A caution to the reader: What follows is a very harsh assessment of the current pontificate. I felt compelled to write it, but no one is compelled to read it. I am nothing and nobody in the great scheme of things, although I am privileged to contribute to the record of a venerable traditional Catholic journal that will surely have its place in the history of these times. I have no illusions that my little lamentations will have any effect on the Pope, for whom I pray each day, or on events in the Church. But at least I, at least The Remnant, at least traditionalists in general will be able say one day, concerning what was done to the Bride of Christ, “Not us. Not us.”
Here is an inescapable truth that ought to trouble every Catholic: Francis is the first Pope in the history of the Church to be universally lauded by “the rulers of the world of this darkness… the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Eph. 6:12) Even Barack Obama, a veritable forerunner of the Antichrist, is “hugely impressed” by Francis. There is no need to demonstrate yet again the copious outpouring of the world’s unprecedented praise for a Roman Pontiff. The world’s love affair with Francis has woven itself into the very Zeitgeist, as any Internet search for the terms “Pope Francis” and “revolution” will reveal. “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets.”
One can only laugh at the neo-Catholics’ frantic attempts to attribute this apocalyptic development to a massive misunderstanding of a really very tradition-minded Pope. In his The Devastated Vineyard (1973), the late great Dietrich von Hildebrand warned that “[t]he poison of our epoch is slowly seeping into the Church herself, and many have failed to recognize the apocalyptic decline of our time.” Concerning von Hildebrand, the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.” (Soul of a Lion, p. 12). Compare von Hildebrand’s intellectual honesty with the propaganda of today’s neo-Catholic commentators: confronted with what is by now a vast perfusion of the poison of our epoch in the Church, they resolutely administer the anodyne of false optimism to their gullible public; and when even their own public begins to awaken to the reality of our situation, they block the comment boxes of their virtual realm in the blogosphere, lest reality intrude and make a shambles of their kingdom of illusion.
Here in the real world, this is what we know: At the conclave in 2013, a liberal South American Jesuit succeeded Pope Benedict following Benedict’s mysterious, curiously qualified and absolutely unprecedented “renunciation” of the “active ministry” of the papacy. Despite his now endlessly vaunted “pastoral style,” the former ArchbishopBergoglio presided over (EV): “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” EV expounds Francis’s vision of a “reform” of literally everything in the Church and the world:
“a new chapter of evangelization,”
“new paths for the Church’s journey,”
“new narratives and paradigms,”
“a new order of human relations,”
“a new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel,”
“new contributions to theological reflection,”
“new directions for humanity,”
“new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word,”
“a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few,”
“a new political and economic mindset,”
“new forms of cultural synthesis,”
“new processes in society,”
“new horizons for thought” and “a new social situation…”
One might be tempted to laugh at the grandiose vacuity of it all, and it is far from clear how the document can be categorized as part of the papal magisterium at all. As Cardinal Burke rather diplomatically put it, EV is “a distinct kind of document, and I haven’t quite figured out in my mind exactly how to describe it. But I would not think that it was intended to be part of papal magisterium. At least that’s my impression of it.”
But EV cannot simply be ignored and put on the shelf, for it enunciates a full-blown ideology unlike anything we have yet seen in the turbulent post-conciliar epoch, a veritable apotheosis of the restless spirit of “reform” unleashed by the Second Vatican Council under which Church and the “modern world” would achieve their final synthesis. If taken seriously, EV would require another ecclesial revolution that would make Vatican II appear to be a non-event in comparison. With his usual acuity, Antonio Socci refers to a veritable “Bergoglianism,” which he describes as “a shift in the Church that is making the faithful very disorientated and has provoked the curious phenomenon of sudden ‘conversions’ … among churchmen and intellectuals.”
However utopian and impossible of achievement Bergolianism is, it poses a grave challenge to the unity of the Church and the preservation of Tradition, as we see from its effects in Buenos Aires. Just how serious the problem is becomes apparent when one considers Francis’s programmatic and quite demagogic denigration of the few remaining Catholics who are still strongly attached to everything he belittles—that is, to traditional Roman Catholicism in all its fullness. In EV Francis falsely accuses traditional Catholics of “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” and of “feel[ing] superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” Their “supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline,” says the Pope who mocks them, “leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others.” And this from a Pope who has been analyzing, classifying and insulting his own subjects almost from the moment he was elected.
Francis’s relentless attack on traditionalist straw men is a classic tactic of the demagogue, who seeks to incite odium against an inconvenient class of people so that they may be swept aside in the pursuit of the demagogue’s agenda.
Looking at the torrent of abuse Francis has unleashed against everything and everyone in the Church that displeases him—with no mention of heresy, heretics, and those who reject the Church’s teaching on marriage, procreation and homosexuality—it seems that all has been swept away, albeit only rhetorically. Nothing remains but Bergoglianism: “The Daily Meditations of Pope Francis” and his press conferences and off-the-cuff interviews with various journals, newspapers, and media outlets, producing an astonishing jumble of consistently crude improvised remarks that even Father Dwight Longenecker admits have “caused confusion, consternation, and bewilderment among the faithful” and “cannot help but erode the more solemn teaching authority of the papacy.”
It is almost as if the Church were under the authority, not of a Roman Pontiff duty bound to safeguard and pass on what was handed down to him, subsuming his own personality and opinions to the Petrine office, but rather a kind of party chairman whose pronunciamentos must govern the lives of all party members. The Pope who speaks of decentralizing papal authority and seems averse to the very word “Pope” paradoxically presides over the most intense exacerbation of the error of papolatry in the living memory of the Church. Catholics are expected as never before to heed with rapt attention the Papal Thought of the Day, immediately broadcast to the world by the delighted secular media and the liberal Catholic press under the ongoing theme of “the Francis revolution.”
If Bergoglianism were only rhetoric, that would be bad enough. But the Pope whose approach to the world is that of the velvet glove—except when he is denouncing traditional Catholics and their “little rules” to the wild applause of the media gallery—governs the Church in private with an iron fist. Thus it is Francis who has ordered the demolition of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate on account of what his ruthless subaltern, Father Volpi, specifically authorized by Francis at every step, identifies as unpardonable thought crimes: “crypto-Lefebvrianism” and “definite traditionalist drift.” It is Francis who has ordered the “visitation” of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, in preparation for another demolition job, because of what another of his hatchet men, Cardinal Braz de Aviz, calls “true deviations” among the sisters and “not a few institutes [which] give not only a pre-conciliar, but even an anti-conciliar formation.” What exactly are the “deviations,” and what exactly is a “pre-conciliar” or “anti-conciliar formation”? From early reports, it appears that the Visitators objected to the traditional Mass, told the nuns that they prayed too much, did too much penance, were “too cloistered,” and that they urgently needed a “re-education” program according to the criteria of Vatican II (whatever those are). The traditional norms, practices, and ideals of Catholic cloistered life, if not the very idea of a cloister, are apparently now to be considered impermissible deviations from the Bergoglian “vision” of the Church, according to which everyone must run off to “the peripheries” in order to encounter the “smell of the sheep” (whatever that means).
Braz de Aviz speaks the language of an ideologue in the midst of conducting an ideological purge ordered by the party chairman. And the ideology behind the purge is Bergoglianism. It is the same ideology that results in the total rehabilitation of the raving Marxist priest suspended by John Paul II while the saintly founder of the Franciscan Friars, Father Stefano Manelli, whose parents were both declared Servants of God during the reign of Pope Benedict, is placed under house arrest by the same “commissar” Francis ordered to destroy his thriving religious order, filled with sound vocations. It is the same ideology that praises the heresy-laced, neo-Modernist writings of Cardinal Kasper as “serene theology” while forbidding the Friars to publish any of their wholly orthodox Catholic books and articles. It is the same ideology that has convoked a synod of dangerous progressives to debate Kasper’s insane proposal, whose presentation Francis specifically approved, to admit divorced and “remarried” Catholics to the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion with the understanding that they will continue their adulterous relations. And it is the same ideology that prepares to sack Cardinal Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura at the same time Francis orders a special commission to devise immediately, without Cardinal Burke’s participation, a “streamlined” annulment process that would send the message to every Catholic contemplating marriage that under Francis’s “reign of mercy” there will be an easy escape route if things don’t work out. Indeed, Catholic “marriages” contracted with a view to Vatican-approved “quickie annulment” proceedings would almost carry a presumption of invalidity, and the very foundations of Holy Matrimony would be drastically undermined.
All in all, Bergoglianism would give us a Church that, in the name of “mercy,” not only takes people as the Church finds them, which she has always done, but leaves them that way and limits her work merely to “introducing” people to God, to treat with Him as they will. Hard to believe? Read what Francis said only days ago in an address to newly nominated bishops:
I also beg you not to fall prey to the temptation to change the people. Love the people that God has given you, even when they have “committed grave sins,” without tiring of “ascending to the Lord” for forgiveness and a new beginning, even at the cost of having to cancel your false images of the divine face or the fantasies you have nurtured of how to arouse their communion with God.
Why does Francis place contemptuous quotation marks around the words “committed grave sins,” and what does he mean by “false images of the divine face” and “fantasies” about how to bring the people into communion with God? Whatever the answer, it is clear that the Bergoglian notion of mercy is far removed from what Saint Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church, describes in her dialogues with Our Lord:
That Blood is what Your hungry servants beg of You at this door, begging You through it to do mercy to the world, and to cause Your holy Church to bloom with the fragrant flowers of good and holy pastors, who by their sweet odor shall extinguish the stench of the putrid flowers of sin.
The mission of the Church is precisely to “change the people”—to eradicate the stench of sin—by translating them into the state of grace through the administration of the Sacraments, bringing about what von Hildebrand called the “Transformation in Christ.” Thus did Saint Paul tell the Ephesians: “And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” Thus did Paul tell the Corinthians: “If then any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away, behold all things are made new.” This is the newness of which the Gospel speaks; the newness of the eternal God, who is, as Saint Augustine exulted in the Confessions, “so ancient, and yet so new.” It is a newness existing outside of time, having nothing to do with the “modern world” or a new liturgy, or a “new evangelization,” or anything else that is new in the time-bound sense of Bergoglianism as expounded in EV, which only follows to its logical destination the line of a slavishly time-bound conciliar “renewal.”
In explaining why the Sisters of the Immaculate had been subjected to a visitation on the orders of Pope Francis, Cardinal Braz de Aviz declared that to give priests and nuns a “pre-conciliar formation” is “to place oneself outside of history.” Indeed it is. Bergoglianism in particular, and the “spirit of Vatican II” in general, represent an ideological demand that the Church be historicized in her doctrine and practice, accommodating both to “changing times.” We are in the midst of a battle, perhaps the final one, between the ideological partisans of a time-bound Church whose search for novelty will never end until the Church is finally merged entirely with the world—a process accelerating before our very eyes—and the defenders of a Church that has always been truly new because her traditional doctrine and practice are timeless.
We know how the war on Tradition that has wracked the Church for nearly fifty years will end: with a total victory for Tradition by a direct intervention of God and the Blessed Virgin when all seems lost. But we also know, because we have eyes to see, that this thing so rightly called Bergoglianism represents the turning point in a conflict on which nothing less than the fate of the world depends. Which of us, if any, will survive to see the inevitable victory is far from certain.
Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer. Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.