The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church's pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.
From the moment he appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter’s—an event the Editor and I were there to witness, with tears in our eyes—it was evident that Benedict understood that the former Joseph Ratzinger must recede into the august office with which he had been entrusted. The traditional mozzetta and stole he wore at that moment, like all the papal regalia and ceremonial, are symbols of a divinely bestowed authority, designed to direct attention away from a particular man and towards the Christ whose Vicar he is:
During his abruptly terminated pontificate, Benedict made a serious effort to honor his commitment to be transparent to the demands of the papal office, doing what must be done no matter the consequences for his personal popularity. With a few acts of papal governance, Benedict began to repair the incalculable damage the Church has suffered under the post-conciliar regime of novelty: correcting the egregious (if not heretical) mistranslations of the Latin typical edition of the Novus Ordo Mass, releasing the traditional Latin Mass from its false imprisonment, lifting the “excommunications” of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, and reaffirming the Church’s teaching “on the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church.”
Benedict was no Saint Pius X, of course. One cannot go that far. But his pontificate was at least the beginning of an official recognition that the post-conciliar aggiornamento has been a disaster from which the Church must recover, and that only the Pope can begin the process of recovery. Benedict acted accordingly, and the world provided a sure sign that he had acted rightly: it hated him.
Then, under a cloud of mystery and bafflement, came Jorge Cardinal Mario Bergoglio to that same balcony. And this is what we saw:
It was a man dressed as a simple bishop, whose first words were a thudding banality: “Brothers and sisters, good evening!” A bishop dressed in white, waving to the crowd and telling them, strangely, that he had been elected “Bishop of Rome” for “the evangelization of this beautiful city,” for which he pointedly requested “the prayer of the people for their Bishop.” He was denuded of the traditional symbols of papal authority, later donning the papal stole only long enough to bestow the Apostolic Benediction, promptly removing it once the words were uttered. Even his dull metal pectoral cross was the same one he had worn in Buenos Aires.
The world’s applause began immediately as the Bishop of Rome displayed his humility before the cameras: riding the bus back to Casa Marta instead of the official vehicle provided for his safety, paying his own hotel bill, and personally telephoning his newspaper delivery service in Argentina to cancel his subscription. The newly elected Bishop of Rome had begun the program he had summed up to himself as soon as he was elected:
From the start I said to myself: “Jorge, don´t change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself.” That´s why I´ve always kept on doing what I used to do in Buenos Aires. Perhaps even making my old mistakes. But I prefer it like this, to be myself. That evidently caused some changes in the protocols, not in the official protocols because I´m very careful about abiding by them. The thing is that I am who I am even where protocols are concerned, just as I was myself in Buenos Aires. You can see why “not changing” suited me so well.
Perhaps the easiest way to make sense of the past three years of this tumultuous pontificate is to recognize that it represents Jorge Mario Bergoglio declaring to the Church and the world: “I prefer it like this, to be myself… I am who I am”—old mistakes and all. In this we see the self-apotheosis that is considered heroism according to the demotic wisdom of our degenerate popular culture: “Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong … I’ve gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me/What else can I be but what I am?”
The Bergoglian program, with all its twists and turns and maddening inconsistencies and self-contradictions, is the outcome of a resolute refusal to subordinate personality to the supreme duties of the vicariate of Christ, while nonetheless using the power and authority of that office to promote one’s own ideas and desires—exactly what a Pope must not do, as his benighted predecessor warned. And, in this case, we are dealing with the ideas and desires of a liberal Jesuit formed in the 1970s, who seriously believes the Church has not even begun to “implement the Council.”
The Chair of Peter has thus become a kind of ultimate personal accessory for its current occupant. Pope Bergoglio could not have made this intention any clearer:
The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.
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….
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures….
This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor.
For Pope Bergoglio, the papacy is a vehicle for achieving what he dreams, what he wants, what he prefers, as opposed to what has been handed down to him for safekeeping. He intends to leave his personal stamp on the Church in a manner he hopes will be “irreversible,” at least to the extent the Holy Ghost will allow it—an outer boundary he is obviously determined to test with “reforms” no Pope before him had ever dared venture, passed off as interventions by “the God of surprises.” Not for him is the intolerable stricture of a Pope who “must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down…” Adaptation and watering down are precisely what this pontificate has incessantly promoted under the rubric of “mercy.”
Because he has spent the past three years doing exactly as he pleases, which has earned him the world’s endless applause, rather than what must be done for the good of the Church, which earned his predecessor the world’s undying enmity, the papacy is not a burden for Pope Bergoglio, as it was for Benedict, who could not bear it. Rather, it is an immensely pleasurable occupation.
A definitive profile in National Geographic lauds the “Francis revolution” and “the relentless joy with which it is being waged.” The dour Archbishop of Buenos Aires is now all smiles and laughter and thumbs up, a development that surprised his friend, the new Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli. When Poli asked Francis to explain the transformation, he received this reply: “It’s very entertaining to be pope.” And who wouldn’t find it entertaining to be a world-class celebrity, lauded by all the powers that because he is not like his “rigorist” predecessors, waited on hand-and-foot by an attentive staff while living in a five-star hotel located in a perfectly manicured enclave, from which the uncontrollable Muslim immigrants he insists be allowed to invade Europe are absolutely barred by high walls, armed guards and restrictive laws.
Now we read that, following an album of rock music based on his personal musings, “Pope Francis is set to become the first pope in history to play himself in a movie,” and that “the idea for the film actually came from Pope Francis himself, who pitched the story to filmmakers at the Hollywood-based AMBI Pictures…” The film will “portray Gospel passages and fables to youngsters.” Given the many liberties Francis has taken with the Gospel in his off-the-cuff sermons and meditations, the film should be rated at least PG.
So in one way the papacy has changed Jorge Mario Bergoglio. It has made him happy. The current Vicar of Christ has no intention of following in the joyless way of his predecessor, driven from office by the wolves he feared, much less the way of the Man of Sorrows himself. We are witness to the joy of personal fulfillment, coming at the expense of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. And the world joins a contented Bishop of Rome in loving every minute of his contentment.
Catch Mr. Ferrara's regular column in the print-edition of The Remnant.