such a copious output of FLUBs on the FM and AM channels, the attention of Catholics who are still paying attention to Catholic Church affairs, especially journalists, commentators and bloggers, must be fixed almost constantly on Francis. Thus, as I have noted elsewhere, Respice in me (look upon me), a phrase normally associated with the Godhead, could serve as the motto of this papacy. Really, do we who are still paying attention have any choice but to “check it out”?
But for all that, let me say a few words in defense of Francis as a reminder of what is too easily forgotten in the midst of his in-your-face pontificate.
With the major exception of his “mercy offensive” (discussed below), nothing Francis says or does is, in substance, as unprecedented as it might appear.
What is unprecedented is the nuancefree, shockingly blunt manner in which Francis pursues a relentless progressivism quite in line with the disastrous “new orientation” of the Church since Vatican II and the course already set by his two immediate predecessors. Where John Paul II and Benedict exhibited intellect and nuance in their embrace and defense of novelty, Francis pursues the continuing mysterious auto-demolition of the Church with all the vulgarity and recklessness of a politician in a hurry to impose his will before the next election.
“The people’s Pope” brings crass rhetoric and cheap demagoguery to the task of Church-wrecking.
Only days ago, yet again heaping public contempt on his miniscule conservative opposition among the hierarchy, Francis smugly informed an Argentine journalist that he will not be deterred by the naysayers: “I want a Church that is open, understanding, that accompanies wounded families. They say no to everything. I go ahead, without looking over my shoulder.” The Church was neither open nor understanding before Francis commenced his hope and change pontificate. But Francis will eliminate the hierarchical gridlock and finish the job. Or so he thinks.
A simple list confirms the intuition that Francis is hardly the first Pope to venture the novelties he almost daily presents in their rawest, most unvarnished form:
• Rampant ecumenism? Nobody has ever outdone John Paul II in that department. As he declared in Ut Unum Sint, “ecumenism”—a word completely foreign to the Church’s vocabulary before 1962—“is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does…” It was John Paul II who bestowed pectoral crosses on faux Anglican bishops, and it was he who first participated in joint liturgies with Protestant ministers, recalling in Ut Unum Sint “the prayer meeting, also held in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at which I joined the Lutheran Archbishops, the Primates of Sweden and Finland, for the celebration of Vespers…”
• Interreligious dialogue? John Paul II’s Assisi events are the apex of that scandalous novelty. Nothing Francis has done, not even his ludicrous “Prayer for Peace” with Jews and Muslims in the Vatican gardens, or the even more ludicrous Soccer Game for Peace, comes even close to Assisi 1984 and 2002 for shock value.
• Twisting Scripture to suit modernist notions? It was John Paul II, for example, who so famously reduced the teaching of Saint Paul on the husband’s headship of the family—“Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:2223)—to a mere cultural artifact “profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time” but which is now “to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a ‘mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ,’” quoting Eph 5:21, which has nothing to do with the husband-wife relationship but rather with Christians generally being “subject to one another” in charity.
• Religious indifferentism? It was none other than John Paul II, in Redemptoris missio, who sounded the post-conciliar theme: “different peoples, cultures and religions are capable of finding common ground in the one divine reality, by whatever name it is called.” Whatever name! It’s all good.
• Popes visiting synagogues? John Paul II was the first, Benedict the second. Francis finishes a dismal third in that novelty contest.
• Popes visiting mosques? John Paul II did it first, followed by Benedict XVI, who set “a new papal record” for mosque visits: twice in seven years.
• How about Popes visiting Lutheran churches and participating in a liturgy? John Paul II and Benedict XVI had both been there and done that long before Francis arrived from Buenos Aires.
• Surely the “exclusive” papal press interview originates with Francis? No, both John XXIII and Paul VI were pioneers of that innovation.
• How about the airborne papal press conference? Benedict XVI did it first in 2007 and again in 2010.
• Papal environmentalism then? Here John Paul II beat Francis to the punch by at least 24 years, coining the very phrase “ecological crisis,” followed by Benedict XVI, who declared (in fine Bergoglian style) that the “ecological crisis shows the urgency of a solidarity which embraces time and space…”
• What about papal liturgical abuses? Not even the Pope Francis Beach Party Bingo Mass in Rio outdid the repellant liturgical spectacles over which John Paul II and Benedict presided on their various journeys.
I could go on, but surely the point is made: Francis follows in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors, continuing along the downward path of the past fifty years, which Benedict made some effort to reverse but to which Francis has returned with renewed determination to continue on the declivity right into the abyss that now looms before us.
As I note above, however, there is one truly substantial difference between Francis and the other conciliar Popes.
We all know what it is: Francis’s astounding, relentless attempt to subvert, in the name of “mercy,” the Church’s teaching and sacramental discipline concerning marriage, family and sexual morality generally. It is Francis alone— dismissing the contrary teaching even of his two immediate predecessors— who has launched the “final battle” of which Sister Lucia of Fatima, speaking in light of the Third Secret, warned Cardinal Caffarra, one of those insolent conservative prelates who “say no to everything”—meaning no to the institutionalized toleration of immoral sexual unions in the Church.
It is here, with Francis, that we encounter something really new and terrifying, even in the midst of what Cardinal Ratzinger admitted is a “continuing process of decay” since the Council. “I am by nature oblivious ( incosciente), and so I go ahead,” Francis airily informed a group of students at the Vatican last May. But to this oblivious Pope—and here we may, however ironically, defend him as well—we owe a debt of gratitude. His clumsy, brutal approach to getting what he wants has awakened some powerful voices of opposition who, in turn, are awakening others who until now have remained silent or somnolent in the face of one outrage after another.
Francis has simply gone too far. He has shown everyone not willfully blinded what traditionalists have seen from the beginning: that the “conciliar renewal” will end in the dissolution of the Catholic religion, if that were possible, claiming even the Church’s teaching on the negative precepts of the natural law. Thus, as LifeSiteNews reports, no less than Monsignor Michel Schooyans, a close adviser to John Paul II and a confidant of Pope Benedict XVI, “has issued a dire warning about the current trajectory in the Catholic Church.”
Better late than too late! In a paper by Schooyans that Lifesite has featured on its website, he declares what traditionalists have been saying since it was first announced: that the Synod on the Family “has revealed… a profound malaise in the Church” involving “recurrent debates on the question of remarried, divorced persons, models for the family, the role of women, birth control, surrogate motherhood, homosexuality, euthanasia.” Without naming Francis, Schooyans admits the threat his reckless pontificate poses: “The Church is challenged in its very foundations.” Challenged by the Pope!
Schooyans laments “the return of casuistry, believed to allow moralists to examine and resolve matters of conscience. Certain moralists intend to offer solutions which please those who have recourse to their superior knowledge. Among the casuists of yesterday and today, the fundamental principles of morality are eclipsed by the (frequently divergent) opinions pronounced by these grave spiritual advisors.” He sketches the parlous state of the Church under Francis’ unprecedented reign of “mercy”—again without naming him, as if we didn’t know:
“Progressively, the rules of behavior proceeding from the will of the Lord and handed down by the Magisterium of the Church are languishing in decline. The moral assessment of acts can therefore be modified. Not content with toning down this assessment, the casuists [handpicked and led by Francis] wish to transform the moral law itself. This will be the task of casuists, confessors, spiritual advisors and, on occasion, bishops [selected by Francis to stack the Synod and now promoting Holy Communion for public adulterers].
“All must have a concern to please…. In order to please, the spiritual adviser will have to soften the rigor of the doctrine handed down by tradition [as Francis is constantly demanding in his ceaseless attacks on ‘rigorism’]. The pastor will have to adapt his words to the nature of man, whose passions are naturally leading to sin [as Amoris Laetitia proposes in its discussion of ‘integrating weakness’ in Chapter 8]. Hence the progressive relegation of references to original sin and grace [totally absent in Amoris Laetitia’s discussion of sexual conduct].
“The influence of Pelagius (a monk of British origin) is evident: Man must save himself and take his destiny into his own hands. Telling the truth forms no part of the role of the casuist, who must captivate, present a line of argument which is engaging, curry favor, make salvation easy, delight those who aspire to have itching ears. (2 Timothy 4:3) [paragraph breaks and emphasis added]”
Even more pointedly, Schooyans outlines the very program Francis is now advancing via AL, whose ambiguities were clearly designed to begin the process Schooyans describes:
“The neo-casuists [Francis and company] show great interest in cases of divorced persons who are ‘remarried.’ As in other cases, the different stages of their approach provide a good illustration of salami tactics. According to these tactics, what one would never concede as a whole is conceded slice by slice. So let us follow the process.
“First slice: At the point of departure we find, of course, references to the teaching in the Scriptures on marriage and the Church’s doctrine on this question [the “good parts” of AL].
“Second slice: Emphasis is placed on the difficulties in ‘receiving’ this teaching.
“Third slice, in the form of a question: Are ‘remarried’ divorced persons in a state of grave sin? [Not always, meaning hardly ever, according to Chapter 8 of AL]
“The fourth slice consists of the entry on the scene of the spiritual adviser, who will help ‘remarried’ divorced persons to ‘discern,’ that is, to choose whatever suits them in their situation. The spiritual adviser must show himself to be understanding and indulgent. He must demonstrate compassion, but what compassion?
“For the casuist in effect, when one undertakes a moral assessment of an act, concern for compassion must take precedence over the assessment of actions which are objectively wrong: the adviser must be lenient, adapt to circumstances. [The entire theme of AL and the Bergoglian pontificate in general]
“With the fifth slice of salami, each individual will be able to discern, personally and with full freedom of thought, what suits him best. [To quote AL, ¶ 303: ‘what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God… while yet not fully the objective ideal.’] [paragraph breaks and emphasis added]”
Ironically, but not surprisingly, what Schooyans describes involves all three of the very things Francis constantly condemns in others: neo-Pharisaism, neo-casuistry and, most ironically of all, “neo-Pelagianism.” But, to put it as archly as possible, in defense of Francis we may be grateful even for the “gift” of the crudity and sanctimonious duplicity of his religious demagoguery. By thus discrediting himself he helps to discredit the post-conciliar revolution he thinks he can carry to its final extremity by the sheer of abuse of his authority.
Francis, we may hope and pray, is undoing himself. And if our prayers for his change of heart do not receive the answer for which we hope, it behooves us at least us to recognize the good that God is drawing from his missteps, from every FLUB on the AM and FM channels of the noisiest pontificate in the history of the Catholic Church.