Notice that Francis does not say that the other Popes who have resigned in centuries past had this status, for in fact they became cardinals and lost all indices of the papal office. No, this is yet another post-conciliar novelty in the Church. Now, a bishop emeritus is still a bishop because, in receiving the fullness of Holy Orders according to a sacramental formula, including the laying on of hands, he received an indelible mark on his soul that can never be effaced. But a man who ascends to the office of Vicar of Christ does not undergo any such ontological change. So what precisely is Francis suggesting here? Who knows? But one thing is certain: we are witnessing still more confusion about the distinction between one thing and another that has bedeviled the Church since the Council. And confusion in the Church is always a sign of the Adversary at work on her human element.
Second, Francis revealed that he and Pope Emeritus Benedict jointly agreed that Benedict would in effect “come out of retirement” despite his earlier statement that he would remain “hidden from the world.” Said Francis: “We [Benedict and he] have spoken about it and we decided together that it would be better that he sees people, gets out and participates in the life of the Church. He once came here for the blessing of the statue of St. Michael the Archangel, then to lunch at Santa Marta and, after Christmas, I sent him an invitation to participate in the consistory and he accepted. His wisdom is a gift of God. Some would have wished that he retire to a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican. I thought of grandparents and their wisdom. Their counsels give strength to the family and they do not deserve to be in an elderly home.”
So, as Francis sees it, the newly created Pope Emeritus serves as a kind of consulting Pope to the reigning Pope. But what if the consulting Pope publishes advice that contradicts the reigning Pope—say, in a newspaper interview with Corriere della Sera? Well, what’s a little more confusion in the post-conciliar Church? As Socci has written regarding Francis’s revelations: “The tempests approach.”
Third, taking aim at the Church’s traditional discipline respecting the divorced and remarried, Francis continued his theme that it would be Pharisaical “casuistry” to continue to refuse to admit them to Holy Communion:
There are many separated families in which the project of common life has failed. The children suffer greatly. We must give a response. But for this we must reflect very deeply. It is that which the Consistory and the Synod are doing. We need to avoid remaining on the surface. The temptation to resolve every problem with casuistry is an error, a simplification of profound things, as the Pharisees did, a very superficial theology. It is in light of the deep reflection that we will be able to seriously confront particular situations, also those of the divorced, with a pastoral depth.
In other words, Francis is at least considering a “correction” of the supposedly superficial, Pharisaical theology concerning the divorced and remarried that the Church has always defended. (If not, then what “superficial theology” is he referring to?) This would apparently involve something along the lines suggested by Cardinal Kasper. Francis left no doubt of this during the interview:
Corriere: Why did the speech from Cardinal Walter Kasper during the last consistory (an abyss between doctrine on marriage and the family and the real life of many Christians) so deeply divide the cardinals? How do you think the Church can walk these two years of fatiguing path arriving at a large and serene consensus? If the doctrine is firm, why is debate necessary? [Good question!]
Francis: Cardinal Kasper made a beautiful and profound presentation that will soon be published in German, and he confronted five points; the fifth was that of second marriages. I would have been concerned if in the consistory there wasn’t an intense discussion. It wouldn’t have served for anything. The cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented many different points of view that are enriching. The fraternal and open comparisons make theological and pastoral thought grow. I am not afraid of this, actually I seek it.
Fourth, Francis clearly opened the door to “civil unions” as an acceptable legal substitute for civil “marriage” between homosexuals.
Corriere: Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?
Francis: Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn’t know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.
But there are no “different cases” of “civil unions.” It is only homosexual activists who are promoting them as a compromise on “gay marriage.” Hence the mass media immediately seized on the obvious implication that the Pope has opened the door, at least a crack, to the Church’s acceptance of “gay marriage” so long as it is called “civil union.” As CNN declared, for example: “Pope Francis: Church Could Support Civil Unions.” Meaning, civil unions for “gays,” who are the only ones demanding them.
Given the media storm the Pope’s remark had stirred up, the Vatican issued yet another of its urgent “clarifications” of Pope Francis’s remarks. But the clarification only confirmed the media’s interpretation. Father Thomas Rosica, the English language spokesman for the Holy See Press Office issued this statement:
The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions. In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens…. Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage.
Just a moment! The state has absolutely no “responsibility toward its citizens” to invent civil unions for sodomites who demand the benefits of marriage. On the contrary, it has a responsibility to forbid such unions for the common good, and Catholics have a duty to oppose them and refuse to cooperate in their implementation. Accordingly, in 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the future Pope Benedict, declared as follows in a document that John Paul II specifically approved and ordered to be published:
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. [Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 3 June 2003].
Father Rosica’s “clarification” portends Francis’s disastrous abandonment of this teaching in favor of the local bishops’ conferences that have already caved in on “civil unions.” Then again, it must be said that Father Rosica himself seems to be at sea over what Francis said to Corriere. As he states: “We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words than what has been stated in very general terms.” Has he not conferred with the Pope on exactly what he meant? Or is Rosica, on his own initiative, engaging in frantic damage control regarding another spontaneous remark Francis uttered without consulting anyone?
Fifth, Francis dropped a thinly shrouded bomb concerning Humanae Vitae, which the interviewer blatantly prompted him to undermine by reference to the infamous Cardinal Martini, who declared in 2008 that “Jesus would never have written Humanae Vitae.” Francis, who has praised Martini as “a prophetic figure” and “a man of discernment and peace,” took the interviewer’s hint:
Corriere: At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, can the Church take up again the theme of birth control? Cardinal Martini, your confrere, thought that the moment had come.
Francis: All of this depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing the doctrine but of going deeper and making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do. Also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.
What does Francis mean by “how Humanae Vitae is interpreted”? There is nothing to interpret: affirming what the Church has taught for all time, the encyclical unequivocally forbids as “intrinsically wrong”—that is, wrong under any circumstance—“any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”
What does Francis mean by “much mercy”? One of the spiritual acts of mercy is to admonish the sinner. Moreover, the Church has always taught that a sinner cannot be granted absolution absent a firm purpose of amendment: “I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace… to amend my life. Amen.” The Church does not dispense her own “mercy” as a sort of kindly gratuity, but rather obtains Christ’s mercy through the Sacrament of Confession. But the mercy of God’s forgiveness cannot be obtained without a sinner’s repentance. How can priests show “much mercy” respecting the mortal sin of contraception unless a penitent repents of it, vowing not to commit it again?
If, in the name of “mercy,” people were to be excused from the obligation to cease contracepting based on “concrete situations” and what “it is possible for people to do,” what mortal sin would not be excusable on those grounds? How does this not represent the threat of a total collapse of the Church’s moral edifice within the confessional?
On the other hand, if Francis is not suggesting that confessors allow for the sin of contraception out of “mercy,” what does he mean, and what exactly does he have in mind when he says “also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.”
Sixth: Pursuing his vision of a “synodal” Catholic Church and a “conversion of the papacy” in line with Orthodox theology (cf. Evangelii gaudium, n. 246) the Pope told Corriere that “Orthodox theology is very rich. And I believe that they have great theologians at this moment. Their vision of the Church and of synodality is marvelous.”
Consider: With the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X suddenly back in the “schism” penalty box, even though they affirm the Pope’s authority and indeed appeal to it for an end to the crisis in the Church, Francis looks to the theology of true schismatics for a “marvelous” “vision of the Church” premised precisely on denial of the Pope’s authority! Moreover, “marvelous” Orthodox synodality involves autocephalous national churches, which, if applied to the Catholic Church, would mean the destruction of her very unity, if that were possible. No further comment is necessary.
When Pope John XXII gave his errant sermons on the Beatific Vision 700 years ago, he encountered fierce public opposition until he retracted his error, even though the sermons were heard by few and were probably completely unknown to the vast majority of Catholics. Some 700 years later, the statements of a Pope become known to the entire world within hours of their utterance and are amplified and repeated with enormous impact by the global mass media. Today, we are witnessing almost daily scandal provoked by a Pope who has rocked the Church and delighted the Church’s enemies, not with a single erring opinion, but with a cascade of disturbing remarks and suggested radical innovations the media exploit to attack the very foundations of the Faith, followed by frantic attempts at “clarification” by the Vatican Press Office. This has been going on almost from the moment Pope Francis said “Good evening” on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica a year ago, and it has only gotten worse.
In the mere three weeks covered by this article, the Pope has managed to do and say enough to suggest what Roberto de Mattei called “a cultural revolution proposed in the name of praxis,” speaking only of Cardinal Kasper’s stunning advocacy of de facto Church approval of divorce and remarriage in an address Francis solicited and then praised as beautiful and profound. Yet in the midst of the booming explosions Francis has been setting off to the world’s rapturous applause—one after another in seemingly endless succession—the diving bell constituency continues to insist that we ignore the thunderous noise emanating from Rome, act as if all is well with the papacy, and continue to blame the bishops alone for everything that has gone wrong in the Church since Vatican II.
It is time for Catholics to unite in recognizing that the post-conciliar crisis began with, and is being perpetuated by, acts and omissions of the conciliar Popes, and that it will end only when some Pope—please God, this one—finally acts decisively to steer the Barque of Peter back to the course from which it deviated nearly half a century ago. It is time to stop pretending that the Pope’s subordinates are solely to blame for what the Pope has done, authorized, or tolerated for decades. This pretense has inflicted immense harm upon the Body of Christ because it effectively dispenses with the essential role of the Pope as supreme ruler of the Church, who is ultimately responsible for her state, and discourages the faithful from exercising their right to protest publicly the consequences of papal misrule, which the Church’s enemies are left free publicly to praise and promote.
Pope Benedict’s liberation of the traditional Mass, which immediately launched a worldwide movement for its restoration, is but one indication of the Roman Pontiff’s singular power to renew and reform a Church undergoing the deepest of crises. Pope Francis, however, is seemingly intent on disparaging, if not halting, that liturgical revival and dragging the Church back to the liturgical, theological, and pastoral tumult of the 1970s—with the threat of even more unheard-of novelties to come. To continue to insist on the ridiculous proposition that the Pope Francis must not be criticized in public in the midst of public scandals of worldwide magnitude provoked by Francis himself, is nothing less than to become complicit in accelerating the ecclesial auto-demolition Pope Benedict at least attempted to arrest. What Pope Francis is doing and saying publicly to the Church’s detriment must be opposed, just as publicly, by loyal Catholics who love the Church and cannot bear to see the spotless Bride of Christ humiliated before a gloating world.
Yet not a word of this article has been written against the person of Pope Francis. Like the late Dr. Palmaro, whom the Pope thanked for his severe public criticism in a newspaper, we do not “judge the Pope as a human person. We distinguish the action from the person.” Indeed, we ought to presume that Francis is well-intentioned; or even perhaps that his deliberation, focus and sense of restraint are somewhat compromised, as would be natural with anyone of his advanced age. But this does not change the objective signification of the words Francis utters, or their dangerous ambiguity, or the confusion and division they have caused. Nor can even the best of intentions avoid the damage Francis is unquestionably inflicting on the Church’s divinely mandated witness against the errors of this world.
Four years before his death in 1977, the great Dietrich von Hildebrand, hailed by Pope Pius XII as a “twentieth century doctor of the Church,” wrote that “the poison of our epoch is slowly seeping into the Church herself, and many have failed to see the apocalyptic decline of our time.” (The Devastated Vineyard, p. 75). Forty years later the poison of our epoch has penetrated into nearly every corner of the Church. Now there is almost a palpable sense that time is running out, that the Church’s human element is surrendering almost entirely to the spirit of the age, that the apocalyptic decline of our time has reached a depth that presages divine chastisement.
By now it should be self-evident to any Catholic who understands the nature of the Church that only the Pope has the power to avert what is coming, and that therefore it is the height of folly to pretend that only the Pope is immune from criticism concerning the disastrous misrule of the Church over the past half-century. At this turning point in salvation history, when virtually every word and deed of the Pope is a matter for worldwide discussion, no Catholic worthy of the name should be counseling silence about what is happening in the See of Peter. To remain silent, to refrain from expressing our conscientious opposition, is to refuse to dispel scandal among our brethren when we have the obligation and the means to do so, and to allow them, and ultimately ourselves, to succumb to the reigning confusion, which has led to nothing less than mass apostasy.
There will be no such silence on these pages. There never has been. For silence in the face of grave harm to the Bride of Christ is not the Catholic way, especially when that harm results from the notorious public conduct of a Pope. May Our Lady of Fatima, to whom Pope Francis’s pontificate is consecrated, intercede for us, illumine the Pope, and deliver the Church from the peril to which her own leaders have exposed her.